Just whose bluff was being called? Syndrome's or Mr. Incredible's?
"Or what?" Syndrome sneered. Mirage glanced nervously from hero to villain, her life balanced precariously in the scales of their hands.
"Or I'll CRUSH her..." Mr. Incredible growled, his huge arms tightening around her. Mirage barely contained a squeak of fear and pleaded desperately to Syndrome with her eyes for him to save her. Syndrome simply looked on, hands on his hips, an amused smile curling the corners of his mouth.
"Gee, that sounds a little dark for you..." he mused aloud. Mr. Incredible's scowl and grip simultaneously grew deeper. Syndrome seemed to consider for a moment and then shrugged, turning his back.
"Aww go ahead."
"It would be easy..." Mr. Incredible rumbled, "like breaking a toothpick..."
Small rivulets of sweat had begun to trickle down Mirage's narrow back and she trembled under the famed Super's crushing grip.
"Show me." Syndrome dared, an evil smirk quirking his lips and eyebrows. Mirage's almond eyes widened in horror. He couldn't be serious, surely he wouldn't really let him do this to her! Surely heroes didn't kill the damsel in distress! Mr. Incredible's bulging arms shook slightly as they pressed down on her and she felt herself gasping for air. Her eyes darted from one face to the other: Syndrome's expression a defiant smirk, Mr. Incredible's only a grim and stony frown.
"Syndrome..." she gasped, "Syndrome help!"
If his heart had wavered, he didn't show it. Syndrome stood where he was, unmoving, calmly watching as Mr. Incredible bore down the full force of his strength on Mirage's unprotected ribs. A loud SNAP echoed off the sterile walls of the chamber and Mirage shrieked with what little air she had. The first snap was followed by another, and another, and another as her ribs cracked and gave way one by one.
Syndrome's eyebrows rose and his eyes grew wide. No. No this wasn't happening. Mr. Incredible was a hero, a paladin, incapable of anything but Truth, Justice, and the American Way. This...this defied everything he had ever known about the greatest Super of them all. Mr. Incredible, head bowed and face set in a grimace that showed his clenched, perfectly straight white teeth, did not look up, did not let go. Mirage gagged, kicking her long legs uselessly as he pressed the life out of her. His hero was acting like a villain.
"Wait!" Syndrome cried, stepping forward and reaching out a hand. "Stop! Put her down!"
Mr. Incredible finally looked up, his expression hard and cold. "Call off the missiles!" he demanded.
"Abort missile sequence!" Syndrome called to the nearby guard who hurried to terminate the path of the tracking missiles.
"All right I've called off the missiles. Now put her down." Syndrome's steps were shaky as he climbed the stairs to the ZPE containment unit. Mr. Incredible glared at him out of the tops of his eyes, his grip around Mirage no looser than before. Her face had turned dark and her legs and arms hung limp.
"Turn off the containment field." Mr. Incredible growled. Not knowing what else to do, Syndrome signaled to another guard who cut the power to the electronic restraints. In one movement Mr. Incredible dropped Mirage and descended to the floor. With the same breath he pulled back one enormous fist and drove it into Syndrome's face. The impact sent the young would-be villain flying backwards, crashing into a computer console and then the floor. He lay there, dazed, as Mr. Incredible's upside-down figure darted out the open chamber door.
A faint gurgle pulled him back to the present.
With deliberate effort he picked himself up off the floor, pausing only long enough to spit blood and teeth before stumbling over to Mirage's crumpled form. Like a sacrifice offered to some heathen god, she lay crushed and bleeding at the top of the platform steps. By some miracle she was still breathing if not well. Blood gurgled in her throat and trickled from her mouth, her chest squashed almost completely flat. Tears flooded Syndrome's eyes as he fought the urge to be sick.
"Oh god..." he blubbered around broken teeth and a split lip. "Mirage I...I..."
"You're hurt..." she croaked, green eyes blurring in and out of focus, running with tears of pain and regret.
"Shhh...just...just relax. You'll be okay." he told her gently, stroking her hair and staining her forehead with a gory kiss. "Someone get a medical team in here NOW!" he barked at the remaining guards who were still sitting in stunned silence. They jumped and scrambled to obey. It would take a good minute or two for the medical team to arrive. Minutes he knew Mirage did not have.
"Mirage I'm so sorry..." he sobbed once the guards had gone, tears loosening the adhesive behind his mask. "I didn't...I didn't think he'd...I..."
He broke off as she coughed, a wave of blood spilling from her mouth and across his knees. Carefully, he lay down on the floor next to her and cradled her head in his arms. Spreading his cape over her ruined body, he held her close.
"I'm glad...you're okay..." she breathed silently.
"Thanks to you..." He kissed her forehead again, worsening the bloody print he'd left before. He felt her relax in his arms, the muscles in her neck and jaw go limp, her head grow heavy. As if falling asleep her eyes drifted closed and her face turned toward him, snuggled in the hollow of his shoulder. Syndrome swallowed hard.
"I love you..."
Too late. To late the words left his mangled lips, too late the medical staff burst in. Too late he'd acted to save her. Too late. But not too late, he reflected as he allowed one of the doctors to clean him up, to get even.