Posts Tagged ‘Ringmaster’

His touch was both professional and gentle—his hands on her skin spreading warmth and making the pain go away bit by bit—and his voice was pleasant and demeanor collegial.

And all she could think about was how much she wanted to punch him in the face.

“OK, Peregrine, what’s up? You seem tense.”

“I got my butt kicked, Asclepius,” she told him. “Would that put you in a good mood?”

“I imagine the other guy looks worse.”

“Of course, but that doesn’t change the fact…” she began, then stopped herself, frowning.

“The leg had some bone damage, but I think it was only bruising and maybe a hairline fracture. I should have it mostly taken care of in another few minutes, and then we can move on to more cosmetic things,” Asclepius said as he smoothed his hands slowly up and down her lower leg. “Really. What is up? What’s going on Peregrine? You’re pissed at me; I can tell. Mind telling me why?”

“I needed you more than 24 hours ago, dammit!” she snapped.

“When you texted me, you said it wasn’t an emergency, and clearly it wasn’t.” Asclepius said, eyes earnest through the holes of his domino mask, colored black like the medical scrubs he wore and the Crocs on his feet. “I’m sorry if you’ve had to deal with some pain for a day or so, but that’s kind of par for the course being a superhero.”

“I texted that it was important,” she said sulkily.

“Important still doesn’t mean emergency,” he responded. “High Impact was bleeding out last night. I barely got to him in time. And then several other heroes had head injuries or broken bones. Busy night. I was exhausted. This is the soonest I could get to you.”

“I follow all the procedures, and I kick in more money than the average hero, and I hardly ever call you for minor injuries. All the shit I have to go through just to get an appointment, I’d like a quicker response when I say it’s important.”

Now she was feeling guilty that perhaps she was being petulant, and that made her want to punch Asclepius even more. She thought about all the hoops she had to go through—even if they were the same hoops as everyone else: getting three heroes to vouch for her before she could even talk to him, then buying the pre-paid cell phone and setting up an e-mail account only for Asclepius, and having to answer a 50-question form to give him trivia about herself like her favorite color or the name of her first love.

It was all for security of course, and she understood that—too many villains would be willing to strike Asclepius dead so that he couldn’t use his healing powers for their enemies anymore. He was one of the best Regenerators around and had been courted by several prestigious hospitals, each of which he had turned down.

But dammit, I follow the rules, and I want service! she thought fiercely. Every day I have to check the cell phone for a code sent by text message and then check the e-mail for a second code, then put them together, then use that to log into his damn website, then answer a trivia question about myself. Then I have to wait for the verification link, click that, and enter in the previous day’s password to get the current password so that when I text him saying I need help, he knows it’s me and not Freak-Easy or some other psycho trying to get to him. And I do all that religiously, and then makes me wait over a day.

“This isn’t like you, Peregrine. It isn’t about us, is it? I mean, we stopped dating almost a year ago, and you broke up with me,” Asclepius said, a trace of bitterness creeping into his voice.

“You wanted to take the masks off,” she said huffily. “I wasn’t ready for that kind of commitment. I wasn’t ready to tell you who I am. But that’s not what this is about.”

“Then what, dammit!”

“This!” she said, pointing to the livid black eye she was sporting. “The limping wouldn’t have been anything. The wincing from my ribs when I sat down was all right. All the contusions and abrasions where my clothing covered could wait. But I needed this healed,” she said, pointing to her eye again.

“I don’t get it,” he said, honestly confused.

“I had to go to work today, and with the black eye and the limping, now all my co-workers think I’m in an abusive relationship. I don’t know what’s worse: the misplaced pity for something that didn’t happen or the fact I can’t bring my boyfriend to the next company party for fear of what people will think of him. And I couldn’t go to his place last night—like I was supposed to!—because he would have wondered how I got a black eye, and if I wasn’t ready to tell you who I was after a year when we’re both heroes, I certainly don’t want him knowing what I do at night after four months of dating! So now he thinks I’m being cold and flighty.”

“Shit,” he said. “Look, I’m sorry. Maybe if you had been more explicit in the text I could have squeezed you in.”

Peregrine sighed heavily. “It’s not your fault,” she admitted. “Heck, I probably would have, but I fell asleep because I was so tired from the fight, and didn’t wake up until 5 minutes before I need to leave for work. Just needed to get that off my chest. Sorry.”

“Well, it does pose a problem,” Asclepius said.

“What?” Peregrine asked—she was the confused one now.

“If I don’t fix that eye, your boyfriend will ask questions; it I do, your co-workers will wonder how you healed so fast.”

“Crap,” she said. “I don’t have any more personal days to use to take time off. And it’s only Wednesday night. Two more days before the weekend that I have to go to work; I can’t push my boyfriend off that long.”

“Hey, I know,”  Asclepius offered. “Fugue. I’ve got her number in my files. She does that whole disguise and mimicking thing, and she usually works the daylight hours, so she should be up and can probably loan you some stage makeup and show you how to make a fake black eye.”

Peregrine smiled and began, “Tha…”

“Sweet. Wonderful. Nice. All problems solved in minutes, just like a sitcom episode,” said a new female voice, which had no visible body to go with it. “Get her healed, give her the number and come with me, Harold.”

“Harold?” Peregine asked, laughing lightly. “Really?”

“I prefer Harry,” he mumbled. “Really nice, Cheshire. You want to give her my last name, too?”

“I always side with the ladies when forced to choose,” answered the woman, now resolving into visibility. “She had to endure dating you, the least she can have is your first name—and no, I don’t care that she won’t give you hers. Anyway, I’m in a rush; someone’s hurt. I need him un-hurt, so he can pay me. Giddy-on-up now.”

“Women,” Asclepius huffed, and finished up with Peregrine as fast as he could.

* * *

“I’m not letting him go anywhere with you without me tagging along,” said the man whom Cheshire had slipped past to get into the room in the first place, and who was now standing mere inches behind Asclepius, watching her warily.

“Buttress, where I need to take him, I can’t let you see. Who I’m taking him to, I can’t let you see because you might decide you want to apprehend him. So, my short, broad and handsome hero, you have to stay here and wait,” Cheshire said.

“So, it’s a criminal, then, that you want me to treat. No go, Cheshire,” Asclepius said. “And even if I were willing, I wouldn’t go without protection. Buttress is pulling that duty with me tonight, and I’m afraid I don’t have time to round up someone with a less rigid moral code. Not that I would anyway.”

“He’s strictly white-collar crime, Asclepius. No blood on his hands, not even indirectly. But I need him alive. More immediately, I need him conscious so I can get the code he has and add it to the ones I acquired, and finish his job. Then I need him to be healed and grateful so that he will release the two million he owes me from the Swiss bank account. Before he passed out, he made it very clear that if I took him to a hospital, I could piss off.”

“If his hands are so clean of blood, why is he critically injured and in need of healing?” Buttress pointed out, crossing his arms over his broad chest and squinting at Cheshire irritably.

“Just because he doesn’t get anyone killed doesn’t mean he hasn’t done things that make other people want to kill him,” Cheshire answered. “C’mon, Asclepius. I’m sure you owe me one for something or another.”

“No,” the two men said in unison.

“Men,” Cheshire said grumpily, and then she vanished from sight, to be replaced with a loud popping sound and a gaseous cloud that rendered both men unconscious. Cheshire became visible again when she was certain they were out, a respirator over her nose and mouth, and took what she had come for.

* * *

Asclepius awoke suddenly, to a sharp and evil smell that seemed to burn its way through his sinuses and into the frontal lobe of his brain. Cheshire tossed away the broken capsule she had been waving under his nose, and gave him a very light—almost playful—slap across one cheek.

“I really wish you wouldn’t have made me do this the hard way,” she said. “You’ve put on weight since the last time I saw you, and I can’t drag you any farther. I sure as hell can’t fireman-carry you. I need you to walk, get in my car, and come with me.”

“Or what?” he said groggily. If there was anything he knew about Cheshire, it was that she didn’t do violence for the sake of violence. She’d kill in self-defense if it came to that, but she wouldn’t hurt him to make him do what she wanted.

“I’ll make your secret identity public.”


“Actually, I’d be doing you a favor if I did, since you’d have to drop out of the hero support racket to keep yourself from being a target of the black hats,” she noted. “And you’d make better money in the public or private sector with trans and non-trans folks who don’t wear masks and tights. But I know how much you like being of service to the heroes, so even though it would mean a higher standard of living for you, I know you’d hate it.”

“How about I tell people who you are?” he countered.

“Yeah, try that,” she offered. “You know what I look like, or at least how I looked a few years ago, but no one knows who I am really. I didn’t even use my real name when I married you.”

* * *

Halfway between her car and the building where her client lay injured, Asclepius stopped and said, quietly, “No.”

Harold,” she hissed irritably, “we’ve been over this. It hurts no one and it keeps me funded. I will pay you well for your trouble tonight.”

“Something’s wrong,” he said.

“What could be wrong?” she asked. “No one followed us here, and I swept his body for tracking devices out of my usual paranoia. What?! Is your Spidey-sense tingling?”

“Actually, it is,” he said. “I’m not a good healer because I have any medical school training to back up my Regenerator skills, you know. Remember? I have clairvoyance.”

“Good point,” she said. “Clairvoyance going off. Silent alarm in your head. Danger. Shit.”

Cheshire pulled a small set of what looked like binoculars from her belt and scanned the building, then said, “Crap.”


“No heat signatures in the building.”

“Your client is dead?”

“No, my client would at least still be slightly warm even if he died right after I left,” she pointed out.

“The heat signatures would be over here,” offered a gruff voice, and both Cheshire and Asclepius turned toward it. Two men and a woman stood there, and one of them smiled at Cheshire.

“Claude,” she said to the smiling man. “If that’s your real name. My but you’re looking so much better. That’s quite the makeup job you did on yourself before to fool me.”

“Oh, don’t sell yourself short,” said the gruff-voiced man—wearing a black top hat and a vintage circus owner’s outfit—standing beside Cheshire’s bogus client, who was wearing sullied clothing that looked like he had been attacked, though there were no signs of injury now. The woman was dressed in a red-and-black outfit that looked like a combination of a ninja costume and ballerina attire. Each of them had a pair of high-tech goggles hanging from his or her neck that Cheshire recognized immediately—after all, she had a pair herself at home.

“Nothing so crude as red food coloring and corn syrup,” continued the man in the circus attire, “so you weren’t easily fooled. Claude is a Morph, so he was able to create faux wounds from his own flesh and blood; he’s also a very accomplished former community theater actor. I’m Ringmaster, and I want to thank you for delivering Asclepius to me.”

“That wasn’t the job I signed on for,” Cheshire said.

“Nonetheless, it’s the job I will pay you for. I’ll even throw in a couple hundred thousand more on top of the two mil to help soothe your conscience—if you really do have one,” Ringmaster said.

“Working quite the long con, weren’t you?” Cheshire noted, wondering how they had known she and Asclepius had once been together—it seemed the only rationale for having gone through her like this and to have known she’d seek the healer out. “Claude checked out eight ways to Sunday,  so you’ve been setting up his fake white-collar criminal thing for years. I wasn’t aware the black hats wanted Asclepius dead that badly.”

“They don’t,” Ringmaster said. “And neither do I. I’m going to use him for his skills, and make a fortune off the villain community by making him their healer.”

“Not gonna happen,” Asclepius said.

“I’m very convincing,” Ringmaster said. “I don’t need a whip like an old-school Ringmaster or lion tamer to get results, but I sometimes use one. No, I just need to be close enough to you so that I can generate enough pain to make you heal whomever I tell you to.”

“You need to be flexible, Asclepius,” Cheshire said, with a vague tone of sarcasm that Asclepius recalled all too well. “I’m sure Ringmaster knows how to reward loyalty and pay you well. I’m sure he has more than negative reinforcement in his bag of tricks.”

“Of course,” Ringmaster said with a smile.

“Liar,” Cheshire said, then hissed to Asclepius: “Run for the ditch. Now!”

It took him a moment to figure out where the ditch was, and then he headed off at a dead run, already feeling a burn in the back of his throat and wishing that he spent some time at the gym. Cheshire vanished from sight.

“Claude, go get Asclepius,” Ringmaster said. “Nightdancer, you’re with me.”

All three villains put on their goggles and Ringmaster gleefully shouted, “No hiding for you, Cheshire. We get night-vision and can see infra-red signatures with these. So neither darkness nor invisibility will avail you. Here kitty, kitty…”

* * *

Asclepius could hear Claude gaining on him—there was no way he’d reach the ditch in time, and he wasn’t sure what he was supposed to do once he was in it. So he slowed, turned, and made as if to bull-rush Claude—and let the other man tackle him instead.

With Claude thinking he had the upper hand, and Asclepius prepared for the impact as much as he could be—though it still stunned him a little—the healer used the physical contact with his foe to reach into the man with his powers, unsettling the delicate balance of fluids in Claude’s inner ear and then flooding him with nauseated sensations. Claude made an “urk” sound and loosened his grip on Asclepius to throw up violently, as the healer rolled away just in time to avoid getting splashed with the vomit. As Asclepius began running for the ditch again, Claude tried to stand up, then fell over as his inner-ear disruptions upset his balance, and he threw up again, cursing Asclepius as he did.

Asclepius took a look around quickly as he ran, trying to find Cheshire and then kicking himself mentally, remembering her invisibility powers. What he did see, though, was that Ringmaster and Nightdancer had noticed Claude’s predicament, and now the woman was heading right toward Asclepius, at a highly unnatural velocity.

Great. A Speedster, he thought, and kept running, hoping he could make it to the ditch as Cheshire had directed before he was tackled from behind.

He tensed when he heard a loud “whump,” then realized no one had hit him. He stopped, turned, and saw Cheshire spring away from Nightdancer, who was trying to shake off the effects of the stunning tackle. No sooner had she gotten her feet than Cheshire vanished again, and Nightdancer let out a lungful of air as she was struck by an invisible fist in the stomach, then went rigid as Cheshire appeared again, a taser in hand and pressed against Nightdancer’s neck. The villain slumped the ground and Cheshire smiled.

“Thanks, sweetie,” Cheshire told Asclepius. “Unless you want to be all muddy, you can abandon the whole jumping-in-the-ditch thing. You’ve done your part—more than your part actually. Nice work with Claude. I’d stay low, though, and not go anywhere until I come back for you.”

Asclepius frowned as she left, and hugged the ground tightly to stay out of Ringmaster’s view and avoid any bullets that might fly. Sweetie. That word stung more than any insult. It only served to remind Asclepius that he was in this current mess thanks to his ex-wife half-kidnapping him. The affectionate nickname also reminded him of how painfully he had been dumped and how much he had been hurt by her.

And he didn’t even know her real name.

* * *

“Yoo-hoooo!” Cheshire called from the distance, fully visible. “Say, circus-boy: How far does your little pain-power reach? I’m guessing 12 yards may be a bit out of your range, right?”

Ringmaster pulled a pistol out from beneath his long red coat with its gold and black embroidery and said, “You’re within range of this,” and took aim. As he shot twice, Cheshire vanished again.

“You’re not a very good shot,” she called out. “Most people aren’t, especially from more than 30 feet away. So, how are those goggles working for you?”

Ringmaster scanned the landscape, panning back and forth from the general source of her taunts, and saw nothing. “Where the hell are you?” he whispered to himself.

He heard the soft and rapid pad of footsteps in the gravel and grass, but didn’t have enough time to react before she struck him, knocking the gun away and knocking the wind out of him. She slapped him hard a couple times, and then bounded away. He struggled upward, tried to locate her with the goggles askew on his face, and was rewarded by her sudden appearance in front of him. He reached out to sear her nerves with agony, but he barely made contact with her nervous system before her foot crashed against his skull with the vicious roundhouse kick she had begun before becoming visible, and he tumbled to the ground.

Groaning and swearing, Cheshire rolled away from him and retrieved his gun. She retreated a couple yards and pointed it at him. “That hurt a lot,” she said. “If you do that again—and I doubt you’re capable of it from that far away, I will shoot you. You’d better hope I don’t get a leg cramp coincidentally, or you’re a dead man. Unlike you, I’m a very good shot,” she lied. “By the way, take off those stupid-looking googles. I can bend light outside the visible spectrum as well. They’re useless to you.”

“Asclepius!” she shouted. “We’re leaving! Ringmaster, I’m not a hero, and the police have a lot of beefs against me, so I’m not going to take you in for justice or a reward or anything like that. You can go, with your two friends. After tonight, though, you and Claude can both lose my number. You’re blacklisted. I will, however, expect that two million dollars I am owed, plus another 200K for pain and suffering tonight, in my account by the time I get home. If not, I will find you and do very uncivilized things to you. As you already know, I’m really good at finding things.”

* * *

In Cheshire’s car, Asclepius spent the first several minutes simply glaring at the road in front on them. Then he shifted his gaze to glare at her from his peripheral vision.

“I’m guessing that ‘sorry’ won’t quite cut it, will it?” Cheshire said. “Though I really am. I owe you big—I’ll kick some of the money your way.”

“I don’t give a crap about money that much, and you know it,” Asclepius said.

“Well, I’ll set up a nice IRA for your retirement then,” she said. “Still, I owe you one. How can I pay that off? I’ll need an answer now, because I already have some long-term, open-ended IOUs out there that I owe, and I don’t want any more of them.”

“Your name,” he said. “I want your real name.”

Cheshire paused, and the silence in the car seemed thick enough to mute even the traffic noises from outside the vehicle.

“I can’t do that,” she said. “Too high a price to ask. How about I stay in town a few days and we have ‘for old time’s sake’ sex instead?”

Asclepius exhaled heavily, then sighed more lightly, and said, “I haven’t had time for dating in a while. What the hell. Your place or mine?”

“Mine’s closer, but it’s an RV.”

“Sounds fine to me. Bed is probably less lumpy than mine at the apartment.”

A few minutes later, Cheshire slipped the fingers of her right hand into Ascelpius’ left and said, “Diane.”


“My name, stupid,” she said. “It’s only my first name, but it’s my real one. You deserve that much at least.”

He squeezed her hand lightly, and then stared at the road ahead some more—a path filled with unknowns and possibilities.

And a new name among them.