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Samantha only needed to sleep three hours and forty minutes. This was, of course, the bare minimum she could survive off, and really she needed to sleep at least five hours one of these days, get a little extra sleep in. But she didn’t have time for that. Not anymore.

Walking down the street, she twirled her hammer around her wrist, catching the handle and then twirling it again. The thing easily weighed twenty-eight pounds and had two flat heads. It was technically a sledgehammer that she had adjusted the handle for to make it easier to wield with one hand. It had a long red strap at the end of the hammer that she currently had wrapped around her wrist. She had taped the black handle up with red grip tape, so she could have a nonslip grip for it. The thing had been replaced maybe three times, which was why she decided to keep them cheaply made for now. All in all, the thing probably cost about fifty dollars in total.

As Sam walked, she kept her ears peeled for any sound out of place in the quiet neighborhood. Unlike the rest of her body, Sam’s ears were not enhanced, so she had to listen hard in order to catch the noises she was looking for. Neither her ears or her eyes were enhanced, but after years of being out at night, her eyes had adjusted much better to low light than bright light, which hurt her head. As long as she could tell the difference between civilian and hostile, she was fine.

Her heavy boots scuffed against the sidewalk, and she pulled her leather jacket shut a little tighter as the chill set in around her. Even in her hoodie and jacket combo, she still felt the chill to her bones. Ever since that night, she’d felt the chill much deeper than she cared to admit. She took in a deep breath and released it as a wave of heat, which warmed her body up. She sighed as she looked around.

For her first night on the streets of Pittsburgh, she had really hoped for more. She checked her watch and sighed again. It was just about time to turn around and head back. Otherwise, she’d be late for opening the gym up for it’s first day.​

The city is quieter at night. Adelyn prefers it to the hustle and bustle of daytime, so she waited until after dark to make her way home from the park. Her steps are louder than she’d like them to be with her boots still on but she dares not take them off. The city never really sleeps, and there are still a few people between herself and her grandparents’ home.

She doesn’t measure time except by the sun and moon and stars, sleeping when she’s tired and eating when she’s hungry, and so she’s wide awake even at the late hour. She hurries past a lone woman carrying a hammer, her shoulders hunching instinctively and her hand stealing up to adjust her sunglasses.

It does not cross her mind that all the concealment makes her look more suspicious rather than less. She’s just focused on trying to get home, and would continue that way if not for the alleyway she’d walked into being occupied.

Adelyn sniffs and tries to scoot past the man in the alleyway, but he steps into her path. This is his first mistake.

“Hey, what’s the hurry?” He asks her, like they are acquainted. They are not acquainted. He seems amused by something, but she does not care to ask what.

Her grandparents warned her not to speak to strangers. Her parents warned her of the same. Adelyn makes to continue past him and he steps into her space.

“Cat got your tongue?” He asks her. This is his second mistake. She’s growing less inclined by the second to give him the chance to make a third.

“No, I have my own tongue. Move, please.” Honestly, some people are so rude. As though she would allow a cat near her mouth.

His third mistake is grabbing at her elbow, and Adelyn loses her patience. With a frustrated yowl that her vocal cords don’t quite cooperate all the way with, she swipes at the man’s face.

This would be much more effective if her claws were ungloved, but as it is her warning blow only serves to make him step back. He shouts wordlessly and his voice echoes in the closed space and in her sensitive ears. Adelyn puffs herself up as best she can without the benefit of a fur coat, realizing two things:

The alleyway dead-ends behind her, and the man is now standing between her and the street.


It would be when she decided to call it that something actually happened. Sam stopped and listened in to the conversation behind her. She heard what almost sounded like a human trying to imitate an angry cat and then the man shouting in an angry pitch. Looking at her watch, she nodded. She would just have to consider it working overtime. She turned around and strode back to the alleyway, her hammer gripped tightly in her hand.

She adjusted her mask, pushing it back into place and stepping out into the space between the two buildings. Her nerves were steeled like they always were. She’d been doing this since she was fifteen, and it still made her nervous every time she stepped up to face someone. You never knew when you were going to encounter another not-quite-so-human. Not really. Not these days, and she was almost certain, not in the city. It had been bad enough as far south as Lockbourne from Columbus, so she figured that a city like Pittsburgh must have its fair share.

She stepped into the entrance of the alley and took about two steps forward until she stood a few feet behind the man– just out of punching range in case he decided to swing at her. She had made that mistake twice, and she wasn’t going to make it again. Her rib screamed in protest as she stood up straight, the fracture from the bank robbery still aching, although it had healed enough to be a nasty bruise at best, a hairline fracture at worst. Not enough to stop her as she twirled the hammer until the head faced down and the handle stuck out above her hand.

Not as lethal as the hammerhead, but when she swung it, it still hurt like a motherfucker.

“What, can’t get a date in the daylight? This one doesn’t seem interested, pal.”

Her voice came out a little rougher than her daytime voice, a little lower. Almost like she had dropped some kind of pretense, some kind of mask. Gone were the polite inflection and the little lilt, replaced by an almost growl and a barely leashed fury. She sounded like the kind of person to walk around with a hammer, ready to swing it for any reason.​

The arrival of another stranger only makes Adelyn more tense. She shifts her weight back and forth and darts her gaze between the newcomer and the man, straining her eyes through the darkness of the night and her sunglasses.

“Piss off, lady,” the man sneers, waving his hand dismissively. His other hand comes up to touch his nose, coming away unbloodied. Adelyn hadn’t caused him as much harm as she did surprise.

He is on the taller side, though still a little shorter than Adelyn, and carries himself like he imagines himself at the top of the food chain. His eyes are narrow and cruel, and Adelyn does not like the way he looks at her. It makes the little hairs on the back of her neck raise, the sense of danger apparent to her senses.

The woman at the entrance of the alleyway carries the same air of danger, though the distance makes it fainter. Adelyn can’t tell who it’s directed at, only that it’s there and she doesn’t like it and her head hurts. Some kind of smoke hangs in the air, sharp and foul, and it does nothing for the growing pangs behind her temples.

Her hackles still raised, Adelyn backs up another step. The man takes a step in kind, but in the wrong direction. Adelyn’s palm starts to sweat, and she starts to tug at the fingers of her glove.

She’s far from helpless, but the instinct to hide has been so thoroughly ingrained in her that it’s hard to resist. Trying to recall the feeling of rushing through alleyways on a hunt doesn’t do much when she feels like she’s the one being hunted.


Sam was not having any of that. She closed the distance between herself and the woman’s assailant. Maybe he needed a harder lesson in what happened when you tried to do shitty things to other people: shitty things happened to you instead.

It wasn’t difficult at all with him so focused on the girl. She got right up behind him and quickly jabbed her handle into his back. He arched his back away from it just enough for him to get his neck within her range. She stuck the handle of her hammer in front of his neck and then grasped the end of it, pulling it right against his throat. Then before he could react, she quickly stomped her foot into the back of his knee, hard.

A sharp crack sounded through the air. Maybe she had brought her foot down a little too hard. But now he was kneeling and that was where she wanted him. She pulled back on the handle to choke him, and she said in an even tone, “Now here’s what you’re going to fucking do. You’re going to apologize to this lovely girl, and then you’re going to run. If you mess up on either one of these, I will snap your bones like toothpicks until you have no legs to move with at all. Is that clear?”

She let up on his throat, releasing his neck. This would give him ample space and time to hightail it out of there. And if he chose not to, well. That’s what the other end of the hammer was for.​

The woman advances quickly, causing Adelyn to flee further back. The end of the alley stops her retreat, and she flattens her back against the concrete. The man has stopped advancing, at least, which is good because all her instincts are fighting each other - claw and kick and run and hide - and she can’t decide which is louder.

Luckily, the woman turns her danger on the man and not Adelyn. There’s a scuffle followed by an awful crack, and Adelyn closes her eyes a moment too late to avoid watching the man crumple, flinching back as though she could just melt into the wall and disappear.

The wall jostles her sunglasses and they slip off her face. Adelyn keeps her eyes closed against her better instincts, blindly fumbling to catch them but only succeeding in sending them skittering away. Oh no.

“Fuck, fine, Jesus Christ.” The man sounds like he’s in pain, the undercurrent of wounded animal in his now-rough voice. Adelyn risks a glance, trying to keep her eyelashes lowered, but he looks right in her eyes in that moment and his face twists. He staggers to his feet, favoring his left, and raises his chin.

“Ugh. I’m sorry. Freaks.” He spits the word before turning tail and running. Even with the injury he lopes off with ground-eating strides, and she can hear the hiss of his breath with every other step even once he’s rounded the corner of the alley.

Adelyn considers giving chase, but her legs wobble and she starts to sink down. She thought the city would be different. She really thought it would be different. In her time here there had been some nice people, but mostly it was just loud and busy and people were awful. Not just to her, but to each other, too.

Her legs curl up against her chest and she hugs them close, tucking her face into her knees. She wants to go home.


Sam watched the man speedily hobble off down the street before she turned her attention to the young woman he had been trying to assault. “Okay, you should be alright no– Oh, shit. Okay.”

Sometimes, they collapsed, and this girl had definitely just collapsed. Sam set her hammer down on the ground slowly and then took a few soft steps forward, her hands empty and raised, lifting her black leather jacket away from the equally black hoodie. The anger on her had dissipated, and now she was trying to radiate calming energy as best she could. She stopped a few feet away from the girls, and after a brief look around, she pushed her hood back to reveal her masked face and hair.

“Hey, look at me, you’re going to be just fine– Oh.” She stopped and looked at the girl she had saved. Her eyes were reflecting the street lamp in the distance like a cat’s eyes, and she had fluffy ears. Her hair, which Sam had initially thought was just a cool dye job, she now realized must have grown that way with how the colors shifted as she moved. She was the most obvious meta that Sam had met in a long time.

“Wow, hey, are you– do you live around here? Can I help you get home? Or wherever you’re going? I promise I won’t do that again. I just wanted him to get away from you.” Her voice was soft, and all her movements were precise as she sat on her heels in front of the girl. She extended a single gloved hand, offering to help her stand.​

There’s a muffled sniff before Adelyn removes her face from her knees, looking at the woman with abject misery in her unearthly white eyes. It’s a very human expression, the look of a girl too young to have the weight of a cruel world hanging around her neck.

She catches the “Oh” and her ears flatten along the sides of her head, her face falling into the cradle of her arms once more. As though she could hide the things that set her apart from others, given enough cosmetics and leather and tinted glass. She’s so tired of hiding. She thought it would be different.

“Home is real far away,” she mumbles, unsure if the woman is even listening but aware of her presence nonetheless. Her ears twitch with every faint sound. “I’m here, for now, to learn. But I am not very good at learning any of this.”

Adelyn isn’t sure why she’s telling all of this to the stranger. The woman is not a danger to her, not anymore, and it’s possible she never was. Her head feels all scrambled up. “I thought I could help, but I can’t even help myself.”

She shifts slightly, resting her temple on her knees and staring dejectedly at the alley wall. There are tear tracks on her face, and she lets them fall without any attempt to stop them. The forest does not care if you cry. It clears the eyes. She misses her forest terribly.

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Sam’s face softened as she realized how upset the girl really was. She looked around once more then back at the almost blind looking eyes. Then, she did something she never did. Sam removed her mask, shoving it into her pocket. Her thick black makeup around her eyes was still roughly the same shape as the sockets of her mask. She ran a hand through her hair and shook her head.

“Hey, I don’t know what you’re here to learn exactly, but learning is hard. No matter what you’re learning, it’s hard. Who were you trying to help? Did something happen?”

She moved a little closer, keeping low to the ground. Her movements were almost spider-like in their precision and grace as she moved across the ground, evidence of her creeping through rooms and across rooftops. She got right up next to the girl, and then very gently, she reached a hand out and tried to brush it against her shoulder, testing the water. If the girl allowed it, Sam would lean in and hug her tight.

Clearly, she had offended the girl with something she said, based on the way her ears had flattened out. She had never seen a meta quite so unearthly before, but she wasn’t there to judge. Right then, she was there to help the girl calm down and to escort her wherever she was going to go.

She was there to help. And help right then looked like comfort.​

Movement draws Adelyn’s attention to the woman. She watches as she removes a thin strip of fabric from around her eyes, but has no context for the gesture. Maybe it helps her see better? Adelyn can certainly see better without her sunglasses impeding her night vision. She’ll have to fish them out from wherever they landed, but she’s in no mood to do that now.

Though her eyes remain as blank as ever, it’s clear that Adelyn can see her from the way her head tilts.

“Everyone. My family. People like me.” Her hands flex within the thick leather gloves, one moving naturally and the other noticeably much stiffer, spreading more than flexing. She accepts the brush of a warm hand, leaning in slightly, and that seems to be all the woman needs to pull her into her side.

Adelyn curls into her rescuer willingly, a sniffle turning into another and another. Even though she doesn’t know her name, the no-longer-masked woman feels safe. She’s warm, too, and that comforts some deep part of her that urges her to lay in sunbeams and stretch out beside her grandparents’ radiator on cold nights.

She hadn’t cried when that man was at her door with his loud words and his gun, or when her parents loaded all of her things into the car, or when they dropped her off at her grandparents’. But it comes to her now, all the times her momma pulled her hat low and let her poppa do the talking at gas stations, all the times she had to hide because the world wasn’t ready for people like her to exist.

She finds herself talking, explaining, saying sentences she isn’t sure make sense until they’ve reached their conclusion. Laying out the facts and the feelings like dead mice on a stranger’s doorstep. She’d asked, and Adelyn couldn’t explain it if you gave her twenty years and five hundred grammar books, but she got the feeling she might understand.

Her voice grows rough quickly, not used to talking this much all at once, but she stumbles her way through until her eyes are drooping and her words peter to a stop. At some point her face ended up smooshed into leather, and it takes her too long to register that it’s the woman’s jacket and not her gloves.

She doesn’t pull away.


Sam listened as the girl poured out her troubles. She listened as the girl explained, a little poorly, about her mission and the attack on her family that had sparked her current form. She didn’t move as the girl’s head burrowed into her jacket. She stroked her hair softly and she nodded and hmmed her way through the girl’s explanations.

“I think that maybe you just need a bit of help– someone to help you figure this whole thing out. I’m not exactly like you, but I am like you. Something other than a normal human.” Sam waved her hand and made a current of hot air that circled them in a quick tornado, lifting their hair and the edges of their clothing. It dissipated as quickly as it had come. “Why don’t you tell me how you want to help people? I can point you in a direction.”

She smoothed her hand over the girl’s hair, catching a few twigs and leaves, and carefully sorting them out of the hair. Her smile was warm and genuine as she slipped her arm around the girl’s shoulder, pulling her close. She was still keeping an eye out on the other end of the alley, just to make sure the scumbag didn’t try to come back.

“You don’t have to let me help you, but I’m here for you. I’ve been where you are, different and wanting to make the world better, to help people like us.”

Another meta. Adelyn wonders at her luck, that she keeps running into people like her. In Oregon, she only had her family. And even then, her momma and Uncle Barclay were the only ones who really understood. Understood in the way that can’t be explained with words.

There’s awe in her eyes as the current of warm air dries the last of her tears. It feels a bit like her grandma’s hair dryer, and the sudden image of the woman wielding an oversized hair dryer instead of a hammer makes her huff a short laugh.

“I just want to make things better.” She leans into the woman’s shoulder and is quiet for a moment. She winces a little when her fingers catch on a tangle in her wild mane, but she doesn’t complain. “I want to learn how to help in all sorts of ways, so that people like me don’t have to hide. So they don’t feel scared.”

A world-weary sigh has her sinking further into the woman’s warm embrace. “I thought I’d know what that looks like by now, but I don’t. What did you do? How do you help?”


Sam thought about that question for a minute before she answered. What did she do? How was Sam helping? It didn’t feel like helping some days, but she was doing what she could to make up for the things she had done before. For the men she had killed in her quest. For the pain she had caused Joshua. She had to do right by all of them, she had to do her best to make the best change she could.

“Well, I try to stop people from doing horrible things to other people. Like how I stopped that guy from doing whatever he wanted to do to you. I stop people who would use their power to hurt others. Sometimes that means that I have to fight people like us, too, so everyone else is less scared of us, so people will leave us all alone.”

She stopped combing the girl’s hair with her fingers and instead wrapped the arm around the girl’s shoulders and pulled her in close. Sam had never felt like she would be a good mother. Hell, she wasn’t even sure she wanted children to begin with. Not with what she did, with who she was. Something about this girl was pulling something very maternal out of Sam, and she wasn’t sure how she felt about that, about the idea of wanting to care for a young person like this girl.

“Listen, my name is Pho– is Sam.” In a split-second decision, she gave the girl her real name, Deciding there was no point not to after she had already shown her face. “What about you, what’s your name?”

There’s a long moment of silence as Adelyn lets Sam’s words sink in. The warmth finally reaches her bones, and along with it she feels her thoughts settle. They aren’t in the same configuration they started in, all swirled around and blown apart, but they aren’t spiraling anymore.

“Adelyn. Adelyn Aspen.” With a final deep breath she manages to sit up straight. Her eyes are a little puffy and red, but her mind feels clearer than it has in ages. Maybe all she needed was a good cry.

With a slight twist to her mouth she lifts her hood around to dab at her nose. Her momma would say to use a handkerchief, but she doesn’t have any on hand. She uses her sleeves to mop at her face with the sides of her hands, takes another deep breath, and finally feels the heartache ease.

“Thank you, Sam.” Her head tilts slightly as she recenters herself by looking around the alleyway. She spots her sunglasses sitting in the seam between the wall and the ground, thankfully intact, and reaches out to grab them.

With the first movement out of the way it’s easier to keep going, and she stands on increasingly steady legs. She really is tall when she isn’t slouching, willowy and with that stretched-out quality of a young woman still growing into her own skin.

“I should get home. My grandparents will wonder where I’ve been.” She folds the legs of her sunglasses and tucks them in her pocket rather than put them back on. The sun is just beginning to rise over the horizon, covering the world in a light purple haze. It’s a new day, and she’s ready to be somewhere besides this alleyway. “Is there a way I can find you again?”

Something vulnerable lurks below her words. She isn’t ready for her time with Sam to be over for good, even as she tries to convince herself that she’d survive either way.


Sam smiled softly and she paused. In one of the inside pockets of her jacket were three old flip phones, the kind you bought at quick marts. Burner phones. If the girl didn’t already have a cell phone, she could give her one, and program her actual phone number into it so they could communicate.

She could see and hear the desire to spend more time together in Adelyn. She felt the same, which surprised her. She hadn’t wanted to spend more time with someone in… ages. Well, with the exception of To– No. She wasn’t thinking about him. No matter how much her heart demanded she did, no matter how much her brain screamed at her to return to Vik’s, find him, and kiss him again. No. Right now, she was with Adelyn. She was with the young shifted meta girl, who wanted to see her again.

Who she wanted to see again.

“Do you have a cell phone? I can give you my number. We can get lunch together, or I can take you on patrols. Whatever you want. But I would… like to see you again as well. If you don’t have a cell phone, I can lend you one until we can get you a permanent one.”

"No, I don't have one," Adelyn confesses, her spirits falling a little. She perks up at the offer of borrowing one, and nods her head quickly. Surely whatever a 'cell' phone is, it must be useful. She isn't quite sure how it's different from her grandparents' 'home' phone, but she's sure she can figure it out.

Her heart is warmed by the fact that Sam wants to see her again, and she can't resist moving forward to wrap her arms around the woman once more. "We'll see each other again, then. On brighter days, when the sun smiles and the clouds flee."

It's an old saying she picked up from her momma, and she offers it like a balm. Maybe Sam needs it too.

Once the cell phone conundrum is sorted, and as the sun rises above the horizon, Adelyn makes her way back to her relatives. It isn't home, but it's close enough. The cell sits snugly in her pocket, ready to sing when she's called again.