First chapter of my epic Sky High fanfic. Many more chapters to come!
Title: War and Peace In Mind, Chapter 1 Origins
Characters: Warren Peace and others
Rating: PG-13 shading into R. Drama, language, eventually gore, some angst, violence.
Teaser: Warren Peace had a hard road to get where he was, and dealing with the future is bound to be no easier. With friends at his side, can he learn of his shaded past and find a heroic future?
Disclaimer: Disney owns Sky High, I just play in their universe. All original characters and ideas not otherwise owned by Disney belong to the person behind Jeune Chat, and may only be used with permission from same.
This started as a little vingette on why and how superheroes are so different than other people, and ended up being a long history of Warren Peace and insight into his state of mind. Funny how that happens. Anyways, I hope to go through the movie to help cement both the character's motivation and relationships to other people in my mind before I tackle new material. Let me know how you like it, or don't like it, or how it can be improved.
When you start out near the bottom rung of ladder, you tend to grow up thinking that everything above you is out of reach. So when I was born to a heartbroken mother soon after her husband was put in jail for murder, I was set pretty low. I am Warren Peace, and I’ve spent most of my life in a dark and angry place, in more ways than one.
I don’t know if many other super-kids think about this, but we’re not normal. Hell, most of us are probably not even human anymore, not after our powers develop. Can normal kids punch through walls, shapeshift into weird things, or throw fire or ice? Is our DNA even recognizable as human anymore?
Maybe I’m one of the few people who think about it that way. It’s mostly because of my mom; she’s a really deep thinker. My mom’s Joy Peace, a.k.a. The Peacemaker; her powers are reading, projecting, and manipulating emotion. She’s also one of the most ethical people on the planet. You’d think, given who she is, that I’d have grown up to be the most emotionally well-adjusted kid on the block. Of course I didn’t; I have my dad to thank for that.
She tried, she really did, to give me the best life she could considering our circumstances. Mom did have a lot of long talks with me about how people work and how to read people’s emotional states in the old-fashioned way, mostly so I would be able to tell what people were really thinking of me. She didn’t want me to be hurt by lies. Unfortunately, I didn’t get any of her powers; I inherited my dad’s, flame throwing and indestructibility.
Most superheroes are tough, able to take a really hard punch or survive being thrown into a dumpster without being hurt too badly. But only indestructible ones could easily take going through a wall, or take a super-powered punch without busting their spleen. It helped protect me from casual childhood accidents, but I often wished my indestructibility had extended to my heart or spirit. That way I wouldn’t have had to feel as much as I do.
Mom did what she could, but I couldn’t have been more than four when I realized people were talking about me behind my back. I wasn’t the only kid that didn’t have two parents, but I remember people keeping their kids away from me, or pulling them away if they came to play with me on the playground. I remember Mom would sometimes bring me home from the park, set me down with juice, crackers, and Sesame Street, and then close herself in her room for an hour. When I was five, I remember going to her door and listening to it. I could hear her crying, so I opened the door and asked if she was hurt.
She was sitting on the bed, holding a picture frame in her hands, one I never remember seeing around the house. I looked at the guy in it, a guy with glasses, longish curly hair, and a wide smile. He had his arm around someone who looked like my mom, though a lot younger. I was little, but put two and two together.
“Is that my dad?” I asked. Like I said, I never actually inherited Mom’s powers, but sometimes I’m weirdly perceptive, even when I was little. I remember I startled her more than once, as I did that day. Mom started a bit, then smiled through her tears and pulled me onto the bed with her. She hugged me to her side, her long, dark hair mixing in with mine, forming a little tent. I remember sometimes I used to hide in her hair, and I would always tell her that no monsters could find me in there.
“Yes Warren, that’s your dad,” she said softly, and wiped her eyes with a tissue.
“Did he hurt you?” I asked, looking at the smiling man. I know now that that question must have cut her to the bone, but kids don’t know when they shouldn’t ask things. Mom knew that too, but it took her several minutes before she was able to speak.
“Yes, he hurt me. Not on the outside, but on the inside. He made me very sad.”
“Did he call you names? That makes me hurt on the inside,” I asked. Kids sometimes called me names, like “weirdo,” or “freak.”
“No baby, he never did anything like that. It’s just that… he lied to me. You know how I feel about lying,” she explained gently. Boy, I knew that lesson, and I knew that lesson but well! Mom never tolerated me lying, not for taking a cookie out of the cookie jar, nor for saying I had washed my hands when I didn’t, nor for saying someone else had started a fight on the playground. She punished me particularly hard when I told a lie, and I have never successfully lied to my mom. Trust me, sitting in a corner is really horrible when you’re five years old.
At the time, saying he had hurt her because he had lied was enough. But over the next few years, Mom told me all about Dad. She knew that I would probably get super-powers, and she wanted to prepare me if they were his and not hers.
Mom told me Baron and her had met in Sky High, in the drama club. She told me that back when she first got her powers, she trained herself using meditation techniques she learned out of psychology books. She said she had been the biggest control freak in Sky High, because her powers tended to run away with her if she wasn’t careful. Once she had been really depressed over how badly she had done on a test, and actually set everyone in the cafeteria crying. Another time she had come to school without getting enough sleep, and ended up feeling the emotions of everyone she came within a few feet of.
She told me that she had to have very strong discipline and control to keep her powers under wraps, and ended up applying that to every aspect of her life. Her clothes had to be pressed just right, her notes had to be perfect, her lunch was always the same, that kind of thing. She said she read a lot, trying to learn about emotion through literature. Joining the drama club was fieldwork, she said.
Mom ended up as a student director, and one of the student actors, Baron Battle, spent a lot of time with her. He was just as interested as she was in studying all the plays and books he could get his hands on, and they became study partners. Mom told me Baron was as much of a control freak in his way as she was, and understood how she could be so anal-retentive, and why. He told her it was because his own power was flame-throwing; he needed that kind of control as well to prevent from hurting anyone accidentally. She said they were dating within two weeks, and were sweethearts through two years at Sky High.
When Mom first told me she used to be a control freak, I actually laughed. Our house wasn’t exactly dirty, but Mom had a kind of lackadaisical attitude towards housework. “Dust takes care of itself, we’ll just help out every now and then,” she would say. I’ve never seen her wear anything formal or even business casual, and our backyard was always more of a jungle than a garden. But I’ve seen her picture in the Sky High yearbook; and I think I wouldn’t have even sneezed around her back then. She looked like if one hair got out of place her face would crack.
Mom told me Baron both helped support her and loosen her up a bit, helping her stay in control of her powers without having to be in control of the world. She told me that back in those days she rarely used her powers unless it was a dire emergency, and had never actually read Baron’s emotions with her powers. Maybe it would have saved her a world of hurt if she had. But then again, she once told me, “Love can be wonderful, but it blinds you, and despite all that’s written, it doesn’t conquer all.”
Mom said she and Baron Battle married right out of high school and spent the next few years in Europe. Baron had family there, and there were always diplomatic incidents that needed The Peacemaker’s touch. Baron’s own powers were more useful in the destroying of giant robots, battling super villains, and staving off hordes of undead than in repairing diplomatic bridges, so they rarely worked together. I’m guessing, though Mom never actually said, that that was the beginning of the end.
Baron Battle had taken his own name to heart and did some extensive studying of military history, both back before Sky High and now that the two of them were married. Some of the most famous battles in history were fought near their house, and he studied them all. He became a brilliant tactician, and often used old military strategies against his modern foes.
Mom said sometimes he would come home frustrated from one battle or another. Sometimes the countries he was in would let him direct part of their army or police force to help battle a supervillain’s evil minions, and he would also “complain” (and here I think she actually meant “rant and rave”) about their lack of strategy and tactics, and how their country wasn’t training them right at all.
Mom said he started to get obsessed, talking about how people had no idea on how to defend themselves, how today’s leaders were weaklings and were going to get their people killed by some two-bit villain, and on and on. I remember Mom confessing to me one night when I was fourteen, crying and begging my forgiveness that she hadn’t recognized Baron’s obsessions for what they were and stopping him before he committed a crime. She told me she had never used her powers on Baron, not once, and by the time things got bad enough that she wanted to, she couldn’t get them to work. She told me that her love for him had blinded her. While Baron may have been obsessed, she said, he also treated her with great love and affection, even when he was raving.
But she said that everything changed when she got pregnant with me. “It was like a door was opened in my powers and my mind. I don’t know if it was because you shared both his blood and mine, and you were in me, or I was so fearful of what might happen to you if he would have gotten violent, but I could suddenly use my powers on him.” Mom had sometimes tried to explain what it’s like to read someone else’s emotions, describing it as colors, or sounds, or smells, but it’s difficult to quantify such things.
“It was… very complex. I could see how his… morality had just rotted away, replaced with something so cold and clinical. It was like a robot, a thing without compassion or regret. I knew he was capable of doing terrible things without a drop of remorse. But what was almost worse… he still loved me, genuinely loved me. But he wouldn’t let me stand in the way of his grand scheme, whatever it was.”
That grand scheme, as the whole damn world found out, was to crash a diplomatic summit, murder the world leaders attending, and take over their countries to form a new, perfect nation that could battle the “true villainous threat of the world.” Yeah. That’s my dad, the modern Hitler. My mom said she was too pregnant to risk trying to fight with Baron Battle, and loved him too much to try to stop him. When she knew he was going to do it for certain, she called for help.
“I cannot tell you how I agonized over that phone call. I dream about it sometimes, and I wake up with every muscle in my body clenched tight.” She called, and the Commander and Jetstream flew over to take down my dad. They got there too late to save four of the diplomats at the conference, but were able to capture him, which was more than anyone else could have done.
I’ve never had the courage to go over to Will’s house and ask his dad about that fight. Does the Commander ever agonize over the fact that four people died before he was able to take down Baron Battle? Did he even realize that Baron’s wife, the Peacemaker, was seven months pregnant with a supervillain’s child? I really need to ask him that someday. I just don’t know if I could ever get the courage to ask.
Mom said that by the time Baron was tried and incarcerated, I had already been born, and they had both signed the divorce papers. While Baron may have managed to crush his own moral center, he wasn’t stupid or insane. He knew his wife would never let him have much of a hand in raising his kid, and that the name of Battle had been linked with villainy for all time. The one good thing that perhaps he ever did was to make sure I never bore his name. Of course, I did get saddled with a name that eerily fits my parentage (and sounds like a ridiculously long Russian novel), but I’m not going to blame Mom for it. She’s dead-on about this kind of stuff.
By that time I first powered up, I knew all about my dad, my mom, his crimes, and the fact that my father was such a heinous criminal that the only reason he didn’t get the death penalty is because it’s really, really hard to kill an indestructible super-being. Kids at my junior high school had been taunting me about having a dad in prison. While they didn’t know he was a supervillain, of course, they did know he was a murderer, and I was trash because of it.
Ever since Mom had told me about my dad, I had wanted to make sure I was going to be able to handle myself. The taunts on the playground suddenly made more sense, but I was more afraid that people might start to make fun of my mom than me. I didn’t know that most people already did, usually when I was out of earshot. The Peacemaker’s credibility was called into question when Baron Battle was arrested, because how could a person whose power revolved around knowing other people’s emotional states not know immediately when he started to become an obsessed psycho? People stopped calling her to intervene in major crises… then minor ones… until she was lucky if she was called to stop a spat between two kids fighting over candy. She went inactive two years after I was born, and has only now started to get back into the game.
But when I was younger, the taunts, insults, and veiled glances were thick and fast around both of us. If I fought, I knew people would just say I had bad blood, so I couldn’t be caught. I had to end fights quickly, so I learned how to be strong. I hit the gyms in school, I learned wrestling, kickboxing, and picked up whatever else I could from action films, practicing in the backyard.
The day I first powered up, I was practicing hitting a fencepost padded with old shirts, ducking, dodging, and weaving around it, like it was Ricky Sanderson’s ugly face. He had launched the latest set of tricks and pranks on me at lunch, tripping me into dropping my food, and trying to steal my Twinkie, on the justification that, “jail-timer’s kids don’t deserve stuff this good.”
I ducked, dodged, and punched the padded post with my wrapped hands, thinking about how I was going to belt Ricky in the gut on Monday. I got angrier and angrier as I practiced, thinking about how I hadn’t deserved what he said, how he didn’t know my family. How he was such a smug bastard because his family was rich and his daddy was a lawyer, and his family lived in such a nice part of town in a house nearly as big as the school.
Mom didn’t make that much money, working as she did in a flower shop, and only getting part-time superhero pay because she was inactive. Our part of town wasn’t that good, our house was small and shabby, and my dad really was in jail, and for something really bad too. The rage just kept building in me, and I could feel the heat building in my hands. That happened sometimes during a good workout, and I didn’t pay it any mind, even though they were getting hotter and hotter and hotter. I was going to deliver my knockout punch to Ricky-the-post, when I tightened the muscles in my arms and curled my fingers hard. Fire erupted on my hands, curiously not really hurting, but startling the hell out of me. Instinctually I threw it away, trying to get it off my hands, and the fireball flew into the side of the house. I stared at in for a moment in enraged disbelief.
“Baron Battle’s powers were flame throwing and indestructibility. He may have learned to be a good tactician on his own, but he enforced that with his fireballs,” I remember my mom saying. I had to practically pry that information out of her, because I needed to know what might happen to me. Mom had been reluctant to talk about it; there was always a distant look of fear on her face when she spoke about it. I wanted to scream at the cruelty of the universe right then when the fire exploded from my hands. Baron Battle’s powers were flashy and distinctive, immediately recognizable. Not only was I his son, I had his own goddamn powers! And then sometime in the middle of my angsty internal monologue, I realized the side of the house was on fire.
Cursing loudly, I grabbed the hose and put out the blaze, then cursed again as I realized it wouldn’t be dry in time for me to paint it and hide the damage from my mom. What would this do to her? I had her former psycho-husband’s powers, not hers. Damn. I ended up taking everything out of the bathroom that could catch on fire and spent the rest of the time until she got home from work trying to work on controlling what I had. I was damned if I was going to accidentally burn her or anything else in the house. We were only renting the place anyway, I knew I was going to have to paint that burned spot on the back before the landlord came around again.
I wasn’t good on control, not really, but I got the message pretty quick that the angrier I got, the quicker and hotter the flames came. Great. I was a rage-fueled flamethrower, the worst possible combination of my dad’s powers and my mom’s disapproval of negative emotions. She never wanted me to solve my problems through anger or fighting, but I didn’t really know any other way. No bully had ever given me a chance to solve my problems through talking. I had taken plenty of hits when I was younger, and my whole campaign of teaching myself how to fight was to prevent that! Now I felt sick, feeling that somehow my desire to fight had triggered these powers.
Even though I would have rather hidden in the bathroom for the rest of the night, I had to tell Mom what happened when she came home that night. She gave me the weirdest look, a combination of pride and regret, but her eyes were wet with tears. She tried to explain that she was glad that I had my powers, that I would be able to a superhero if I wanted. But she was also a little sad that I had my dad’s powers. And then she explained why.
“We only agreed on one thing after Baron was put away; that if you inherited his powers, he would show you the basics on how to use them. At least until you get to Sky High,” she said softly. “He knows what they feel like to use, what can trigger then, and what kind of damage they can do. If nothing else, he can give you a quick, practical grounding so you don’t have any power accidents. I know how you would feel about that.” I swallowed hard. Mom knew me very, very well. She knows I would probably rather stick a needle in my eye than meet my dad, but accidentally burning someone or something would be even worse.
Baron Battle may have tried to take over part of Europe to make his own personal kingdom, but I was still his kid, and he had never given up his parental rights to me. He was a murderer serving quadruple life sentence, which means that under the law he didn’t have very many parental rights, and no way to enforce them, but that single agreement between my parents meant I had to meet him face-to-face at least once.
Two days after I first powered up, Mom and I were escorted into the Solitary Ward of the Metroplex Detention Center for Superpowered Beings. Baron Battle was waiting for us in a special visitor’s room. Most of the jail was within a power-suppressant field, but the place was built to withstand a full-power assault from within or without, just in case the fields failed. Also, Baron was wearing a shock-cuff on one ankle that could render him unconscious with a single command word or button press by any prison guard. Joy and Baron’s arrangement concerning me had been duly considered, annotated, permitted, and planned almost twelve years before. While they didn’t like the idea of Baron Battle giving instruction to me, they also knew that he had never harmed a child, and always played by a certain set of his own rules. So he sat in a suppressant-free room, guarded by four guards wearing insulted suits and armed with shock-rods, but wasn’t cuffed or bound.
I was surprised how much he looked like me, and from the look on his face, he was too. I guess he never got pictures of me. His dark hair was bound away from his face tightly, and his face was determinedly neutral. But Mom hadn’t been teaching me how to read people for nothing. He was surprised, pleasantly so, but very reserved and controlled. I decided right then and there that I wouldn’t try to lie to him. I had a sneaking suspicion he’d not only know, but would probably do something nasty about it.
“So… Warren. I am given to understand this may be the first and only time we’ll ever meet. However, if you have further questions after today, your mother and the government permitting, I would be willing to write you letters about your concerns,” he said coolly. I gritted my teeth; suddenly furious at him for some reason, but not knowing why. Maybe it was because he seemed so much like the guys at school that teased me and beat me up when I was younger. He had that same arrogant expression they all had.
“Warren, you can say anything you want to your father; don’t worry about me being here if you can,” Mom said softly to me. She was giving me permission to… bond with him, I think, if I wanted to. She sometimes told me she regretted not having a father figure for me to look up to, and I think in some obscure way she was trying to make up for this now. That just made me angrier.
Back when Mom was telling me about Baron Battle, I had written letters to some superheroes who used to work with my mom when she was respected. I wanted to know more about who she had been as well, and decided I had better go about it obliquely. They told me how great she was, how many terrible things she helped make right just by getting people to overcome their differences and work together. How she had been happy, upbeat, always a moral compass for anyone who needed one. And now here she was trying to let me know it was all right to correspond with my murderous father, because she felt guilty that he had been in jail all my life. I thought of all the times she had locked herself in her room crying, how she sometimes couldn’t look me in the face when I smiled, and felt anger swelling within me.
I wanted to scream in Baron Battle’s face, Look what you did to her! She used to fix the problems behind wars with just a few words. I know what she was. You ruined her! You killed her self-confidence, and now it’s even worse because I’m more like you than her. You ruined her life and now think you can take over mine? I said nothing, but just got angrier and angrier, clenching my fists until my hands burst into flame. I held back from smashing one into his ever-so-superior face by a thin margin, as he looked me over appraisingly. I felt like a cattle being inspected before a slaughter.
“Well then. It seems you got a touch of your mother’s powers after all. Mine were always linked to a few deliberate actions and thoughts… but yours seem to be linked to your emotions. Clenching your muscles, that seems to help activate it, yes?” he said calmly, not even blinking at the intense heat I was generating. Slowly, he took me through every moment of when I first powered up, dissecting what motions, what thoughts triggered my powers. He talked about the motions that he needed to make, letting me try as he suggested one thing after another. I eventually just started to think of him as one of the teachers at school, because that was a hell of a lot easier than trying to remain calm with thinking of him as my dad.
“You may want to think about going out for baseball. If you’re going to use your powers-“ for world domination? I thought cynically. “-extensively, you’re going to be throwing a lot of fireballs. You’re obviously already well on the track of straight hand-to-hand combat, but I tended to throw a lot like a baseball pitcher.” I actually blinked at that. Huh. That was a radically normal suggestion for a guy that tried to take over the world. Over the next hour I tried out some throws, hitting my fireballs against a wall while Baron critiqued. I reluctantly admit I learned a lot, but it was like twisting a knife in my gut when I saw my mother’s face when she watched us together. I immediately promised myself that I would never write to him, not once, and I would never come back. Mom looked as if she were never going to see me again.
When the guards arrived to escort us back out, Baron sat back down again, and waved genially as the door opened.
“He looks just like me, doesn’t he Joy?” he commented idly to Mom. “Warren, take care of her. Make sure you make something of yourself, boy. Make the Battle family proud someday.” I clenched my jaw hard and turned my back on him deliberately. Bastard. How dare he say that? There was no “Battle family.” Just Mom and me. That’s it.
The next two years were hard on both of us. I couldn’t enter Sky High until I was fourteen, so I had two years of concealing my powers and learning how to control them at the same time. I was also determined to never have the principal or any teacher call my mom at home for anything, particularly anything involving my powers. That one visit with my father seriously screwed her up, and I never wanted to be the cause of any more worry to her.
I buried myself in schoolwork and got an after school job at a Chinese restaurant bussing tables to bring in a little extra money. I worked under the table until I could legally be employed there, but the owners didn’t mind the extra help, no matter my age. I didn’t get involved with bad crowds. Or good crowds. Or any crowds to tell the truth. And I never got in another fight on school grounds as part of that promise to myself. It was lonely, hellishly lonely, and if hadn’t been so angry at the world for dealing me such a bad hand, I might have been severely depressed.
I took on a real tough-guy appearance to keep people at a distance, wearing leather and black, getting tattoos on my wrists, and wearing my hair long. When parts of my hair started turning red, apparently as a side affect from my powers, I just added that to my persona. It was all very deliberate, as I knew Baron Battle had been a very straight-laced, conservative type of person, at least until he went insane. I already looked a lot like him, but there was plenty I could do to distance myself from him. I cultivated an aura of menace, a touch-me-not attitude that kept the people who used to taunt me at bay. And that worked on keeping people away, perhaps too well, right up until my junior year at Sky High.
Sky High was both better and worse than regular school. I could admit my powers openly, but everyone knew whom they came from. I could use them, but I tended to scare people with them, and not always intentionally. Energy powers were always a little unpredictable, and with me even more so because of the additional pressure I was under.
Here, people not only knew my dad was in jail, but that he was a psychotic supervillain to boot. I didn’t need an aura of menace here; people parted before me in the halls and never sat near me in lunch. But I knew the rumors. Most kids brag about their parents’ superhero exploits the way other kids talk about their favorite actors or singers. More than one of their parents had been in my dad’s class, and they warned their kids about me. But my junior year I heard the worst rumor at all. Will Stronghold, son of the Commander and Jetstream, the people who had put my dad in jail, was coming to Sky High.
I hated him on sight. He was a preppy suburbanite, rich, privileged, with two loving, powerful, famous, super powered parents. He obviously thought he was pretty damn special too, with his group of friends trailing around with him, and a redheaded hippie chick practically hanging all over him. He reminded me of Ricky Sanderson. It didn’t take more than two weeks into school when everything came to a head.
There were two guys in school who had tried to get me onto their side since our freshman year, Lash and Speed, the school bullies. Both had superhero parents, but were past masters at not being caught, or acting like perfect angels when they were. While their powers were easily as Hero class as mine were, they thought my power was the height of cool and constantly tried to get me to display it. I wasn’t going to be their damn dog-and-pony show, and I had no interest in beating up on smaller or younger kids. By that time I was tall and strong enough that they couldn’t intimidate me physically at all, so they had fallen to mostly ignoring me. Or so I thought.
I was at my own table, reading, and concentrating really hard on keeping people away. Girls seemed to really like me now for some inexplicable reason, and I had to be extra careful to not encourage anyone. There was no one in Sky High I wanted to know at the time, least of all any well-meaning girl who would take me on as a “project,” intending to crack my brooding shell.
Then a plate full of food scattered across my table, and somebody took a nosedive right near my bench. I knew it was Stronghold without even turning around. I just knew it. I whirled on him as he pushed himself up and tried to apologize.
“I’m sorry,” he said, looking sheepish and wiping his hands on his shorts.
“You will be,” I said, with deadly menace in my voice. Some little part of my brain was trying to point out it probably wasn’t his fault. He was a damn Sidekick, everybody knew it, he was a failure to his family, and Lash and Speed made a living out of tripping Sidekick freshmen. But a much large part of my brain was on fire with anger. He looked just like the kinds of preppy jerks that used to be on my case when I was younger, and he knew, he had to know, what his dad had done to mine.
“Look, let’s not do this,” he started to say. A red mist began to fog my vision at that point. He was just trying to handle me, assuming he could be all cute and morally superior just because of who he was. Two years of suppressing my anger towards guys like him had taken their toll, and I was dancing on a very thin edge of control.
“You think you can do anything you want just because your name’s Stronghold?” I demanded, rage building in my mind and heat building in my hands.
“Look, I’m sorry my dad put your dad in jail but-” I cut him off by grabbing the front of his shirt as seventeen years of frustration came to a head in a single sentence. He had to have said it in front of the entire damn cafeteria, in front of half the people at Sky High. Now everyone knew, and knew it out of the mouth of someone who apparently had the authority to speak.
“Nobody talks about my father,” I snarled, as flames flared. Will looked startled and afraid and leaped back as I broke my grip, as the crowd erupted into cheers of “Fight! Fight! Fight!” Somewhere inside I was a little startled myself. I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do to him, but right now he was the focus of everything that was wrong in my world, and all I wanted to do was strike back.
A fireball flared in my hand as he grabbed a lunch tray as a shield. His shield was gone in an instant as I hit dead center. More fire flared and I began to throw more fireballs as he ducked and dodged. Walls started to burn, students scattered, and I destroyed part of the lunch line as he turned and ran towards the fire alarm on the far wall. I saw something snaking through the crowd along the floor; a black and white striped arm of impossible length. Lash, wanting to “help,” of course. And then I knew who had tripped Will in the first place. But at that point I didn’t even care.
Will took a header to the floor, squirming around to look at me. He looked terrified, and I had a sudden mental image from his point of view. I must look like a demon. I’m everything they said I was going to be. Sick rage flared again and flames licked up past my elbows as I threw a huge, two-handed fireball at a lunch table as he scrambled underneath. I dashed for it and leapt on top, throwing fireballs on either side to keep him penned in as I herded him towards the end.
“Where’s your sidekicks, Sidekick?” I yelled as I got to the end of the table, almost obscurely pleased that his friends had abandoned him. Now he knew what it felt like to have no one.
“Right here!” “Yeah!” A few voices rang out as a group of four freshmen pushed to the front of the crowd. A tall blonde kid in Day-Glo colors, a short, nerdy-looking black kid in orange, a smaller, black-haired grunge-punk girl with purple streaks in her hair, and the red-haired hippie chick, all of them looking determined to start something. Fine, they can all go down with him! I flamed up hard, the fire going most of the way up my arms, trying to intimidate them into backing down, and the nerdy kid melted into a puddle. If the situation hadn’t been so serious I think I would have laughed.
“Leave them alone!” Will yelled from underneath the table. With a superhuman effort, he heaved, and I suddenly found myself another seven feet in the air, with little Will Stronghold holding both me and the cafeteria table with no discernable effort. I was so startled I lost my flames.
“He’s strong!” the hippie exclaimed.
“I’m strong?” Will replied from underneath me, sounding as surprised as I was.
“He’s super-strong,” corrected Gwen Grayson. He just got his powers right now? Damn. This was shaping up to be a repeat of history, Baron Battle’s son versus the Commander’s son. Place your bets now! Some hysterical part of my brain was making stupid comments as Will gave a huge heave. I found myself flying through the air, making face-first contact with a concrete rafter, and then crashing fifteen feet below to break a table. I didn’t even have time to try to break my fall. I heard cheering and clapping at Will’s move, and more anger began to fill me. They’re cheering for him.
It took me a few seconds to recover, blessing my indestructibility for the first time in my life. Anyone else would have been down for the count, or dead, after that kind of treatment. It didn’t make it hurt any less though. He was facing away from me when I pushed myself out of the wreckage, and I spied Lash hanging from the ceiling, and Stronghold being congratulated by his little sidekick groupies. Oh, so you think you’re done with me and now you’re going to go beat up on the bullies that tripped you and bask in the admiration of your friends? I thought. You would have done the same thing in his position, my brain pointed out. I told it to shut up. I wasn’t going to be put down so easily, not by him.
“Stronghold!” I yelled, and let the rage-fueled flames erupt along my arms. The crowd screamed and cleared out from around me. I felt something in my chest twist in pain, but shoved it aside. Will tentatively put up his dukes like he was in some kind of boxing match. I lunged for him, ducked the first punch, and then Will landed the second in the middle of my chest, just out of pure luck. He sure didn’t know how to fight very well, but he was more than strong enough to make up for it; it felt like getting hit with a train. I went flying the entire length of the cafeteria, through two walls and into a pillar in the teacher’s lounge. Coach Boomer and Mr. Medulla both looked at me in utter astonishment as I pushed myself out of the remains of the pillar and stalked back into the cafeteria.
“You think I can’t take a hit?” I roared. I clenched my arms and let out a yell as the flames erupted not only along my arms but across my back as well. It felt like my whole body was on fire, and right then I felt as if I could burn the world if I wanted to. The crowd scattered again, and even Stronghold’s buddies ran from him. I began to sprint towards Will, only to see with dismay that one of his friends had tossed him a fire extinguisher. If I could just reach him before he could trigger it, I could get him, I knew it. I ran as hard as I could, launched myself into the air… only to be sprayed with the entire contents of the can as Will stopped me cold.
I rolled over and was going to push myself up to keep fighting, and came face-to-toe with Principal Powers’ shoes. Mentally I swallowed, because I knew that she was going to have to call my mom. And now I had broken a promise I had made to myself to never have that happen, to never cause her any more worry. If Principal Powers hadn’t been right there I would have slugged Will out of pure frustration. She gestured for both of us to follow her, and I kept my hands down as she led us to the detention room, trying to get my temper back under control and not succeeding very well. Inside the place was like a futuristic lab, bright, white, and sterile-smelling.
“I didn’t even do anything, he started it,” Will whined as Principal Powers followed us inside. My temper snapped; the red mist fogged my eyes again, and now I didn’t even care if the Principal was present.
“Your dad started it, but I’m going to finish it,” I snarled, and clenched my arms to flame up. There was an odd clicking sound somewhere… then nothing. Trying again, I got the same result.
“Don’t bother. The Detention Room neutralizes all super powers. Sit,” she said, pointing to a pair of desks. I sat, glowering at her, Will, and the world in general. “Here at Sky High we try to teach you everything we can about how to use your powers. But what you do with them, that’s up to you. Living up to your father’s reputation, or trying to live it down is a sad waste of talent, your talent. Keep that in mind the next time you’re about to do something stupid.” With that, she turned and walked out, leaving me alone with Will.
The Detention Room might neutralize all super powers, but I still could take on Will in a straight fight. Then it began to hit me, really hit me, what I had done, what my mom was about to hear, and what she might think. The adrenaline of the fight just ran out of me and I found my mind starting to focus on what was going to happen when I got home. Then Will sighed and dropped his hands on the desktop.
“Look, whatever happened between our dads, it has nothing to do with us. What d’ya say?” he said fairly cheerfully, sticking out a hand to shake. Most of my anger was gone, being replaced with brooding, but I was still angry at him for just trying to think he could fix anything this bad with a few words, a gesture and a smile.
“I say,” I said, not even looking at him, “if you ever cross me again, I’ll roast you alive.” Will’s hand stayed out for a long moment, a look of blank astonishment over his face, before sliding his hand back to his desk. I had regretted the words the minute they were out of my mouth. Baron Battle had roasted his four victims alive, but I wanted to do was to say something, anything, to keep him from every talking to me again.
I was a psychotic menace, I was everything they said I was going to be, and even yuppie dorks like Will didn’t deserve what I was going to do to him. Besides, if he really had super strength, I really couldn’t do a lot to hurt him anymore. Super strength and flight were two of the most powerful powers, and I knew that Will could probably beat me pretty easily now. But he didn’t have to know that. I had enough enemies already.