Author's note- this is written around a novel about Red Ronin. I have posted five, one for each prompt, as an ambitious attempt to support the big anniversary of Reedsy. They all follow separate characters, but I recommend reading "Devil Take the Hindmost" last because it has the largest cast, several of whom are introduced earlier.
Fight Fire With...
I look over the basketball court. Haven't been to it since my power manifested at age twelve and they moved me into the creche for 'gifted' children. The fight this morning left a bad taste in my mouth and I wonder if I can ever clear it. Shadow left us wide open and ran. Good thing Red Ronin saved the day with his amazing attack.
A group of teenagers play a pick-up game. Mostly lean and athletic, two heavy boys play the back of the half-court, not making a lot of movement, but ready to catch and pass the ball. I check to be sure I wear no color- just a worn Juice Wrld t-shirt and faded blue jeans. Even my sneakers look ratty enough to elicit no comment. Thorough grunge style, without any gang affiliation. All the boys have a yellow stripe in their hair. Most wear short fades but one has long dreadlocks. One of the heavier boys sees me and calles, "Nigger, what you doin' here?"
"Just lived here when I was a kid. Bad day. Wanted to see if any of my homies were still around."
"Got a name?" The entire crew, all ten of them, move to positions to easily back the speaker. I watch them carefully. I can power up my fires easily and bullets will melt before they strike.
"Gary Allen." I let my gaze wander over them. "Never been to stir. Was navy for a few, but I'm done with that now."
"Where's all them uniforms navy boys wear?" A short mean looking youth, no more than fourteen, with dreadlocks forming a fringe around his shaved sides, steps out from the pack. "You look damn homo."
I knew this pattern. Nobody knows I'm gay, but they'll all call me that, to see how I react. "You fuck your sister with that mouth?"
The boy pulls a gun from his back waistband, a big Colt Python in 357 magnum. I wait patiently. The idiot holds it sideways. The gang's over thirty feet away. I'm safer than if they all still had their guns concealed, because the rest will wait to see how I handle it.
"Not so tough now."
"Yeah, I'm frozen with fear of your homo chill."
One of them gets the joke and snickers. I tilt my head the tiny bit that will twig anybody's gaydar. The boy with the gun walks toward me, his threat increasing as the distance drops.
One of them, a guy who looks like he should be great at b-ball, steps out and puts a hand on the aggressive kid's shoulder. "Jenkins, give it a rest."
New guy, with yellow streaks like the gray some men get at the temples, closes on me. "Judas, my friends call me Jude. You don't got eyebrows."
Yeah, and I lack all other body hair because every time I light up, anything not fireproof goes away. "Got them seared off a while back and now they grow back cray-cray. So I shave them off."
"Does look pretty gay."
"Next time I'll wear the pink tutu and we'll see who's gayest." I move in for a little gay chicken. It's easy for me. The worst that happens is he gives it a try and I get a one night stand.
"How good are you with the ball?"
"My court?" He's doing the dance. He's not out, but he's at least bi. And interested.
He motions and somebody tosses the ball to him. He's a good seven inches taller than me, so I won't get past his guard too easy. But I have a few tricks up my sleeve. We're a good sixty feet from the basket. He hands me the ball and turns his back, to head toward the court. I pop into shooting stance, weigh the ball, something which changes with air pressure, then shoot. Luck is with me and I score while touching nothing but net. Everyone gazes at me in surprise. I shrug. "Short guy like me has to be good to have any chance. All we did on the carrier deck was pass the ball around."
More lies, but nobody will check because I just made a shot they can't. The advantage of training four hours every day; I'm a lot better than any amateur. They move in around me and pugnacious Jenkins puts his gun away.
One of them glances to the side, tenses, nudges the guy bedside him and in a moment everyone is glaring down the street. I turn and see what I expected from their reaction. A rival gang, one wearing green hoodies tied around their waists, which kinda look like impromptu skirts. I back away from the gang. I can't have any part of this. Law forbids using powers against ordinary people, unless the agency sends us in. I'm not even supposed to be out here.
But there are families in this neighborhood. Kids, their parents and grandparents. I bet Red Ronin wouldn't let rules stop him from doing the right thing. I step away from the gang at my back and advance on the green hoodies. I keep my hands up and away from my body. "Not involved in the dispute."
"Then get the fuck out pussy." Their leader is a big guy, probably around thirty, both fat and mean, with tats along both arms and multiple piercings in his left eyebrow.
"How many of you grew up here?" I ask. It's rhetorical, I just want them talking not fighting. "You see all the places people live? You want to be the one who kills your own kid sister? Your mom?"
"My mom was a crack ho," a tall muscular boy in back says. He presses forward. "You a chemo baby?"
"First thing people notice is I don't have hair."
"Or eyebrows." He smiles, almost friendly. I'd say he's about twenty, no more. "They don't always grow back after. My brother was like that. He died."
"Sorry to hear about that." I am. Kids shouldn't have to fight cancer.
"When did you get out of the creche, Firewalker?"
He knows my code name. I'm not ready for this, but I have to answer. "How did you know?"
"I was three years behind you."
"How did you get out?"
"Washed. Physical enhance, speed, but only a two. I can't do anything for them."
"We gonna do this Lee?" the big guy asks.
"Not with Firewalker around. Moment I move, I'm a hostile and he can wipe us all with a clear conscience."
"Why don't we make a deal." I turn to the gang by the court. "I want to broker a no shooting zone. You both win."
"What's the deal?" Lee asks loud enough so everyone hears.
"This court and two blocks in every direction. No shooting if you're in that zone. I want to play basketball, and this is the only place I know."
"Why are you special?" Asks the guy who is interested in me.
"Cause he's the flame fag," the fat guy says.
Thanks dick, I needed that resounding endorsement. I hold onto my temper. "Look. I don't need that getting out, OK. But yeah, I'm Firewalker."
"Rad fight earlier," someone calls. "That cunt Dork Shadow ran out and you stayed."
"It was Red Ronin really saved the day." I can't say much, but I can tell them the public news.
"That was badass," somebody says. Suddenly the situation defuses and everything turns out fine. I get Lee's number, along with Mark's, the tall guy I was interested in earlier. Ronin may be hot as hell, but he's unavailable, so I'll keep these options open. In the meantime, I can try to keep the fire free zone a thing.
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