Characters/Relationships: Warren Peace/Monica Keller (OFC), Will Stronghold/Layla, Zack/Magenta, Ethan/Chloe (OFC), Principle Powers, Joy Peace, original characters
Word count: 25,305
Content Advisory: Violence, description of wounds, near-death experiences
Disclaimer: Not mine, just playing.
A/N: Written for journeystory. Sequel to War and Peace In Mind. This story won’t make a lick of sense if you haven’t read that. Thanks to immortal_belovd for betaing, and hiddencait and Saj te Gyuhyall for bouncing ideas off of them and pointing out plot holes. Thanks to susanmarier for the lovely artwork!
Summary: When most of the world's super-powered people lose their powers, it's up to Warren Peace and his friends to figure out how it happened and how to stop it. But learning why this happened and what they need to do could take them into legend - and legends don't always end well.
“If they get any more sweet with each other, I’m going to start throwing Sour Patch Kids at them in self-defense. Fair warning,” Magenta said.
“I’ll help,” I promised solemnly, and both of us not-quite-smiled in benevolent conspiracy. Neither of us would do anything of the sort, but Will and Layla were being sickeningly saccharine, even for newlyweds.
“Tell Zack to play something faster than a waltz,” Ethan said, looking over at Zack’s DJ table.
“He’s promised to stick to their playlist, so no joy there. Unless you want to hear their rendition of ‘Summer Lovin.’”
“Do that and I quit this superhero gig on the spot,” Monica threatened, drawing laughter from the rest of the table. Even Will’s parents joined in along with us.
Out on the dance floor, despite everyone’s complaints to the contrary, the happy couple was finally winding down enough to start circulating amongst their guests. Though they probably had every important person in the city attending, they drifted over to us first.
“If you two were any more pleased with yourselves, you’d pop,” Mrs. Stronghold said with a smile.
Will opened his mouth to make some answer that would probably send Magenta into sugar shock when his emergency ringtone rang out. Everyone froze for a second until Mr. Stronghold plucked Will’s phone from his own pocket and answered it.
“Yes. All right. We’ll be there,” he said, and hung up. He raised an eyebrow at Will’s startled expression. “Come on son, do you think your mother and I would let anyone interrupt your wedding or honeymoon? We’re taking your calls for a few days.”
“Thanks Dad, Mom,” Will said, and quick hugs were exchanged all around before the two older Strongholds slipped away. We started to cover for them as the party kicked into high gear. There were so many guests it was easy to say, “Oh, the Strongholds? I think they’re over by the punch.” Or the presents, or the dance floor, or anywhere but where the asker was. It was a practically a game to us, we’d done it so many times in so many situations. But we’d gotten so good at it that it took a while to realize there hadn’t been a word about them in over an hour.
The Commander and Jetstream were good, damn good, second to none, and it shouldn’t have taken them that long to handle the call. It had been nearly an hour and a half since they’d left. I started to wonder if the call had been overseas, but it wasn’t until nearly two hours after the call that I seriously started to worry.
But it wasn’t until I saw Ethan and Chloe huddled together in a corner, staring at their phones with worried expressions, that I realized what was wrong. Monica realized it too at nearly the same time.
“No news--” she said.
“--Is bad news,” I finished, and both of us slipped through the crowd to join Ethan and Chloe. “Guys?”
“There’s been no super news at all,” Ethan said.
“No sightings of the Commander and Jetstream, no supervillain attacks, nothing,” Chloe added.
And for two Champion Debate masters, they knew every official and unofficial media outlet for super news that there was. If they couldn’t find anything…
“The Bureau is in full media blackout mode,” Ethan said.
“Not good,” Monica said, her voice tight with tension. The last time that had happened it had been the assault on the academy, six months ago. I was about to say something when both of our emergency phones rang simultaneously. It was like the air around us had just chilled. I answered with a sense of foreboding.
“Phoenix, you’re needed at the Bureau hospital immediately.”
“On my way,” I said automatically. A look over at Monica confirmed she’d had the same call. Very much not good. Monica’s pain absorption ability made her invaluable to injured superheroes who couldn’t take normal pain medications, while her pain enhancement and pain sense powers served as a check on my healing fire so I wouldn’t burn myself out. Together we made one of the Bureau’s Hail Mary hopes to save gravely injured superheroes. Add that to the media blackout… I looked over at Will. We needed someone as fast as him to get us to the hospital, but if by some chance it wasn’t his parents, I didn’t want to interrupt his wedding, and if it was, that was a hell of a way to find out.
“I’m calling Brittany,” Monica said. She hit a speed dial button and had a five-second conversation, her voice low and tense.
“If Will needs to know, someone from the Bureau will call him,” Ethan said quietly. “We’ll cover for you. Go.”
Monica and I slipped out the back and Brittany landed a second later, windblown from getting here so fast. Without a word she raised her hands and all of us fell upwards, gravity reversing itself as we fell over the city.
The sense of wrongness and pain, the psychic tug that let me know someone was hurt, was always strong around the Bureau hospital, but today it grabbed me and shook me like a rag doll as Brittany landed us on the roof. Monica’s eyes widened and I knew she must be feeling the pain too, and a lot stronger than I was. We ran for the doors, orderlies and nurses expecting us and pointing us to the emergency suites. We ran through the final set of doors to find two burned, mangled wrecks of human bodies wearing the torn costumes of the Commander and Jetstream.
Dr. Egret was between them with a white-feathered hand on each, using her own minor healing power to keep them clinging to life. I moved to Jetstream first, hoping the Commander’s invulnerability would keep him going, when Dr. Egret spoke.
“No, both, can’t hold them,” Dr. Egret gasped out. I hadn’t tried to heal more than one person at a time since the academy attack, but I didn’t dare hesitate. I knelt and touched them both, seeing their life fires and little more than partially animate shadows. The healing ember-fire poured out of me, burning away the darkness, strengthening their life, revealing the flames under the shadows… I could feel they were nearly out of the woods when their fires finally started to flare brightly. And what I saw there was such a shock I was hurled out of my healing trance with no need for Monica’s intervention.
“What?” she asked sharply.
“They’re blue,” I said, shaking my head. Dr. Egret was standing again, anda bevy of doctors and nurses surrounded the Commander and Jetstream, setting to rights what I hadn’t been able to heal. And past the blood and dirt from their fight, and the heated flush that was a side effect of my powers, I could see the half-closed wounds being covered up with bandages and half-healed bones being splinted to finish their knitting. Monica’s face was looked like it was in hard-edged shadow as she channeled their pain to her, and I knew we had barely gotten here in time.
I stared down at two of the toughest, most experienced heroes I knew, now helpless and just starting to come back to life. I’d expected Jetstream to be hurt worse, but the Commander was just as wounded. And that should have been impossible. He was invulnerable, same as Guardian – bullets and blades and most energy blasts just bounced off him. I caught my breath for a second as I double-checked the kinds of injuries they had suffered: bullet wounds, knife, wounds, burns, slashes, even some dark-edged wounds that looked poisoned.
“Cutter’s Crew,” Monica said, paling.
“And the Commander and Jetstream have been cursed,” I said, not quite believing it even as I said it. The only other time I had seen a life fire as any other color than the normal yellow, orange, and red had been with Meduka, Mercy’s teammate. He’d gotten his powers from one of the most old-school ways on the books, a genuine gypsy curse. I’d tried to help him before, and I’d seen his fire was green, his life energy twisted and changed by the serpent curse he bore.
“They’ve lost their powers,” Dr. Egret said, her eyes dull with fatigue, looking at the Commander.
“Hellfire!” I swore. No wonder Will’s dad looked so terrible. Another nurse popped his head into the room, looking shocked.
“We’ve had five others come in, all with power loss,” he said. “And the Director is here.”
“It’s nationwide, at minimum,” Comet said over the man’s shoulder, making him jump in surprise.
“They’ve been cursed,” I blurted out. And it couldn’t have been something the Crew had come up with; they were ruthless killers, but they didn’t exactly have the know-how or resources to power-drain the entire country!
“Phoenix, Mercy, do what you can for those coming in. Mercy, call Meduka, I need him in the War Room. Join me, both of you, as soon as you’re done,” she said.
Mercy pulled out her phone with robotic motions, her eyes wide.
“Phoenix, I’m calling Guardian and Rose Queen,” Dr. Egret said. “And I’ll need you with the others.”
“My mom, the Battle clan--” I protested, caught between wanting to call my family and needing to help the injured. Mom hadn’t been on duty yesterday, but anything could have happened since I talked to her last; superheroes didn’t get called on a set schedule. If she’d lost her powers in the middle of a delicate negotiation… Her powers were often the only thing between her and a lot of angry people with guns, and unlike most other superheroes, Mom wasn’t a black belt or a crack marksman or anything. And the Battle clan depended on their powers just as heavily and a lot more physically. There weren’t that many superhero healers around if they’d gotten hurt.
“The Peaces and Battles are fine,” Comet said quickly. “I checked. We’re still trying to figure out the extent of the power loss. Help the others; we’re still trying to figure things out.”
She was sharp, almost brusque, but I didn’t blame her. Probably the only reason she knew about my family was because I would have been distracted if I hadn’t known. She had to think about the superheroes as a whole. And the idea of superheroes losing their powers, of reaching for that extraordinary strength or ability you depended on and not finding it there… The Crew must have jumped on that sudden weakness like a pride of lions on a crippled gazelle. How had the Commander and Jetstream gotten away from Cutter’s Crew alive let alone all the way back to Maxville?
But I had no more time for speculation as Dr. Egret beckoned us to help with the wounded.
“It’s worldwide,” the Director said as we entered the War Room two hours later. The huge screens on one wall were lit up with a map of the world scattered with red dots. Other heroes that had lost their powers? Died? I didn’t know.
“Guardian and Rose Queen are still upstairs--” I began, but the Director cut me off.
“We can bring them up to speed later,” she said. I nodded reluctantly, secretly relieved to not have to drag them down here when Will’s parents were still unconscious. I’d felt terrible about not telling Will in the first place, but he’d been more concerned about seeing his parents than yelling at me about not interrupting his wedding with the news. Actually, that had been a bit of an understatement. I’d caught a glimpse of him as I’d emerged from Lightfire’s room, and Will had barely given me a nod as he half-ran, half-flew into his parents’ room. Layla had been trailing after him and shot me a grateful glance before she’d followed Will in.
I’d stolen a moment after that to call Mom, only to find a voice message on my phone.
“I’m fine, Mom and my sibs are fine, I’m keeping people from panicking, I love you, go back to work dear heart.”
That had been the only piece of good news I was likely to get for the foreseeable future.
“We have a dire situation here,” the Director continued, her back to us, still staring at the screen. “Approximately three hours ago over eight-five percent of Bureau superheroes lost their powers. Several were in active battles, and we had some casualties. Six dead, over two dozen wounded. Those not in active combat positions have reported power loss too. We had some battles with supervillains who also lost their powers, sometimes in a mutual situation, sometimes not.”
“So it’s not just us?” I asked.
“No, but the independent superheroes aren’t required to check in.”
My stomach sank and I pulled out my phone. It was rude to interrupt the Director, but from her expression, she’d expected me to call. I already knew the Battle family was all right, but they were also the most heavily connected to the independent heroes around the world.
“Tobias?” I asked, the second the call connected.
“Warren, I was expecting your call. The Director told you we’ll all right, yes?” Tobias sounded as cool as ever, but there was a hint of heat under his voice I had no trouble picking out. He was angry, and with good reason, but like me had nowhere to direct it yet.
“Yeah. You’re really ok?” I asked.
“Fine, but some of our co-workers are not. You’re with the Director, yes? I’m sending her what I know. Your uncle Anthony will keep the Bureau up to date with everything we uncover,” Tobias promised.
“I appreciate that, Emberkeeper,” the Director said when I repeated what Tobias had said.
“My pleasure, Comet. This is a very dire situation. Phoenix, we will talk later, but now, tend to your own.” He hung up abruptly, but I didn’t have time to be resentful, not when the spots of red on the map were glaring down at us, a worldwide epidemic. I stared up at them, seeing the cluster of dots around Maxville, specifically around Metroplex, where my dad was incarcerated. Mentally I shook my head; powers or no powers, Metroplex was designed to keep people inside in the event of catastrophe. Even if Baron Battle was the only one left in Metroplex with his powers, he still wouldn’t be able to get out. One less thing to worry about; I did not want to deal with more family drama on top of a world-wide crisis.
“Director, how did the Commander and Jetstream get away?” Monica asked as I shut my phone. I shook myself out of my woolgathering to concentrate on her words. “Cutter’s Crew had six months to stew after the academy went down, and none of them are afraid to go for the kill.”
“That,” said a curiously breathless voice, “was my doing.”
I started as a tall, blue-and-white-clad figure walked around me, and there damn sure hadn’t been anyone behind me a second ago. He was slender and androgynous, carrying a staff topped with an hourglass, and it understandably took me a moment to recognize him. This was only the second time I’d seen this hero in the flesh. Chronotrypsis had been at the Redeemer’s trial, keeping all the superheroes cocooned in time so we could make crucial decisions without worrying about someone having to leave for a supervillain attack. He or she (I didn’t know exactly, no one did) never showed up except for world-shaking events. But he usually never intervened in the life or death of a single person. For Chronotrypsis to do that…
“Why?” Monica asked, an edge to her voice.
“It is my power, Mercy, to see all possible futures. And to lose those two today deprives us of some critical factor that we need to keep our world intact.”
“What?” the Director said ominously.
“One possible outcome is the destruction of the Earth. I would assume you’d prefer the planet in one piece?” Chronotrypsis asked in a passionless voice.
“Of course we do,” I said. Why wouldn’t we? Was there some situation where we wouldn’t want the Earth to survive?
“I have been accused of high-handedness before, Phoenix, of choosing the future for all and steering it towards an end chosen by myself and no other. My greatest foe has always been myself. I have learned to do no more good than to save the world from annihilation.”
“And saving the Commander and Jetstream is part of that? They can save us?” I asked. They were good people, experienced heroes, but how could they do that with them wounded and powerless?
“To my grief, I have learned to limit what I say about what I see. I will tell you this – in every future where the Earth survives, in whatever fashion, the Commander and Jetstream do not die today. Also, there is another question on your minds. Mercy, you and the Redeemers had to be formed on that day you first saw me, needed to choose to be on the side of right just then. Any future where those things are not true ends in planetary disaster.”
Monica was shaking almost visibly at Chronotrypsis’ words, and I couldn’t blame her.
“Don’t flatter yourself to think you are to be the saviors. Sometimes fate can be tricky. The possibilities are endless – hero, villain, sacrifice, distraction, purpose, example, even bystander, I have seen you in every role possible. But you had to become the Redeemers that day to keep the planet existing. Beyond that, I will not say.”
“What else can you say?” the Director asked, far more patiently than I would have.
“Only what you would already do. Work together, be compassionate as well as strong, plan with as much wisdom as you possess, use all your resources. What is happening is as grave threat to your existence as a whole.”
“You’re infuriating as always Chrono. Thank you.”
Chronotrypsis bowed and disappeared between one eyeblink and the next.
“I am so glad he’d on our side,” the Director said fervently. “Team, what data do we have?” She turned towards the technopaths working feverishly on the computer banks along one wall. They were the ones who’d helped us against the academy; under the Bureau, they’d become the best data analysts that we had.
“We’re still compiling Director,” Allie said, ducking her head. “But there’s one correlation we keep seeing – everyone who lost their powers has children, or nieces and nephews.”
“But not everyone,” I pointed out. “My mom’s family, the Battle family…”
Allie shrugged and the others followed suit. “We don’t have all the data yet. But it’s one trend we’ve noticed. We do know the power loss took place at virtually the same time worldwide, affecting villains and heroes both, but until we get more information we can’t be specific.”
“There just aren’t that many superpowers that can act on a global scale. I’ve never heard of anything this widespread,” the Director said, eyes focused on the map.
“They’re cursed,” I said belatedly, shaking myself into sharing the most important piece of information we had. Between Will’s parents, the global disaster, and Chronotrypsis’ appearance, it had nearly slipped my mind. “The Commander and Jetstream, Lightfire, Fairweather, everyone I healed who’d lost their powers was cursed.”
“Everyone,” the Director repeated, and her shoulders slumped. She’d heard me when I’d told her about the Commander and Jetstream earlier, but to hear it was everyone… “So whoever or whatever is responsible for this is old. Mercy, is Meduka here yet?”
Monica checked her phone as the Director stared at the map.
“What about the Council?” I asked. This had to be a job for more than just Maxville. The Bureau Council had to be the ones in charge of trying to figure out what was going on.
“Halo Star trusts me. We have the best intelligence setup in the Bureau here in Maxville. They’re getting what we’re getting.” Not to mention Maxville was the only Bureau branch with a half-dozen technopaths used to hacking and information-gathering on its payroll.
“Why Mercy and me?” I asked more quietly, shooting a glance over at my wife. “We should get the others down here.” Some of our best plans had always come from all of us working together. Even if the Champions of Justice were more used to applying enough force to the offending party until they fell down as a general solution, we’d also figured out a hell of a lot about the academy all on our own. I needed my team.
“Guardian won’t be rational about this right now and Mercy can handle the bad news,” she said brusquely.
“The plan to take down Royal Pain’s academy, the most deadly threat we’ve faced in decades, was hers and yours. You two are quick thinkers and willing to contemplate the worst. Also, she’s a leader, you’re a second-in-command, and neither of you have family involved in this,” the Director added in a slightly softer tone.
My heart sank. “The other Champions?”
“Violet Cavy, Brilliance, Rose Queen, and Viscosity’s families were also affected,” the Director said.
“The Peaces were not. The Battles were not. Maybe there’s some factor that explains it, but my money’s on Tobias Battle and his lifetime of secrets,” the Director said, switching her gimlet stare to me.
“No way Tobias had anything to do with--”
“I don’t believe he did either, Phoenix, but I do think his family has more history than half the Bureau.”
“Why the Battles and not the Peaces?”
“The Battles have an entire library and two dedicated archivists looking after their papers, and those are just the ones I know about. You told me your mother had to go digging through the attic to find anything about her ancestors,” she said.
I had to concede that point. Not that all families didn’t have secrets, but of the two, the Battles were more likely to have some old record neatly filed away about something. They hadn’t been employed by kings and governments for hundreds of years without picking up some secrets. And a hell of a lot of history.
Monica clicked her phone shut and turned back towards the Director and me, looking very grave. “He’s on his way down right now. I told him what was going on, at least that there was power loss. Director, as a point, his curse is a serious sore spot for him. I’ve heard parts of his story twice – once with the Redeemers, and he had to be absolutely plastered before he spilled his guts. The other time… was at the academy.”
When Monica, as Painbreaker, had probably tortured it out him. That didn’t need to be said.
The Director only nodded in acknowledgement. “Mercy, I understand, but we need this information now. I know how well you all perform under pressure.”
Monica looked like she wanted to protest, but the door chimed and then opened, revealing Duke’s half-shadowed form, his snakes showing an iridescent sheen in the light.
Duke looked about as uncomfortable as he could, stiff-backed, very quiet, his snake-hair half-reared as if poised to strike. I know he had to have been in the Bureau lots of times, and met the Director before, but still held himself like he was expecting someone to hit him. Academy nerves, I knew, with a quick glance at Monica.
“You’ve heard the news?”
“People losing their powers, yeah.”
“Duke, they’ve been cursed,” I said.
His eyes went wide and his hair went into full strike position, hissing loudly. “You’re sure?” he asked harshly.
“Their fire was blue,” I told him, and he nodded very slowly. Then he shook his head.
“Look, if you want me tell you how to get rid of it, you’re out of luck. I’ve been stuck with mine for years.”
“Yes, but you’re the only friendly person we know who has any experience with curses. Most practitioners--”
“Are supervillains, yeah, I know. What do you want from me, then?”
“Tell me how you were cursed,” the Director said.
“It’s already on file,” Meduka said, and flinched at the glare she leveled at him. He took a deep breath and started talking, his voice toneless. I snuck a glance at Monica as he started talking, and saw she’d gone a little chalky. I knew, without her having to say, that this must have been what he sounded like in her academy workroom.
“My freshman year of college, there was this trip, a backpacking trip through Europe. Student discount, cheap as hell, so I went. Half the time we ducked the chaperones and went to parties because we could drink over there without someone hassling us for our ID every six seconds. I was at this rave, hooked up with this girl, Tasha.” He didn’t look at any of us as he kept talking, but his snakes bobbed and wove in the air, as if seeking someone to bite. “We went out of the warehouse, out into this park. Found a private corner…” He vaguely waved his hand, indicating things had probably gotten pretty heated between them.
“Then this old woman walked right by us and started yelling at us for being disrespectful and not keeping our hands to ourselves in public.” The snakes hissed loudly as Meduka fell silent, and he grimaced. “I told her, ‘We’re just having a good time, what, are you jealous?’ And we didn’t stop. We were both kinda buzzed and didn’t really give a crap about her.”
“The old woman growled out something in some language I didn’t know, and Tasha fainted. Then she pointed her finger at me, and I couldn’t move.” The snakes actually lunged at Duke’s face, and he shouted at them, shaking hard as he wrestled them back under control. “She told me, ‘You will not touch again until you’ve learned your lesson.’ I woke up like this, nearly bit Tasha, and went into hiding until Royal Pain found me.”
Spare as his story was, it was clear every word was as painful as Monica had warned. I took a moment to imagine what he must have gone through, hiding out on the fringes in a foreign country, unable to show his face or ask for help. If he’d had any family or friends, he must have been too afraid to get close to them. Did they think he was dead?
“And the gypsy woman, did she say anything about your lesson you had to learn?” the Director asked gently.
Duke laughed without humor. “Fuck no. And for a while I was trying everything I could think of. I don’t know if it’s respect for my elders or staying out of the park or no PDA or what.”
“There’s supposed to be a way out,” the Director muttered. “Curses always have a way out.”
“Yeah, but Madame Zora or whatever the hell her name was didn’t bother to drop a dime to me, so I’m screwed. Director, I can’t do jack shit for anyone who just lost their powers, because believe me, if I knew how to uncurse myself, I would have done it in a heartbeat years ago,” he said, his snakes hissing to punctuate his frustration.
“Are you sure?” The Director fixed him with the kind of stare she’d favored me with back when I’d gotten tossed into detention. Meduka, veteran of Painbreaker’s torture and academy sadism, crumpled after five minutes.
“It’s… better when I don’t fight it. When I accept them, work with them,” he pointed to the snakes, “rather than against them. It hurts less… and I can do more.”
The Director pursed her lips. “Well, that gives us something.”
“Stronghold?” I called very softly from the doorway of his parents’ room. The Director had released Monica and me to do whatever we needed to do until they got new information, which for Monica meant talking Duke through the trauma of having to spill his guts, and for me to find my friends.
Will was still in his tuxedo, bowtie undone, crumpled in a chair between his parents’ beds. He looked up at my voice, his eyes red and swollen from crying. I flicked my gaze over the Commander and Jetstream, pleased to see the vitals on the monitors looking nearly normal. Though they were splinted and bandaged, IV needles in their arms, plastered with monitoring pads, and would probably still be unconscious for a good long while, they were alive and out of the woods.
“Warren,” he said, almost making a question out of it. He shook his head and rubbed his eyes before staring at me again. “Warren. Thank you. Dr. Egret said they wouldn’t have made it if you hadn’t been here.”
“It’s my job,” I said uncomfortably, walking in a few steps. “Stronghold, I’m sorry I didn’t say--”
“No, it’s ok,” he said, waving my apology away. “It’s ok. You didn’t know for sure, and Voidhammer was around to get you here so…” He trailed off and stared at the floor for a long time.
“Where’s Layla?” I asked, as the silence stretched on.
“Home. Her parents lost their powers too, and they’re freaking out,” Will said listlessly. I pressed my lips together, picking up an uncomfortable truth from the stiff set of Will’s shoulders. Layla’s parents were nearly inactive. Granted, her mom could have got into trouble if she’d been trying to talk down a raging lion when the curse had happened, but Sunshine Evans got called maybe four times a year. And today hadn’t been one of those times; they’d been at the wedding when Monica and I’d gotten the call. (Though that brought up something interesting, that no one had noticed they’d been cursed until they’d tried to use their powers.) Will understood Layla wanting to be able to see her own parents were ok, to let them know she was all right once they’d discovered they’d lost their powers, but… Her parents were fine. His had nearly died. I couldn’t blame him for feeling resentment. Will wasn’t a saint.
“It’s a curse,” I said, not sure if anyone had been keeping him updated. “Nearly everyone with powers, heroes and villains, lost them at the same time. The Bureau’s trying to figure it out.”
“The Crew didn’t,” Will said, not looking up, but his voice was full of venom. “You know what was going on, why Mom and Dad got the call? The Crew decided to come out of hiding to try to destroy Mount Rushmore. Just showed up randomly and started blowing stuff up, panicking the crowd, their usual. Mom and Dad showed up, and they laughed, Warren. They laughed. Son of Silver kept firing at them, Cutter kept throwing her knives after Viper had coated them, Skybolt was keeping Mom dodging, Saurian Lord had his mechas trying to pin Dad down, and Bloodtalon was dive-bombing them both. It didn’t work. Mom and Dad were doing great, just owning the fight and then…” Will choked up for a second and his breathing went harsh and ragged. I reached out and put a hand on his shoulder as he got his voice back. How he’d gotten the footage from Rushmore, I didn’t ask.
“Then it was like someone had flipped a switch. One second, they were fine, the next second they went down under the Crew’s attacks like citizens. And the Crew was still laughing.” Will clenched one hand into a fist that I knew from experience could pulverize steel to powder. “There was a flash of blue light and Mom and Dad were gone and the Crew--” He choked silence, flushing in anger. “They started scoring themselves on what they’d done to my parents!”
I could picture it without difficulty. Cutter and Saurian Lord wrangling over whether a knife hit in a vital organ counted for more points than a mecha crushing a bone, Bloodtalon arguing that her hits counted towards their points, Viper trying to weasel his way into the bets… Yes, they would totally do that. But if Will got any more worked up, I was afraid what would happen to the next supervillain to cross his path.
“They’re okay now,” I said quietly. “Your mom and dad are okay. Chronotrypsis got them here in time.”
“Chronotrypsis?” Will asked, paling a little as he lost some of his anger from the shock.
“I was with Mercy, talking to the Director; Chrono got them out. He said… He said they weren’t supposed to die today. The world would have ended if they died today.”
Will was silent for an uncomfortably long time. “If you see him, tell him thanks.”
He sighed and sat up straighter, looking at his mom and dad. “Warren, how many people lost their powers?”
“Eighty-five percent at last count.” And not my family. I didn’t say that out loud, but I was relieved beyond measure that at least I didn’t have to worry about them. At least someone on our team didn’t have that hanging over them.
“We’re gonna be on call. We’re gonna have to take up the slack.” Will shoved himself out of his chair, leaving dents behind, and pulled the bowtie from his neck, shoving it in his pocket. “Any supervillain that’s still up is going to have a field day.”
The second the words were out of Will’s mouth, his phone rang from his parents’ bedside. Will reached out for it, almost in slow motion, and answered it.
“Yes. I understand.” A pause. “Kill-O-Watt Squad in Times Square. We’ll be there.” He hung up and looked at me, looked through me, and I felt a chill of foreboding.
“The Director wanted to talk to you,” I said, trying to stall for just a second, to get that look off his face, and Will shook his head.
“I think I need to go break some stuff. Kill-O-Watt Squad can take it. And… they’re going to need you here, Phoenix, if anything else happens. I don’t… I can’t think right now. You got this?”
Will looked withdrawn, angry, furious, and I was seriously worrying about what was going through his head. The one time I thought someone had physically hurt my mom, when Tobias had dropped by for his first visit, I’d nearly ended up trying to deck him then and there, and that was with Mom telling me not to. If Cutter’s Crew showed their face anywhere where Will could see them, if they decided to throw in with whatever villains were still active just for a laugh, I wouldn’t bet anything on their chances.
Actually… the way Will looked now, I was afraid that the call to Times Square might end badly. When superheroes like Will lost control, very bad things happened. I’d counted us all lucky that the one time Will had been tagged by Bloodtalon he’d been too focused on her to turn his attention to less-mobile targets. But now? Alcohol had brought down cops before, doctors had turned to pills as a crutch, and violence was the ugly bane of superheroes. When you went from “necessary measures” to thinking you could do whatever you wanted when someone broke laws in your line of sight… that’s how supervillains were born.
That’s how my dad ended up in prison.
“I got this. But Stronghold--” I caught his arm as he got up and he shrugged out of my hold like it was nothing. I stood in front of him, giving him the option of pushing past me, or hearing me out. “Will, are you going to be okay?”
“Hell, no,” Will said, looking up finally. “They tried to kill them Warren, and-.”
“--They were laughing about it,” I finished. “I know. You told me. Will, you’ve fought the Crew before. You know how messed up they are. You knew that if they ever got any kind of advantage, they’d push it to the limit.”
“It wasn’t supposed to be them!” Will yelled, waving at his parents. “They took our call; they were there when it was our job. If we’d been there, they wouldn’t have gotten hurt and we could have taken the Crew down for good!”
“You didn’t know, Stronghold. Nobody knew this was going to happen.”
Will looked away, looked down at his dad, and quickly scrubbed at his eyes with the back of his hand.
“Dad doesn’t get hurt by this stuff. Not ever,” Will said, calming down a little. “I don’t think I’ve seen him hurt since Homecoming freshman year.”
Jetstream had taken hard hits before, and Will had to have seen articles about that at least, even if his mom hadn’t told him about those fights. Which I doubted; Mrs. Stronghold didn’t keep stuff from her son. But to see the Commander so badly injured… Will was tougher than his dad, but he hadn’t been worse than scorched since he’d powered up. He’d gotten used to being able to throw himself at impossible situations and not having to worry about coming home in one piece. Will had gotten out of the habit of keeping himself out of the line of fire – the opposite, in fact.
“What if the rest of us lose our powers too?” Will asked, confirming my suspicions.
“If no one has powers, then I guess the police are going to be taking care of stuff from now on,” I said dryly. It was really all I could say. We were speculating enough without coming up with more worst-case scenarios.
Will didn’t even look up at my attempt at humor, just slowly turned away from his parents. I’d been frantically texting with one hand as I’d talked Will down, sending out the all-call to the rest of the Champions, knowing Will needed the least time of all of us to get ready, and we couldn’t leave without him.
“Ok,” he said finally. “I won’t kill the Crew if I see them.”
“I’m going with you,” I added, ducking into the bathroom long enough to quick-change into my Phoenix gear. I had my helmet under my arm when I emerged to see Will’s surprised expression. “Right now, you guys need me more.”
I didn’t specify who I meant. Will didn’t ask, just quick-changed into his Guardian gear and headed for the roof with me.