The light was beautiful. Jared tried to stop himself, but he took another step towards it all the same. No, I’m not done. I’m not! But the light was so warm and inviting. And wouldn’t he be with his family if he went into it?
“Not all of them,” said a familiar voice. Jared momentarily snapped out of his daze and blinked stupidly at the young boy he saw. “Sorry, you were thinking out loud I guess? Anyways, your sister came back through the door like a week ago.”
Jared’s head twitched as he tried to make sense of what the kid was telling him. His thoughts were a hazy mist, swirling around each other without clear beginning or end. Bobby.
“Hi Bobby,” he said, dragging up his voice from somewhere inside of him. “What do you mean? I thought you said… no one comes back through the doors.”
“They don’t,” Bobby said solemnly. “But your sister did and a lot of other people were dragged through her door. Then chains started wrapping around it. It was… really, really scary. But she shouldn’t be dead anymore. If you’re not through the door, you’re not dead. Least as far as I can tell.”
“So you’re telling me Lilly might be alive?” Jared asked. His thoughts were coming into focus now, the haze lifting from his mind. But his foot dragged another inch towards the open door. That’s why they took her body. They needed her for something and brought her back somehow. Damn them!
“Yep,” Bobby said. “Least, I really hope so. Just thought you should know. Not sure it helps though, I’ve never seen someone resist an open door. Yours was just a little ajar last time you were here.”
“Yeah, well, you haven’t seen me.” Jared said. The light was practically chiming now. A soft incessant song requesting that he come through the door, playing only for his ears. There was a pull in the center of his chest and he took another involuntary step towards the door. Dammit it all, I need to live! He threw out his arms to both sides of the door, gripping the frame, and pushing with all of his might. He spread out his legs so his feet were also edging past the frame.
An eternity was passing, but he refused to budge. No matter how strong the tug in the center of his chest or how many sweet thoughts passed through his head, telling him it would be so much easier if he just let go, that it was fine to pass through the door. He willed himself to heal. If there was even a scrap of DNA of his left, he willed for it to regenerate and pull him back. But he knew it was useless without a boost. And he was certain if he passed through the door there was nothing he could do.
But the pull was becoming too much and his fingers began slipping. No, no, I won’t die. Not yet. I won’t die! He couldn’t hold on any longer though and one of his arms was pulled into the door. Then the other one. He was literally hanging onto life by his toes. God, please, if there’s someone on the other side of this, don’t take me yet. I swear I’m not afraid. But I have to protect her. I can’t just leave her to those bastards. Please, please let me go back. Even if it’s just for a while. Please.
The warm, brilliant light wrapped around his entire upper body and his toes were slipping. Just as he was about to hurtle through the door, it revolved the other way and smashed him in the face, throwing him back out of the frame. He lay on the ground staring up at Bobby’s amazed face.
“Holy crap, you actually did it,” said Bobby. Jared smiled.
“Told you kid. I can’t die yet.” Limbo faded around him and he found his hand wrapped around Krieg’s throat, standing in the middle of Alan’s ruined dining room. “What the hell?”
He eased his grip immediately and let go, Krieg stumbling back. The boy started hacking but finally got his breath under control. “Guess Booster was half right. The Taser didn’t do shit. Took your sweet time coming back to your senses. Another couple of seconds and you’d have crushed my windpipe for sure.”
Jared had a twinge of guilt. Not that he hadn’t occasionally wanted to choke the little brat, but finding out he’d been in the process of doing so made him feel bad. He scanned the room and noted it still had a floor, which was strange given what the Rhineheart Twins’ powers had done to Sunlight City and the bus. He also noted no sign of Booster.
“Sorry about that. I’m guessing Booster boosted me and then took off?”
“Yeah, being ripped apart by an abomination isn’t high on his priority list,” said Krieg. “Shouldn’t be high on yours either, if you don’t have some pretty twisted priorities,” Jared responded. “Depends, is killing Alan Killjoy a twisted priority? Because considering he broadcast that little bit where he told you he killed a billion people, I’m guessing most of the people on Earth would think that priority is fairly reasonable.” Why would he broadcast that? Getting rid of almost everyone who hates empowered people then immediately rubbing it into the face of the rest of the populace that someone with powers is responsible? It’s pretty obvious I guess, but what good does broadcasting that do?
“Fair point. Speaking of priorities, any chance you know where some spare clothes might be?” Jared asked, realizing with embarrassment that he was totally naked. He heard a cough near the door. “There are some lying over here for you. At least I am guessing they are for you from the note that says ‘For Jared, whenever he comes back to life, and congratulations May on killing Kevin, though blowing up poor Momo with him was kind of a jerk move.’ What did I tell you about dying, Jared?” May asked from a doorway across the room. It was a large room, but Jared could tell she was blushing, her eyes slightly averted from his body. His face flushed.
Jared walked over to where May was standing and took the clothes from her hands. He paused, wondering if Alan laced them with poison or something. But Alan would know that was pointless. Besides, if he knew Jared would come back to life he could have prevented it by burning all of his cells or just keeping Booster from getting to this room. So Jared dressed quickly and then gave May a tight hug. “So you really got Kevin?”
“Yes, I blew that bastard to hell. Hopefully the house doesn’t collapse on us all because of it. I’ll take it you were not as successful killing Alan?”
“Not nearly. There’s a woman who can steal abilities, so be careful. No telling if it’d work on your surrogate, but with our luck it probably would and trap your mind in this body to boot. She couldn’t get my healing but she took Patrick’s power and gave it to Alan.”
“You’re planning on taking off without me?” she asked hesitantly.
“Someone needs to look after Krieg and make sure he gets out safely,” Jared said.
“I didn’t know you cared,” Krieg broke in. “But I can look after myself just fine, thanks.”
“With that little fly zapper? I don’t think so. Besides, I’m not sure there’s much more you can contribute now.” Jared reached inside and could feel the energy crawling through all of his cells. He pointed towards a wall with windows lining it, so he could be sure he didn’t hurt anyone inside the building. The energy surged to the tip of his finger and he released it.
The air sizzled and the wall disappeared. Some splinters of wood and shards of glass flew outwards, but most of the wall was simply gone. “I’m not sure why Alan left me alive instead of burning every cell. It worries me that he always knows what we’re going to do and I feel like I’m playing into his hands just by breathing. But when I was dead, Bobby told me that they brought my sister back to life somehow. And if that’s true, I have to rescue her. If Alan gets in my way of doing that, I’m going to see how well Patrick’s powers stand up to energy that can shred dimensions.”
“Is that…?” May asked, awe in her eyes.
“Shelly Rhinefield’s power, fully in control. The only cells that survived her power overwhelming my body were the ones that adapted to it, took control of the energy. And now that I have a brain again, I can direct that energy. Now the real question is, where’s Alan gotten off to?”
“Well, if I had to guess by the embroidery on the back of your new shirt, he’s in the basement.” Krieg said. “But that’s mostly because it says to tell you Round 2 starts in the basement. Yeah, definitely no way that’s a trap or anything.”
Jared grimaced. “Not ideal, but I’d be surprised if he’s lying. And if my sister isn’t with him then he’s the only one who for sure knows where she is. So I can’t exactly go running away.”
May bit her lip, then punched him on the arm. “I swear if you die again I’m going to figure out how to send a surrogate after you just to kick your ass.” Jared laughed and then pulled her close.
“Sorry I broke my promise, but I won’t let him kill me for good. I’ve got too much to live for,” he said, then he kissed her for a long second before separating. It was hard for him to leave her, but there was no telling what consequences there’d be if he dragged things out. He backed off a few feet and then looked at the floor, still wondering why it existed after his self-destruct. Something about it unsettled him, but then so did a lot of things about this situation. Shrugging to himself, he obliterated it beneath his feet and began his descent to the basement.