Welcome to the New Normal

A Denny McCloud Story
A Cassie Sutton Story

Tuesday, 22 Jun 2027
Infirmary, Power Analysis, Inc
Late

It had taken Miriam over an hour to Heal Cassie and Denny spent the time pacing in the front lobby of Power Analysis, Inc. It was floors above the infirmary where her friend lay unconscious but Denny figured no one needed her distracting Miriam with her nervous energy by remaining in the same room with her. So she got herself upstairs and alternately paced and stared through the glass at the Zen Garden outside.

As a distraction technique, it worked … but only partially. Cassie was the first truly injured person Denny had ever tried to treat and her first aid lessons at summer camp seemed so very long ago and hazy. Did I make things worse? Is she going to lose her leg? And what about the stuff I couldn’t see? What if she goes into shock and dies? What if

“What if you stop thinking around in circles and do something constructive?” Denny snarled, her words bouncing off the hard surfaces of the lobby. “Fine!

She marched off to the kitchen area and poked around the cabinets and the refrigerator, pulling out the ingredients to make a sandwich. Using her powers still had the ability to fatigue her. Denny could only guess what sustaining so long a Healing would cost Miriam. A mile-high hero sandwich grew under Denny’s hands and she added pickles and a radish rose to the plate for good measure. She wrapped everything up and put it in the fridge to wait until Miriam needed it.

Now what?

Denny looked around. There was nothing left to do. She’d been trained in the clean-as-you-go school of cookery and the kitchen was spotless. She checked her watch. She’d managed to occupy herself for forty-five minutes. Sighing, Denny pulled the plate out of the fridge and unwrapped the sandwich. A cup of coffee the way Miriam liked it joined the sandwich on a tray before Denny took everything downstairs.

Spiderwebs of green slipped around and through her as her head and body throbbed in agony. Warm hands, soft and soothing pressed gently, seeking and somehow reworking the spiderwebs, sending more, pulling glowing lines here and there around and inside her. She took a breath and moaned; something sharp and cruel punched her inside in multiple places. The suit of the angel glowed fierce in spots around her body and the hands would pause as they encountered them, the muscles and tendon tensing slightly before moving and continuing their gentle slide. Whimpering she tried to shift into the hands; they brought peace and a cessation of the overwhelming pain, but the move was resisted and the effort made her leg try to shear from her body. The knives stabbing her grew sharper and over the roaring in her ears, she finally heard Miriam’s words.

“Stay still honey. You’ve been hurt bad. I’m doing what I can. Shhhhh and help me.”

Cassie whimpered again and inhaled, the sound almost animal and involuntary. “I fell,” she whispered and then helplessly jerked as she relived the fall and abrupt end. The pain of it made her cry out and blessed darkness took her as shock set in.

Miriam was holding her hand when she awoke again, her face drawn and tired. Cassie turned to her carefully, squeezing her hand. “If you look like that, I can’t imagine what I look like.”

The black woman smiled, gently, the exhaustion drawing deep lines on her usually serene and lovely face. “You don’t wanna know Cassie.” She sighed. “I could sleep for days. I need a cup of my own coffee.” She looked up as Denny appeared in the door and nodded at the tray. “Don’t know if I can eat, Denny, but that cup of coffee looks like heaven on a tray.”

Denny bit her lip and nodded. Even though she’d spent weeks living with Miriam while her own apartment was under repairs, she still wasn’t sure how to take the compliment. Helene had been more reserved in her praise, though no less sincere, and Denny was still adjusting to Miriam’s looser style. Don’t stand there like a dork, Den. Miriam needs that coffee.

“I hear ya,” Denny said with a lightnesss she didn’t feel and set the tray where Miriam could reach it. “Made it the way you like it. Hope you like ham and cheese and provolone on rye.” She pulled a rolling chair to the beside and sat down and gingerly patted Cassie’s hand. “And how’re you doing? Can I get you anything?”

God, that’s lame. Jesus.

“A new body,” the dark-haired woman quipped weakly. “So did that man get away?” Her face clouded under the bruises. “Did the Angel get him?”

“Um … I think so. I mean, he got away,” Denny added when she realized how it sounded. “I was a little too busy trying to splint your leg to pay much attention to other stuff.” She shrugged. “I figured the team would handle it without me. As for the rest, I suppose we could swing a day-spa appointment for you when you’re feeling up to it. People always say you come out of those feeling brand new.”

More lameness. There didn’t seem to be any shortage of teh lame tonight.

Cassie smiled. “So Vanguard did get there. Yay.” She gave another tired sigh but her eyes twinkled. “You splinted my leg? Didn’t know there was origami splints. Thank you.” Her gaze fell to Miriam’s and she touched the woman’s arm. “Thank you too.”

Miriam raised her head, nearly sunken into her cup of coffee, and nodded. With effort, she rose to her feet. “I’m going to borrow a bed. You two talk. But don’t keep her up too long Denny, okay?” Slowly, Miriam left the room and went to find a bed to collapse in. It had taken everything out of her to heal Traveler. There had been moments she doubted that she could. She had poured everything she had into the woman and used everything that Cassie had inside to fix the damage. A hand found the wall for support and she half fell, half walked into the adjoining room. The cup made the bedside table intact and unspilled, but she was asleep almost before she hit the pillow.

“I won’t. I promise,” Denny said and watched as Miriam left. Denny nearly rose from her chair when Miriam faltered but she left the woman her dignity and let her make her own way out. Once she saw Miriam had made it out under her own power, Denny turned back to Cassie.

“I wish there were something I could do to make both you feel better. Miriam was at it for more than an hour. And uh, yeah. Splints come in origami now. More portable that way.” Denny managed half a grin. “I hear they’re making stretchers next. I’ll have to check them out.”

Cassie laughed and then made a face. “Okay, ow. No more of that.” She closed her eyes for a moment and then popped them open as she instantly relived the moment before the fall and the sickening feeling as the port failed. She bit her lip and then reached out a hand. “C’mon closer Denny. Talk to me. I’m not dying. At least I don’t think so.” She rolled her eyes to Miriam’s chair. “Sit down. You can tell me what happened and how I got here.”

“Okay.” Denny scooted closer and let out a deep breath. “Um, Alex was giving me a lift to the scene and we got there just as you started falling. Alex told me to get my dragon ready and tossed me after you. The jerk,” she added. "I could’ve ended up like you and then where would we be? Anyway … " Denny shook her head and continued. “So I popped out my dragon and got to the roof and you’d already landed. I mean, fallen, or … whatever you call it. And your leg was bent all wrong. That’s how I knew it was broken. You weren’t conscious but you were breathing and since your airway was fine I decided to take care of that leg before getting you on my dragon and evacced out of there. I mean, the media monsters were already out there with their cameras and I figured the police and the EMTs would be coming next and we couldn’t let you go to the hospital where they’d have to cut your mask off and if they did that, the jig’d be up and you’d be outed and … um, yeah. So I had to get you out of there before that happened and I couldn’t do that til I got your leg splinted. Didn’t want it to twist off or tear on the way back to base.” She cringed. “That would have been a disaster.”

“My first dragon ride and I don’t remember it.” The laugh was more sigh than sound. “Broken leg, huh? That’s not good. So what else happened?”

“I don’t think you’d’ve liked the view. I had to drag you belly down over my dragon’s neck. If you’d been awake, it would have been way scary. Well, I have to assume it would be scary. As for what happened next? Um … Deirdre and Alex sorta got the Angel tied up, but I can’t exactly tell you how, since I wasn’t able to watch closely. And Jason eventually hulked out and did some damage. The Angel decided he’d had enough punishment and grabbed his sword and made that hole in the sky and got himself through it. And here’s the weird thing—Jason followed him. How crazy is that? We don’t know where that rift goes, right? Could have ended up anywhere, hell, any when, and we’d have no clue how to get Jason back.”

Denny grimaced.

“Mind, I was really too focused on getting you out of there to really get all the details. Some of what I just told you I got from the others afterward. But that’s, you know, pretty much it. Once the Angel was out of there and his victim was out of reach, we all sorta pulled a fade. Deirdre took off in the van. I’d already flown you out of there. Alex stayed behind to deal with the newsies and gave good face. I don’t know where the Angel’s intended target went. The others tell me that he had this ability to shoot a white ball of energy and that he actually managed to fly. They’re thinking that since he seemed as surprised as the rest of us, he didn’t know he could do all that. He flew off, yelling at everyone to leave him alone—not that I blame him. I’d be kinda freaked too if that happened to me.” She grimaced again. “Well, I mean, it did happen to me. Just not like … like that. I just had an origami kitty come to life. I didn’t firebomb the house or anything.”

The young girl’s babble was endearing. Her eyes kept darting to Cassie and then away and then back again. Denny almost twitched with nervousness, clearly uncomfortable. There was no doubt in Cassie’s mind that she looked like she’d been to hell and back and although she wanted to see herself, she also had no doubt that she ought not to. Cassie shifted with some effort and neatly captured Denny’s hand and sought her eyes with her own blue ones.

“Hey kiddo, I’ll be okay. You did good. And for the record, trussed up, blindfolded, held in its claws upside down, a dragon ride is pretty damn special. I dove out of the train into mid air like a moron to save someone who clearly didn’t need saving from some crazy sword wielding angel. How scary could a dragon ride be against that? And you saved my life. And I’m here now holding your hand because you were a hero. Thank you.”

“I—um … Yeah, you’re welcome.” Denny cringed. “Geez, I sound like a total lame-bot.” Denny pulled her hand free and quickly (gently!) wrapped her arms around Cassie in a hug. She whispered, “There. This is what I wanted to do when I walked in and saw you awake. I know this is probably breaking a gajillion rules but I just suck at being proper.”

Cassie ruffled her hair. “Eh, who cares kiddo. Proper is for business. Friends get to be improper with one another.” When the girl pulled back, she patted her arm. “Do I look that bad? You keep looking at me like I’m Frankenstein’s monster.” She tried to shift again and her body immediately yelped a warning. With a groan, she forced the move and sighed as she reached the more comfortable position. “Ugh, no jogging tomorrow.” Her eyes widened. “Oh god! Was my fall on the television? Does Mark know I’m ok?”

“Sorry, don’t mean to stare. You’re the first injured person I’ve ever did first aid on, much less med-evacced. And I guess it’s all starting to catch up with me.”

When Cassie groaned, Denny grew alarmed—what if she’d busted a gut or something?—but relaxed again when the other woman sighed. Her head caught up with Cassie’s words a beat later and Denny said, “I don’t know about the television part of it but yeah, we called Mark. It’s okay. We called him. Can I … get you some water or anything?”

“Has he seen me?”

“Yup. He’s stuck like glue to you once he found out what happened. We had to force him to go home so he could do, like, normal human stuff. Eat. Sleep. Clean up. If you look at the floor just right, you can see the tracks his fingernails made when we dragged him out of here. I think he’s out on patrol by now, though. I swear, I think that guy sleeps even less than I do when I’m cramming for an exam.” Denny managed a grin. “But yeah, Mark knows all about it. He’s a pretty awesome brother. He must love you to, like, infinity, you know?”

Cassie smiled, broad and toothy. “Melonhead,” she muttered fondly. “He’s probably missed classes.” She shook her head and then ventured to look at her surroundings. “What’s with all the monitoring equipment? How bad was I?” Another comment Denny made sank in then. “And yes, I’d love a glass of water. Please and thank you.”

Denny’s unease lessened as Cassie continued to not-die while they talked and the teen’s natural optimism rallied. So it was with considerable more bounce that she tackled the stairs to get that drink for her friend. She filled a carafe for good measure and brought it back with her.

“Here you go,” she said, handing over a tall glass with a straw.

Cassie sucked the glass clean with gusto. “Man, I’m thirsty.” She held out the glass for a refill. “So tell me what a super-hero does when their powers fail them. Is that in your comic books?” She tried to keep her voice light, but her eyes were serious and there was a bit of tension in the smile that she tried to reassure the teen with.

“Oh, man, lemme think,” Denny said, matching Cassie’s tone but gave the question serious consideration as she refilled the glass. “Well, if you were Spiderman, you’d whine and kvetch a lot. If you were Batman, you’d beat up thugs as usual until you figured out what you’d do. If you were Superman, you’d hole up in your Fortress of Solitude and either jigger up a fix or discover a new color of Kryptonite to re-attain your powers. Or make a really awful sequel to a kick-ass first movie about it.” She handed back the glass. “All kidding aside, though, I think that comics will only carry you so far and you and me and everyone else here is pretty much writing the manual as we go. I’d say wait and see. Observe. Take notes. Test your abilities to see how far and strong they come back. You know, compose that section of the Troubleshooting page in the Superpower Owner’s Manual. Seriously, Cassie. No one else has been where we are, so I say there aren’t any rules beyond our powers limits and what we believe is right and wrong.”

She frowned.

“Geez. Maybe I should add vodka to that water or something. I sound like a philosophical idiot and I’m still sober.”

Her friend looked at her over the rim of the glass. “You don’t drink,” she answered. “And experimenting is fine until you are aiming to be at the top of a skyscraper and find yourself in midair and no way down but falling.” Lines formed on her forehead, deep and worried. “I’m not used to being hurt. Mark and I. . .we do crazy things, but he always makes certain that I’m safe. It’s a bad thing to doubt yourself when you’re halfway up a cliffface or paddling a class 4 or 5. I’m pretty certain that porting is the same. But there’s no safety net.” She drew a long breath and put down the class. “You’re too young to worry about this. I can’t have you worrying that something will go wrong with your powers much less mine. I’m fine. I’ll be fine. I’m just tired.”

She tilted her head at the teenager, raising an eyebrow. “Don’t you have homework or a date?”

“Nope and nope,” Denny said with a wry grin. “I’ve taken the summer off from classes and dates were never part of my agenda. So my schedule’s clear. I guess you’re stuck with me.” She sobered. “Of course, I didn’t mean we should experiment on the job. We have a danger room. Or we will, once it’s finished. When that happens, I expect we’ll use it. The reason PA exists is to study powers, right? I figured we’d naturally serve as the first lab rats, anyway.”

Denny hugged her knees to her chest, perching her feet on the edge of her chair.

“I guess what I’m trying to say is, don’t worry. We haven’t had our powers for long, in terms of having our lives without them til now, and really if your powers never came back—or if I lost mine tomorrow—would it really be that hard to live with? I mean, I love my dragon and my kitty but … if I woke up powers-free tomorrow, I’d miss them but I’d still be an artist. I’d still be able to make what I make and I’d still be alive and able to go to college and all the other everyday normal stuff I did before I got my powers. I was happy enough before then. I’m sure I’d be happy enough without them. Besides, it would take me off the hit list of all the crazies out there. That can’t be a bad thing, right? So if your powers don’t come back, you’d still be the kick-ass athlete you are and you’d still have a head for numbers and financials that would make me look like an idiot working without a calculator. So, you know,” Denny added, thinking she’d said way too much. “Don’t worry. Things will work out.”

Way to go, Den. You goon.

The woman known as Traveler regarded Artisan with a wry shake of her head. “Yeah they will,” she finally agreed. “So has Jason been by or has he been working?” It was time to change the subject. Denny was far too young to be worried with mortality.

“Some.” Denny tilted her head at Cassie and pursed her lips speculatively. “Want me to go get him?”

Yes, no, yes, Cassie thought and then answered, “No.” She slid carefully back down into the bed, more aware of the bruises that she couldn’t see than she was earlier. Although she felt better, she was truly exhausted and realized that she could sleep for a week. “Denny, do you mind turning down the lights? I think I’m going to sleep now. But if you would tell Mark. . .” she paused and then added, “and Jason that I’m awake I think for good after a little nap, I’d appreciate it.” Closing her eyes, she popped one open with a stern look. “You need a boyfriend. You’re too pretty to be playing nursemaid for me. Now go to the Sewer or whatever that dice-a-rama of role playing games is and have a good time.” The blue eyes shut as she snuggled tenderly into her pillow.

Denny watched the thoughts flickering behind Cassie’s eyes with private amusement, wondering if what she suspected were true. She remembered how Jason went all awk-weird when she’d hugged him the day he helped her move into her apartment. And now, was that awkwarness echoed in Cassie’s answer? For all that she was a teen and usually had her nose buried in a book or glued to a sketchpad, Denny observed the world keenly in order to draw it. High school was rife with all the little—and not so little—signs of attraction, of unrequited love, of outright lust. So she noted Cassie’s cues and kept her amusement to herself. She’d also observed how cruel that teasing could get over matters of the heart and she refused to be a party to it. So she only nodded and made sure Cassie had a full glass before dimming the lights as asked.

“I’ll tell them,” she promised. “I’ll tell everyone to keep the noise down til you’re up, okay?” Denny hugged Cassie gently and withdrew for the door. “Have a nice nap.”

She crossed the threshold and popped back in again. “And for the record, it’s called The Gutter and they can have fun without me quite nicely thanks. As for a boyfriend?”

Denny let her laughter answer for her as she rolled back around the doorjamb. Yeah, right. That’s pretty funny. Who knew Cassie was such a comedian? She’s usually so serious about everything. Denny went off in search of Miriam to check on her friend and after that, she’d tell the guys that Traveler was on the mend.

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