Chapter 20: Freedom comes at a price
“Big man in a suit of armor. Take that away and what are you?”
~ Steve Rogers (Captain America)
White Knight awoke to find himself tied to a chair in a dark room. When he tried to move his arms rough rope just inflamed his wrists and his shoulders started to ache. Even the position in his chair was uncomfortable. How did he, the best superhero in the city, end up like this?
The last thing the hero remembered was waiting around anxiously in the Watson’s house for news on April. MASKED had told them to stay put, which was hard when everyone in the house had superpowers and wanted to help search for April. They just knew X was holding her captive.
Brandon tried to move his arms out of their awkward position and groaned. Why the person who had tied the ropes had not made sure that his arms were normal before tying him he didn’t know. You’d think people, even kidnapers would have more decency than that.
“Now you know how it feels.”
Brandon looked around. Suddenly a light appeared at the end of the room, highlighting just the girl he was looking for.
“April!” he exclaimed, but as he tried to escape the bonds to reach her, he realized the ache in his muscles was not just from the awful position he was in, but because his powers were gone. The ropes must’ve been laced with Merlonium.
“Does it hurt?” she asked, strangely composed and quiet.
Brandon struggled again against the bonds. Maybe his natural strength was enough to break the ropes. People did it in movies all the time. “I think these ropes are laced with Merlonium, I can’t get out.”
She nodded. “Yeah, it seems like it.”
Brandon looked up at his damsel with an incredulous expression, “Well, why aren’t you coming over to help me out of them? You’re not a super, they won’t affect you.”
The notion seemed to surprise the girl he’d known since he first moved next door. She furrowed her eyebrows. “Are you saying Mr. Superego needs help from his poor defenseless damsel in distress?”
He had no idea what game she was playing at. “Look, we need to get out of here. The faster you untie me the faster I can figure out who captured us and beat them to a pulp.”
“Yeah, I assume that would speed things up a bit for you.”
“Then untie me!” Brandon was incredulous. Why was she just standing there? Why wasn’t she helping him?
He kept struggling as she watched. April Watson just kept staring, not moving to help the guy who had helped her oh so many times from super villain after super villain.
Brandon stopped his struggle as he remembered exactly why they were so eager to search for April in the first place. “Are we being held captive by X? How did he get in to the house?”
April smiled her first real smile. She didn’t speak, but the man who stepped up behind her did. “Well, that did take longer than I thought it would for him to reach that conclusion. April, I owe you ten bucks.”
X. Even after years in prison he was still recognizable. Unlike Sirius Black coming out of Alcatraz with his straggly messy hair and deep dead eyes, X was vibrant with eyes that seemed to glow with hunger and hair so blood red that Brandon was half sure he washed in the blood of his enemies. X could’ve stepped back in time to when he first took control of the city.
“April,” Brandon measured his words slowly, “you have to come over here and untie me now so I can get you out of here.”
She didn’t even move a finger.
“What if I don’t want to leave?” April asked, tilting her head. She no longer resembled her old self. She was somehow closer to what he imaged a porcelain doll to appear as in real life. Her skin was so pale after being locked up in a sunless prison for months and her hair must’ve been recently died because it was lighter than usual, and it wasn’t just the way the room was lit. Now that Brandon actually tried to notice, it seemed like the color of bone.
“You aren’t talking sense, April.”
“Am I? I think I’m talking sense for the first time in a very long time.”
X stepped forward, looking down at the hero who was sitting below him. White Knight couldn’t remember being scared of much of anything during his time as a superhero, but X was downright terrifying. He was totally confident in his ability to completely destroy every obstacle in his path. “You don’t seem very strong, White Knight. I admit, if you didn’t break into my organization all those years ago with all of your backup, I would’ve thought you harmless. But, no matter. Here you are completely defenseless and at my complete mercy.”
Brandon turned to April again, “Why are you doing this? What have I ever done to you?”
“What have you ever done to me?” she questioned, narrowing her eyes and taking a step forward. “You’ve done a whole hell of a lot to me.”
“But I’ve always saved you,” he argued, “I’ve never hurt you.”
“Saved me?” She reeled back. “You think I wanted to be White Knight’s damsel?”
“I’m pretty sure half of the girls in this city would love to be White Knight’s damsel!” White Knight argued back incredulously.
“Well, I didn’t! And you never stopped to ask yourself whether or not the girl you liked actually liked you back. You never stopped to think about whether or not I ever wanted to be the girl you chased after. You never asked me if I wanted anything else! You were only thinking about yourself!”
Brandon would’ve stood up if he was able to. “How was I supposed to know it wasn’t what you wanted? Besides, it wasn’t like I could’ve stopped all those villains from kidnapping you.”
He thought he had her stumped there, but she was ready for him.
“You could’ve made it less of a show. It’s not like it’s some big secret that White Knight loves the media attention he gets from saving his damsel. We both know you could end those fights a lot quicker, but you prolong my suffering just to give yourself more time in the limelight. And the more limelight you got, the more villains who decided to try and kidnap me as well. Because of your damn ego I’ve been dragged along on your pointless crusade.”
Brandon struggled against his ropes again. “Without me villains would be over running this city.”
“Without you those villains wouldn’t be trying to hurt this city. Most only showed up to see if they could finally defeat the strongest hero around town. What have you actually done to help people? You don’t save girls from getting robbed on the street, you don’t stop gangs from ruining small businesses, you don’t take down tycoons who are ripping people off, and you don’t make my life any easier. Without you, Anakin McPhail would never be the villain he is today.”
White Knight shook his head. “No, you’re wrong. He’s the son of Doctor Destruction, he was always going to be a villain with or without me.”
April laughed, thought it did not seem like the occasion to chuckle at much of anything. She was looking at her old savior like he was the one who couldn’t see reason.
“Just because he’s the spawn of a super villain doesn’t mean he always wanted to be one himself. I’ve spent years in his company as I waited diligently for my savior to come for me, and in those years I’ve heard every hidden desire Kingdom City’s most heinous villain has. Did you know he only became a super villain to please his father? He only became what he is because his father didn’t want Captain Fantastic to win with the final word by training you. Before you appeared Anakin wanted to be an accountant. An accountant! Without you here to facilitate everything, maybe his life would’ve turned out better! Maybe I could’ve met him through any other circumstance than kidnapping. I could’ve had a perfectly normal friend if you hadn’t shown up in my life!”
April was breathing deeply, her hair fuzzing around her. Every deep thought and theory was pouring out of her. All of her hidden anger was seeping into the air.
X put his hand on April’s shoulder and she relaxed into his touch. After months with him in her company only recently had he been able to touch her, no longer separated by a dull metal table and harsh cuffs. Hus touch was a luxury she had never had the time to experience properly, and every time he did it was like electricity was running through her veins.
“To think of all the missing opportunity you stole from her,” X pondered. “You don’t even think of it as you doing wrong, do you?”
Brandon was pretty sure where this was all leading. He struggled again against his bonds, but the rock weaved in the ropes was only making him weaker. “If I hadn’t been around, you would still be terrorizing my city.”
X lifted his eyebrows. “Is that what you call it? I call it herding the sheep.”
The hero shook his head. “You got a quarter of the city addicted to a drug that numbed their sense and made them incapable of doing anything. How is that a good thing?”
X’s grip tightened on April’s shoulder. “People are just another mindless mass anyways, as April can testify to. How many times has one of those people watching her be lifted above a shark tank actually tried to do anything besides watch and play along? How many times have those citizens thought a unique thought that wasn’t fed to them by the media? I didn’t force the drug on them, if you can remember correctly. People wanted to be numbed. People wanted to forget the horrors of the world. And people wanted to have responsibility lifted off of their shoulders. I didn’t do anything but give the people what they wanted.”
“No, you hurt people.”
April’s eyes hardened. “And you didn’t? Do we want to start counting the casualties to your fights with Anakin? Have you ever thought about the people who got hit by the rubble? Or the people who almost get killed by Anakin’s next death machine? You don’t even realize how many almost die because of your egotistical choices. It all goes back to you!” April was now towering over her white knight, trembling and only feet away. He could see, for once, the glint of determination in her eyes. “You hurt them, and you hurt me!”
Brandon was not expecting to get slapped. It really hurt.
X’s smile grew.
“Didn’t that feel good?”
April was looking at her hand in shock. She had never hit someone in her life. All of her pent up rage that had been coming out over the last few days was simmering and building up in pressure. Hitting something was a real good way to get rid of it.
“Think of everything that White Knight has caused you,” X urged. “Without him, maybe your life could’ve been normal. Maybe you could’ve gone through school with real friends, not ones who only wanted to be near you because of your association to him. Maybe you could’ve branched out and had a real relationship without feeling tied down by his unnerving devotion to you. Maybe you could’ve been friends with Anakin in a normal environment. Maybe you could’ve made a name for yourself as someone independently strong.”
She could see it all like it was right in front of her. Making friends who actually laughed because her jokes were funny, not because they wanted to be included in her circle. Having boyfriends and dates at the movie theater like everyone else. Having her first broken heart healed by a day shopping with her sister. Hanging out with Anakin at a coffee shop and talking about the crazy people at work. A book with her name in big letters on the cover, some highly accredited scientific novel. A life away from the tabloids. A life where she could fully detach herself from her family’s views. They would have no way to tie her down.
“But, sadly, we will never know. Because of him, your life will forever be cursed to be abnormal,” X urged. “Because of him, your parents will always view you as defenseless. Because of him you can never break away from this image the world has of you.” X put something cold and metallic in her hand, lifting her arm till it was level with White Knight’s eyes. “But, without him, you will be free. Without White Knight, you can finally have the life you always wanted.”
Brandon Charleston’s eyes were wide as X positioned April’s hand correctly on the gun.
“April,” he pleaded, “this won’t solve anything. You aren’t a murderer.”
Her eyes were strangely vacant of the girl he’d once fell in love with. “I don’t listen to superheroes anymore.”
The shot reverberated through the room, clogging April’s ears and ripping her shoulder back. When the smoke cleared White Knight was still giving April his widest puppy dog eyes. The only difference was the stillness of his chest and the gaping hole between those puppy dog eyes. The gunpowder filled her nose, but April still stayed rigid in her spot.
X’s hand covered hers and the gun fell to the ground with a loud clang. Surprisingly she was no longer shaking. Her hand was steady when the gun went off.
X stepped in front of her, shielding the hero’s last plea from April’s eyes. His hand still held hers, warming her. “How do you feel?”
She didn’t know. How was she supposed to feel?
“You finally took control of your own destiny, and now you get to be the one writing your story.” His finger rubbed the back of her hand, electrifying her skin.
The villain grinned wide. “We have some stops to make before the day can be over. There’s someone we have to break out of prison.”
“Didn’t we just come from there?”
X nodded, “Yes, this is a different kind of prison though. Once we finish, no one will ever be able to control either of us again. We will both be free to be who we want to be.”
Yes, they would be.