Harmony Norberg awoke to excruciating pain, dozens of knives piercing her lower back, pelvis, and legs. This had been the first sensation she registered every morning for most of her life. The pain had in no way dulled or diminished over the years as her doctors had hoped; if anything, it seemed to be getting worse.
Before moving a muscle or opening her eyes, she uttered a prayer for intercession. Saint Julia of Corsica was her veneration that day – a young girl who chose torture and death rather than betray her faith before an angry Pagan mob.
Harmony had long believed that the miracles attributed to the Saints might very well have been early instances of powers, back when the conditions for exhibiting them would have been much rarer. One day, she thought as she completed her recitation, those of us who have devoted our lives to heroism will be recognized as the martyrs we are.
“Talking to yourself?” The throaty, masculine voice startled her to open her eyes. She looked in surprise at the man sharing her bed, his muscular body seeming somehow spring-loaded despite his reclined position. “I know you’re awake, Libby, you can stop pretending.”
“Why are you still here?” Harmony asked her boyfriend, regretting the words immediately. She scowled as she tried to think of a way to add something nicer without implying that she misspoke.
Peregrine shrugged. “I didn’t have any meetings this morning, so no need to rush off. Is that okay?”
“Uh… sure. Yeah, okay,” she echoed, mentally thinking through how she’d alter her morning routine to include a partner. She glanced at the equipment suspending a lift arm near her bed, which would normally lower the sling that she would roll herself into before being transferred to her walker. She imagined what it would look to Peregrine – awkward and undignified, and frowned, looking for a way to escape his inevitable pity.
But, following her eyes, he shook his head. “Evening routine in reverse, huh?” He waited for her nod of permission before sliding off the mattress to his feet, bending and scooping her up in his powerful arms. It shouldn’t have been impressive – while not a tiny woman, she weighed not a fourth of what she would in her full Liberty costume, and he carried that without difficulty – but she warmed with an upwelling of affection as he cradled her naked form to himself. She had always detested being taken care of by others, showcasing her physical shortcomings. But with Peregrine it… didn’t feel so bad.
He carefully aligned her legs and butt with the open frame of her exoskeleton, and she made eye contact with him as she turned it on and the contacts closed around her lower body. “Thanks,” she forced herself to say as she walked towards her en suite bathroom.
“Don’t mention it,” he fired back by reflex. “What do you have planned this morning? Anything I can lend a hand with?” He raised his volume just slightly as she pulled the bathroom door almost-closed behind her, implicitly requesting a small amount of privacy.
“No,” she replied at the same volume. “You’re still getting our decoys tomorrow, right?”
“First thing, yeah,” Peregrine agreed. “Although I still don’t understand why we’re drawing foreigners into this. There are half a dozen reliable disguise agents in the eastern US.”
Harmony had been about to turn on her shower, but that prompted her to stick her head back out into the bedroom and meet his eyes. “It’s basic opsec, Perry. If Whisper – or, more likely, Delphic – gets a clue that we’re onto them, the entire ambush falls apart. We’ve dictated the terms of engagement this time, but there’s no guarantee we’ll have the same advantages next time.” She shrugged, although he couldn’t see it. “When you have an internal breach like this, you use external agents.”
Peregrine sighed. “I still think that if we just tell them we know what they’re planning, come clean about everything…”
She frowned at him; he could be exasperatingly naive at times. “We’re way past that. Conspiracy to interfere with federal agents; misappropriation of department resources. Most of those who signed on to Whisper and Delphic’s little quest might give up, take a slap on the wrist – but the core bad actors are in this for blood.”
“She’s grieving, Libby,” came his soft reply. Harmony frowned at him, then stood up straight and closed the bathroom door.
The long, hot shower was a rejuvenating boon. When she emerged, she found that Peregrine had produced a set of civilian clothes from somewhere and was laying back in her bed, waiting on her… No, floating just above her bed, in fact. He turned to look at her as she walked over to her closet, his eyes lingering on her nudity in a way that warmed her almost as much as the shower had. It made her wish she had some way to program a more… exaggerated walk into her mobility equipment; something with swaying hips, maybe.
“Before I forget,” she shot, “call down to Sveta on the intercom. Tell her plus one for breakfast. Assuming you’ll eat with us?”
The levitating man grinned. “You bet. Never have had breakfast here.” He floated over to the unit on the nightstand as she moved into the closet proper. “Hey, uh, hello?”
Harmony quickly plucked underwear, slacks, and a blouse from the shelves and racks of her closet as Peregrine awkwardly addressed the kitchen staff. She’d noticed before how his easy confidence when dealing with her, or other supers, evaporated when speaking to normies out-of-costume. He saw the world starkly in terms of heroes, criminals, and civilians, and was off-balance when not interacting within those roles.
The walk-assist device went rigid at her bidding, opening just enough for her to tug on her clothes while still supported by its solid frame. Every move that Harmony made a compromise between ease and efficiency, often dictated by her limitations and equipment. And always, with every reach, every twist, every flex… the pain.
Returning to the bedroom, she watched Peregrine effortlessly step into his jeans with aesthetic admiration and just a minor twinge of envy. His powers made daily physical tasks effortless for him; he could literally float his way through life, after all. Even her very best suit advancements – powered, as they were, by the virtually limitless electric charge her own body produced – couldn’t match his natural speed or strength. It would be easy to resent him if he weren’t so…
He looked up at her, his face showing such transparent delight in her presence that she, as usual, found it impossible to keep up any pretext of hostility. He was brash, stubborn, reckless, and often single-minded to the point of idiocy… but he was one hundred percent hers, not a disloyal or calculating bone in his perfect body.
Harmony stepped up to her boyfriend, now clad in last night’s civilian clothes, and pulled him in for a long kiss. He returned her affection instantly, and they only broke when it became clear that they were in danger of resuming last night’s activities and missing breakfast. As she pulled back, though, she met his eyes with some seriousness. “Ready to come clean yet?”
He frowned down at her; even with the added inches from her walker, she didn’t match his height. “About what?”
She sighed. “You like patterns and routines as much as I do. And we’ve spent many evenings together, but this is your first time to spend the whole night. Why the change?”
Harmony tracked Peregrine’s eyes as they darted away from hers, concealing something. “I… just thought it might be nice. That you’d like to see me. A… little more.” He stumbled over the words. “I can… go…” he swallowed as he made the offer. The interior bedroom didn’t have any windows, but she could tell he was mentally preparing a flight plan that would take him out of the mansion in seconds.
“You’re welcome to stay,” Harmony insisted, taking one of his hands in both of hers. “I just want to know what changed.” She took the hand and nuzzled it against her cheek. “Perry, we work so well together because we understand each other. You know me, and why I do the things I do. And I know you’re… ah, impulsive sometimes, but at least in retrospect I can usually understand the actions you’ve taken as well.” She shrugged. “If I’m reading too much into it, that’s fine. We can go to breakfast.” She squeezed his hand once, briefly before letting go and turning toward the door to the hallway.
“I, uh…” as he started to answer, Harmony turned back with a neutral expression, willing him to go on. “I was talking with Millisec, when we were manning HQ together last week. We, ah, talked about…” he let out an embarrassed cough (Adorable, Harmony thought.) “dating. Romantic… stuff. He mentioned how much trouble he was in, when he got an emergency call and had to leave before his girlfriend had woken up.”
Harmony’s eyebrows rose. “You talked about… us? At work?” Peregrine had always been very insistent that they keep their relationship low-key, and explicitly not talk about it with the other heroes.
Peregrine winced guiltily, briefly meeting her stare. “Not by name, or anything. I was really more listening to him than anything else.” He looked down again. “Anyway, he mentioned that women feel… used, I guess? Unimportant? If you leave. After.”
“Ah,” she let the wide grin split her face. “So you were worried that you were being a bad boyfriend.” She approached him again, offering him a reassuring hug.
He moved into her arms, and she felt rather than saw her nod of agreement. “Sorry, Libby. I didn’t know.”
With a shake of her head, she chuckled. “You’re cute. But it’s nothing you need to worry about.” She leaned back enough to see his face, but didn’t break their embrace. “I promise you that I’ll tell you if I’m feeling… ‘used.’ Or neglected, or whatnot. Have I ever been shy in asking for what I want from you?” She added a lilt to her voice at her last question, and put on a half-smirk to make it more suggestive.
“No, I guess not.” He pulled her in for a deeper hug, one that knocked the breath out of her.
“Come on,” she announced, grabbing his hand and moving towards the door. “I want to make sure we have time to visit with Kelda before she heads into the office.”
They linked arms as they made their way from the upper residential wing to the central home area where the elevators were. “Hey, Perry?” She added as they rode down.
“We’re neither one of us normal, right?” She looked for his nod of agreement.
“So, our relationship doesn’t have to be normal, either. Don’t spend too much energy trying to compare us to what other couples do, okay? Let’s just decide what we want.”
Harmony was satisfied with his smiling face as they exited the elevator.