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.
“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?