Number 48 – Childhood

"I am bored," she announced, eyes fixed on the ceiling. The girl lay flat on her back, staring up at the ceiling, kicking her legs. She began to tap her fingers on her stomach, wondering what she could do to entertain herself. There were books in her room, but she had read them all. There were the exercises Mr Taint wanted her to do, both physical and mental, but she didn't really feel like doing any of them.

With a loud sigh, like it was taking all the effort in the world, she sat up. The walls were grey brick, her bookshelf up against one of them. The bed was bigger than her, and sort of comfortable if she was in the right position. It sat up against the opposite wall to the bookshelf, with a chest of drawers against the back wall.

She got to her feet and crossed to the bars, wrapping her hands around them and pushing her face between them. Her eyes locked onto the guard at the other end.

"Hey! Hey, mister!" she called, watching as he turned and began walking towards her. Like all the others, he was dressed head to toe in black, with the Amaris signal on his chest. He pressed a button on his helmet, and the visor shot upwards. She grinned.

"Yeah, kid?"

"I'm bored," she said.

"What do you expect me to do?"

The grin widened. "Play with me?"

He rolled his eyes. "Can't do that, kid. Didn't Taint leave you anything to do?"

She pursed her lips, rolling her eyes upwards. "Err..nope!"

The guard stepped back, running a hand through his short, spiked hair. He glanced up and down. Despite the fact that she was in a row of cages, hers was the only one currently occupied. She was the only one he was guarding.

"What were you thinking?" he asked, turning his attention back to her. "We can't exactly run around or play hide and seek…"

The girl flashed him a wide grin, before turning and skipping towards the bed. She fell to her knees and reached under, pulling out a small cardboard box. From inside, she pulled out a few dolls. Twisting her upper body around, she held them towards the man.

"Dolls?"

He frowned, tilting his head. "Dolls?"

She returned to the box, pulling out a large, plastic dinosaur. "You can be the dinosaur that threatens them all!" she announced.

Unable to help himself, he smiled. Reaching into his pocket, the guard pulled out his keys. "Stay there while I unlock the door, okay?"

"Okay!"

He kept his eye on her as he slid the key in and turned it. The guard pushed the door only partway open, shutting it quickly once he was in the cell. The girl didn't move. He locked it, moved forward, and sat on the floor.

"What's your name, kid?"

"Taint said I'm called…" She paused, frowning. "He said…oh! Karla!"

"Karla. It's a pretty name."

"Thanks! What's your name, mister?" She handed him the dinosaur. He took it, feeling the weight in his hand and smiling to himself. He thought of his kid brother, who had loved dinosaurs and everything to do with them, who would watch anything as long as it had one in it. His brother who, after the blast, could shoot fire from his hands and had been taken by the company he now worked for.

"Kai."

"Kai. Okay, Kai, you're Mister Dinosaur. You can give him a different name if you want."

"How about…Karla-saurous?"

Karla giggled. "Yay!" She introduced him to the dolls, holding them up one by one as she told him their names. Kai put his serious face on, the kind he used when anyone higher than him was addressing him. Once Karla was done, she quizzed him on their names. He answered them easily, and she seemed pleased. They began to play, Karla moving the dolls back and forth, making them speak to each other and giving them different voices.

Kai wondered who her parents were. Had they survived? Had they given over their little girl willingly, or had she been taken straight from them?

There was very little people wouldn't do for survival. Including him.

Kai picked up the dinosaur. "Roar! I'm Karla-saurous, and I'm here to destroy you all!"

Karla giggled.

They played for a while, until Karla started yawning. He had been told nothing about the girl, nothing about why she was there or why he was guarding her. He supposed it was probably against the rules to be playing with her, to be indulging her. But the smile on her face was worth it.

"You're tired," he said.

"Am not!"

"You're yawning, Karla."

Once, a long time ago, he'd almost had a family. Almost.

"Am not tired."

"Want me to read you a story?"

Her eyes widened, her grin stretched and she nodded eagerly. "Yeah!" Karla spun around on her knees, reaching for the books on the bookshelf. Her hand hovered over them, before she pulled out a slim volume of fairy tales. "This one." She handed it to him, scrambled up and climbed into the bed.

"Which story?"

"The one about the princess in the tower. And the prince that comes to rescue her."

There wasn't a chair in the room, so Kai scooted closer to the bed and crossed his legs, clearing his throat before opening the book. "Karla?"

"Yeah?"

"You're infected, right?"

She nodded. "Uh huh. Mr Taint says I'm special. He says they are trying to cure the infection but he thinks I don't need a cure and I can go great, amazing things." Her grin grew. "Like those people in the comics!"

"The superheroes?"

"Yeah! I'm going to be a superhero."

"What can you do, Karla?"

"I can run really, really fast. Mr Taint says I'm like The Flash."

Kai chuckled, glancing at the bookshelf. Sure enough, on the bottom shelf, there was a row of comic books and graphic novels. Taint was perhaps the lesser of all evils contained in Amaris. Whenever Kai was on his shift, if Taint visited the girl, he seemed like he did really care for her.

"Do you think there are superheroes out there, Kai?"

He didn't answer. He knew there was at least one, and she was giving hope to those fighting in the Resistance. But he knew, sooner or later, Amaris would get her. They got them all.

"I don't know, Karla. Hey, if you can run fast, why didn't you escape when I opened the door?"

"Because, silly, then you'd be in trouble. I have to be recused."

He turned his head slowly to look at her. She was still smiling, turned on her side so she could see him.

"You going to read me a story, Kai?"

He chuckled. "Sure, kid." He turned his attention to the pages in his hand. "Once upon a time, there was a fair maiden called Rapunzel."

X X X

It was another two weeks before he was on duty in Karla's cellblock. As the previous guard gathered his stuff, ready to go home, Mr Taint showed up. Taint wasn't young; he was in his late fifties, and the way he treated Karla made Kai wonder if he had perhaps had a family before the blasts.

"Kai, isn't he?" Taint asked, smiling at Kai, though it didn't quite reach his eyes. His hands were trembling, but he held one out to Kai all the same.

Kai took it, shaking the man's hand firmly. "What can I do for you, sir?"

"She has taken quite a liking to you, young man."

Kai felt himself blush. "I just played with her when she was bored."

"Dolls, wasn't it?"

Kai grinned. "Yes, sir."

"You ever have children, Kai?"

He shook his head. "No, sir. Had a fiancée, before…"

Taint slowly nodded his head. "Then you have never had the joy." His smile grew, and this time it really did reach his eyes. "She is special, Kai. Not just because of the…the…" He licked his lips. "The infection, as we call it. She is innocent. You understand?"

"Yes, sir."

Taint sighed. "I am not sure you do. I have managed to keep her away from the soldier and testing programs currently being run by Amaris. She was…was not out in the world long enough to really understand it, or understand this place. But she seems happy, does she not?"

"Yes, sir."

The older man nodded slowly, before grasping Kai's hand in both of his. "Look after her, okay? Protect her. As much as you can."

He thought he could see something in Taint's eyes, something hidden that Kai wasn't aware of. When he next spoke, he stammered. "I will, sir."

"Good. Good." Taint bowed his head, let go of Kai's hands and left.

Kai turned, walking slowly down until he came to Karla's cell.

"Kai!" she squealed, jumping off the bed where she had been intently colouring something in. "You're back!"

"Sure am, kid. How you doing?"

"I'm good. He's given me more work to do." She pouted. "Says I have to get it done so I keep my mind and…"

She paused, as something from the other side of the Institute rocked the floor beneath them. Karla stumbled, but didn't fall, and Kai grabbed onto the bars of her cell.

"Kai?" she whispered. "What was that?"

"I don't know." He reached for the gun on his back, and pulled it out. "Stay here, okay?"

She nodded, eyes wide as she stepped back and sat on her bed. "Okay."

Kai moved slowly back towards the entrance, gun held out. From the other side of the door, he could hear footsteps. Running. A siren blaring. It wasn't loud enough to pierce far into the cells, but it scared him all the same.

He pushed the door open, to see agents running past, heading in the same direction with their guns out. They were flowing towards the main part of the Institute, and the lights bathed the hall in red.

He knew what red meant.

Intruders.

Kai backed up, slamming the door closed and moving until he was standing between the last two cells, gun out and pointed directly at the door.

Another explosion, this time closer, and Kai heard it as well as felt the shaking around him. Karla whimpered.

"It's okay, Karla," he called over his shoulder. "I'll look after you."

"Okay."

How he was going to do that…

He breathed in and out, slowly, counting every second that went by.

One…two…three…

His hand was shaking, and he tried to still it, focusing his gaze on the door. If anyone tried to hurt her…

The door flew open, something knocked into him and his gun went off, the bullet flying upwards and hitting the ceiling. Kai whirled around, aiming at the gun at the woman now standing between the cells.

Head to toe in black, almost like the Amaris agents. Almost. She lacked the symbol on her chest, and instead of a helmet, a bandana covered the top half of her face, two holes cut out for eyes. Leather clung to her legs, while a tight black hoodie was zipped up to cover her top half. She stood with her side to him, her head titled so she was facing the gun.

"You going to shoot me?" she asked, voice strangely soft in the circumstances.

His hand was shaking.

"No? Well then, what's the point in having that?"

Before he could react, the gun had been knocked from his hand. It clattered to the floor and spun away. Something – a foot, he thought – hit him right in the middle of his back. He staggered forward, and felt something on the back of his knees. He hit the ground with a thud, and heard the jingle of his keys as they were lifted from him.

Before he could say or do anything, she was at Karla's cell. She was fast, faster than any of the others he'd seen.

"Come on, kid," she said, holding her hand to the girl when the door was open.

"Kai!" the girl screamed, and suddenly she was at his side.

"Jesus, kid," he said, grinning at her. "You are fast."

The Black Cat stared at them, glancing at the door.

"It's okay, Kai," Karla whispered, inching closer to him. "I'll protect you."

"Kid," the Cat said. "We have to go." She held her hand out towards the girl. Karla shook her head.

"No."

With a sigh, the Cat ran forward. She grabbed the girl and lifted her up, only to have Karla respond by wailing.

"Bloody hell, someone would think you don't want to be rescued."

Karla's eyes widened, and she shifted herself to look at Kai.

"She's saving you, kid," he said, smiling at her. "You should go with her."

The Cat stared at him, her eyes narrowed. "I wondered why you didn't put up much of a fight."

He shrugged, got to his feet and staggered, gripping onto the nearest cell bar to keep himself up. "What happens to her, after this?"

"I find someone to look after her."

"Look after me?"

The Cat grinned. "Sure, kid."

"Good. She deserves that."

"Kai…"

The Cat glanced from one to the other, before holding her hand out to Kai. "Maybe you should come?"

"Seriously?" he scoffed. "Don't you see this on my shirt?"

"Rip it off," she replied. "The kid likes you. She'll…adjust easier with someone else on the outside."

Kai glanced at the door. Whatever the Cat had used as a distraction was working. There was no one out there.

"You sure about this?"

Karla began nodding, and the Cat laughed before putting her on the ground. The girl ran forward, wrapping her arms around Kai's legs. "I'm not going without you."

"We could always use more help."

He sighed, ruffled Karla's hair, and grinned. "All right, kid, let's go!"

"Yay!" She squealed, grabbing onto his hand. She pulled him forward and, this time, put her hand out first to the Cat. With a smile, the older girl took it and winked at the child.

"Ready for an adventure?" Kai said, squeezing Karla's hand.

"Long as you're with me!"

"We have five minutes to get the hell out of here."

Kai turned to the Cat. "And how the hell are we going to do that?"

"Karla, right?"

"Yes?"

"Follow me, okay?"

Karla nodded. "Sure!"

Before Kai could say anything more, they were running, the walls around him blurring as he travelled faster than he would ever have thought possible, carried forward by Karla and the Black Cat.

A/N: Never really written the Black Cat from someone else's POV before. Not where they actually see her, anyway. Yeah, this is another of those shorts that fits into Into the Night, Back to Hell and I Found Away, though the last is the only one in which the Black Cat appears. If you're interested, you don't have to read the first two to grasp the last. As always, hope you liked it, and feel free to leave your thoughts as a review – I return reviews, just let me know if there's something in particular you would like read.