1-8

Entrance: 1-8

Plucking a piece of debris from his shoulder, Jolly flicks it across the room with nonchalant ease. He is by far one of the calmer people in the room; his presence has petrified everyone but Shaun, who looked more on guard than any notion of fear. Jolly himself took a single step forward, pointing loosely in Flare, Candour and Visionary’s direction. They all tensed up slightly at the sudden attention.

“You two, stay put. If he talks-” He inclines his head to Triclops, who picks up on the movement and tightens her grip, aiming for Candour. “-put a bolt through his throat.” Candour looked at Jolly, and the situation made him break from any hold that terror had over him, into a sly smirk of sorts. The giant and the talker were the two points of interest in the room; the stare they gave each other contested for power.

“I’m not a big talker. It wastes time.” He took another thunderous step forward. The entire room trembled slightly. “No business of the NFU. These three have been in my turf too many times. Too many warnings.” He sweeps his hand across the room. Shaun watched him intently, studying him. “They come with us. I set an example of them.”

Alpha was in the other room. She saw everything and whispered for her animals to stay put, and they complicity abided her commands. None of them went more forward than she was. She glanced to Flare and watched her for a moment. She wasn’t good at reading people, not in the slightest, but even she saw Flare like a coiled spring. Fearful, yet almost waiting for something.

She took the blinds and began to lower them slightly. Slowly, not wanting to bring attention to herself. Triclops was facing away from her, and so was Aberrant. They were far too focused on Flare.

Aberrant rolled his shoulders, and shot Triclops a glare. Jolly looked slightly to the right, to the door that was open.

“I know you’re there, Alpha.” His deep voice carried through the room. “Squeaks wants revenge. When you set a pack of rats on him. I was going to throw you against the floor. But I’ll take you back, and throw you to him.”

Shaun was the first person other than Jolly to speak, and his voice wasn’t as deep or full of bass as Jolly. He instantly drew everyone’s attention, as well as Triclops’ middle eye staring at him.

“You’re Jolly?”

Jolly looked down to Shaun, turning himself to face him. “I am.”

“Heard about you. You’re a big guy.” He said, as an off-hand remark. He displayed no aggression, no passiveness. A worried look shot over Aberrant’s face. Jolly was more curious than anything. “Did you call yourself Jolly?”

“No.” Was all he replied. There was a pause that passed, a single beat.

“Huh. Didn’t think you did.” Shaun raised his eyebrows slightly.

“Distracting me?” Jolly said. It was hard to tell if there was inquisition in his voice or if he was calling him out.

“No, not really. This is an NFU building, and Flare and the other two are coming with us.”

Visionary kept her tazer firmly on Candour’s throat. Neither of them moved, though Visionary’s eyes were working overtime, flickering like strobe lights from one point to another. She saw Flare and Candour share a glance. Flare wagged her eyebrows twice, subtle that nobody but the most perceptive people would have noticed.

“Boy. I wasn’t negotiating.” Jolly corrected Shaun, a growl in the pit of his throat.

“Neither was I.”

The focus shifted from Candour entirely and went to Shaun. Tether was pacing very slowly at the back of the room. He held a monitor in his hand, and faintly let a click ring through the rear of the scene. He had managed almost all but one of them, and had mostly gone unnoticed. Alpha was the only one in a position to keep his eye on him, and she was too busy watching Jolly and Shaun stare each other down.

“I will be taking them with me.” Jolly reiterated. “I will go through anybody if needed.” There was a weird pause as Jolly looked down at Shaun. “Bravery, stupidity, insanity.” He pauses again, then answers with confidence.

“Bravery.”

Flare cut through the tension with a single, disarming question.

“’Ey, Jolly. Can I just say somethin’?”

Jolly turned his head to her and glared. He didn’t respond immediately, though he sounded fairly reasonable when he said “You can. He can’t. Then this is over.” He didn’t even acknowledge Shaun when saying that.

Triclops piped in with her opinion. “I dunnae think she’s got nothin’ to add, Jolly. Let’s just grab her an’ go.”

“Nobody asked yer, fuck off.” Flare barked back abruptly.

“You can fuck off, yer’ dumb scouse bitch.”

This just provoked Flare, who went on a small tirade and verbally lashed out. “Yer’ fuckin’ what? I’ll fuckin’ stab you, yer’ three eyed sweaty’ cow-”

Enough.”

Jolly’s voice was like thunder. Quick, savage, the deafening peel of his shout caused utter silence to follow. Triclops just stood, stunned.

“Say what you have to say.”

Flare nodded, then made a show out of snorting, drawing something through her nose. It was an obnoxious noise, and she made a poignant display of showing off the fact that she was hocking up a large loogie. Jolly remain unamused and simply stared at her. He was patient, and knew this demonstration would cost her.

She tilted her head back, and swirled it a little in her mouth, before spitting it as far as she could in Jolly’s direction. Everyone watched it trail through the air; horror, amusement, disgust. Mixed reactions.

Everyone reacted the same when Flare’s eyes widened and she turned the improvised missile into a flying, consumingly bright ball of light. She didn’t need to raise her hands to use her powers. She just needed something everything was watching, and she made it so bright that the entire room was illuminated with burning light.

Everyone gripped their face. Candor kept his eyes closed but even then, it was hard not to be overwhelmed, and Alpha had hidden in the other room with her animals to avoid the brunt of it. Triclops suffered the worse, grabbing her face and screaming as much as her lungs could pump out. Even Jolly staggered, holding his face with his cumbersome hand.

“You’re going to let me go now and drop your tazer.” Candour spoke. Visionary, who was still reeling from the makeshift flash bang. She grunted, trying to restrain herself from acting but his words wormed their way quickly into her and she let go of the tazer, and Candour as well. He slipped away from her and grabbed Flare to let her know he was free.

“Fuckin’ get outta here, you’s lot!”

Shaun was the least effected. After the initial light had gone, he opened his eyes and took stock of the situation. Flare and Candour were already absconding; Alpha was rushing out with a large amount of animals in tow, with those not quick enough to escape had crawled onto her, with the rest scampering around her. Shaun could hear her say “Moving, moving, moving!” along the way. He took a step to go and follow them, but the sight of Tether and Visionary still blinded made him stop and turn to Jolly.

Flare’s aim was good. She got Jolly right in the shoulder with that spit.

“Visionary, Tether, you alright?”

Visionary nodded. “I’m good.” Tether groaned slightly. “Just… a sec.”

Everyone but Triclops roughly emerged at the same time, and began to see a bit clearer from the temporary bout of blindness. Jolly looked around for Flare, and found her absent. Aberrant looked around the room for the same, but turned his attention to Triclops. She was still in total agony, screaming like a knife was plunged into her stomach. Tether stopped buckling over and stood up. Visionary was up on her feet, and quickly took out the pair of bar maces hanging on her hip, and took a step forward.

Jolly went to go forward. There were no words, only action. A man of little expression, the anger on his face was noticeable, and he was eager to vent his fury.

He would have caught up with them, if it wasn’t for Shaun’s outstretched arm blocking his way.

It was a sight to behold. Shaun held fast, and Jolly slammed straight into his arm under the assumption he would move. He didn’t even budge, not even flinch, and Jolly ground to a halt as his upper body juddered forward, bending over from Shaun.

Everyone who was up just stared, wide eyed.

Jolly growled deeply, and for the first time tonight his voice sounded unrestrained. He wasn’t surprised that he was stopped. Either too pissed off, or already aware of the situation.

“Boy, move.

Jolly may have been huge, a towering mass of green muscle but he was no slower because of it. He swung his right arm over to the left, and didn’t hesitate to sweep it straight towards Shaun’s face in a clenched backhand.

Shaun moved his head to the right, not for avoiding the blow but to make some room, drew up his left arm and shoved it right in the path of Jolly’s hand. The impact sounded like a grenade going off, an explosive impact clapping. Shaun held Jolly’s hand right where it was and gripped around it. Jolly pushed at him, muscles visibly straining to try and get him to move, or see if he even could, and Shaun held.

Everyone else held too.

“Visionary.” Shaun said, tilting his head slightly. Jolly grunted slightly, as they were locked in place. Neither was going to give up at the moment. “Collateral, how much is okay?”

Visionary looked like she gasped for breath, coming to her senses. “Minimise it.”

“Alright.”

Jolly almost looked like a ragdoll for a second. Shaun took the hand he grabbed and flung it upwards, as if Jolly had put no strength into it whatsoever. He was thrown off balance for the seconds, arms raised. He only managed to take a single step backwards before Shaun moved towards him. He raised his foot up in the air, leaning into Jolly, and shoved it hard into him.

Off balance and with nothing to hold onto, Shaun’s kick struck Jolly straight above the groin, and the force cracked through the air. Jolly was sent backwards, swept clean off his feet. He didn’t stop when he hit the wall, and he didn’t stop when he went through it either. He travelled a few seconds more before they heard a cacophonous crash further inside the building.

Shaun looked behind him. He expected them to be surprised, but he didn’t let them be distracted for long.

“I’ve got the big guy.”

Aberrant seemed to have figured out who to aim for, and rushed over to Visionary. He still had his blades drawn; the upper hands had swords, the lower had their blades. He swung at her several times with both hands, acting independently of each other’s momentum. She batted away the first blow coming to her, then avoided the other two by stepping away. He advanced and continued to move in, each swing followed by a series of testing prods and jabs. Visionary was able to parry or avoid them all. All whilst the daggers in his lower arms stayed up, guarding his body from any counter-attack.

It seemed for the time being, he was attacking with short sweeps that allowed him to keep on the offensive. Visionary focused on evasion for the time being.

Tether watched for a moment. He had hesitated slightly. He scanned and observed the room. Shaun was near the hole Jolly was punted through. Triclops was still reeling, clutching her face. Visionary needed help. He ran closer to the middle of the room, positioning himself between where the monitors were and where their skirmish was happening, and raised his hand up.

Visionary seemed to notice, even whilst her eyes were locked onto Aberrant. The next swing had her slink to the side, out of the way. Tether made a click, and gripped tightly. One of the far monitors came flying to his hand, which he ducked out of the way of. It flung past his head, careening over to Aberrant.

Unfortunately, his aim was a little off, and Aberrant managed to duck to avoid any potential impact. It still only got him at the side. Tether stepped to the side a little and repeated again. Aberrant managed another pair of swings before he had to make an effort to avoid this one colliding with him, and he jerked out of the way.

With an opening ready, Visionary struck at his upper right hand with a precise blow, smashing into his knuckles and causing the sword to fling away. She aimed to do the same again but he was too quick to fall for it again and their steel clashed together. Her mace skid up the surface of his blade, and he tried to get her in the stomach with his daggers. Her stomach arched back, and he stepped back as well to get some space from her.

“Huh. That’s a big TV.”

Shaun made the comment just prior to a large, flat screen television smashing straight into him from the other room. Jolly had managed to throw it so that the screen itself was covering Shaun’s view, his arm raised as a reaction. It was lodged firmly over it, and Shaun barely heard Jolly’s stampede rushing to him, with his foot raised to mimic what had just happened to him before.

“Shaun, brace!”

Visionary called out to him, and Shaun took her word for it. He held firmly in place, as Jolly’s foot slammed straight into his arm. Whilst Shaun wasn’t going to move, the floor wasn’t nearly as durable. His feet sunk slightly from the sheer force of the blow, though he himself endured it well.

Jolly’s head moved slightly as Tether flung another monitor, striking him square in the face. It flew off him and smashed into the floor behind him. It seemed to do little, other than distract him for a moment.

That moment was all Shaun needed. He grabbed the monitor, pushing forward with his shielding arm. Jolly pulled his foot back, wary to not being shoved off guard again. Shaun peeled the remains of the destroyed screen from his right arm, and holding it in his left arm he reeled it back and slammed it into Jolly’s side. Jolly raised his arm and absorbed the blow, though he staggered slightly. The sound was more impressive, as bits of plastic and electronics exploded from the point of impact.

Triclops had come to her senses finally. She heard the carnage in the room, and split her vision three ways to see what was going on. Quick to act, she rose to a kneeling position and brought up her crossbow, aiming quickly towards Visionary. Tether had his hand up and tried to send one of the last remaining monitors to her but she’d fired too quickly.

With Visionary’s back turned, it was assumed she’d be easy prey. From the moment the crossbow was aimed and the trigger pulled, she began to evade it. It barely managed to get her side, and pierced through the window with a strong punch to it.

Triclops was surprised, and barely dodged the monitor flying towards her. She ducked underneath it and lay to the floor, and fumbled with her crossbow. She stood up and began to pull the string back, hurrying to try to fit a bolt onto it and fire again. Tether was onto her, and with his meteor hammer still at hand, he swung the ball around for a moment and threw it just above Triclops. She had ducked below the blow, a moment to make her reload slower.

His hand lowered and a click brought the ball straight back to him. It went through her crossbow and hand to do so, smashing it out of her grip and causing her to recoil in pain. She gripped her hand, and it was hard to tell if there was the sound of bones breaking amongst the sound of destroyed wood, metal and plastic. Tether let the ball drop to his feet before it reached his hand, and drew the rope back up.

There was no respite for Visionary. She was still mostly on the defensive, though Aberrant had yet to manoeuvre her or trap her and bite her with his blades. He grew frustrated more than anything, pulling back for a moment. His blades were drawn closer to himself, and they paused. He was prompting her to engage, and waited like a snake ready to strike.

Of all people, Shaun was more relaxed. Jolly and himself exchanged blows; each would have crippled a lesser man, yet here they were. Shaun threw a punch, Jolly blocked it and threw his own. It was unusual that whilst everyone was quiet, Shaun was still talking, quite relaxed.

“Jolly, let’s just stop. This is pointless. We can just walk at this point.”

“Big words, for a small man.” Jolly opened his palm, and went to grab at Shaun’s face. Shaun grabbed the fingers as they came in, one on each hand, and threw the hand to the side to force another opening. Jolly’s hand flung below, and Shaun reared back to kick him back again.

“Small words, for a big man-”

Jolly was no fool, and as Shaun’s foot came in, Jolly caught it with a deafening clap that struck around his ankle. He had braced himself and Shaun still managed to vent some of that power into him; where Jolly was off balance before and flew past, when he braced, he budged just an inch.

Jolly grinned. He had his hands on Shaun’s foot, and seized the moment.

With one hand, Jolly kept his grip on Shaun’s foot and swung him to the side, slamming him hard enough to shatter the desks and computers that were in his way, sending their remains across the room. He took some of the wall with him, and Jolly’s round swing went behind him and up. He brought him down into the floor, and slammed him down hard with an overhead throw.

The room shuddered. Even the windows jittered slightly, as Shaun was punched through the floor and left a small crater in his wake.

Shaun wasn’t down though, and he grabbed the floor around him. In a bold move, he used his grip on the floor to thrust himself forward. He slid out of his hole, straight between Jolly’s legs. He still held his leg, so Jolly’s arm was joining him between his legs. Shaun had the momentum and followed Jolly’s legs, which flung him from being on his back, ‘backflipping’ from his back onto one leg.

He swept his foot out and Jolly lost his grip, caught vulnerable again with his hand between his legs. Before he could pull it back, Shaun latched onto it with a tight grip and held it in place. He threw it upwards whilst still holding onto it, and Jolly flipped over onto his back, spun over and landed on the floor. Ass over kettle.

Shaun didn’t stop, and kept lifting afterwards. Jolly swept up in the air in a broad crescent and for a second, he was floating. In the next second, Shaun brought him down just as hard as he had been before.

Jolly made the bigger hole out of the two.

Tether began to spin the ball around, and stood in an open stance. Triclops was watching him, cradling. He didn’t look like a predator circling his prey; he just had to act. He threw the ball again, holding onto the other end with his free arm, and Triclops went wide eyed and rolled towards him with her hand still cradled to her chest to avoid it.

“Shit!” She shouted out. Just as the roll ended and she went to get on her feet. Tether clicked again. The metal ball came flying back to him, and had to go through her. She turned around just in time for it to strike her in the side, knocking the wind straight out of her, hard enough that she couldn’t even scream in pain. This time, he definitely heard something break, as the ball came back and rolled to his feet. Triclops was out of the fight, as she clutched her side with her free hand. Tether watched her for a second. Her face was contorted in pain, she was wheezing and coughing for breath and curled into a foetal position, tears streamed down her face.

He resisted the sickening feeling in his stomach, and looked to see who needed more help.

Visionary provoked Aberrant several times, swinging at him, only for him to deflect her attacks and try to watch for an opening. She was too quick, and continued to circle around him whilst avoiding any backlash. He showed obvious frustration at not landing a single blow on her, and gave in and started to hack and cut at her. The knife on his hand which didn’t have a sword was held back, just in case.

Tether saw an opportunity, and went with it. Swinging the ball again, he flung it with less force than before, just so it went to the side of Aberrant. He knew he’d dodge it quite easily, as it wasn’t going anywhere near him. Visionary kept him distracted, even going so far as to lower one weapon, as a sign of mockery that she didn’t need it, topped off with a smile. Tether ran to the other end of the room and clicked, calling the ball back from the floor. Visionary hopped over it as it came past her, though Aberrant hadn’t noticed the rope was coming for his legs, and didn’t manage to avoid being tripped up.

Just as he hit the floor, Visionary swiped her tazer from the floor and shoved it onto his back, and shocked him for a few seconds. He convulsed and squealed as the purple electricity coursed over the point of contact, and she let him go once she was certain he was going to stay down, unconscious.

That left Shaun and Jolly. Jolly rose to his feet again, none worse for wear, though he seemed just a little bit more sluggish than before. Shaun kept up a defensive pose, as he briefly glanced around. A thought went through Jolly’s head, as he turned away from Shaun and the perpetual stalemate, aiming to charge into his other team mates.

Horror struck Shaun’s face, and he acted before he thought about it, and grabbed Jolly’s long coat just before it got out of his reach. Shaun didn’t restrain himself this time, and Jolly stumbled backwards as Shaun heaved him back with titanic force.

“Shaun, get him out of here!”

Visionary called out, and Shaun complied. Jolly braced, knowing what was coming but Shaun punched faster than he could react, and his smaller size meant he could weave and duck straight in. He threw a single right hook upwards into Jolly’s side. The giant braced with all his strength and even then, Shaun’s punch hit with enough force to lift him off his feet, a sledgehammer of a hit even to a man as tough as Jolly. Pain flushed through his face and he gasped for breath, as his muscles rippled from the blow.

“No more games, Jolly.”

Shaun didn’t stop with one hit, and saw he had an opening to his midsection. Shaun threw an uppercut with his left and slammed Jolly upwards off his feet even higher. When Jolly landed, he staggered forward and dropped to a knee, clutching his stomach and gasping for breath. He groaned, confidence flushed from his voice. Now, his voice trembled with weakness.

Shaun stepped forward much calmer and leaned over, putting his hand on Jolly’s chest. With his palm flat to his chest, he made sure Jolly could hear him before he spoke.

“Time to go home, Jolly.”

Then, Shaun shoved him.

He had to step into Jolly to do so, and shoved until his arm was outstretched. He aimed up so Jolly wouldn’t just slide on the floor, and the previous blows waned in comparison to the strength he used just then. Jolly shot out of the building, straight from where he was standing, through the window with an applause of shattered glass, and slammed into the ground outside like a meteor. He landed just near the office he’d previously destroyed, and that walkway wasn’t short in the slightest.

Jolly barely moved. He gurgled for breath and groaned, but he was out of the fight for now.

Visionary turned to look outside and put her maces away. A calm descended on the room now. Tether was wrapping up his meteor hammer and walked over to Aberrant, nudging him with a shoe.

“I thought we were done. Just, fucked. Totally.”

Visionary turned back and looked at Tether. He looked expectantly back at her, though she thought against scolding him at the last second.

“Unexpected fight, we lost our objective, but we came out with no casualties or wounded on our side.” She assessed the damage. “We call an ambulance and we leave. We’re done here.”

“Done?” Shaun spoke. There wasn’t a single scratch or bruise on him, and he walked over with as much vigour as he had when he walked inside. “We should cuff these guys and put them away. Get them in the Unit.”

She turned from the window and shook her head. “No, Shaun. We get them medical attention, and then we leave the building. The fight is over.”

“They’re criminals.” Shaun opened his arms. “They broke the law. They’re gang members. They need to be put away. We have their leader out there.”

“We can’t restrain him. Shaun, listen to me.” She put a hand on his shoulder, and his frown faded from his face. “In an ideal world, yes. But there’s a lot of reasons against it. If Jolly was in the Unit, his gang would come straight for us to get to him. By any means, they would try to get him back. That’d be a lot of dead people on both sides. Trust me on that one.”

Shaun looked on in disbelief.

“He’s injured. He’ll have his pride wounded. It’ll be wounded more if he was thrown away. Plus, look at them.”

Shaun did. He hadn’t really paid much attention to them but both were on the floor. Aberrant was out cold, Triclops wasn’t moving much either.

“He has a possible broken or fractured hand. Triclops definitely does, as well as potentially broken ribs. Maybe even some damage to her spine.”

Tether looked on in horror at the body on the floor. She coughed. It was dirty and strained.

“Visionary, I’m-”

“No.” She stopped him. “Don’t. Stay focused. Call an ambulance, then we leave. They won’t be going far. I’ll find the security guard and bring him with us. He’ll need to make a statement. Call 999, then call the Control Centre and report back on what happened.”

Shakily, he nodded and complied, and took out a phone and dialled 999.

Shaun took a nearby chair and sat down on it. He yanked his hood back now and brushed a hand through his hair, taking a deep sigh. It didn’t settle well with him, how the end unfolded, though he knew better than to disobey an order from Visionary at the moment.

She’d gone downstairs to fetch the security guard, who had told her that some of the other guards who normally patrol were missing. She had a quick search for the other security personnel on site, along with the help of Patrick on the cameras. They were locked in a cleaning cupboard on the other side of the building. Nobody is quite sure how they got in there, other than ‘the tall, thin man telling them they really wanted to stay inside this cupboard’.

They were quickly told to leave the site and go home, on official orders. Nobody questioned why, after the security guards came outside and surveyed the damage.

The ambulances eventually came. Shaun, Tether and Visionary had already left the scene at this point. They found that Flare’s car was totally wrecked, and they’d managed to take Jolly’s pick-up instead and hijacked it. They were told to bring two ambulances, with one wide vehicle, though when they arrived on the scene, the paramedics commented on the scene.

“There’s only two casualties here.” One commented. “They reported three.”

Jolly’s crater was empty by the time they approached. Where he had gone, nobody was around to see. The security guard went in the car with the NFU, being brought in for questioning. The journey was quiet for the most part from everyone but Patrick, who had a great curiosity about actually meeting real life NFU agents in person.

Shaun at least found him a bit endearing, if not a little annoying. He also suggested not to take any selfies. Not only because they weren’t professional, but because he just didn’t like them.

Patrick was a little sad about that.

When they got back, Visionary took the man to a waiting lounge. Shaun and Tether waited in a private room to avoid being questioned on what had happened. Visionary left and told them that they wouldn’t be doing any further work that night, and they didn’t have to worry about writing the reports out for this until tomorrow at least.

Tether- Alex, took off his uniform, and changed his clothes. Shaun only needed to take off his jacket and the neck warmer that covered his face. The rest were just his normal clothes. Alex wasn’t in the mood for talking much about it, and Shaun could see he was down. Shaun told Alex that he should probably air it, just a little bit, as he always found it helps.

A game of pool was also offered, and Alex accepted. Shaun asked him to set up and took the first shot. Alex seemed much better at aiming his shots than Shaun, as he potted in a rather long shot that took a bounce off the cushion to achieve.

“Do your powers help you with angles?” He’d ask, leaning on his pool cue.

“Nah. I just play a lot.” He said.

“Ah.”

“I guess though, like. If you think about it, I have to think a lot about angles when I’m using my powers.”

“Makes sense.”

Shaun took his shot. It was relatively easy but he couldn’t follow through to another pot after it went in the hole. Alex noticed he wasn’t setting up his shots.

“So you really beat up Jolly. That’s cool, man.”

“Is it?” Shaun said, watching the pool table intently.

“I thought we were fucked.” Alex commented, practising how much force was going into the shot. “Really fucked. He’s nine feet tall, like the Hulk, yeah? You just threw him around. He didn’t have a chance, did he?”

Shaun glanced awkwardly to the side.

“Like, it’s not me to say this or accuse you of anything but why didn’t you just, like. Put him out of the fight from the first hit?”

Shaun looked to the other side. “I didn’t know how tough he was. I didn’t want to hit him hard enough and knock his head off.”

Alex took the shot. The crack of the pool balls hitting each other split the silence nicely, giving the illusion of a calm atmosphere.

“You held back?”

“I have to.” Shaun said, watching him knock a yellow ball into the pocket. Alex waited and judged his next move. “Imagine if I just threw a punch and put a hole through him. I know it’s hard to believe, but, that’s not good. It’s not cool.”

Alex took the shot, and potted another one in.

“Man, you’re good at this.”

“Heh. Uni room had a pool table in it.” He judged where to go next. “You haven’t played much pool, either.” He stated.

“Nah. I need to work on my aim.” Shaun said, stepping forward and getting a closer look. Out of the original 16 balls, there was 6 red, 5 yellow, the white and black left. “You’re in the lead.”

“Today was just… I know sometimes I’m gonna have to hit people, and I’m going to hurt them, but it just feels kinda bad. I just used my powers for pranks before. Like, bags of open flour into people’s chest, water balloons, harmless stuff. Watching that girl I hit, it made me feel… horrible.”

“I know, man. I know. But she fired a crossbow at Vision- Yuhong. It still feels really shitty to say this but, y’know. If we hadn’t… Like, when Jolly went for you guys. Christ, I was shitting myself. I was fighting him because I was the only one who could take him. I didn’t want to think about what he’d do if he grabbed either of you, I thought he’d play nice, just fight me for a bit, work out his stress.” Alex stopped playing for the moment and listened. “So I knew then, I had to punch and thrown him about a bit, I knew how hard he could take it, and I decided it was enough and put him down.”

Alex nodded, slowly.

“Feeling bad is good, because we kinda still give a shit, about the people we’re against. We don’t see them as villains, we see them as people we don’t want to hurt, and in any other situation we wouldn’t. It’s why I was trying to talk to him. It’s also why I don’t like capes. Vorpal, Sovereign, those sorts of guys. To those guys, it’s a bit of fun, a game. Cat and mouse with some bad guy. They don’t give a shit if they wreck a few buildings, destroy a few people’s home. Y’know?”

Alex nodded again. He decided to take the shot.

“Thanks, man. Kinda makes me feel better. You’re like, the strongest and toughest guy I’ve seen and you’re telling me this stuff. Heart-warming stuff.”

“Ah, shut up.” Shaun said, grinning. He pointed his cue to Alex. “Take the shot.”

He did, and Shaun wasn’t even surprised that he managed to get the shot in.

“D’ya get into many fights? Growing up and stuff.” Alex asked.”

“Nah. Not really. Well.” Shaun said. “Yeah, and no. I got into them. Some dickheads think they’re tough, they wanna fight with the guy who can’t be hurt and can put them through walls. Like, one time, me and my mates had gone out on a night out. Underaged, don’t tell anybody that.” Alex complied and nodded. “My mates were hammered, totally wankered.”

“I didn’t know you could.” Alex observed the battlefield of pool balls. He was methodical, patient.

“I can’t. They can though. I mean, alcohol’s a poison, technically, isn’t it? I can’t be affected, at all.” He shrugs. “I just drink what’s delicious.”

“I hear that.”

“These guys, probably like twenty years old or so come over. They start taking the piss. ‘Oi, it’s that farborn little cunt, isn’t it? Little hard man, thinks he’s fuckin’ tough’. That sort of macho crap. My mates are scared but I just don’t care. I tell them to fuck off. So they start trying to push me. I don’t let them, and they just bounce off me. All they’re doing is shouting louder, trying to gang around me. We’re next to the road, it’s a bit busy and all, and they know I don’t wanna hit them. They say, they’ll get me put in the Unit if I touch them.”

“What did you do?” Alex had found his mark, and leaned down to get the power in his hit just right.

“I grab him by the shirt, and fling him to the side. He rolls over about… four times. His mates back off, and I run over and grab him by the shirt, and push him to the wall. Pin him by one hand. He’s kicking and shouting and hitting me but it doesn’t even bother me.” He said. “I don’t like it, but sometimes, people need to just back off. I tell him, ‘Listen to me, you think the Unit’s gonna be able to hold me?’ And I saw his face. He was terrified, scared. Deer in the headlights. ‘You think anybody can stop me finding you and ripping your fucking head off? Don’t ever come to me again like this, don’t come to my mates like this, and don’t pick a fight you know you can’t win. You hear me?!’”

Alex nodded, stunned. “Woah.”

“Yeah. He and his mates ran away after I let him go and told him to go away. I wasn’t going to do anything to him, christ no. But, it taught me a few things. Word spread fast, and everyone knew quickly. People had heard about it and didn’t want to try anything else, and that intimidating people is the easiest way to stop people. I don’t want to fight people, but telling them I will, gets people off my case.”

“Do you think you could take Sovereign in a fight?”

“Shut up, man.” He said, smiling a little. “I don’t think about stuff like that.”

“Well, yeah, but can you take him in a fight?”

Shaun laughed a little. “I’m not answering these questions. It’s like Superman vs Goku.”

Alex nodded. “…Superman.”

“No, mate. Have you even seen Goku?” Shaun wagged his cue threateningly at Alex.

“I see you two are more relaxed.”

Yuhong walked in, and she had stripped herself of her uniform and was in more casual, fashionable clothes; a white blouse that buttoned half the way down, with a black ink scape of a cherry blossom tree on the right side, as well as jeans and some boots.

“We needed to air a bit, and talk.” Shaun said, holding his cue to his side now.

“Good. First, I wanted to congratulate both of you for today. We consider this a successful major incident.”

“Sending three people to hospital is a success?” Shaun asked, bluntly.

Relative success. We went into a situation expecting the Ten Granders, we found Jolly and the Manc Freakshow and came out without any casualties or injuries. For your first major incident and first fight? Somebody was going to get hurt. Nobody was killed.”

Shaun looked away. “Yeah. I guess, worse things could happen. But I don’t like it. I still feel bad about what happened.” Tether nods, to agree. “We should have taken Jolly. He’s dangerous.”

“He is, but it’s a complicated situation. Shaun, there are drug lords and major criminals out there, which could be captured and imprisoned. The reason we don’t is because mostly, taking them alive will cost a lot of people their lives. There’ll be a lot of angry gang members, and we’ll need to control the aftermath. Unless it’s done as safely as possible with minimal risks, the costs are too great.”

He watches her, nodding slowly.

“The other reason is, we know Jolly. He’s got his ways to make money. They’re not the people you can easily control in said aftermath. And with Jolly gone, his territory will be weakened. Other gangs will try to take over it. More fighting, from people you don’t want to fight. Farborn and Fartouched with grudges against society. And then, who steps into the power vacuum that Jolly just leaves if he’s imprisoned?”

Shaun was watching, he seemed to be fairly interested.

“Better the devil you know, than the devil you don’t.”

“So, what? It’s about keeping everything in order, maintain that status quo?

“Yes.” Yuhong said, almost as bluntly as Shaun before. “Exactly that. Everyone likes the playing field level. If you tip it a little, other people try to tip it back. They’ll push harder than you. To save reputation, to get revenge.”

Yuhong could see that Shaun was accepting it. He didn’t seem to want to respond, so she changed the tone.

“Shaun, I’d like to thank you personally. Without you there, it would have been a very different incident. As we arranged, you came for one shift, that’s your one shift done. You’re free to go but if you’re interested, please just call me again.”

Shaun nodded, and looked at the pool table for second. He turned back to Yuhong.

“Can I tell anybody about what happened today? My parents?”

“You’re not supposed to, for confidentiality reasons. But, between you and me, be vague and mention no names or places. Transport will be here for both of you in 10 minutes.”

Alex turned, and took the shot quickly. It was the first time he’d missed a shot. Shaun raised his eyebrow, and quickly seized the next turn.

Shaun got back home fairly late. He was going to sneak in as quiet as he could manage but didn’t expect the door to be unlocked, with his dad still waiting for him as he came inside. Craig was watching some football on TV and turned it off as he came inside. The strangest thing about it all was that he got a hug from his dad as soon as he was within range. Shaun hesitated, then hugged his dad back.

Then, Craig asked what happened.

Shaun told him. No names spoken, no places mentioned. He didn’t embellish any details but he gave the facts quite clearly. He also told his dad that he definitely had hurt somebody. His dad, whilst understanding, didn’t seem pleased at all.

“…and then I came in.”

Craig sighed in relief. “I don’t have to worry about you getting hurt, lad. Aye, you’re not trouble. I’m worried about something else. You told me you were fighting?”

“Yeah. I didn’t like it. I didn’t have a choice. I had to fight or other people got hurt.”

“’least it’s for a good reason. Shaun, I want to tell you some things. I want you to listen, and let me finish.”

Craig sat down on the sofa and with a delayed nod, Shaun did as well.

“We raised you up as best as we could. You’re old enough now to make your own choices. Daft ones sometimes, but we can’t stop you. Fighting though, if you’re gonna do this, fighting’s different.”

“Okay. I can handle myself though.” Shaun said. His tone was light, it wasn’t an interruption. Just a comment.

“It’s not that.” He said. “Fighting’s… Put it this way. You don’t wanna hurt people. You might have hurt somebody tonight, but you didn’t do it to go and just hurt them. You didn’t wanna kill them.”

“No, no no.” Shaun raised his hands. “Definitely not.”

“Aye. But it’s like a… threshold. Once you know how to hurt people and do it more than a few times, you step over a line. And everyone else is like this. Once you find out it’s okay to do it, you accept it, and move on. And you find it easier to do it in future. It can happen with anybody, not just you. The thing is, Shaun, nobody else can do what you do. That’s why I’m-”

Shaun cut in. “You’re worried I might find it too easy to hurt people, mentally”

“I know you can control yourself physically. I just don’t want you to go around bloody hurting people without knowing it. Or knowing what you’re doing, that’s even worse.”

“I can see where you’re coming from. That’s why I scare people, dad. I’m just a normal kid.”

Craig nodded. He seemed satisfied, though he took in a breath and carried on.

“The second thing.”

“Yeah?” Shaun leaned forward a little.

“The NFU, you’ve met ’em before.”

Shaun went quiet.

“Quite a few times, when you were a young’un. All Farborn are registered when they’re born, yer’ know that bit. We took you for yer jabs and injections. Bloody fools couldn’t pierce your skin with their needle. The NFU caught wind of it, and we had to have words ’bout you. They told us, you’re a unique case. Even the really tough ones, really strong powers, weren’t totally unhurtable. And they were worried. Worried you might turn out bad.”

“Dad. I don’t like where this is heading.” Shaun said. He looked more concerned than angry.

“No, nothin’ like that. They knew we were a good family, but… we had to come to an agreement. We promised the NFU, we’d raise you as right as we could. And they promised, if we did, they’d make sure any of the little things went away.”

Shaun frowned a little.

“Things you don’t notice. We found the right school for you, where there wasn’t much bullying, a good school, and we got in. Even with it being the hardest to get into in the area. We moved once, you don’t remember but we did, and they only asked for half a deposit. We lost three boxes worth of stuff, and the next morning we found ’em on our doorstep. Not even that, everything was factory new.”

“Could just be a coincidence.”

“Tha’s what we thought. I never went a day without a job. I never told you but I got laid off from work once. Company went into administration. I got a letter the next day. The mechanic firm that I’m working for to this day, told me I was hired. Didn’t need to apply. I got the job, no question. Always got my holidays booked, no problem, even if it was at the busiest point of the year. They just said yes.”

“That’s a little bit strange.”

“Your grandma, needed that hip replacement after her first fall. Front of the queue. Didn’t need to pay. Taken to the best hospital in the country. When she got dementia, y’know how there was no new care homes in the area? New houses were being made, specifically so the elderly and vulnerable had safe accomodation. We were sent a letter of recommendation. An’ we dunnae pay any fees for her being there. It’s all funded.”

Shaun looked at his father with concern.

“I asked the NFU about it. They didn’t wanna comment on it. All they told me was that ‘no family should have to wait for their loved ones to be taken care of’. When she moved in, your mum said she doesn’t trust some carers to look after her. They gave her a job.”

“So you’re telling me, you think the NFU has been making our lives comfortable, to make sure I grew up… right?”

“Yeah.” Is all Craig could say. “We’ve lost friends over it. Nobody has such a lucky life, Shaun. Not without somebody pullin’ strings. The NFU are holding a lotta those strings.”

“I’m not saying I don’t believe you. I’m just saying, it’s… far fetched.

“Aye, it is. But think ’bout it for a second. If you knew a bad childhood could turn a good kid with all your power, into a bad kid with all that power. How many strings would you pull? How many would anybody else pull?”

It was a slightly overwhelming thought. Shaun leaned back and contemplated it.

“Ask ’em. Next time you go, ask ’em. They say ‘to protect against those of the Farside who would do the county harm‘. Even you.”

Shaun sighed deeply. “Christ, dad. Way to lay it on me hard.”

“You needed to know. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you sooner, but with all that happened… If I told you sooner, you might have said no, and we might not be getting anything fixed.”

Shaun nodded. “Yeah. Well, thanks for telling me. I’ll have words with them about it.”

“Are you gonna go again to them?” Craig asked him, deeply concerned.

“I might.” He replied. “Maybe. I can help people, and I want to know for sure.”

“Aye, alright. You’re 18, you’re old enough.”

Craig stood up, and patted Shaun on the shoulder. “Better get some sleep, lad. You’ve got school, we’ve got a hotel to stay in.”

Shaun smiled, and stood up. “It’s been a weird three days, hasn’t it?”

“It bloody well has. Hope it goes back to a bit of bloody peace and quiet.”

Craig went to go upstairs, ascending up the staircase.

“Turn the light off and lock up when you’re ready.”

Shaun nodded, and Craig went upstairs out of view for a second. He poked his head back down the stairs and called back.

“-and yer’ better not have ruined that bloody jacket of mine.”

“You noticed.” He said, surprised and amused.

“I bloody well did.”

“Can I keep it?”

Craig thought about it for a moment, and a smile wrinkled his cheeks.

“I reckon you can, Shaun. Reckon you can.”

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