On her first day of actual, licensed superheroics, young speedster Pix comes to a startling realization about her chances of surviving once she goes head to head with a super-powered criminal that thinks nothing of smacking her down like a fly.
Pix is going to die.
It’s her first day of actual, licensed superheroics and she is going to die before she even gets a chance to use her League discount card to buy a cup of coffee at the nearest Sundollars. What freaking luck.
All Pix had wanted was to do her morning patrol in peace. Sure, as one of the hubs for superhero — and supervillain — presence on the East Coast, Comet City is never entirely free from the kind of world-ending catastrophes that threaten Pix’s life on a regular basis, but come on —
“It’s my first day,” Pix says, whining to the villain across from her through a mouthful of blood and saliva. When she spits the fluid out of her mouth a moment later, she doesn’t look. That would be the last straw. Instead, she pokes at the teeth on the left side of her mouth, testing to see which of her teeth wiggle and which ones don’t.
Thankfully, despite Mack straight up punching her in the face, he didn’t manage to hit her hard enough to knock anything loose.
“We don’t have to do this,” Pix says as she takes several steps backward at speed. “You can just put the money back and let me take you in. Nobody has to get hurt here.”
Mack, a huge wall of a man with pale scarred skin and a sneer twisting his wide mouth, doesn’t seem moved by Pix’s plea. He starts walking toward Pix, sure, but with a look on his face that means that he’s probably planning on caving her head in if she stands still for long enough.
“The only person gettin’ hurt here is you,” Mack snarls, swinging his fists like sledgehammers and just barely managing to miss Pix who runs to the other side of the street so fast that she leaves skid marks smoldering in her wake. “Now stay still.”
Pix might be a newly minted hero, but she wasn’t born yesterday. With her speed and stamina, she can run circles around Mack without even breaking a sweat. As long as she stays out of arms’ reach, she’ll be fine.
But “fine” won’t stop Mack from hurting someone else or making off with the money from the bank he’s just robbed.
Pix blurs to a stop atop a lamppost just behind Mack’s left shoulder. When she looks down, she can just barely take in the chaos erupting all around them. Civilians running all over the place, the police officers trying their best to manage the crowd, and —
Mack, turning to stare at her with menace clear on his craggy face.
Pix flinches. She can’t help herself. For the past six months, she’s been training with heroes like Manx and fellow-speedster Blur. The biggest crime she’s busted up was a street racing ring. That’s it.
Something that Pix isn’t sure that she can take down on her own.
Pix’s trembling right hand slides down to tap at the buttons for the communication panel in her suit that communicates with the League’s communications hub up in space.
“C- can anyone here me?” Pix asks the unending crackling of static in her ear. “This is Pix, Agent 1989-B. I’m in a bad spot with Mack right now and I could really use some — shit!”
If not for Pix’s fast reflexes and superspeed, the chunk of concrete that Mack flings in her direction would have knocked her right off the lamp post.
Pix should have guessed that Mack would resort to throwing things at her if he couldn’t reach her, but the thought doesn’t occur to her until it’s almost too late. She flings herself to the right, trying to hold on to the slick lamp post with the deep treads of her suit’s gloves until she realizes that she doesn’t have any traction.
When Pix hits the ground, all of the air is pushed out of her body in a loud cry and her vision swims in a wash of light as her head bounces off of sun-warmed asphalt. She doesn’t think anything is broken, but if –when — she gets to take a shower next, she just knows that she’s going to see bruises splashed across her light brown skin.
The ground starts vibrating underneath her prone body and it takes her a moment to realize that she’s not living through a very tiny localized earthquake, but that Mack is barreling towards her with a single-minded look of rage on his face.
Pix tries to move, to brace herself, to do something, but then Mack grabs a hold of her ankle hard enough that she feels the bones crunch underneath his grip.
Caught in the grip of a pain so sharp that it robs her of the ability to think, all Pix can do is claw at Mack’s face and hands and kick him with the foot that isn’t sending pain screaming along her nervous system.
“Stay still,” Mack snaps when Pix manages to jab him in the eye with her right thumb. He shakes her once, the way one would shake out a dusty blanket and then, as if it doesn’t even matter to him, he flings Pix away in the direction of massive Mega Laundry that takes up half of a block behind them.
Pix hits the laundry’s glass first, slivers of sharpness stinging at the back of her neck and scalp where the tight curls of her blonde hair were shorn short when she’d received her uniform from the League seamstress.
Then she hits the washing machines hard enough to crumple them underneath her weight.
“Fuck,” Pix huffs out as every single nerve in her body seems to fire at once. “Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.”
It’s the only word that Pix thinks that she can say as she stares, wide-eyed at Mack’s menacing presence loping closer and closer to where she lays in a sudsy, bloody mess.
She’s going to die.
She’s going to die and all her parents will know is that she died in the line of duty while fighting someone that she shouldn’t even have seen this soon into her life of superheroics.
Out of nowhere, someone crouches down in front of Pix’s prone body.
Pix’s vision is a bit blurry around the edges, but once she forces her eyes to focus, she almost wishes that she hadn’t.
Every superhero worth their powers knows who Viper is — or was. A framed print of her mugshot sits on Hawk’s desk at the very top of the tower and videos of her using her skills and strength to get through battles with other Leaguers are required watching for any hero-in-training. Just because she’s never been arrested for any crime she’s committed while an adult, that doesn’t mean that she isn’t dangerous.
Dressed down in a pair of jeans and a crop top that shows off an abstract pattern of purple scales stretching across the dark brown skin of her stomach, the woman that Pix knows as the former villain Viper doesn’t actually look threatening. Curly black hair is pulled away from a narrow face dusted with a liberal sprinkle of shimmering purple scales, held up in a loose bun like how Pix used to wear hers before the League urged her to cut it so that she wouldn’t look too much like the Water Witch and her own riotous head of curls.
And her face —
Pix has seen a lot of interesting superhumans in her life. But there’s something unsettling about snake-eyed Viper whose eyes look normal until she blinks and a membrane slides sideways over her eyes but under her eyelids.
Pix whimpers, tasting blood.
“Please,” she says and then stops, the words sticking in her throat —
What is she even asking for? What help can Viper be against someone like Mack who seems both ready to and capable of putting her through a brick wall headfirst? What help can a former villain like Viper be to someone like Pix?
At the bitter twist of Viper’s purple lips, Pix slowly realizes that she’s been muttering out loud.
“I — I’m –”
Viper shakes her head.
“Save it, kid,” Viper says, her tone surprisingly kind despite the look on her face. “I’ve heard it all before and I know I’ll hear it again. I’m a scary, mean demon who takes candies from babies and gives good little heroes nightmares.”
Viper crosses her leanly muscled arms over her chest and then smiles, flashing a bit of fang at Pix that isn’t even remotely comforting. “But I think I’m just the sort of person that you need right now.”
With that, Viper stands up, rising to her full height and putting herself in between Pix and Mack just as the man starts climbing through the broken window in order to get to Pix.
Pix can tell that at first, Mack doesn’t recognize Viper. He swaggers towards her, meaty hands on his hips as he tries to intimidate her with his size alone. From her vantage point on the ground, Pix watches him size Viper up once and dismiss her without another thought.
Then she opens her mouth and his eyes widen.
“So this is what you’ve been up to, Mack,” Viper says in a slow, sibilant tone that makes Pix shudder to hear it. “Breaking into banks and hurting kids. And here I thought that you were a real villain.”
Pix gurgles, her very brief life flashing before her eyes.
After all she’s done and all the work she’s put into being a good superhero, this is how she’s going to die: in a busted up laundromat as two supervillains banter above her head.
“Do you want him to kill us both?” Pix manages to hiss through teeth that are clenched more from pain than from her own frustration.
Viper looks over her shoulder at Pix and then winks.
“Relax kid,” she says, her smile softening by a fraction. “I used to eat losers like this for breakfast back when I was your age. We’ll be fine.”
Sure, Pix thinks to herself as she looks up at the muscular broadness of Viper’s back, tell that to the girl laying here with at least three broken ribs and what’s likely to be internal bleeding.
But Pix keeps that thought to herself because she already has one supervillain mad at her. She doesn’t need to up the number by any amount.
“Who the fuck –”
Viper doesn’t let Mack finish his belligerent question.
She moves almost as fast as Pix can on a good day, blurring across the room in the blink of an eye and then winding her long, lean body around Mack’s bigger body until she has her knees clamped against his rib cage and her arms holding his close to his body. It looks like a snake trying to suffocate its prey and Pix can’t stop herself from staring.
Pix also can’t quiet the shaky whimper that slides free from her mouth when, a moment later, Viper opens her mouth and sinks her fangs into Mack’s corded neck.
Pix’d heard the rumors about Viper, that the scales and eyes were just the beginning of her strange snakeness. Watching the older woman’s jaw work as blood trickles down Mack’s skin to soak the tattered collar of his tank top makes Pix’s stomach roil and she squeezes her eyes shut, muttering a quick and quiet prayer.
Whatever Viper is doing — feeding off of Mack or poisoning him — seems to go on forever.
Finally, Viper lets Mack go and his body slumps to the floor with a thud that makes Pix’s teeth rattle in her head.
When Pix dares to open her eyes again, the sight of Viper’s mouth smeared with blood nearly makes her shut them once more. But there’s something about the way that Viper looks as she cleans off her face that gets to Pix.
Viper looks guarded and hurt. Her hands shake with a nearly unnoticeable tremor as she wipes her face and when she looks at Pix, it’s with a sullen jut to her jaw.
Pix blinks, before saying, “Well what?”
“Isn’t this where you Leaguers get up and thank me for sticking my nose in where it doesn’t belong?”
Shaking her head, Pix retorts that, “First of all, my mama taught me better than to be rude to someone who’s just saved my life. Second, I can’t stand. Mack crushed my ankle when he threw me into the window.”
Viper’s eyes widen and then she looks up at the ceiling of the ruined laundromat as if the speckled tiles hold all the answers for her.
Finally, she looks back at Pix.
“I shouldn’t do this,” she says, her voice soft. “You’re probably going to turn out to be just like all the other Leaguers, but I can’t just leave you here.” Viper makes short work of gathering up her laundry and stuffing it into a duffle bag that looks big enough to hold Pix as well.
Then she turns her attention to Pix.
“If you tell anyone about this or I wake up to find League heavies at my front door, I’m going to make you wish that today wasn’t my laundry day. Got it, kid?”
Pix nods her head. “Yes, ma — um, Viper.”
“Good,” Viper says as she crouches down in front of Pix. “Now wrap your arms around my neck and hold on tight. If you fall, I’m not going to pick you up.”