Author's note: And that marks the end of that months-long storyline. And I have an announcement to make at the end of this chapter. All feedback is appreciated.

April 29, 2014

All the heroes from outside Athens had returned to their home cities, having thanked Rika, Athena and Granite for rescuing them. They all encouraged Rika to stay a superhero. Phoenix and Mirela were helping the new superhumans Alkaios had kidnapped to adjust to what happened to them. There was a boy who could stick to things, a boy who could transform into different animals, and a girl who could become intangible. It was fortunate that Alkaios wasn't smarter, because the powers he'd had access to really should have made him unstoppable.

"The shapeshifter's the only one interested in being a hero," Mirela told Rika. "Maria was already training for the police, so she'll finish that and join the police force. She'll be the first superhuman on the Athenian police force."

"Good for her," Rika said, putting down her coffee cup. "That's a smart move. It's a good way to use her powers."

"Ioannis isn't really designed to be a superhero," Mirela continued. "Sticking to things is a pretty limited power, and he's in terrible shape. Fat and flabby."

"I know him," Rika said. "He goes to my school. The weird thing is he doesn't lack for confidence – he hit on me a couple times."

"Yeah, he's hit on me, too. I turned him down flat. He still ogles me, though. I'll be glad when we finally send him back home."

"How long does Phoenix want to keep the three of them around?"

"A few days, at least. Anyway, Konstantinos is pretty cool. His transformations are a bit freaky. They're slow, and they're hard on him. We're hoping that he just needs to practice, and they'll get easier the more he does it. Luckily, he's a bit of a masochist. He loves feeling pain."

"Useful trait in a superhero, I guess," Rika said.

"So, speaking of superheroes," Mirela segued. "Do you think you'll rejoin the team? I'd love to work with you again, now that I'm committed to being a superhero."

"I don't know," Rika replied, her mood dropping. "I still need to give it more thought."

"Well, take your time. We did capture a lot of villains the other day, I don't imagine anything will come up that the rest of us can't handle."

"I'm surprised you're so willing to become a hero. You were pretty dead-set against it."

"Yeah, I know. I guess what you said back then was true. It's not a thrill that's easy to ignore. University offers few opportunities to beat the crap out of people."

"That sense of power is tough to give up, isn't it?" Rika said.

Mirela nodded. "It is. It's an amazing feeling. It's like nothing else out there."

"So easy to get lost in that," Rika said sadly. "Anyway, I've got to get going. A friend wants me to go shoe shopping with her."

. . .

"Ooh, these are cute," Alexis said. She picked up a pair of blue shoes with red bows.

"Oh, yeah. Those are . . . cute," Rika said. She was glad Alexis wasn't looking, so couldn't see the face she was making.

"Don't like them?" Alexis guessed.

"Not even in the slightest," Rika admitted. "But hey, it's your feet. What I think isn't important."

"Of course it's important. You're my friend. I want to know what you think."

"In that case, I think those shoes should be thrown in a fire."

"I'll just put them in the 'maybe' column," Alexis said with a giggle. "Thanks for coming, by the way."

"Thanks for inviting me. I've had a pretty stressful couple of days, I needed a chance to relax."

"I know what you mean. I've been pretty stressed, too. Actually, that's – ooh, I like these ones."

"Platforms? I don't know, doesn't that seem a bit . . . I don't know, something?"

"I guess. Come on, let's look at the boots. That's what I want. Boots with big heels."

"Looking for something sexy?"

"Exactly. Heels always make me feel sexy. I don't have any boots with heels. I need to get some."

"The problem is always finding a pair that fits," Rika said. "Especially for girls like us, with big feet."

"I know!" Alexis said in frustration. "Why do the people who make shoes always assume girls have tiny, dainty little feet? It's discrimination against the big-footed!"

"It's time for a revolution!" Rika said, louder than she intended. She blushed when she saw people looking at her.

"Way to embarrass us," Alexis slapped her arm playfully.

"I'm going to blame this on you. You got me worked up."

"Yeah, well," Alexis replied nervously, "you won't have that excuse for much longer."

"What do you mean?" Rika asked.

"This is going to be one of the last times we get to hang out," Alexis said sadly.

Rika grabbed her by the shoulders. "Alexis . . . are you dying?"

"What? No! I'm moving. Why would dying be the assumption you make?"

"You're moving? Where? And why? And when?"

"We're moving back up north. As soon as the school year's over. It's where my dad's job needs him to go, so we get to move. Again."

"God, that sucks. I'm really going to miss you."

"I'll miss you, too," Alexis said. They hugged.

"Is this going to affect your transition?" Rika asked.

"No, I already have a doctor there. He was always really supportive of me, and I know he'll be happy to take over my transition. So at least I don't have to worry about that."

"Will you be keeping in touch? I know you hate Facebook, so . . . email?"

"I'll try. But I'm going to be pretty busy. And I'm sure you will be, too."

"I'll never be too busy for an email," Rika said.

"Ooh, these boots," Alexis said. "These boots are great."

"Yep," Rika agreed. "Those boots are totally you."

. . .

That night, Rika went to Natassa's house. They made out for a little while on Natassa's bed, then Rika pulled back a bit and put her head on the pillow. "I've been needing this," she said.

"Do you want to talk about it?" Natassa asked.

"Not even in the slightest," Rika shook her head.

"Oh." Natassa couldn't hide her disappointment.

"I'm sorry. It's not . . . It's something I just don't want to talk about. Maybe another time, but not right now."

"OK." Natassa was still disappointed. Rika wondered if she should tell Natassa the truth. Talk to her about being Aegis, and about the struggled she'd had with it, and was still having. But it really wasn't something she wanted to talk about. When she was with Natassa, she wanted to be able to forget about Aegis; she just wanted to be Rika. And she didn't want Natassa's opinion of her to change, one way or the other, based on it. She hated hiding anything from her, but she needed for Natassa to not know.

"Alexis is leaving Athens," Rika said.

"She's the one you made out with?" Natassa asked, a bit of an edge in her voice.

"Um, yes."

"That's too bad." Natassa's tone made it clear she thought it was a good thing.

"Yeah. But it's not that big a deal. It just means I'll have to spend more time bugging you. Think you can put up with that?"

Natassa giggled. "Well, you can be pretty tiring."

"Can I? I try my best. I could probably use some more practice tiring you out."

"You pervert."

"I can't help it, you're so damned sexy."

"You don't think I'm too fat?" Natassa asked self-consciously.

"No, you're not fat. You're adorably chubby. And it just means there's more of you to enjoy."

"Well. I do want you to enjoy yourself." They both giggled as they kissed some more.

. . .

The next day, after school, Rika hung out with the girls. "So I'm pregnant," Tasia said.

"What?!" everyone replied simultaneously.

"April Fools'!" Tasia said.

"Uh, that's at the start of the month," Zoe said. "Not the end."

"Oh, right. In that case, yeah, I'm pregnant."

"How did that happen?" Rika asked.

"Aliens, obviously," Selene said sarcastically. "Isn't that how all babies are made?"

"That's not what I meant," Rika said with a bit of a blush. "I meant, didn't you use protection?"

"Condoms aren't a hundred percent effective," Zoe pointed out.

"Especially when you don't use one," Tasia admitted. She rubbed the back of her neck and blushed with embarrassment.

"What?" Rika said. "You're not an idiot. Why wouldn't you use a condom?"

"We wanted to see if it felt better without one," Tasia replied.

"Did it?" Selene asked.

"Selene!" Zoe objected.

"Yeah, it did," Tasia said. "But not enough to be worth having a kid."

"God, I guess that scare video we saw was right," Rika said. "It really does only take once." Tasia mumbled something. "What? What did you say?"

Tasia sighed. "We did it without a condom a few times, not just once."

"That was pretty stupid of you," Zoe said.

"I know! I know!"

"Are you going to get an abortion?" Selene asked.

"As ever, the soul of tact," Rika said.

"I don't know," Tasia replied. "Maybe. I don't know."

"You should get an abortion," Selene said.

"Stop it," Zoe told her. "I'm sure this is hard enough for her."

"Have you told Matthias?" Rika asked.

"Not yet," Tasia shook her head. "I'll tell him soon. I'm sure he'll be supportive, though. He'll probably back me up, whatever I choose."

'He had better,' Agathe signed. 'Or I will break him.'

"Anyway, can we talk about something else?" Tasia asked. "Let's talk about how awesome Rika is. You kicked the asses of those villains!"

"Yeah," Rika said sadly.

"What's wrong?" Zoe asked.

"I didn't want to be dragged back into being a superhero. But I wasn't given a choice. Even now, I'm not sure if what I do next is my choice."

"What do you mean?" Tasia asked.

"When she recruited me, Athena told me that the world runs on stories. She said that there are heroes who have to do certain things, because their story demands it. And she said I was one of those heroes that stories revolve around. Before Athena and Granite went back to the States, I asked her if my story was done. She said she didn't know. So now, whatever I do, I don't know if I'll be doing it because it's what I want to do, or if it's because it's what I'm supposed to do."

"That's . . . weird," Zoe asked.

"Very meta," Selene said. "I can see where you're coming from. Sometimes, I feel like the characters in my stories write themselves – that they're the ones creating the story, and I'm just recording it. Other times, I feel like a god, controlling everything they do. There have been times I've wondered if I'm just a character in a story. And if I am, am I writing myself, or is everything being decided on by the writer."

"Athena didn't really say anything about a writer," Rika replied. "The feeling I got was that the stories are, like, their own, independent . . . thing. That it's, like, fate or something." The doorbell rang, and Zoe got up to answer it.

"Yeah, that makes some sense," Selene said. "There's the Fates of myth. Since Athena's a goddess, it figures that she'd believe they've got a lot of power over our fates."

"Hey, everyone," Giorgios said as he walked into the room with Zoe. "What's up?"

"We're trying to figure out if I have any choice in how I live my life," Rika said with a frown.

"Oh. Um. I'm not quite sure I follow."

"Free will versus predestination," Selene explained. "She's been having feelings of being trapped by predestination."

"Ah. I don't believe that crap," Giorgios said. "The future's not written in stone. We decide how to live our lives."

"Would you be so confident," Rika asked, "if a goddess told you you don't have that much choice?"

"I'd like to think I'd still believe in free will, yeah."

Agathe handed a piece of paper to Zoe. "'Does it really matter?'" Zoe read. "'Even if our futures are set for us, we don't have any way of knowing. As long as it feels like we're choosing for ourselves, then we are choosing for ourselves. And if our futures aren't set, then we really are choosing for ourselves. Either way, there's no use worrying about something that's impossible to know.'"

"I guess," Rika said uncertainly.

"So what are you going to do?" Tasia asked. "Are you staying Aegis, or are you retiring?"

Rika walked to the window and looked at the streets below. She thought about all she'd been through since becoming Aegis, and what it would mean if she continued. Could I cope with it? Do I want to? Can I afford to be Aegis? Can I afford not to be? Could I stay away?

She hung her head. She wished she had answers to those questions. It might have made it easier to make a decision. In the end, all she could do was what she believed to be right.

Rika turned back to her friends, waiting expectantly for her answer. She knew what they wanted her to do.

She took in a deep breath and silently prayed that she was doing the right thing.


Author's note, Continued: So, yeah. Announcement. I'm putting Aegis on hiatus. I've fallen pretty far behind on my writing in general - I have no more buffer for this, and almost no buffer for The Champions. And I've still got a couple other short stories I want to do, too. So, at least for now, Aegis is at an end. I do hope to get back to it, but that's going to depend on a few things. It'll depend on whether I can write two stories at a time once I have a job. The Champions will always take precedence over any other stories, but if I can do two at a time while I work, then I'll do a second volume of Aegis. I do have some neat ideas, it's just a matter of finding the time to write it. Of course, having readers encouraging me to continue, and offering suggestions on how to improve the story, would probably make it a bit easier to make time. For now, though, it's goodbye to Rika. Which is probably actually a good thing for her, because I really did put her through a lot.

So thanks for reading, and thanks for those who did review. hotwinglover especially, and Superhuman Supreme. I hope those of you who read the story enjoyed it. I enjoyed writing it.