By .Longshot. 5 Comments
The flickering of fluorescent lights strained his eyes as he sat by the side of a steel table amidst a sea of gray tile, the cold air of the morgue nipping at his neck. He bowed his head, not daring to glance to his left, to look at Olivia's corpse. Her eyes had been closed, her body covered by the white sheet so that only her face could be seen. She looked calm, tranquil. She looked at peace. Her expression was a facade, alluding to a much less horrific end. "Never expected to be here." he whispered, "I always knew it was a possibility, but I never expected it. I thought I was gonna be the one to turn you around, somebody who could save you from that life, give you a real chance to live. But I was young, idealistic. It was just my hope getting ahead of me. Now, you'll never grow up, never make friends, never... go to college and write bad poetry, or... or fall in love." he counted the tiles around his feet as he whispered solemnly, "Now, you're just like me. And my greatest fear... the whole time I was taking care of you, my greatest fear... was that you'd end up like me."
He bit his lip and his fists clenched. He tried crossing his arms, covering his face, but he simply put his hands over his knees as he whispered harshly, "Why couldn't you just listen to me?" His vision was blurred as water gathered beneath his mask, "Why did you have to go against everything I taught you like this?" his head fell into his hands as he asked in agony, "Why couldn't I save you?"
THREE YEARS, FOUR MONTHS AGO
The front door of the apartment creaked on its hinges as Olivia slowly entered the room, casting off her backpack before shuffling inside. She glanced to the left and saw Paxton leaning over the kitchen counter. He had his mask, jacket, quiver, and gloves all neatly stacked on the coffee table. He smiled as she entered, while she was only perplexed.
"How was your day?" he asked.
"Fine." she replied, dropping down on the couch, "I thought you were in England for another three days."
"The case was wrapped up early." a timer began to ring behind him.
"What's that?" she asked.
"Nothing!" Longshot replied, turning off the oven, "It's a surprise! No peaking!" He sat in the chair across from Olivia, where the television would be in a normal house. "How are you doing in school?" he asked.
"Fine." she shrugged.
"Come on..." he goaded. He was unusually talkative. For as distant as she was, she knew he wasn't used to talking either, and this interrogation seemed uncomfortable for both of them.
"The history teacher hates me." she answered reluctantly, averting her eyes.
"Why do you think she hates you?" asked the archer, leaning in closer.
"She gave me zero points on a question I got right, and when I pointed it out, she made me stay after. When she pointed her finger into my chest and told me I was wrong, I wanted... I just wanted to hit her! I just wanted to tackle her to the ground and clamp her windpipe shut! If somebody insulted me like that on the street, I killed them."
"But you didn't." said Longshot, "Why not?"
"I don't know." Olivia replied, tucking her legs into her chest, "I thought... I thought you'd be disappointed."
"Ah. So you DO care what I think."
"I never said that." Olivia whispered shamefully. She closed her eyes and he leaned back in his chair. "It's just that I've gotten used to you." she answered slowly, "I got used to you being here and... and I don't want another person who doesn't want me anymore."
Paxton smiled softly and put his hand on her shoulder. "That's never gonna happen." he said, "I'm not gonna give up on you, Olivia. You're an amazing kid, and anybody who can't see that is an idiot. You're doing great in school, by the way. You're brilliant."
"I hate Math, though." she added sheepishly.
His smile grew as he chuckled, "Join the club."
"Tell ya what," he said, jumping from his seat, "You've been working hard. Why don't I take you out on the town tonight?"
"You mean it?" she asked.
"Sure! You haven't even been outside this apartment except to go to school. You deserve a reward. Go get your sweatshirt. Be ready to go in five." Immediately, Olivia jumped up and ran off into her bedroom with an energy he had never seen in her. Maybe he was finally getting through to her. Perhaps she was finally starting to open up. He threw on his jacket over his black t-shirt, clipping on the belt and quiver. He put on his gloves and pulled the mask down over his head. Just then, Olivia ran back out into the living room, zipping up her gray hoody with the rarest of things, a smile, on her face. "Ready?" he asked. She nodded excitedly. "Alright, then! Climb on!" He took off his quiver and knelt down so that she could climb up on his back. He let out the straps and clipped the quiver back across his chest, her arms clamped tightly around his neck and her legs wrapped around his torso. "Hang on tight." the archer warned before running straight through her bedroom and diving straight out the window.
She howled against the win, laughing uncontrollably as they shot straight down towards the ground, concrete flying by as they fell. As if he were experiencing it for the first time, Longshot's lips came apart and he let out a raucous laugh in harmony with the girl. As they approached the lower rooftops, he fanned out his body, catching as much wind resistance as possible. He immediately spun in the air and shot his grapple back up to the top of the apartment complex. The line went taught and they swung parallel to the building. The archer ran along the wall, keeping momentum in their swing until it reached its zenith, immediately retracting the line and flipping through the air only to land safely with rooftop gravel beneath his feet. He had to adjust his movements to the extra weight, and avoid particularly complex displays for her safety, but none of that bothered her. He ran to the edge of the rooftop and vaulted effortlessly to the next, her laughter drowning out the noise of the world. It was all he needed to hear.
Some time later, the archer dropped silently onto a rooftop overlooking a parking complex not far from the United Nations building. "Now, Olivia, we're about to meet a very special friend of mine. He was the one who helped me turn my life around. I think you two'll get along." said the archer, jumping down onto the top level of the parking lot.
Upon landing, he loosened his quiver and let her drop to the ground beside him. They walked up to a small black car with four men standing around the back bumper. The three lumbering men, obviously bodyguards, glanced at them and each took on a defensive stance. "Easy, gentlemen!" said the fourth man, invisible behind the shoulder-to-shoulder wall they had created, "They are friends. Go take a smoke break, or whatever it's called in America." The three men obeyed and shuffled off, revealing the friendly face of a man in his mid-thirties, adorned in a straw hat and bifocal sunglasses, wearing fairly casual garb for a man of his stature. "Akube!" Longshot called out joyfully, opening his arms to his friend.
"Good to see you, Paxton!" Akube laughed, embracing his student. "Sorry about them." he grumbled, "They were assigned to protect me while I was here. I kept telling their people I had a perfectly good bodyguard, but they insisted."
"At any rate, it's good to see you again." he said, turning and gesturing to the girl beside him, "Akube Mahatu, meet Olivia Markopolos."
"Ah, so this is the girl you've told me so much about." said Akube with a smile, kneeling down and offering her his hand, "Hello there, Olivia. Is my student taking good care of you?"
"Student?" Olivia asked, "He's your teacher?"
"The best teacher there is." Longshot replied, "He made me everything I am."
"Now, now, I made nothing. I only summoned what was within you all along." he answered, turning back to Olivia, "About a year ago, our friend in red came to me asking for help, asking that I teach him how to be a good man. And by that simple act, he had already succeeded in becoming a good man. Change does not simply happen to you, Olivia. You have to make it happen. You have to wish to become a better person in order for your life to improve. Do you understand?"
"Yeah..." Olivia replied, "I understand."
"Good." Akube said with a grin, "I would hate to see you waste your potential, Olivia. I look at you and I see great things to come."
"You mean that?" Olivia asked.
"Trust me," said Akube, glancing up fondly at his former apprentice, "I know what great potential looks like." he turned back to Olivia and whispered with the same friendliness, yet a somehow sterner inflection, "It would be a tragedy to throw your life away in the pursuit of destruction. Nothing good can come of fighting."
The pool cue splintered upon a man's face and he went staggering back into the arms of his friends. Longshot dropped the fractured cue to the floor. Enemies surrounded him on all sides. Some wielded their pool cues, some, their empty bottles, and others simply cracked their knuckles in anticipation of the fight to come. Heavy rock music was blaring in the archer's ears as he assessed the threats. One dared approach him from behind before the others and he screamed as his knee buckled under a swift kick, the wrong way. Another was punched in the ribs and hurled out the window, another's head met unceremoniously with the glass lid of the jukebox, the music sputtering into silence, and they finally learned their lesson. The rest stood shoulder-to-shoulder in silence, still as the grave. The only sound in the bar was the writhing of their beaten friends and Longshot's erratic, enraged breaths. "Olivia Markopolos!" he bellowed, "Who's gonna talk about Olivia Markopolos?!"
The crowd was silent.
"The tournament." said the archer, scanning every guilty face who hadn't the courage to look him in the eye, "I know that bets were taken here the night before. There was a girl, THIS girl..." he said, raising a photo of Olivia for all to see., "Somebody told her to come. Somebody wanted her to enter, and die. I want to know who. WHO DID THIS?!"
"We dunno." said a stout man with thinning hair called out, "An' whatta we care somebody killed your broad in the fight? Not our problem, pal." Longshot stepped forward, glaring down at the man as he gestured towards the archer, "Go change outta that stupid-ass costume and we'll talk, howsabout that?" Without warning, Longshot took hold of the man's open palm and twisted it a few times around before picking him up by the throat and slamming him into the pool table. The man looked up to see a pair of arrowheads placed between Longshot's fingers, the cold steel aimed at his face.
"What. Do. You. Know?" Longshot asked, everything about his tone conveying it as a demand rather than a question.
"I... I ain't tellin' you... nothin'." the man replied, wheezing for air, "I got no reason to talk. You ain't the type that kills."
"Try me." Longshot said coldly.
Police sirens began to howl in the distance. He was the only one who could hear them yet, and he stabbed an arrow straight into the felt table top right alongside the man's head, immediately flinging him out the window. He then jumped out himself and fled into the night.
The man's eyes fluttered open and he began to hear the roaring of the city streets far below. He dangled vicariously be the collar of his shirt, clutched firmly in the one outstretched hand of Longshot. The icy night wind bit at his cheek, whistling in the same haunting way as the archer's voice, "Talk."
"You're... you're crazy, man! F*ckin' crazyyYYYAAAAAAGGGHH!" the man began to scream as the archer shook him around, gradually loosening his grip.
"You don't care if you live, do you?" asked Longshot.
"Please, man! I don't wanna... oh god! It was just for money, man! Somebody paid me to find her, tell her about the fight! Ya gotta understand, man, it wasn't personal! It was just money!"
"It was all personal to me. Who paid you?"
"Didn't gimme his name!" the man answered.
"What did he look like?" Longshot asked.
"I dunno, b-black hair, tall... IRISHMAN! He was an Irishman!"
"Oh my god..." Longshot whispered, eyes bloodshot at the mere thought of it. He hurled the man back against an air duct on the roof. He gasped frantically, thanking every deity he could imagine for making it out alive. He looked back up only to see that the archer was gone.
All of the pub's patrons were uncomfortably relegated to the booths at the edges of the room, making half-hearted glances at the man who had forced them there. He slammed his empty shot glass into the bar and growled to the bartender, "Another one." The man stammered, frozen in place. "I SAID ANOTHER, YA WORTHLESS DREG!" The bartender quickly grabbed the bottle and poured it out with a trembling hand. The man quickly knocked back the shot and wiped his lip and slumped over the bar. Suddenly, even the little sound that filled the bar went dead. "Why's it so bloody quiet?" he asked, glancing up. When he looked into the mirror on the back wall, Cain O'Panell not only saw his grizzled, unshaven face, but the sheer gray visage of Longshot. "Oh, sh*t!" he exclaimed, reaching into his jacket and drawing his gun. As he spun around in his seat, the archer caught his elbow and slammed his head straight into the bar.
"Ah! Oh, ho ho! I'm gonna feel that one in the mornin'!" Cain laughed, rising back up and rubbing his forehead. He turned to face Longshot. The hunter certainly didn't look happy, but then again, Cain could never recall a time when he did. "So, what might be yer grievance this time, Robin Hood? Did I run over some little girls kitty cat on the way over here? Come to rough me up and call it a day's work, eh boyscout?" Longshot lunged straight up to Cain, taking him by the lapels of his jacket and forcing his back to the bar. "So then it's personal, I take it." he groaned.
"I know what you did, Cain." Longshot snarled.
"I've got a wrap sheet longer 'n yer girlfriend's d*ck, sheriff. Ye'll have to narrow it down." the Irishman slurred.
The archer brought his face closer to Cain's and said at a raspy growl, "Olivia Markopolos." Cain was silent, simply staring into the red glass eye of his interrogator. "Heh..." he spurted out, "Ha... ha ha... ha ha HA HA HA HA HA!" he broke into an uproar, finally snapping at the archer, "Am I supposed to know who that is? Am I supposed to fall on my goddamn knees and beg for mercy 'cause you decided to accuse me?"
"I know that you did it, Cain. Why?"
"Did what?! I can't confess to somethin' 'til you tell me what the charge is."
"Olivia Markopolos. I want to know how you found out about her, how you tracked her down, and why you killed her in the tournament."
"What, you mean that fight club they were puttin' up in the old meat packin' place? I heard 'bout that through the vine, but I din't have sh*t to do with it. You wanna find yer man, look elsewhere."
"Your hired man gave me your description."
"He described half 'a Boston, moron! Do you got any proof I was there? Anything at all outside 'a heresay from some halfwit who'd tell ya whatever ya wanted to hear with an arrow in his ass?"
Longshot was silent.
"Fly away, little bird." Cain chuckled, "Ya got no business here."
Longshot flung the Irishman to the floor and left him laughing, slamming the door behind him.
The archer returned to his Boston safehouse, flinging down his quiver and stripping off his mask. He glared up at the cork board littered with papers and photographs pinned down, various pieces of red thread leading back to the center, a photo of Olivia. He glanced at the top right corner where a picture of Cain was placed. He could practically feel the lead going cold. He examined the countless pieces of information, the chaotic cloud of potential leads and false answers, the torrent of uncertainty swirling around Olivia. It was mocking him.
Longshot rubbed the bags under his eyes and fell back on a mat on the floor. He had to clear his head, he had to sleep.
"Paxton!" Olivia screamed. Before she could call his name again, Longshot came barging into her room. The light shining in from the living room revealed that her eyes were still closed. She was still asleep, even though she was sitting up in bed. He knelt down at her bedside and grabbed her by the shoulders. "Olivia! he called out, trying to calm her down, "Olivia!"
The girl's screaming stopped and her eyes began to open.
"You were having a bad dream." he explained, "It's okay... it's over now."
"It's over..." Olivia sighed, "You're here."
"That's right, Olivia." Longshot replied, "I'm not going anywhere. I'll be in the other room." He stood up and went for the door.
"Wait..." Olivia called out, almost ashamed to hear herself say it, "Don't... don't leave me alone tonight."
"Alright." Paxton replied warmly. He crawled down alongside her, staying above the covers as he put his arm around her.
At a near whisper, Paxton sang in her ear,
"Goodnight, my angel
Time to close your eyes
And save these questions for another day
I think I know what you've been asking me
I think you know what I've been trying to say."
"What is that?" Olivia asked.
"Something my mother used to sing to me." Paxton answered
"You knew your mom?"
"No... some nights, she would wander into the room that was supposed to be mine, sit by the crib I was meant to sleep in, and she would sing as if I were still there. Sometimes, I'd sit outside in the tree and listen. Did you want me to stop?"
"No..." Olivia whispered, and so, Paxton continued to sing.
"I promised I would never leave you
And you should always know
Wherever you may go
No matter where you are
I never will be far away
Goodnight, my angel
Now it's time to sleep
And still so many things I want to say
Remember all the songs you sang for me
When we went sailing on an emerald bay
And like a boat out on the ocean
I'm rocking you to sleep
The water's dark
And deep inside this ancient heart
You'll always be a part of me..."