“Welcome home, dear,” my fiancé, Gregory, called from the bedroom. It was far too late for him to still be awake, but he always waited up for me.
I paused in the bathroom to wipe the blood off my face before Gregory could see me.
“Everything go according to plan?” he inquired when I joined him in our bedroom.
“It always does,” I shot him a smile before slipping off my blood-soaked black jumpsuit.
Gregory pulled me toward him, and after the long night I had, I was not about to say no to his comforting embrace. Once I was close, he whispered, “no sign of that horrible Angel, I hope?”
“She only escaped from prison yesterday, I imagine I have a few more days before I need to defeat her again,” I mumbled in reply, sleep already pulling me in.
“Good, that would have been a nightmare at the office,” Gregory laughed. As mayor, Gregory was always referring to anything that could make him look bad as a nightmare.
“I’m sure,” I responded sleepily.
“I’m sorry dear, you want to sleep, don’t you?” Gregory smiled, “My little hero deserves her own good dreams after all the nightmares she has saved me from.”
As always, I decided not to tell him that I would most certainly have nightmares of my own.
That night I relived my most recent fight with Angel, my archnemesis. Angel always wore gold, almost like she was trying to be seen even as she snuck into businesses and banks with the hope of stealing their money or merchandise.
On this occasion, it had been a designer clothing store. She had four hostages tied up in the fitting room while she casually browsed the racks. If I hadn’t known better, I might’ve thought she was an ordinary girl looking for the perfect outfit.
When she looked up at me, she’d smiled. Smiled, like I was the friend that had come to help her choose what to buy.
“Nice clothes, don’tcha think?” she had asked, tossing her long, dark hair over her shoulder.
I hid an incredulous laugh with a question, “nice enough to risk jail over?”
“Oh, come on,” Angel lifted a white dress off the rack and held it up to herself, “jail for one little dress? I know you couldn’t possibly understand fashion, since all you wear is that tired black jumpsuit, but my closet is getting horribly out of date-”
“We have the building surrounded, Angel, let the hostages go,” I warned her.
“You know I can’t do that, Luce,” Angel shoved the rack towards me, and I only narrowly dodged the tangle of clothes and hangers that quickly spread across the entryway. When I turned back to Angel, she had pulled out her favorite glittering pistol and leveled it towards my chest.
“How can you be so evil, that this is a fair trade for a dress?”
Something in Angel’s eyes changed, looked offended. “I am no more evil than you. In fact, you’re more evil for thinking so.”
Inexplicably, Angel threw her gun at me instead of pulling the trigger. I tried to lean out of the way, but it still managed to catch my forehead with one of its sharp corners, splitting my skin just above the reach of my mask. I didn’t check if it was bleeding, Angel was already barreling toward me, a knife in hand.
I whipped a dagger out of my belt in time to deflect her blade. She spun slightly away from me and I tried to step in to return her attack, but she had only been feinting and was more than prepared to catch my dagger with her knife and twist it from my hand.
I shook my wrist, trying to ignore the pain as she swung her knife towards me once again. At last second, I lunged, aiming my weight toward her knees. I heard her knife go clattering across the floor. Angel managed to stay on her feet, however, and used the opportunity to land a kick before I could roll back upright.
As soon as I did, Angel ran towards me. With a sidestep and well-aimed punch, I finally got her down. I pounced on her back and grabbed her arms, wrestling them behind her.
Once Angel had been subdued, releasing the hostages had been easy, and police had already arrived and prepared to take Angel into their custody. A crowd of bystanders cheered for me as I passed her off.
“I am seen as a hero, why you see me as evil-“
“You know why I see you as evil and it has nothing to do with them. We are the same you and I. We are the same.”
It had not been a difficult battle. Angel hadn’t used any of her usual tricks. Her words stayed with me though, haunting me. I couldn’t understand why she thought we were the same.
Gregory had dismissed her words immediately, claiming she was just trying to get beneath my skin and mocking me for letting it work. But she had been sincere. Angel saw me as evil, I wanted to know why.
When I woke up, sore from a battle I had not so easily won, I found a list of instructions from Gregory on my bedside table. Despite my protests, he always found it important for me to go to the press after a battle to inspire hope and support. From the length of the list, I had a busy day ahead.
I rolled over, briefly wondering how he would react if I told him I needed a day off. I quickly shut those thoughts out though. I was not a selfish person. If I were to start shirking my duties, how quickly would I become the evil person Angel thought me to be?
The interviews were long and tiring, but they went fine, and I was soon making my way downtown to meet Gregory at his office for a quick and likely very public dinner.
A scream jolted me from my fantasies of a meal free from pointing fingers and whispers. I turned and noticed a small crowd forming at the base of a five-story apartment building still under construction. I jumped out of my car and shielded my eyes to see what was going on.
At the top of the unfinished building was Angel. Hanging from the edge of the roof was a frightened teenage boy.
I didn’t even close my car door; I was already running. I didn’t know the layout of the building, so I headed instead toward the scaffolding still standing against its side. I put my hands on the cold metal bars and began climbing, unaware of the voices in the crowd, some excited, some afraid.
Despite my attempts to be quiet, Angel was waiting for me when I reached the top.
“Nice view from up here, don’t you think?”
“It would be nicer if you weren’t up here trying to kill someone.” I inched forward, trying to figure out how to save the poor kid.
“What makes you think I’m trying to kill someone?”
“Maybe the kid hanging off the side of the building?”
Angel laughed, “oh, I’m not trying to kill him, just knock some sense into him.”
She abruptly reached down, and I lunged toward her, afraid she was going to send him over the edge. Instead she lifted him back onto the roof.
“Geez, you need to relax, Luce. Have you ever thought about taking a self-care day?”
I ignored Angel and instead leapt between her and the boy, shouting at him to run.
Angel ran toward me, I dropped into a stronger fighting stance, but Angel just leaped over me and landed in the boy’s path, knocking his legs out from under him. He managed to scramble back up though while I wrestled Angel to the ground and refused to let go.
I was more than a little scraped up by the time Angel managed to shake me off, but the boy had already disappeared giving me much less to worry about.
“I was so close to getting him to talk,” Angel sighed, starting to move toward the edge of the roof.
I moved into her path, “what did you mean… when you said we were the same?”
Angel blinked, surprised by the question. “You know what I mean, and you know we aren’t supposed to talk about it-“
“Talk about what? What could possibly be stopping us from talking about anything?”
Angel frowned, abandoning any attempts to get past me. “You don’t know… do you?”
“How could he not tell you? Wait, does that mean you’ve never been paid?”
“Paid? Paid for what?”
“Oh god,” Angel fell to her knees, looking anguished, “I never would’ve… and the others, were you fighting real criminals?”
“Angel. What are you talking about?”
“Gregory? What does my fiancé have to do with anything?”
“He has everything to do with this. How could he not tell you? He said he was going to pay us both, all the fake victims too, he wanted to raise morale, give the city a hero to look up to. A publicity stunt really…”
My mind tried to follow, but I couldn’t. This had to be another of her tricks. I must have worn myself out more than I realized. I was usually quicker to figure Angel out.
“You don’t believe me.” Angel stated, rising back to her feet and fiddling with something at her waist.
“Why should I? Clearly you are trying to distract me,” though I wasn’t sure what she was trying to distract me from.
“I’ll show you. You deserve to know. No, you need to know.”
“Show me what?”
“Proof.” Angel grabbed me, holding me tight to her with one arm well another did something I could not see, “proof of who your fiancé really is.”
With a sharp jerk, we were suddenly flying off the building. I stifled a startled scream, but somehow, instead of falling, we were rising away from the roof top and towards the city center.
Twenty minutes later, I was hidden in an empty office closet in Gregory’s building. Angel had disappeared to supposedly find Gregory. I could’ve easily left, but despite my apprehension, I was curious.
When I heard the door reopen, I pressed my eye to the crack. Gregory was taking a seat behind the desk, a casual smile on his lips. Angel perched on the chair across from him.
“Did the stunt on the roof not go well?”
“Of course, it went well,” Angel scoffed.
“Then what do you want? If the fight is over, she’ll be here soon.”
“You have some time, I saw her turn back to your apartment, she’s probably trying to pretty herself up for you.”
“Good, she can’t have too much blood on her, it will look bad for the press.”
“I’ve always thought she cared much more about how she looks for you than for the press,” Angel commented.
“What are you getting at, Angel, why are you here?”
“Luce said something strange today. I wanted some clarification,” Angel explained, leaning forward in her chair.
“Luce? What, you want to gossip?”
“Are you paying her? Or are you just using her since she’s your fiancé?”
“Using her? Where is this coming from?” Gregory was growling now.
“Just something she said. When you gave me this job, it seemed like you would be paying both of us, we would both be acting. I don’t think she’s acting.”
“Why would anyone put themselves through all of this if they weren’t getting paid? Come on Angel, why would you even care?”
Angel smiled slightly. He hadn’t said it, but what else could he mean?
“It’s just that I’m a little concerned,” Angel continued, “does Luce even know I’m acting? Could she someday take it too far? Really hurt me or-“
“Of course, she’s acting! If she wasn’t, wouldn’t she have the same concerns?”
“Not if she’s really a hero,” Angel whispered. Before either Gregory or I could be sure we’d heard her right, Angel stood and crossed to the door, “you’re right, Gregory, no one would be so foolish, I apologize for taking up your time.”
Gregory’s politician smile was back, “don’t worry about it, my dear, you know how much I admire and appreciate all you do, I wouldn’t want you having any doubts. Especially with our upcoming plans.”
Angel nodded once before she disappeared out the door. Gregory let out a long sigh, then stood and followed her.
I almost collapsed out of the closet. I was sure Angel would circle back once she was sure Gregory was gone, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to talk to her. I didn’t want to talk to anyone. I made my way to the window. It was only the second floor and luckily this office overlooked a quiet ally.
I wasn’t the most graceful I have ever been as I dropped to the ground, but no one seemed to notice me as I crept along back roads to where I’d left my car.
No one had taken it, in fact, someone had even closed the door and left my keys on the wheel with a thank you note. I felt numb as I read it. What had I done to deserve thanks? From what Angel had said, that boy had been an actor. I hadn’t saved him. Maybe I’d never saved anyone. Was I really nothing more than a publicity stunt?
I don’t remember driving home or crawling in bed. My mind was stuck on the day I had met Gregory. The first time I saved his life. Angel had been holding us hostage, along with several other civilians. He had volunteered to be the first to die, to save us. It was during his campaign, so we all knew who he was. He’d seemed like such a good guy and something snapped in me. As Angel walked towards him, I managed to break out of my bonds and attack her. Somehow, I knocked her out giving me enough time to free all the other hostages. Gregory called me his hero and took me on a date as his way of saying thanks. He hadn’t been doing that well on his campaign, but his ratings soared after that and he called me his lucky charm. When Angel started coming after us and appearing more and more, I just thought I had made her angry.
Distantly I heard my phone ringing, but I couldn’t imagine talking to Gregory right now, and who else would be calling? I hadn’t had much time for friends recently. And I hadn’t wanted Angel to go after anyone I loved. Only Gregory had convinced me he was willing to take the risk. Not that it was a very big risk when he was signing the villain’s paychecks.
I heard the front door open and close, “darling? Darling are you home?”
I couldn’t answer him. Not yet.
“Darling?” Gregory was in the room now, his hand on my shoulder, “Are you okay? You never came to meet me.”
Maybe it was cowardice, but I pretended to be asleep until finally I succumbed to the real thing.
When I woke, it was to the sound of banging on the door. Gregory was thankfully gone again.
I stumbled down the hall and let the door swing open. A small figure dressed in a dark grey sweatshirt with the hood up practically fell into my apartment. She was followed by two men each carrying unmarked carboard boxes.
“Who are you? What’s going on?” I asked, reaching behind the door to where we kept a bat.
The girl kicked the door shut and dropped her hood.
“Angel? What are you doing here? Who are these people?”
“I’m getting you out. The way he explained it to me- we were both making the same amount. He’s not going to pay you, so I owe you fifty percent.”
I tried to figure out what she was playing at, even after hearing what Gregory had said, I wasn’t sure I could trust her, but I realized two things. First, I had never seen her out of her gold costume. Second, despite our address not being too private, and her known, supposed hatred of Gregory and I, she had never been to my apartment. She had always attacked us- me, somewhere very public.
I nodded and the men began packing up whatever they could.
“I have nowhere to go…”
“I know,” Angel patted my arm in an uncharacteristically comforting gesture, “that’s probably why he chose you. But I’ve met some people that can help you.”
Every instinct told me not to trust her, but who else could I trust? She was probably my best option.
“Why did you do it?”
Angel smiled, “become a villain you mean?”
“Yes, you must have given up so much, everyone knows what you look like-“
“There are more important things than how the world perceives me; my mom was on life support. She was all I had, so I had to do everything I could to save her.”
Angel leaned against the wall, looking more defeated than I’d ever seen her, and I had defeated her many times.
“She passed away. After that I didn’t know what else to do…”
“You could come with me,” I offered without thinking.
“Come with you? You thought I was your enemy-“
“And now I know you are the closest think I have to a friend. I can’t let you stay here and deal with whatever consequences may result.”
Angel smiled, “you really are a hero through and through.”
I reached out a hand, “but you are no villain.”
There was something different about Angel’s smile when she took my hand. I wondered if it was the first real smile I she had ever given me.