As Radiance seized her by the jaw, Trinity couldn’t believe what she was hearing. For a moment she, quite sincerely, worried that she was suffering from some kind of head trauma. It didn’t make any sense. Why? Why would Radiance suddenly start talking like that, after how far they’d come with each other?
“What?” she demanded of the amazonian woman, in a slightly strangled voice. “What did you just say?”
“I’m not letting you go,” Radiance said, in the firmest and coldest voice Trinity had ever heard her use. “Not until you return all the money you stole.”
Trinity shivered and tried to squirm away, but Radiance wouldn’t let her.
“But… but you just said-”
“It doesn’t matter what I said before,” Radiance interrupted.
Her face was utterly, mercilessly unreadable. Trinity started shaking her head as much as she was able.
“This isn’t funny,” she said. Trinity could sense that a change had come over Radiance, and it scared her. “This is a real shitty joke, Vi.”
That seemed to get through to the superhero, but only a little. She released her grip on Trinity and turned away.
“I’m not joking.”
“What…” Trinity started backing off, aiming vaguely towards the door. “What the fuck? So, what? You were just jerking me around? Another one of your sick fucking lessons?”
“No!” Radiance replied quickly. “No, I just… I realized you still need to make up for what you did.”
There was an uncharacteristic stiffness to her voice. She sounded like she was trying to rationalize her own words to herself. Trinity kept waiting for her to say more, but she didn’t.
“OK, well, first of all, there’s nothing to return, remember?” Trinity shot back. “I burnt it all. It’s all up in flames.”
Radiance nodded. She was still staring at the wall. “The security guard. I remember. But you’re wrong.” She sighed. “You brainwashed one of Eleanor Quinn’s people. You told her to deliver all the money collected at the event to you. Well, she was still the person responsible for the accounts once the event started appealing for donors to come forward and rewrite the checks you torched. Guess what she did with it all.”
Trinity’s eyes went wide. “Then…”
If she managed to get out of here, she had millions waiting for her. And Radiance had seriously been about to let her go?
“Yeah,” Radiance said. “That brings us to now. To this.”
Trinity still couldn’t quite believe it. “There’s got to be a mistake,” she insisted. “I mean, there’s no way they just let her handle all that money after I got to her!”
“No one saw,” Radiance replied. “No one knew. Except…”
“Except you.” Trinity finished quietly.
It was starting to click into place. Radiance had been too obsessed with punishing Trinity to stick around and do her due diligence. As a result, a vast sum of money had simply disappeared. Now, after finding out, Radiance felt guilty and needed to make Trinity give it all back in order to soothe her guilty conscience.
That almost made sense. Almost.
There was still one thing Trinity couldn’t get past. Just minutes ago, Radiance had seemed so sincere. So earnest. After their little heart-to-heart, Trinity had completely and totally believed that Radiance had intended to let her go. Would she really have changed her mind that fast? It seemed decidedly out of character for the superhero. If nothing else, she was the honorable type. She’d put Trinity through some pretty twisted stuff, but she wasn’t one for mind games. Radiance was the type of woman who always kept her word.
Which meant something had to be very, very wrong.
Trinity thought back to the conversation Radiance had been having with The Peregrine. It had been short, but seemed to have caused Radiance to have a complete change of heart. Why? Trinity tried to recall what had been said.
“Radiance,” she said slowly, “what did The Peregrine mean by ‘doing it her way’?”
Radiance stiffened visibly. “She meant the right way,” she replied, in a mechanical tone of voice.
Trinity frowned. This was just getting more and more confusing.
She knew The Peregrine, but only by reputation. That wasn’t saying much, of course. Everyone knew The Peregrine by reputation. Radiance was almost certainly the most famous hero in Future City, but The Peregrine was a close enough second to introduce a little doubt into the mix. Trinity counted herself lucky that she’d never crossed paths with her. The Peregrine was all gadgets and smarts, with no apparent superpowers to speak of, but that didn’t stop her from being scary as shit. She had a certain level of infamy, among the city’s villains.
The Peregrine was ruthless. Sometimes deadly ruthless. One way or another, if she was on your trail, that was it. You were finished.
Fortunately, she usually restricted her patrols to the ritzy parts of the city, and spent most of her time focusing on high-profile villains with more dark powers than brain cells. Which, of course, just made her interest in Trinity’s comparatively low-grade heist all the more suspicious.
“Does she have something on you?” Trinity asked slowly. “Some dirt? Or you owe her a favor, maybe?”
It was nothing more than a shot in the dark, but Trinity didn’t have any other ideas.
Radiance shook her head at once. “The Peregrine is a hero,” she insisted. “She’s the kind of hero this city needs. She knows what’s right. She knows what needs to be done, and how to do it.”
Trinity couldn’t help but notice the way the Radiance sounded like she was reciting lines from a book. Her voice was stiff and robotic - unnaturally so. Clearly, something extremely weird was going on. Unfortunately, when Radiance was stonewalling her this hard, knowing that didn’t help Trinity much. She decided to concentrate on, as usual, saving her own skin. She was this close to getting out from under Radiance’s thumb. All she needed to do was make the hero doubt herself long enough for Trinity to slip away and disappear. Permanently.
What did she care what was going on with the hero? She shouldn’t. She shouldn’t care. Trinity kept trying to tell herself that.
“Look, Radiance - Vi,” Trinity pleaded, “you know why I wanted that money in the first place?”
Radiance didn’t respond.
“So I could get the fuck out of here!” Trinity cried. “I’m not trying to fuck anybody over, alright? I’m not trying to hire a private army of mercenaries. I’m not trying to build a stupid fucking apocalypse machine, or whatever. I’m just trying to leave. I’m trying to get enough money to start over someplace else. A new life, one where I’m not always on the bottom fucking rung, having to deal with ceaseless bullshit from someone who thinks they own me. That’s all I want. Is that so wrong?”
Radiance folded her arms.
“So… so why won't you just let me go already?” Trinity pleaded. “You want to. You know you want to. You told me that much! Don’t you owe me this?” Radiance seemed immovable. It was like talking to a brick wall. Trinity grasped around desperately for something she could say. “I… I’m not going to hurt anyone, OK? I promise. I’ve learned my lesson. Is that what you want to hear?”
This time, Radiance twitched strangely, and Trinity thought she might have gotten through to her. A moment later, her hopes were dashed.
“You’re a villain,” Radiance said mechanically. “Villains have to be punished. You stole. You need to give back what you stole. It’s as simple as that.”
“Fuck!” Trinity hissed. She hated that the way Radiance was treating her was making tears well up in her eyes. She’d been starting to like her. She’d been starting to wonder. Now, all she wanted to do was be anywhere else. Trinity was seriously considering making a break for the door; only the knowledge that it was completely futile stopped her.
“So. Where is it?” Radiance demanded. The hero’s eyes were unreadable.
“The money?” Trinity started to laugh hysterically. Why the hell was Radiance so hung up on this? It was beyond absurd. “I don’t know! You think it goes to my Cash App or something? Of course not.”
“You must know,” Radiance said, with an air of forced patience. “Apparently, the woman you mind-controlled wired the money to a dummy account, offshore, which was immediately emptied.”
“No shit,” Trinity spat. “I wasn’t born yesterday. I know how to run a heist.”
Radiance scowled at her. Trinity sighed.
“It goes to a friend of mine, alright?” Trinity crossed her arms. “She holds onto it. So I don’t have it.”
“I see.” Radiance rolled one of her shoulders like she was limbering up. “Then, let’s go see your friend.”
Trinity stared her dead in the face, balled her hands into fists, and drew herself up as tall as she could.
“Not. On. Your. Fucking. Life.”
Radiance sighed, and looked at her evenly. “Come on, Trinity. This is the last hurdle. Just tell me where I can find your friend, and you can go.”
“I’m not a fucking snitch,” Trinity snarled furiously.
“Come on, Shimmer.” Radiance made a threatening gesture that Trinity knew all too well. “You know I can just make you.”
“You can try.”
Trinity had no desire to suffer Radiance’s mind control again, nor was she under any illusions about her ability to resist it. But she’d be damned if she wasn’t going to try. It didn’t matter if Radiance let her go or not; if she betrayed a friend without a fight, she’d never forgive herself. But she was hoping it wouldn’t come to that. Surely, after all that they’d been talking about, Radiance wasn’t going to use that thing on her again. There was no way. Trinity wanted to believe in her that much, at least.
As if sensing her doubts, Radiance took a warning step forwards. “I mean it.”
“God!” Trinity wanted to scream. Somehow, she’d never felt more like a cornered animal. She’d thought she knew where she stood with Radiance. Now, she didn’t seem to know anything. “Why do you even care so fucking much, huh? Answer me that! It’s not the money, that’s for sure. It’s not about teaching me some kind of stupid lesson either. And don’t try to pretend it’s just about principles. That’s bullshit. There’s something else going on, I can tell.”
At first, Trinity thought Radiance was about to bellow an answer. It was only after a couple of seconds of silence that she started to get the feeling the superhero was talking to herself as much as she was to Trinity. The silence dragged on, with Radiance simply standing there, implacable as a statue, with a distant, almost dazed expression on her face. It was as if the question had somehow stunned her.
“Why?” Radiance echoed again, faintly. “Why do I care so much?
Trinity started to grow concerned. She reached out a hand toward her captor. “Whatever it is, maybe we can talk about it,” she urged quietly. The supervillain’s heart was pounding.
The seconds dragged on.
“N-no.” At first, Radiance sounded uncertain, but conviction quickly filled her voice. “No! There is nothing to talk about. In fact, you’ve kept me talking for far, far too long.”
With a wave of her hand, she conjured the magical, golden chain that never failed to fill Trinity’s heart with dread. This time, though, it did more than that. It filled her whole body with trembling fury.
“You are such a fucking hypocrite!” Trinity yelled. “I can’t believe I ever… ugh!” She started pacing furiously back and forth across the small corner of the room she occupied. “You’re so quick to lecture me about every little god damn thing, but now you won't even deign to explain yourself to a lowly mortal like me. You want to teach me the right way to live my life, but to do it, you make me indulge every single one of your personal little dominant fantasies!”
Radiance looked taken aback by Trinity’s sudden fury. “I wasn’t-”
“You were getting off on it! Don’t even pretend otherwise.” Trinity’s throat was already starting to hurt from yelling, but it felt good to finally let it all out. “And worse! You made me get off on it too.”
At that, Radiance just blinked. “What the fuck are you talking about?”
Trinity laughed, her voice coming out more than a little manic. “Playing dumb? For real? Whatever. Fine. Fuck with my head even more. Sure. More games. Whatever this one is, it can’t be any worse than making me cum from your friends passing me around, or making me get off on being spanked.”
“You… got off on all of that?” Radiance asked incredulously.
“Sure did!” Trinity spat. “Thanks to you and your fucking chain, and whatever it was doing to me.”
Too late, Trinity took heed of the bizarre series of contortions that were passing over Radiance’s face as she turned white, then red, then purple.
“You…” Radiance growled, through gritted teeth. “You truly are the lowest of the low. Is there anything you won’t sink to? Is anything beneath you? I was… and I thought… I can’t believe I actually felt guilty.”
Trinity’s stomach tied itself into yet another knot. “What? N-no…”
“I didn’t make you enjoy anything!” the superhero told her, voice full of cold fury. “I couldn’t. Not even if I wanted to. That’s not how it works!”
“Then…” Trinity whispered.
Then it had all been her. That was what Trinity couldn’t stop herself from thinking. She shook her head and kept shaking it, over and over. That had been her. All of it. All that pleasure. All that arousal. All that enjoyment.
Everything Radiance had done to her. She’d liked it.
She had liked being treated that way.
“And I thought I was punishing you,” Radiance snorted. “Who am I kidding? I was giving you the ride of a lifetime! Why so eager to leave? Had your fill already? Or can you just not wait to get bragging about how you got laid?”
“What the fuck?” Trinity’s head was too busy. She needed a moment to sit, to think. But she couldn’t have one. Radiance was right there, growling, yelling, and all Trinity could do was try to meet her, word for word. “You chose to do those things to me, remember? I never had any say in it. Don’t act like I made you. You’re practically a god! Make you? I couldn’t even stop you!”
“You could have told me,” Radiance shot back. “You could have let me know you were having a great fucking time.”
“I-I wasn’t!” Trinity insisted, although in truth she was less than sure. “I couldn’t… I thought that was what you wanted! I didn’t want to let you know you were winning.”
Radiance ignored her. “You didn’t say a word,” she ranted. “You just lied. You used me. Maybe you didn’t even realize it, because it comes as naturally to you as breathing, doesn’t it? Using your power, taking whatever you want. Money. Dignity. A quick fuck. You just can’t help yourself. Well, congratulations! You got one over on me too. I’m sure that’s something you can have fun boasting about.”
“I’m not going to- god!” Trinity was shaking. Why was Radiance making this so hard? Like it wasn’t hard enough already. Trinity had a million questions she needed to ask herself, and the more Radiance yelled at her, the more twisted it all got.
Had she really been using Radiance? No! Of course not! Unless… unless she had. She had been getting off on it. She’d been enjoying it. That wasn’t Radiance’s fault. It was hers. And was she really supposed to deny that she used people? It was practically a way of life for her. She was a criminal. A villain. So, why did the accusation hurt so much, this time?
Maybe it was all her fault.
It usually was.
No! That was all wrong! It was Radiance. Radiance had done those things to her. Wasn’t the superhero even going to acknowledge that? Was all this just that easy for her? The more Trinity thought about that, the more her guilt and confusion started to curdle and boil over into anger.
“And you just can’t help yourself either, huh?” Trinity hissed. “You think you’re so fucking good. So much better than me. Better than everyone. Why settle for being a hero? Just call yourself a goddess. You know what’s right and wrong better than anyone, don’t you? You get to administer whatever sick fucking punishment you feel like, right? Doesn’t matter that you were getting off on it just as hard as I was. I’m not the only one here using her powers to get her rocks off.”
“How dare you?” Radiance yelled. Trinity just laughed.
“Sure. Fine. Just keep playing pretend. It’s not like it matters. Everyone will just believe you anyway. You’re the big famous angel of Future City. I’m just scum, right? And everyone knows it.” Trinity turned her back and folded her arms. “I can’t believe I was starting to care about you. And I can’t believe you pretended to care about me.”
At that, Radiance just spluttered: “I… you… pretend?”
Then, she fell silent, and Trinity wanted very, very badly to turn back around and see what kind of expression she had on her face. But she couldn’t bring herself to give the hero the satisfaction, and when Radiance spoke again, her voice had turned back to being quiet and distant and hard.
“This doesn’t matter,” Radiance said. “None of this matters. How you feel doesn’t matter. How I feel doesn’t matter. What matters is that I am going to take back what you stole. I have to do this the right way. I am going to make this right.”
Trinity finally broke, and looked at her. Just like she had earlier, Radiance looked dazed. Shell-shocked, almost. Trinity was close to taking pity on her, but when she made to reach out, all of the hero’s hurtful words came flooding back. So, instead, she just stared resolutely at the door, and contemplated her odds.
There was nothing uncertain or unsteady in Radiance’s movements when, without a sound, she surged forwards and clasped her golden chain collar around Trinity’s neck.
Trinity shivered as the cold, enchanted metal wrapped itself around her neck, forming, impossibly a perfect, inescapable binding. It felt like a circuit being completed. Trinity could sense, somehow, Radiance’s control settling over her. It made her body freeze, and her thoughts turn still. It was like a straitjacket, fitted around her entire body. She was intimately, uncomfortably aware of her own muscles, ready to betray her. Ready to act according to another’s will, not her own.
She wasn’t sure if that feeling was really there, or if she’d just learned to expect it. Trained and conditioned to obey, like a dog with a clicker.
The humiliation of it made her wet.
“Tell me your friend’s name,” Radiance ordered. “The person holding the money you stole.”
Trinity’s breath came ragged as the name forced its way out of her. She fought it as hard as she could, but she lacked the strength to take herself to her breaking point. To resist until she was on the verge of passing out from the pain. She felt defeated.
“Ramona Isley,” she whispered.
“Good.” Radiance nodded. Her eyes were stone-cold. “Are you going to tell me where I can find her, or do I have to make you do that, too?”
Trinity’s shoulders slumped. “I don’t know,” she replied. “She has a few places she likes to lie low. She could be at any of them.”
“I see.” Radiance seemed relieved. She paused for a moment and thought. “If you called her and asked for a meeting, would she show? Be honest with me.”
That command, too, settled over Trinity. The compulsion that suddenly worked to loosen her tongue made the fallen supervillain whimper. “Probably,” she said. “I trust her, kind of. She doesn’t know anything is wrong.”
“Good. I have some burner phones. Will those work?”
Trinity just nodded. She had the number memorized. There was no point trying to fight any of this. She’d learned that lesson, at least.
“Then let’s go give Ramona Isley a call.”
Nodding again, Trinity followed Radiance as the hero led her over to her wardrobe. She expected Radiance to look pleased or smug, given how meekly she was obeying, but she didn’t. She didn’t look happy at all.
Ramona Isley was a strange bedfellow, at least for Trinity. As far as villains usually went, they were in two different camps. For all of her open contempt for Future City’s wealthy elite, Trinity was, ultimately, in it for herself. There were plenty of villains like that, and there were also plenty of villains who were obsessively vengeful, violent, obsessive, or otherwise deranged And then there were the idealists. Ramona was one of these. She was as punk as they came, both inside and out, and she was a supervillain because she sincerely wanted to make the world a better place - by burning everything shitty in it to ash.
At least, that was the big-picture goal. In practical terms, she was cautious, level-headed, and remarkably sane, which meant that she mostly operated on a modest scale and made a good partner for someone like Trinity. The two of them hailed from different parts of the city, but both had gotten their start in the criminal underworld at about the same time, and so had ended up crossing paths. Neither was too much of an egomaniac to consider teaming up, and so they’d ended up forming an on-again, off-again kind of partnership, whenever one of them was planning something that could prove mutually beneficial. In this instance, it was completely straightforward: Ramona kept Trinity’s money safe, and she got a small cut.
The two of them also fucked sometimes, because hey, why not?
That part of their relationship was even more on-again, off-again, though. They weren’t all that compatible; Trinity’s switchy moods were infrequent, and Ramona was one hundred percent organic top, with no added submissiveness.
When those switchy moods did hit, though? Ramona was as obnoxiously cocky as she was irresistibly skilled.
Ramona was also trans, something that she advertised openly and proudly with some of her many tattoos. She liked to say it was the source of all her strength; her powers had first manifested in response to taking HRT. Apparently, the introduction of feminizing hormones into her system had triggered some kind of latent gene, and caused her to start producing incredibly potent, mind-warping pheromones.
Her and Trinity being proud servants of the gay agenda had helped them get to know each other, and was one source of their closeness. However, it was also the source of one of their oldest in-jokes. After making her villain debut, Ramona had been dubbed ‘Pheramona’ by the press, a moniker annoyingly close to her actual name. She’d tried re-branding herself, but with no luck; apparently, once the media decided what they wanted to call you, it was far harder to shake than any deadname.
Trinity never, ever got tired of giving her shit for it.
Affectionately, of course. Trinity would never have knowingly or intentionally said anything to piss Ramona off. Partly, that was because her powers could be a little temperamental - if you caught her in a bad mood, she could easily fill an entire office block with enough pheromones to have everyone working there drooling over her. But mostly, it was because Ramona had had her back more than once, and that counted for a lot, when you were a villain. People you could trust even a little were hard to come by, and when you found them, you’d be a fool not to value them properly.
Which was why, when she heard Ramona pick up the phone, Trinity’s heart sank in the knowledge that she was going to have to betray her.
“Hey, Ramona,” Trinity said, forced by Radiance to sound like her usual, breezy, untroubled self. “Where are you? I need to come by and pick up the goods.”