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18+ Language Violence Mature Content

Chapter Three: Something Bigger, Something Brighter

by shima


Warning: This work has been rated 18+ for language, violence, and mature content.

Close my eyes and swallow

Figure out that I, I'm not blind

Broken eared

Just need to disappear

Close my eyes and swallow

Figure out I need to get up out of here

I know, I know, I know, I know

By the look in your eyes, it's time to go

We rub our legs like crickets

Kicking cans and stones

Make it electric, make it electric

I've got to know I'm still alive

- Something Bigger, Something Brighter, Pretty Girls Make Graves, 2003



Waking up in a cold sweat, she felt her stomach turning and churning. She felt ready to puke out her guts in sheer disgust.

The next morning, while taking the elevator, Annie didn’t know what to think. It seemed her mind was hell-bent on breaking her down and building something else in her place. On replacing Hughie with someone else.

Suddenly, someone blocked the doors. Looking up, she saw Homelander walking in, grinning.

“Hey, Homelander.”

The blonde man was silent, his breathing heavy, blue eyes giant pools of complete nothingness.

Before Annie could even ask if he needed to be on the same floor, he pressed the emergency stop sign on the digital keyboard, with the elevator abruptly screeching to a halt.

Annie looked at him, slightly shocked. Still, without saying a word, he pulled off his gloves, dropping the red material on the iron railing in the elevator.

“Maeve begged me to save your life.” His voice was raspy and dangerous, every word a threat. His left eye slightly twitched. “So, I gave you a second chance.”

Annie would’ve even found his head movements funny if he wasn’t deadly insane. He reminded her of a bobblehead, head moving side to side with every word he spoke.

“And” he breathed in, his gaze still focused on the iron doors of the elevator. “You…succeeded.”

Annie knew how psychotic he could be. She knew she had to measure out every single word she said since maybe he had a bad morning, and would decide to slice her in half, just like that. Her brain, however, acted on instinct, Annie cursing it for being so stupid.

“What are you talking about?”

“No more lies.” He smashed her into the elevator wall, lifting her up, eyes red with fury. She choked, desperately trying to clamp onto his blue suit with gloved hands. “You go ahead and scream, as much as you want.”

She felt a strong, decisive finger pressing up against her abdomen.

“I know you leaked the V. A-Train told me.”



Annie was moments from her death. She could feel it. Between Homelander’s supernaturally strong hands and his laser eyes staring down her neck, it was only a question of what exactly he would use.

“The only reason I’d spared you is because you followed my orders. But if you step as much as one inch out of line,” he growled, “you, Hughie, and everyone else will pay a very steep price. Starting with your friend Gecko.”

The elevator bell chimed, Homelander letting go.

The first thing Annie did, after reaching the bottom floor, was to call Hughie and tell him to meet, and to bring Frenchie along with him.



As the metro rode through the many districts comprising New York City Annie considered what Homelander had said.



Poor Gecko. He doesn’t deserve this.  None of them do.



And it was she who dragged her friends into this mess, her mess. Part of her thought it would’ve been much easier if Homelander had just killed her, that day, in the tunnels.



But that was the easy way out, and she knew, that she had to push on. If only to make herself feel less guilty about what had happened. To make the Deep’s death mean something, and not just another pointless casualty of a war that never seemed to end or even progress.



The repetitive droning of the metro only intensified these thoughts, burrowing into her mind, deeper and deeper, with each turn and stop.

Finally, they reached her intended destination, and she rushed towards the address Hughie had sent her. There, she got greeted by Hughie and Frenchie, the latter seeming not entirely there.

However, if there is anyone I trust with this, it is him.



“You sure this will get through my skin?” The French man laughed, pulling down his safety goggles, the diamond buzz-saw shining in them.

“If this can’t, nothing can’t.”

The small jeweler store was as good as empty, with only one other person standing up against a far wall, pricing some wares.

Hughie ran his hand down his face, clearly worried, “I don’t think this is a good idea.”.

Annie sighed, her head turning back to him. “A-Train told Homelander that I leaked the V. He already forced me to kill. I don’t know what fucked up plans he has in mind from now on.”

She felt the saw piercing her skin, breaking through, then a small geyser of blood gushing out, the red fluid dripping down Annie’s neck. Grabbing a pincer, Frenchie pulled out a transparent tube filled with microprocessors.

And then - just like that- it was done.

Frenchie sat there, grinning like an idiot, holding the tube in his hands.



“Et voilà. Bonjour, mon petit shpion.”

The first thing they did afterward is bring her to the hideout. Frenchie and Hughie going in first. Annie waited a bit, hearing Butcher’s voice boom through the stairwell.

Standing still just outside of the doorway, she listened to MM and Butcher discussing something important.

“You find anyone who had seen this Liberty slag. See what you can rumble. You jump through a few hoops for the colonel, and she'll help you the same way she helped me. She always liked you more, anyway.” It was clear that it was Butcher.

Hearing his voice stop, Annie quickly walked in, hoping to explain what had happened.

Before she could say anything, however, Butcher looked at her and scoffed. “Look who’s ‘ere. Star-cunt. What, you come to throw us all out a window as you did with that bloke yesterday?”

Annie felt the anger rising inside her at that remark, her eyes and hands lighting up. Oblivious to the fact that the other people in the room were apparently angrier at Butcher than anything else, especially Hughie.



She quickly paced over to the much larger man, gripping him by the front of his Hawaiian shirt and pushing him against the wall. It was a somewhat funny sight, as she, thin and blonde, pushed a man twice her size against the wall as if he was a hollowed-out plastic doll. He reeked of alcohol, sweat, detergent, filth, and mold. His smile barely faded, and he apparently didn’t even care about Annie - looking at someone behind her instead.

Hughie.



The thin man stood, scared, ready to grab her shoulder.

“Told ya Hughie. Ya bird is just as barmy as the rest of them lot. Part of being a fucking Supe, innit.” Annie gazed into his hazel-green eyes, clearly mocking her. 

Her anger faded as she dropped him down on the ground, shocked.

Butcher looked at her standing there, grinning with amusement.

Jesus.



Maybe he’s right. Maybe she is as insane as everyone else. 

“I’ve been hunting the bastards for nearly 8 years now, all of them the same. And ya offed the only good one!” Turning around, Annie stomped away from the British man, tears forming in her eyes.



Her only friend within the Seven, and she killed him, like beating down a fly. Just because Homelander asked her. Not resisting, not fighting back. Because of her fear and her weakness. 

Hughie tried to stop her from leaving, gripping her arm, Annie pushing him out of her way. “Annie, wait!”

She turned around, her eyes watery, her mouth contorted into an angry grimace. “Wait for what? That you find some miracle weapon to stop Homelander? That you’ll defeat Vought? We just leaked Compound V, risking our fucking lives for it, and all it did was make Homelander angry!”



How long could they keep this up? This pointless battle without end?

The thin man mumbled something about “taking time to take effect”, unable to come up with a proper answer.



Of course. Always wait, be patient. She has waited for Drummer Boy like that. Until he would finally finish with the concerts and the press. How he skipped dates because Vought wanted him to do more PR. Because it was important. Necessary.



And where did that land him? Right in rehab. And here she hoped that this time would be different. 

“Look at yourself, Hughie! Where has your fight brought you? You live in a basement underneath a pawnshop, a fugitive! Following orders from a sociopath! You! Are! Not! A hero! Stop pretending to be one.”

Hughie stared at her with shock and disbelief, slowly releasing her arm.



How many times can you make the same mistake and expect a different outcome?



“You know, I’m not even sure this is about Robin anymore.”

And with these words, she was out, leaving Hughie standing there, dumbfounded.

She didn’t even see MM, looking over at Butcher, disgusted, mouthing, “What the fuck, man.”

When Annie came back to the Tower, she trained. She fought against obstacles and hired grunts until her knuckles bled. Just to feel something.

Just to be alive again.

Her powers could do just enough damage to hurt, but not enough to ruin, and she knew that.

The many barely healed burn scars on her chest proved that much.

She climbed to the very top of the Tower, breaking open the safety locks on the railing, her gym shoes scraping the edge. The wind was icy, and the air smelled of petrichor, for it had just rained.

It fit with the endlessly stretching overcast sky, as far as her eyes could see. The chill wind flew through her hair, blowing it into her face, biting at her nose and lips. Far beneath there were New Yorkers, just going about their daily lives as if nothing was happening. 

And yet…the same rush as before did not come.

No matter what she did, the numbness still crept in and spread out like a deadly disease, filling her body from the inside out. Sitting down, she wanted to cry. Out of desperation and frustration.

She thought back to her teenage days in Des Moines.

The apple falls far from the tree



The Capes For Christ days. Long and tiresome, filled with photoshoots and pageants. Annie smiling for the cameras, fist clenched, ready to pretend.



She's rotting and so beautiful



To lie to herself and others.

How she convinced herself that God chose her to be a Supe and that working for Vought was the best thing someone could do with their life.



I'd like to keep her here with me



That her biggest dream was to be in the Seven, using her power to change the world. And that it was worth the sleepless nights. The hours bent over the toilet, purging every meal she’d ever eaten too much off.

The missed classes, combined with the weird looks at school.



And tell her that she’s beautiful.

Until the Deep showed her how hollow it all was.

Until Hughie showed her what really created Supes.

Until Maeve showed her what a genuine hero was like.

And then she fucked it all up. Again.

She wondered, looking down, if she jumped, how soon would she reach the ground?

She knew this.



Even despite skipping classes, she was still the best at physics at her school. And she thought of it, sometimes, back in the day. Never said it openly, though, since suicidal ideation wasn’t really a thing for pretty, teenage, catholic girls. Because then they would go straight to hell.

If there was one, anyway.

“Careful, buttercup. Wouldn’t want to be cleaning up the mess you’d make on the pavement.”

God, not her.

Tilting her head, she spotted the brunette in black and burgundy strolling toward her, then leaning against the railing and cocking her hip. Stormfront smiled that beautiful, knowing smile she sometimes had.

“What do you want?” Annie whimpered, wiping the tears from her eyes.

The brunette raised one of her gloved hands, the cool air condensing and forming wisps of mist and blue lightning on her fingertips. Small, azure snakes jumped back and forth, contrasting with the dark leather of her gloves. The two black diamonds gleaning on her sharp features traced Annie’s body with a mixture of pity and interest. They apparently tried to burrow straight through her sporting clothes. 

Annie suddenly felt even more naked than she usually did.

“You know, you probably never even realized how impressed I was last week. Sweet, innocent, girl. And killing a man? Once, that was powerful. Twice?”

She chuckled.

“That takes some effort. Didn’t think you had it in you, but, hey, I guess people don’t always act how they appear, sweetheart.”

Annie wanted to do nothing more but throw herself off the building right now. Damn the consequences. Between all those things she said to Hughie, and her getting complimented by Stormfront, for the third time already. Getting positive reinforcement from a cold-blooded sociopath, here’s something 10-year-old pageant queen Annie would’ve wanted.



And yet.



Something inside her told her to appreciate it.



If no one else would give her anything.

Stormfront reached out and stroked Annie’s long, blonde, curly hair. Somehow, it made her feel good, despite the cold leather of the glove. She didn’t even want the hand to leave her head.

“It would be sad,” she sighed, pouting, “to see you waste yourself like this, cutie.” And with these words Stormfront left, leather boots scraping the gravel.

Annie did not know how to react. The logical part of her brain screamed, nauseated, with bile rising in her belly for being complimented just because she had killed a man.

The emotional part purred in delight. It was the first time in so long someone genuinely seemed to appreciate her, just like that, with nothing to gain.

That someone who never knew her outside of Vought tried looking under the carefully crafted exterior, a product of endless pageants and fake PR.

Suddenly, Starlight had an idea. An idea that Annie didn’t like, but her body apparently didn’t want to listen to the voice of reason anymore.

But before she could do anything, she heard the voice of Stormfront again. “You know, you should probably come downstairs. It is cold enough here as is, even in regular clothes.”

Pushing herself up, she ran towards Stormfront, following her inside.



Annie’s whole body screeched at her. Her mind wanted to stop Annie right in her tracks and force her to turn around, go back, and apologize to Hughie.



It screamed that Stormfront was dangerous and delusional, and toxic.

She ignored those warning signs.

The brunette was the first one who had given her any positive reinforcement in weeks. This only made sense, somehow.

They passed the lounge, and for a minute, Starlight assumed that Stormfront was leading them into her apartment. Instead, she only briefly entered it, retrieving a bottle of Jägermeister.

“Lead the way, blondie,” the brunette smirked, the green of the glass shimmering in the lights of the hallway.

They went on further until they reached the doors of Annie’s living space.

It was a medium-sized locale, with a living room, a bed, and a half-kitchen.



The living room had a TV mounted on the wall.  Next to it was a couch, positioned against a huge window from where you could see the sights of NYC.

Several rows of shelves filled with books and vinyl records of Annie’s favorite bands completed the space. 

Annie grabbed a pair of Seven-branded goblets from a cupboard and Stormfront poured them full, the brown liquid reflecting against the see-through table. They continued drinking until the Jäger was gone and then went through an entire bottle of Scotch that Annie kept in her apartment, just in case.

By midnight, Annie was blackout drunk.

The alcohol loosened her lips, and she talked to Stormfront about everything she could, telling her things no one else knew, except for Hughie. Where she grew up. Her Capes for Christ days. The Deep, and what he taught her. Stormfront sat there, quietly listening, and it looked like the alcohol barely had any effect on her. She was completely silent, sharp eyes looking straight through Annie.

But even then, it was amazing finally actually pouring her heart out to someone. It felt exhilarating finally having someone to talk to, even if it was like that, even if it was her.  

And then, when Annie was drunk enough, Stormfront laid her hand on Annie’s knee, and asked, “How did it feel?”

“W-what?” Annie’s voice sounded like it came from another room, her tongue thick and twisted, barely moving.

Stormfront leaned in. Her warm breath brushed at Annie’s earlobe, making the fine hairs on the back of her neck stand up. Stormfront was giving her goosebumps. “When he fell. The robber. Yesterday. When you could not save him, honey.”



Why does honey sound so good coming from her mouth?

Annie was so wasted that she didn’t push back or hit her conversation partner in the face. Her jaw dropped and she could barely squeeze out an answer, a pitiful peep coming out of her mouth instead. Stormfront’s coal-black eyes seemed to stare right through her.

 “It was painful.” Annie finally pushed out of her chest. “It fucking hurt.”

Stormfront reached out, caressing her shoulder, smiling as she looked over her body. “Poor thing. The first times are always the hardest.”, she sighed.

One of her gloved hands rose, slightly brushing Annie’s neck, and lightly caressed her cheek. It had a vague hint of ozone, while Stormfront herself smelled of some expensive perfume that Annie didn’t recognize.



It was the best scent in the world.



Annie used her hand to press Stormfront’s glove closer, to feel more of the black leather on her skin.

Despite the cold, uncomfortable touch, it filled her with a kind of warmth she hadn’t experienced in ages.



The goosebumps covered nearly her entire body by this point.



Stormfront went in for another whisper, and her voice was sweet as fairground cotton candy, like it was back home, in Iowa. Annie’s lip slightly parted at feeling her warm breath stroke the inside of her ear.

Annie’s reddened cheek touched Stormfront’s cheek, and it felt amazing. She wouldn’t give it up for any other feeling in the world.

“It’s a taste you learn to savor.”

It's too divine, I want to bend

I want this bliss, oh

but something says I must resist

***

Step out beyond the edge and start the motion

Look out below, I know there's no decision

Just collision

It's all arranged

Too late for me, no reason to recover

If I should choose to rise, I'm still descending

Never-ending

I fall, I fall

- Signals, Darren Korb, 2014




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Sat Jul 08, 2023 6:39 am
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alpacaboss wrote a review...



This does look like an action film alright. And a 18+ one at that. There's a reason you put every trigger warning on this and rightly so. Thank you for warning us about what we may see, the good, the bad and the ugly. Let me talk about the overall for this review.

Encouragements and Praise:
1. This work was thoroughly vivid and descriptive. The scenes manage to pop out at you like a movie and as a fellow writer, it is not easy to do this. Great job to you for making this seem like a script from an actual film!
2. Although I felt a bit uncomfortable with the scene between Annie and Stormfront, I have to admit that you showed a very realistic way of manipulation. Complimenting someone can give you a temporary control over them. Bombarding them with compliments, especially if they are not used to receiving them, will lengthen the period of control.

The logical part of her brain screamed, nauseated, with bile rising in her belly for being complimented just because she had killed a man.

The emotional part purred in delight. It was the first time in so long someone genuinely seemed to appreciate her, just like that, with nothing to gain.


Great way to describe it. Yes, it's addicting and that's what makes this kind of manipulation so dangerous.

3. Also, I like how you depicted the violence. It had me at the edge of my seat. Literally! As someone who loves action films, this felt like watching one, except in written form. Which is rare, you did wrote this quite well!

Critiques:
1. I'm not sure what to make off from the random lines in bold here and there. Perhaps it is to add to the artistic flair of the piece. But I'm not sure what their purpose is. Are they like summarizing phrases that encapsulate flashbacks of the narrator's life? Are they words from a poem the character memorized? It's a bit unclear for me on that part, so I wonder what purpose does it serve.


Overall, despite being written for more mature audiences, you cleverly write the story making the readers know there is much at stake and that every turn could possibly lead tot he protagonist's death. Just like an actual action film, it is full of twists and turns and traps for the main character to fall into. So great job!

This is alpacaboss, signing off.




shima says...


Thank you so much for your feedback! The italic parts are either for emphasis or to show Annie's inner thoughts, depending on where they are positioned. YWS' styling honestly doesn't really translate the Google Docs version of the document *that* well but I try.



alpacaboss says...


Ohhh gets! Thanks for clarifying :D



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Fri Jun 23, 2023 4:38 am
Irishpride13 wrote a review...



In the opening of the poem, I initially sense provocative vibes. I'm not sure what I've walked into, but it certainly creates a good hook

Annie then, homeland, ooooo shite! If I didn't know "Da Boys," my initial thoughts would suggest that she just did something "gross" and/or used drugs, and is coming down

I remember the scene you're referring to. Your use of words is fantastic; it allows me to vividly envision the fear that Annie is feeling right now

I appreciate the way you highlighted Annie's actions of shoving around the butcher, portraying it as a hollowed-out plastic doll, which differs from my initial description. In this iteration, in the norm Annie would not but the dangerous one and the if a stranger walked in to see this tiny thing rag dolling him is would make them quetion if they used anything.

introduction of Stormfront while Arnie was contemplating jumping without a parachute intriguing. Additionally, The description of Stormfront's abilities resonated well with the way it was written.

The way you interpreted the dialogue between Stormfront and Annie, perceiving Stormfront's attempts to seduce Annie, aligns with the intention I had while writing. Annie's inner dialogue also suggests that Stormfront's tactics are having an effect.

After reading the rest of the story, it becomes apparent that Annie may be seeking help in the wrong places, or that Stormfront is indeed seducing and manipulating her.

And Stormfront, recognizing Annie's vulnerability, is intentionally targeting her, going in for the proverbial kill.





When all think alike, no one is thinking very much.
— Walter Lippmann