The boy was sitting down on the lap of Mrs. Sullivan; laying his head on her chest while hugging his plush lion he named Leo in his arms. He watched and listened to Mr. Sullivan talking to a doctor in his office.
"Ninety-five percent of his body was covered with third degree burns. It's a miracle he has survived this long when the firefighter rescued him from that burning house."
"He's a fighter." Mr. Sullivan rubbed the boy's shoulder.
"Yes, he is. He responded well to the skin grafts, but I have to be completely honest with you, Mr. and Mrs. Sullivan. I have never dealt with burn injuries this severe in the twenty years I have worked in cosmetic reconstructive surgery. I'm afraid not even the top surgeons in the world can reverse this level of disfigurement. He's going to have to live the rest of his life with these scars. Mr. Sullivan, have you ever considered—?"
Mr. Sullivan sprung up from his seat and yelled, "No! I will not put this boy down like some injured animal! And you're heinous for even considering that as an opinion like the other doctors I've talked to! He's a human child!"
"Honey, you're scaring him." Mrs. Sullivan held the boy closer to her body.
"Mr. Sullivan, calm down. I wasn't going to say that. There's a new experimental treatment that is being tested on patients who meet the requirements for it. I ran tests on him and he meets all the requirements necessary to be enrolled in this clinical trial."
"So you're asking me if I want him to be used as a guinea pig for these experiments. Not a chance." Mr. Sullivan sat back down into his seat and huffed.
"Mr. Sullivan, this treatment can guarantee that…"
"This can guarantee that Ted can live a long, normal and happy life. And Ted will not be the first patient to be enrolled into this study. Here are the before and after pictures of patients who have already went through the treatment."
There was a moment of silence as Mr. Sullivan flipped through the pictures on the clipboard. "Unbelievable."
"Yes. It has a very high success rate with no negative side effects due to the strict requirements. And if you need more convincing, I have pictures of what Ted will look like after the treatment and at the age of eighteen with the use of age progression software."
Another moment of silence when the paper was passed to the Mrs. Sullivan. "Is that me?" Ted asked.
"Yes, Ted, that's you." Mrs. Sullivan smiled, pointing at the picture.
"You don't have to decide now. The clinical trial is still enrolling patients for—"
"No…we'll do it." Mr. Sullivan looked at his wife.
"Yes," Mrs. Sullivan agreed, patting Ted on his head.
The doctor smiled. "Excellent."
"I've seen the children in the orphanage ridicule him for something that wasn't his fault. They called him a freak. A monster. I don't want that to be his future," Mr. Sullivan said.
"I understand. I'll go get the paperwork." The doctor left the room.
Mr. Sullivan smiled at Ted. "He's going to break a lot of hearts."
"Yes, he will." Mrs. Sullivan kissed Ted on the head.
"Please, Ted, just one kiss."
"No, Delilah," Ted asserted.
Ted was pressed against the wall by a drunken college girl named Delilah at a house party. He was waiting for the bathroom that was being occupied by a couple who were moaning behind the door. He banged on the door with the side of his fist.
"Please," Delilah purred, touching Ted's lips with her thumb.
"Delilah, don't." Ted placed his hands on her shoulders, pushing her away.
Delilah was just one of several drunken college girls who has been flirting with him at this party. Only, she was more persistent. He tried persuading her to stop by telling her that he already had a girlfriend, but it was all a game to her. Ted was the king and she had to capture the queen that was his imaginary girlfriend, winning the game with a checkmate. However, she was not close to winning, but he didn't expect a girl like Delilah to know how to play an intelligent and strategy-based game of chess. Beer pong, maybe?
"Do you think I'm ugly?" Delilah pouted.
"No, you're not ugly, Delilah," Ted said, banging on the door again.
"Then why?" Delilah asked, brushing her lips on Ted's neck.
"Because," Ted began, moving Delilah so she could face him, "you're drunk and I don't want you to do something that you'll regret when you wake up tomorrow and puking your guts out in a toilet bowl."
Delilah smiled. "Oh, I'm definitely not going to regret this."
Delilah's lips came forward when the door to the bathroom finally opened. The couple walked out the bathroom, looking at Ted like he was going to do the same thing with Delilah. Ted slipped away from her and walked into the bathroom, closing and locking the door. He leaned against it and breathed out heavily. He stepped over a used condom and unzipped his pants, relieving himself into the toilet.
This wasn't the reason why Ted wanted to go to the house party that night. Actually, he didn't want to go to the house party at all. But his best friend, Stevie, kept insisting that they should go so they could each find a college student that was drunk enough to make out with them. He felt repulsive for thinking he could take advantage of a college guy's intoxicated state, but he was so desperate to find someone he could be close to and have that person forget it even happened the next morning. Unfortunately, he could only find drunken college girls that kept flirting with him and venture their hands at the most dangerous regions of his body. The way Stevie just stood there, sipping his drink with a hand in his pocket as Ted kept getting girls' phone numbers was disheartening. He had to escape for a while, that was when one college girl, Delilah, followed him.
Ted flushed the toilet and washed his hands in the sink. He splashed his face with water and examined himself in the mirror. He saw a few stray hairs on his forehead and he pushed them back, fixing his dark, Ivy League haircut. He turned his face from side to side, examining his features with his blue eyes. He smoothed down his soft angled eyebrows, felt the light stubble on his square jaw, and looked at the water dripping from the tip of his Greek nose. He couldn't deny why the girls were so attracted to him and stuck to him like a magnet. He dried his face with a towel and walked out the bathroom.
Outside Ted examined the party from the balcony. He saw a couple of girls leaning against the rail and smiled. They smiled back and giggled. He walked down the stairs and saw his best friend, Stevie, walking through the congested living room with people laughing behind him. Ted stepped into the living room and saw a girl who was frowning and shaking her head.
Ted walked up to her and said, "What happened to my friend?"
"Your friend said something to the girl with the huge tits and she threw her drink at him. He walked outside if you want to catch him."
Ted looked at Delilah who was laughing with the others.
Ted narrowed his eyes and turned back to the girl. "Thanks."
Ted walked through the crowd of people and stepped onto the patio. He saw Stevie sitting down on a patio chair, hunched over. He grabbed a chair and placed it next to Stevie, sitting down.
"Are you okay, Stevie?" Ted asked, rubbing his hand on Stevie's back.
Stevie shook Ted's hand away. "Leave me alone, Ted."
"Tell me what happened."
Stevie sighed and rubbed his face. "I saw Delilah walking down the stairs. She looked upset, so I decided to talk to her. I tried to start a conversation with her by telling her that my mom has the same shirt she was wearing."
"Oh God, Stevie." Ted covered his eyes.
"Yeah, before I was able to apologize, she threw her drink at me and people around her laughed. I'm so stupid."
"You're not stupid, Stevie. You just need to think before you say something that might offend a girl." Ted rubbed his shoulder. "Are you going to be okay?"
Stevie nodded and looked at Ted. "Can we go home now?"
Ted smiled. "Sure." He extended his hand and Stevie grabbed it, standing up.
Stevie stumbled forward and grabbed Ted's shoulder for balance. Stevie looked up at him and smiled. He was obviously drunk from a few cups of beer. He was always a lightweight. And then Ted pondered. Stevie might not be a Greek god, but Ted couldn't deny how cute he looked. His blond hair that had a flip in the front, freckles on his nose and cheeks, and those braces that might deter some, but Ted thought it upgraded his looks when he made those goofy smiles. Right then he wanted to lean forward and kiss Stevie on the lips, but then shook the thought away.
Seriously! Your best friend?! How desperate are you?!
Ted walked back inside the house with Stevie close behind.
They were close to the front door when Delilah appeared and hugged Ted. "There you are. I'm still waiting for that kiss."
Ted looked behind him and saw Stevie looking down with furrowed eyebrows.
Ted huffed and pushed Delilah away, causing her to stumble backwards and spill her drink on her shirt. As she was looking down at her shirt in shock, he walked past her and opened the front door, letting Stevie walk out first.
Outside Ted walked to Stevie's side and said, "I'm sorry about that, Stevie."
"No, that was awesome. Did you see her face?" Stevie laughed, trying to match the same look Delilah had.
Ted smiled. "She deserved it."
"Eh, maybe." Stevie looked down at the wet stain on his shirt.
"Oh, come on, Stevie. You didn't deserve to get humiliated like that."
"Hey!" Ted and Stevie turned around to see a guy stomping towards him. "What the fuck did you do to my girlfriend?"
"Delilah? Your girlfriend?" Ted asked with an amused look, noticing he was the same guy who was occupying the bathroom.
"Yeah, I'm her boyfriend, Warner. She told me you kept hitting on her and splashed her with her drink when she told you she wasn't interested."
Ted chuckled. "I hate to say this to you, but your girlfriend was hitting on me and she spilled her drink on herself."
"You're lying." Warner clenched his fists.
"Fuck this. Let's go, Stevie." Ted pulled out his car remote from his pocket and pressed the unlock button.
"You and your boyfriend are not going anywhere."
Warner stomped forward and Stevie tried to protect Ted by standing in front of him, but he grabbed Stevie by the shirt and threw him against a car. Then he aimed his fist and punched Ted on the side of the face. Ted slow turned his head back into its original position, unharmed, and saw Stevie on the ground, holding his shoulder and whimpering in pain. Ted snarled and punched Warner with a right hook to the temple.
Warner immediately collapsed to the ground and Ted crouched next to him. "Apologize."
"What?" Warner said, holding his head.
"I said apologize!" Ted grabbed Warner by the back of the shirt and lifted him up, facing Stevie. "Apologize to my friend, asshole!" Ted grabbed his arm and twisted it behind his back.
"Okay-okay, I'm sorry!" Warner cried.
Ted tossed Warner back onto the grass and saw that a crowd formed at the front of the house. "Who's next?" The crowd quickly walked back inside and he saw Delilah with a look of embarrassment before disappearing. "Nice girlfriend you have. Not coming to her boyfriend's side when he's hurt after trying to protect her. Good luck."
Warner just groaned in response.
Ted walked to Stevie and offered his hand. He grabbed it and lifted himself up.
"Are you okay, Stevie?" Ted asked, examining his shoulder.
"Yeah, I'm okay. Thanks Ted. You didn't have to make him apologize."
"You're my best friend, Stevie." Ted hugged him.
Stevie chuckled, patting Ted on the back. "I love you too, Ted."
Ted released him and said, "Let's go home."
They walked to the car, leaving the guy to search for his dignity in the grass. When Ted grabbed the handle of the door, a house security alarm was triggered, shrieking into the night.
"Whoa, do you think someone's house is being robbed right now?" Stevie asked.
Ted walked to the street when he saw a Stallion exit the driveway of the house where the security alarm came from. It turned and drove towards them.
"Get in the car," Ted said, turning the other direction.
"Get in the car!" Ted ordered.
They got inside Ted's car when the Stallion drove past them. He pressed the engine button, starting the engine. The console screen turned on and he tapped the reverse button.
"What's going on?" Stevie asked, putting on his seatbelt.
Ted put on his seatbelt and said, "I think the robbers are driving that Stallion."
"And?" Ted smirked. "Oh God, Ted, no!"
The car reversed onto the street and Ted pressed the drive button, turning the steering wheel until the car was parallel to the street and floored the gas pedal. This was the kind of adventure he needed.
"Ted, please!" Stevie yelled, holding onto his seatbelt.
"We can't let them get away." Ted adjusted the rearview mirror.
"Ted!" Stevie punched him in the arm.
"I'll make this up to you."
"Oh God, drive faster! They're getting away!"
Ted tapped the radio button and rock music vibrated throughout the inside of the car. Robberies have been occurring in Santa Felicidad for several months now, and the robbers always targeted the homes of wealthy residents. They had always managed to break into the most advanced security systems money could buy. But finally they screwed up and Ted was right behind them. As if they wanted to prove their guilty, they sped up as he got closer to their car. Well, the owner's car that they stole it from.
Five minutes passed when the Stallion turned into a parking garage. Ted followed them and during that time he could have called the police. But he wanted to deal with them personally. His neighbor's most valuable heirlooms were robbed from her and she was still devastated by the loss. He followed them onto the spiraling ramp until they reached the final level. The Stallion made a three-hundred sixty degree turn, its headlights temporarily blinding him.
Ted parked the car and said, "Stevie, stay here. Stevie?" He looked at Stevie and noticed he was sleeping.
Ted got out the car, leaving the car door open, rock music playing in the background. The driver side door of the Stallion opened and a person stepped out. She walked in front of the Stallion and sat down on the hood, crossing her legs. The outline of her body clearly showed that she was a woman, but he couldn't distinguish anything else because of the headlights.
"Ted Sullivan, the former football captain of St. Diana Academy."
"How do you know who I am?" Ted asked, shielding his eyes from the headlights.
"Everyone knows who you are, Ted. Can I ask why you are following us?" She crossed her arms.
Ted dropped his arm. "You know why. You robbed that home."
"And what were you planning to do when you caught us?" She placed her hands together on her lap.
"I'm going to take you to the police department. Whether you're going to consent or not is your decision."
"Oh, would you really hurt a girl. That doesn't seem fair. How about this? You can take me to the police department if you can defeat my friend."
The passenger side door opened and a person stepped out of the car, walking forward and standing in front of her. Ted saw the outline of a tall, muscular man with crossed arms.
"Can I at least know what the name of my opponent is?"
"You can call him Hoodlum. And I'm Hijinks."
You have no idea who you're dealing with.
Ted formed his hands into fists and ran towards Hoodlum. He was surprised that Hoodlum didn't bother to defend himself as he got closer, but Ted didn't mind. He punched Hoodlum on the cheek, but he didn't even flinch. Ted furrowed his eyes and punched his other cheek, but it had no effect either. He punched Hoodlum several times in the face, but he didn't even budge.
What the fuck?! How is he still standing?!
Ted tried to punch Hoodlum directly on the nose, but he grabbed Ted's hand by the wrist and started twisting his arm. He whimpered in pain when Hoodlum punched him below the jaw and he flew backwards, landing on his back on the cold pavement.
Shit! I shouldn't have underestimated him. Too late now.
Ted opened his eyes to see Hoodlum standing above him with his fist coming towards him. Ted rolled to his left just before his fist landed on him, creating a slight impression on the concrete. Ted quickly stood up and took a few steps away from him, contemplating what to do next.
My punches are completely ineffective on him. I need to activate my gauntlets now.
Ted pounded his fists together and activated them. White, smooth, matte armor began to rise above his skin on his hands and forearms. The armor on his hands was composed of individual plates, providing maximum flexibility. The final result was gauntlets on both his arms. He looked at Hoodlum and smiled.
Ted ran to Hoodlum and punched him in the stomach to see if it would have any effect. Ted took a few steps back and saw him bending over, groaning in pain. Ted smiled again and started punching his face when he looked up. Every punch collided and he collapsed onto the ground, defeated.
Ted breathed out and stepped over Hoodlum's body. "Well, looks like your bodyguard is defeated. Now let me see your hands."
Hijinks giggled. "Do you honestly think this is over? This is just the beginning. To be fair, I will strongly advise you to look behind your back."
Ted felt someone breathing on his neck. He slowly turned his body and saw Hoodlum staring down at him. He could see what he looked like. He was wearing a green shirt and white leggings. He also wore knee high boots, elbow high gloves, a belt and an eye mask, all red. A closer look showed the shirt had scales shaped like eagle feathers on the shoulders and sleeves, the leggings looked like the skin of an eagle's feet, and the mask had the shape of an eagle's beak.
Hoodlum grabbed Ted by the shirt, turned and easily threw him several meters away. Ted quickly stood up and managed to block a few of his punches, but he failed to block the punches that aimed at his stomach and he fell onto his knees. He tried to get up, but Hoodlum punched him on his cheek and he fell onto his side. Then Hoodlum lifted him up with his shirt and Ted knew he had to activate his other gauntlet.
I shouldn't expose my ability to them? Fuck it! Who's going to believe them? I have to win this fight.
Ted raised his hand and said, "I surrender."
Hoodlum dropped Ted on the ground and behind his back his hand formed an oversized gauntlet in just a few seconds. He used his gauntlet to punch Hoodlum in the stomach, causing him to fly a few meters away. Ted stood up and chuckled. The gauntlet's palm extended from the wrist and reached his knees when the fingers were curled. The dorsum extended to his elbow to be used as a shield and the knuckles became round and metallic silver. This was the first time he ever used his gauntlet on an actual person, and it felt so satisfying to use it on a criminal like Hoodlum.
Ted walked to Hoodlum who was on his knees with his back to him. "Give up."
Hoodlum straightened his back and then turned, coming at Ted with a huge object. Ted managed to dodge the attack, falling on his ass. He was shocked to see the same gauntlet on Hoodlum's hand, but with a major different. The fingers of his gauntlet were buried in the pavement, and when he lift it up, Ted saw the claws that were metallic silver and razor sharp. Hoodlum ran forward and Ted barely managed to dodge a swipe from his gauntlet. He looked down and saw his shirt was shredded. He wasn't scared of getting injured since he could heal at a rate that surpassed normal people. But damn, he loved that shirt.
Ted ran forward and punched Hoodlum on the chest, but he blocked the attack with his gauntlet and Ted's shattered into hundreds of pieces and disintegrated on the pavement.
No fucking way!
Before Ted could regenerate it, Hoodlum swiped at him with the back of his gauntlet. He fell on the pavement and the claws penetrated the pavement next to Ted's head. This time Ted was scared.
Hoodlum leaned his face close to Ted's. "I don't want to hurt you." He leaned closer, just an inch away. "Why don't you let us go?"
Ted didn't know why, but he wanted to stall his answer as long as possible so he could continue to feel the warm breath from Hoodlum.
God, what's wrong with you, Ted?
"What did you steal?"
"Why is that more important than your life?" Hoodlum asked, claws scraping the pavement.
"Would you really kill me?"
Hoodlum narrowed his eyes when cars were heard driving up the ramp. They looked to see two cars drive onto the level. The cars stopped and men in suits came out, brandishing a variety of melee weapons.
Hoodlum stood up and yelled, "Get back in the car!"
Hijinks immediately went back inside the Stallion and Hoodlum ran towards the men, his claws completely retracted. Ted watched as he attacked the men with the back of his gauntlet. He saw men reach into one of the car, taking out assault rifles. Hoodlum was too distracted with the other men, and Ted decided to intervene. He regenerated his gauntlet, decreasing the density to prevent killing the men, and ran towards them just as they were aiming their crosshairs at Hoodlum. He jumped on the hood of the car and landed a punch to one of the men. They were caught by surprise as he attacked every one of them before they could redirect their aim.
With the gunmen down, Ted looked and saw that all but one man was standing, holding a sword in his hand. Hoodlum unsheathed his claws and the man immediately dropped the sword, went down on his knees, and raised his hands in surrender. Hoodlum cocked his head, and then motioned his head for the man to go. The man stumbled onto his feet and got into one of the cars and drove away.
Hoodlum turned and saw Ted. He walked towards Ted with an angry look, but then he stopped to look at the men behind Ted with assault rifles next to their unconscious bodies. Hoodlum looked down for a moment and his gauntlet degenerated back into his arm. Ted did the same.
"Thank you," Hoodlum said.
Ted started to have a warm feeling as he looked at Hoodlum who was at least two inches taller than him. He examined Hoodlum's physique and locked on at his prominent pectoral muscles and his package under the tight fabric. He swallowed his throat. Hoodlum noticed him staring and he looked away and saw Hijinks walking towards them. She was wearing a dark blue full bodysuit with black boots, black gloves, and a dark blue hooded jacket – hood up, sleeves rolled up, and zipper halfway up. She definitely looked more like a thief than Hoodlum who was literally dressed like a superhero.
"I wished I'd brought my video camera." Hijinks smirked, the hood covering her eyes.
"I think those men were from the house you just robbed," Ted said.
"Thank you, Captain Obvious. I should buy you a parrot so can you hear yourself talk." Hijinks placed her hands inside her jacket pockets. "Anyways, thanks for making us stop at this parking garage. I found a GPS locator in the glove compartment and they would've tracked us to our hiding place if you hadn't followed us."
"It would've happened if I hadn't alerted the security alarm," Hoodlum said, looking down.
"Don't blame yourself. I should've been more thorough. Come on, after this we'll go eat at your favorite restaurant. I'll pay."
Hoodlum smiled and they started following Hijinks to the Stallion when Ted said, "Wait! Where are you going?"
Hijinks turned around. "Are you seriously going to try to stop us? If you haven't realized, Hoodlum was holding back. If he wasn't, you would've been dead already."
Ted huffed. "You can't go."
"Why? Do you want some kind of reward for catching the "Robin Hoods" of Santa Felicidad? We got plenty of money. I just want to let you know that the money is only a bonus to what we're really after and we don't keep all of it. So, how much do you want?"
Ted shook his head. "No, it's not the money. I…"
What can I say? Hey, Hoodlum, I know I've tried to beat you up and turn you into the authorities, but I really want to see you again.
Hijinks crossed her arms and Hoodlum said, "I think I know what he wants."
Hoodlum walked to Ted who took a few steps back, not knowing what Hoodlum would do to him. Hoodlum was only an inch away and touched the shredded fabric of Ted's shirt.
"That was my favorite shirt," Ted mumbled.
Hoodlum chuckled. Then he leaned forward and kissed Ted on the lips. Ted, surprised, tried to pull his head back, but Hoodlum grabbed his hair. It felt strange at first, but then the ecstasy he felt was so good that he closed his eyes and kissed back. He felt Hoodlum's other hand go through his shirt, feeling his abdominal muscles. Kissing a guy felt so new to Ted, but it felt so right at the same time.
Hoodlum pulled back and looked at Ted with those dark eyes. Ted leaned forward for another kiss when Hoodlum walked away.
Hoodlum stood next to Hijinks who was smiling. "I never would've guessed, and I'm the one who's supposed to have the gaydar."
Ted furrowed his eyebrows and looked the other way.
Hoodlum smiled and they started walking towards the Stallion. "Wait!"
Hijinks turned around with a hand on her hip. "What is it now?"
"I…I haven't met anyone else who could do what I can do. Can we meet somewhere and just…talk."
Hoodlum cocked his head. "Tomorrow at school. We'll let you know where exactly to meet us."
"Are you sure about this?" Hijinks asked, frowning at Ted.
Hijinks faced Ted. "Bye, stud. We'll see you tomorrow. And don't worry, your secret's safe with us."
Hijinks chuckled and they walked away, and Ted let them go. What could he do? He finally met someone who was stronger than he was. And that kiss. He watched the Stallion drive past him and onto the ramp. He stood there for a few seconds, wondering what just happened. Then he walked to his car, not wanting to be there when the men regained consciousness.
Inside Ted buckled his seatbelt and exited the parking garage. Back on the streets he looked at Stevie, his head against the window with a little drool on his chin. He smiled and playfully punched Stevie on the shoulder. His eyes opened.
"How did that wake you up?"
"What?" Stevie looked around, wiping away the drool with his hand. "Are we still following them?"
"No, we lost them. We're going home."
"Oh, good. So, can we get a burger or something? I'm starving."
"You said you'd make it up to me. Well, I want a greasy, heart clogging, belly busting burger with a side of fries and a milkshake."
Ted sighed. "Fine. Damn you and your metabolism."