The Midnight Rogue awoke as Miranda. For a moment, blind to her surroundings, the teen felt blissfully well-rested. Eyes closed, she plotted out a breakfast for herself–toast with peanut butter, bacon reheated in the bunker’s clunky microwave, strawberries haggled from the hag down the street.
She tried to roll over, but found that she wasn’t lying down. Her sweaty arms ached against an unseen force. She groaned, and as she attempted to stretch once more, an abrasive noise shattered the silence. The sound of chains.
Flashes of memories bubbled behind her eyes: midnight and bronze, royal purple silk, the sun chasing her through the streets. Chloroform.
The Midnight Rogue had killed last night. And this wasn’t her bed.
Miranda’s eyes snapped open. Her feet were bare and clammy, wrists rubbed raw by manacles. Her ink hair hung limp, black buttered noodles against a sunken skull. Sweat moistened the cloth at her armpits. It was hot–devastatingly hot; an oppressive humidity, like the bathroom after a scalding shower.
What was this place? A bunker? No, there was an open door, overflowing light into her cell. A basement? A torture chamber? Pressure built in her throat, phantom vomit clawing the base of her tongue.
She had been kidnapped.
And given her history, she was awaiting torture.
A shadow spilled across the yellow light of the unseen door, shifting closer. She strained against the chains in a panicked fervor, breath rattling up her trachea in mangled puffs of air, caught somewhere between a shriek and a grunt.
Why does she do this? Why does she have to kill? Her brain pummeled itself with desperation, jabbing lances of accusation at her darker half. There was no answer from the Rogue–she seemed only a fantasy now, the imprint of a dream fading from the mind. Gone with the night.
A foot crossed the threshold and all at once the cacophony froze. The final chain link clinked halfheartedly against the wall as he plodded into the light. It was a man. A man that was startlingly big, unnaturally big; shoulders like an ox and the gait of a teetering semi truck.
The Midnight Rogue would have laughed, purple braces sparkling in the dim. She would have taunted him, armed with an arsenal of clever yet coercive jibes, something to reel him in with anger so she could strike.
But Miranda wasn’t the Rogue–if you could look past the physical sense. Their souls were inextricably laced, yet they weren’t the same. One was forged from dawn and the other from dusk. Blending some moments, repelling in others. Coexisting.
So Miranda didn’t lash out a devastating quip, or formulate a plan. She did nothing but sink in her fear, blinking as his milky eyes caught hers.
“The Midnight Rogue…corny, isn’t it? Little brace-faced girl with a name like that,” the man remarked. His voice was calm–if not slightly smug. A scientist observing a caged beast.
“I suspected it was you, back in the alley. You put on quite a show.” He gestured to his shoes, which were stained with an ambiguous, clumpy material. “I was almost convinced. Until of course, the same ‘drunken party girl’ waltzed out of the alley a minute later, cool and collected.”
“I’m not who you think I am. I’m not her!” Miranda pleaded. The man smiled serenely, veiny temples bulging. He bent down and urged a small object from the heel of his shoe.
In an instant he was in her face. She screamed. Metal glared in the light, the shiv glowing as it slashed across her cheek. Miranda shrieked, pushing her back against the wall and thrusting her feet. She connected fruitlessly; her jabs were like a fly ramming a cow. Her bare toes cracked against his muscle.
The man stood calmly, taking the abuse without comment. Soon the clatter of chains wound down. Her feet lashed out inconsistently, the motion clumsy and leaden. The great Midnight Rogue sank as far as her manacles would allow until she was half-sitting half-hanging from the chains, lower thighs barely skimming the concrete.
Her cheek burned.
“Now, tell me, Rogue…why is it that you killed my brother?” he asked. She whimpered, mind blanking as she felt her pulse in the cut. Brother… Brother… Men that she’s killed–that I’ve killed…
Faces flashed in her mind’s eye. It was all too blurry. Too dim. The emotion in the memories overpowered any details, obscured any victims.
“I’m not who you think I am,” Miranda repeated softly, without conviction.
Unsatisfied, the man slowly raised the shiv. Her cheek throbbed with the phantom metal. Miranda…the Rogue?–she was no longer sure–wracked her mind for her victims.
A serial rapist from City Central, ripe both with age and sex-trafficking connections. Too old.
Perhaps it was the con-man who had practically stolen all of Mrs. Pelencia’s wealth; a skinny, red-headed weasel. Not a likely candidate, considering the mound of bulk staring her down. The mound of bulk that was inching the shiv forward to carve her face.
“WAIT!” Miranda screamed. The metal retracted a hair, itching to slice her skin. “He…he lived off an alley. Trash strewn everywhere, dark brick. A view of City Central glowing in the distance. I don’t know his name. But it was him.”
She waited one heartbeat, then two. No recognition came to his eyes, no emotion whatsoever–and Miranda braced herself for the cut.
It never came.
Slowly, silently, he withdrew, sauntering towards the light and disappearing through the door. Dread swiftly overtook her relief.
Obviously she had killed his brother, the man that lived off the alley. She could remember him clearly now. The physical similarities between the two were unmistakable.
Flush cheeks that implied constant intoxication.
She had murdered this man’s brother for killing Paisley. And neither the Rogue nor Miranda held any regrets for that. Logically, the only reason he had just spared her life was so that she would die slowly.
Miranda didn’t want to thirst to death, or waste away to a bag of bones. She pondered irritating the man on purpose–at least then she would meet a quick death.
There was–thankfully–no time for her to consider this. A grating note see-sawed on the air; the sound of a cheap doorbell. Her great grandmother’s apartment used to have the exact same one.
She heard the scuff of boots and a loud creak, followed by a voice that sounded reasonably polite. Strangely polite–given that this was the outer boroughs. You don’t get many boy scouts this far from City Central.
Miranda made out the words “friend” and “teenager,” then “black hair.” Her whirling brain took several seconds to compute that the voice was referencing her.
Someone was looking for her. Not The Midnight Rogue… someone was looking for their friend, a normal teen girl who had been missing for days.
She stood hastily, holding her breath to hear better.
Fight…missing….Rogue…danger…killer…murder. The snippets grew more and more aggressive. Dagger. Slayings. Stalker. Scum. The two voices bounced back and forth with more intensity, the gruff clashing with the desperate. The pleading voice grew hard and deepened.
Miranda snapped to attention, wanting to strangle herself for her stupidity. She knew who it was–wasn’t sure how she hadn’t figured it out sooner. He was the only person who would have cared enough to look for her if she was missing. He was the only person who cared about her at all.
“Ben! Ben! Ben!” She erupted. He was here to help. He was here to save her. She wrapped the chains around her hands and shook them furiously. The whole room was filled with the deafening rattle. “Ben! Ben! I’m downstairs, please…help…”
Through the clatter she heard a crash, then the thud of a body hitting the floor. She knew that sound all too well. Sweat stung her eyes and she squeezed them shut, tears flooding in to fight the salty burn.
When she opened them again, he was there.
A blade hacked through the chains and she collapsed on the cool concrete, unable to move. She tried to gasp out a sentence, to thank him profusely, to tell him how she really felt.
To tell him that she loved him and she always would. From the sweet years of childhood into nights at the club, walking home with their arms linked, from mourning a death and recovering to where they were now. It was a feeling that persisted, a feeling that fought through her life when everything else came and went.
But instead she lay there sobbing, incapable of speech. Miranda didn’t fight his grip when he carried her up the stairs and down the hall, leaving the cell behind.
When they emerged onto the street, the soft sunlight awoke her senses and calmed her sobs. Ben propped her against the wall. She sank to the sidewalk, eyes puzzling out her surroundings. This was an outer boroughs street she had never seen, yet one that looked just like every other: lined with dilapidated brick buildings, broken windows refracting the sun.
He sat down next to her, breathing hard but saying nothing.
“Ben, I swear, I didn’t mean…I’m so sorry–”
“No, no… stop. Miranda, there’s nothing to be sorry for. I should be the sorry one. I was so obsessed with finding the Rogue that I didn’t come looking for you for days.” He heaved a breath.
“What if he’d killed you? Sold you? Pawned you off as a sex worker for some City Central diplomat? I’d never forgive myself. If I hadn’t knocked him out a minute sooner…” Ben trailed off, running a hand through his golden-brown hair.
The guilt on his face dredged up every muddled feeling Miranda had ever had for him: all the thoughts of are we just friends? and what would Paisley say? and would this be wrong? unraveled themselves. Seeing his face, sappy and concerned for her, marred by the scars of bravery, she knew.
She loved him. She loved him so much it exploded in her chest, set her heart’s cadence at double time. Desperately, the words came gushing out.
“Ben, no. It’s not you. I’m the guilty one. It was karma when that man took me, karma that should have been served.” His face went blank.
“What are you talking about?”
She loved him. She loved him, she loved him, and he had to know, he had to know…
“I’m The Midnight Rogue. I killed that man’s brother for what he did to Paisley. I killed rapists. The worst of the con-men. The drunkards who beat their girlfriends, the drug dealers who leave their children to fend for themselves.”
He stared at her blankly and she kept going. She loved him with such certainty that she couldn’t stop if she tried. Everything spilled out, the secrets she had kept for so long, every horrific guilt that lived in her gut.
“After Paisley died, I was destroyed… I couldn’t stop myself. It got out of control, worse and worse, and I thought it was wrong at first. I thought I was a monster. An animal. I beat myself bloody trying to stop killing…but one day, I realized. What I did? What I’m doing?” She shook her head, a solemn certainty in her gaze.
“It’s not wrong. It’s justice, Ben. And it’s the right thing to do.”
Shock was in his eyes. His mouth was slack. But she looked into his face without worry, seeing the same boy she’d always crushed on, the boy she’d grappled over emotionally for as long as she could remember.
And she had finally told him her secret. After all this time. She loved him, she loved him, and she felt so much lighter–until he frowned.
“If this is a joke, stop it now. It’s not funny,” he hissed. She drew back, faltering. “Miranda, tell me this is a joke. You’ve got to be kidding.”
Her lip quivered as tears sprang to her eyes. No, no, no. This can’t be happening.
But it was real, and this was happening, and she shook her head.
“I’m not joking. I’m The Midnight Rogue.”
In that moment, the world shifted. His kind face contorted. Something changed in his eyes, a burning ember of disgust. Abhorrence. Like she was a rat in the gutter.
“You. Are. Literally. Insane.” Her heart plummeted. “This isn’t a game, Miranda. These are people! How many people have you killed?” He stood, fire in his eyes. She cringed against the brick. “How many people?!” Ben roared.
“I–I don’t…twenty? Thirty? But, Ben, they were–”
“No.” He said, wiping his forehead in disbelief. “No, The Midnight Rogue is a cold-blooded killer. There’s nothing that can justify brutalizing thirty people!” he shouted. Her temper began to simmer; slime built in her throat.
“Ben, it’s justice.” She stood to meet his gaze, heat peppering her voice. “Those men were dogs. Trash. Child molesters, rapists, drunks and drug addicts and freaks. They had to be killed. If I didn’t stop them, they would have done it again and again.” She stated, indignance rising.
“Since when is violence the only option? You don’t know these men, Miranda! How do you know they can’t change?” he screamed, exasperated. His fury bounced in echoes down the street. “And even if they wouldn’t stop, this isn’t your job. Let the police do their work instead of playing God.”
She resisted the urge to slap him. Her anger was boiling now, filling her brain with a blinding red. Her fingers itched for a blade.
“How can you be so daft? These are the outer boroughs. Police don’t help. People don’t change. You’re naive, Ben.” And you must be blind too, if you can’t see how much this hurts me.
She was suddenly very glad she hadn’t said those words–I love you. What hurt even more was that they were still true. She loved him. She loved him, she loved him… and it made her want to die.
“If it was only him…only the one who killed Paisley…I would have understood. God, I wanted to thank The Midnight Rogue for what she’d done! Because I might have done the same,” Ben said. He rubbed his temples and she wanted to cry from the disappointment in his voice. “But you took it too far, Miranda.”
Her chest ached. She had to concentrate on standing still as the tears shook down her pale cheeks. How could so much pain exist? So much moral gray?
As her life crumbled around her, she thought of Paisley, those sunny caramel eyes beaming light into her life.
She had been Miranda’s everything. When she no longer had any family or purpose, Paisley had been there. When she was at her highest high and her lowest low, Paisley had been there.
She was Miranda’s world, and she had been brutally murdered. By a clobbering, drunken monster high on god-knows-what, intent on assaulting a young girl outside a club.
Ben could think what he wanted. That man–and people like him–had no right to live.
“I don’t regret it, Ben. I had a reason to kill each and every one of those irredeemable bastards. And I would do it again,” she stated. He sneered at her like she was a piss-stained rodent bleeding out on the road.
The boy she adored was disgusted by her. Her rage intensified.
She hated that she thought she had loved him. That she still loved him, a beanpole of a boy. How could he be so stupid? How could he sit idly by, when he had seen his sister die? How could he preach forgiveness when people were so cruel, so horrible?
“If that’s the way you feel,” he seethed, teeth gritted, “then why don’t you just kill me too.” Hellfire in her eyes, she ripped a shard of broken glass from the pavement and pushed him down to the pavement.
He screamed, but she leaned in harder, heart breaking at the crunch of bones.
She loved him. He hated her. Paisley was dead. And Miranda was burning with a rage that couldn’t be quenched. Couldn’t be stopped, couldn’t be controlled…
She stabbed the glass into his arm, sobbing as she drew it back and thrust it again, and again, and again. Her heart was on fire. She couldn’t see through the tears. She hated herself for thinking she had a chance at love, hated Ben for his naivety, hated life for doing her wrong.
When she finally stopped, his right arm and shoulder were gushing blood. With an ire hotter than Apollo’s fire, she hissed out her words, ignoring his agonal gasps.
“I won’t kill you, Ben. But know this… for Paisley, I would. For change, I would. But you don’t understand that. You don’t understand justice, or sacrifice. You don’t understand anything, Ben Renee. Especially not me.” She threw down the blood-stained shard and it skittered across the pavement.
Miranda stood. The Midnight Rogue and the teen girl were one and the same, fused like they had never been before. There was no divide anymore–perhaps there had never been in the first place.
“You were the one person, aside from Paisley, that I would never have hurt. And I thought you were the one person who would never hurt me.” She paused, turning away from his crimson-dashed face. “I guess I was wrong.”
The teen girl brushed the tears from her cheeks and wiped the sweat off her brow. She hoped she hadn’t struck an artery. But even if he died…how could my heart get any more shattered?
The Midnight Rogue took off at a run, visions of vengeance dancing on her eyes, carrying a grief so profound it could boil the seas. In the hurricane of hurt she bobbed just above the surface, struggling to stay afloat. She was anchored by one sole resolution: nobody in the outer boroughs would ever have to die like Paisley did. Someday, somehow, some way, she would protect them all.
Even if it took every last day of her life.