Hey, guys. I forgot to leave a note here but the reason this chapter was delayed one week was because I did some rewrites on it and I had to get it Betaed before I felt it ready to post.
Now, it's ready.
As of now, there are three chapters in backlog, all of them on that website that starts with a P and end with an N.
I'm working on chapter 4 right now and hopefully it should be done by the middle of the week along with the next chapter for Life Is But A Game and Where The Heart Is.
– o – o – o – o – o – o – o –
As the door swung open, Sparky stepped into the stairwell, only to blink and stumble over for a moment. He gasped, head facing the floor, as white filled his vision and the world in front of him swayed, drooping and distorting like a surrealist painting brought to life.
A second later, it shifted again, suddenly snapping back to something approaching normal. He blinked again, the boy taking a moment to catch his breath, when a sound caught his attention. He raised his head and his eyes widened again.
At the top of the landing stood an Empire member with his back to him, unaware of anything going on as he drunkenly and tunelessly hummed some insipid tune.
Time seemed to slow as Sparky watched, the details of the scene soaking into his mind with the sharpness of a high-definition photograph. The man's tattoos visible on his bare back, his close-cropped dyed blond hair, pants halfway around his ankles, the unchecked yellow stream pouring from between his legs – all of it came into sharp focus, even as the edges of his perception seemed oddly fluid.
"Fuck…." Sparky winced, a hand rising to his temple as a spike of pain ran through his skull.
The tattooed gangster spun around at the whispered sound, pants unbuckled and urine dripping still, his stupefied expression swimming across his face, refusing to solidify as if seen through a warping, liquid lens. The world turned to ice for a moment when their eyes met, fear spiking through Sparky's thoughts as realization seeped into the tattooed man's alcohol-fogged brain as slowly as honey.
"Fuck." Driven by pure instinct, the teenager charged forward. Before the gangster could even do so much as pick up his pants, Sparky's shoulder collided into his bare chest with as much force as he could manage and the unprepared man flew.
Back and downward.
The boy blinked as the man came to a stop unceremoniously at the next landing, eyes blank and head at an angle that he doubted would ever straighten again.
He forced himself to ignore the part of him that was laughing maniacally at the sight, already in motion and not willing to spare the corpse another thought. His legs carried up the dingy, dimly-lit stairwell, mind focused on reaching the door to the roof.
His hands closed around the doorknob as he pushed it open a—
As the door swung open, Sparky stepped into the stairwell, only to blink and stumble over for a moment. He gaspe—
His mouth snapped shut silently as his eyes landed on something familiar.
The Empire member was back, different yet eerily similar, stuck in the same humiliating act.
Deja vu. "Wai-"
This time it was a broad-shouldered brute, a black shirt concealing his back but his tattoos spilled out and over his arms, a canvas of intricate ink swirls showing off gang hierarchy and blood bonds.
Sparky watched him, something within him reacting to the familiar scenario. A clear decision formed in his mind, a strategy, simple but solid.
Instead of charging blindly, he collected himself and timed his movements. He rushed, his shoe connecting with the man's exposed back, sending him off-balance and down the staircase in a series of heavy, disjointed thuds. The sound bounced off the walls of the stairwell, a gruesome symphony accompanying Sparky's footsteps as he ascended the stairs without a single look back.
His movements were more manic and desperate this time, fingers closing around the door to push it open as the world seemed to shudder and shift an—
Time folded in on itself.
His surroundings seemed to ripple and distort as he blinked an—
An Empire member stood at the landing, yet another, with a shaved head marked by vibrant tattoos. Sparky didn't bother to hesitate, not even blinking as he rushed forward.
He chose a punch this time, a forceful right hook that caught the man off-guard. The surprise in his eyes was almost comical before he collapsed, tumbling down the stairs in the same familiar, grotesque, way the others had.
The déjà vu persisted, sending a shudder through Sparky as he watched the world change.
He blinked as he re-entered the same stairwell, badly-lit and just as poorly constructed, another gangster pissing freely as he sang like no one was watching.
This one was fat—round even—middle-aged and balding, with the center of his scalp glistening even in the dim, flickering light. His neck was decorated with tattoos that coiled around the back of his throat, a collar of thorny swastikas with other symbols of his gang life surrounding it.
Sparky didn't care.
He sprang forward, the familiar feeling of adrenaline rushing through him for the nth time his fuel, as he lunged his fist into the back of the man's neck with force and speed. The fat man choked in surprise and pain, body pitching forward and arms swinging wildly as he tried to right himself.
The rhythmic thuds of his fall echoed off the enclosed stairwell, shifting to silence in no time at all.
Again, Sparky made his way upward.
Again, the world reset.
Each time, a new Empire member.
A new face he couldn't quite make out.
A different body, with different clothes marked with different ink, but always in the same stupid situation. Young or old, skinny to buff, they all fell the same way. Every single one of them drunk and collapsed under a single hit, repeating the same stupid moment.
He wasn't sure how many of them had fallen.
He couldn't keep count.
He never kept count.
His fingers closed around the doorknob every time and every time—
The Empire member was a tall man this time, a head of thick dyed blond hair atop his head and a well-built body noticeable beneath his clothing. He stood at the landing, leather jacket covering his back, once again caught in the same act of urination, whistling and oblivious.
Sparky stepped forward.
The man froze, his whistling ceasing immediately as the urination cut off at the same time.
The teenager halted, mouth open in a silent "what?"
The gangster spun, a pistol in hand. The sight of the gun jarred the rhythm the boy had set, but the sight of the man's face — clear and distinct — shook him more than anything else, confusion and shock warring with the rest of him.
"Thought I was gone, kid?"
His heart pounded in his chest as his eyes widened, but he was already in motion.
Time seemed to warp as he ran towards the gun, and reality seemed like a picture frozen in place. The grinning face of the older Duncan shifted to shock as he ran toward him, the cold glint of the gun, the droplets of urine suspended in mid-air…
He took in everything and he lunged.
Hands stretched out, reaching for the weapon, hoping to tear it away.
Reality held its breath.
A bone-rattling roar filled the enclosed stairwell, the echo bouncing off the walls in a deafening cacophony. The handgun jerked in Sparky's grip, its recoil sending him sprawling backwards, head connecting with the cold, hard floor. The taste of iron coated his tongue as blood trickled down his face, vision clouded and the world spinning.
– o – o – o – o – o – o – o –
The last glow of a setting sun pierced through the narrow gap in Sparky's blackout curtains, casting a single dim stripe of fading twilight across the chaos of his room. Stirred awake from the grip of uneasy dreams, Sparky's bright golden eyes snapped open as he stared up at his ceiling with a piercing gaze and a tightly-clenched jaw.
The teenager blinked once, acutely and unmistakably aware of just how alert he was in a single instant, the moment after waking up. Never gonna get used to that, am I? he thinks to himself, a frown creasing his brow. His words echoed strangely in his head, and he did his best to ignore what he really thought about that. There was a sense of disillusionment poking at him whenever he dared to even contemplate that idea, that this new feeling, all of these new feelings would never stop being new and weird.
The thought felt far less like truth and more like the worst sort of lie – a comfort blanket he chose to wrap around himself rather than confront the unsettling reality that he likely would get used to all of this sooner or later. Hopefully later.
Pushing the thought away, Sparky pulled himself up, pillows bunched up at the base of his spine as he rested against his headboard. Almost against his will, his sharp gaze—too sharptoocleartoobright—slid from corner to corner of the four walls around him, taking in the room that he had properly made his own in the last few years.
As Sparky scanned his surroundings, his mind grappled with the aftershocks of the dream.
The beginning, at least.
The face of the man he had killed – a face he couldn't recall, and more disturbingly, found that he didn't particularly care whether or not he did. He wasn't sure what that meant and found himself just as uninterested in the answer as he was the face.
The ending; that was different.
That was scary.
Sparky may have mouthed off to him several times, but those were for a purpose. Hell, the last time he didn't think it mattered because he was already dying by then.
He still didn't know what happened to him, after the bullets hit his body.
All Sparky remembered was blinking from the shock and then…
The older Duncan was gone.
Greg had been cagey about what happened to him, becoming more and more evasive, and outright changing subjects the longer he kept asking about the man. Even though Greg's smile didn't leave his face, for the most part, Sparky had decided to let things slide when he noticed his friend's eyes beginning to go from rounded to…
Well, to something else.
A question for tomorrow, I guess. As that thought passed through his mind, Sparky let out a slight groan, just now remembering about tomorrow. He almost forgot that he had to meet Greg again tomorrow.
For what, he wasn't sure, but the other boy said it was important. "Important, my ass," Sparky grumbled to himself as shook his head slowly. He probably just wants to do the same thing I did to him when I found out he got powers. He groaned again, dragging his palm down his face as he did so. I'd be a lot more okay with that if I wasn't dealing with this bullshit right now.
Sparky let out a sigh and shut his eyes tight, doing his very best to avoid thinking and push down the mild nausea that seemed to pop its annoying head up every now and again. Since this morning, his senses were perpetually on edge, constantly and relentlessly alerting him to any new stimuli, a constant buzz of observations.
He was blind and now he could see.
Oh God, he wished he was still blind.
The bullshit in question was the irritating distraction he had to deal with every time his senses picked up on anything new or unfamiliar, his brain automatically forcing him to be aware of it. Whatever those things happened to be would buzz in his awareness like particularly persistent mosquitos, lasting until he finally got used to it and he could let it sink to the back of his mind like everything else.
At least, until something else popped up.
And something always did.
Letting out a groan of pure frustration, Sparky flicked his eyes open, the dimly-lit room clear as daylight. Even with the barest of natural light, his vision was razor sharp, cutting through the gloom with unnatural acuity. His room stood out to him as frighteningly unfamiliar the longer he looked, each corner full of unexplored details his mind would simply pass over normally. Misplaced socks hiding beneath the bed, the scent of candy bars in an old shoebox, and worn-out comic books strewn under his desk, all things he'd somehow missed before.
He allowed his gaze to wander to the pile of dirty laundry in the corner, his own musk wafting back at him, the scent feeling like a punch in the face. Even from here, he could still make out the faded smell of his mom's favorite organic detergent layered under the stench of his sweaty feet.
A gentle breeze from the outside tugged at his blackout curtains, sending a slight shudder across his sensitive skin and momentarily disturbing the posters adorning his walls. He looked at the walls of his room in turn, each telling a story of an obsession, a phase, a fleeting interest. Every band he had ever worshiped, every model he had ever fantasized about, every extreme skateboarder he had ever dreamed about being, was there staring back at him.
He glanced at his old Rockhenge poster, the vibrant colors of his favorite childhood rock band neon in their intensity under his gaze. The lead guitarist, Lance "Lightning" Laramie, mid-solo, his fingers a blur on the strings. The detail was uncanny, his enhanced vision picking up fine print at the corner that he'd never even noticed from close up.
Next to that was the pinup poster of Aria Washington, a model who caught his eye immediately with her dark skin and noticeable abs. She was draped over a sleek, silver Astoria V8 in nothing but a black bikini, the gloss of the car's paintwork reflected in her aviator sunglasses. Even from across the room, he could pinpoint the minute creases on the poster, each fold and tiny tear revealing years of possession.
Right up against them was a large landscape poster of Zephyr Zenn, the world-class skateboarder immortalized in the middle of a gravity-defying Christ Air, board in hand with his arms stretched out at his sides and body perfectly parallel to the ground.
From somewhere outside the walls of his room, the familiar chords of 'Eclipse Heartbeat' by Stardust Fall strummed in the background. The radio from the kitchen, probably left on by his dad, delivered the familiar song right to his ears as if he wasn't several rooms away and a floor up. The singer's voice was perfectly familiar, the lyrics coming to his lips with a slight smile as he mouthed along to the song his parents seemed to love more than anything else.
Surrounded by all these details and sensations, the small white-capped container perched on his dresser existed like a gray spot of color. He hardly glanced at it, the bottle of Zenelix entirely unnoticeable surrounded by the skateboarding trophies, concert ticket stubs and dirty socks. Instead, Sparky swung his feet out of bed and padded across the room, bare feet cool against the wooden floor. Reaching the window, he opened the curtains slightly wider, pausing as his brain took in everything about the neighborhood from this particular angle. After a long moment of quiet processing, the teenager shut the window and locked it, before unceremoniously pulling the blackout curtains tightly together to block the fading bits of daylight.
Only a sliver of light from the hallway peeking under his closed door dared to intrude in his room and yet, it was enough for his eyes to paint the room perfectly for him, each shape and object carved out in the twilight haze even if he couldn't quite see. His other senses, undeterred by the lack of light, continued to pick up and process information with just as much detail as before, if not more.
God, I wish Greg was here right now. I need someone to talk to. He plopped himself back down on his bed, chin resting on his palms as his knees kept his elbows elevated. All he could think about was earlier today, the events of seven hours ago unfolding in his mind.
Honestly, they hadn't done much talking after their main conversation. Sparky had voiced the urge to go home for a bit and Greg seemed to think that was for the best. The blond then made him breakfast, his mom having left for work apparently; something Greg didn't seem all that happy with the way his smile had faltered when he mentioned it. Deciding to not poke the bear, Sparky chose not to ask about what that was about… for now.
Not long after, Greg had walked him home, a sense of quiet understanding marking their unusual companionship. They didn't need to say much and Sparky honestly appreciated that silence, knowing very well how hard that was for his friend. His uncharacteristic thoughtfulness hadn't stopped there as Greg had graciously prepped a pair of sunglasses and headphones for Sparky to wear outside, to help him drown out everything that seemed to demand the attention of his newly superhuman senses. Coupled with a new set of jeans, a t-shirt, and a hoodie to hide his transformed face from the prying eyes of their mundane suburban neighborhood. Still, though, it wasn't until Greg handed him a backpack— his backpack— with his skateboard poking out of it, his phone inside and everything else Sparky had assumed lost, that Sparky began to feel a good bit more like himself, as ridiculous as that sounded.
Although, how Greg got those things back raised more questions than he was willing to get into.
Their path to his house was confusing, at first, unfamiliar, and not just because of his newly enhanced senses. Instead of using the familiar main roads and sidewalks, Greg steered them down empty backstreets, through thickly wooded paths, and across narrow alleys.
It wasn't long before Sparky pieced together the method behind Greg's madness, at least in this case. His friend quickly began speeding up their pace, Sparky keeping pace without giving it much thought. In moments, their casual strides changed to a power walk, shifted to a brisk jog and, not too long after, transformed into an outright sprint that seemed to extend endlessly, challenging the limits of human stamina.
Sparky wasn't sure how fast they were moving, but he was very well aware they were moving faster than he'd ever felt himself move, the world seemingly blurring at the edge of his vision. He would have thought more about just how fast they were moving, perhaps even questioned if it exceeded the world record, if not for the sudden realization that he was standing at his front door, his hand already turning the doorknob. The muffled sounds of his parents cooking and laughing in the kitchen greeted him as he stepped inside, leaving Greg behind with a hasty wave.
"Hey, Mom. Hey, Dad," he greeted, quickening his pace towards the staircase. He held his breath, hoping they wouldn't question his early return or his anxious rush to his room.
"Sparky!" His father's resonant voice met him halfway up the stairs, halting his progress abruptly. His heart pounded in his chest, echoing the rhythm of his name.
"Axel, sweetie, you're home early!" his mother's voice chimed in, her cheerful tone belying the hint of suspicion in her words.
Suppressing a groan, Sparky rested his forehead against the stairs. He took a deep breath, steeling himself for the impending lies. "Yeah, Mom," he began, straining to keep his voice steady. "I forgot I had a small project due on Monday, and I needed to get some work done on it."
Sparky didn't know if it was his new senses or just his familiarity with his mother's voice, but that one syllable contained volumes. It was enough to know exactly what his mother was thinking. Sparky grimaced, a momentary pang of guilt striking him.
With that, he sprinted up the stairs, quickly shutting himself in his room. The residual adrenaline from his run with Greg had worn off, leaving him with the stark reality of his transformation. In no time at all, he sank into his bed, desperate to sleep off everything he had just been through.
Sleep hadn't helped.
Not one bit.
With a slow, deliberate motion, Sparky lifted his gaze from the wooden floor of his room, his eyes reluctantly finding their way to the mirror opposite his bed. For the second time that day, his reflection stared back at him, unchanged from the morning. Not even a single shower in over a day—and the hosing down Greg had remarked about did not count—and he still looked like he'd had a makeup team take care of him.
There was a sense of alienness that came with the reflection. The figure looking back was recognisable yet detached, as though it belonged to someone else. For a moment, he sat frozen, a myriad of emotions flickering across his face.
With a soft sigh, he hoisted himself from the edge of the bed, the cool wooden floor once again familiar under his bare feet. Each step towards the mirror was a journey in itself, one foot in front of the other, with an ever-growing sense of unease. It was like a dance, a slow waltz, mirroring the movements he had performed earlier that morning.
He halted, standing face to face with his new self, his heart pounding in his chest. He was both the observer and the observed, unsure which of them was really him. He was Sparky, and yet, he wasn't. He was standing in his own room, and yet it felt foreign. He was looking at his own reflection, and yet it seemed alien. What the fuck is this?
A solid set of footsteps caught his attention as they made their way up the stairs, jarring him from his thoughts as they neared his room. He was entirely unsurprised a few seconds later as a rhythmic knocking resounded through his room, its unhurried tempo unmistakable. "Hey, Sparky, you coming down for dinner? Your mom and I made garlic butter chicken," called his father's familiar voice from beyond the door.
"One sec, dad," Sparky replied, his voice echoing in the room.
There was a heaviness in his heart that he couldn't shake off as his eyes lingered on his reflection. His physique had undergone a dramatic transformation, the previously skinny teenager now boasting noticeable muscle definition and a bouncy mane of hair that would make any male model jealous. The stark contrast from just a day ago was glaringly obvious; he'd be lucky if his parents didn't notice immediately.
The mirror reflected back a face that was simultaneously his and yet not his. The airbrushed complexion and voluminous curls of hair were a stark contrast to his once mundane appearance. How long would it be before his parents noticed?
His father seemed to have infinite patience and just as much good humor, that much was obvious the way he had taken learning about Greg's powers. He had glanced at the TV with a joke on his lips, the same sort of attitude he had when buying a new "Kiss The Cook" apron. The man had even sat next to him for a good bit on the couch that day, watching Greg take on Oni Lee on television with the sort of eagerness you'd reserve for a game of football, doing his best to casually cheer him up even when he was worried his friend would lose. Victor Ramon had been unflappable, even as the image on screen blurred and shook, the cameraman on scene earning his paycheck in spades the way he did his best to keep up with a battle involving super-speed, cloning and teleportation.
But this was different.
This was his son.
How do I explain this? Sparky wondered, the question casting long, inky shadows in his mind. His reflection stared back at him, an airbrushed avatar he was still having trouble getting used to. Can I even explain this? Start with something small. Something manageable. Maybe I could tell them it's just a sudden growth spurt? No, that's just stupid.
Sparky pinched the bridge of his nose, attempting to will away the headache that he felt coming on. Can I even get proper headaches any- Not important.
He could feel the lies already forming on his tongue, bitter and heavy. What about the gym? I could tell them I've been hitting the gym... in the middle of the night... secretly... and it just hit me all at once... Nope, definitely not. Or… or just show them your face straight up. Look, ma, I'm a model now, he winced at the attempt. Yeah, they'll believe you just changed overnight.
His parents deserved the truth, they always had.
They deserved the son who got arrested for skating on the Boardwalk, who got straight C's from sleeping through class and dreamed of being a rockstar/DJ and got noise complaints from the neighbors with his garage band full of high school dropouts.
They didn't deserve a liar.
Definitely not their son wearing a stranger's face lying to them.
Yet, the lie was the first thing on his lips.
Even if he wanted to lie, though…
His mind whirled around, playing out various scenarios, each ending with the same inevitable conclusion - he would have to come clean about his newfound powers. And laying everything out would include…
You're going to have to explain that text, Sparky, a little voice whispered in his mind, a sting of guilt making his heart skip a beat.
It was true.
He had sent a text late last night, an innocent "I love you" that was sure to raise alarm once his parents bothered looking at their texts. He had done it out of fear, out of desperation, a last-minute message in a bottle to make his parents feel better if he never came home.
A teenager sending something like that, especially at midnight, was definitely worrying to any parent, if not immediately panic-worthy.
But I'm just fifteen, he thought, a sense of helplessness creeping up his spine.
But how do I even begin to explain this? How do I tell them that I'm not the same Sparky they knew? That my best friend put magic hands on me and now I'm different, inside and out. That just sounds... insane.The silent confession hung heavy in the room, the enormity of it causing Sparky to draw in a shaky breath. His heart pounded in his chest like a drum, each beat loud in his ears as everything else seemed to be all of a sudden.
He snorted, the sound bitter and harsh. Here he was, all tough and super-powered, more scared of telling his parents the truth than he was of fighting his way through Empire members to freedom. It was so insane… just straight up weird.
But it was real.
The fear of losing his parent's acceptance was more terrifying than any cape battle he'd watched Greg fight on TV, more nerve-wracking than a hundred Nazis with guns, even.
Finally, with a sigh of resignation, he gathered his courage. "Dad?" he called out tentatively.
"Still here, Ax," his father's voice reassured him.
With a final glance at his own reflection, he summoned his newfound strength, letting it fortify his resolve as he glanced down at his feet. "Can you come in real quick?" he asked, swallowing hard.
His gaze lifted from the floor, meeting his own golden eyes in the mirror, the pair glowing at him in the dark. "There's something I have to tell you."
– o – o – o – o – o – o – o –
Greg's feet pointed upward, defying gravity, his body held aloft by the strength of two simple digits pressing against the floor. Every muscle tensed and focused, he moved rhythmically as he performed two-fingered handstand pushups with a grace and control that would leave a gymnast stunned. The harsh glow of emergency halogen lights scattered around cut stark shadows across his features, but the blond didn't even seem to notice the bright glare in his face. Consumed by his thoughts, the teenager hummed a low, tuneless melody to himself, his mind wandering ahead to the next day's tasks.
Okay, so tomorrow is the thing with Sparky... should probably go over those notes again. Then there's that thing with mom at night... might want to make sure my clothes are ready.
The rhythmic count echoed in his mind as he continued his punishing regimen. "Twenty-one... twenty-two... twenty-three..."
Suddenly, the room's solitary door swung open with a creak, two burly men—one Japanese, the other Chinese—stepped in with a captive between them, their prisoner's face concealed by a rough bag and hands bound securely behind their back. The men paused, their entrance breaking the rhythmic flow of Greg's workout and pulling him from his thoughts.
"Boss... we got him," one of them, the Chinese one, grunted.
The other one simply nodded.
Greg didn't break his upward movement, only lowering his feet slightly as he balanced precariously on his single digits. "Good work, Joey, Wesley." His gaze flickered over to the newcomers, registering their presence and their prisoner before he jerked his head in a brisk nod of acknowledgment. "Set up wherever."
"Got it, boss. Joon and Seo say they're on their way."
His response was curt, an unspoken command for them to handle their business while he continued with his own. With that, he turned his attention back to the task at hand, his body starting to rise and fall once again. His humming resumed, a quiet melody threading the silence of the room.
Alright, back to it... twenty-four... twenty-five...