"I motion that we reconsider Emily Aria Kyjoi's membership in the LNH," said Kid Enthusiastic.

Doc Nostalgia looked out at him from across the conference table. "Motion denied! Not only did she take a life—"

"In self-defense," said Kid Enthusiastic. "By that standard you'd have to throw out everyone who used to work for Pla.net.ary investiations, except me."

"He's right," said Fearless Leader, a note of regret in his voice. He idly touched the dial on the side of his ray gun. He'd never had to set it on "kill" for as long as the LNH had been around, but the setting was still there if he needed it.

"I'm not finished!" Doc Nostalgia pounded the table. "She looks human, but she isn't! She's an abomination, a monster that preys on innocent people and makes them slaves and sucks the life out of everyone around her! It's bad enough that we let in a ninja, we're not going to have a—a—"

"A vampire?" said January Frost. "I've known many of her kind throughout my career. You can hardly tar them all with the same brush. Some can be called good, some evil, many fall somewhere in between. There are few ways to survive in this world that don't rely on some degree of exploitation, and there are few of us that don't have our own terrible hungers. They're little different from humans, except that they prey on others more directly than most of us do."

"I don't mean a vampire. She's something even worse than that—a Mary Sue!"

"What did you call her?" Kid Enthusiastic found himself beginning to tremble.

"She has red-purple eyes! Her name is 'Emily Aria Kyjoi!' She's the girlfriend of a core LNH member who just shows up out of nowhere and has a tragic past linked with his! And did I mention she has red-purple eyes?"

Kid Enthusiastic leaned forward and glared at Fearless Leader. "No she isn't. She's an anime-inspired character. People have weird eyes in anime all the time, and 'Emily Aria Kyjoi' is a perfectly normal name compared to 'Allelujah Haptism.' And—and yeah, 'Kyjoi' isn't really Japanese, but anime always gives foreign characters names like 'Quillsh Wammy.' And it doesn’t matter if she—how we're connected, because this setting's only been around for a few months—"

"Wait, what did you just say?" said Fearless Leader.

"Never mind! I have no idea! The point is—" He jabbed a finger at Doc Nostalgia, who flinched. "You're the biggest Gary Stu of them all! You're the last survivor of your species, you're considered one of the greatest heroes in the world, you used to be practically omnipotent, you have that weird blue-black hair and you'll never be thrown off the team and you'll always have a leadership position no matter how much of a big mean jerk you are!"

"Hold it," said Fearless Leader. "I understand how you feel, Kid E, but you need to—"

"You wouldn't know. You can't feel anything." Fearless Leader gasped, and Kid Enthusiastic immediately regretted it. "Oh crap, Felix, I'm sorry. I don't know what came over me."

Fearless Leader nodded. "I understand. Just get some rest, OK?"

"I guess so." He walked out of the room, and January Frost followed him. "I'm sorry, Kid Enthusiastic. I regret that she couldn't join the LNH, but there are other ways I can help her, and other people who can come to her aid if necessary."

"Yeah, I know. I just wish she could have found somewhere to belong."

"I myself longed to find the same thing for much of my life. It took me quite some time, but perhaps I did."

"Yeah, well, I need to be alone for a bit."

Kid Enthusiastic was not having a good day. He really wanted to spend the rest of it alone listening to They Might Be Giants and watching Doctor Who, but he had to finish building prosthetic arms for C'Mon. (cf. Kung Fu Holmes and Bite-Size Tales of the LNH #5.5) The first time he'd tested them, they'd tried to strangle him. So he was going to spend the rest of the day wrestling with some ornery cyborg arms. Still, at least he could be alone—

"Hi Kid!" said Professor Penumbra. Kid Enthusiastic almost jumped out of his shoes. "You OK? You look like you're feeling a little Claremonty."

"Eh, I dunno." Kid Enthusiastic did his best to smile, the way he almost always did, but he'd never been very good at faking it. "I'm all right."

"It's a girl, isn't it?" He smiled gently. Kid Enthusiastic winced. "Oh. It's Emme."

"Yeah. She tried to join the LNH. It went about as well as you'd expect."

"Ouch." He put his hand on Kid Enthusiastic's shoulder. "Vampires, huh? They're always trouble. There are a few rules you should always keep in mind when you're dealing with magic: Never call up anything you can't put down. Never take food from a faerie. Never let anyone talk you into making a vow you don't understand. And never fall in love with a vampire."

"Yeah, well, I guess it's too late for me."

"You're not the only one. Those rules I mentioned? I've broken every single one."

"Wait, you too?"

"Close enough. There was this guy... He was an old friend of mine from the net before my adventuring days, and one day after I hadn't talked to him in years he calls me out of the blue and tells me he's a vampire and he needs my help to cure him. I helped him deal with a couple of his enemies and spent some time looking for a cure. It turned out we made a pretty good team, and we got pretty close." He smiled ruefully. "But then one day he let himself get to hungry, broke into my house after a fight and drank all the blood from my cat. We had a fight, and I never saw him again."

"Wow. I had no idea. But Emme... I don't think she's like that. She's really sweet, and she keeps really good control of herself. It's just—"

"This wasn't the right environment for her. And you weren't the right guy. It happens sometimes. The thing is, when I was younger I felt lonely a lot of the time because I didn't have anywhere to belong or anyone to belong to. I wanted someone to love me and help take my pain away. But now I know that when you love someone, whether it's friendship or romance or somewhere in between, you've still got your own pain and you've got theirs too. It's like a wise man once said: no two people are not on fire. If you really love someone and try to bear their pain, sometimes that actually makes you stronger and sometimes it doesn't. And that's not your fault or theirs or anyone else's, that's just life."

"But I don't know who else there would be for her. Or me. I mean, we can't get any older. Then again, I guess that means we can't, uh, go anywhere either. You know, I, uh..." He started blushing. "Generally I feel pretty good about the fact that I'll never have anything to do with, uh, that whole sex thing. It makes my life a lot simpler." As if on cue, Pantra walked by, muttering under her breath. Probably it was because of a certain young ninja. Or because Fearless Leader had told her again that she couldn't eat Cranium. Or... well, there were any number of reasons Pantra could be angry, but Ultimate Mercenary was certainly one of them. "But, well, I'm curious about everything, so sometimes I feel a little sad I'll never know what that's like, outside of those really creepy fanfics."

"Kid, you're kind of putting me in the Weird Zone right now."

"Sorry. It's just that... you know."

"I know."

"And I'm never going to have kids either, not even in an alternate future story. Sometimes I feel a little sad about that too. But don't tell anyone."

"I won't. And listen. You've got a family, and it's us. It's a total cliche, I know, but it's still true. This whole thing would fall apart without you. And I know that won't make you feel any better right now, but at least it makes this something you can live with. And you can't do what normal guys do, but they can't do this. I'd say that's a pretty fair trade."

"Yeah. Thanks. You think you could help me test out these cyborg arms I'm building?"

"Nope. You're on your own with that one, Kid. Sorry."

★★★★

Note: I asked Lalo whether Professor Penumbra, like Weirdness Magnet before him, was bisexual and he said he wasn't sure. As a result, I wound up leaving his relationship with the guy who could very well be Sparkly-Disturbed-Sexy-Vampire Man ambiguous. It makes sense if Professor Penumbra is bisexual because part of his concept is that he's a liminal figure, who crosses boundaries and defies easy categorization. His origin mentions that he his mixed-race background and sense of not fitting in drew him into the geek world and BBSes, and "he was involved in every single one." He's both scientist and mage. It's also expressed in his name. But by the same token it makes sense that he'd sometimes wind up in relationships that are confusing and hard to categorize, so I think this works.

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