“…so what exactly went on here tonight, young man…”
“…who knows what would have happened if you hadn’t…”
“…use sound judgement…”
“…I’ll walk him to his room, mom, if that’s…”
“…High five. smack Talk to you tomorrow.”
The Admin Building doors swung heavily behind the trio as Aaron, Deaglan, and Cassie stepped out into the late night. Two and one parted ways, heading to different buildings, hurrying away as all of the necessary words were spoken indoors. Aaron and Cassie got just far enough away before she playfully shoulder-checked him. “You’re awfully quiet. That’s new.”
Aaron couldn’t help but smile a bit, that same smile he’d just tried to hide from Mrs. Dugan as she was giving out not-quite-compliments. He drew his hand from his pocket, fished it inside of her jacket pocket, and took her hand. She seemed surprised, and in that instant knew the pounding in his chest wasn’t just in his head. “I just, uh, need to relax. Give me until…” he trailed off. The two walked, across campus and into the dorm. Aaron fumbled with his keys, and with help, unlocked his door. “Come in for a minute.” he said, not letting go of Cassie’s palm. “I’ve already dodged a few bullets tonight, I’m willing to take the risk that someone’s watching.”
The door closed not-quite-all-the-way and their jackets shed onto his bed, Aaron collapsed into his desk chair. Cassie…Bluebird…BB…Beebs… hiked herself up onto an uncluttered piece of desktop just big enough for her to perch. She’d not seen Aaron like this before. Resting her head on her shoulder, she said quietly, “I’m here when you’re ready.”
“It was chaos” he said after a minute or more of clearing his throat, blinking, and turning over the words in his mouth. “Our plan went to crap as soon as we got there, and it only got worse. Those people, a mob, didn’t care. They didn’t see each other, just obstacles. Even those not on iLove, still waiting in line, those just there to walk the mall; they were focused. Focused on a thing, seeing past other people to what they wanted, and nothing more.” He swallowed, hard, with saliva that wasn’t there. “It’s not the first time I’ve seen a broken bone, but the first time I’ve seen one that no one else cared about.”
Cassie’s legs swayed loosely, ankles crossed. She didn’t know how to answer. After a long pause, she didn’t have to. Aaron sat upright, shaking off some of the confusion and looking her straight in the eyes. “But Amelia is OK. We did that much. And no one died.” He patted her hand, then reeled back and spun his chair around, staring at the ceiling. “And no one died…is that how we’re going to measure success? A few dozen on the roof, those who will have to squint through injured eyes for the next few days, recovering from their enslavement, I doubt they’d think so. Hours of misery to be told ‘you did nothing wrong, you weren’t in control of yourself’. Then they see the news.”
“I saw you on the news, you know. Up on that roof. Tending to the wounded. Live. The tape at the bottom said ‘local heroes’. You and Deaglan.” She chuckled. “Sorry, you and Masquerade.” Cassie’s normally dismissive, over-it tone gave way to honest admiration. It worked. Aaron stopped spinning and leaned forward smiling, even laughing a bit at how moody he was being over what could only be described as a successful morning and afternoon. Even the vice principal, Cassie’s mom, had agreed. He stood up quickly, getting dizzy at the sudden rush of energy.
“You’re right, of course. ‘Heroes’. That’s just what we do.” He shrugged as she slid off the desk to stand facing him and stepping into a hug. A deep sigh later, he continued, “But a hero’s work is never done.” His fingers dug weakly into her back, and she squeezed back in reply. “Doc Otaku is out there. I don’t think you’ll hold it against me if I take that personally.” They pulled back to look at each other, Cassie smiling patronizingly and shaking her head.
“Good night. Get some sleep.” They bid each other a quick goodbye at the door.