Allies & Enemies, by Harper Kingsley. Chapter 3 [superhero mm]

Truly, Vereint is desperate to fit into normal life. I think that’s what I like about him. Sure, he messes up, but he tries hard. He just can’t help it that sometimes he forgets how breakable other people are.

Title: Allies & Enemies – Chapter Three
Author: Harper Kingsley
World: Heroes & Villains
Genre: mm superhero novel
Rating: mature
A/N: Sequel to Heroes & Villains.
Summary: Chapter One & Two HERE (opens in another window.) Chapter Three has Vereint panicking over his parents wanting to meet Melissa. Yet Warrick can’t be found.

 

CHAPTER THREE

Life with Melissa wasn’t all roses and happiness. She was a grieving girl, and once the shocked placidness wore off, she was a bit of a spitfire. There were definite traces of a brat in there.

There were a couple of times where Vereint had to remind himself that he wasn’t a supervillain anymore. There were a couple of times where Warrick had to remind him rather forcibly as well, though those little scuffles usually ended in fabulous makeup sex, so he didn’t mind that as much. Still, having a kid around was a whole different world for them. It added depth to their relationship or something.

Vereint’s mom, Sandra, barely gave him any warning before she was in a car with Patrick and Hank, promising a long visit. She was desperate to see her new granddaughter and she wasn’t going to let anything get in her way, Vereint included. Not that he would ever try to block her from anything–he wasn’t that stupid.

His mother was a force of nature wrapped up in a human skin.

Instead, he made sure the apartment was immaculate. He liked hearing Melissa’s soft giggles as he raced around at human speed washing dishes, folding laundry, vacuuming, and preparing a feast for their guests.

“You could help me, you know,” he said, giving her a sideways glance. She was curled up on the couch, her little feet wearing brightly colored striped socks.

She shrugged. “I could. But you seem to be having a lot of fun.”

He switched off the vacuum cleaner and put his hands on his hips. “That’s it, little lady. Get your hiney off the couch and go make sure your room is clean. My mom’s going to want to see it first thing to make sure you’re not living in squalor.”

There was a visible shifting behind her eyes, as though she was contemplating telling him to go shove it. Finally, she threw her feet off the couch and stood up, padding quietly toward her room.

“I’ll be in with fresh sheets in about ten minutes,” he called after her. “I don’t want to see a single toy on the floor.”

“Gotcha!” she called back.

Vereint stood there for a long moment. His life really had become something very different and strange, yet it was a good kind of strange. Warm and quietly happy.

He shook his head and switched the vacuum cleaner on, going back to making sure all the lines in the carpet bent the same way. He paused midway through to light the scented candles on the coffee table and on both end tables, sniffing contentedly as he worked.

He glanced at the decorative sun-faced clock on the wall and had to wonder where Warrick was and when he was going to be home. Warrick had promised that he would be here when the Georges appeared.

* * *

“Son of a motherfucking BITCH!” Warrick braced his feet and tried to wrench himself free, but it felt more as though his hand was going to be ripped off first. The hot water steadily rising up past his shoulders made him blink his eyes furiously at all the steam and kept him from being able to freeze the manacle. There was a good chance he was going to drown, and that seriously pissed him off.

It was just supposed to be a routine patrol. He would fly around, take a quick look at what was happening in the city, and he’d be back in time to help Vereint panic and rip their already immaculate apartment to pieces. Then he’d spotted a strange glinting light from the air and he hadn’t spared a second thought about dropping down to check things out.

He was regretting not calling it in. That was the kind of mistake that got newbies killed.

Warrick still wasn’t completely sure what had happened. He’d approached the building, then there was a fiercely bright light strobing in his eyes and everything shut down. He thought he might have had a seizure or something from the way his arm and leg muscles felt and how his jaw ached from clenching.

He’d woken up in some kind of cylindrical concrete tube structure that had to be at least two stories tall, his right hand manacled to the wall. He’d received a jolt of electric current that left him pissing himself when he’d tried to freeze and break the metal. It had seared through his whole body and he’d bitten his tongue as he jerked around uncontrollably.

He’d been in too many battles to care too much about the loss of bladder control. That kind of thing happened, and he’d developed a thick skin about embarrassment versus survival. Survival always won.

He was still wearing his uniform, so that was a plus, but his utility belt and any hidden weaponry was gone. It gave him a sick feeling that maybe he was facing someone that knew him and how he operated. Someone that wouldn’t hesitate to kill him.

He’d been trying to physically rip himself free when the boiling hot water had started gushing in from spouts that slid open in the walls. His metability allowed him to cool the area around his body, though he didn’t dare stretch his powers out too far, not after that second, even worse jolt of electricity. It made him think that someone was watching his torment, probably getting their rocks off.

The water rose up past his chin and he tilted his face back, staring up at the round light glaring down at him from the ceiling. He could die here and Vereint would never know what had happened to him.

The thought of Vereint crying and grieving and ripping the world apart to find his body made Warrick have to blink back furious tears of his own. He’d never been afraid of dying, but he did fear leaving Vereint alone.

“Who are you?” he demanded. “What do you want from me?”

There was no answer. The water just rose higher, brushing against his lower lip teasingly.

“Fuck.”

* * *

After making Melissa’s bed and ordering her to get all those toys she’d jammed in her closet out and put away, Vereint gave into his worry and called Caspian on the phone.

It sounded like Caspian said “Yellow?” when he answered. He sounded exhausted and Vereint had the suspicion that he’d dragged the guy out of bed.

“This is Vereint,” he said. “Do you know where Warrick is? I don’t want to come across as some kind of worried housewife or something, but he said he was going to be home an hour ago and my parents are supposed to be showing up soon.”

“I haven’t heard from him.” There was a rustle of cloth as Caspian sat up. “He’s pretty tight assed about keeping to his schedule. He hasn’t called you or anything?”

Vereint rolled his eyes. “Do you think I’d be calling you if I knew he was supposed to be late? He went out for a quick patrol and said he was going to be home to help me.” He felt a nervous roll go through his stomach, but forced himself to stay in control. He wasn’t going to let himself panic over every little thing. “Do you think you can check to see if he left a location in the database or anything?”

“I’ll check it out,” Caspian said, then hung up.

Vereint stood there for a long moment, staring at the phone in his hand. Warrick had said there was nothing happening, that he was just going to take a quick look around. If something unexpected had happened…

He shook his head. Warrick was fine. He was going to come walking through the front door and maybe it would turn out that he’d stopped off at the grocery store or something and he hadn’t bothered to charge his phone. Never mind that Warrick was nearly anal about making sure that everything he carried was ready for immediate use, his phone included.

Warrick was fine. He was going to come home.

There was an unpleasant crunching sound and a whiff of ozone. Vereint blinked in surprise, realizing that he had crushed the phone in his fist.

The doorbell rang and he hurriedly dumped the twisted bits of plastic and circuitry into the trashcan before going to answer. There was a thud and mad scramble from Melissa’s room that made his lip twitch in amusement.

He opened the front door. “Mom! Dad! Hank!” He opened his arms wide and Sandra Georges rushed forward to fill them, Patrick hanging around at her shoulders to wait impatiently for his turn.

Vereint was hugged and kissed and shunted aside just as quickly. “Now, where is she? Where is my grandbaby?” Sandra asked.

“I see how it is.” Vereint sighed woefully. “Shoved aside by a younger child for you to dote on. The love is gone. My mama done did me wrong…”

She jabbed him in the ribs, causing him to make a high-pitched yelping sound. “Don’t go playing that card, son, you really won’t like how things play out. Now show me the girl and no one gets hurt.”

“Geez, she sounds like it’s a hostage situation or something,” Hank said to Patrick, who snorted a laugh. Both quieted at the fierce glare Sandra shot their direction.

“She’s in her room cleaning the place up so she can show it off to you,” Vereint said, gesturing down the hallway. “We’ve made the guest room hers.”

Sandra clamped an iron hand around his wrist and dragged him with her. “Come introduce me.”

“Yes, Mama.” It was the only reply he could give.

He glanced back and saw Hank and Patrick grinning at him, Hank even going so far as to flutter his lashes and stick out his tongue. Vereint realized that he had mommy issues, but there was no reason to call him on it.

“And where is Warrick?” Sandra asked, looking around the living room as they passed through. “Didn’t you say he was going to be here today?”

Vereint sighed. “I don’t know. He got called into work, but I haven’t been able to reach him on the phone.”

“Well, no reason to worry about it,” Sandra said. “What’s the worst that can happen, paper cuts?”

“Yeah. What’s the worst that can happen,” Vereint said, trying not to think about what could be happening to Warrick. There was nothing he could do about it and he trusted that Caspian would do his best to find Warrick and make sure he was all right.

Vereint rapped his knuckles against Melissa’s closed bedroom door. There was the sound of frantic scuffling inside. “Melissa?”

“Just a second!” Something thumped against the floor and he thought he recognized the sound of Lego pieces being poured back into the tub. After another minute of waiting, the door opened and there was Melissa with a nervous look on her face. “Hello.”

“Oh honey, it’s nice to meet you,” Sandra said, kneeling down to bring their heights equal. “You can call me Grandma, and this is Grandpa and Uncle Hank.”

Vereint had worried that Melissa would freak out at seeing so many people hanging over her, but she was a tough kid. Throwing herself through the air without the hope of a net below had taught her to be fearless.

“I’m Melissa. This is my room.” She stepped back to let them in. “Vereint and Warrick bought me a lot of toys and a smaller dresser because the one that was in here was too tall for me.”

“I see that.” Sandra let herself be led around and shown all of the changes they’d made to accommodate Melissa. The look she gave Vereint had him nearly hearing her make an “Aw!” sound. He could already tell that she was enamored with her new granddaughter. It relieved some tension he hadn’t even realized he’d had.

He covertly glanced at his watch and frowned. Where the hell was Warrick?

“Come on into the living room,” Sandra told Melissa. “We brought you some presents.”

“Presents? For me?” Melissa sounded surprised.

“Of course,” Sandra said. “The minute I heard about you, I went out and got you some things I hope you’ll enjoy.”

* * *

When the water rose over his nose, Warrick had a pretty good idea that he was going to die if he didn’t get out fast. He had a lot going for him, but breathing underwater wasn’t one of them.

Silently cursing the assholes that had put him in this position, he brought both feet up next to where the manacle attached to the wall and held his right hand in place with his left.

He wrenched hard, air bursting out of his lungs in a pained gurgle as he broke his wrist with a pop. Then he jerked as hard as he could, working his wrist back and forth, trying to ignore the grinding pain as he tried to get his hand through the manacle.

Of course not, he thought bitterly.

He clenched his teeth together as he grabbed his thumb with his left hand and jerked sideways. He hoped it was only dislocated, otherwise he would be looking at surgery, but he really didn’t care at this point. His lungs burned and his heart was pounding fast and hard in his ears. His body was sending him desperate messages that he was about to lose consciousness, and if that happened he was going to be dead.

Ripping his hand out of the manacle, he kicked his feet hard to break the surface of the water. He gasped in some air and tucked his hand under his armpit to keep from jostling his wrist and hand, which were already aching fiercely.

He’d had to dislocate that same thumb several times in the past and he’d been told that there was a good chance he was going to end up damaging the joint due to lack of cartilage. It was one of the health risks of being a superhero, and when it came down to it he’d rather have his wrist permanently fused than his fingers completely useless.

Anger was smoldering away in his stomach. It drove him up into the air like a missile, his only thought to beat the crap out of whoever had captured him and go home to Vereint. That bright white light was his target. He burst through it in a shower of fluorescent tubing and glass.

There was a cement foundation and it didn’t take him much to realize that he was far underground, the cement reverberating with the sound of the city trapped outside. He punched his way out with his left hand and found himself in a darkened cellar. He shook off quickly, water splattering everywhere, and stomped his way toward the nearest load bearing wall. All those years of studying architecture as a hobby were finally paying off.

He listened and heard less than a handful of people in the building. It must have been some kind of old tenement or something that some assholes decided to use for their nefarious purposes.

Even knowing it was probably a bad idea, the kind of thing that could have him brought up on criminal charges, Warrick was so angry that he didn’t care. He just brought his foot back and kicked and kicked and KICKED until concrete was cracking and rebar was crumbling away, ice spreading out from beneath him in a wave of weakness, eating away at the building around him until walls were coming down and the ceiling above him was creaking threateningly.

There was a loud rumble and dust started falling down, a little bit at first, then more and more.

He kicked the wall one more time, then ran toward the opposite wall and hit it hard with his shoulders, slamming straight through and out onto the street. There was a loud crash and half of the building collapsed in on itself with a plume of dust. He heard the echo of screams inside, but he was beyond giving a damn.

“Whoa, what happened here?”

Warrick turned and found Caspian still straddling the shiny motorcycle he was so stupidly proud of. “How’d you get here?” he asked, raking his good hand through his hair.

“Your better half called me all concerned.” Caspian climbed off the motorcycle and walked toward Warrick, his boots crunching against the bits of shattered concrete scattered all over the road. “There was a lot of worry that you might be dead or something.”

“Thanks, I guess.” Warrick turned to survey the building he’d partially demolished. It still needed a thorough going over before he felt comfortable going home. Vereint would understand.

“I brought backup,” Caspian offered. “They can handle all this while we get out of here.”

There was a screech of tires on asphalt and a black van took the corner sharply. The back doors opened before the van was fully stopped and six junior members of the League of Superheroes jumped out, jangling with weapons and gear.

They all looked incredibly fresh-faced, the stink of newness still clinging to their skin. He recognized one of them, a young man named Neobright, that he’d dealt with before.

“I’m not going anywhere until I find out what the hell happened here,” Warrick said.

“You don’t think that’s a little stupid?” Caspian asked.

“Stupid is leaving the scene without me finding out what the hell they wanted,” Warrick said. He turned to the kid he’d met before. “You guys ready to get in there?”

Neobright nodded. “Yes, sir. We’re ready to go.”

“Take point,” Caspian said. “Blue Ice and I will bring up the rear.” He curtailed Warrick’s objection with a narrow-eyed glare. “Shut up. I can tell you’re still all kinds of wet and whoever is in there might be willing to try to take you out again.”

“If they try, I’ll flatten them. They got me by surprise the first time, and now I’m pissed,” Warrick said. He watched as the Junior League ripped an opening in one of the still standing walls and tramped inside, their boots thudding.

“Sure. You all right?” Caspian asked, his eyes raking over Warrick’s body.

“I’m fine.” Warrick cradled his hand against his chest and tried to pretend he hadn’t just destroyed a building in a tantrum.

“Yeah, you look fine.” Caspian shook his head. “What I can see of your skin looks the color of cream cheese. You should really go home.”

“I’m fine,” Warrick repeated through gritted teeth. He let Caspian walk a few feet in front of him as they poked their way into the building. He wanted to know for himself what was going on, but he knew he wasn’t in the mood to handle arrests himself. That was how superheroes became murderers and ended up serving hard time.

“Your hand looks like it hurts,” Caspian said. “Did you dislocate your thumb and break your wrist?”

“I was chained to a fucking wall,” Warrick said. “Whenever I tried to use my powers I’d get an electric shock so I couldn’t break my way free.”

“So you broke yourself instead.” Caspian shook his head. “Was it some kind of freaky handcuff situation?”

“Basically.” They followed where the Junior League kids had disappeared.

“Geez, you have the worst kind of luck.” Caspian didn’t hesitate to press a hand in the middle of Warrick’s chest and hold him back so he could enter first. Off Warrick’s look, Caspian snorted. “Please, you just escaped from these guys. I’m not going to let you take point.”

Warrick sighed and took up the rear. “Let’s just get this over with. I don’t want the rest of the building to collapse on top of us.”

Caspian had his head tipped back as he looked up. “Taking in the damage, you did a number on this place. It’s gonna be condemned forever.”

“Good. That was part of my master plan.” Warrick stepped over some chunks of concrete and went with Caspian into a large open room that smelled faintly of Pine Sol and dust. “God, there better not be any black mold in here. If I get lung cancer, I’m going to sue someone.”

“Whatever dude.” Caspian shoved aside a big slab of concrete to display the eight foot wide hole in the floor. He peered down into it curiously. “This is where you were trapped?” He spat to hear it splash into the water below. “If I’d been stuck in there, I’d be dead.”

“Except you can breathe under water,” Warrick said.

“Yeah, but that doesn’t help a whole lot if I was handcuffed to the wall.” Caspian scratched his chin. “I don’t know if I’d be willing to chew my own hand off with my teeth.”

Warrick rolled his eyes. “You should try it sometime. It’s not as bad as it seems. We could call it an experiment.”

“You’ve got some serious problems,” Caspian joked, shaking his head. He walked over to a shadowed pile of junk and kicked a box with the side of his foot.

“I’ve got a shortage of fucking cartilage is what I’ve got,” Warrick growled, as far from being in the mood as possible. “I didn’t want to have to dislocate my thumb again, but I didn’t have a whole lot of choice. After a while, I won’t be holding anything with this hand again, that’s what the doctor told me last time.”

“At least you’re alive.” Caspian had looking on the bright side of things down to a fault. “And you didn’t have to do like that guy in Saw.”

“Ugh, don’t mention that movie to me, ever.” Warrick made his way across the cluttered space to his friend. “What is this place?”

There were metal tables running along the walls piled with tools and wires and and all kinds of electronic components. There were cardboard boxes and wooden crates stacked everywhere. It was like someone’s basement workspace gone horribly wrong, and not just because of the murder pit in the middle of the floor.

“Dunno. I’ve got some of the kids rounding up the guys running this place and they’re already questioning with extreme prejudice. It looks like you were snatched by a bunch of mid-listers going by the name ‘The Society of M.'” He glanced up from his com with a grin. “The ‘M’ is for ‘Murder’ by the way. Complete amateur hour.”

Warrick snorted. “Really? Could I have been grabbed by a group that was anymore lamer? Whatever. Let’s get out of here,” he said, turning toward the door. “The kids can clean up the rest. I want to get my wrist taken care of and head home. Vereint is going to be pissed off.”

He wasn’t going to let himself consider the fact that he’d nearly been killed by minor league villains. That kind of thing happened.

 

By the time Dr. Jorge Vasquez had finished checking him over and fitted him with a dark blue cast, Warrick was more than ready to be on his way. His muscles ached and the first thing he did was wrap his cast up in plastic and take a shower, scrubbing himself down with antibacterial soap.

Vereint wasn’t susceptible to most kinds of sickness, but he did have a nose like a bloodhound and would throw a fit if Warrick came home reeking of sweat and mung water. Warrick hadn’t really noticed at the time, as he was busy fighting for his life, but the water he’d been swimming in smelled absolutely terrible, and so did he for having floated in it.

He put on his spare clothes and took the back way out of the League of Superheroes’ headquarters. Caspian was there waiting for him, leaning against the wall with his arms crossed.

“What are you doing here?” Warrick asked.

Caspian shrugged. “Thought I’d give you a lift home. You already drive like crap and I don’t think the cast is going to help you.”

“Thank you for your kind words.” Warrick rolled his eyes. “I really appreciate it.”

“I know you do.” Caspian fished the keyring out of Warrick’s pocket and spun it around his finger. “Come on. Let’s get outta here.”

Warrick was too tired to argue. He just followed Caspian down the corridor and out through the heavy metal door into the parking garage. He always kept a spare car around to save him in case he wasn’t in the mood for flying.

Caspian hit the button on the keyfob and there was a “boop-beep” sound and a flash of headlights. He whistled when he got a good look at the cherry red sports car waiting for them. “Fancy.”

“Thanks.” Warrick opened the passenger door with his left hand and awkwardly climbed inside. “God, now I get to go home and pretend everything’s cool in front of Vereint’s parents and brother.”

“Sucks.” Caspian fumbled around, nearly backing into a parked truck, before he got a handle on driving. He peeled out of the parking garage at unsafe speeds, whooping as he avoided running into a concrete column by bare inches. “So you guys have officially got the kid now, huh?”

Warrick gripped the sides of his seat tight enough to leave finger impressions in the leather. “Be careful!” he warned, squinting his eyes so he didn’t have to see the oncoming death. “Yeah, we’ve got a kid now. We’re those guys.”

“I thought we used to make fun of those guys?” Caspian asked, spinning the wheel wildly.

“Not since we became those guys. From now on, we have nothing but respect for those awesome, hardworking guys.” Warrick leaned forward and switched on the radio. The sound of candy pop music filled the car interior. “Vereint’s happy.”

“Oh, well, as long as Vereint is happy the world will keep on spinning and puppy dogs will wag their nubby tails all over the place.” Caspian shook his head. “Change the station. This shit is a hard on killer.”

“As I don’t want you to have a hard on in my car, maybe I should leave this terrible music on,” Warrick said, already changing the station. “They’re all going to be there and we’re going to have to sit around eating dinner together and I’m going to have to pretend that everything is all right and I don’t just want to crawl into bed and forget this awful day ever happened.”

“But it did happen and you’re never going to forget,” Caspian said. “Go enjoy the fam-fam, eat Vereint’s delicious food, and maybe later he’ll give you some snoo snoo and you’ll be able to repress the memories until you’re in the therapist’s office five years from now pointing out on a doll where those guys electroshocked you.”

“You are the worst friend ever.” Warrick leaned his head back and closed his eyes. “Let me know when we get there.”

“Will do,” Caspian said.

Warrick appreciated a friend that loved fast cars and always had his back. The fact that Caspian knew when to hold his tongue was an added advantage.

He let himself drift off, feeling the car slide him this way and that as Caspian took the corners at high speeds. But he felt remarkably safe with Caspian at the wheel.

 

“Hey, dude, we’re here.”

Warrick groaned and opened his eyes, wincing away from Caspian’s next finger prod. “God, you should file that thing as a weapon,” he said, going to rub his shoulder and thumping himself with his cast instead. “This is going to suck balls.”

“Maybe if you’re nice, it’ll be your balls,” Caspian snerked.

“Thanks for the ride,” Warrick cracked the door and stepped out. “Bring the car back tomorrow.”

“Awesome!” Caspian waggled his fingers at him. “Bitches love fast cars!”

“Bitches love smacking people that call them bitches,” Warrick said, slamming the door and trudging toward the lobby doors.

Rather than pushing the doors open, he slapped the automatic door opener. His wrist was beginning to ache and he was thinking about taking the pain relievers Dr. Jorge had given him. He usually swore off drugs considering his past history. Going back into rehab wasn’t something he ever planned on doing.

“Mr. Tobias, are you all right?” Franco, the desk clerk asked, making like he was about to come around the long counter.

Warrick waved his good hand at him. “I took a tumble, that’s all. I’m fine, thanks for asking.” He tramped toward the elevator, his back prickling with Franco’s eyes on him.

Once he got in the elevator, he leaned against the wall and cradled his broken wrist against his stomach as he waited for the numbers to count up to the penthouse. He hoped tonight wasn’t going to be completely terrible, not that he was too worried about it. Vereint’s parents were surprisingly understanding people and Hank was the kind of laid-back that meant they could share a cold beer and not have to talk about much of anything.

The elevator door dinged open and he walked to the apartment door in time to realize that he’d given his keys to Caspian. He closed his eyes a moment, silently praying that the door was unlocked, then reached out to try his luck.

The knob turned easily and he pushed the door open, stepping inside. Immediately the scent of Vereint’s candles assaulted his nose and he had to sniff hard to keep from sneezing.

Vereint’s parents and brother were sitting in the living room with Melissa, who was dancing around in her socked feet.

“There you are!” Vereint came out of the hallway, wiping his hands on the sides of his jeans. “I was really getting worried about you.”

“Look! Look what Grandma and Grandpa got me!” Melissa called enthusiastically the moment she saw him. She was waving a stuffed panda in the air by the paws, making it dance, then she grabbed a handful of glittery Lisa Frank stickers and held them out. “And stickers!”

“That’s great, honey,” Warrick said, trying not to limp. His muscles had begun to seize up in the car and he was wishing for his heat pad.

“Whoa. What the hell happened to your arm?” Vereint demanded, striding across the room.

Warrick shrugged. “I fell off a ladder. Just a stupid accident.” He tried to tell Vereint with his eyes that he was all right, that he would explain everything later. “I broke my wrist.”

“Hm.” Vereint’s lips went tight against his teeth for a moment, then he forced himself to relax. “I guess you won’t be signing anything for the next month.”

Warrick huffed a laugh. “Yeah.”

“Are you all right?” Vereint asked.

“Yeah,” Warrick said again, nodding. “I’m fine.”

He ignored the way his legs still wanted to tremble and pasted on the most realistic smile he could manage. He could tell that Vereint didn’t believe him, but there was nothing they could do with all the added people around.

Warrick had a feeling he would be catching hell later. He was just glad that he was going to be alive to get lectured.

He waited as long as he could before retreating into the kitchen. He needed a minute to get himself back together.

 

Warrick was leaning his hip against the counter sipping from a bottle of red Gatorade when Hank came in.

“Do I want to ask what happened to you?” Hank cocked his head. There was an extra bit of knowing to his eyes, but Warrick didn’t know how much the guy had guessed about him or Vereint.

At twenty-two years old, Hank had grown into his frame and was actually a few inches taller than Warrick. He had just started college in the fall, having had to catch up to his peers after living on the street for several years doing whatever he had to do to survive. Vereint had found him as a teen and taken him home to his parents; he thought it was hilarious that he’d found his own adopted brother.

Warrick calmly drank his Gatorade. He needed the electrolytes after burning all those calories. He would eat something as soon as he stopped feeling so nauseated; the pain of his broken wrist was just beginning to really hit him. Those pills folded up in his pocket were calling his name.

“I fell off a stepladder,” he repeated his lame excuse. “I was sure I could reach the top shelf and gravity made me its bitch.”

Hank raised an eyebrow. “You should be careful. Sounds like your job at the office is more dangerous than I thought it was.”

Warrick laughed, and it was maybe a little hysterical. “Yeah.”

* * *

It was amazing how well Melissa was getting along with her new grandparents. It gave Vereint the hope that everything was going to work out. His only concern now was that Melissa was going to run off with Sandra and he was going to have to get into a super battle with his mother.

He wasn’t certain that he would win.

“What’s with that frowny face?” Sandra asked in the brief lull when Melissa ran off to use the bathroom.

“You’re not going to kidnap her are you?” Vereint gave her an inquisitive eyebrow.

“It wasn’t part of my plans, but now that you’ve given me the idea…” Her smirk was almost a clone of his own. “While we have a brief moment, can you tell me why you didn’t tell me about my first grandkid the minute you brought her home?”

Vereint shrugged and earned himself a fierce frown. “What?” he asked defensively.

The look she gave him was fierce enough to have him shifting uncomfortably. “Why didn’t you bother to tell me immediately? What’s wrong with you?”

Vereint licked his lips and tried to lighten the moment with his version of humor. “I don’t think I was breast fed. I blame my mother for…”

Sandra thumped him on the shoulder just as Melissa came back in the room, adjusting the waistband of her pants. “You think you’re real funny, but you’re not,” Sandra said. “Now go get me something to drink as I get to know my new grandbaby.”

“Yes, Mama,” Vereint said.

He rushed into the kitchen where he found Warrick and Hank talking next to the refrigerator. He glanced to and away from the cast on Warrick’s arm. That was something they were going to be discussing later when the shouting wouldn’t bother anyone else.

“I cannot believe you guys left me out there like that,” he said. “Whatever happened to never leaving a man behind?”

Hank laughed. “I can’t believe you’ve met your mother, yet you thought it was a good idea to hold off on telling her you’d somehow gotten a kid.” He shook his head. “You’re lucky to be alive right now.”

Vereint sighed heavily. “Gee thanks.” He dug in the fridge until he found a can of ginger ale. His mom loved the stuff and he hoped an offering would appease her anger. “And you’ve gotten me thinking of my mother like she’s some angry volcano god or something.”

“She kind of is,” Hank said. He took the glass Warrick offered and stuck it under the ice maker. There was the grinding clunking sound, then the glass was half full of ice. Hank held it out to Vereint.

Instead of taking the glass, Vereint popped the top on the can of ginger ale and poured it into the glass. “There. Go take that to her, please.”

Hank looked at the glass he held. “Are you insane? You really want to try the switcheroo on Sandra? She senses movement you know.”

Vereint snorted. “She’s not a T-rex or something.”

“She’s worse than a T-rex,” Hank said. “A T-rex just wants to eat you. She makes you clean your room and join her in bonding activities.” There was genuine fondness running through his complaining. “She made me join her for a macrame class last spring. I didn’t even know what that was before then. I was happy not knowing. I’m not going back in there alone. You go first and I’ll cover you.”

“Unless she makes you go to the mother-son rodeo, you don’t have any right to complain.” Vereint snagged a large vegetable tray out of the fridge and snatched the glass out of Hank’s hand before turning toward the door. “Once more into the breach, dear brothers.”

He could hear Warrick and Hank razzing him as he made his exit and smiled.

There was something nice about having family around. Even his T-rex of a mother.

/ EXCERPT