Chapter 23:

the fist fight

Aboard the Winnow

The desk doesn’t actually connect with Will. He drops to his side at the last second—the table collides with another, its individual pieces sent scattering across the floor. But it's enough of an opening for Avett to pounce straight for him, his blaster outstretched and ready to do some damage.Bookmark here

Lili's never been in a fight before, not a proper one anyway. Violence is something she's learned to avoid, not to use. Avett, however, is all too eager to face off with the larger man. He swings the barrel of his blaster at Will's head. A miss—Will counters with a heavy-set jab aimed for Avett's stomach. Bookmark here

Which leaves his side open.Bookmark here

Ducking to the left, Avett prepares his own counterattack, which Will avoids by skirting to the side. They scuffle like this for a bit, two bodies dancing in out of each other's reach, moving with the other's blows. Lili could never move like this, she thinks. There has to be something she can do to help. And yet here she is—helpless. Bookmark here

Will is the first to break off. He circles Avett slowly, his hands balled into fists and raised to his face. Not wanting to lose momentum either, Avett follows suit, holding his blaster at his side. Bookmark here

"Kitty's got claws." Will's breath comes evenly, as opposed to his opponent's. Bookmark here

"Monkey's got shit to fling.”Bookmark here

"Humans make do with what they've got. But I digress." Will keeps his eyes on Avett, shifting his feet every so often as he passes through another line of tables. Avett follows, equally focused. "I didn't amass the contents of this warehouse by flinging shit, and I certainly won't be slacking today."Bookmark here

He launches himself at Avett, fist outstretched, his side hopelessly open again, only this time Avett's cornered. Tables flank their sides, leaving Avett with one option: blocking. Bookmark here

Her colleague does so with a grimace, his blaster raised into the air as Will whirls and throws his entire weight into a punch.Bookmark here

No. Not a punch. His palm is open, his fingers splayed—a grab. Will swerves and reaches for Avett's head; by the time the latter's realised, he's already been slammed against the table twice and tossed to the floor.Bookmark here

But Will isn't done there. While Avett takes his sweet time recovering from his beating, Will takes the closest thing to him—a garbage can made of tin—and throws it over Avett's head. It rattles loudly when he does, like someone's waving a sheet of iron over his head. Bookmark here

It seems that Will’s plan is working as intended, because when he drives his foot into the bin, Avett lets out a muffled groan and stays down. It must be like an aural flashbang in there, the sounds exacerbated by his sensory advantages. Bookmark here

"Loud, isn't it? I can only imagine how rancid it must smell down there for an alien like you." Will's voice sends chills down Lili's spine. "Don't worry though—not for long." Bookmark here

And then he slides the gun from his hip and points it at the can.Bookmark here

Lili wastes no time scrambling forward and getting in the way, caging her arms over Avett like he's a volatile explosive so that it's her on the receiving end of his shot. If she looks down the barrel, she'll just catch the azure glow of the battery chamber. She's not scared; she's too angry, too full of reckless righteousness to cower away from the cold glint of the barrel. Bookmark here

Will only raises an eyebrow. "Always the sympathiser. Get off, Lili."Bookmark here

"No."Bookmark here

"He's an off-lander. An off-lander, Lili. They don't give a shit about the quality of your character, only where your ears are." The gun stays put. "They'll pillage your Human settlements without a second thought. They know no mercy, Lili. So get off."Bookmark here

Her eyes narrow; her fists clench into the ground. She stays right where she is, forever glaring into Will's bored, yet flickering gaze. Bookmark here

"I'm not moving." Lili feels Avett shift from underneath her. She needs time—and a distraction. "I don't know why those off-landers decided to do what they did, but Avett isn't like that. He's a good guy." As good as they come, anyway, she thinks, but she keeps that tidbit to herself.Bookmark here

There it is; Lili recognises that look from anywhere. When Will's eyes soften, she almost wants to throw up. He knows all of Ava's tricks, and like a seasoned dog owner, he's training her. Offering her a treat—respite and approval—at her most vulnerable, and expecting her to kneel for it. It wouldn't be so bad if he actually cared.Bookmark here

"Lili, come now." He actually lowers the barrel. "We've obviously gotten off on the wrong foot. Why don't you step away from the can? I could save you a seat in the elder's council—you'd like it quite a bit. You'd be a highly respected individual within the village, and you'd be surrounded by Humans." Will steps forward, his chest swelling. "Your kind, Lili. Your people. Be a good girl and do the right thing."Bookmark here

Unusual. Will bargaining with her is unusual. Gritting her teeth, she checks on Avett out of the corner of her eye—he's shuffling inside the bin, and from the way he's trying to keep his movements restrained, he must have some sort of plan. Bookmark here

Will continues, "We've got humanity's last stronghold, just waiting for you, right here." He flips the gun around so that he's holding it by the barrel. "All you have to do is say yes."Bookmark here

Disgust swarms through Lili like a hive of bees, and her upper lip curls. She doesn't know why registered mercenaries would attack such an unseeming village, and she doesn't stop to wonder why either. She's just a girl standing in front of a gun that'll go off at any second for someone who won't even thank her for it later. Powerless to stop Will physically—yet powerful enough to stop him entirely. Bookmark here

Her ether pounds through her at the thought, new and unbidden. Bookmark here

"Go fuck yourself, Will."Bookmark here

Lili propels herself backwards, away from the can. Avett shakes free, his hands cupped together, his body bent low to the floor. In his hands is the standard battery chamber. The casing has been cut open, revealing its innards to the air. Bookmark here

Then—Lili doesn't even know what happens then. One minute, she's watching Will fumble with his blaster; the next, she's seeing red. Literal red—there's a bright, brief flash of hot-blue light, leaving Lili to hopelessly fumble around in this new, dark world.Bookmark here

She hears the sound of skin colliding with bone, then a grunt. The low pitch suggests that it's Will's grunt. Something heavy falls to the floor—another grunt, from Avett this time, as he presumably swings the hard end of his blaster into Will's cheekbone. Two clicks—one light rattle. Then the scuffling of cloth against skin stops altogether, and Avett stands back up, victorious, panting.Bookmark here

She still can't see jack—everything further than two steps away is a faint silhouette at best—but she can sure as hell smell him from where she is. The garbage can hadn't been empty at all. She's proven right when she hears the sound of hands slapping against a mouth, two tenuous steps taken backwards, then unceremonious retching a few moments after. Bookmark here

Oh, what she'd give to see Avett's cocky demeanor destroyed in mere seconds. "Wish I could've seen that," she offers. Hot bile splatters against the floor in response.Bookmark here

Will groans. "Trust me, you don't want to see it. I'd rather see a cat hurl up hairballs than this guy."Bookmark here

"Fuck both of you." Avett's voice is hoarse and absolutely dripping in vocal fry. By now, Lili's vision has returned to her, to an extent at least. Her partner is limping around, scrubbing at his face and hair to no avail, then doubling back into himself silently. Bookmark here

It's a sorry sight to behold, that's for sure. Sucks to be Kattish sometimes.Bookmark here

Lili turns her attention to Will, her gaze cold. The two clicks she'd heard earlier were handcuffs—and indeed, Will is handcuffed and face-down on the ground, his face the very picture of reluctant resignation. Bookmark here

Step by step, she makes her way towards him. She kneels down to meet his gaze, but stops just shy of a metre from him. Bookmark here

“Where’s Avett’s GlassLink?” she asks.Bookmark here

Will shrugs. “Not on me.”Bookmark here

It takes all of Lili’s willpower not to just step back and give up. She doesn’t like the way she’s got all of the leverage now—it’s too unfamiliar. All she wants to do is to sink back into the passive complacency that she’s known well and worn throughout her entire life. Bookmark here

So she prods again. “Liar.”Bookmark here

He shrugs again. “I’m telling you, not on me.”Bookmark here

Avett drops his blaster to the ground and kicks it over to Lili before coughing into whatever corner he’s managed to meander over to this time. She doesn’t pick it up. She doesn’t need it. Bookmark here

Gulping down an uncomfortable ball of air, she asks, “Then where is it?”Bookmark here

“The elders’ve got it now.” Will’s eyes are fixed on the blaster. “I never touched it, I swear. I took all of his weaponry, but I left his GlassLink for someone else to fiddle around with. Couldn’t give two shits about alien communication even if I tried.”Bookmark here

“Do you know which elder?”Bookmark here

“Fuck all of that.” Avett’s footsteps echo through the hall, staunch and heavy against the hollow silence of the warehouse. “What the fuck is wrong with this village?”Bookmark here

Lili’s back straightens. Here it is; the moment she’s been waiting for. She’s either wrong or hopelessly wrong, no two ways about it, because Will’s giving Avett an actually sincere look of pure innocence before it degrades into a scowl.Bookmark here

“Finding Human life a bit prehistoric for your tastes?” Bookmark here

“Hardly.” Avett folds his arms. “I was gonna say, I was actually starting to like it a bit before my ears just fell off mid-hallucination. That really turned me off.” Bookmark here

Will looks completely lost. Avett’s ears give an impatient twitch.Bookmark here

Deciding that awkward encounters are a beast best left for another day, Lili pitches in. “Will, the Equaliser has never attacked the village nor the villagers, am I right?"Bookmark here

He shrugs. "Yeah, yeah, whatever you call old gumboots. Hasn't happened in the six years we've been here. Your point?"Bookmark here

"Our point," Avett says, his gaze furnace-hot as he stares Will down, "is that you're a fucking menace. Someone's feeding herbs to the villagers, someone's keeping everyone complacent—someone's using this village to feed life to the Equaliser."Bookmark here

That's not quite what Lili had wanted to go for, but it's not like she can take back his words. It does seem plausible that there's a bug in the village—that there's a Human who's co-ordinated everything just to keep everyone else in check to create the perfect feeding ground. It's just that Will's expression right now screams anything but "criminal mastermind." Bookmark here

Case in point: he throws them both a look of incredulity. "Excuse me? What the hell?"Bookmark here

"You heard me. Fuck you." Avett plants a foot into his back, forcing an airy grunt out of him. "Don't play dumb with us."Bookmark here

"I don't play dumb, I—" Bookmark here

"We know your game."Bookmark here

"—look, I'll be real for a second, I've got no idea what you're—"Bookmark here

"Spit it out already, Human, throw us a bone. Tell us how we're going to free the goddamn village."Bookmark here

As a last resort, Will turns to Lili, his voice strained, yet controlled. "You really had to go and get romantically involved with patient #84, huh?"Bookmark here

Lili looks back at Avett. "He doesn't know."Bookmark here

Her partner tosses up his arms and walks to the other side of the room, defeated. She follows him, her voice low as she asks, “What now?”Bookmark here

“It doesn’t matter if the villagers don’t know.” Avett is hunched over in thought, his arms folded once again. “We need Auren, and to get Auren, we need a damn phone.” Bookmark here

“It might be in the elder’s house.”Bookmark here

“It better be in the fucking elder’s house, else I’m going to throw a fit.” Bookmark here

Lili stops in the entrance, watching Avett stomp off by himself. He takes at least ten steps before deciding to turn around, gaze weary, yet abrasively confused. Bookmark here

He asks, “Going?” Bookmark here

She’s at a loss for words. Finally, after some silent seconds of popping her lips and sealing them shut, she settles on saying, “You wouldn’t just leave Will handcuffed there, right?”Bookmark here

He looks at her like she’s just spat on his shoes. “Yes, I would. He’d kill me if I didn’t, Lilith.” Bookmark here

And then, as if he wholly expected her to pad along behind him, he turns and continues on his merry way.Bookmark here

Asshole. But Lili ends up trailing him anyway. She just makes sure to keep her distance, knowing what’s good for her and all.Bookmark here

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