Title: Allies & Enemies
Author: Harper Kingsley
Pairing: Vereint Georges/Warrick Tobias
Genre: mm superhero
A/N: This isn’t even 10% of the novel, which is 136,000+ words of awesome. You know you want some superhero/supervillain relationship action. Plus, OMG, it gets real in this one.
A/N 2: **Spoiler alert** If you haven’t read Heroes & Villains, you might be a bit spoiled just by the everyday stuff. **Spoiler alert**
Content Warning: There’s some sexy happenings, but it’s not in super graphic detail.
Summary: The first two chapters. Picks up from the epilogue of Heroes & Villains (Less Than Three Press – August 14, 2013).
The sun was struggling to shine through the clouds, but it was just one of those days guaranteed to be miserable. Not just because of the weather, but because of the girl sobbing out her heartbreak on a sterile hospital bed, the sheets pulled up around her shoulders as she buried her face in the rather flat and lumpy pillow.
Vereint clenched his hands together on the handle of the shopping bag he held. It took all of his will to keep from running into the room and scooping her up into his arms. Instead he stood on the other side of the glass and watched her mourn the loss of both of her parents. Behind and to the left of him, he could hear Warrick fast-talking the doctors and the police and anyone else he had to, and Vereint was sure everything was going to work itself out.
They were going to take that little girl home and give her a family and make sure she grew up knowing that she was loved. He didn’t think they could ever wipe away the loss of her parents, but they would try their best to make her realize that she still had a whole life to live and they would be there for her.
There was the slight scuff of dress shoes on the linoleum floor, then Vereint had Warrick’s arm across his shoulders and he didn’t hesitate to hug Warrick’s wrist against his chest. He breathed in the scent that his brain uniquely identified as Warrick Reidenger Tobias and something screaming and tight released. “Do we get to take her?”
“I talked them around,” Warrick said. “There will be social service visits and we’ll have a social worker assigned and they’ll still be looking out for any family that she has, but she gets to go home with us tonight. They say she’s all right, just shaken up, so it’ll be better for her not having to spend another night in the hospital.”
“Good.” Vereint had never been fond of hospitals. Just the smell and the sounds were enough to make him uncomfortable; he didn’t want to know how miserable it would be for a grieving twelve year old that had watched her parents die. “It’ll be fine for tonight, and tomorrow I can go and get things to make the guest room more comfortable.”
He’d get her a few things to make her feel welcome, then later after her grief had a chance to settle a bit he would take her to pick out the things she wanted for herself. It would give them a chance to bond. He wondered what she looked like when she smiled.
“Here comes the social worker,” Warrick said.
There was the clack-clack of sensible pumps attached to a tall, thin woman with a pair of no-nonsense glasses perched on her nose. She looked like she might be kind, but she didn’t suffer fools gladly. The subdued floral print on her purple and black blouse showed that while she had a softer side, she was serious about her job.
“Mr. Georges, I’m Nancy Daniels and I’ve been assigned to Melissa’s case.” Her handshake was brusque and businesslike. She wasn’t ready to be friends, not until she was sure of them, but Vereint could tell she was the kind of ally they were going to need.
He smiled at her, trying to pour on the charm without going too far over the top. “Thank you. I’m just glad you’re letting us take her home with us.”
She sighed. “It will be nice for her to be out of here. From what the nurses have said, last night was not a good night for her.” She walked toward the door. “Come along and I’ll introduce you.”
Warrick reached the door before her and held it open with easy grace. He gave Vereint a pat on the back as he passed and Vereint gave him a slight smile before his attention was caught and held by the girl on the bed.
With the opening of the door, she’d turned and sat up, scrubbing her eyes with the corner of the sheet and trying to pretend that she hadn’t been crying. Her black hair was a tangled mess and her face was blotchy and red.
“What do you want?” she demanded, her teeth clenching tight around the words as she tried to maintain her control.
“Hello, Melissa,” Nancy said, her voice gentle and soothing. “I know you said you want to leave the hospital, and that’s why I’ve brought these two gentlemen with me. This is Vereint Georges and his husband Warrick Tobias. They want you to stay with them until everything gets figured out.”
Melissa gave them a suspicious glare. “I don’t know them. I don’t want to go anywhere with them.”
“You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to,” Nancy said, “but you can’t leave the hospital unless you have somewhere to go, and Vereint and Warrick are offering you a safe place.”
Vereint stepped forward, keeping his hands in view at his sides, the bag hanging from his left wrist so she could see his palms. He gave Melissa a tentative smile. “Hi. I can tell why you’d want to get out of here. I don’t much like hospitals myself, and it must be pretty cold here at night, huh?”
Her black eyes were still suspicious, but she gave a nod of grudging agreement. “The blankets are really thin and you can hear everything that goes on at night. I think the man in the next room died last night; there was a big ruckus going on and people running in and out.” Her chin was a hard nob that she refused to let tremble.
She was a cute Korean-American girl with long black hair and a triangular shaped face. She was short, her body so tiny that her head looked large in comparison. She could have been a doll, and just looking at her made Vereint want to go “Ah!” at her complete adorableness.
The fact that she was so self-defensive and sarcastic actually made him like her more. The first time he’d spotted her after her parents’ death he had felt as though something had stabbed him hard in the chest. He’d never believed in fate, but it was completely obvious to him that he and Warrick were going to take her home and raise her as their daughter. There had been so much hurt in her eyes when they’d met his, and so much spirit beyond that, it was no effort at all to nudge Warrick into grudging action.
It wasn’t that Warrick was heartless or anything, but he’d long ago learned that there was no helping everyone. He already went out night after night to save his slice of the world; he couldn’t take every orphaned kid home with him. Vereint had completely agreed with that sentiment, but seeing Melissa Kim of the Fabulous Flying Kims standing on the platform, her eyes wide and horrified as she’d watched her parents frozen to crystal and shattered into red stained pieces had gotten to him. There was no way he could turn away from that girl, not with his every instinct screaming at him.
The events had taken place three days ago, and almost like fate there had been no family to call. There was no one stepping forward to take Melissa, and Vereint had felt his instincts vindicated. It was only a few moments thought for him to go to Warrick and suggest they take Melissa in.
“Come home with us,” Vereint urged. “There’s a bedroom waiting for you and we’ll make sure you’re well taken care of. It’s no commitment, but we would like it if you were to become part of our family.”
“Why are you doing this?” she asked. Her fingers were twisting and twisting together in her lap. Her fingernails were bitten down and the skin around them looked tender and raw from her nervy chewing.
“Because you need us,” Vereint said.
Part of him wanted to just snatch her up and force her to go home with him to where she belonged, but he knew he couldn’t be like that. He wasn’t the bad guy anymore. He was trying to be just a guy, and regular guys didn’t go around subjugating the wills of the people around them. Warrick had told him it was rude.
She bit her lip, her teeth tiny and white. Her right eyetooth was a bit crooked and she had a tooth pressing in on the left. Her eyes darted to Nancy as she asked, “What will happen to me if I don’t go with them?”
“You’ll have to remain here at the hospital until late afternoon when you’ll be transfered to a group home until we find you a foster family,” Nancy stated bluntly. Melissa’s eyes got wide and shiny. Nancy shook her head and softened her tone, “Look, sweetie, this is one of those times when you have to act a little grown up. We’ll try to help you as much as we can, but you have to help out too. There are some things that will be in your best interest, and fighting everything won’t help you at all. Do you understand?”
Melissa blinked hard, but it was obvious she was processing the information she’d been given.
“If you honestly don’t like it with us,” Vereint said, “you can always call Nancy. We won’t keep you if you don’t want to be there.”
She drew in a huffing breath, her cheeks puffing out thoughtfully. “Okay.” Melissa nodded to Nancy. “I’ll go with them. Just… can I have my stuff?” She glanced at Vereint, then Warrick. “I mean, well… I can understand if you won’t let me keep the whole trailer, but can I bring some of my family’s stuff?”
Vereint snorted. “Forget that,” he said. He looked at Warrick. “Can we have the trailer delivered somewhere? Like put it into long-term storage or something?”
“Of course,” Warrick pulled out his phone, “give me a minute and I’ll arrange something.”
“See?” Vereint turned back to Melissa. “You can keep all of your things. It’s going to be all right.”
“Really?” She gave him a tremulous smile. “Thank you. I was… I was really worried they were just going to throw everything away. I mean, I’ve seen movies and TV, I know they don’t let kids in foster care keep most of their stuff. I’m only twelve, there’s no way they’d pay for our trailer to be stored somewhere for the next six years, and there’s no way I could pay for it. I just…” She closed her eyes briefly. “That trailer is my home. I’ve spent nearly my whole life living in it.”
“Well, your home won’t be getting sold anytime soon,” Vereint said. He leaned close and dropped his voice to a whisper, “Warrick will make sure it’s there for you when you want it. Is that a good deal?” He gave Melissa a smile filled with so much charm it should have been “Charm!” with glitter and diamonds and bright splashes of fireworks.
There was no way a preteen girl could withstand his powers, so it was no surprise when she smiled back at him with shy delight and reached out to shake the hand he extended.
“It’s a deal,” she chirped, with only one disturbed wrinkle of her brow before she was caught and her brain responded to his pheromones, flooding her body with the chemicals for trust, affection, and a taste of hero-worship. Her forehead smoothed over and her eyes gleamed at him, captive.
Vereint blinked and quickly lowered his eyes, his chin dipping down in what might have seemed a clumsy move. That surge of live wire tension he always felt when he powered up settled back down. The sharp clarity returned to normal focus and he knew his eyes had changed back to their usual blue. He lifted his head and gave Melissa a smile she was quick to reciprocate even without him pressing her.
Vereint glanced over real quick and Warrick was still talking on his phone a few feet away and hadn’t seen what he’d done. It made him feel guilty to hide anything from Warrick, but he really hated receiving that disapproving frown.
He figured that what Warrick didn’t know wouldn’t cause any fights between the two of them. And all he’d really done was prime Melissa to be more receptive to the help she needed. It wasn’t like he’d made her love him or anything, which he easily could have done. All he’d done was ease her grief a little by introducing a set of more positive emotions.
Vereint knew he was trying to upsell himself, but he couldn’t help it. There was something about Melissa that called out to him and he wanted to take her home where it was safe. He couldn’t explain what it was about her, but he wanted to help her, to protect her from the world.
“Here, I brought this for you,” he said, holding out the large shopping bag. It was glossy black with a red heart on the front. “I thought you might need some clothes. I had to guess on the sizes, but seeing you now I think I did a pretty good job.”
Melissa held the bag on her sheet wrapped lap for a long moment before opening it and looking inside. She reached in and pulled out a purple tee shirt with a glittery blue quilt design on the front, then she dropped it back in and held up the jeans and gray sweatshirt he’d picked out.
“You didn’t have to buy me anything,” she said. “I have plenty of clothes.”
“Except you don’t have anything here,” he said. “Until we can get you some stuff from your trailer you’re going to need something to wear.”
“Well,” she nibbled her lip and gave him a sideways glance through the curtain of her hair, “thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” he said. “Why don’t you go change so we can get out of here? Like I told you, hospitals creep me out.” He gave a melodramatic shudder.
There was the hint of a smile around her lips as she pulled the clothes out of the bag and climbed off the bed. She was wearing a loose pair of blue scrub pants and a matching shirt that hung off her slender frame as though that were the way they were supposed to look. She’d tucked the long hem of the shirt into the waistband of her pants and her socks were very white as she dashed toward the bathroom, closing the door with a loud click.
Vereint looked at Nancy. “Well, I guess that’s that.”
She gave him a long look, then a nod. “We’ll give her one more chance to back out on the deal, then she’ll be in your care until the situation changes.”
* * *
Standing off to one side, Warrick gave instructions to his assistant, then called headquarters to let the rest of the League know he was going to have a civilian staying at his place. He hadn’t wanted to drop that bombshell on the team until after he was sure it was really going to happen.
It wasn’t like he hated kids or anything, he just hadn’t ever really wanted any. After the initial anguish of finding out he’d been rendered sterile in a bad fight when he’d taken one of the worst blows of his life, he’d come to the decision that he was actually rather relieved. He worried sometimes that he was too much like his father, and that was definitely not the way he wanted to be with a kid.
But Vereint had asked if they could take Melissa in and it was obviously something he really wanted. Warrick thought he’d handled things well when he agreed that they could offer themselves up as foster parents for Melissa, and it had only taken a single phone call from him to have things pushed through.
If Vereint wanted Melissa in their family, then that was what they were going to have. He just hoped Vereint wasn’t going to start taking in strays all over the place.
Vereint had already gotten himself Hank as a new brother, and now he was picking up a pseudo-daughter, or as he’d proclaimed her, a “ward” like they were suddenly in the 18th century or something. It made Warrick wonder if Vereint was going to insist on getting Melissa a governess or something.
Warrick felt his lips twitch as he thought about the rather humorous image of all the trouble Vereint could get himself into. It was something Warrick had realized with time, but he’d come to the conclusion that there was very little in the world he wouldn’t let Vereint have if he really wanted something. Though if it came down to it, there wasn’t a whole lot he could do to stop Vereint if he went off the rails.
Vereint could be a terrifying and unstoppable force and it was just luck that he showed even the tiniest bit of concern for other people. If Vereint had been completely amoral, he would have been a monster terrible enough to be classified as a force of nature. Instead he had indulged in largely petty crime and his body count was low for someone with such a powerful reputation. People were frightened of what could happen if he got angry at them personally, but as a whole he had never been that much of a threat to society.
Warrick finally made his last phone call, then slipped his phone back into his jacket pocket. He’d almost been notifying people by rote at the end, but it was one of those things that needed to be done. He was high profile, and if he didn’t make sure his calls were rerouted it would only be a matter of time before his secret identity was blown.
It was one of the biggest reasons why he didn’t think bringing a child into their home was a good idea. He had too many secrets he was hiding, and having a kid around seemed like a lot of risk. Though Vereint had told him he should try playing the Daddy Warbucks card. Which basically entailed him locking himself in his office for “work time” and not telling Melissa a single thing about what he was doing. It was going to be a change in his routine, but it wasn’t like he had any other choice.
One look at how Vereint practically glowed as he gathered up Melissa’s small amount of possessions and Warrick knew that this was happening. It was good to see Vereint being seriously involved with something. He didn’t notice how mechanically he went through his days, but Warrick had.
Since retiring from crime, Vereint had tried to write a book and taken art lessons and driven go-karts and taken on so many failed hobbies that failure was getting to be his hobby. The fire that had always seemed to blaze around him had dimmed and Warrick had begun to worry that Vereint was getting depressed, that he was going to decide enough was enough and just leave one day. The idea of Vereint leaving him had sent a jagged blade of unease through Warrick and his mind had started spitting out ideas for how he was supposed to save his marriage.
The bathroom door opened and Melissa stepped out in the jeans and hoodie ensemble Vereint had chosen for her. She’d been brought to the hospital in her circus costume–a red and yellow leotard with flesh colored tights–so she’d spent the last couple of days in hospital pajamas. She looked relieved to be wearing real clothes again.
“Looking good,” Vereint said, giving her a grin. “Here, I got these for you too.” He pulled a pair of tiny tennis shoes out of his jacket pocket and held them toward her. They were red and white shoes with a yellow bird outlined in a rich blue.
Melissa’s hands trembled slightly when she reached out and took them, her fingers ghosting over the flying bird design that had been hand painted on the outside of each shoe. “These… these are the shoes I wanted,” her voice cracked. “I didn’t tell anyone because they’re too expensive. How did you know?” She raised her head to look at Vereint.
“I saw them and I just thought of you,” Vereint said, giving her a warm smile. It was the type of unthinking kindness that made Warrick love him even more.
He knew that Vereint was a work in progress, but he didn’t mind that as much as Vereint seemed to. He had long since accepted that neither one of them was perfect, and one of Vereint’s faults was an inability to care about most people. Which made the times Vereint did something compassionate or sweet for someone other than Warrick more precious and important.
It was horribly sentimental, but Warrick couldn’t help thinking that he wanted to see every face Vereint could make. He wanted to know every part of Vereint to the point that he could fold those memories into every corner of himself.
Warrick liked that he had a reputation for chilly disinterest toward any kind of human weakness. It sent a surge of ego through him to know that he had never fucked up at his job and that he was known for always getting the job done the right way the first time. Yet he liked that he was able to give Vereint the softer side of his personality. He liked to see Vereint happy, with that little tilt to his lips that was only seconds away from a laughing smile. He would do just about anything to be able to see that expression.
Which was why they were taking home a twelve year old orphan girl that had been raised in a circus and had very little experience with normal life. There was something about her that had struck a cord with Vereint.
Warrick pulled out his phone and sent a quick text to his assistant–a young man named Bertram of all things–then watched as Melissa sat on the edge of the hospital bed and pulled on her new shoes. He didn’t know how Vereint had done it, but they were the perfect size.
“Thank you,” she said, giving Vereint a shy glance.
He shrugged. “It’s no big deal. You need shoes if we’re blowing this Popsicle stand.” Warrick could see that he was pleased though, the tips of his ears turning red.
Warrick took it as his cue to step forward and herd everyone out of the room. Vereint held the shopping bag in one hand while he kept his other hand free in case Melissa happened to want to take it. She didn’t this time, but the offer was left open and Warrick couldn’t help a bit of melting in his heart.
Bertram was standing at the nurses station, wrapping up the last bit of the checkout process, and he turned with a nearly puppyish excitement when he saw Warrick. He came trotting over with a bright green folder clutched in his hand. “Sir, she’s all checked out and the car is ready downstairs to drive you home.”
“Thank you,” Warrick said, accepting the folder and not breaking stride as he led the way to the elevator. It was always somewhat funny to see the usually well-put together young man scramble to keep up with him, his loafers squeaking on the floor and his Ichabod Crane elbows and arms bending like Stretch Armstrong.
Bertram Cooke was an overly educated, under socialized man that had been training his entire life to be someone’s underling, though he probably hadn’t realized that was where his education was leading him at the time. Still, he was good at his job and Warrick had just about gotten him trained up enough where he didn’t have to offer any handholding. Bertram was able to take care of things with a minimum of dramatics, and that was an appreciable skill.
Tobias Industries was one of those monolithic companies that practically ran itself, and Warrick could get by with scanning a few reports at the end of each quarter and watching his bank accounts expand. The kind of rich his family had always aimed toward in the knowledge that if they wanted to pursue their obsession with crime fighting there would need to be a steady income to pay for everything. Because there was no way a Tobias was going to wander around dressed in a substandard uniform.
Under the iron rule of his grandfather, Warrick had built up the family fortune to the point where he had men like Bertram Cooke to protect his interests and he could take the time to save the world and please Vereint. He’d automated his wealth to such an extent that he was free to be the superhero he wanted to be.
Warrick kept one eye on Vereint and the girl as they rode the elevator down. Melissa stayed in Vereint’s shadow with a pinched expression on her face as she watched the numbers flick by. She seemed tiny between Vereint and the social worker, her left foot kicking back against the elevator wall nervously.
He couldn’t help a surge of pity when he looked at her. Being an orphan was bad enough as an adult, but she was a kid and she’d watched her parents die with her own eyes. He figured they were looking at years of psychological tests and counseling to make sure she grew up all right. It was a responsibility he wasn’t sure they were ready for, but there was nothing he could do about it. Vereint wanted to care for the girl, and Warrick would never even think to say no.
He slanted a glance toward Vereint’s face and was startled to meet his eyes. Vereint flashed him a quick grin, and Warrick smiled back before focusing on the numbers counting down.
Everything would be all right.
* * *
Nancy the Social Worker made him feel a bit nervy, but he knew there wasn’t a whole lot she could call them on. Their apartment was beautiful and clean and he’d already prepared a guest room for Melissa. There were no dangerous weapons in evidence and they had more than enough money to care for a thousand kids.
If Nancy wanted to give them a hard time, he had no doubts about how far he was willing to go to get what he wanted. Though he was holding all that back as a last resort as he knew that Warrick wouldn’t approve of anything that smacked of supervillainy.
Sometimes Warrick was a real buzzkill.
Vereint shot him a fond look across the car and received a slow wink in return.
They were being driven to Tobias Towers in one of the company limousines, their driver expertly cutting through traffic with nary a bump. Vereint had gestured Melissa into the spot next to him with Nancy on her other side. Warrick was sitting across from him with Bertram focusing on his ePad next to him, a worried little frown tugging at his wide lips.
“What’s up, Bert?” Vereint asked, unable to hold it in any longer. They were trying to play all happy family, but sometimes Vereint couldn’t bite his tongue fast enough and had to pick away at people.
It was lucky that Bertram had been around long enough to figure out Warrick’s whole “Vereint Protocol.” He didn’t even raise a single brow and smoothly said, “Nothing much, Ernie.”
Vereint snorted and glanced at Melissa. “If you come with us, that’s the kind of humor you’ll have to put up with all the time. I’m sorry.”
A faint smile tugged at the corner of her mouth, but didn’t quite fully bloom. “It’s not so bad,” her voice was soft enough that he wouldn’t have heard her if he’d had normal hearing.
He patted her on the shoulder. “It gets worse.” He glanced out the window as the car slid to a smooth stop. “Ah, we’re here.”
He led the way out of the car and through the lobby to the elevator. “We’re at the very top,” he told Melissa.
She was looking around the metal and glass elevator curiously, her head tipped back to see. She was such a small girl, her expression open and clear. “It’s high up,” she observed.
“Sometimes we land the jet on the roof,” he said, giving her a sly wink.
She laughed and he could actually see her relax. “No way.”
He nudged her shoulder just as the door dinged open. “Come on. Let me show you where you’ll be staying.”
He led Melissa through the spacious penthouse apartment, pointing out different features and giving her a general rundown on what she was allowed to use and what she should leave alone and why. He felt a bit like a talk show host or something and had to resist the worst bit of sashaying and Price Is Right hand waving.
“This is the living room where we like to hang out most of the time. I don’t go out all that much, so you can be sure that most times this will be where I end up.” He let her try out the couch and the recliners, then took her to the open kitchen. “This is where the food comes from. Please don’t try to cook by yourself, at least until I can make sure you’re not going to set the microwave on fire.” He gave her a charming smile.
“I won’t,” she said. She watched interestedly when he opened the refrigerator and showed her that it was packed with food, then he popped open the various drawers and cupboards. “What’s that?” She pointed at a bamboo steamer.
“That’s where I make my delicious gyoza,” he said. “I think you’re really going to enjoy helping me next Saturday.”
“What’s next Saturday?” She followed him down the hallway. Her eyes flicked everywhere, taking everything in.
“Every Saturday, Warrick and I have a family dinner together.” Vereint pushed open a bedroom door and let her go in first. “It was always kind of lonely before with just the two of us. It’s going to be so much nicer with another person around.” He waved his hand. “This will be your room. What do you think?”
She was a little agape as she stood in the middle of the room turning slowly around and around, staring everywhere. “It’s… it’s so pretty,” she whispered.
Vereint smiled. “Yeah. We let my mother decorate this room and forgot to give her a limit on what she could do. She always wanted to be an interior designer or something. She went crazy.”
The guest room had been an uncomfortably large open space with generic furniture, and Sandra had been able to turn it into a more comfortable and intimate space. The walls were a rich orange and there were dark red and purple fabric hangings that made everything seem warm and safe.
The bedspread had a vibrant yellow starburst pattern on a turquoise background. The furniture was all lushly comfortable and Vereint made a note to ask Melissa if she really liked the chairs and couch or if she wanted to exchange them for something a little firmer.
“It looks like A Little Princess,” Melissa said, sitting down on one of the blue chairs, grabbing up one of the yellow-orange brocade pillows and giving it a test hug.
Vereint shrugged. “Knowing my mom, that’s probably how she got her inspiration. She wants to be an artist someday.”
Melissa jumped up from the chair and walked over to the bed to sit down and test out the give. “It’s a lot better than the hospital.”
“Yeah,” Vereint said.
By the look in her eyes, he knew he didn’t have to point out how much better it would be than whatever bed she’d get at the group home. She was a smart kid.
“If you decide to stay with us, we’ll get you some more personal things,” Vereint said. “We’ve got a couple of weeks before school starts up and I know you’ll want to look your best.”
“I’ve… I’ve never been to a regular school,” Melissa said. “My mom taught me in our trailer while we were on the road.”
Moving slowly in case she wanted to duck away, Vereint reached out his hand and rested it on her shoulder. “That’s all right. If you need extra tutoring or anything, we can arrange that, or if you’re more advanced than your peers we can get you more advanced classes or whatever. There’s nothing for you to worry about.”
She blinked at him. “Okay.”
He smiled, a feeling of accomplishment going through him. He could practically see that she was bonding with him and that was good.
He’d never had much experience with kids before, but he really didn’t want to screw this up. She’d already had such a bad time of it. He didn’t want to add to her problems.
“This really is a very pretty room,” she said.
“Yeah. You can tell my mom that when you meet her,” Vereint said.
There was the sound of talking from near the door, and when Vereint turned to look he saw that it was the social worker and Warrick. From the expression on Nancy’s face, Vereint had a feeling that things were going in their favor.
There wasn’t a whole lot she could call them on, and the fact that she didn’t know about either of their metabilities was a big plus.
Warrick Tobias was worth a lot of money, and he was definitely the kind of guy that hapless bureaucrats went out of their way to keep happy. Nancy may have been serious about her job and the careful placement of all her charges, but those above her on the totem pole…
Vereint didn’t have a single doubt that Melissa would be staying with them. It was inevitable.
He smiled at Melissa. “Let me show you the rest of the apartment. Then I’m sure you will enjoy seeing our rooftop garden. We put a lot of work into it.”
He held out his hand and patiently waited.
A small hand tentatively linked with his.
It was the little victories he enjoyed the most.
It was strange having a kid in the house. Just the sound of a new person breathing broke the routine, but to hear the weakness of those lungs… It made something shift and bend in Vereint’s chest.
He’d spent most of his life feeling completely alone. Then he’d met Warrick and his life was changed forever. He had someone to love, and it had settled some wildly snarling beast that had always lived inside him.
Now he had a family of his own and it raised a powerful protective urge inside him. He liked it.
Sliding out of bed, he found his robe on the bedpost and put it on over his pajamas. He spared the still sleeping Warrick a fond look before leaving the bedroom, closing the door softly behind him.
He padded into the kitchen and poured himself a cup of coffee before starting on breakfast. It was such an everyday thing that a feeling of warmth rushed through him.
Vereint mixed up some pancake batter and started frying bacon. He’d barely finished the first batch before a sleepy looking Melissa in pink cloud pajamas came in. He smiled when he saw she was wearing the fuzzy blue monster slippers he’d slipped into her room. With every step the mouths gaped open and there was a honking-beep sound.
“Good morning,” he said. “You ready to eat?”
She nodded her head and went to the chair at the table that she’d already claimed as hers. She didn’t return his smile, but she met his eyes without any kind of rancor. She handled her grief with a quiet kind of desperation.
He made a mental note to arrange her some group counseling or something. The one-on-one stuff she was already set up with could probably do with some age appropriate dynamics.
Vereint shook his head to clear it and carried the plate he’d prepared for her over to the table along with a glass of orange juice. “Here you go, sweetie. Breakfast of champions.”
“Thank you.” Her voice was a little hoarse. He wondered if she’d cried last night, though he hadn’t heard anything.
Children were such a strange mix of fragile and resilience, able to handle so much before breaking. He really didn’t want to mess this up.
Vereint went back to cooking, keeping one eye on her. She was such a lost little girl. He wanted to keep her safe.
There was the quiet click of the master bedroom door, then Warrick came in. His blond hair stood up in dandelion tufts around his head and he was wearing gray sweats and a white tee shirt. He gave Vereint a smile when he came into the kitchen for coffee. “Good morning,” he said.
Vereint handed him a plate of pancakes, bacon, and sliced strawberries. “Here you go,” he tapped his cheek meaningfully and got the kiss he wanted, “and thank you.”
“You’re certainly in a mood today,” Warrick said, their fingers brushing. “I like it.”
Vereint smiled. He was in a mood, wasn’t he? “I’m happy,” he whispered.
“Try not to sound so surprised about it,” Warrick advised. He leaned forward to give Vereint another kiss, this one a brush on the lips, before carrying his plate and coffee to the table.
When Vereint glanced over, he saw Melissa hastily look away. The tips of her ears were pink where they poked through her dark hair. She held her fork clutched in her fist, stabbing away at bites of pancake.
“Melissa, would you like some more bacon?” he asked.
She shook her head. “I’m getting full.” She lifted her glass and sipped her juice. “It was very good. Thank you.”
Vereint smiled at her. “It was my pleasure.” He switched off the stove and quickly made himself a plate. He carried it over to the table and sat next to Warrick, who reached over to fill his glass with juice.
Sitting there, the sun pouring in through the wide windows, Vereint could practically see their life unfolding in front of him. It sent a burst of warmth through him, tinged with sadness for Melissa’s loss. But there was no way he could have let her go with anyone else.
The second he’d seen her there on top of the platform with her face twisted in horror and fresh grief, he’d known: This one is ours.
It was only fitting that two damaged souls take in and raise a damaged child. Maybe they could all fix each other.
He took a bite of pancake and chewed slowly, enjoying the comfort of not being alone.
* * *
Having a kid around was strange and alien. It was the kind of thing Warrick had never imagined happening to him, not once he realized he was gay and there was no way he was ever going to get together with a woman. There might have been some disappointment from his family at the idea of the heir to the Tobias family not wanting to produce a next generation, but he’d brushed them off.
His family had taken so much from him. There was no way he was letting them decide his sexuality too. Then their opinions had ceased to matter after the Tobias Tragedy took most of their lives. After that, there was no one else but him to say how he was supposed to live his life. He’d been freed of the burden of expectation. Which was about the point that he’d been rendered sterile and whole conflict became moot.
Trust Vereint to mess with the status quo. To bring a child into their little duo and turn them from a hot and sexy couple of guys into a family.
Warrick smiled fondly at Vereint where he was showing Melissa how to work the complicated media system. They’d had so many remote controls that they’d slaved everything through a tablet computer.
“See? You push this here and it turns on the TV,” Vereint said.
Melissa reached out with one of her tiny fingers to brush against the touch screen. She jumped and jerked her hand back when the TV immediately switched on. “I barely touched it!”
“It’s pretty sensitive,” Vereint said. He touched the Guide button. “And here’s how you find all the cartoon and kid friendly channels.”
“No porn?” Melissa asked.
Vereint spluttered a second before finally giving in to a laugh. “No. There will be no adult entertainment for you. And please don’t tell me why you know anything about it. It’s all kids TV for you from here on out.”
Warrick was sitting on his favorite chair with his ePad propped on his crossed knees. He was flicking through his daily blog roundup, but there was nothing that leapt out at him, so instead he was watching Vereint’s face.
It was something he always seemed to do when he had nothing to keep him occupied. Vereint was his obsession. He could spend the rest of his days watching the expressions touch that face and he would still want more.
He was glad to see that Vereint looked happier than he had seemed lately. Having Melissa around had brightened his mood and given him something to look forward to in the days when Warrick couldn’t be there.
For a while after they’d been married, Warrick had been sure it was only a matter of time before Vereint went back to supervillainy. Instead, Vereint had surprised him by never once being tempted back into his old ways. Sure, he’d made some mistakes in the way he’d handled a given situation, but he hadn’t used his metabilities or gone on a crime spree or anything. Vereint had stuck to being a normal guy.
Warrick was proud of Vereint. He knew that there was no way he’d ever be able to give up his powers and live as a normal man. He’d been wrapped up in superhero life for too long to ever just let it go.
It was odd how well Vereint had taken to normal life. Odd, but good.
Seeming to sense Warrick’s regard, Vereint turned his head and gave him a smile and a wink. “You sure you don’t want to join us over here as we try to figure out the mysteries of your way too complicated media setup?”
“It’s not complicated,” Warrick said, “as long as you know what you’re doing. And I’m comfortable where I am. Though I would really appreciate something to eat if you decide to make anything later.” He tried on a charming smile.
Vereint sighed good-naturedly. “Sometimes I don’t know why I put up with you.” He nudged Melissa. “If you ever decide to get married, you gotta understand that it’s kind of like roulette. Sometimes you win… and sometimes you get a guy that wants to sit around in his favorite chair surfing the Internet while other people do all the work around the place.”
Melissa giggled and took the tablet out of Vereint’s hands. Her fingers ghosted over the icons and the TV changed channels and the stereo went on.
“I see you’re already better at that than I am.”
“It’s not complicated,” Melissa said, then gave Warrick a wink and a grin.
He gave a surprised laugh. Though she’d been with them less than a week, she was already showing that she had a real personality to her. It went well with Vereint’s innate sarcasm and his own laconic tendencies toward anyone that wasn’t Vereint or Caspian.
He’d never been the best at making connections with other people. It had always just seemed as though anyone outside of his little circle was nothing but an annoyance he forced himself to put up with.
Even his own family had rubbed him the wrong way. They’d always been forcing their expectations on him and just expected that he would capitulate. Giving in had always seemed like weakness and he’d hated it. Yet Vereint just had to hint at some desire and Warrick couldn’t bend over fast enough.
There were times when he questioned what kind of man he had become, but there wasn’t a single doubt in his mind that Vereint had made him a better person. Certainly a much happier one.
His ePad made a melodic sound and jolted in his hand. Warrick glanced down at the screen and saw that the little Yin-Yang icon had lit up, notifying him that the League was looking for him.
“Darn it,” he said, standing up. “I just got an email from the company. There’s a situation they need me to take care of.”
Vereint raised a questioning eyebrow and Warrick nodded. Vereint sighed and turned to Melissa. “Well, if he’s going to leave us, I guess he’s going to be sad about missing out on our fabulous lunch date at The Purple Fez.”
Warrick grimaced. “You’re really eating at that place?”
“What’s wrong with it?” Melissa asked.
“Nothing!” Vereint insisted before Warrick could answer. “They make the best club sandwiches and I thought we could share one and have some of their minestrone soup. And if we’ve still got room for it, we could get spicy chocolate lava cake.”
“Lava cake?” Melissa folded her legs under herself and rose up on her knees excitedly. She cocked her head. “What’s that?”
Vereint shot Warrick a victorious grin before turning to Melissa. “You’ll just have to wait until lunch to find out.” He stuck his tongue out at Warrick. “You go off and do your boring office stuff while we have a great time together without you.”
“I’ll see you guys later.” There was no resisting the fierce grin Warrick gave before he left the room. He could already tell that Vereint was happy. All his worries about having a kid around seemed to have been as stupid as Vereint had called them.
I guess I really am a selfish ass, he thought, amused. He hopped in his private elevator to go to the apartment he used as a staging area now that Melissa was around. They’d had to move everything out of the penthouse and to his new gear room. It was lucky that they both possessed superstrength, and the sex afterward still made his toes curl.
Coming out of the elevator, he had to tap his private code into the touch pad next to the door to open the access panel. Then he suffered the retina scan and palm scan before the lock would accept his house key and he could open the door.
He walked inside, kicking the door shut behind him as he briskly walked across the room to the security panel. He popped the lid open and typed in his code. If the code wasn’t entered within five minutes of the front door being opened, a security alert would go to both him and Vereint.
Warrick figured that if anyone broke in, they would get the surprise of a lifetime when Vereint blasted them into vapor. If there was no evidence of a crime, they wouldn’t have to file anything with the League or the CMPF either. It wasn’t something he’d mentioned to Vereint, not wanting to give him ideas, but he understood how deep battle instincts ran.
Vereint would blast first and ask questions later. He could be pretty vicious about it too. So if anyone wanted to try and break into Warrick’s Blue Ice stash, they would only get what they deserved.
Warrick quickly changed into his uniform, the blue and white bodysuit fitting him closely, before he tugged on his armor flak jacket and guards. He pulled his head stocking down to cover his blond hair, though it had been cut in an I-shape in the front to leave his eyes, nose and mouth clear.
He’d tried full face masks before, but it had never worked out. His father would have cursed him for risking his identity with his uniform choices, but Warrick had just added a shaped half-mask and let it go. Head stockings had always been too stifling for him and age hadn’t changed that any.
Once he was dressed, he paused to give himself a quick once-over in the mirror. The last thing he wanted was to let carelessness leave clues to his secret identity.
The stories of how Katmandu had bought it had slammed reality down Warrick’s throat. The assholes had even gone back and chopped up her kids as a lesson to other heroes about getting sloppy with their kit.
I’m a father now, he thought, and it was still an alien concept. He didn’t feel like a parent, yet there was a kid in his life and he had to be smarter than before.
Vereint could protect himself. Melissa was a liability.
“Get your head in the game,” he told himself. His voice seemed loud in the silence. It made him uncomfortable.
Warrick grabbed his utility belt and strapped it around his waist. His partner, Caspian Dukes, was probably already waiting. The half-Atlantean was startlingly quick about responding to call ups, probably because he didn’t have much of a life outside the superhero gig.
Not that Warrick could judge him. Before Vereint, he hadn’t had much of a life either.
Aliens. It was aliens again.
He remembered a time when the thought of aliens brought to mind awkwardly waddling glob-monsters that just wanted to go home. Now he had to deal with aliens that wanted to suck out peoples’ brains before absorbing their organic tissue into its heaving mass of pink and red ick.
“E.T., go the fuck home!” he yelled, dodging out of the way of a writhing tentacle that burned the asphalt like acid where it hit.
“Why do all aliens have to look like fucking Jell-o monsters?” Caspian asked. He’d been given a dart gun loaded with some kind of chemical that was supposed to render the blob monster helpless, crystallizing its insides or something. Only the darts he’d fired so far had all bounced. Neither one of them was having a good time.
Warrick blasted an oncoming tentacle, freezing it in mid-air. “Not all aliens are blob things,” he puffed. “Some of them are hot alien babes sent to seduce strong virile superheroes. Remember Blandromeda? She kept trying to get into my pants. I had to have Lady Arcana give her the girl-talk about why I wasn’t into her generous offer.”
Caspian snorted. “She was sent to destroy Earth’s mightiest heroes by infecting them with space herpesyphilaids. You dodged a bullet, man. Charismo’s wiener had to be surgically amputated after it started smoking and melting. Dude’s still bitter about it.”
“Didn’t the Mechanic give him a robo-dick though? Wasn’t that good enough?” Warrick froze the tentacles heading toward Caspian, giving him a chance to fire another shot.
The dart bounced.
“Dammit.” Caspian tumbled out of the way of a finger-thin tendril. Seemed like the space blob was trying to teach itself to be stealthy. “I don’t know about you, man, but I like my original parts. And if I ever decide to get anything replaced, I don’t want it to happen because I caught an STD from some space hooker.”
Warrick cackled. “Space hooker. That shit’s going in my diary.”
They had been maneuvering the blob away from the civilians trapped in the overturned bus and hazmat suit wearing police rushed in to hustle them out of the way. It was the best they could manage until their League backup arrived with better weapons.
The blob quivered with frustrated rage and a shudder went through the whole thing. There was a disgusting sucking-gurgling sound and an oozing maw lined with human-bone pseudo-teeth opened up.
“Have you ever seen the movie ‘Teeth?'” Caspian’s voice had gone up hysterically. “That shit gave me nightmares that went something like this.”
Warrick leapt up into the air and swooped down to snatch Caspian up under the arms just as the blob jumped into the spot Caspian had been standing. Angry tentacles reached for them, trying to grab a trailing foot, but Warrick carried them up high enough it couldn’t reach. He blinked sweat from his eye.
“Whoo, that almost got ugly,” he said.
Caspian gave a wordless whimper and his grip on Warrick’s shoulders was almost painful.
“You guys all right?” a brassy voice asked.
Warrick turned to find Witch Fire hovering on her broom. “We’re fine, but you better have brought something to handle that thing. If it eats one more person, it might get too strong to be stopped.”
Witch Fire made a face at him, but reached into a velvet satchel at her waist and pulled out a glass vial filled with a glowing blue liquid. “It took a while, but the lab boys whipped this up for you. You freeze it and I’ll pour?”
Warrick shifted Caspian around until the guy could clamber onto his back. “I got this.”
There was something about using his abilities that made all of the problems he faced seem tiny and far away. It was as though his metability froze his emotions too. It was one of the things that made him great in a fight–he always kept a cool head.
Focusing down on the pool of liquid ice that always seemed to lap away in the deeper corners of his mind, Warrick called it out of him and down his arms. It was distilled winter blasting out of his hands, the kind of deadly cold that nothing living on Earth could hope to survive.
To him, it felt warm. Like a shot of straight whiskey burning in his belly, only it went through his whole body.
The alien blob was frozen solid, though it only held a few minutes. Whatever was at the heart of that thing had a molten core and a hunger for living flesh.
It was frozen long enough.
Witch Fire unstoppered the vial, releasing a puff of noxious black smoke she kept well away from her face, and she zipped down to pour the thick, viscous blue straight down the creature’s maw. Making a mouth had been a mistake.
“We need to get back!” Witch Fire yelled, zooming past him.
Warrick didn’t hesitate to follow, ducking behind the safety of a skyscraper. “What’s going to happen?”
“Oh…” There was a thunderous BOOM! and the wet splatter of regurgitated organic matter slapping against buildings and the ground.
“Just that.” Witch Fire’s grin was positively demonic. “Enjoy the clean up, boys.” She zipped away in a flash of trailing red hair.
Warrick came back around the building to see the result of their actions. “I feel like we just got F’d in the A.”
Gobs of red and pink stuck everywhere like half-digested steak tartar. There was already a rancid smell happening and Warrick’s mouth watered in the way that warned he was about to vomit.
Caspian made a heaving noise behind him and Warrick twisted so Caspian fell loose, then caught him around the waist from behind. He gripped Caspian by the hips as Caspian bent forward and began to throw up, the vomit hitting the ground below with a sickening splash.
Warrick squeezed his eyes tight shut and tried to hold his breath and picture kittens. Cute, cuddly, furry, non-vomiting kittens.
“Sexy alien babes would be so much better,” he said.
“Yeah,” Caspian garbled agreement.
Luckily they didn’t have to stick around for clean up duty. They were able to leave that to long suffering city workers while they made a break to League headquarters and the luxury of boiling hot showers. The stink of exploded blob monster was insidious.
“Never again!” Caspian ranted, scrubbing his skin furiously. “The next time there’s a blob problem, it better be someone else’s blob problem. I can’t even fly, you know? So it’s not like I can fly away. And I can’t run that fast either, because I don’t have superspeed.” He turned toward Warrick. “I’m not scared of dying, but there’s no way I’m going out as blob food, you hear me?”
“I think everyone can hear you,” Warrick said, rinsing his hair under the water. “You’re yelling.”
“Damn right I’m yelling. No more blobs!” Caspian slapped the tile wall with his palm emphatically.
Warrick rolled his eyes. Caspian would let himself get hysterical in their downtime, but he was always great backup when the shit hit the fan.
“So, on to other things,” Warrick said, “me and Vereint took in a kid.”
Caspian was right in the middle of going into another fit when he dropped his hand and stared at Warrick. “What?”
“Yeah. We were at that circus show the other night, remember?” Warrick switched off the water and grabbed his towel off the rack.
“Where the tragedy happened?” Caspian poured a palmful of shampoo into his hand and rubbed it into his short black hair.
“Yeah.” Warrick nodded, looking down at his bare feet. He needed to trim his toenails or Vereint would complain. He scrubbed his hair with the towel. “There was a little girl, Melissa. Vereint asked and we decided to take her in.”
“Just a normal kid?” Caspian rinsed off quickly and turned off the water. He grabbed his own towel and wrapped it around his waist, not even bothering to dry off with it. The water beaded and ran off his skin, part of his Atlantean heritage. “You’re not worried about your secret getting out?”
Warrick dried off, then wrapped his own towel around his waist and followed Caspian out into the locker room. “Naw, we moved my stuff out of the apartment and onto another floor. It was a smart move anyway, something we probably should have done a while ago for security purposes.”
“Security shmurity,” Caspian said. “You guys have a fucking kid! That just blows my mind. I mean, dude, you are a selfish fuck.”
“Nice language.” Warrick opened his locker and pulled out one of his spare uniform. “Make sure you don’t talk like that when you come over tomorrow. We’re having a barbecue.”
“Does Vereint know you’re having a barbecue?” Caspian opened his locker and paused to lean close and peer at his face in the square mirror. He fingered a possible blemish with a frown. “God, my skin is just falling apart.”
Warrick zipped up his suit. “You’re getting older,” he said. “It’s the menopause.”
Caspian threw a sock at his head. “You mean the ‘manopause’ because I’m totally The Man.”
“Whatever.” Warrick slipped his spare belt on. “Plan on showing up tomorrow around five-ish and we’ll eat around seven. I’ll even ask Evan to show up too.”
“You know, one day he’s gonna ask to bring his kid, then what are you going to do?” Caspian used his purple handled brush to fix his hair, turning his head this way and that as he admired himself in the mirror.
“Feel bad when I tell him no.” Warrick pulled on his boots, stamping to get the fit right. “I like to keep my two lives separate. And I think Vereint appreciates it too.” Even though he didn’t know it was all for him.
Warrick was a realist. He was getting older, and it was obvious to him that Vereint was not. There would come a time when he would stumble at the wrong moment, and Vereint would be left a widower. And the only way the League would leave Vereint alone was if they thought he had no idea what any of their secret identities were.
Knowledge was power, unless you were a superhero’s spouse, where it was better to play ignorant. Vereint was quick to don the mask of vacuous airhead to put off any unpleasantness, and Warrick appreciated that.
“You’re going to have to bring him into the fold someday,” Caspian said. “Doesn’t he get curious at all about who some of the others are?”
“Nope.” Warrick frowned at his spare head stocking; there was something black on the side. He fingered the smudge, then sniffed it. “I can honestly say that he wants nothing to do with any superhero other than me.”
“You lucky asshole.” Caspian shook his head. “I date a woman for a week and she instantly wants to know what superheroes and villains I know. That last one, I think she only went out with me because she heard I knew Darkstar. The minute she got everything out of me, she was gone.”
Warrick gave him a flat look. “And you didn’t get a single thing in return?”
Caspian shrugged. “I never said I didn’t get anything. I just meant its awkward to have someone try to wring me for info like that. If she’d been even a little less hot…” He grinned.
Warrick shook his head. “There’s a good chance you’re going to hell. And I’ll be right there with you for listening.” He pulled his head stocking on and finished dressing. “Hurry up or I’m going to leave your ass behind.”
“Hey, it takes time to look this good.” Caspian hurriedly began to pull his clothes on. “Do you want me to bring anything for tomorrow?”
“Oh, can you pick up some of those Nutella cakes? Vereint won’t let me buy that kind of thing, but you’re an outsider and he won’t want to come off as shrewish. He’s very sensitive about that kind of thing.”
Caspian paused with his arm half in his sleeve. “Are you trying to get me to bring in contraband? Is that what’s happening here?”
“Exactly,” Warrick said. “I also want a couple bags of Cheesy Poofs, some cupcakes, and some ribs. I’ll give you some money later.”
“He’s gonna know something’s up when I bring a whole second dinner with me. You’re inviting me to eat your food.” Caspian pulled on his pants, tucking his shirt in before zipping his fly.
“He’ll suspect, but he won’t know for sure,” Warrick said. “We’ll totally get away with it, I know it.”
Caspian snorted and shook his head. “You have definitely changed.”
Warrick grinned and stuck his mask to his face. “I know. I like the mellower me a lot more.”
“Ugh. Go kumbaya up the idea of marriage to someone else. I’m practically a teenager for an Atlantean. Let me enjoy my youth.” Caspian pulled on his boots, zipping up the sides before grabbing his mask and slamming his locker closed.
“So you’re still waiting for that puberty to hit, huh?”
Caspian shoved him, then got him into a headlock. “I’ll puberty you. I’m just chock full of male jelly.”
Warrick made a gagging noise and elbowed him in the ribs as they stumbled toward the door out of the locker room. “Asshole.”
He thought he was going to have to creep in, but it was only a little after eleven when he saw the clock on the wall. The living room lights were turned low and Vereint was curled up on the couch watching a movie on the big screen. He had his The Nightmare Before Christmas blanket wrapped around his shoulders and was picking at a bowl of M&Ms. Warrick noted that he’d already picked out all the red and blue ones.
Warrick glanced at the TV, then blinked and looked away. It sounded like the movie was in Korean and there were subtitles, but what was happening was horrifying.
“What are you doing?” he asked, walking over to the couch and reaching down to take a handful of M&Ms out of the bowl. Candy sounded like a great idea considering what he’d gone through earlier.
Vereint shrugged. “Watching a scary movie and waiting for you.” He smiled slyly. “This movie made me really scared. I think I need a big strong hero to make me feel safe.”
Warrick smirked and crunched an M&M between his teeth. “Since there’s none of those around, I guess you’ll have to put up with me.” He sat down on the couch and Vereint wrapped the corner of his blanket around him. “How can you watch this? That’s a lot of gore!”
Vereint shrugged. “It’s a revenge story. The guy got locked up in a hotel room for years, was tortured and became kinda crazy, then was let go with no explanation. And all they fed him was dumplings the whole time he was there.”
“Harsh.” Warrick poured the M&Ms he held into his mouth, then licked his sticky palm clean.
“Yeah,” Vereint said. “Shit is about to get fucked up.”
“Should you curse so much now that you’re a mommy?” Warrick asked, slipping his right hand under the edge of Vereint’s shirt.
“Never call me mommy again.” Vereint glared half-heartedly. “And no, I still get to swear and be thoroughly depraved, I just have to make sure the kid’s not right there when I do it.”
Warrick laughed and snuggled in close against Vereint, rubbing his cheek against Vereint’s warm shoulder. He stroked his hand over Vereint’s stomach, then up over Vereint’s chest.
“Oh, this is the best part.” Vereint was staring at the TV. Warrick was staring at Vereint.
“What’s this movie called?” Warrick asked distractedly. He slipped his hand around Vereint’s side and started drawing shapes against Vereint’s back with his fingers.
“Oldboy,” Vereint said. “I put off watching this because I heard it was really brutal, but I just had to try it. Holy crap, but this movie is crazy.”
“It seems that way.” He casually slipped his hand beneath the band of Vereint’s sweatpants and began drawing shapes on his bare skin. Not even seeming to notice he was doing it, Vereint leaned forward.
Warrick bent his head forward to taste the back of Vereint’s neck with his mouth. He liked where the razor had shaved the smallest hairs from Vereint’s neck. He ran his lips over that patch of skin, making Vereint unconsciously shiver.
“This movie is… this movie is…” Vereint stopped and pulled away from Warrick to turn and give him a serious look. “Are you trying to seduce me?”
“Yes.” Warrick gave him his best sexy grin. “Is it working?”
Vereint was thoughtful a moment. “I think so. I’m definitely more interested in you than I am in the movie right now.”
Warrick snorted. “If you’d turned down sex to finish a movie you can watch any time… I’m sorry, but I’d have to break up with you forever.”
“Please,” Vereint scoffed. “You’re madly in love with me and you know it. You wouldn’t be able to keep away from me for more than a day tops.”
“You’re very sure of yourself,” Warrick said.
Vereint smirked and took his shirt off. “Yes I am.” He flexed his chest muscles and Warrick was gone.
Warrick kissed up the side of Vereint’s neck and pushed him flat on the couch, pressing their groins together as his hands moved down between them.
Vereint reached out with his hand to fumble the tablet remote off the coffee table. He brushed the icon without looking and the TV shut off mid-movie. “Let’s take this where we can get more comfortable.”
Though Vereint tried not to use his powers, he had no problem wrapping his arms around Warrick’s waist and rising up off the couch, carrying them down the hall into their bedroom. Warrick laughed and kicked the door shut behind them.
Being under someone else’s power was always strange to Warrick. There was this sense that he was like those people in movies being jerked through the air on wires. At the same time, he was free to get a good grope in while Vereint maneuvered them to the bed.
“Geez, but you’re handsy,” Vereint said, hovering over the bed, rotating them so he was on the bottom, on the top, on the bottom.
“Don’t do it, don’t do it!” Warrick pleaded, then “Oofed!” as his back bounced on the bed and Vereint landed on top of him, straddling his waist. “Someday you’re going to put me right through the bed.”
“And on that day, we will need to go and buy a new bed,” Vereint rose up on his knees and started pushing his sweatpants down. He sat back on Warrick’s straining erection, ignoring the embarrassing high-pitched sound Warrick couldn’t help making, and lifted his legs up to pull his pants off, throwing them toward the floor.
“No underwear?” Warrick waggled his eyebrows.
“Easy access,” Vereint said. “Now,” he began to stroke his own erection, “let’s begin the negotiations on who goes first?”
“Me?” Warrick suggested hopefully.
Vereint snorted. “You’re cute when you’re convinced you’re going to win.”
“Does that mean you’re going to let me win?” Warrick asked, trying to reach as much of Vereint as he could with his hands while Vereint was sitting on him.
“There’s no winning or losing in what we’re doing.” Vereint grinned, leaning down to kiss Warrick hungrily, happening to grind his ass down. “There’s winning and winning.”
“I…” Warrick groaned and gripped Vereint’s hips tight enough to break bricks. “I feel like you’re winning more than me.”
“Probably.” Vereint reached down to unfasten Warrick’s pants, pushing them down just far enough to free Warrick’s erection and leave him trapped, at his mercy. “But don’t worry, you’re going to feel like a winner too.”
Vereint slipped down on Warrick’s thighs and gripped both of their dicks. Warrick wanted to thrust up against him, but held himself back. Vereint liked to play his little games.
“I do like feeling like a winner,” Warrick said. He tilted his head, giving Vereint’s nibbling teeth better access to his neck. Warrick groaned as Vereint sucked and bit at his flesh and he slid his arms up Vereint’s back, trying to pull him closer against him.
“Wait, hold on,” Vereint gasped suddenly, putting his hand over Warrick’s mouth as he froze. He turned his ear toward Melissa’s room and listened hard. “Do you hear her?”
Warrick rolled his eyes and pulled Vereint’s hand away so he could talk. “She’s sleeping. She didn’t hear anything. Relax.”
“How can I relax?” Vereint asked, looking down at him. “How fucked up would it be for an already traumatized child to realize that we’re having noisy animal sex in the same apartment?”
“Most likely, she would think that we were watching terrible TV,” Warrick said, “but I don’t think we have to worry about it. She’s sleeping, and unless you’re going to start yelling at the top of your lungs she’s not going to wake up. This room is practically soundproofed.”
“Then how come I can hear everything?” Vereint asked. He was adorable in his complete neurosis, his brow furrowed and his bottom lip pouting out indecisively.
Warrick didn’t feel bad at all about gripping Vereint’s upper arms and flipping them over so he was on top. He leaned down to press a kiss against Vereint’s lips. “You can hear everything because you have superhearing. Melissa has normal human hearing. She’s sleeping now and she’s going to stay asleep. At least until I’ve finished fucking you into the mattress.”
Vereint gave him a wide-eyed look. “Really? Well, aren’t you confident. Maybe I will let you fuck me.” He laughed. “Be serious. I’m going to fuck you.”
“Well, then you better hurry up or I’m just going to take what I want.” Warrick bit and licked at Vereint’s lips until Vereint was writhing and humping against him.
“Aggressive,” Vereint gasped, arching his neck. “You know I like it.”
“I know,” Warrick said.
* * *
It was a surprise to Vereint to find out they were having a barbecue, but he couldn’t help thinking it might be fun. Melissa was going to have to start school soon and she had displayed some nervousness at the idea of meeting new people.
She’d spent most of her life performing death defying feats in front of large groups of people, but they had all been strangers and she hadn’t interacted with a lot of people on a personal basis. She’d received her schooling from her mother and she hadn’t known anyone her own age.
He took Melissa with him to the grocery store and they wandered around buying pre-shaped hamburger patties, chicken breasts, vegetables for grilling, wooden skewers, and everything they needed to make all kinds of pasta salad. Vereint made sure to grab an extra box of the multi-colored rotini just because it always made him smile.
“Can we get this?” Melissa asked, holding up a box of brightly colored fruity cereal.
“That has next to no nutritional value whatsoever.” Vereint frowned. “Toss it in the cart with the understanding that for every bowl you eat you will have to eat two cups of vegetables and one fruit. Do we have a deal?”
Melissa closed her mouth with a snap. He could see the thoughts shifting behind her eyes. “One cup of vegetables and two fruits,” she said.
“Ah, I see you’ve already learned the value of negotiation.” He smiled at her. “Deal.”
She smiled and dunked the cereal in the cart. “Can we get some chocolate milk too?”
He raised a brow at her. “Are you ready to pay the price for such a luxury good?”
Melissa put her fists on her hips and stuck her lower lip out at him. “Milk will give me strong bones and teeth.”
“Yes, but chocolate tastes incredibly delicious,” Vereint said, pushing the cart toward the dairy coolers. “There’s a cost for delicious.”
She rolled her eyes so hard that he could almost hear it. He couldn’t help laughing. She was fitting right in.
Warrick ran the grill while Vereint had Melissa helping him make gyoza in the kitchen. They were both wearing aprons, Vereint’s a plain white one while Melissa’s was purple with daisies all over it. She’d pulled her hair back in a ponytail.
“Usually gyoza are fried then steamed, but we’re keeping an eye on Warrick’s cholesterol so I put the ban hammer down on all fried foods.” Vereint made a sad face. “Keeping Warrick alive has made it a worthy sacrifice, but sometime you and I will have to sneak down to this little place I know.”
Melissa raised her eyebrows at him. “We’re keeping secrets from Warrick?”
Vereint snorted. “He knows. We both pretend that it’s some big secret, but I’ve caught him sniffing my shirt after I’ve come back from the diner to vicariously enjoy my cheeseburger and fries.”
Melissa giggled. “Really?”
Vereint shrugged and finished mixing the filling. “I let him have turkey sausage and in return he’s going to live to be a hundred years old. We have an agreement.”
“Like the one we have about cereal?” Melissa gave him a squint-eyed look.
Vereint bumped her shoulder with his elbow. “Exactly. The world is built around consensus, and I like to keep that idea alive in my household everyday.” He began laying out the round wonton wrappers. “You ready to do this?”
She picked up the spoon he’d given her. “Ready.”
There was something about making gyoza that was soothing. It allowed him to relax into the hypnotic motions of scoop and fold. He only had to help Melissa the first couple of times and had to fix a couple she’d done, but by the time they’d finished the whole batch she was practically an expert.
“Good job, kid.” He smiled at her, walking to the sink to wash his hands before loading the steamer.
The doorbell rang, but before he could go answer it, Warrick called, “I got it!” and there was the sound of him opening the sliding door and coming in from the patio.
“And so it begins,” Vereint said, shooting Melissa a grin.
She was looking a bit nervous, especially when they heard the sound of Caspian’s boisterous laughter and a scrabbling thud followed by Evan’s cursing.
“Watch it, gentlemen!” Vereint yelled. “There’s a child in the house!”
“Got it!” Caspian yelled back.
Then there was a bunch of shushing and laughter.
Vereint rolled his eyes and went back to his gyoza. They were worse than children, if children had dangerous superpowers and a willingness to use them.
He looked over at Melissa and saw her hiding a smile with her sleeve.
“Ah ah, don’t you encourage them. They’re terrible,” Vereint said with a smile. “They act like fratboys.”
“What does that mean?” Melissa asked.
Vereint shook his head slowly. “It means they act like they’re in college or something. It’s all kinds of laughing and joking and someone ends up ruining a brand new golf cart.”
Melissa laughed. “How did they do that?”
“Very easily,” Caspian said, appearing in the doorway. “No one told us how steep the hills were on the course or why cart racing had been banned. Warrick was happy to pay for the cart just because he was so grateful I was all right.” He walked over to the counter and set down five bulging plastic bags.
“Oh, is that what happened?” Vereint asked. “Warrick said your pleading was so pathetic he paid for the cart to shut you up.”
“Slander!” Caspian pointed his finger. “I should challenge you to a duel.”
“Whatever.” Vereint wiped his hands on a towel and walked over to poke at the bags interestedly. “What’s all this now?”
“Please, we all know you’re a food Nazi.” Caspian started unloading the bags. “Today’s a special occasion. You should let Warrick eat real people food.”
“What special occasion?” Melissa asked curiously.
Caspian pointed at her. “You, kid. Today is all about you.” Caspian held out his hand for a shake. “My name’s Caspian Dukes, and you’re Melissa, right?”
Melissa shook his hand firmly. “Right.”
Vereint had the feeling things were working out better than expected.