The following is a complete work of fiction.


This is my first City of Heroes Fan Fiction. If you are not a person who knows the City of Heroes MMPRPG, some of this story may not make sense. However, like my X-Universe Fan Fictions, I have written enough background into the story that I believe it is accessible to anyone who likes science fiction and comic book worlds.


The following story may contain erotic situations between consenting adults. If it is illegal for you to read this please leave now.

Any resemblance between the characters and any real life person is completely coincidental. Please do not copy or distribute the story without the author's permission.

The characters, places and world of this story are the exclusive property of their original authors, publishers and production companies. No assumption of copyright has been made in this work.

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City of Heroes - Book 1

Awakenings - Chapter 5

Best intentions aside, I didn't take well to being imprisoned in my own apartment. School, training, home, study, eat, sleep, repeat, that was the cycle of my life; if you could call that living. By the end of the first week I was going nuts. I found myself on the balcony, early Friday evening, staring longingly at the city. I watched people walking along the streets, hurrying mostly, on their way to get somewhere before dark. Behind me, the door slid open and Urioch stepped out onto the balcony.

"Would you like to do something tonight, Jason?" He rested his hand on my shoulder, squeezing it lightly.

Well, Duh! Hello! Of course I would. I could think of a million things I wanted to do. At least I could until the muscle bound elf decided to ask. What was it about being asked a question that made me clam up? The question I hated the most was, What do you want? I could never answer that one. I pulled my gaze from the streets and shrugged. "Can't go out after dark."

Urioch smiled. "My understanding is that you are not to go out, unescorted, after dark."

I snorted. "Same difference, chaperones are no fun."

"Ah, that is unfortunate. Magdalene provided me with tickets to The Tempest, playing over in Atlas." He held up two tickets. "She gave them to me in hopes that I could expand your cultural horizons."

"The Tempest, huh?" I shot Urioch a wry smile. "I already read the book and saw the remake."

He shrugged, tucking the tickets into his pocket. "I looked forward to going, but if you are not interested, we could do something else."

"Okay, okay. God forbid that I ruin your chance to do something 'cultural'." I rolled my eyes. "What time is the show?"


It was just after six. "I'm not going to have to wear a tux am I?"

"No, this is not the opera. This is the last production of the Summer Shakespeare season. A nice shirt and slacks will do." He was already wearing black pants and a crisp blue shirt. The bastard had figured I'd go.

"I'll get changed." I'd showered when I got home from the gym, so all I had to do was change clothes..

We got to the theater with a half hour to spare, and found our seats. Airline seats had more room. I was just an athletic guy, not a muscle man, and my shoulders invaded the neighboring seats. It was impossible for Urioch to stay contained in the space. He had an aisle seat, but our shoulders were crammed together in ways that were anything but comfortable. Contrary to popular belief, hard muscle was not ideal for being packed in like sardines.

There was no way I was going to sit, uncomfortably, in barely padded seats, for two hours of a play. Why the hell didn't live theater have stadium seating like the Cineplex did? I was about to say something when Urioch lifted his arm, swung it over, and extended it across the back of my seat. Suddenly, there was room.

I sat there, staring ahead, trying not to look around. It made sense for him to do it. It was the only way to be comfortable. I just couldn't relax. What if someone thought we were fags? I didn't feel anything negative from the people around us. I sensed curiosity at most, and that was probably because the man sitting next to me had pointed ears. As the lights dimmed, I took a deep breath and sank back into my seat. It meant Urioch would have his arm all but draped on my shoulders, but at least it was comfortable. I could live with it if he could. It wasn't anyone's fucking business anyway.

Uncomfortably shared personal space aside, the play was great. I couldn't believe who they had playing the old wizard. "Was that really Malaise?"

"According to the play bill, yes." Urioch handed me the play bill. "The Summer Shakespeare Company is a non-profit organization. The proceeds go toward charitable programs here in Paragon City. They often have popular actors, or in this case famous heroes, who donate their time."

"Kick ass! " I skimmed the info on Malaise. I'd only known he was one of the pre-Rikti hero trainers, like Brawler. He apparently did most of his heroing over in Independence Port, but he also found time to use his illusionary powers for theatrical ventures. I wanted to look up what other plays and movies he'd acted in. Urioch shook his head, smiling at me. "What," I asked, feeling like he knew something I didn't.

"It is a pleasure to witness your enthusiasm, Jason."

I shrugged. Why was it whenever someone pointed out I was happy, it faded? "Not much to be enthused about I guess." My stomach grumbled as we got to the corner. "Is there anyplace open at this point? I'm starved."

Urioch stopped, pulled his monocle out of his pocket, and snapped it on. I didn't understand how the thing could just "connect" to his head like that. There wasn't anything to hold onto. "Yes. What would you like to eat?"

That was so weird. Did he have a computer stored in that little thing? "Uhm, something light? Maybe coffee and a sandwich."

Urioch chuckled. "Were we in Steel Canyon, I would suggest that we go to Jonathan's. The Cauldron is open all night."

"Yeah," I grinned, knowing he would hunt the shelves for any book he hadn't read yet. "But we aren't."

He touched the side of his head and then pulled off the monocle. "There is an Ahab's between Chiron Medical center and the Tram."

"How the hell do you do that?"

"Do what?"

"The eye piece thing." I gestured at his face as we crossed the street.

Tapping the side of his head, Urioch shrugged. "Sub-dermal implantation. Though I have eidetic memory, I do not have the computational abilities of a computer. Apparently, my people compensated for that through augmentation."

"That'd be so cool. I'd never have to remember a name or number again." I stopped for a moment, staring at the upcoming intersection, and frowned. "Why are we walking?"

"Because you continued to walk after we left the theater."

Grumbling, I pushed off from the ground. When I was with Urioch was one of the few times I was allowed to use my powers. He was my super chaperone; I damn well was going to make use of it. "Let's take the scenic route. I've seen this all by foot before."

Urioch floated up beside me and pointed. "That way."

It was a whole different perspective looking at the lamp lit streets as we soared above them. In a way, the world wasn't as daunting when you could get above it. We landed a block from Ahab's and walked the rest of the way. Flying was a strain on me, but it was getting easier. It also took just enough concentration as to keep my brain occupied. I didn't have as many dark thoughts that way.

I gazed around Ahab's as I sipped my latte, noticing how many people were buying coffee late at night. Paragon really was a twenty-four hour city. "We're obsessed with good coffee," I repeated the corporate slogan under my breath. "They're obsessed with profits." I smiled at Urioch. "I've got to admit that the coffee is better than Thelma's."

"I agree with you, but it is a matter of taste." He sipped his tea. "Thelma serves coffee that I heard described as capable of stripping chrome from a bumper. Many heroes need that sense of 'burning power' to believe their coffee is strong enough for them." He lifted his cup of green tea. "I prefer more subtle flavors. The human sense of taste and smell is not as developed as other species."

"Your's included, I presume," I jibed as I took another swig.

"I can not speak for my race, but the spectrum of my senses is much broader than the average human's." He sipped his tea again. "I can, for example, tell whether or not you are upset simply by catching your scent."

I blinked. "You can?"

He nodded. "I can not read other beings' thoughts, nor can I determine exact emotional states the way your empathy is able to, but with beings of whom I am familiar I can determine their basic moods by taste or smell."

"Ewww... well don't start trying lick me," I laughed.

"The thought had not crossed my mind," Urioch replied.

I shifted in my seat. "Sounds like you have your own biochemical lie detection system."

Urioch smiled. "That is an excellent analogy." He sipped his tea again. "My senses do not work quite as well in areas of strong or multilayered scents and odors. I do not believe I would be able to track someone by scent, for instance." He smiled at me again.

I laughed, imagining a cartoon Urioch with a blood hound nose and floppy ears. "So, how do I smell?"

Urioch paused, considering my joking question seriously. It took me a moment to realize he was actually thinking about it.

"Uhm," I shifted in my seat again, "It was a joke, Urioch."

He shrugged. "As you wish. It was a valid question."

"Trust me, I don't think I want to know what some hyper-sensitive nose thinks of my B.O." I swigged down my last swallow and stood up. "You done?" I asked, nodding at his plate.

"Yes." Urioch finished his tea while I tossed out the remains of our meal. It'd been nice just to sit and talk. We talked a lot more since the Boomtown Taskforce. I thought about it, and realized we'd really started connecting the night we watched Forbidden Planet for the second time. It was like some invisible barrier was gone. As we stepped onto the street, Urioch gripped my shoulder lightly. "I enjoyed this evening, Jason. Thank you for coming."

Urioch had touched me more, in those little, meant nothing ways, over the past couple weeks than he had the entire time we'd known each other. Holding me when I was hysterical at the hospital didn't count. "Yeah," I smiled, looking up the street, "I had fun too."

We'd just taken to the air when Urioch stopped, his head snapping about as if he had seen something. In a practiced motion, he pulled out his monocle, put it on, and soared toward an alley. "Jason, stay out here."

I frowned. What the hell is going on? Stay out here? No fucking way. I followed, flying a bit higher and slower, but I wasn't about to watch Urioch vanish into an alley at half-past eleven without backup.

Light flared from the alley as I got to the corner. It was almost blinding, and was followed by several more blue-white blasts. In the light of Urioch's attacks, I saw figures at the back of the alley. They looked like something out of a bad horror flick. Four were mismatched, walking corpses that had been stitched together from who knew how many different parts. They shambled towards Urioch as he blew them down, only to have them stand back up and try again. Behind the zombies were two freaks wearing something between doctor's scrubs and butcher's clothes. If that wasn't weird enough, they added to the ensemble human rib vests and skull head pieces. Are those really human remains?

A sickening green light, something similar to Demonicalle's power, emanated from a dark figure at the rear of the creatures. Bubbles and swirls of the green stuff erupted from her, filling the end of the alley and engulfing Urioch. At the same time, the butcher like bastards pulled up some high-tech looking cross bows and fired at him. One bolt missed, the other skewered his leg. Urioch hit the ground. I could feel his pain as I closed in, but he didn't even cry out. This is nuts! Urioch wasn't in his armor; he was flesh and blood mortal like anyone else without it.

"Heroes always provide better materials," one of the ribbed fucker's laughed as he gestured at the zombies. "Bring the foo..." He didn't get to finish his orders. Urioch blew the bastard down the alley and smashed him against the far wall. That's when I saw the couple huddled against the back wall. A woman whimpered and cried as she held a man to her. The man looked like someone had taken a butcher's knife to him. He was alive; I could feel it, but barely.

The dark wrapped figure raised her hands. I couldn't figure out what she was wearing. It was kind of like she was completely wrapped up in leather or restraints. None of her could be seen, not even her hair. "Meddlesome hero, stay in the light where you belong." She blasted Urioch with some sort of eerie green energy that caused him to stagger as he struggled to stand. The zombies were way too close to him for my comfort.

"Back off, bitch!" Hefting the dumpster nearest me with my thoughts, I hurled it at the green glowing leather queen. What ever her powers were, they apparently didn't affect non-living objects. She blasted the oncoming dumpster, but it just kept going, mowing down a couple zombies before crushing her against the building. We had some breathing room, but there were still more zombies and that other bone head with the crossbow.

"Jason, get out of here!" Urioch blew back the zombies closest to him as I landed beside him.

"Yeah, right. Stop wasting your breath." Waving at the guy with the crossbow, I sent him into the air as high as I could and let his sorry ass fall like a stone. He hit the ground with a crunch that made my stomach churn. What is this, Dawn of the Dead? "What are these things?"

"Vahzalok," Urioch grunted as he blew apart one of the zombies. "They harvest people for their parts, much like how Clockwork scavenge construction sites and warehouses for materials to build more of themselves."

"That's gross!" Gripping at the air, I grabbed the remaining few Vahz in my thoughts and held them. "Who the fuck does shit like that?"

Blowing apart the remaining zombies, Urioch stood up. He was unsteady because of the bolt lodged in his thigh. I slipped under his arm and braced him. He grunted. "I am fine, Jason. See to the victims while I summon the incarceration units.

I bounded around the rotting, smelly, oozing remains of the things we'd just fought. I could see green, sickening light glowing from behind the dumpster. I didn't think the bitch was down yet. "Uhm, Urioch. I think the leather bitch is still awake."

"I shall deal with the Edilon, Jason."

Edilon? Is that what the bitch is called?

The poor woman was completely traumatized when I got to her. She huddled against the wall, cradling the man she loved, and whimpered incoherently. The guy was fading. We didn't have time to wait for the EMS guys. We were only four blocks from the hospital and the fuckers would circle the city twice before getting to us.

"I'm going to get you some help." Wrapping them gently in my thoughts, I took to the air. Urioch hobbled toward the dumpster. "You are not going to fight that thing alone," I yelled, extending my attention to him and yanking him from the ground. "We're going."


"No!" The last thing I wanted was to face another hurting, injured Urioch. I could deal with him being upset with me. It was a lot easier to face than pain. I pulled two victims and one irritated alien out of the alley and flew for the hospital. I knew I'd face another round of lectures about not having the authority to get involved, endangering myself, and all the rest of the bullshit. I didn't care any more. If Urioch was going to go into battle without his armor, in the dark, without backup, the fucking rules were off. We won. I made a difference. I wasn't going to sit on my hands any more.

Dark grey was a much better color for hiding in shadows than pure black. Most everything reflected a little bit of light, even at night. Pitch black stood out, dark grey blended into the shadows. That was something Killer taught me. Most of the skulls wore black, black and more black. Gang colors. Killer was smart, the assholes I'd pounded into the pavement over the last week weren't. It was so easy to look like the hapless victim who was stupid enough to be out on the streets at two in the morning. It was easy to catch the would-be muggers by surprise, smash them against the buildings, trees, ground, or just hold them frozen in the air until they passed out because I wouldn't let them breath. I never waited for the incarceration bots to collected the criminals. It was so damn cool. I was making a difference. I wasn't scared all the time.

I slid open the bedroom window and floated silently in. I had to wash the black spray out of my hair before Urioch got up. I dropped Urioch's Freedom Corps communicator on the desk and pulled off my sweatshirt. I had it over my head when I heard Urioch from the doorway. "Jason, what are you doing?"

Fuck! I pulled the shirt the rest of the way off and tried to come up with a plausible lie. "Practicing."

Urioch frowned. "What were you practicing, in dark clothing, at two in the morning?" His gaze fell to the communicator. "With my communicator?"

Shit, shit, shit. "I'm trying to learn to fly, okay?" I hedged. "We don't get time in training any longer. We're doing more in-the-field work instead of training sessions."

He raised an eyebrow, skeptically. Damn chemical lie detector; he probably had me tagged before I opened my mouth.

"The Ice Queen has me all but house arrested." I spit my frustration at Urioch while tossing my shirt aside. "I can't even use my powers in public unless I'm on program business or with you. The only chance I get to use them is when I can sneak out on my own." Well, that was true enough. I did love flying; the freedom of it was addictive.

"And the dark clothing, hair color and my communicator?"

"Dark clothes, aka, can sneak in and out without being seen. Dark hair, duh! The communicator..." I shrugged. The last thing he needed to know was that I was using it to call the incarceration units after I went all Back Alley Brawler on a few bad guys. "Last time I was caught out after dark I couldn't make an emergency call. At least with the squawk box I can get help if I need it."

He put out his hand, and I floated the communicator to him. He took it, frowning at me. "If you want to practice your flying, Jason, you should ask me." I was beginning to get a better read on Urioch's emotions. He wasn't pissed; he was disappointed. "Mrs. Patterson asked me to provide you with social outlets. Over the last few weeks you have resisted nearly all my attempts to provide them. If you are sincere in your desire to practice your flight, I will make certain to provide you with opportunities to do so."

I blinked. He wasn't going to lecture me about going out, breaking my curfew, and such? "No lecture?"

"No," Urioch turned and crossed the hall to his room.

I stood there, not sure what had just happened, trying to decide if I had gotten away with anything. I couldn't understand Urioch. He was just too damn weird.

The next night, after a long day of classes I couldn't focus on, Urioch all but dragged me out of the apartment and into the air. I didn't like the attitude. I didn't like being manhandled. What I really didn't like was that Urioch wasn't happy about it at all. The few times we'd flown together before this he'd enjoyed it. Some social outlet this was; it was more like flight boot camp.

After about an hour, I landed on one of the water towers in the Nebula districted, panting, while Urioch circled around and stopped to hover beside the tower. He hadn't even broken a sweat. "Shall we turn back?"

I frowned up at him. "You know, flying around like some damn long distance race isn't fun at all."

Crossing his arms, he looked at me. "Then you should be more communicative. I have found the pace quite comfortable."

Pushing myself back up, and glowered at him. "How the hell can I communicate with you when I'm yelling into the wind?"

"You have a valid point." Looking about, Urioch spotted a Cook's Electronics sign a few streets over. "Rest. I will be right back." He rocketed off, disappearing like a beam of light, and was gone in a matter of seconds. The bastard had been toying with me the whole hour. I finally caught my breath when the blue-white streak shot back toward me. Circling the tower as he slowed, Urioch tossed me a package. "This should solve the problem."

I opened the bag and found a two-way radio headset in it. He wasn't wearing one. "What channel?"

"I have it set on thirty-three. My communicator is on the same frequency."

Why was he being short with me? I'd felt his tension when I got home, and it had only built during the flight. I snapped. "What the hell's wrong with you?"

Urioch swooped over, landing in front of me. "I am simply treating you with the same courtesy and respect you have shown me, Jason." What was I feeling from him, frustration, or maybe hurt feelings? "I have done everything in my power to make you comfortable in your transition to this life style. I treat you with respect, honoring your privacy and your possessions; courtesies you have not extended to me. I strive to include you in activities without success." His voice rose, not so much in volume, but in intensity; clipped words and precisely controlled pronunciation. I swore he was mad. "It is difficult to be your friend, Jason." He paused. It took him a moment to let out a low, long breath, and I felt his tension lessen. "I am saddened that you do not trust me."

Damn it. What about that made me think of a golden retriever who'd just been kicked? The worst part about it was he was right. I wasn't letting him be my friend. Why the fuck was I doing that? "I'm sorry."

"Three hundred and fifty-six, Jason." He sounded tired.

"What do you expect me to say?"

"I stay hopeful that one day you will respond with something like: I will not do that any longer; or, I will try harder; or simply, I understand. For all your new found abilities, you have shown no interest in understanding anyone, the least of all yourself. Apologies have no power when there is no intention to amend or change."

I sat down, defeated. "What's the point? The harder I try, the more difficult shit becomes. At some point I'm going to really fuck up, like Battlement, and I'll be behind bars."

"I do not believe that will happen." Urioch sat down beside me. "You are fixated upon the negative, Jason. Though your trainers have many times praised you for your progress, you remember only the criticisms. Mrs. Patterson has provide you with income, training and further education, but you only see her placing limitations and impositions upon your freedom and choices. Do you truly hate your life since you woke in the hospital?"

Do I hate my life? Do I hate being off the street? Do I hate not being scared all the time? Hell no! I thought about that while the sun sank closer to the horizon. The days were getting shorter. I shrugged. "No."

"Then why do you fight against them?"

For a brief second, I had the answer. I choked, pushing it away and snarled, "Just leave it alone, Urioch!" Twisting around, I locked my gaze with his. I hadn't done that since the hospital. He still had the most amazing eyes. I just stared, trying to understand what I saw in them. The longer I looked, the deeper I seemed to be drawn into them. Finally, I had to ask, "Why do you care?"

He brought his hand up and cupped it behind my neck, holding our gaze. "When we found you, dying in that warehouse, I did not believe you would survive. Most people die from the hybrid versions of Superadyne. Yet, as I flew you to Crown Medical, your eyes were filled with the most desperate need to live." He paused, studying my eyes while I tried not to tremble. He could do that to me. He could make me feel completely exposed and safe all at the same time. It was terrifying. "I am honoring my promise to the young man whose eyes held so much potential that I had to see it fulfilled."

Fuck. I couldn't even find my voice for a few moments. "I'm trying." It wasn't much, but I meant it.

"I know." He didn't let go, but I looked away. I couldn't take the intensity of his eyes any longer. After a few moments, Urioch released my neck and his hand slid down my back. "Jason, you are shivering."

I hadn't even noticed. The air was cool and my costume was soaked with sweat; spandex wasn't the best material for thermal protection. "Getting chilled I guess." I looked out at the skyline. The sun was over half way down and the sky was shifting from gold into crimsons and reds. "It's a beautiful sunset."

Killer used to climb up on the water towers, or sit on the roof tops in King's Row before sunset and sunrise. I watched them with him many times, wondering what he saw in them.

"Real power ain't the day or night, good or bad," Killer explained, the last time I watched one with him. "It's all about change, and who's in charge of it." He put his hand on my should and grinned his wolf grin - hungry, knowing, a bit sinister. "We're go'n to be the ones in charge, Jase." He nodded at the sky. "You and me, like sunrise and sunset; if anything's go'n to happen, we'll be the ones decide'n it."

We never tested that theory. My promotion got me off the streets, and put him behind bars. That was another condition of my parole; no contact with prior gang members. I hadn't seen Killer, hadn't been to Brick, nothing. It was like that part of my life didn't exist; like somebody thought if I didn't acknowledge it then it wasn't real. Killer was real. He'd been the one making the changes; the problem with change was that it's hard to predict. You didn't always get the outcome you wanted.

Urioch shifted, snapping me out of my memories. He settled behind me, so similar to how Demonicalle had in the park. A few months ago I would have freaked if anyone had gotten so close. He radiated a weak energy field, warming the air around us. I sat there, not sure what to do. I was just so tired keeping my guard up while waiting for life to kick me in the balls. With a slow, deep breath I leaned back and let him drape his arms loosely about me as I warmed up. He stared over my shoulder at the sunset. "Yes, it is beautiful."

I nodded absently, feeling the tension seep away as I sank into the safety of him. "Thanks," I sighed, closing my eyes, and just let things be.

"You are welcome."

We sat like that until long after the sunset. I trusted Urioch. I trusted him since the moment I looked into those damn alien eyes of his. I didn't trust me, and that was something I didn't know how to get passed. I dozed off feeling warm, safe, and not wanting to fight against life anymore.

We went flying every night that week. The first few times were simple touring flights, getting a lay of the land. Once we were comfortable with our routine, Urioch got creative. He caught me off guard our fourth night out by slapping my leg and calling out, "Tag," before he sped into the sky. It took me a moment to realize what was going on, and I took off after him. There was no contest; he could fly much faster than I could. The one advantage I had was that I could start and stop on a dime; he couldn't. I finally tagged him by cheating. I caught him in a psychokinetic hold, smacked his boot, and then dove for cover before he broke out of my hold. That only upped the ante, and before long I was laughing myself silly, trying to keep out of Urioch's grasp. In the end, he tackled me mid air, sending us both to the ground. He spun about, still holding me, right before impact and absorbed it himself, sending sod and dirt in a spray as we hit.

"Ouch," I chuckled. It took me a moment to realize he was still holding me, not in a tackle hold, but in a protective one. He must have shifted it when he realized we were going to hit the ground.

He loosened his grip, looking at me in concern. "Are you alright?"

I grinned, sitting up. "Yeah. I may have a bruise or two, but it wasn't any worse than being slammed down too hard in a wrestling match."

Urioch stood up, brushing off his armor before extending his hand to me. I took it. "You never mentioned you had been a wrestler."

"Junior Varsity and Varsity in high school." I shrugged. "I assumed you'd read my history file."

Urioch shook his head. "I have no access to your file, Jason. I know nothing about you that you have not provided to me." He shot me a wry smile. His humor was subtle, but I was beginning to catch onto it. "You have not even told me how old you are."

"Nineteen," I answered immediately, and then paused. I'd been so caught up in the changes in my life that I completely lost track of time. "I'll be twenty on Sunday."

Urioch cocked his head, thinking for a moment, and then laughed. He had a great laugh. "I should have Magdalene provide me a complete astrological chart on you. I do not put much stock in divination, but she has quite excellent insights into people and claims that the charts aid her in her perceptions." Mussing my hair, he took to the air. "It explains your worrying nature."

I flew up after him, not sure what he was talking about. "What?"

"You are a Virgo." He sped up, pushing to the limit of my flight ability.

I strained, trying to keep up, and was frustrated at his enigmatic answers. "Yeah, so?"

"If you are curious about the mystical influences on your life, Jason, research it." I could get nothing more out of him on the subject for the rest of the evening.

"What are we doing here in Prometheus Park?" I pulled off my shirt as Urioch did the same. It was probably the last gasp of summer; we had a sunny, hot day, and we wanted to enjoy it.

He held up the polymer Frisbee. "Flight and accuracy practice. Friends will be along shortly to add to the challenge."

"So am I trying to catch the thing or dodge it?"

Tossing the Frisbee down on our shirts, he pointed and zapped me with a small blue-white bolt. "You will be dodging."

Rubbing my pec, I frowned. "That stings!"

His slowly growing grin made me realize that I had just said the wrong thing. "Then I suggest you learn evasion quickly."

"Bastard," I yelled, taking to the sky as he hit me with another zap. I spun about in the air, trying to keep my bearings while avoiding his bolts. They never really hurt, but they did leave little stinging marks, like when you snapped a rubber band against your skin. After trying to shake him off in the trees, by diving around statues and doing everything I could think of, I finally had had enough. I spun on him, freezing him in the air. "Okay, okay, enough!"

He raised an eyebrow, his grin never diminishing. "I suppose it is time for us to take a break."

"Yeah," I grumbled, rubbing the little red welts all over my arms and torso, "I'll break something alright, if we do that again."

I looked down to where we'd left our stuff, and saw a half dozen people gathered about. All of them I knew. Blaize called up at me as he peeled off his shirt and tossed it with ours on the bench. "You're one pale eyesore, Deathman!"

I snorted, landing near him while flicking him the bird. "Well, we can't all be born brown and beautiful, Flaming Finger."

Blaize laughed, smacking my abs. "You're buffing up, bro."

I grinned. I'd been working out a lot of frustration over the last month. The university gym was one of my "allowed activities". I used it a lot. "Yeah, well, haven't got much else to do but study. That gets old fast."

"You have to learn how to enjoy life, Death's Head." I turned to face the owner of the new voice, and nearly toppled back. Brawler smiled down at us. "Life's too short to work all the time." Brawler eyed me like a caged rat. "Which reminds me: your life just shortened by another year."

I blinked. Oh fuck, it's Sunday. I shot Urioch an evil look. "You set this up!"

"Guilty," he replied without a hint of shame. "No one is too old for a birthday celebration; even someone as ancient as twenty."

Janet laughed as she got a good look at me. "You look like you've been attacked by a swarm of mosquitoes."

I growled, reaching for my shirt. "I was attacked by an Urioch swarm."

"Poor baby," Demonicalle teased as she ran her hands over me. I shivered. The warm tingling sensation calmed quickly, and I noticed the bruises were fading away. "Can't leave marks on all that tender flesh."

"Oh, shut up, Calle. I'm not your type." I swatted her away with my shirt, but didn't put it on.

"Hmm," she replied, putting hands on her hips while she looked me over. "You're coming along nicely, hot stuff. Another couple years and you'll be ripe for picking."

"Oh please. I'm young but I'm not cherry, Demonicalle. You're a few years too late for that."

"Damn," she teased, propping her hip against the picnic table.

"Blaize," Magdalene looked up at him as she put the last candle on the cake I hadn't noticed before, "Would you do the honors?"

Blaize grinned, waving his hand over the candles, causing them to flash alight.

I looked at the table, realizing there was a hell of a lot more I had missed. There were at least a dozen presents, plates, tubs of food, and several bottles of various drinks. How the hell had they managed it all without my seeing them? I stood, transfixed by the table, totally confused.

Lenny smiled. "I figured out a few new ways to use my darkness powers." With that, he faded almost out of view, as did most of the table and items on it. He wasn't really invisible, but if I hadn't been looking at him I might not have noticed him in a casual glance.

"Sneaky," I laughed as he faded back into view.

Magdalene walked around the table and gave me a hug. "Happy Birthday, Jason."

I smiled. "We still haven't done dinner."

Magdalene smiled back. "We have no more excuses. I just moved into an apartment in the same building as you and Urioch." Why the hell would she want to move out of Steel Canyon and into Galaxy City? She shrugged, probably having read my thoughts. "Kevin and I picked out the apartment together. Now that he is gone, I would rather have a smaller, more intimate space." She laughed, though I could sense a touch of sadness in it. "Kevin always wanted bigger. The apartment was simply an extension of the obsession."

"I suppose I should blow out those candles." I nodded at the slowly melting sticks of wax.

"Not before I get there, punk!" Amanda called out as she wheeled off the sidewalk, followed by a tall guy I immediately recognized as her brother Patrick from the photos in her office. He had a little girl in his arms and his wife was corralling their son as they got to the table. "Do you think you're going to get a year older without me? I don't think so."

I'd never had so many people show up for my birthday before. Even as a kid it was usually my parents, grand parents when they were alive, and a couple friends. This was a bit overwhelming. "Damn," I mumbled after pulling out of Amanda's hug.

"Oh, I have something for you." Amanda pulled out a card and handed it to me. "Don't burn it."

I opened the envelope and pulled out the card. The cover was a beautiful photo of a sunrise over the ocean. I opened it, and the inside read, "May your new year be brighter than the one before. Happy Birthday. Edna Patterson." I blinked. The old witch was sending me birthday cards?

"Yes, Jason. Even the Wicked Witch of the West is sending you birthday well wishes." Amanda laughed. "You're just going to have to accept that you've got a group of people all trying to help you onto your feet and see you happy."

I looked about at the motley crew of friends and acquaintances who had assembled in my honor. I felt like I was seven years old, not twenty, and I'd been given my first bike. "Thanks, guys."

Demonicalle rolled her eyes and put her hands on her hips. "Enough mushy stuff. Candles! Cake! Lunch! Frisbee! Hurry up!"

Laughing, I waved my hand at the candles, snuffing them out in one thrust of will. It was a new year. I saw no reason to do things the old fashioned way.