“I’ll help you out of that.” Ruby was saying, drumming her knuckles lightly against the top of their helmet. “Just… take a seat so I can reach.”
With a nod, Teknight fell back onto the extra-large custom recliner in the reception room of the armoured hero’s apartment. The pair had only just arrived back at Unity Station, the orbiting space base of VIGIL.
The low Earth orbit structure contained planet-facing monitoring and imaging technology, links to a satellite network for secure communications and reporting, and space-facing systems to watch over the stars and protect the world from threats. The artificial gravity drive and array of facilities made it a popular home for some of the more globe-trotting heroes.
On hearing the click of the helmet locks releasing, Ruby carefully lifted it clear to reveal dark ring-framed eyes, puffy and red. “Oh, Zahir…” The red-head sighed softly, pressing her lips to his forehead after sweeping some of the sweat-slicked black hair back.
“It wasn’t supposed to-” His words were cut off by sobs as his head bowed, shoulders shaking with each sorrowful gasp. “It… if…”
“Just let it out, Z.” The dragon soothed, moving behind the grief-stricken man so she could slip her arms around him as he sat. She let him cry for a while before speaking again. “It could have been much worse.”
“But I-” Zahir’s voice failed him again, hoarse from his tears.
“Rozalin’s team is beginning the clean up. We all agreed that a limited team would go in to deal with a containment situation. Your new recruit is stable and continuing to improve with medical treatment.” The dragon woman’s fingers flicked out one by one as she made each point. “And yes, while they got away, the amount of spent fuel they stole was small in the grand scheme of things.”
“I thought I was ready to get out there again.” He said quietly.
“I know.” Ruby gave him a quick, gentle squeeze with her arms. “Do you want to get out of the suit yet? Or would you like a cup of tea first?” She leaned over so she could playfully wink at him. “You know I’m good with a teapot, unlike most of the Yanks here.”
That brought a slight smile to his lips, in spite of the day he had. “Tea, please.”
Once Ruby had headed to the kitchen, Zahir grabbed his glasses from the table besides the large chair and slipped them on. “B-VOS?”
“Yes, Zahir?” The feminine voice of VIGIL’s command AI came from above.
“Teleport them here from my lab.” He gave the order with weary resignation. Light flashed in front of him as a storage crate suddenly materialized from within a shimmering sphere.
“I am sure Ruby would be happy to assist you in-“
“No.” Zahir’s slender features were set in determination. With a thought, the interlocks released from the chestplate of the Teknight armour. The arms were the next to release. The cool air of the apartment chilled his bare skin, muscles on his arms bunching up as he hauled himself free from the confines. With some acrobatic skill he rolled off the suit and onto the floor, wincing as the plastisteel pelvic region replacement clunked on the floor.
“Is everything alright?” Ruby called from the kitchen.
“Just fine.” He called back, his hands fumbling with the clasps on the storage case. Once opened, he drew one of the prosthetic legs out and hooked it up to the interlock of his artificial hips. With the limb working, he could easily sit up and connect the other.
“Sunshine Grey, just as you like- oh for the love of, I said I’d help!” Ruby grunted, trying her hardest to suppress the wisps of smoke and embers from erupting around her. Uncontrolled combustion was a no-no on Unity Station. Setting the cup down, she easily lifted the scientist up from the floor. Ignoring further protests from him, she slung him over her shoulders in a fireman’s lift, grabbed the cup of tea, and took both of them through into the guest bedroom he had been staying in.
A pair of cats looked up at the sudden entry, eyes alert as they took in the scene. Apparently satisfied, they rolled away from their spot on the pillow. With the tea set on the bedside counter, Ruby then hefted Zahir off and placed him on the bed. The two felines were quick to assume their normal position, the white cat purring against his right arm as the black one nestled up against his waist.
“I was going to say I don’t need to go to bed, but…” Zahir trailed off, his hands moving to fuss over the head of each cat as they nuzzled against him.
“Tea, bed, and beloved pets.” Ruby smiled. The cats gave her a long, hard look at their designation. She had always found something a little unsettling about the pair, a quality even she couldn’t put a finger on. Toshiro was fond enough of them in life, and even before they came into his care Zahir had been besotted with them.
“Zahir?” B-VOS spoke again. “Radiant is here to see you.”
The growing, if still small, smile that had been on his face vanished.
“I’ll hold him off for a bit.” Ruby promised. “Get some tea in you, Z, and don’t let the uptight torch do your head in.”
Radiant was only glowing a little as he waited outside the door. The years had been fairly kind to him, his weight only just starting to gather around his middle, and it was only the hair at his temples that had really gone grey, the rest a soft brown. “Rubarios.” He nodded stiffly, before taking a step towards the door.
Ruby’s arm shot out, her crimson fingernails clicking against the doorframe as she blocked his path. “Not yet.”
“Not yet?” An incredulous look crossed the second generation hero’s face. “Teknight was at the center of a serious incident, one which we are still trying to resolve now.”
“He’s only just gotten out of the suit, Albert. Let him get a little settled first.”
The glow around the older man jumped up in intensity as their eyes locked, bright hazel against burning amber.
“B-VOS! Tell him he’s got half an hour, but I then I am coming in there.” Radiant snapped. “No matter who is in the way of the door.”
“Of course, Radiant.” B-VOS dutifully replied as the hero stalked off down the corridors.
“I guess I’d be that stuck up too if I had all those batteries up my arse.” Ruby muttered as she watched him leave. She would have sworn she heard a barely suppressed laugh coming from the speakers of the AI system. “Did you say something, B?”