Stephanie slowed her pace but didn’t stop completely. Peter caught up with her and a fierce wind blasted their faces as they left the warm cocoon of the college. They walked together in silence. Peter was struggling to find the right words. It was as if a great barrier had been erected, preventing him from releasing his feelings. He often felt cut off from the world because he couldn’t express himself even though he desired to, and it only made him feel worse that he had great difficulty in sharing his innermost feelings with his closest friend. Stephanie was stubborn and she had grown tired of Peter’s attitude, but it was she who eventually spoke first.
“I, uh…” Peter found himself trailing off. Stephanie sighed, exasperated and rounded on him.
“Uh, uh, uh. You wanted to talk to me, so talk.” She waited expectantly but still but still he couldn’t force the words out. She rolled her eyes.
“You know what, I know we’ve never actually said it, but we’re best friends. But the way you’ve been acting recently I don’t even know you anymore. The only times I seem to see you are when you need help and I’m not going to be your lackey. I knew this would happen. I knew you’d change but I thought you’d care about your life, not just Felicio. I mean we’ve got to finish our uni applications soon, if you even want to go to uni. Have you given it any thought?” Peter looked away. “I want to be there for you and I want to help you but you make it so damn hard. I don’t have the energy to be there for you if you’re going to keep pulling away.” Her plaintive voice struck a chord with him and just as she turned away for the last time he finally broke through the shell.
“I…I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to push you away. There’s a lot going on right now and I’m sorry if I’ve been a bad friend. But you don’t know what it’s like to be Felicio. I’m not perfect and it’s not like everything’s gone the way I would have planned but when I wear that suit I can make a difference. I matter in a way that I never can as Peter. When I’m Felicio I feel like I’m actually a part of the world, I can help people I can contribute. But as Peter I’m just a nobody. I have thought about uni but I can’t think of anything I want to study. I can’t think of anything I want to do except, well except this,” as she spoke he held up his hand and unsheathed his claws. Stephanie felt goosebumps swarm over her body, she wasn’t sure whether she would ever get used to seeing him do that.
“Pete, you do matter,” she said with pity in her eyes, “you’re a smart guy, you’re kind, funny, you can do anything you want all you have to do is give yourself a break and have some faith in yourself.”
“The only time I feel truly alive is when I’m Felicio. When I look to the future I don’t see myself with a family and a car and a job. So far anything that happened in life just happened and I was okay with it because it didn’t really matter to me. But when I’m Felicio…for the first time in my life I feel like I can be more than I am.”
Stephanie couldn’t quite understand his attitude, and she was deeply worried that he would become so distracted by Felicio that he wouldn’t take the proper steps to ensure he had a good life as Peter. Too many souls were lost through the cracks of life and she feared he would become one. However, for the first time since they had met she felt him speak with a real earnestness, and for once the walls that protected his fragile insecurities were absent. She appreciated the effort it took for him to open up but there was really nothing she could do except give him a supportive hug. The embrace lingered and Peter was glad for the rare warmth of another person.
“No matter whether you’re Felicio or Peter you’re very important to me,” she whispered and kissed him gently on the cheek. It was an unexpected act and one which was entirely on the spur of the moment. However, affection from the fairer sex had been sparse in his life so he wondered whether it was a purely platonic gesture or whether there were romantic undertones. He was confused, but they were both glad they had left things on a positive note.
He went back into the building and decided he’d try to integrate himself into the social mass. In the centre of the college there was an opening with a gravel path, a fountain and shrubbery. In the summer it was a wonderful site but in the winter it was devoid of any life or joy. Around this opening were four cloisters. They were supposed to be study areas but people used them to cluster in their groups. There were always loud, busy places that Peter normally avoided.
As he walked through the wide opening his head instantly began to ache. He felt a pressure on his chest and his breathing became heavier, so he sat down away from everyone else and observed the crowd. Spanning a few tables there were the pale-skinned group, clad in black and revelling in the vampiric ideal. They clung to the darkness of life, lifting it up and idealising it as the only true meaning. Their backs were turned to the group near them, the scrubby ones for whom life was nothing outside of indulging their base desires. They had no imagination and no drive to better themselves. Their harsh, common accents sliced through the air as a stream of vulgar obscenities and Peter wondered how they could be happy living in muck. They had no personal boundaries and any personal drama was ripe for discussion.
Then there were the ones Peter envied the most. The ‘normal’ people. The boys and girls who had figured out how to exist, or perhaps they had not even realised there was a problem so they carried on in blissful ignorance. Clean clothes, smart haircuts and winning smiles were their group’s cornerstones, along with an alluring beauty all of their own. But it was a beauty which was so close to ugliness, filled with a confidence that bordered on arrogance and smugness, but it was deserved because life would always be kind to them. It was a group of assuredness and stature to which Peter knew he could never belong.
He looked at them all and was jealous. Despite their differences they had a lot in common; each member of the group had a link with each other, a strong bond which went beyond friendship. Their cliques were a measure of their identity and they belonged to each other as much as to themselves. Individuality was moulded from a shared template and Peter was separate from all of them, inhabiting a world of his own. He wondered what they saw when they looked at him, whether they judged him or was he simply another wandering soul? He began to pick at the skin surrounding his thumbnail, and before he realised it he had torn off a piece and blood had quickly spread to the surface.
Deciding he’d need Emma’s help he left the rampant chattering and laughter. Entering the social stratum was a daunting thought so it was a relief when he changed into his costume and became Felicio. Sprinting through the park he began laughing with glee, adrenalin was surging through his body and the freedom he felt was uplifting. The park was shrouded in darkness so it was easy to stay hidden. Once he left he ascended a building and ran along rooftops, staying out of sight of the public. If any wild glances had spied a shadowy figure they may have stared harder, but Felicio was so quick any onlooker would have immediately dismissed him as a trick of their eyes.
Despite it being early evening the streets were deserted. As he looked across from the rooftop he saw that the broken window still hadn’t been replaced. He’d returned to this place a few times since his defeat, waiting for Ash to return but so far the police had evidently done a good job of keeping him locked up. Still, that basement bar was a hive of villainy and scum and Felicio knew Ash wasn’t the only maggot in there. Unable to resist the temptation, he leapt down and descended the stairs. The door slowly opened and one by one they turned their heads around, looking on the masked avenger with scorn.
“Back for more?” One of them spat out.
“Yeah, I’ll be outside if any of you are man enough to take me on.”
He wasn’t about to make the same mistake as last time. He left and walked back outside, waiting in the middle of the road. The crowd in the bar was sparser than the previous time but there was no shortage of willing gladiators. In turn they finished their drink and grinned sadistically, looking forward to beating down the man who had caused their champion to be taken away. One by one they crawled out of the bar, like cockroaches from a pit, and they encircled Felicio. The tension was palpable, Felicio could hear fists clenching and the grinding of eager teeth but he was the picture of composure. He was determined not to have a repeat of last time.
“Shall we begin?” he said, beckoning for them to attack. They waited a second, then they all poured into him, roaring and drooling like savages. With nimble feet Felicio flung himself into the air and flipped over backwards, landing behind the onrushing attackers with his legs outstretched on the cold concrete. Raising his head, the intrepid adventurer barrelled into the back of them, forcefully crushing the backs of their knees, and wearing a satisfied smile when the crumpled to the ground with yelps of pain.
Out in the open he held the advantage, unlike their last meeting when he was cooped up in the small basement. His razor sharp senses enabled him to dodge their moves and their arrogance was soon proved to be unfounded. Using their momentum, Felicio sprang from one to the other, dealing out swift blows which cracked bone and stunned them into a daze. Felicio moved so fast that they were falling all around him and soon enough the strong and fearless crowd were reduced to a few trembling stragglers. Felicio bore down on them with no remorse in his heart, and two of them were foolish enough to attack. He dispatched them easily enough, sending them to lie on the floor with their comrades. The one that was left was a small, balding man with bad teeth and hunched shoulders. Felicio grabbed him by the scruff of his raggedy collar and drew his fist back. Then he heard the patter of liquid fall from the man’s trousers. Felicio pushed him away in disgust and watched him crawl back to the basement.
“When Ash comes back tell him Felicio will be waiting,” Felicio called out after him. He knew Ash would get the message. He looked over the twitching bodies lying in the street and admired his handiwork. Then he noticed, in the shadows, a few onlookers had gathered. They emerged from the darkness, mouths gaping in awe. A few of them had their phones out and were recording him.
“Uhh, hey, I’m Felicio,” he said, then he looked again at the bodies and realised that people may get the wrong impression, “they started it,” he added. Then with great agility he made his way onto the rooftops again and continued his nightly prowl.
“Now why can’t talking to people be that easy?” he wondered.