By .Longshot. 12 Comments
Dull gray light spilled in through the window, landing on every surface. As the day grew brighter, the shadows grew darker. Longshot lay motionless in his bed, wrapped in twisted sheets. His mask was clenched tightly in his fist, despite the fact that he was fast asleep. This was the longest he'd slept in years, perhaps in his entire life. Obligation kept him out of bed, and nightmares chased him out of sleep. Today, however, he slept peacefully, without stirring or waking. This was a rest he did not deserve.
Finally, the archer's eyes drifted open, met with the red glare of his own eye, the pale gray of his true face. For a moment, he simply lay there, the cold Alaskan air penetrating the stone walls of the Beacon and embracing his skin, his scars, old and new. His chest and arms were wrapped in bandages, as were his face, legs, and fingers. A bitter, coppery stench filled the air. He must have rolled over in the night. His shoulder was bleeding again.
He forced himself up and put his feet to the cold floor. The second he put any weight on his right leg, he stumbled forward and had to steady himself on the dresser. He drew in slow, labored breaths and rose up, stepping lightly to the door, and into the hallway. He went up to the lounge and fell into one of the soft chairs beneath the glass pyramid. It had become too hard to stand. Recovery was slow. It was the only time in his life where he could ever allow himself to truly rest. He ignored the aches and the pains and the rumbling in his stomach and simply glared up at the cold, gray sky, becoming lost in its tranquil solemnity.
The peaceful silence came crashing down at the toll of his communicator. He answered and was met with the voice of one of his few confidants, one of his only friends. "Hey, Longshot." said Melissa over the line. Her voice had lost its usual levity in recent days. She couldn't joke or call him nicknames. Not now. Not after what happened in Boston. "Just calling to see how you're holding up."
"I'm doing fine, Melissa." he sighed.
"You said that at the funeral. You're not fine. Talk to me, please."
"There's nothing to talk about." Longshot replied, "I have the deaths of a hundred and forty-six people on my conscience. I know how to deal with grief. I can cope."
"I don't want you to cope, Paxton!" Melissa exclaimed, authority building in her voice, "I don't want you to deal, I don't want you to get by. I want... I want you to be okay. You've given too much to the world to fall apart like this because you're too proud to ask for a hand. Please... let me help you."
"I couldn't save Olivia..." Longshot whispered, sinking deeper into his chair, deeper into shadow, "I'm just as responsible as Cain."
"No!" Melissa cut in, "The second you start blaming yourself, there's no coming back from it."
"I know." the archer whispered. He could hear her announce that she was coming to the Beacon just as he switched off his communicator and typed a code into his teleporter console that blocked her from using the teleportation network. He rose up and limped to the elevator.
The door at the base of the Beacon opened slowly and Longshot staggered out into the deep snow, zipping up his red jacket and clipping the straps of his quiver across his chest. He took up his bow and aimed for a tree standing a few rows back in the forest. There was a scar in the bark in the shape of a target. He let slip his arrow and it struck right on the bullseye, wedging into a notch carved by dozens of arrows before it. Easy. He could do it with his eyes closed. Still, he kept shooting. He didn't know why, he couldn't even count the shots, but the world seemed to blur as he emptied his quiver. Memories fell away and the pain began to dull. Suddenly, an arrow flew past its target, missing the tree by a wide margin, and Longshot froze in his place. He drew another arrow and shot. It hit the tree, eleven inches outside the target. He put another arrow to the string and pulled back with the same mechanical process he had gone through a million times before. His eye narrowed as he stared down the length of the shaft, zeroing in on his target. It had to fly true. This was the only thing left in the world that he could be certain of, that he never missed. It had to fly true. It just had to. He held his breath and... the arrow flew deep into the forest, missing the tree entirely.
A cold plume of mist billowed from Longshot's lips as he lowered his bow, holding it down at his side. He covered his face in his hand, clearing his head before he trudged forward to retrieve his arrows. As he lowered his hand, he caught a glimpse of something in his peripheral vision. He looked and saw a girl standing in the white of winter, eyes as black as coal. Her clothes were a grim shade, a hood casting treacherous shadows across her face. Still, the archer could make out strands of black hair swaying in the frozen wind. He couldn't smell her. He couldn't hear her, not her heartbeat, not the wind breaking around her, not even the blinking of her eyes. A question formed on his lips just as the girl broke into a run, vanishing into the forest. Not even her footfalls made a sound in the fresh snow.
"Wait!" he cried out, racing after her. There was no way he could keep up with her in his condition, even if the path was clear of snow. Still, he managed to stay on her trail until he reached a clearing, surrounded on all sides by proud evergreens frosted by unending winter. There she stood, on the very edge of the clearing., silent as before. "Who... who are you?" he dared.
Slowly, the girl reached up and pulled the hood down around her shoulders. Longshot could feel icy fingers squeeze around his heart at the sight of her. He struggled through the almost knee deep snow towards her, reaching out as if to catch smoke. He fell at her feet, begging at a whisper as he choked back tears, "Please... please, don't leave me." He reached out desperately to touch her, to feel something real, but his hand passed only through cold, empty air. "DON'T LEAVE ME!" he cried into the desolate woods. He looked up to see that no one was there.
Longshot closed his eyes.
He could feel the searing heat slithering in through the window, all the smells and sounds of New York in the summer accompanying it. He opened his eyes to find himself sitting on the couch of the old apartment, the place where he had raised Olivia for nearly three years. He heard tiny little pellets rattling inside a bowl, he smelled processed sugar and milk. Over the cereal, he heard something else, something that had brought a steadiness and peace to his world, something he had been without for a long time. A heartbeat. A strong heartbeat. Olivia's heartbeat. The archer glared over his shoulder to see if it was true. There she was, twelve years old, shoulder-length raven hair tangled and askew, dark rings around her eyes, wreaking of starched bed sheets and cheap toothpaste. He practically leaped over the couch to get to her. "Olivia?" he whispered in astonishment.
"Yeah?" she replied awkwardly, shoving a spoonful of cereal in her mouth.
"Is it... is it really you?" he asked.
"Who else could it be?" she shrugged, "Besides, I thought you could identify smells and heartbeats like a fingerprint. You shouldn't need to ask."
"No..." he sighed in bewilderment, leaning against the refrigerator, "No, I guess I shouldn't."
The archer drew in a long, slow breath and walked up behind Olivia. "Hey." he whispered. She spun around on the stool and looked up at him with a quizzical look. He simply put his arms around her and murmurred, "I love you, Olivia. And I missed you... so much."
"Um... are you okay?" she asked, obviously uncomfortable.
He backed away. "I'm fine." he answered, "Go get ready for school." She hopped down, put her bowl in the sink, and went into her bed room. Longshot leaned against the island counter. There was a splash of milk on the counter. She always did spill a little bit. He heard the door open around the corner. A heavy boot struck the hardwood floor. There was a hiss of tired old hinges and the door clicked shut in tandem with another thundering step. A dark figure passed into his field of vision, a large man clad in body armor, strapped from head to toe in weapons, with a black mask drawn across his face, a white skull printed over the front. He needed no introduction. Longshot already knew who it was. "What are you doing here?!" the archer bellowed, but the intruder paid no attention to him, as if he weren't even there. He simply kept walking at an even pace, eyes locked on his destination, Olivia's bedroom. Longshot jumped over the kitchen counter and snatched his bow before his feet hit the floor on the other side. He swung the bow, aimed straight for the intruder's jaw, but it passed right through.
Longshot paused for a moment, dumbstruck, and attacked again with the same effect. Finally, the man in black simply passed through him and took hold of the doorknob, flinging open the door and walking inside. Before Longshot could follow after him, the door slammed shut of its own will. He hardly noticed, but the light of the room had faded from a morning glow to a chilling aura of red. His eyes went bloodshot as he heard her scream, "PAXTON!"
Before she could even finish calling his name, he was at the door. Locked. Without thinking, he punched through the door and opened it from the inside. "Get away from her!" he cried, but it was too late. The man in black climbed out the window, and he dragged Olivia by the ankle behind him. Something was different about her. She looked to be about fifteen years old, and she was no longer dressed in sweatpants and a t-shirt. She wore a gray hoodie, jeans, fingerless gloves, and black work boots. She screamed as the hand around her ankle dragged her further out of her room. Her body now dangled halfway out the window. Longshot wanted to spring forward and save her, but when he looked down, he saw that his feet were stapled to the floor. He could hear her screams. She was all the way out the window, only hanging on by a tenuous grip on the windowsill. With a wince of pain, he ripped his feet up around the nails and dove for the window, taking her by the hand just before she fell. By now, the whole world was bathed in ominous red.
Olivia stared up at him, face frozen in fear and desperation. She had never needed him before, or at least, never admitted to it or asked for his help, but the dread in her eyes said it all, and Longshot knew that he couldn't fail.
The girl grew heavier in his hand. He couldn't reach down with his other hand, or they would both fall. He kept pulling, and her fingers dug into his arm so hard that blood flowed down the length of her hand. Finally, there was one last, harsh tug and she slipped. He cried out, but she was already falling. The ground was not made of unforgiving asphalt and concrete. Instead, the building grew tremendously higher and the ground far, far below consisted of crowds of people, faces stained in blood, reaching up and clambering for their newest sacrifice. He could recognize every one of them. These were the faces he saw every time he closed his eyes. These hordes were the people he murdered.
Now, Olivia fell down, into their bloody masses, and all he could do was watch from his high perch, helpless, as they looked up at him, as they begged and screamed. One last time, he cried, "OLIVIA!"
The archer shot up in bed, beads of sweat slithering down his face. He panted and stared into the darkness until he could bring himself to fall back in bed, only to toss and turn and hear the echoes of the nightmare in his mind. He couldn't save them. He couldn't save her.
"Paxton..." whispered a voice in his ear. He knew the voice. It had once been a comfort in his life, but now, it was only the sign of a nightmare. "It's time to wake up."
The bowman dared open his eyes and saw Olivia sitting across from him in the living room of the apartment, snow building up around the skylight. "What do you mean?" he asked, scratching the back of his neck.
"You need to wake up and move on." Olivia answered.
"What?" the archer got up from his seat and knelt beside her, resting his hands on her shoulders, "What do I have to wake up to? You're here."
"No, Paxton." she said sternly, "I'm gone."
"That... no, that... it was just a nightmare."
"Life can be a nightmare sometimes, Paxton. But you have to wake up and face it. If you get knocked down, you dust yourself off and get back up. If you get scared, you put on a brave face and get through it." She smiled faintly, "A great man taught me that."
Longshot held Olivia close and whispered to her, "I can't lose you again."
She answered in kind, "You won't." He could feel her fading away, the world growing darker around him, but just before she went, she left him with these words, "Thanks for saving me."
"Time to wake up."
"Just wake up."
His eyes opened and a blur above his head slowly sharpened into the face of Melissa Hannigan. "You thought I couldn't figure out the override code on the teleporter?" she posed, "I'm gonna pull you out of this, whether you want my help or not. Now, are you ready to get up?"
Paxton wiped his tired eyes as he answered, "Yeah... I think I am." He threw off the covers and slowly eased himself out of bed. Melissa put his arm over her shoulder to help him walk to the elevator. It was bound to be a beautiful day.