Mitch Roberts shut the door behind him, exerting whatever willpower he had left not to slam it. If he could not wake his mother up, that would be wonderful. It was two in the morning; her shift at the diner started in four hours.
She sat in the living room chair. Their house was small, so the chair saw nearly every corner of the house, and most importantly, the front door. The television played in the background. It seemed she had been up and attempting to keep herself awake. “Where were you?”
“Don’t give me that, Mitchell.” When she used his given name, he was in trouble. “Where were—”
“I said I was out!” He snapped at her without even meaning to. His voice softened. “You should be in bed.”
“Gee, ya think?” She gave him that look. “I was waiting for my son to get home.” She paused. “Mostly to find out why he just got expelled.”
God-effing-dammitalltohell. He set his bag down with a clunk, and noticed an acrid smell that by now was all too familiar. He made a visible effort to calm down. “Look, it’s no big deal, all right?”
“No big deal? Mitch, this isn’t suspension this time! This is a ‘go sit in the corner and think about what you’ve done.’ You’ve been expelled. Do you not understand the gravity of what just happened?”
“No, you don’t understand!” he yelled.
“So, explain it to me!”
For a second, Mitch almost thought he could. He almost told her how he could control fire with his mind, how he could feel it burning with the anger that festered daily in his soul. That every time he beat the crap out of some bully, it was a minor victory that he controlled his temper long enough not to kill him. That every now and then he could hear what they thought.
Then she continued. “Explain to me how a kid as brilliant as you can make such a colossal wreck of his life.”
That was it. What every damn teacher ever would always think of him. “Brilliant but doesn’t apply himself.” “Excels at understanding the material, but needs to put in the work to make the grade.” Well, screw them all and their stupid rules. If his own damn mother wasn’t going to support him…
His fist shot out and went through the wall. He pulled it back, knuckles covered in blood and plaster. “Maybe because it’s my own damn life. Maybe because I’m sick of playing by someone else’s rules. I don’t give a shit what everyone thinks, and especially not you!”
She took a step backward, fear sparking in her eyes. Mitch instantly regretted losing his temper. His mind flashed back to a time where he watched his father lash out at his mother. “Shut up, woman, I don’t have to listen to you!” The memory and emotions were full of fear, terror, and love, and he knew he wasn’t just living it through his eyes.
Mitch made fists of his hands and held them to his temples, willing away the vision and memories, both his and his mother’s. He took deep, even breaths. Slowly, his temper began to subside. His mom was crying. “I’m sorry,” he whispered. He put his arms around her. She flinched. “I’m so sorry. I’m not Dad, okay? I’m not. I’ll never be like him. I promise.”
He finally got her into the kitchen and sat her down on the stool facing the counter that separated the kitchen from the living room. The screen’s glow cast strange colors on the cupboards. “You’re not going to sleep, are you?”
“Probably not.” She hadn’t really stopped crying.
“Call in sick tomorrow, then. Seriously. I’ll make some coffee.”
She wasn’t really paying attention. Her elbows rested on the counter and she stared at the television with her chin cradled in her hands. She was still terrified of him. He couldn’t blame her.
The television was replaying a broadcast from earlier that day. It seemed to be some major story. His mom was fixated on it. Some woman who’d been introduced as Samantha Clive stood at the podium.
“…Today marks a monumental occasion in history. Today we recognize a legacy of heroes who have worked tirelessly, unnamed and unsung for the people of this city and this world. This legacy reaches as far back as the nineteen eighties; their efforts were invaluable throughout the cold war, the war on terror, and countless disasters in the past few decades.
“Those heroes were part of something—a clandestine military organization, designated as the highly classified Delta Division. This organization was founded with one purpose: to train and deploy certain individuals with particular skills. Skills so particular in fact, that publicly they’ve been known only in fringe science and speculative fiction.
“To use the common vernacular, these people of Delta are…super heroes.”
Mitch stared at the screen, slack-jawed. He wasn’t particularly given to conspiracy theories, though in the light of his burgeoning powers, he’d begun to wonder if he shouldn’t shift his paradigm a little in that respect. If he was able to do something like this, it fell to reason that there was others who could do things like that too.
“We refer to people with these particular abilities as ‘metahumans’. Like everything else in human history, this is but one difference among many that will make us stronger as a people. Ultimately, I can tell each of you one thing: there is nothing to fear.” She said it convincingly; with sincerity and conviction.
“And to each of you young people out there, those of you who are struggling with the pressures of growing into adulthood—so hard and so basic to the human condition—and with the added bonus of suddenly discovering you’ve got abilities you’d never imagined. I leave you with a simple message.
“You are not alone.”
The scene shifted to a display of contact information. Mitch shook himself. His mother stared at the screen, stunned. She took a deep, shaky breath, and he noticed the tears that ran down her face. He watched her with growing unease.
“Mom…mom, are you…?”
“One of them?” She laughed a little, slightly hysterical. “No. but I…I think your father might have been.”
Mitch’s breath caught. “What do you mean?”
“I mean…I’d find his clothes like this.” She grabbed Mitch’s wrist and turned it up to the dim lighting. The cuff of his sweatshirt was charred and blackened. He jerked his hand away.
“I don’t suppose that has anything to do with why he left.”
She was silent for a moment. “I…I kicked him out.”
Learning that super heroes existed should have been the most worldview-altering thing that night. But this…this made him feel like he was punched in the stomach.
“He was a good man when I married him, he really was. I know that a lot of women say that about their men after they…well, you know what he was like. But I really mean it. He was the sweetest, kindest person I knew. He was a performer and a scientist. You know he used to put together the fireworks display for Alliance City every year?
“He’d have this area near the escarpment that he worked out of. He and I would work together to outdo his display from last year. But one time…” She paused and let out a laugh. “We had a little dog then. A little terrier he named Sport. Real original, I know. Well, there was this uncontrolled explosion, and the entire cavern threatened to cave in on us. The dog’s fault, you know. Well, we got out okay, but Sport ran back in, so of course Liam had to run after him.”
It was telling that she used his name. She never referred to his dad by his first name.
She shrugged. Tears pooled in her eyes. “The man I married never came back from there. He was buried under all that rock for three days. He shouldn’t have survived. But something did. Something that was just so…angry all the time. He left for a bit after that. Never said were he went, just that he got help. And everything was fine and fantastic…for a while. Then he started…”
She didn’t finish the sentence. “Well, you know. I put up with it for so much longer than I should have. But when you were born…I wasn’t going to let him hurt my baby.” She put a hand on his.
Mitch could see it. The backhand across his mother’s face as she held onto him as a tiny baby in her arms. Her body went flying. She sprained an elbow to make sure it took the impact of the floor instead of his head. “Get out,” she told him. She stood tall against the monster the man had become. “Get out of my house and never come back.”
“But he came back, didn’t he?”
“A few years later, yes. Said he’d gotten things worked out. And yeah…it was really good, and I thought maybe you’d have a father again, but…”
“But it wasn’t so good after Michaela was born.”
She shook her head. “To be fair, I really do think he had sincere intents to change. He just…”
“I know.” He held her there for a moment. “Hey, look. I don’t know if these people can help, but…well, it’s worth a shot, right?”
She shrugged, crying too hard now to really respond.
“Look, I don’t know if I can be a hero. I certainly don’t think I’m cut out to be one. But at least I can try not to be…like him. I can at least do that much. I’ll protect you from him.”
I’ll protect you from me.
* * * *
“You’re going to make me a star.” Lindsay White had certainly dressed the part for her interview with Miz Samantha Clive, Director of the Delta Division. She was dressed in a short faux silk and black leggings with thigh-high boots. She wore a blouse from that cute new store in the mall, topped with a black vest. They were in this season again.
She had potential, and she knew it. Her speed was already twice as fast as anyone else’s—although, all that meant to her father was that she could clear tables faster. She’d told him once, that something strange was happening to her. His exact words were “That’s wonderful, luvie, now be a dear and clear Tania’s section. She has to go for a dress fitting.”
It wasn’t fair that her oldest sister’s wedding was entirely taking everyone’s attention. The groom wasn’t even cute.
“Well, that’s certainly possible, Miss White. Just be certain you realize the impact a public identity will have on you and your family.”
“You kidding me? My family won’t even notice. Except maybe that’ll bring more business to the diner.”
“All right, if you’re sure. That’s a whole lot of consequences that can’t be undone.”
That’s all grown-ups ever talk about, is consequences. “Hey, you have a public identity.”
“I’m Delta’s public representative. People wouldn’t trust me if I hid behind a mask.”
“See, there. I want people to trust me and stuff.”
Sam raised an eyebrow. “Of course.” Lindsay could tell she didn’t buy it, but whatever. “I see you’ve listed flight and super speed as your powers.”
“Yup. And I could swear I’m getting, like, super strong too. And I picked up a hot pan the other day, and it totally didn’t even hurt.”
“Hm. That’s certainly something. Have you given some thought to a name?”
“Sprite. Like the fairy.”
“All right.” Sam made a note. “So, are you thinking something a little ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ for a costume?”
“Oh, nothing so on the nose. I’m thinking sexy thigh-high boots, not fishnets though, that’s so 2040. Full body suit, black with a purple gradient, and a cape. Definitely a cape, the same purple color, with gold trim. Oh, and long enough to make me look tall. I’m short enough as it is. The boots should be high heels too.”
Sam’s lips twitched with some amusement. Lindsay didn’t know why people should be so amused that she knew what she wanted. She was going to be a hero, a purposeful spectacle, so she might as well make it good.
“All right. I’ll send those specs to the costume department and register your name. You’ll be meeting with a designer later to solidify your concept.”
“I heard that you have Felina McKinley working for you in costuming. Omygod, she’s fantastic. Like, one of my idols, you know?”
“She’s most certainly talented. I’m glad this is something you’re pleased with. Now, you will have to go for a psyche evaluation with Mrs. Meryl Allison. Don’t be concerned, this is entirely routine. She will also place you with a mentor. Based on your power set, I’m going to assume it’ll be Stryker. He’s our best at training those with super strength.”
“’Kay. He’s super cute, so that works.”
Sam didn’t even flinch at that. Lindsay was half-expecting a comment about how the man was way too old, but she said nothing. She dismissed that with a mental shrug. “So, how do I get to the shrink’s office?”
Sam handed her a map that was surprisingly comprehensive. “That should be helpful.”
“Yep, got it, thanks!” Lindsay stood with a grin. “Thanks so much, see ya ‘round!”
Well, that was so much easier than she was expecting. She thought for sure the Big Boss was going to be a huge stick-in-the-mud that was going to make her tone down her concept. Instead, the woman embraced her, happy that she could help make Lindsay a hero. She skipped a little on the way out. This was going to be so much fun!
* * * *
“Because I said so, that’s why!” Charity stood with her arms crossed, a scowl on her face.
Marcus glowered at her. “I’m not going. You can’t make me.”
“Damn straight I can. Look, what’s wrong with the school here? You’ll like it. God, I would have killed to go to a school with other super powered kids when I was your age.”
“Yeah, well, I’m not you.”
“Tell me about it,” she muttered under her breath, so low, Marcus barely caught it. “Since when do you care about school anyway? I could never get you to go before.”
“And so now you want me to go to a school where you can keep an eye on me, of course,” Marcus said sarcastically. He didn’t even want to think about learning Shakespeare from his sister.
“That’s not the reason, and you know it.”
“Do I? Face it, Charity, you don’t trust me.”
“Well, give me one reason I should.”
Marcus jerked back as if slapped. “Really? Is that what you honestly think of me? Damn, and you wonder why I don’t want to be in your English class. Why I don’t want to be your sidekick.” He put as much venom into the word as possible.
Charity at least had the grace to look ashamed. “Look, Marcus I didn’t mean it like that. I think you’re perfectly capable—“
“If only I would apply myself, right?” He shook his head. Well, if she was going to bandy about words like weapons, two could play at that game. He fixed his hazel eyes on her. “You don’t have the right to give me that speech. Mom.”
It was Charity’s turn to look hurt and stunned. “That’s not funny, Marcus,” she said in a cold voice. Marcus did feel guilty. He didn’t really remember their parents. She did. To her credit, he had to admit Charity had been the best mother a girl could be to him.
“Look, I just don’t want to go, okay? I know people at the other school.”
Charity frowned. “Who could you possibly know?” Marcus rolled his eyes at her. “Oh, come on, don’t give me that look. I wasn’t exactly Miss Popular at my school either. Let’s face it, neither of us is any good at getting out of our shells. I’m asking honestly, do you actually have any friends there?”
Well, there’s this girl… He wanted to say, but didn’t. How freakin’ embarrassing. Unfortunately, his sister was too damn intuitive.
“Maybe there’s a girl,” she guessed. Marcus’ cheek colored, and Charity’s jaw dropped. “Oh my god, there is a girl.” Marcus just gave her a dirty look. “Or a guy, she amended. Hey, that’d be cool too. This isn’t exactly an area we’ve explored yet, so—“
“Just drop it, all right? Can’t it just be enough that I don’t want to go to your stupid school?”
“Marcus? Oh-em-gee, Marcus?”
He knew that voice. His blush deepened as he turned. A small part of him was appreciating the humor of the situation and the priceless look he was sure was on his face. Lindsay. Probably the cutest thing that had been placed on this planet. “Um, hey,” he muttered, stuffing his hands into his pockets.
“I’m so happy to see you! Omygod, someone I actually know, this is going to be great!” Lindsay threw her arms around him, and Marcus suddenly regretted that his hands were now intertwined in his slacks. By the time he gathered his coordination enough to pull them out, Lindsay had broken the hug. “What are you doing here?”
“Oh, you know.” He gave a casual shrug. “The family business.”
Lindsay looked from him to Charity and back again. “Omygod you’re Thundra! That’s freakin’ cool!”
Charity laughed. “Well, we’re glad to have you. You signed up for classes yet?” Her gaze slid over to Marcus for a moment with a great deal of mirth in her eyes. Marcus suppressed a grimace. He was going to hear about this in a minute.
“Oh yeah, for sure. I’m so done with Central High. Boring! Besides, the smaller classes here are a good thing, right?” She gave Marcus’ arm a squeeze before she started walking backward down the hall. “So glad you’re here though. Catch you later!”
And with that, she was gone.
Charity smirked at him. “So…about those classes.”