Warning: This work has been rated 18+ for language and violence.
Shane turned back to Kasumi. “Can you unzip my bag?” he asked, taking another step towards the Nest.
Kasumi nodded, moving behind him, as he heard the sound of the zipper unsealing and resealing again. A metal sphere brushed against his fingers, cold to the touch, and he quickly wrapped his hand around it. He kept walking forward, making sure to turn his head to the side so that he wasn’t looking where he was headed. Kasumi followed behind him, her heels clacking quietly on the Arcade floor. The sound was still loud enough in his head that he had to remind himself that it wasn’t a suspicious sound that would get them caught.
Then, Kasumi moved to his right, also glancing to the side. They were just feet away from walking straight into the Nest, and Shane stole a quick glance at it to make sure the staircase had no one on it. The two of them took their last steps— one, two, three— and then as Kasumi raised her arm to throw, Shane did the same, slinging the Projection bomb as hard as he could into the restricted area.
Even with the surprise action, the bouncers were fast to react. The one who had caught the mage trying to sneak in snatched Kasumi’s bomb from the air, and she stared at the metal sphere with a confused frown. It didn’t matter, though. The bomb burst into dark smoke in her hand, covering her and blocking her from view, and Shane’s went off a second later further into the Nest.
As shouts of alarm and surprise rose up around him, Shane bolted into the spreading smoke, pulling the bag off his back. The air was pitch black, smothered in darkness, but since it was illusory smoke, it didn’t clog his lungs or make his eyes sting. He veered to the right after a certain number of steps, fortunate enough to not bump into anyone. Reaching out blindly in front of him and hoping he had the correct distance from his observation, he soon found the bars of the staircase railing with his hands. He set the bag on the ground, unzipping it and removing the case from it.
This was the hard part. He’d promised he would be able to do it without sight, and he was confident in his ability to, but there was a huge risk factor to it. Cyrin had warned him that if this went wrong, he and Mireya wouldn’t be able to help him.
Shane ran his finger along the sides of the case, feeling for any difference in texture. He felt slight bumps that were tiny lightbulbs installed in it— presumably to display colors indicating the bomb’s status, if he was able to see more than darkness— and then a plastic flap that covered what he knew was a small, round button. He flipped it open and held the button down for a few seconds until he felt his wrist buzz from his communicator. Then, he tapped the screen five times to pair it. He ran the information he’d gotten from the Arcade store over in his head one last time— blast power, shrapnel potential, explosion range— before he rapidly pressed the button seven times for seven seconds of countdown and slipped the bomb through the bars of the railing to set it down on the nearest staircase step.
The smoke seemed to be finally getting thinner, and a moment later, he heard Kasumi grunt and the sounds of a struggle. So she’d been found.
Only one more thing to do. Shane held a finger to his communicator screen, waited for it to buzz again, and bolted back the way he’d come from.
Seven seconds had been generous, but it still seemed to fly by fast, because the bomb exploded after what felt like far too short. Shane tripped as the ground shook, falling on his stomach and covering his ears to block out the sound. He closed his eyes, taking in gasping breaths as the sound continued to play in his head, even though there was no echo. Saints, even the screams sounded almost the same. The ones playing live on the TV screen had been muted, while the ones around him were loud and close, but they ran out with the same note of panic as they had then.
He hadn’t even been there in person when the car transporting his parents through Starlight City had exploded. Why did he feel like he was there for it now?
“Yet another history paper submitted just before midnight,” Shane had said, raising a shoulder to his head so he could keep one of his earbuds from falling out as he dried off a dish with a towel. “It was a full three minutes ahead this time.”
On the call, he heard Ray Hawking laugh. “Impressive. Is that what you called for? It’s only, what, half past midnight in your timezone? It’s never too late or early to be proud of you.”
“Well, there’s three reasons I called,” Shane said with a smile, glancing at the window as he set the plate in a drying rack. The night sky outside was dark over a bright Crystal City, both moons hanging as slim crescents. “One, I felt like sharing the success. Two, I missed our usual call time because I wrote straight through it, and I felt bad, because I miss you and Mom.”
“Aww. We’d have understood, but I’m glad you called anyway.” He could imagine his dad smiling. “What’s the third reason?”
Shane waved the dishtowel at his sink, even though his dad wouldn’t be able to see it. “I drank too much coffee to stay awake and now I can’t stop cleaning my apartment, so I figured I could chat until I crash.”
His dad chuckled. “I told you about my strategy with energy drinks in college, right?”
“I tried it once, junior year on finals week,” Shane said, running a mug with coffee stains under the faucet water to rinse it out. “I might have done it wrong, though? I didn’t sleep for four days straight, and on the fifth day I slept for seventeen hours.”
“No, you were definitely doing it right. That’s the intended effect.” His dad hummed thoughtfully. “I think I slept up to twenty-one hours, one of the times that I crashed.”
Shane set down the mug to rub his eyes with his forearm. “I’m getting tired just thinking about that.”
“How many all-nighters did you pull writing that paper?” his dad asked knowingly.
Shane paused. Two, excluding this night. “Um, just the full night before this one.”
His dad let out a huff of laughter. “Yeah, you need some sleep, kiddo. How about you sleep in tomorrow morning— or this morning, technically?”
“Can’t,” Shane said through a yawn. “I want to get up to watch Mom’s speech. It’s a big deal to her, and it’d mean a lot to her if I could watch the broadcast.”
“I’m sure it would, though— just a moment, actually.” He heard some slight movement, and then his heart leapt a little when he heard another voice.
“Hey, little bear cub!” That was his mom, Gwen, sounding slightly tired but upbeat as always. “Don’t worry about it. You can always watch a recording later, once you’ve gotten your energy back.”
“Hey, Mom.” Shane smiled, turning around and leaning against the kitchen counter. “Are you sure? It’s going to be an important moment.”
“I’m not going to say anything about affordable healthcare that you haven’t heard from me already,” his mom said, chuckling. “You don’t have to listen live. It’ll be just fine.”
“Your mother’s fighting the good fight,” his dad added. “If only the other Houses were as interested in the message as you.”
“Okay, okay,” Shane said with a laugh. “Go be heroes. I’ll get some sleep.”
“Perfect. You deserve some rest,” his dad said. “Tell you what, we’ll call you afterwards. We’ll tell you how it went on our side, and you can tell us about that paper.”
“I would try now, but I’m sure I’d be incoherent.” Shane smiled. “Deal. I love you both.”
“We love you, Shane,” his mom said brightly, and his dad echoed, “Love you lots.” With a wider smile and a slight laugh, Shane ended the call.
He took out his earbuds and tucked them in his pocket, drying the mug before setting it aside and hanging the towel up. Taking a deep breath that turned into a yawn, he looked up the time on his communicator that the news was supposed to show his parents driving to the Summer Palace in Starlight City, then mostly converted it over to his time.
It really wouldn’t mean waking up all that much earlier, and it probably was the right thing to do, since he would have joined them for the weekend if he hadn’t been so busy. Shane rubbed his face sleepily as he set an alarm for it.
He left the kitchen, turning off the light behind him and passing the screen on the living room wall that he’d be watching the event on the next morning. For tonight, the screen was still dark, unlit by fiery orange bursts dancing over pixels.
A hand grabbed Shane by his shirt between his shoulder blades and heaved him up, and he blinked his eyes open to see that the Projection smoke had dissipated enough for him to be visible again. He struggled a little bit, mostly for show, but the person holding him up was joined by another, and the two of them together pinned his arms behind his back. Shane shook the hair out of his eyes with a toss of his head to see a few things through the hazy air. First, he noticed Kasumi was being held in the exact same way just a few feet away, giving her captors her best disgruntled look. Second, her two captors had a couple scratches on their faces, and one of them appeared to be wincing. Third, he saw that everyone standing around them— and it was quite the crowd— looked very, very annoyed with the two of them.
“What in the name of the fucking Saints are these punks doing?” one Arcade member snapped, stepping out from the ring of people. “Here to undermine Sparrow?”
“Someone lock them up,” another person shouted. “We’ll deal with them later.”
“Wait,” the bouncer with the quick reaction time ordered, pushing her way through the crowd and to Shane. She grabbed his jaw with her hand, yanking his chin up, and he winced at the force of it. The bouncer scanned his face for a few moments, her eyes narrowed, and his heart was about to leap out of his chest by the time she released him.
“That’s one of the people Sparrow wants us to keep a special look out for,” she announced, pointing at Shane. “He’s going to want to see him. He’ll be interested in the girl too, actually. Take them both up to him.”
“He destroyed the staircase,” one of the people holding Shane said. “How are we getting them up?”
“Not that way up. Up to Sparrow’s space in the neighboring building.” The bouncer waved them off. “Take a different Arcade staircase and then the skybridge. I’ll let him know you’re meeting him.”
With nods, the people holding Shane unceremoniously dragged him away, and the heels of his shoes scraped against the ground. Kasumi was pulled along too, and it seemed like she’d be carried behind him. Just before she was moved out of sight, though, he gave her the barest of nods, and she nodded back. He’d never been happier to see that fierce stubbornness gleaming in her eyes than right now.