Avalanche – Snippet 27
They were almost to Nevils–a relatively small town–when John’s stomach complained loudly and vociferously that breakfast had been Too Damn Long Ago.
“Darlin’, I’m thinkin’ that an early lunch is in order,” he said as he signaled and turned onto an off-ramp for the town. When he got no response, he looked over his shoulder and saw she was smothering giggles in both hands. “An’ what’s so funny, if I might ask?” She just shook her head and giggled harder. “Suit yourself. You’ve officially lost your vote for where to eat. I have a mighty hunger.”
After cueing up Vickie on Overwatch and having her do a little digging on the area, John decided that they would stop at a chicken and waffle place called “Gator Bay”. Apparently, the locals loved it, even though it was small (even by the standards of Nevils) and tucked out of the way. Located next to a church, it was an unassuming building; the CCCP’s briefing room was probably just a shade smaller than the building’s total footprint. As such, there wasn’t more than a couple of tables inside, with most of the space being taken up by the kitchen and service counter. There were wooden tables and benches on the outside with faded umbrellas to give shade, and, for some unknown reason, giant plastic bags full of water hung around the eaves, along with fly and wasp traps, well away from the door. Most notable was the line stretching out the door. John took it as a good sign. John got out of the van, stretched, and then opened the side panel door for Sera. When she got out, the crowd definitely took notice. They were wearing civilian attire, having opted to leave their uniforms in the van until they got to the beach. But there was no missing Sera’s wings, and a number of the patrons openly gawked at her.
They probably don’t get a lot of contact with metas out there in the sticks. Closest most of ’em have come is probably seein’ one on television. He waved to them. “Howdy, folks,” he said as genially as possible. “Mind iff’n we get in line?”
There were a few mumbles among some of the older patrons, but no one objected. John and Sera made their way to the back of the line, Sera careful of her wings. Only a few people continued to stare, while most went back to their conversations. The line was moving briskly, as some of the food was dished out cafeteria-style. The menu on a chalkboard included “Handmade Burgers” and “Bacon-Wrapped Dogs,” but from the look of things, what most people were ordering was “Chick’n’N’Waffles.” John saw no reason to buck the trend; he ordered two plates of the Chick’n’N’Waffles, with sides of collards, black-eyed peas, and a large cup of banana pudding with vanilla wafers for the two of them to share. The only drinks were water and true Southern sweet tea; John opted for the tea. After paying, they made their way outside and took their seats at a far table; a runner came a few minutes later with their food and drinks.
John didn’t stand on parade. Once the food arrived, he immediately dug in. “So, whatcha think, love?” he said around a mouthful of food, taking a sip of his sweet tea to wash it down.
“I would not have paired these foods,” she said, with a sudden smile that lit up the overcast day, “But they are delicious!”
“Hard to beat good Southern cuisine, darlin’.” John was about to take another bite of food when he noticed that two small children, both boys, standing politely by the side of the table.
“Can we help you kids?” he asked gravely, hiding a smile, because he knew damn well why they were there. After all, his ‘hood was full of kids, all of whom were familiar with Sera.
“Are y’all a hero? Do y’all shoot fire outen y’all’s eyes?” said one, at the same time as the other said to Sera, “Are y’all a angel, miss?”
“Well, I can shoot fire, sure enough, just not outta my eyes.” John held up a hand and snapped his fingers, producing a lighter-sized flame from his thumb. Both of the kids went wide-eyed; John winked, then blew out the flame. “As for my wife here, she’s definitely a hero to me. But I’ll let her answer for herself. Darlin’?”
“I am a metahuman,” she said carefully. “Just like John.” He smiled to himself at how carefully she had picked her phrases. In every sense, since they now shared most of her old powers, she was just like him….
Now Sera had the attention of both of them. “Are them wings real?” they chorused.
She graced them with one of her dazzling smiles. “Yes, they are,” she said, and answered the impolite and unspoken longing in their eyes. “Go ahead and touch them.” She stretched out one of them enough so they could get a sense of how big the wings were. Gingerly, they both reached to touch, then stroked the soft feathers more boldly as she nodded and continued to smile.
“They is real!” one of them breathed. She laughed.
“Back up a little,” she said, and stood up, stretching them out completely, then shaking them hard until two of the soft covert-feathers fell out. “Those are for you,” she said, sitting down again, as they stared covetously at the scarlet feathers lying on the ground. They dived to snatch the feathers up, then remembered their manners.
“Thankee, miss!” they chorused, just as their embarrassed parents summoned them back to the family tables. They evidently got a half-hearted “talking to” (half-hearted, as the parents seemed as fascinated by the shed feathers as the children were) and sent off to play with the rest of the kids who had finished their meals.
John grinned lop-sidedly as he watched the kids for a moment. “If’n only the rest of the world saw us the way those two do. It’d make our jobs a helluva lot easier.”
She sighed. “Children believe so easily. But adults, who have felt the sting of betrayal, always look to be betrayed again.”
“Guess we’ll have to prove that we’re better than they’re expectin’,” John said as he pierced another bite of food with his fork. “Or say to hell with all of ’em when this war is over an’ settle down somewhere.”
A look of sadness came over her. “I try not to think too far ahead. It is hard…not seeing the Futures. And not knowing what to do is a fearful thing. One of the hardest to adjust to.”
John set his fork down, and reached out with his right hand to cover her left. “You’re not wrong, love. But, the rest of humanity has been gettin’ by without seein’ the future for a long time. I figure we’ll get along well enough. We’ve got each other, after all.” He poured reassurance and his love for her through their connection, and his confidence in his own words.
Her expression lightened again. “And always shall.”
He squeezed her hand, then picked up his fork again. “Eat up. We’ve still got some miles ahead of us, an’ I’ve got a sneakin’ suspicion that we’re goin’ to need all the energy we can get.”
That statement turned out to be the understatement of the week.
The first attempt they made–flying side-by-side with John holding Sera’s hand and “towing” her when the speed reached a point where she couldn’t keep up–was an unmitigated disaster. Even with their enhanced strength, they couldn’t keep a grip on each other’s wrists. After three tries and three failures, they gave up.
“Worked on Superman,” John grumbled, as they stood together on the mud-and-sand strip at the edge of the ocean. “I really don’t want to think what would happen if we tried to lash ourselves together.”
Sera was rubbing her arm and shoulder as if they hurt. “I am difficult to injure, not invulnerable,” she said. “Well, the ‘fireman carry’ is not possible, you could not see past my wings. I think the ‘honeymoon carry’ is inadvisable. What does that leave?”
He thought for a few moments. “What’s really propellin’ me is the fire. It’s also what makes that protective sheath. We gotta think of some way to transfer it from me to you. With that, y’ought to be able to go just as fast as me.”
There were several more abortive experiments, each ending the same; as soon as John stopped being in direct physical contact with Sera, the protective shield of Celestial fire disappeared from her. Even at slower speeds, the wind shear alone was dangerous, never mind what would happen if she were to hit anything.
“Hey, don’t appeal to me as Wikipedia, hotshot,” Vickie said, before he could ask. “I can man the battlements for Kriegers or I can research aerodynamics. I can’t do both, and I don’t have any rocket scientists on speed-dial. Well, I have two geniuses, but they’re busy right now.”
Gamayun, who was listening in, added sadly, “Da, tovarisch, the one who could have helped you was poor Petrograd. We have nyet in CCCP now who can.”