Diego's Pain

Diego staggered up the narrow aisle between seats, clutching at the metal seat backs for support. Can’t let him see, can’t let him see. The mantra kept him upright until he made it to a seat near the front of the sub and could drop into it. He took a few deep breaths and surreptitiously massaged his shoulder where Timberwolf’s jaws had closed on it before throwing him bodily into the side of a plane.

“Nigh invulnerable” does not mean “cannot be hurt”, Diego reminded himself, drawing a shuddering breath. His skin was fine, but there was a deep ache in his chest on his left side, close to his heart. It was fading now, but brought the occasional swift stab when he shifted around.

Diego looked out the porthole into the dark sea beyond, the running lights of the sub illuminating passing fish. He didn’t know how far down they were but little light filtered down from the surface above. Here they were, passing below the surface, bundles of nerves, recovering, all wrapped in their thoughts.

Except Stellar, his face lit from below by the blue glow of a phone. Where the hell did he get a new phone down here? Does his body make them or something? thought Diego, frowning. Stellar’s eyes were wide with glee, his thumbs eagerly tapping, probably making some kind of mischief, inserting himself where he didn’t belong. Diego shook his head.

His gaze shifted forward, to the pilot’s seat, where Red Rogue lounged, heavy-lidded eyes staring forward, hands barely on the controls, the picture of indolent, deadly grace. How did we let her get in control of where we’re going again? he thought, his frown deepening.

Diego looked back out the porthole. His eyes found his own reflection staring back at him. He made a face, eyes wide, pulling his lips down with his fingers and waggling his tongue. The tlaloque hated that face, knew exactly who he was apeing when he did it. Their lord and master.

The shopkeepers in the mercado hated that face too, especially when he’d just stolen from their shelves, maybe a mango or some chicle. On the street as a kid, Diego had scraped by, but he’d had his friends, some on the streets, some in the houses, some with goodies to share, some who never brought anything to share but needed the most help. And then he’d been found by his tío, his “Uncle”, the one who looked at the cowlicks in his hair and smiled that ghastly smile, full of plans, whisked him away to the mountain, away from everything and everyone he’d ever known, down into the dark of the temples, surrounded by the shells and marigolds. Waiting for the Atlcahualo, not the yearly ritual, but a special one, the one written in the stars.

Alone in the dark.

His chest twinged again, a quick flash of pain. Timberwolf, pursued by admirers. Mary, twinned with The Mirror, a normal life outside her door when she needed it. Mack, with a whole family to support her. Stellar, his aunt and his social media followers validating him whenever he needed it.

But not Diego. Diego lived in a mansion, an investment by a Halcyon hero who kept him as a hedge against villains, like she kept her labs full of inventions and scientists, who thought his favorite drink in the world was chocolate milk. A mansion far from the city, with soft beds, soft towels, acres away from any other person he might connect with on any kind of deeper level…

…except Timberwolf. He turned, grimacing with pain, to glance back at his brother, still crouched at the back of the sub, panting, eyes on the floor. They understood each other in a way the others didn’t, couldn’t even. He knew, sitting in that cold metal seat, that he would defend his brother to his own death. Who else would say that?

Diego settled back down, staring at the porthole again. This time, his reflection’s eyes were a lambent blue, the grin below feral. In his head, the echoing roll of thunder, of stone cracking before his fist. The pain in his chest was almost gone now.

“Oh my god, what is that horrible stench?” Red Rogue said. Diego saw that she’d spun around in her seat, was staring into sub’s confines at the three of them, an accusation in her eyes for the three teenagers in the back.

“Marigolds,” Diego whispered.