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The Capes We Wear

Avra Margariti is a queer Social Work undergrad from Greece. She enjoys storytelling in all its forms and writes about diverse identities and experiences. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Flash Fiction Online, Lackington's, Vastarien, Asimov's, and other venues. Avra won the 2019 Bacopa Literary Review prize for fiction. You can find her on twitter @avramargariti.
You don't know this, but I've been here before, watching the flying robot monkeys attack Trafalgar Square. I was on the other side, the wrong side. The monkeys used to be under my command.
"Uncle Elijah, quick!" you yell, seconds before you black out from the nearest monkey's venomous canines sinking into your arm.
I sigh and, removing my gloves, blast the cloned monkey monstrosities back where they came from. This reeks of the Twisted Twins' sloppy work. They're the newest villains in town, always ready to challenge Wonder Boy and The Shield.
You and me.
You come to, several feet in the air, carried securely in my arms.
"Mom?" you ask, and my heart pinches tight in my chest like a badly healed wound. Then your hazy eyes focus on the here and now. "Uncle Elijah?"
"I'm here, we're okay, I'm taking you home."
You don't know this, Nico, but the last time I flew over Trafalgar Square, it was to gloat over my victory, my old superhero nemesis half-dead beneath my feet.
I didn't like you when you were born. When my older sister showed you to me, a newborn pink and screaming, I thought: There's a torture I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy.
Things change. I've changed. My sister did too, going from living to dead, from mother to corpse. There was no glory in her hospice death, just sickly sweet illness. No hero capes, just white sheets in a whiter room.
Now, instead of concocting elaborate plans to menace the rich and powerful of London, I make you bento lunches for school, mend your purple superhero suit and iron your cape, fight by your side as your loyal sidekick, help with your math homework, leave the light on and wait up until you get home.
For you. Everything for you, Nico, the child I once thought I wouldn't mind never seeing again.
The monkey poison is tricky business. Believe me, I know. I helped make it, a whole lifetime ago it seems. Which means I know how to make an antidote.
"Here, drink this," I say as I sit by your bedside.
Your hair is darkened by sweat, your eyes like two black gems, glittering in their frenzy. I support your head in one hand as I guide a straw to your chapped lips. The bright-green liquid will help your system flush the poison out. As for the compresses I wrap around your pulse points, they'll tamp down the fever and hallucinations.
You never once make a peep when my hands accidentally brush against your wrists, your carotid. This trust you put in me, I'm not sure I've earned it, but I'll take it all the same.
Tucked snug in bed, with your planetary system lit up above us, you're looking better already.
"Remember when you found out I'm a teen superhero?" you mumble.
I force out a chuckle. "Pre-teen, more like."
I remember so many things. I was your age when my sister found out I'd been the supervillain blowing up banks and ministries across Greater London. I wanted to make a point, but failed to take into account all the injured civilians.
I remember the social worker showing up at my doorstep with a younger you half-hidden behind her, how you clutched your bags and looked like a wet kitten, scared and shivering.
I remember doing your laundry about a year ago and finding your superhero cape among your school uniforms and graphic tees. The vow I made then to become your sidekick and keep you from harm.
My choice not to reveal my old identity to you.
In another life, we might have fought each other. The monkey poison might have made its way to your heart, now beating so strongly in your chest.
"Sleep, kid, we'll talk tomorrow."
I close your bedroom door but keep a night light on.
Back in the kitchen, I put away my chemistry equipment and wipe the countertops down with antibacterial spray. It's been a long night, but I suspect it'll be longer still. Collapsing on a chair, I turn the ruby ring on my finger: thrice clockwise, twice anti-clockwise.
"Little brother," comes a wispy, static-filled voice.
My sister's wavering form greets me in the dim-lit kitchen. This isn't Mary's ghost, but an echo of her, a memory. Yet I find myself turning to it in moments like these.
"You did good tonight," Mary says, which only twists the knife in the wound.
"I did what I had to," I grit out, head in my hands. "I promised I'd take care of your kid, didn't I?"
"Yes. But you didn't have to become Nico's sidekick." My sister's memory hums thoughtfully. "You chose this. Atonement."
She's right, and I hate that she's right. I look down at myself and realize I'm still wearing my hero suit. A canary yellow to complement Nico's royal purple.
"Are you going to tell him?" Mary's ring-apparition asks. "About your old life as The Cannon?"
"I shouldn't. Who knows if he'll ever trust me again after he learns the truth."
This isn't atonement for my youth's mistakes. At least it didn't start out that way. I want to do right by you, Nico. I want you to better understand what you're fighting against, how one's heart--one's cape--may change over time, for better or worse.
My sister's half-ghost smiles like she's privy to my every thought. "Until next time."
Nodding, I turn the ring on my finger, and her form wavers out of sight.
I'll come clean, Nico, and soon. Perhaps you'll be proud of how far I've come. Even if you aren't, we have all the time in the world, all the missions in London and beyond. I will prove myself to you, the only one who matters.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, October 5th, 2020
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