Saturday, March 26, 2011

Dragon on the Streets

Finally, things have calmed down enough that Jack and I could go out this evening. Most of the Protectors are still in Japan, doing what they can to try to help. I’ve heard several US cities have had to declare martial law because of all the crazies coming out of the woodwork, but here in Austin, TakeDown and I have managed to convince the local lowlifes that Protectors or no, Austin is not up for grabs.

It didn’t help my sanity that SXSW happened in the middle of the worst of it, but that’s done now, too. It feels like the whole city is taking a well-earned rest. Even the criminals are taking a day off. Knock on wood. I have to say if anybody starts causing grief today and interrupts my date, I might have to introduce them to the definition of “excessive violence.”  That’s a superhero legal thing. The law says we’re not supposed to use intentionally lethal force or excessive violence. TakeDown has been getting me up to speed on the civilian vigilante laws. Good info to have, considering.

In any case, the weather was heavenly, and Jack and I decided to walk through the park across from the hospital after we swung by to check on our schedules for next week. The air smelled sweet, like grape soda. It’s the mountain laurel blooms. You can catch their scent on the wind from blocks away. Spring always smells like grape soda in Austin. The moon was huge and bright, just past full and still overly large. Jack and I stopped and sat at one of the little picnic tables and talked for a while. Well, mostly we talked, but there may have been some kissing involved. Either Jack is getting better at the kissing or I am. Or, maybe we’re just getting better together.

I’m not sure how long we were there before I thought about the night I landed in this park when I was late for work and saw a homeless guy in a red stocking cap curled up to sleep in the dark shadow of a tree. I looked over at that same tree, and thankfully, the homeless guy wasn’t there.

Only thing worse than being watched by a homeless guy while I’m making out would be if my personal stalker were watching. That thought made me scan the tops of all the trees nearby, and sure enough, there was a familiar dark blob concealed in the branches, with dimly lit red eyes aimed in my direction. Face palm. Seriously?

At least Jack’s night vision wasn’t as good as mine, so he hadn’t spotted Vlad. I suggested that we go have dinner somewhere. We walked down Congress Ave. There’s a lot of good restaurants there, but before we found one, I got this eerie feeling, and looked behind me. The homeless guy with the red cap was running up behind me. He waved, and I could see the black silhouette of Vlad perched on the roof a block behind us.

I couldn’t argue much with Vlad following me. Sure, it was creepy, but he was sort of my scaly black guardian angel. He’d been following me for a couple weeks so he could swoop in and help when things got really bad. But the homeless guy, too? Do I have a sign on my back that says, “Stalk the dragon chick?”

“What’s your deal?” I asked the guy. “Why are you following me?”

He took his red cap off. “I’m so glad I found you, maam, miss, angel lady. Sorry, I never knew an angel before.”

“I’m not an angel.”

He grinned showing missing teeth, and said, “It’s okay, maam. I saw your wings and I saw you heal TakeDown by biting him.”

I thanked my lucky stars that Jack already knew my secrets. If this guy had spewed that in front of White Knight, he’d be drawing his sword about now. “Ixnay on the itingbay.”

“Huh?” The guy gave me a look like a movie zombie.

“Look, you gotta keep what you know about me to yourself. There are some people out there who would kill me if they knew.”

His eyes got real big and he ran his finger across his chest. “Cross my heart, maam. I won’t tell a soul.”

“Well, that’s a relief.”

He looked kinda uncomfortable and scratched his head till his sparse gray hair stood up. “I won’t tell anybody else, anyway.”

Oh, no. “Who did you already tell?”

“Just a few of the guys.”

This just got better and better. “Well, tell them not to tell anyone, okay?”

“Yes, maam. I sure will. And I’ll tell them to spread the word to anyone they already told not to tell anybody, too.”

Jack laughed. “Yeah, that’ll work.”

“This is not funny, Jack. If the Georgians find out, they’ll kill me. And if they don’t, Ma will.”

Jack shrugged. “There really isn’t much you can do about it now. You just don’t seem to be very good at keeping a low profile.”

“I’ve spent my whole life hiding very effectively. I moved every ten years just so no one would notice I didn’t get older. Now, I finally found a place where I want to settle, and random strangers on the street know all my secrets.”

“It’s all right, maam,” the old homeless guy said. “We’d never tell anyone who wanted to hurt you.  We know you and your boyfriend saved Franklin last week. That’s why I was looking for you.”


Jack looked like a lightbulb suddenly went off. “The old guy living under the bridge who had hypothermia and no medical insurance.”

The homeless man nodded enthusiastically and twisted his red stocking cap in his hands. “Yeah, yeah, that’s him.” Then his face got very serious. “You have to come with me, maam, right now. Buddy made white lightning, but he didn’t do it right. They all drank it last night, and I’m afraid Buddy and some of the guys are going to die.”

Jack grabbed the old man by his arm. “Where?”

“I’ll show you.”

We ran as fast as the homeless man in his fifties could manage. He lead us to an alley behind a nice hotel in the middle of downtown. There was a concrete loading dock that looked rarely used, shelter from the weather that was gold to the homeless population. Five men slept on the dock, at least they seemed to be asleep. As I passed a big dumpster, I could see the makeshift still.

Jack and I went around checking pulses.

The first man I checked was dead. “That’s Buddy,” the man with the red cap said.

“What’s your name?”

He grinned until I thought his face would crack. “I’m Beau Grimsby, maam.”

“Beau, I’m sorry, but your friend is dead.”

Beau blinked a few times, his grin froze, then faded away. “I told him he wasn’t doing it right, but he wouldn’t listen to me.”

At least the idiot who brewed the poison wouldn’t kill anyone else. I checked another pulse. Another dead man. I looked at Beau and shook my head.

He wiped his eyes and nodded. “I shoulda come to find you sooner, maam, but Buddy told me not to. Said the police would arrest him.”

As I felt carefully for a pulse, I asked Beau, “Why didn’t you drink the moonshine?”

“I don’t drink, maam.”

Jack called, “This one is alive!”

“That’s Jose,” Beau said.

I felt a faint flutter under my fingers. “So is this one.”

“That’s Pete,” Beau said. “Pete’s my best friend.”

 “The other man?” I looked at Jack and he shook his head.

Well, at least I could save two. I bit Beau's friend Pete in the vein in the crook of his arm. He was younger than I would have expected, maybe mid thirties. Tendrils of curly black hair streaked with gray peeked out from under his baseball cap and covered the lower half of his face.

He blinked after a few seconds with startlingly bright blue eyes. “Hi, Pete,” I said.

His blue eyes roved randomly around like he was looking for me. “I can’t see.”

I gave Beau a worried look. “You’re going to be okay, Pete, thanks to Beau.”

“Are you the angel? Beau said the angel would come and help if we let him go get her.”

“I’m no angel, Pete, but I’m glad to help.” I left Beau with Pete and bit Jose to give him a dose of the healing venom.

He breathed easier, but didn’t wake up for a few minutes. When he did, he could see.

Blindness was the most common lasting effect from methanol poisoning, but I thought my venom would take care of that. Pete was still looking around randomly, eyes unfocused.

I don’t know why, but I felt guilty that my venom hadn’t completely healed Pete. Oddly, I felt less guilty about the three dead men. I hadn’t had a chance to help them, but I should have been able to save Pete.
I remembered the man I watched die of a heart attack just last month. I was there. I could have saved him. I didn’t. I still saw his face in my dreams.

My dad would have known what to do for Pete. But I was at a loss.

Beau led the blind homeless man carefully down the steps at the edge of the loading dock, and sat down with him.

“Sometimes the blindness is temporary,” I offered hopefully.

Jack and I called the authorities to let them know about the bodies. Pete, Jose, and Beau got pretty nervous, but we assured them that only Buddy would be in trouble, and he was past caring.

We gave our statements to the police, and the three men were taken to the hospital in ambulances to be checked over. Maybe the doctors would be able to help Pete where I couldn’t.

Jack and I still went out to eat afterward, but my heart wasn’t in it.

“You saved two lives tonight, Dee. You know as well as I do that those two wouldn’t have made it without you.”

I knew he was right. And as much as I wasn’t happy about Beau and the others knowing so much about me, that was the only reason he’d known that I could help. My secret getting out meant that the people who needed my gift could find me. Somehow, when I imagined the day that I stopped hiding and started helping, I just thought I’d be happier.

The perfect topper to the night was coming home to find Vlad sitting on my balcony.

"What do you want?" I asked.

"I saw what you did this evening."

"Jack is my boyfriend, Vlad. You're going to have to deal."

His eyes flickered red, but he shook his head. "I meant saving those men who had poisoned themselves."

"What about it?" I was kicking myself enough for Pete's blindness. I didn't need someone else giving me crap about my inadequacies.

"I just wondered why?" he said.


"Their lives were ended by their own hands, not stolen from them by another.  They contribute nothing, will benefit you in no way, and they did not even express gratitude. Why did you ruin your evening with the mate of your choice to save them?"

I had no idea how to answer him. It took such a different view of the world to frame a question like that. My dad used to be a country doctor. He got paid sometimes with chickens or IOUs or vegetables from people's gardens that he couldn't even eat. But he never hesitated to go when someone showed up at his door. He never reacted any differently to the mayor's daughter in labor than he did to a sharecropper's sick kid. He just went. It never occurred to me to wonder why. But all I ever wanted to be was just like him.

Why did I save them?

"Because I could."

Vlad bowed to me as if I'd said something profound, and flew away.

Strangely, I felt a lot better about myself. I had to wonder, did Vlad do that on purpose?

Dee Dragon

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Superheroing is a Tough Gig

Superheroing is a Tough Gig – March 15
I feel like I’ve been run over by a truck. Oh, yeah, I was, some guy robbing a bank figured that would take me out of the fight yesterday. Make that several trucks, and a herd of elephants, too, at least it feels like it.
Actually, my first day as a superhero, I only fought 5 supervillains and some gangbangers, but then I followed that with a shift as EMT that included an epidemic at a retirement community, 2 overdoses and a 4 alarm fire. Then back to supervillains, and regular criminal gangs for another 12 hours straight.  By the time I got back to work for my next shift, I’d been up for 36 hours straight, and had, literally been hit by a truck. My boss took one look at me, and told me to go home. I must have looked like I’d have to heal up some to qualify as dead. My boss isn’t exactly the compassionate type.
Gladly.  I went home and crashed face down on the bed, still fully dressed.
Ma woke me up some time the next day, checking to make sure I was still breathing, that and to tell me TakeDown was in trouble. Five supes at once, holding kids as hostages.  I was still so tired that a part of me really wanted to say, screw it, and go back to bed. But I dragged my sorry butt there, and helped. The bastards were hurting kids.
Ma accepted my sudden foray into superheroing a lot better than I expected. She seemed to see it as somewhat inevitable. The news crew hadn’t gotten a good look at my face that first fight, and a dark-haired lady in jeans and a denim jacket isn’t too identifiable. Ma insisted that I put on a mask, and wear the exact same jeans and jacket, and never wear those again except for crime fighting so I couldn’t be identified by my outfit. I began to understand a lot of things about heroes that had just seemed like posturing to me before, special costumes, masks. She also insisted that I keep my wings and scales hidden. Without those, I was just another supe, no way to be identified as a dragon.
Don’t know how he did it, but TakeDown never stopped. He’s like the energizer bunny of superheroes. He doesn’t have any flashy powers, just some non-lethal gadgets, tazer gloves, and a tendency to be a bit faster and stronger than whoever he’s fighting at the moment, but that guy just never gives up.
I have a whole new level of respect for TD, and for superheroes in general. You can’t take time off when crazies are holding hostages, no matter how beat up, and just plain beat you are. I asked him, when we were hiding from the press for a few minutes so I could patch up his latest batch of injuries, how does he do it? He told me he never has required much sleep. Just a quirk. And, besides, he took the week off from his day job, claimed a family emergency.
I know it’s completely uncool, and a major violation of superhero etiquette, but I asked. “What’s your day job?”
And he actually told me, with this sort of embarrassed grin, “I make toys.” He showed me a couple of the gadgets on his belt that he made up close, and I realized they were made of flimsy bright red and black plastic, like model cars and RC helicopters.
He wasn’t rude enough to ask, but I told him I was an EMT.  Seemed fair.
He asked why I was so nervous of publicity, and White Knight in particular.
I told him avoiding publicity was to keep a promise to my mother, and the other was a religious thing, White Knight and I had opposing religious beliefs.
That raised TD’s eyebrows, but I didn’t want to go into it any more than that, and he let it go.
I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me to call Vlad or Fafnir. I knew they were both handy in a fight, and we could use all the help we could get. Just too busy dodging laser blasts, and armored fists to think that clearly, I guess.
Vlad just showed up when TD and I had our backsides in a crack, facing a dozen normal human gangsters with plain old-fashioned guns, but too many and too far away for us to stop them before they turned us into swiss cheese. I was about ready to let the bad guys shoot me in the head so I could get some rest. My only thought was to pop out a wing, and see if it could protect us from bullets like it had protected me and Jack from falling hunks of plaster and wood. I kind of doubted it.
We were in this big warehouse and it was, I don’t know, nighttime. I’d lost track of even what day it was, much less what time. TD and I ran in after a couple of punks who robbed a liquor store, and I now know what a trap closing sounds like: like the charging handle being pulled back on a half dozen automatic weapons at once. Oh, and a couple of shotguns getting pumped at the same time.
A giant black winged shape swooped down from behind the guys. TD and I must have shown our surprise on our faces because the mafia guys turned around to see what we were staring at just before Vlad hit them. He laid six of them out at once with a solid whack of the bony leading edge of his wings.
TD and I went opposite ways and disarmed the remaining thugs while they were freaking out about the giant bat-winged scaly creature. They got off a few shots at Vlad, but he just shielded his eyes and let them. Bullets bounced off his scales with bright sparks to show where they hit.
I thanked Vlad for the timely assist once we had things in hand.
TD raised his eyebrows at me again. “You know this um, person?”
“He’s kind of a friend, or maybe a stalker. I haven’t decided.”
Vlad pretty much ignored TD, and fawned over me. “Are you all right, my love? These vile scum didn’t injure you, did they?”
 “I’m fine, Vlad. How did you end up here, just now?”
“I saw these individuals,” he lifted scaly lips in a sneer and kicked one of the downed thugs that was starting to stir, “come in, and send the two that you chased out again. It was clearly a trap, and I thought this might be my chance to prove that I am worthy of your affection.”
“Vlad, how long have you been following me?”
“Only a day or so.”
“Okay, first, that’s really creepy. And second, it didn’t occur to you to help before now?”
“You were never alone, always with this one.” He gestured to TakeDown. “Fafnir the Red told me that there was at least one Georgian in this city, and I would need to keep as he put it, a low profile.”
“So, you let me get hit by a truck?”
“I believed you would survive such a blunt attack, and I did not wish to expose myself to the Georgians until it was on my own terms.”
“Yeah, you’ve got a point. If White Knight had seen you, he’d be trying to lop off your head with that big sword of his, but TakeDown’s okay. He’s definitely not a Georgian.”
Vlad’s eyes reflected red for a second. Very weird. “White Knight, the Protector, is a Georgian?”
“What’s a Georgian?” TakeDown asked.
“It’s White Knight’s religious order,” I told him. “They believe that Vlad and all of his race should be slaughtered on sight.”
TakeDown nodded. “I can see where you both might have some issues with that.” He nodded to Vlad. “Thanks for saving my life.”
Vlad waved a clawed, scaly hand in dismissal. “I sought only to protect the woman I love.”
I so didn’t have the patience for this. “We just met a week ago. We had dinner together once. We’re not exactly Romeo and Juliet here.”
“Ah, but you are my Juliet, I am certain.” Vlad went down on one knee, which made him about shoulder tall, lifted my hand and kissed my knuckles. “Given time, I shall prove to you that I should be your Romeo.”
It was sweet, in a somewhat melodramatic, overdone kind of way. And he had just saved my life. And he did look really hot as a dragon, and not bad in human form either, actually.
I squeezed his hand where he held mine, careful not to puncture myself on his claws, and gave him a tired smile, and quick peck on the cheek.
His face lit up like he’d won the nobel prize.
I heard sirens pull up and stop outside the warehouse about then.
TakeDown wore a special bluetooth headset that was tuned into police frequencies. That’s how he always knew where he was needed, and he also used it to call in the paddy wagons to take away the criminals once we had them subdued.
I told Vlad, “You better make yourself scarce.”
Vlad flew back up into the rafters, found a dark corner, and shifted to small, inconspicuous human form. He might as well have been invisible. No one would ever have spotted him up there.
It’s been like that all week: Me grabbing a few hours of sleep here and there, then going back out into the thick of it. TakeDown being Johnny on the Spot, and calling me when he’s outnumbered. Vlad occasionally showing up out of nowhere, whenever he can help without being seen, and saving our bacon. The criminals seem to be getting the message that Protectors or no Protectors, this town is not available for free looting. The incidents have slowed down enough that I think even TakeDown has gotten to sleep some.
I can’t wait for the Protectors to get back. I never thought I’d say this, but I think I even miss White Knight.
D Dragon

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


All of the Protectors packed their gear and flew in their government provided jet to Japan to help after the earthquake and tsunami. Even a bunch of the adjuncts and part-timers went. I’ve seen the devastation on Youtube and on the news. I know they’re needed. The Japanese heroes are doing the best they can, but they’re overwhelmed. I’d seen some sort of radiation absorbing hero get blown to bits on the news just the other day, when an explosion happened at one of the nuclear power plants.  I know my healing venom in particular could be a huge help. White Knight called the hospital where I work to try to talk me into going with them.
 I told him to take a long walk off a short pier.
If the supes had just slipped off quietly, it would have been fine. I might even have been convinced to go with them. Remedy’s an amazing hero, but his healing abilities have their limits. My gift could save a lot of lives over there. The thing is, the Protectors left in front of all the cameras. The president announced, “We are sending our greatest heroes to aid our friends in Japan.”  Made a big production about it.
Even the All American Alliance heroes went, while their corporate sponsors talked about how they were citizens of the world economy, etc. It’s good PR for them, and they do a lot of business in Japan.
So, every criminal, super-villain, and low-life on this continent now knows that the heroes that normally keep them in check are all on the other side of the world. Peachy.
Not everybody went. Some of the independents saw the writing on the wall like I did, and stayed behind to try to pick up the slack. I didn’t don tights or anything, but when I saw TakeDown on a live news report trying to fight off three super-villains at once, by himself, I realized I couldn’t just sit on the sidelines anymore. These guys were robbing a bank in broad daylight, and just walking over the cops, not three blocks from my apartment. I decided to keep my wings under wraps, so I had to run over there, but the fight was still in full swing when I arrived.
A big guy with disproportionately long arms, and a lot of body hair that reminded me of a gorilla was holding TakeDown in an arm lock while some jerk with porcupine spikes all over his body was seriously messing him up.
I got the spikey guy around the throat with my left arm, making sure only my scaly parts got close to him.
TakeDown broke free of the arm lock by dropping to the ground and slinging the gorilla over his head. Stoically ignoring a half dozen spines sticking out of his less armored arms and legs as well as his armored torso, he tossed a glue grenade at spike-boy’s legs. That took him out of the fight, I thought. But he drew back and did this motion at me like he was throwing a baseball. I put my left arm up to cover my face out of reflex, and it was lucky I did. About ten of those spikes stuck in my favorite denim jacket, and I felt them scritch against my scales. I had to pick three more out of my hair later. Only one hit flesh. It stuck in my neck, just above my collarbone, and went in about an inch. Burned like fire. I yanked it out fast, and the nasty thing was barbed. It ripped a hole as big around as my pinky.
Can I just say, OW! That hurt. Really hurt. Being hit by a car was more fun.
I punched the guy in the face, the one place where he had no spines, and he went down like a tree broken by a hurricane, his feet still glued to the ground.
Porcupine’s buddies saw what was happening, and the next thing I knew I was bouncing off a car door, and pieces of the pavement were flying all around me. One bit of concrete cut me over the eye, and blood ran into it. I had to keep blinking to see what was going on.
This guy with spikey blue hair was holding his hands out like an anime magician in TakeDown’s general direction. TakeDown was like a red and black streak as he leapt out of the way just before a big crater appeared in the pavement where he’d been standing, and concrete chunks went flying.
That gave me a bit of a clue as to why I was lying against a tire, and there was a hole six feet away where I’d been standing just before.
Well, okay then.
I got up, dusted my butt off with my hands out of reflex where I’d been sitting on the ground, and wiped the blood out of my eye.
The guy who knocked me on my butt was aiming his hands at TakeDown again, who had gotten jumped, and was fighting hand-to-hand with the gorilla-looking fellow. They were both moving like greased lions, but it looked to me like TakeDown was getting the better of it. The blue-haired blaster was going to hit TakeDown from behind.
“Hey!” I shouted at Blue-Hair. “Try that again when I’m looking, jerk!”
So, of course, he did.
He aimed his palms at me, wrist touching wrist, fingers curled around a ball of wavy light distortion. I almost stood there a half second too long, just watching him fascinated, as he warped thin air into something that hit like a wrecking ball.
At the last possible moment, I jumped. I didn’t want anyone to see my wings, so I couldn’t flap to assist and make it up a couple of stories, but I can still jump like a pole-vaulter, without having to mess around with a pole.
I landed on blue-hair’s chest.  He went whumf when he landed on the ground, then coughed, gasped and choked. I put a tennis shoe on his throat, and held him down. “Aim those hands at me and I’ll practice my clogging,” I told him.
He was too busy trying to breathe to answer.
I checked on TakeDown. He had the big gorilla in an arm lock and slapped a cuff on him faster than I could blink.
TakeDown thanked me for the assist while he was cuffing the blue-haired guy, and Spike.
Once the criminals were cuffed, my brain shifted gears to EMT mode, and I started checking the six inch long needles sticking out of TakeDown’s arms and legs. The spikes had bounced off his knee pads, and shin and forearm guards, stuck harmlessly in his torso armor, but his upper arms were bare, and his thighs only had black and red spandex over them.
“Don’t those hurt?” I only had one, and it had been like a red hot poker in my skin. There was some kind of acid or irritant on the surface of those things, no doubt. I couldn’t imagine how he had kept fighting so effectively with those things buried two inches deep in his flesh.
He grinned and grimaced at the same time, “Like heck.” Yes, he actually said heck. TakeDown works with kids a lot.
I told him they were barbed, and would rip flesh when they were removed. He said he’d go to the hospital to have them removed.
 I almost said something then, but didn’t.
The special police van showed up, and the armored SWAT team took custody of the super criminals, and offered to drop TakeDown at the nearest ER.
TakeDown was no Georgian. He was a working class hero who showed up and took the punches to protect the rest of us. While the glory hounds went to the high profile, world-is-watching location, he stayed here to protect his home town.
I made a decision, and told him to stay while the SWAT van left.  I took him around the corner, out of sight of the crowd that had gathered.
He followed me, even though he was starting to limp from the pain. I guess helping a guy stop super-bads a couple of times earns some cred.
I told him I could pull the spikes out, that it would hurt like a word he wouldn’t say, and rip flesh, but I could do something afterward that would make the pain go away almost instantly, and the wounds heal completely with no scars within a day.  Or, I could give him a lift to the hospital, and he could have them removed surgically, under anesthetic. And, he’d be in the hospital for a week or more when we needed him on the street, and probably lose muscle and be badly scarred.
“That’s quite a choice,” he said. But he opted for quick pain and quick healing. I’d have made the same choice in his shoes. I had, actually. The hole above my collar bone and the gash over my eye had already started closing up. By tomorrow, you wouldn’t be able to tell I’d been hurt. Somehow, my venom seems to transfer that healing ability to other people.
We yanked out all the spikes as fast as possible. I left the one in the crook of his arm till last. It was right in the vein, and I knew it would bleed when I yanked it. As soon as I pulled it, I put pressure on the wound with my thumb, and bit him, with the back of my head toward him so he couldn’t see the fangs.  I gave him a full dose, then pulled back. And watched the blood flow stop, and the wounds start to close.
“Better now?”
He nodded, and asked me, “Are you some kind of vampire or something?”
I had gotten a mouthful of his blood when I bit him, which tasted pretty good actually. “No, not exactly.” Old Bram Stoker wasn’t that far off the mark, though. “Look, don’t tell anyone about this, okay? Especially White Knight.”
He raised his eyebrows at me, but his wounds were visibly better. “All right. Your healing secret is safe with me. But there was a camera crew out there. Your fighting abilities aren’t exactly secret anymore.”
Camera crew. Right. Of course. That would be how I saw that TakeDown was in trouble on the news.  And naturally, they were still filming while I fought spike and blue-hair, so, now I was on the news.
So much for my promise to Ma to keep my head down.
TakeDown looked sympathetic, even though he didn’t know why I didn’t want my abilities broadcast. “You’re not going to be able to hide anymore.”
“Well, if I can’t hide, I might as well help.” I gave him my cell number and told him to call me. Until the Protectors got back from Japan, I’d be his backup.
For the first time, I felt real fear. I was going to have to go home and tell Ma about this.
I would have much preferred fighting a few more super-villains.
D Dragon

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Eyes in the Window

The red eyes at my window belonged to Count Dracula himself. Some weird light reflection thing made them red.
I went to check it out, and there was Vlad, in full on dragon mode, clinging to my windowsill by his feet, and pulling a peeping Tom act. I opened the window and asked him, “What the heck are you doing?”
“Admiring your beauty, my treasure. May I come in?”
“No, you can’t come in, Vlad. What are you thinking? It’s 3 AM, and you’re staring in my window. I don’t know what they called that 700 years ago, but nowadays it’s called stalking, and I could have you arrested for it.”
He looked all crestfallen, so I took pity on him. “All right, go to the balcony and I’ll meet you there. Just don’t let anyone see you.  And don’t wake up my mother.”
I had to admit he looked pretty awesome in dragon mode. Just like Fafnir, he wore nothing but a pair of belted pants that rode low on his hips to make room for exceptionally large wings. His scales were all black, no other color, and he didn’t have any of the spikes like Fafnir had, and he wasn’t so massive. He was about twice the size of an ordinary man, about Andre the Giant size, but sleeker and more gracefully built, like an Olympic gymnast.
He stood there, wings folded, on my balcony in between Ma’s potted tomatoes and strawberries, and looked like some sexy demon, or a piece of the night sky come to life with stars glittering where the moonlight reflected off his scales. What do you know, vampires do sparkle, sort of.
“Damson,” he said softly, with that unusual accent that made my name sound exotic.
I really wanted to touch those shiny black scales, feel the smooth, cool texture of them over the perfectly formed muscles. My hand actually started to go toward him before I realized what I was doing, and reached up to scratch my head to try to cover it. “What’s up, Vlad? Why are you here? Did Fafnir send you?”
“In a way, I suppose he did. He told me that you are the only female dragon he has encountered on this continent. You and I seemed to get along well at our initial meeting.  I decided it was time to …” He tried to put his arms around me and I planted a hand firmly in the middle of his chest and locked my arm out straight.
“Back off, bat boy. I’m not that kind of girl. And I already have a boyfriend anyway. You’re barking up the wrong tree.”
“Barking? Tree?” he said, and looked pretty puzzled. “I do not understand. You and I are the only dragons of our generation within thousands of miles. It is clear that we were meant to be mates.”
He kind of had a point. If I were going to date another dragon, it was either him or Fafnir, and Fafnir was like a wise old granduncle to me, not someone I would think about dating. “Jack is my boyfriend.”
Vlad nodded. “I understand that the young dragon lord was your only option before. But the dragon blood in his line is so diluted that he may as well be human.” He made a face when he said human, like you would if you were talking about somebody considering sleeping with a sheep.
“My dad was a dragon, but Ma is human. I don’t pick who I date by their species.”
He got this compassionate look, like I’d admitted to having a serious handicap. “I understand that your father turned to a human woman. It is hard to be alone for so long. You are beautiful, regardless of your mixed blood.” He put a hand on my shoulder, the scaly one, and his huge hand felt warm and somehow right through the thin fabric of my favorite blue sleepy T with the kittens on the front. I wondered what it would feel like without the fabric, scales sliding against scales.
“Um, thanks for that, I guess.” I took a step back, feeling acutely uncomfortable. My body was having all kinds of reactions to the close presence of an interested drake, while my mind was having entirely opposite reactions to Vlad himself. The guy was one very hot dragon, but I was beginning to wonder if maybe he was a bit of a jerk.
He bowed slightly as I backed away. “I can see that I am rushing you. Please, accept my apology.” He turned away and looked out at the view. It’s a great view. We could see the UT tower. “I fear I have lost the knack of wooing a mate. I lost my wife nearly 500 years ago. That is a long time to be alone.”
Then, I felt like a jerk. “What happened?”
“The Order of St. George was formed in my homeland. My wife and sons were among the first of our kind to die at their hands. My boys were a miracle, twins, which almost never happens among dragons. They were strong healthy sons, only seven years old, with their mother’s beauty. The Georgians slaughtered them, along with every man, woman, and child in the village, since many of them were of mixed blood. I was away at war. By the time I returned, they had been dead for weeks.”
“I’m so sorry,” I said, and put my hand on his arm. Nice arm, I have to say, and I could feel the muscles ripple under the scales when he shrugged.
“It is an old wound, long scarred over.”
“Georgians killed my dad a long time ago, too, but that doesn’t seem to make it any better.”
“It is a curse of dragons, that we have long memories.” He put his arm around me, and I didn’t push him away.
“I suppose that could be a blessing if the memories were better ones.”
“I would like to make some good memories with you, Damson.” He bent down and kissed me, very gently. It felt strange, but nice. And then he ruined it. “You are the closest to a female dragon of full blood that I have encountered in a century.”
“Well, that really makes a girl feel special.” I suppose he meant that as a good thing. But, I’d like to be desired for a bit more than the fact that I have scales and wings. “Look, Vlad, you’re a nice guy, and attractive and all, but I’ve already got a boyfriend.” I stepped back. “I think it’s time for you to go.”
“I understand. I shall have to earn the right to your affections. I will return when I can show you that I am worthy.”
“Um, right. You do that.”
He hopped up on the balcony railing gripping it with his bare feet, and spread his wings.
“Oh, and Vlad?”
“Yes, my love?”
“Don’t stare in my window anymore. It’s creepy.”
“As you wish,” he said, and bowed his head slightly. Then flew away.
He did sort of look like a giant bat when he was flying. I get where Bram Stoker got that concept now.
D Dragon

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Rooftop Kiss

Three car pileup on highway 183 yesterday in the Anderson Mill area.  Lots of bad injuries, but everybody made it, even the little girl.  Kid had gotten out of her car seat somehow. Mom was hysterical, freaking out, saying that her baby was dead, and it was her fault for not getting her back into the seat before the crash.
Jack gave me a look, and got the mom turned the other way while I crawled in the smashed up back seat. Cut my knee a little on the crunchy squares of broken glass. A part of me will be glad when the scales spread to my knees.  I checked the kid, about five, and busted up bad, but still breathing. I bit her gently in the crook of her arm, careful not to give her too much of the venom. Not entirely sure how my venom works, but I figure if a full bite is enough to heal a big man, it would be something akin to an overdose for such a little kid. Not sure if that might be bad for her.
I tucked her under one arm and backed out. By the time I turned around to the mom, the kid was stirring and opening her eyes. She started bawling and held her arms out, and her mom took her from me so gently I was afraid she would drop the kid, trying not to hurt her.
Just seeing the two of them there made me get a little teary-eyed, and I smiled at Jack.  He grinned back at me, before we went to help some of the others. The kid was going to be fine, and we both knew it.
 “That’s why,” I said, and he chuckled.
He asked me twice why I wanted to date him that first time, so ever since, when he does something particularly wonderful, I tell him, “That’s why.”
And like I said, lots of bad injuries, but everybody’s going to be fine. I’ve got a feeling, now that Jack’s in on my secret, our survival rate will be a lot more than 70% higher than the other teams. It was an awesome shift. We easily saved five more lives that night. We were both feeling like rockstars by the end of it.
Jack and I had dinner after at my place. Ma cooked her once famous pot roast, and told Jack a bunch of really embarrassing stories about my childhood. Like the time she caught Dad and me jumping off the roof of the barn into the hay. And the time I tried to use a fang to open a can of sardines and got the metal stuck. I had one fang stuck hanging out, and couldn’t talk properly to tell her what the problem was.
Jack laughed until tears rolled down his cheeks, and I wished I could hide under the table without looking like an idiot. Nothing like a mother who changed your diapers to keep your head from getting too big.
I took Jack up the fire escape, past the yappy Pekingese on his little balcony, and up to the roof to show him the view. It was gorgeous. The fickle Texas weather was feeling friendly this morning, and spring was just starting to show in the blooming plum trees down in the parks. Fluffy clouds drifted in a perfect, soft blue sky.
We kissed again. It was a lot better this time. Softer and longer, and no teeth bumping. Jack likes to stroke my left arm with the scales.
It feels oddly a lot more intimate than just having someone touch my arm should. I told him no one else but my parents ever touched me there, and he told me he was honored to be the first.
Jack’s really an amazing
Weird. I’d swear I saw red eyes at my window, but I’m on the fifth floor. Back in a second.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Big Grass Fire and a Bigger Pain

I am so glad I have tomorrow off. I slept for 14 hours straight after yesterday, and even with all that sleep I’m still in a foul mood.
I was just getting off shift, chatting with Jack about our possible next date and ignoring my vibrating cell because I knew it was Vlad wanting the same thing. (Haven’t told Jack about Vlad yet. Not sure how that’s going to go over.) The boss told us that one of us had to cover for a guy who called in sick on day shift. I knew Jack had to take his mom to a doctor’s appointment, so I took the hit. Two 12 hour shifts in a row is enough to make anyone a little cranky. But I have a heck of a lot better reason than just sleep deprivation for that.
There was this huge grass fire on Mopac around 38th yesterday. It spread from the highway where some careless jerk probably threw a lit cigarette out his window to a couple of apartment complexes nearby. My temporary partner and I were sent as a precaution. No one was actually hurt, but a construction site and both the apartment complexes, including their four-footed inhabitants, had to be evacuated. So, everybody and their dogs, literally, were standing around watching the firemen. Five fire trucks. Traffic was snarled for miles around.
Only injury was one of the firefighters who broke a finger. He was pulling on a big wrench to loosen a frozen fireplug nut, when it let go and slammed his hand into the asphalt.  My partner was over on the other end of things with oxygen equipment and burn sheets in case anybody got too close or inhaled too much smoke. I was with the unit, so I splinted the fireman’s busted finger. I was thinking the guy looked familiar, very attractive, blonde, nice hazel eyes, small scar on his lip and another on the opposite eyebrow, and then it hit me. It was the fire gear that threw me off. I mentally shifted to a suit of silver scale mail, and bingo. White Knight.
So, he pulls people out of burning buildings even when he’s not officially being a superhero. Bastard.
“Yeah, I recognize you, too,” he said. I must have shown some of my less than enthusiastic response on my face. I’m going to try and write down the whole conversation as best I can remember. It was a doozy.
I was done splinting his hand, so I stepped back and crossed my arms. “What do you want?”
“I don’t want anything. I believe I owe you my life.”
It took me a minute to realize he didn’t mean that he owed me his life in exchange for his compatriots murdering my father. I just shrugged.
“I was pretty surprised when I woke up alone in the theatre, unmasked but unharmed. I hadn’t really expected to survive that day. How did you stop the dragon from killing me?”
“I asked him nicely.”
He laughed, like I was kidding. “You don’t have to hide anything from me. Flynn is a friend of mine, the officer you saved a few days ago. I visited him yesterday, and he had new healthy pink skin where the burns were. Docs are calling it a miracle.  I saw you jump over a six foot gurney four feet high, and nobody just shoves Mr. Flame with no protection but a cloth shirt and doesn’t get burned.”
“Mr. Flame? That’s what the guy calls himself? Seriously? Criminals have no imagination.”
He got all earnest and wouldn’t let me deflect. “Since Remedy moved to the San Francisco HQ, we have no one with a healing power within a thousand miles. With strength, invulnerability at least to heat attacks, and especially a healing gift, we need people like you in the Protectors.”
“Look, just stay out of my business, okay? Not everyone who’s different wants to be a superhero. Maybe I want to rob banks or win big in the MMA ring.”
“People who think of themselves first don’t become EMT’s.” He held his hand with the broken finger out. “Heal it?” he asked.
“I can’t.”
“Can’t, or won’t?” He was just asking, but it pissed me off anyway.
“Won’t.” If he had been anyone but a Georgian, he was right, I could inject him with a tiny amount of venom and he’d be good as new in a day or two, instead of the six weeks in a cast he had to look forward to.
“Why not? I know your secret.” Hah! If he did, he’d be trying to kill me, not trying to recruit me. “The Protectors need you. Healing is an incredibly rare power.”
“I’m not going to live with the threat of someone throwing fireballs through my window and killing my mom.” It was a good excuse, and true, actually.
“A secret identity is good protection for your loved ones, and a Protector would never …”
“Really helped you, didn’t it, Firefighter …” I looked at the cloth name tag sewed onto his uniform. “Novak.”
“It’s Mark. And, if you were an enemy, I know I’d be dead already. You must have some serious power to stop a dragon without weapons. Is it dead?”
“He is not dead. He was perfectly reasonable about the whole situation. He told me what you are, and that you were trying to kill him, and I asked him not to kill you in spite of that. No superpowers needed.”
He just looked at me, and blinked for a second. “You mean you actually talked to it?”
“You are such an asshole. I should have let Fafnir kill you.”
“Yeah, the person you tried to stab right in the middle of my first date. If I were a Protector, I’d have arrested you for attempted murder.”
“It was a dragon, maam. I know they can simulate human form, but …”
“I’m Dee, not maam.” I was getting really riled up by the way he kept calling Fafnir an it. I poked him in the chest with my finger. “You’re a Protector. You swore a clearly worthless oath never to deliberately use deadly force.”
“On people. But it’s a dragon.”
“I got that. So, clearly people with scales and wings don’t count to you. Kill them all. Tell me, hero boy, what crime did Fafnir commit?”
“Crime? It’s a …”
“Dragon,” I said with him. “Broken record, much? He talks, thinks, has feelings. Sounds like a person to me, a fairly polite person when I met him. And apparently, he’s committed no crime that you know of, but you thought it was perfectly okay to hunt him down and kill him. Do I have that right?”
“I, but, …” he stumbled for a second or two then got back up on his high horse. “Dragons are monstrous forces of evil that must be destroyed. They’re not like ordinary human criminals.”
“Oh, you mean the ordinary human criminals that melt bullets and throw fireballs. I get it. If you rob stores, burn cops, set fire to buildings, you get a fair trial. If you’re scaly and winged, then you need killing, even if you haven’t committed any crime at all. You’re guilty of being born the wrong species.”
“You don’t understand. I’m a member of a holy order that’s …”
“I understand fine. You are a genocidal, religious fanatic, and you can take your jihad and your Protectors job offer and shove them both!”
I so wanted to storm off then, but where was I going to go? I couldn’t even get in the unit and drive away. My partner was blocks away, and traffic was bumper to bumper for miles in every direction.
I settled for turning my back on him and crossing my arms.
“He killed my mentor,” he shouted at my back. People started looking over to see if we might be more entertaining than the fire.
I turned back around and dropped my voice. “What was your mentor doing at the time?” I asked acidly. “Oh wait, let me guess. He was trying to kill Fafnir.”
He spluttered, “But, but …” which was pretty much a confirmation that I hit the nail on the head.
 “But Fafnir’s a dragon.” I mimicked. “Dragon’s aren’t people, so the whole self-defense thing doesn’t count, right? Just like your oath not to kill.”
“Fafnir, as you call it, has killed hundreds of my order over the centuries.”
“And all those poor, innocent religious men were just trying to invite him to tea, I’m sure.”
“Why are you defending a demonic agent of Satan?”
“Why are you trying to kill a guy who has done nothing but defend his own life? Last time I checked, Protectors were supposed to care about what people did, not what they looked like.”
“He doesn’t just look like a dragon; he IS a dragon, a brutal, deadly killing machine that eats people.”
“And my elderly neighbor is a Jew, a greedy, moneygrubbing threat to Aryan supremacy, and someone figured her parents and everyone like them should die for that, too.”
“Dragons are not the same as Jewish people. They’re not even people!”
“I am wasting my breath on you! You, you, bigot!” I, once again, couldn’t storm away. “I can’t leave, so you leave. Go suck some smoke or something.” Then I turned my back on him again.
So, he finally gave up and left.
I hate that guy, really a lot.  I wish a hundred times over that I had just stayed out of it, and let Fafnir kill him.
It wasn’t till I cooled off a bit that I started getting scared. That Georgian already knew too much about me, and I’d just thrown fuel on that fire. He’d proven that nothing I was ever going to say would change his view of dragons. This was no way to keep my promise to Ma about keeping my head down.
What the heck was I thinking?
D Dragon