Andi tried to play it cool when Ghost showed up at her apartment. She did this by leaning too much of her weight against the frame when she opened the door.
“Hey,” she said, trying to do a sort of nod with her chin. She was wearing a grey skater dress and bunny slippers.
“Hello, Miss Bravo.” He was wearing something closer to his usual outfit, tall boots and all. He was wearing a red flannel. It was evocative of lumber being jacked. Forest pirates, perhaps.
“How did you know where I live?” she asked.
“I have known where Miss Davenport lives for some time now,” he admitted.
“That’s creepy,” Carrie called from in the kitchen. Andi stopped leaning on the doorframe to stand with her hands clasped in front of her.
“Sorry about her,” she said under her breath.
“Why?” he asked. “She’s right.”
“I came to apologize for my behavior the other night,” Ghost said.
“It’s fine,” she said. “It’s not,” she corrected. “You totally ditched me and it sucked.”
“Yes,” he agreed. “I also came because I want my dinosaur.”
She blinked. “The toy?”
“I said that I would treasure it always,” he reminded her.
“Yeah,” she agreed, “but then you ditched me.”
“For which I have apologized.”
“You haven’t, though,” she said. “You just said you came to apologize. That’s not the same as apologizing.”
He grabbed her hands and raised them near his face. “I beg your forgiveness,” he said, before kissing her knuckles. “I was a cad, a wretch, a dog.” He kissed her knuckles again. “I am less than nothing.” Again with the kissing. “Can you lower yourself to forgiving me, merciful lady?”
That was not an apology. There was a laugh in his eyes at her expense. It made her feel all warm in pleasantly unpleasant ways.
“I’ll forgive you,” she said, getting him to smile. “But I won’t forget.”
He grinned. It was one of his dangerous grins. It seemed a bit much to turn it full force on a girl who wasn’t supposed to be a superhero. “Good,” he said, and that warm feeling deepened. “Now, about my dinosaur—”
“Our dinosaur,” she said. “We’re going to have to arrange joint custody.”
“Will we?” he asked, eyebrows shooting up in surprise. He had thick, expressive eyebrows. She liked them best when he was pulling faces, chewing the scenery.
“You lost full custody when you ditched us,” she said.
“I’m a terrible father,” he agreed.
She frowned. “Are you?” He looked confused. “You’re crazy old,” she reminded him.
“I’m old and crazy,” he agreed and corrected. “I never had kids.”
“It seemed like a reasonable thing to ask,” she said defensively.
“It was,” he said. “But I’d be a terrible father. Ask our dinosaur son.”
“Our dinoson,” she attempted, not quite getting the emphasis onto the right syllables to make the pun work.
“How will this joint custody work?” he asked.
“You can keep it, if you want,” she said. “But I want you to send me pictures.”
“Of the dinosaur,” she added hastily. “I want confirmation that you’re taking good care of him. Making him healthy dinners.”
“Aah,” he said knowingly. “No dick pics.”
She choked on a snort. He’d hitched his thumbs in his pockets, his hips cocked just so and his shoulders rolled back. All cowboy swagger in his pirate boots and his lumberjack flannel. Too many synonyms for a certain kind of man, a parody of himself.
“Here,” she said instead of confirming, her face red. “Give me your phone and I’ll put my number in.” He slid his phone out of his back pocket to set it in her waiting hands. His phone looked like a display model, no apps or custom backgrounds. She navigated to his depressingly empty contacts list and added herself. On a whim, she took a quick selfie to add to it. Then she frowned and tried again, because the first selfie didn’t look cute enough. Three tries later, she was satisfied with the picture that would appear next to her text messages. She texted herself a sushi emoji so that she could add his number to her phone.
“Would you like to try getting dinner again?” he asked as he took his phone back.
“Now?” she asked, surprised.
“Thursday,” he suggested instead.
“That’s a weird day,” she said.
“Weekends are crowded,” he shrugged.
“You’re so old,” she said, opening the sushi text on her phone and adding him to her contacts. She held her phone up to get his picture, and he smiled for it like he practiced. She resolved to get a better one later but added it for now. “If you promise not to ditch me this time, sure,” she said.
“Cross my heart,” he said, dragging a finger over his chest. “Though I cannot die.”
“I’ll go get the dinosaur,” she said.
“He needs a name,” Ghost said. “I like Jesús.”
“I’m not committing to that,” Andi warned him, leaving him in the hallway. She would have liked to invite him inside, but the apartment was a mess, and Carrie would throw a fit. She picked up the dinosaur and smelled it again. It still smelled mostly like factory, and now garlic. When she brought it back to the hallway, she said, “I want a trade.”
“For our darling son Jesús?” he asked, feigning offense.
She set the dinosaur down by her feet and steeled herself to step closer to him.
It was Ghost. They’d thrown each other off buildings before. They’d caught each other falling off of mechs. This wasn’t anything.
She reached up to grab the collar of his flannel, not looking him in the eye. “I want this,” she decided. She glanced up to meet his eyes.
“The shirt off my back?” he asked, leaning his face a little closer to hers and pitching his voice low. She was blushing again, but that didn’t mean anything. Some people blushed a lot.
“I know we’re not ‘going steady’, or whatever it is you used to do a million years ago,” she said, her fingers dropping to his first button and waiting there, “but you don’t have a letterman jacket anyway. I want your flannel.”
It was hard to remember she wasn’t supposed to know him that well. Maybe that was better. No one could argue this was the behavior of a woman that was too nice.
“It’s yours, then,” he said, not moving. She started undoing his buttons, sliding them through the holes in the fabric until the white of his undershirt showed through. The space between them had closed and given her little room to work in, but she leaned into it anyway. It felt like calling his bluff, rising up on her toes and letting her cheek brush against his for no reason except that she wanted to.
“You don’t shave enough,” she murmured, his stubble rasping against her skin. “I’m kind of into it, though.” He set his hands on her hips, and her fingers fumbled.
“I’m glad,” he said, and for a moment they stood there. Too close, like they might start slow dancing. He was the one who stepped back to shrug out of his shirt. “I believe this is yours,” he said, holding it out to her. She could see the hair on his chest through the thin white of his undershirt, the gold rings in his nipples.
Andi claimed the shirt with shaky fingers, slipping her arms into sleeves too long and wrapping it around herself like a robe. She brought the collar to her nose to smell it, shutting her eyes.
Smoke, not just tobacco smoke but any number of other plants, skunky things and mossy things and a hint of something floral. His shirt smelled like a shady New Age store whose primary clientele was witchy biker gangs.
She rocked back on her heels and opened her eyes. There was an intensity in the way Ghost was watching her that made her heart skip.
“And this is yours,” she said, plucking the dinosaur off the floor to hand it to him.
“So it is,” he said, still looking at her as he claimed it.
Ghost texted Andi a picture of Jesús the dinosaur artfully arranged into a jungle of potted plants. The angle and lighting were a reminder that he’d been an artist, of a kind. It made her smile, lying in her bed with his flannel on.
Andi: His natural habitat!
Coatimundi shared a video of a cat on her feed, and Ghost liked it.
Ghost texted Andi another picture, this time of Jesús sitting at a small table with a large steak in front of him. She assumed it was actually Ghost’s dinner and not a T-bone he’d bought and cooked for the express purpose of novelty dinosaur pictures.
Andi: That doesn’t look like a balanced meal!
In the next picture he’d sent, he had attempted to make the round toy hold a knife with its small arm. He’d resorted to duct tape.
Andi: That’s unsafe!!!
It was another hour before he sent another picture. The dinosaur now had two knives taped to its hands, and a lit cigar carefully balanced in its mouth. The table was covered in playing cards implying a game of poker, which Jesús was losing. There was an ashtray filled with half-smoked cigarettes.
Andi: No!!!!!! What have you done
As part of a joke that had been ongoing since not long after they met, Ghost tagged Coatimundi in a picture of a mug of cocoa hanging half-off the edge of a table.
@therealghostdevlin why are you like this
@Coatimundi I’m from a different time.
@therealghostdevlin there was never a time when this was acceptable!!!
@Coatimundi This is how everyone kept their beverages in the 30s.
@therealghostdevlin you can’t use the 30s as a barometer for acceptable behavior, we’ve talked about this
Ghost posted a photo of a chocolate bar, bitten instead of broken apart at the designated seams and then set down without the wrapper on a table covered in cigarette ashes. He’d obviously turned off the lights in his apartment and turned on his phone’s flash. The cocoa mug still sat on the edge.
@Coatimundi @therealghostdevlin When are we meeting to fight?
@Black-Knight Brand accounts aren’t invited.
Ghost texted Andi another picture. She switched apps to look at it, and bit her lip. He’d taken a selfie laying down with Jesús. He’d taken the knives off the stuffed toy so he could use it as a pillow, and claimed the cigar for himself. He was shirtless, his hair down. Andi tried to decide how long it had taken him to get the picture just right, how hard he’d worked to stage it as sexily as possible while still including the dinosaur. Had he carefully let a lock of hair fall across his eyes or was that a happy accident?
Andi: Nice piercings btw
Ghost: They were big in both of the 90s
Andi: I’m feeling very cozy in my new shirt
She rolled out of bed and squinted at herself in the mirror. She was still wearing bunny slippers, and her dress was wrinkled. She pulled off the dress and put the shirt back on, buttoning it up enough to cover the important parts. She tried to re-tousle her hair into something more sexy than sleepy. It still looked incomplete, so she started digging in her dresser until she found thigh-highs.
Her legs looked better in tall socks. This was a fact. She would not apologize for it.
She’d been in a half-transformation, and remembered at the last minute to get rid of the ears and tail. She took about twenty different pictures in her mirror and deleted nineteen, leaving the one that looked the least staged. She texted him that one, and then sat on the edge of her bed, staring at her phone and waiting for a reply. Her stomach was in knots.
Ghost: It looks better on you
Ghost: May I save it?
Her smile split her face as she fell back into her bed. Asking was such a weird old man thing to do. Theoretically polite, but in practice it left her with the knowledge that he was definitely saving it, for what reasons she could not imagine.
That wasn’t true. She could imagine plenty. She kicked her feet and nearly bit her phone.
He wouldn’t. It wasn’t even that sexy of a picture. Was it? Pinups they put on t-shirts now used to count as pornography. He couldn’t still think that, though. He had a smartphone and he joked about dick pics.
Andi: For sex reasons?
Andi: I don’t know if you know what a spank bank is
Andi: Like are you saving it as a souvenir or do you want to look at it later because it’s sexy
Ghost: I don’t know how I’m supposed to answer that
Andi: I was going for sort of a soft sexy
Andi: You were supposed to think it was hot
Ghost: I do
She kicked her legs again before regrouping.
Andi: Okay good
Ghost: You needed to ask?
Andi: I’m pretty sure you’ve FAMOUSLY banged some REALLY hot people
Andi: I’m not good at being sexy
Andi: Guys like you don’t usually hit on me or ask me out
Andi: Not that there are a lot of guys like you, but you know what I mean
Ghost: Creepy old men?
Andi: I meet a lot of guys who want a nice girl
Andi: A Nice Girl™
Andi: People don’t take me seriously as a grown-up
Andi: Probably because I still use the word grown-up
Ghost: You type very fast
Ghost: You’re a grown woman with great legs
Andi: Thank you for not saying gams
She switched to her camera app and unbuttoned her shirt a bit more. She took another series of pictures, lifting her legs into the air and trying to get a good ‘retro pinup’ vibe going. When she had a selfie she was satisfied with, she sent it to him.
Andi: You can save that one, too
Andi: If you want
Ghost: I do want
Ghost: You’re making it difficult to wait until Thursday to see you
Andi: You could say that I’m making it………. hard
She gnawed at her lip as she waited for a reply.
Andi: Sorry, that was dumb
After an agonizing wait, he sent her a picture that took her a minute to parse. It was centered on his hips, a trail of hair down to the pants he was still wearing.
She was pretty sure a dick-print still counted as a dick pic, but she wasn’t going to call him on it. Instead, she put her phone down and grabbed a pillow to press into her face and screech.
Hot! Unbelievably hot! Why was that so hot! How did he get such a good angle—and with his hand—
Andi: I’m saving that
Andi: For sex reasons
Coatimundi leapt over a police car to enter the battle zone. She cupped her hands around her face as she ran. “Put him down and let’s talk about this,” she shouted.
Captain Vortex was holding Black Knight twenty feet in the air. Or, not Black Knight: Kennedy Washington, CEO of Knight Industries, his armor beaten apart and sucked into a hole to a pocket dimension. His suit wasn’t faring great either, and the bruises on his face worried her. Kenny wasn’t much of a fighter without his armor. He was a regular guy, who happened to be a genius billionaire. Captain Vortex had attached himself to the side of a building using small holes in the bottoms of his shoes.
“Oh, god,” Captain Vortex said, rolling his eyes. “I’m not fighting you.”
Coatimundi jumped as soon as he threw out his hand so the hole that appeared in the ground didn’t swallow her. Her ears twitched in her hair as she landed.
“Get out of here, little girl,” he said, trying to catch her with another vortex and failing as she leapt again. “I’m not one of your globalist stooges here to make you look good.”
Oh. Okay. Cool.
Ordinarily, this would be the part where Coatimundi tried to talk it out first. But there wasn’t much point when it came to a human manifestation of the comments section on a local news article.
She dropped down to a crouch and launched herself at the building. Holes of void kept appearing in the wall as she climbed it, claws tearing at concrete and toes bouncing off architectural features, but she was faster than he was. It took time to summon a vortex, time to make it dissipate so that he could summon another. He was only holding on with one foot, now; he had trouble summoning more vortices than two.
She passed him as she climbed, then dropped off the building to land on Captain Vortex’s back. He grunted, planting his second foot harder against the building as she dug her heels in. Then she knelt and punched him in the back of the head.
Not hard. He had super strength, but not enough that she was going to go punching him as hard as she could. His head would come off, probably. She wasn’t sure. She’d never tried it.
It was enough to get him to drop Black Knight, which was all she needed. She jumped off of him so that she could catch Kennedy in mid-air, holding him around the middle of his body and careful of his spine.
Captain Vortex summoned a hole in the ground beneath them.
Coatimundi waited until they were close to it before throwing Kennedy up and away; he’d hit the ground from five feet up unless someone caught him, which wasn’t great but was better than the alternative. She managed to catch the edge of the pavement, claws digging into asphalt as she pulled herself with great effort out of the vortex. Midton police had grabbed Kennedy, and now they were holding him in a human chain—the easiest way to keep anyone from falling into a hole to nowhere.
As soon as her feet could touch the ground, she was leaping at the building again. This time when she got closer, Captain Vortex pulled himself off the wall, falling towards her to try and hit her with the holes in his soles. Coatimundi dodged it, reaching out to drag her claws up his back and catch him by the hair. He was only able to scream briefly before she slammed him like a ragdoll through a closed window. It shattered around him, but some of the crunching was of bone.
Fortunately, it was an empty office. Coatimundi looked inside, to where he was trying to pull himself up off the cheap carpet. His face was too bloody to tell how badly she’d mangled it. She kicked out more of the glass so that she could get inside after him, high enough up that the wind whipped through the open window. Captain Vortex managed to get upright in time to throw a punch across her jaw. She laughed involuntarily. Anyone with less than super-strength would only break their fingers on her chin, and his had been a weak attempt to start. She’d still expected better.
He was in the middle of summoning a vortex on his fist when she kicked him in the stomach and over a desk. His legs caught on the furniture and altered his trajectory, spinning him all limp-limbed into the wall before collapsing. She waited to see if he’d get back up, her tail drawing figure-eights in the air behind her, fur standing on end. Her claws were sticky, lip twitching in a fang-baring snarl.
He stayed down, and she tried not to feel disappointed.
Big thanks to @Coatimundi for the assist today! I was almost murdered and it was terrifying and probably gave me lasting trauma. Working on a new suit of armor now!
@Black-Knight no problem dude!!! you know i’m always happy to help a bro
@Black-Knight @Coatimundi did you actually beat him or was it just the power of friendship again
@mistermuster making fun of the power of friendship is not a thing good guys do, my man!! maybe have a good think about your life choices!!!
@mistermuster The power of friendship! I like that. As she is my friend, would you like to learn more about this power?
@therealghostdevlin No, sir. Sorry about that. I meant no disrespect to @Coatimundi. I’m a big fan of your work.