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War and Peace In Mind, Chapter 21: Side Effects
Sky High
Drama/Sci-Fi

Side Effects
 

 

Four o’clock. Who would be calling me at four o’clock on a Sunday night? Our study session isn’t even until seven. I asked myself, flipping open my ringing phone without even looking.

“Hello?”

“Warred? Id’s be,” a thick voice said on the other end. Huh? What the hell does that mean? I checked the caller ID: Will.

“Will?” I asked uncertainly.

“Yeah. Hey, I wadded do dell you I can’d be ad the study session tonide ad your house.”

“What’s wrong with you?” I asked.

“I hab a code! I can’d breed oud of by dose, whad does id sownd like?” It took me a second to translate that.

“You have a cold and can’t breathe out of your nose?” I asked just to be sure.

“Yeah! Thad’s whad I jus said!”

“Fine, whatever. I’ll be over in a minute,” I said. Looks like Justin’s power actually worked.

“Whad?”

“You’re being an idiot. You can’t miss tonight’s session, not with your grades Stronghold.”

“Bud Im’b sick!”

“And who do you have for a friend?” I reminded him pointedly. I remembered Tobias’ words, that I should be able to even heal people with diseases. And despite the trouble my new powers were causing me, I wanted to see if I really could, given the chance. A cold probably wasn’t the best of things to start with, but at least I couldn’t hurt Will if I screwed up.

“Uh… sure. I bean, if you wad do,” he said diffidently. I snapped the phone shut and grabbed my jacket for the short walk to Stronghold’s house.

I was a little nervous, but was trying to go through every calming exercise I could think of to prepare myself. One of the bad things about having to conceal my powers was that I couldn’t practice very much. If I hadn’t had to stay under the radar, Ethan might have tried to get me into a hospital to test my powers under all kinds of different circumstances.

Perversely, I was kind of glad that wasn’t the case. Tobias had said he’d tell people I could only heal those I cared for. I knew that wasn’t strictly true; I had healed Penny after all. Though… I had been feeling really sorry for her at the time. But still, I didn’t want to use my powers on random strangers. The very idea weirded me out a lot.

Maybe I was just selfish. Despite the fact that my friends considered me the original source of all advice, I truly had no desire to start intervening in other peoples’ lives. Sure, I heard plenty of woe around me in the cafeteria, but I never wanted to turn around and offer people advice about their problems. Not that they’d accept it from me, provided they didn’t faint or run away first.

Weren’t healers supposed to be self-sacrificing? That was what my great-great-grandmother had been, self-sacrificing until it killed her. I wasn’t entirely selfish either, I didn’t think. I was going to be a superhero, and for that I had no problem laying my life on the line to help others. Was it because typical hero work was going to be in the heat of the moment, not at someone’s bedside? Was I only heroic under stress? When it “counted?” Uncomfortable thoughts indeed. Then again, maybe a little selfishness would be useful, so I didn’t end up like great-great-grandma.

I got to the Stronghold’s back door, opening it with my own key. Mrs. Stronghold had given all of us our own keys a few months ago, telling us she trusted us enough to give us the run of the house. It really touched me a lot, though I hadn’t shown it at the time.

“Warren? Good afternoon dear. Didn’t Will call and tell you he’s sick?” Mrs. Stronghold asked as I walked into the kitchen. She stood at the sink, rinsing off some potatoes, and could only nod in greeting.

“That’s why I came,” I offered obliquely.

“Oh?” she raised an eyebrow in understanding. “Well… if you’re sure. He wouldn’t mind a little company. Layla was here earlier, but Will wouldn’t let her in the room. He was afraid she’d get sick and then blame him.”

“Layla’s kind of grumpy when she’s sick,” I pointed out, and Mrs. Stronghold laughed.

“Don’t we all know it? Well, you know where his room is,” she said, pointing towards the stairs with her chin. I tromped upstairs, hearing the coughing and sneezing coming from Stronghold’s room long before I came to it.

Will was propped up in bed with a bolster pillow, used tissues scattered around him in snowdrifts and a huge plastic mug of iced juice on his nightstand. He looked horrible, with a red nose and eyes, and hair sticking up in all direction.

“Hey Warred. Uh, you sure you wadda comb id here? I don’d wadda make you sick too.”

“I’m indestructible,” I reminded him. “I don’t get sick. Ever.”

“Nod fair,” he groused, making a face. I merely smirked.

“So, this is Justin’s fault, you think?”

“He tode be id mighd hab a delayed effegt, if id would worg ad all. Id’s stupid, I cad bedch-press the school bud still ged a code from somethig lig thad,” he said exasperatedly.

“Yeah, life’s just so unfair, isn’t it?” I asked rhetorically, pulling up a chair next to the bed. Will shoveled a snowdrift of tissues into a wastepaper basket, and then hesitated.

“You readdy wadda try do heal be?” he asked uncertainly. “I thoughd you said you didn’t do the liddle stuff very well.”

“If it doesn’t work, at least I can’t hurt you. I just want to see if I can,” I explained, trying to quell my nervousness again. Will just shrugged.

“Fide wid be. I’d just be happy to be able to breed oud of my dose agaid. You deed be to do adythig?”

“Nope, just sit back and chill,” I said with a casualness I really wasn’t feeling. “Just tell me to stop if it gets painful.” Will flopped back on the pillow and watched me. I slowly reached out and put on hand on his chest, closing my eyes and concentrating hard for the feeling of wrongness that would let me know what was going on.

It was faint, but definitely there, and the ember-fire began to flicker along my hand. It was like when Magenta was poisoned, but the shadow of sickness was much, much less against the fire of Will’s life. Obviously, he wasn’t inadvertently suffering from a fatal illness that just looked like a cold. Good for him, difficult for me.

I kept breathing carefully, remembering what my mom had been teaching me, and began to slowly burn away the shadow. It was just like feeding my regular fire, except I had to watch it in my mind’s eye rather than my real eyes. The vague shadow was tenacious, and I found myself pouring more and more power into the flame to burn it away. The flame was beginning to flare bright and clear when I suddenly felt a huge thump.

I shook myself out of my self-imposed trance and realized I was on the opposite side of the room, with Will’s dresser now having an inappropriately close relationship with my spine. Shortly after I realized that, then it began to hurt.

“What the hell did you do that for Stronghold?” I demanded, prying myself out of the furniture. Then I finally looked at him. Will was a bright tomato red, breathing heavily, sitting on the edge of his bed with his head in his hands.

“I told you to stop, but you couldn’t hear me. I was burning up,” he gasped. He grabbed the mug on his nightstand and drained it in a few big gulps, and his color immediately went a few shades paler. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to hit you so hard.”

“I can take it…” I said, slowly standing up, testing to make sure all my limbs still worked. “At least you didn’t send me through the wall this time, or break your furniture.”

“Yeah, I’m getting better at that,” Will said, laughing. “Mom would have killed me if I hadn’t.”

“Are you ok? Seriously, I hadn’t thought…” I trailed off. Will paused for a second and took a deep breath in through his nose.

“Yup, definitely better. Hey, it worked!” he said with a half-smile.

“What are you two doing up here?” Mrs. Stronghold demanded, flinging the door open. She looked from me, next to the displaced dresser, to Will, sitting on his bed, and crossed her arms for an explanation.

“Um… it worked?” I offered.

“Totally! Look,” Will said, offering a demonstration of his newly rediscovered ability to breathe again. Mrs. Stronghold smiled a bit and went over to take a look at him. But when she put her hand on his forehead, she jerked back like he had just burned her.

“Will, you’re burning up!” she accused.

“It’s a side effect,” I jumped in quickly. Mrs. Stronghold turned a stern gaze on me, and then leaned back over her son.

“Will, go take a cool shower or something, get your temperature down,” she said, and Will quickly hopped off of the bed and disappeared down the hall, mouthing Thanks behind his mom’s back. Mrs. Stronghold just looked at me, a look that said very clearly I wasn’t going to get out of here in one piece. I gulped.

“There are side effects to this new power of yours?” she asked quietly.

“I wasn’t really sure. I hadn’t tried to heal something like this before,” I tried to explain.

“Will was an experiment?” she demanded. Oh crap, now I’m in for it.

“I… asked him if I could try. He knew I hadn’t done this before. I figured I couldn’t hurt him if-,” I started to say.

“Couldn’t hurt him? Warren, you-,” she sighed. “I’ve been married to Steve for over twenty years. And despite the fact that I know he can turn giant meteors into dust or take out giant robots in a single punch, I know he isn’t completely impervious. And when there’s something he isn’t impervious to, he’s just as fragile as a regular person. He can get sick. And so can Will.”

Mom! Stop giving him a hard time!” Will yelled from down the hall. Mrs. Stronghold looked out the door and then back at me. Her expression softened a bit.

“I didn’t know,” I tried to explain.

“Warren… I appreciate you being willing to help us out, particularly when, well, it could get you into trouble. I didn’t mean to snap, it’s just… Things are difficult now. I’m sure your mother told you how the school board meeting went. All of us parents are on edge,” she tried to explain.

“I’m sorry,” I apologized. “I just… I never get a chance to practice unless it’s on my friends. I would rather figure out what kinds of side effects it has now than during a fight. Besides, this is from our last Gauntlet session. Do you know Justin Thompson? He’s a psysicker, and he tagged Will on Friday morning.” Mrs. Stronghold pursed her lips at that.

“All right, I’ll forgive you for that,” she said finally, and I relaxed a bit. “Don’t get cocky,” she added in a warning tone, and I nodded quickly.

“I won’t,” I told her sincerely. Mrs. Stronghold finally smiled at me.

“It’s a rare power you have,” she started. I shook my head at her before she could go any further, and she cocked her head to the side in inquiry.

“Don’t,” I said quietly. “I just… I don’t like it when people look at me that way. Like I can fix everything.”

“Why Warren? I could guess why you’d be uncomfortable with… your pyrokinesis-.”

“With my dad’s powers,” I said, saying what I knew she didn’t want to say.

“Ok then, I could guess why’d you be uncomfortable with your dad’s powers, but why this? All of you kids talk about your powers all the time when you’re studying over here, everyone but you, unless you’re talking about tactics for your Gauntlet runs. You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to, I was just curious,” she said, gazing at me frankly behind her glasses.

I looked down at the floor for a second, and then sat down in Will’s computer chair.

“You know what’s funny? I’m not even afraid of my dad’s powers anymore, not since Will and I became friends. I’m afraid of this though,” I said, letting the ember-flames play along one hand briefly. “Aren’t healers supposed to be nice people? Want to help everyone in pain? I don’t. I can’t. I… hate it when people look at me like they… want pieces of me. It’s worse than the looks I get when people know who my dad is.”

I had no idea why I was telling her these things; this was more like something I’d tell my own mom. These were things I had told my own mom. She had been kind of enigmatic when I had told her, which told me she had some kind of plan. Like maybe having me figure it out on my own would be better than anything she could say.

Mrs. Stronghold gave me a kind of sad smile and walked over to kneel down so she was at eye level.

“You want to know something? That’s always how it is when you’re a superhero. People always want pieces of you, even if they don’t know why. They think you can save them from everything, even if you can’t. And let me tell you, it’s easier behind a mask,” she said, ducking her head to try to look me in the eyes. I lifted my head to meet her gaze, and she looked at me compassionately.

“No one really knew my mom, Silverhawk; she wasn’t a really successful hero, and that’s something I kind of keep quiet. I had a lot to prove to the world that I could do everything she couldn’t. Steve had the opposite problem with trying to live up to his dad’s reputation. When we finally met and started working together, everyone started expecting so much out of us. And you know what? We kept meeting those expectations, and those that we couldn’t, we were forgiven, because of everything else we had done. And when things got to me a little too much…” she paused and took off her glasses. “Then Jetstream could go back to being Josie, who only had to worry about her family, her job, and her house, and not anything worse than that.”

I straightened up a little in the chair, and Jetstream stood again, holding her glasses casually in one hand.

“You can make your own reputation Warren. And if people want pieces of you, that’s just part and parcel of being a superhero. Remember, they’re only going to want pieces of… whatever your superhero name is going to be. Superheroes are larger than life; we can afford to let the citizens have those pieces. And who you are under your mask… you only give away whatever pieces you want,” she said.

“So… this’ll get easier when I grow up?” I asked with uneasy humor.

“It’s easier when you have your costume to hide behind. I mean it, it gives you a lot of freedom to either leave your past behind or bring all your baggage with you. And if you’re not comfortable with your new power, then people don’t ever have to know. I think you’re going to do some great things, you and Will and Layla and everyone else. And they won’t let people take anything from you you’re not willing to give.

“Why do you think Will let you experiment on him? Because he trusts you. Believe me, your friends won’t try to push you to give anything you don’t want to. You don’t have to be afraid of what you can do,” she said, smiling a little. I drew back a bit, startled.

It was, oddly enough, something I think was better that I hear from Jetstream rather than the Peacemaker. My mom had only been active for a total of six years; Jetstream had been in the game for over twenty. And Jetstream was a fighter, just like I was going to be. The way Mom did her hero work was almost nothing like how I was going to do mine.

“Thanks,” I said quietly, standing up.

“This isn’t the first time I’ve had this conversation,” she said with a knowing look. “But I know you’ll be worrying about this a lot sooner than my son will. Come here.” Before I could even protest, she had given me a hug. “Better get on home and have something to eat before the rest of your friends show up with junk food for your study session.”

“Except for Layla,” I said, drawing a laugh out of Mrs. Stronghold.

I got out of the house before she could think of anything else she wanted to say to me, my mind already full enough, reaction starting to set in as I walked. It definitely was a lot less than the other injuries I had healed, but still there, a vague feeling of cold, and a little emotional rawness. It was comforting to concentrate on something physical, or at least think about something other than Mrs. Stronghold’s uncannily useful advice.

I can heal diseases, I really can. Tobias was right. That drew me up short again and I frowned inside at the thought. Emotionally I didn’t want him to be right, but I couldn’t intellectually refute what he had said to me. This wasn’t any less of a strain on my brain than what Will’s mom had said to me, but at least it was a change of pace.


Prophetically, I had barely gotten back into my own house when my phone rang again. And this time it was Tobias. I debated letting it ring until voice mail picked up, but shoved the thought aside and answered.

 

“Warren, I have some answers for you,” he said simply. “I found the names of the others at the Weaponmaster’s party.”

“You’re fast,” I said, digging into a drawer in the kitchen for pencil and paper. “Shoot.”

“Torch Seven, Judge Libra, Torpedo Warp, Saber, and Cold Cobalt,” he said carefully. “And of them, only Torpedo Warp and the Weaponsmaster ever worked with Royal Pain.”

“How do you know about Royal Pain?” I demanded sharply. He had to know something, but I hadn’t exactly given him chapter and verse about Cutter’s Crew and the academy.

“I inquired. Sky High would like to keep that incident last year quiet, but that simply isn’t possible. Particularly when the existence of her academy was just announced to the school board. And when the tapes of your defense of your fellow students just became available to the whole family through the Bureau,” he pointed out. “I made an educated guess that you wouldn’t want her students to get their hands on that kind of knowledge.”

“…Thanks,” I said. At least that would keep the rest of us from chasing down false leads. “And you were right,” I added on inspiration, not wanting to get into details about those tapes again. I had the perfect distracter. I think I could hear Tobias blinking in confusion on the other end of the line as I abruptly changed the subject. “About me being able to heal diseases.”

“What did you try?” he asked, sounding oddly eager.

“My friend Stronghold had a cold. It wasn’t really easy to heal, but it wasn’t too bad either,” I explained.

“Stronghold?” he repeated, sounding confused.

“Will Stronghold, my best friend,” I said, wondering how he was going to react.

“You’re friends with Will Stronghold…” he said slowly.

“Yes,” I said simply. There were another five beats of silence.

“I see. Ah… Very well then. I had something else I wanted to talk to you about, if you have the time,” he said calmly. If I had been expecting a big blow-up, I was doomed to disappointment.

“Sure, I have the time,” I said politely. He might have told me that he had disowned Baron Battle, but he couldn’t have been entirely comfortable with me being best friends with the son of the man that captured him. I could spare him the time for not going off the deep end.

“I wanted to tell you about something I had in mind for a graduation present for you. I wondered if you would like to come over in June to the family holdings and meet the rest of your relatives. You have a couple of young cousins that are rather taken with you, and one of them might even be up for some teaching from someone relatively closer to his own age…”

“Wait, I thought all my cousins were women?” I asked inanely, a little startled by the offer. Well, ok, a lot startled. Hadn’t he recalled our first meeting hadn’t gone so swimmingly? That he had threatened me, injured my mom, and I had brought him to his knees just to make a point?

“They are. These are your cousins’ children, your first cousins once removed. One of them is a little boy about eight years old; Reginald’s oldest child Ivana his is mother. He’s starting to show signs of possibly being a pyrokinetic. It would be nice perhaps if you were willing to teach him a little, as well as his grandfather and I. If you wouldn’t mind, of course. Thomas respects both of us, but he thinks you are rather interesting. It may be that nothing comes to pass, heaven knows we’ve been wrong in the past, but I thought perhaps it might be beneficial for both of you,” he explained. I stared at some middle distance, obscurely flattered by both his gift and his request, but also confused as hell.

How could he want me to teach anyone in his family? How could he trust me? My powers worked differently than his, he saw that I got angry pretty easily, and I tended to hold a grudge. What if I got frustrated and accidentally hurt the kid? What if I taught him something that Tobias didn’t approve of? What if I told the kid what Tobias had done at our first meeting? That surely would change the kid’s opinion of his great-grandfather in a hurry.

“I… I’m going to be starting work almost right away,” I told him, trying to stall while I attempted to come up with a way to broach the sheer insanity of this visit for both of us.

“I’m not talking about a three-month vacation. Just a short visit, maybe a week or so. You seem to be as much a workaholic as the rest of us, and I wouldn’t try to take you away from your work. It’s the most important thing you’ll ever do in your life,” he said with dignity. He understands, I thought. I needed to get out there, to prove myself, to help people, and it was becoming more and more of a need as time went on.

But even if he understood that kind of thing, it didn’t negate the fact that the idea was still crazy in the first place.

“I know it is… Tobias, why the hell do you want me over there?” I asked finally, not being able to find a tactful way of pointing out my concerns. “You threatened me and my mom, I threatened you and wanted to turn you in to the Bureau. I don’t know anything about how your family teaches using your powers, and mine aren’t even that much like yours!”

“Not as different as you may think,” he started, but I continued on.

“And I still haven’t forgiven you for burning my mom,” I added. Silence reigned on the phone for another thirty seconds.

“I told you when we first met that I take bonds of blood very seriously. I wasn’t able to be any part of your life for far too long. Forgive an old man for wanting to reconnect with his only grandson before he shuffled off the mortal coil,” Tobias said.

“Bull. You’re indestructible, same as me, and I know what that means,” I snapped.

“Tell me,” he said primly.

“We don’t ever get sick, we don’t stay hurt, and we live a very long time. And we never get to take the easy way out. I did my family tree in class, Tobias, and I read the birth and death dates for every Battle that died of old age. So don’t try to guilt-trip me. My mom’s much better at it.”

One of the effects of being indestructible was perfect health. We recovered instantly from almost any injury, though that wouldn’t save us from something like, say, decapitation or explosion. But barring that, any indestructible Battle that hadn’t met with an accidental death had a lifespan of nearly a century and a half. I had often wondered why the judge who had sentenced my dad had written out his prison term the way he had, and now I knew. Probably anyone who had been directly responsible for putting my dad in prison or keeping him there would be dead before my dad croaked.

I knew Tobias himself was nearly ninety, despite the fact that he looked barely sixty. When I had first learned that, it scared the crap out of me. I had known, intellectually, that I would outlive my mom, and all my friends’ parents, and probably one or more of my friends themselves just on general principle. But when I learned that I would not only probably outlive them, but that I would outlive them all by at least a generation or two, it frightened me.

For a while after learning that, I had felt utterly alien, completely inhuman. Then I had listened to the others’ family trees and power side effects. Zack, and most of his family, could function on four hours of sleep a night if they wanted to with no problems whatsoever. Will could easily survive the oxygen deprivation at high altitudes for hours, even days, under conditions that could probably kill me within minutes, and give a regular person a screaming case of altitude sickness. If Layla were dropped in the middle of a barren, rocky waste, she would probably go quietly bonkers within hours just because her own mental balance was tied into the plant biosphere. After hearing all of that, suddenly I seemed much more normal.

“Ah… I see,” Tobias said, taken aback.

“Just… don’t try to play me, or manipulate me, or set something up. I’m sick and tired of it,” I told him. “Can you be straight with me for five minutes? Why invite me to your house and ask for my help?”

“Because I want to. Very simply, I want you to see that there’s something good in your father’s family, something not me and not him. If you’re willing to teach Thomas even a little, then that will mean that something of who you are will continue on in my family even if you never come back again. I consider that the truest form of immortality,” he explained.

“You…” I started, and then trailed off. It was a good reason, a real reason, and I believed him when he said it, but I couldn’t bring myself to answer him yet.

“I value your opinion, Warren. We’re traditionalists, I’ll admit that readily, but we’re not averse to learning new things. You’ve probably learned things about your abilities that we’ve never considered, just because you didn’t know it couldn’t be done. And we probably know some things you don’t, because we have hundreds of years of experience behind us.”

“That still doesn’t quite explain the whole ‘you tried to turn me into the Bureau, so please, come over to my house and corrupt the youth,’ situation,” I protested.

“It’s the privilege of age that I get to ignore some things as inconsequential, and take others in stride. And I’m considered eccentric rather than batty when I do so. You had a very salient point when you… protested the manner of my warning to you. Therefore, I’m not worried about it. I know you wouldn’t want to frighten Thomas. Should you choose to enlighten my offspring about the details of my first visit, I cannot stop you. But I think you will find all my sons and daughters understand expediency,” he pointed out.

“Yeah, I’ll visit,” I found myself telling him, while quietly questioning my own sanity. Maybe it was just my own morbid curiosity more than anything that made me accept.

“Thank you Warren. I’ll send you details closer to graduation. And I’ll look up Torpedo Warp and the Weaponsmaster and see what they’re up to these days,” he promised.

“Thanks,” I told him shortly, and snapped the phone shut. I looked up to see my mom standing in the doorway of the kitchen.

“He finally asked you,” she said evenly. “He talked to me last week; he wanted my permission to basically kidnap you for a week. I told him he had to convince you on his own.”

“When that guy wants to reconnect, he doesn’t screw around,” I said, shaking my head. It didn’t even bother me that she had been eavesdropping; I never could have kept this from her anyway. “I can’t believe he’d want me anywhere near his family, not with the way I treated him.”

“Like he said, he can be an eccentric old man if he wants to. I know Tobias is desperate to have you in his life, Warren. He might have sounded matter-of-fact when he talked about disowning Baron, but I could tell it nearly killed him to do that,” she said softly, padding from the doorway to give me a hug. “He’s a lot like you in some ways, he likes to hide his pain.”

I hugged her back hard and shook my head a little.

“I’ll worry about it in June. Seriously, if I think about this too hard my head is going to explode,” I said finally.

“You’ve been using your new power again too,” she added.

“How can you tell? I was all the way over at Stronghold’s house,” I asked.

“You know I can always tell what you’re feeling, and usually a lot farther away than I can with anyone else. But with your new power… I can pick that up from a mile away. Also Josie called me,” she added, and I snorted. Power-sensing or gossip, which was faster? I finally relented and told her what happened, ending with Mrs. Stronghold’s curious speech. Mom only gave me another enigmatic smile when I mentioned it, which probably meant she had been talking to Will’s mom about it a while ago. Mom might be setting me up for things, but when it was her that did it, I didn’t mind.


The gang had been a little surprised at Will’s sudden recovery that night, and Ethan had, of course, wanted all the details out of me. He thought it was the height of cool that I was able to do that, and then wanted to know how I had thought of it. Then I finally had to spill a little more of my first conversation with my grandfather, though I still left out his more extreme methods for getting my attention. And I left the most recent conversation out entirely. No way I was going to spill that until I had some kind of handle on it myself.

 

“Huh, I wonder if you had side effects because Justin made Will sick instead of him just catching a cold,” Ethan said thoughtfully. “I mean, the way I understand it, Justin made Will’s body think it was sick, instead of actually having a cold virus making him sick.”

I shrugged expansively.

“Your guess is as good as mine at this point. I don’t have anything to compare it to.”

“So you want to practice on someone else when we get sick?” Magenta had asked me. Will and I had shaken our heads simultaneously.

“I spiked Stronghold’s temperature trying to fix him, I think I was pretty close to burning him when he threw me off,” I explained.

“Yeah, didn’t feel so great there at the end,” Will put in.

“You couldn’t break your own trance?” Ethan asked me.

“I wasn’t quite done yet. I couldn’t hear him,” I corrected. Will just shrugged philosophically.

“No big deal, nothing bad happened really… Until my mom came in,” he pointed out. I rolled my eyes.

“Yeah, thanks for the back-up there pal, way to let your mom chew me out for experimenting on you,” I said sarcastically, though I was still smiling.

“Hmm… I just had a thought…” Ethan said, looking pensive. “I wonder if you could use that as a weapon. Temperature-spiking I mean.”

It was all I could do to not explode in anger at that point, but my expression must have shown plenty, because Ethan flinched back, paling. This was the one thing that I had that wasn’t tainted by my dad’s reputation. Baron Battle and his crimes shadowed all my relatives, my powers, my reputation, even my appearance. The healing power was the one thing I had that wasn’t connected to him in any way; it was the one pure and good thing that was solely and totally mine. The bare idea of using it purposefully to hurt someone made my stomach churn.

I clenched my hands and closed my eyes, holding the mental image of a bonfire, slowly contracting the flames until they were the size of a campfire, carefully reining in my anger. I didn’t dare say anything until I had control again, because underneath it was as much fear as anger. Fear at my anger, truth be told. I needed another emotional confrontation today like I needed a hole in the head.

Healing was as emotionally draining as it was physically draining, and it seemed to wear at my self-control; that was becoming abundantly clear. I hadn’t been very reasonable with Tobias, and I sure as hell wasn’t being reasonable with Ethan now. I shouldn’t have to resort to meditation rituals to keep my temper when Ethan was just trying to be a good tactician for the team.

“Sorry, that was dumb, I shouldn’t have said that,” Ethan babbled. I took two deep breaths and opened my eyes again, slowly unclenching my fists. At least I hadn’t powered up; I had that much self-control at least.

“Not your fault, I’ve had a strange day,” I said in an impressively calm tone of voice. I think that freaked my friends out more than my near-blowup. “I just don’t want to use my healing power to hurt someone. Ever. Ok?”

“Ok, sure thing,” Ethan said quickly.

“Are you sure you’re all right Warren?” Layla asked, concerned

“Yeah… I’ll be ok,” I said finally. “Look, don’t some of you have studying to do? I have physics homework that isn’t going to do itself.”

The rest of the gang shook themselves and started to break out their books and papers, while Ethan gingerly sat down next to me. He had started to take some senior-level courses so he could begin to take college-credit classes next year, and he and I sometimes ran into each other in our more normal classes.

“I’m really sorry,” he whispered as he sharpened a pencil. “Really, I wasn’t thinking.”

“Don’t you usually think too much Popsicle?” I asked, and he relaxed a little. If I had still been angry, I would have called him by his name, and he knew it.

“Not about things like that. I just… Didn’t realize how that sounded until it came out of my mouth,” he explained.

“Apology accepted. Now, what did you get for number eight?”

Ethan bent to his books, and I tried to focus on the more mundane task of determining the velocity of a unlaiden swallow. Right now a little mundanity was extremely appealing, because it was getting pretty clear our future was going to be extremely weird.

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Timothy
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