What am I doing, you didn’t ask? Well, let me tell you …
I am readying Chapter Nineteen of The Panic Pure for posting. It’s all hospital, coping, love-love feelings, and h/c.
I’ve been writing on Tuesday Night, which is set in an AU of the Heroes & Villains universe. I’ll be giving you all a taste of Part Three of Tuesday Night. Final manuscript should be around 40k, if not more. Enjoy.
Title: Tuesday Night
Genre: superhero, mm
Excerpt length: 5000
Being on call had never felt like torture before, but he couldn’t help wishing he could at least leave for the night. The thought of going home to his own place appealed, where Tony and Henry were waiting for him. Instead he lounged in the common room playing first-person shooters and wishing some action would start happening.
At least if he was kicking criminal ass he could tell himself his time wasn’t being wasted. Plus there was something cathartic about punching supervillains. Instead he was hanging out in the Lair waiting for something exciting to happen. It was frustrating.
There was the clatter of footsteps and Powergirl came in with their two new trial recruits, Saint Kloude and WarSong. They still had that faintly shocked look about them, that “I must be dreaming” expression of newbie superheroes everywhere.
“Hey Sunfire, can you do me a favor and take these guys out on a patrol?”
Seth was tempted to say No, but he could feel the walls closing in on him and the idea of getting out for a while really did appeal. He tossed his controller on the coffee table and stood, stretching his arms over his head. “Yeah sure, why not? Come on noobs, gear up and let’s get out of here.”
From the exposed portions of WarSong’s face he could tell that she was surprised he had agreed to take them out, which called into question what people thought of him. Maybe he needed to spend more time bonding with the team, they were the ones he was depending on to watch his back after all.
How could he count on a team that didn’t trust him to be there for them? How could Tony count on them?
When a split second could mean living or dying, there was no room for doubt or distrust. There was training and discipline, teamwork and camaraderie. They depended on him and he depended on them, and funerals were never very much fun.
Seth went to the gear room and pulled on his cape and strapped his matching yellow utility belt around his waist. He glanced at himself in the full-length mirror and once again had to wonder at his costume choice. White bodysuit, yellow cape and belt, a mask that covered most of his face while leaving his mouth exposed.
He’d chosen his Sunfire uniform when he was fourteen years old. A young and idealistic kid, he’d never imagined a time when he wouldn’t have six-pack abs and the muscular physique of a young god. It wasn’t a problem yet — he looked damn good and he knew it — but in ten or fifteen years when his metabolism started slowing down he could be looking at embarrassing bulges and unflattering angles if he didn’t keep to his workout routine.
Glancing at WarSong and Saint Kloude he knew WarSong at least would be regretting her outfit. Skintight red leather that hugged every curve and made her breasts look at least three times too large for her slender build. If she gained five pounds she wouldn’t just be uncomfortable in her outfit, she would be looking at a bunch of magazines and blogs pointing out the weight-gain
Being in the public eye was one of the drawbacks of being a superhero. It could be brutal.
Seth pursed his lips, swallowing any comment he wanted to make. WarSong might better appreciate costume advice from another woman. He would talk to Powergirl and Queen Midnight later.
Saint Kloude, who had a stocky build garbed in black fatigue pants, a faux-muscled chest plate, and a black jacket, had left himself room to grow or contract in his uniform. He looked bigger and more muscled than he was, which would have the less serious criminals leery of facing him head on.
“You guys ready?” Seth asked.
WarSong shared a look with Saint Kloude. “We’re ready,” she said.
Seth nodded. “Let’s go.”
Flying over the city was one of those things that never lost its appeal. There was something about being able to look down and see the world spread out below, the people tiny ants crawling around, that brought a sense of being in control of one’s own life.
WarSong flew on currents of elemental wind, her hair whipping around seductively. Saint Kloude was held aloft by a puffy white cloud that had appeared with a snap of his fingers. They followed Seth as he pointed out various features of the city below, the coms giving the three of them the same intimacy as if they were alone in a room.
“You don’t have to shout,” Seth said. “I can hear you perfectly fine.”
“Oh, sorry,” Saint Kloude blurted. “We just got the coms and …”
“Yeah, yeah, I get it, I get it. Just remember that even if I’m a mile away, I’m still really close on the coms. Speak normally and I’ll hear you perfectly fine.”
“Ugh,” Seth groaned, “it’s Sunfire, not sir. I actually work for a living.”
“Yes s– … Yes Sunfire.”
“Smooth, real smooth.” Seth drew in a deep breath. “How you doing over there Song? Holding it together?”
“That’s WarSong, and yes I am.”
“I can see how Saint Kloude got his name, but what about you? Some kind of vocal control like the Whirling Dervish? Can you get people to dance until they die too?”
“No. I’ve got strength, flight, and a bit of empathy. With some concentration I can sow discord in enemies, but there’s no singing involved.”
“So why the name?” Seth asked.
She sounded defensive, “Because I like it and it’s the name I wanted to use.”
“Okay.” He was glad to spot something below. He needed to change the subject before things got any more uncomfortable. “I see happenings at six o’clock. Let’s check it out.”
There was an instinct every superhero got after they’d been on the job a while. It was an ability to spot metahuman happenings even when powers weren’t being tossed around.
Everyday crime was outside of his purview and was handled by the local authorities. Unless his stepping in could stop an immediate threat to a citizen’s life or safety, it was better to leave things to the police. Otherwise there started being bad blood and situations like New Stanwyck happened — the police came to resent the superheroes so much that there were riots and forty-six people were vaporized when someone threw a grenade at The Time-Keeper. Unable to stop the blast, he projected it outward, right into the crowd of his attackers. Mostly off-duty cops, it had been a bad scene all around.
Seth was happy to leave mundane crimes to the police. It meant less paperwork for him as well as a clear divide between what was and wasn’t his responsibility.
“We’ll come in low near that yellow building and move in on foot. Keep your powers holstered and don’t do anything until I say. Understand?”
The noobs hurriedly agreed and he barely kept from rolling his eyes. There was a more than good chance they were going to screw things up, but that was the fundamental part of handling noobs. He was here to keep the damage to a minimum and make sure they didn’t get themselves killed.
“WarSong, take point. Saint Kloude, you’re in the support position. I will observe to see how you both handle things.”
He hung back as WarSong dove toward the yellow building and dropped down to the street. He noticed she stumbled a little before catching her balance on her fashionably high-heeled boots. Saint Kloude dissipated his cloud when he was a few inches off the ground and drew his pistol, taking up a guard position at her back. Seth noted the way he kept a wary eye out even behind himself.
Good eye, Seth thought. I’m not going to step in unless things go pear-shaped.
He let them get a bit ahead, then followed after. He didn’t want them to get too far away. If things turned serious he didn’t want to have to explain to Overwatch how he’d let two new superheroes get themselves hurt or killed. It wouldn’t turn out well.
He watched as WarSong and Saint Kloude cased the suspicious activity, their chatter on the coms making it clear that they didn’t know what had twigged his danger sense. Which didn’t stop them from charging headfirst into danger. And neither one of them bothered to ask him what he thought was happening.
Seth kept his expression blank as he followed them through the delivery entrance of Bill’s Discount Computer and Electronic Component Emporium. The place was supposed to be closed, yet several people moved in and out, loading boxes into a van that was hidden from the view of people on the street.
To an inexperienced eye it might have looked like a simple off hour delivery of supplies, most likely to a large company considering the amounts being loaded onto the van. Except Seth had recognized one of the women as Baby Calypso in an ill-fitting coverall. She was a small-time criminal, but recently she had been tied to Jericho Slim’s operation, which upped her danger quotient.
Jericho Slim and his collection of suit wearing killers was quickly gaining ground in the city’s underworld. Not just drugs and prostitution anymore, there were rumors that he was dabbling in superscience. Which made it likely that his people robbing an electronics supply depot wasn’t because they innocently wanted to sell the parts.
This was the biggest part of a superhero’s job — preventing the major events from happening. Or at the least getting a much needed heads up about trouble before it appeared.
Seth ghosted after WarSong and Saint Kloude. He took a few seconds to send a text to Powergirl letting her know what was going on. He was a bit disappointed that neither one of the noobs had bothered to call in before blindly heading into what might be a dangerous situation. They were showing a foolish level of confidence.
He wasn’t sure what they were expecting to happen, but he got to have a ringside seat as they stumbled nearly directly into the path of a guy that had to be close to eight feet of solid muscle and bad attitude. And from the way he managed to grab WarSong by the arm and fling her, he had to be packing the superstrength.
Saint Kloude stood protection on his downed teammate until she was back on her feet. Then he was smart enough to stand aside as she went on the offensive.
Seth might have made a comment on how it wasn’t a good idea to fight mad, but WarSong was showing a remarkable ability to handle a fight. Especially when three of the guy’s buddies stepped out and immediately attacked her. Saint Kloude chose the wise course of guarding her back as she went to town with punches, kicks, and painful whacks with the baton she’d produced from her belt. Seth was duly impressed.
She’d gotten all four guys down and was zip-tying the wrists of the first one when Calypso popped out of the store to see what was going on. There was barely a second of frozen surprise before Calypso jolted into action with a whizz-crack! of her energy shield snapping into place. She didn’t look as if she planned to go down easy.
Calypso was a mostly small time criminal, but she packed a decent powerbase. If she had wanted to put some superheroes in the grave, she could have done it on multiple occasions, but she always held back in her fights. As a result there was an unspoken rule that no superhero test her triggers. Which included her mother and the embarrassing scene where DocTorious publicly humiliated her before breaking up with her during their joint heist.
“Hey, I know you. You’re that Calypso chick. Didn’t DocTorious shoot you in the stomach and throw you over Niagara Falls?” Seth winced and wanted to tell Saint Kloude to shut the hell up. But it was already too late.
Calypso’s bright purple mask hid her expression, but every line of her body bespoke of killing rage. Seth wanted to tell Saint Kloude to run, but it was already too late.
Calypso struck him with a blast of yellow-orange force, sending him tumbling feet over head until he slammed his shoulder against the wall and collapsed to his knees. “You shut your mouth! Or I’m going to rip your voice box out through your throat.”
Seth stepped forward, ready to involve himself, but WarSong got in front of Saint Kloude with an aggressive stance. Her fists were raised and her red painted lips were a firm slash.
“Back off, bitch!” WarSong growled.
Calypso gave her a disbelieving look. Then she laughed. “And what are you supposed to be? Did the baby hero decide to visit an S&M shop for her first costume? Take some advice, little girl: go home. I’m outta your league.”
“Guess we’re going to have to find that out,” WarSong said. “When I kick your ass.”
“Tough talk from the baby cape.” Calypso brought her own fists up. “Physical offense only. If you bring on the powers, then I’m going to crack you open and suck out your juicy center.”
“Mm, meaty.” WarSong lunged forward to grapple Calypso, her right knee coming up to slam against Calypso’s spine with cracking impacts against her armor.
Seth watched the fight and was duly impressed with WarSong’s skill, though he would have told her physically fighting someone like Calypso was a bad idea. Because while WarSong had middle of the road superstrength, Calypso had alpha levels. It was a mismatched fight, and WarSong didn’t know how out of her league she was.
He winced at a particularly nasty strike of WarSong’s fist against Calypso’s face. It sounded like a mallet pounding a slab of meat. “Ugh.”
There was no way he could let these two keep going at it. Least because WarSong already had a bloody nose and blackened eye while Calypso was unmarked, and more because it was a waste of time.
He stepped forward and clapped his hands to gather attention. “All right, break it up. WarSong, what the hell are you doing? We’re here to arrest lawbreakers, not start a brawl on company time.”
He kept a lookout for any surprise visitors and used his cape to hide the tension in his shoulders. Looking confident was 80% of the job.
Still, it was always hair-raising to do a walk-up on a possibly deadly situation. Most villains were looking to make some quick cash and stay out of prison, but there were always exceptions. The villains that were looking to make a name and gain supervillain status. The crazies that didn’t care about consequences, just about fighting the strongest heroes and seeing blood splash concrete.
Seth was fully aware of his own mortality. He wasn’t a foolishly overconfident kid anymore. He’d seen too many superheroes die, their screams the last sounds heard from them. He’d made promises to himself about all the ways he didn’t plan on dying.
“Sunfire,” Calypso sounded surprised. She’d thought she was only facing a couple of new superheroes. She hadn’t expected him.
“By order of the Central Metahuman Policing Force, you are under arrest. Stop resisting and come quietly or I will use force against you.”
“Wow, I never expected you to be so serious.” She pushed WarSong away with contemptuous ease, proving that she’d only been playing before.
“You’re really handsome,” she said. “I thought all those pictures had to be touched up, but you’re really very good looking. Have you ever thought about being a model? The world would pay tons of money for pics of your stunning man breasts.”
Seth was feeling a bit sexually harassed, which happened more often than he was really comfortable with. “My breasts are my own and I choose not to expose them in photographs. It’s part of my strong sense of self-worth,” he said, touching his chest.
“Now, are you going to come quietly, or are we going to add resisting arrest to the charges against you?” he asked. He wasn’t going to let her take over the situation. She was the criminal and he was here to arrest her.
“And what does resisting arrest get me? An extra six month in the slam?” She cocked her hip provocatively, her hair falling across her shoulder.
He kept his expression professionally stern. “Due to the recent passing of the McLaughlin-Hewett Metahuman Defense Bill, if you are deemed to be a serious threat to others through purposeful use of your metability, I am required by law to use lethal force.” At her shocked look, he shrugged. “People are tired of good men and women being killed in prison breakouts. When you have the power of a god, people don’t have it in them to be so lenient toward you.
“Give yourself up, Calypso. I don’t want to have to kill you. But I will if you push it.”
She took two stumbling steps back, raking her hands through her purple wig. “Oh god. I thought it was one of those crazy rumors. There’s no way they could really pass deadly force as a law. Superheroes don’t kill. They lock us up.”
“Not anymore,” Seth said. “You have a long criminal history. People could have died during some of your crimes.”
“You mean normals could have died,” she sneered. “Like I’m some kind of freak.”
“It is what it is,” Seth said. “You’ve misused your metabilities for years and now the law isn’t on your side anymore. So wise up and turn yourself over.”
“And then what? Are they going to send me to Butcher Bay?” She was starting to look scared and that made him nervous. The last thing he needed was to have her go berserk.
“You’re looking at Super Max and full dampeners,” he said. He always tried to be straight with the villains he put away. The last thing he needed was to earn the reputation of a jackal. It would make it harder for him to arrest criminals in the future.
Seth ran a visual check on the newbies. They’d taken up ready stances and were watching the perimeter. It looked like they’d finally remembered their training.
“You won’t be going to Butcher Bay, but you will be doing community service. I’ve heard that the two situations are comparable.” He let his lips twitch up in a smile and turned the Charm up a few notches, only enough that she would think her sudden interest in him was natural.
“How can I trust you? You’re going to lock me up or kill me if I fight. The law is wrong. So how can I trust someone that’s said he’ll follow the law and kill people? Me? How could you kill me?”
Seth kept himself from rolling his eyes and sighing. A little bit of Charm, and everyone turned into a drama queen. All sweeping soliloquies and the deep rooted idea that they were the center of his world. Instant obsessive love that switched gears on higher brain function and turned even the smartest of people into momentary fools.
The slight bit of Charm resistance Tony had was one of the first things that had drawn Seth to him. Tony had enough that Seth could let his guard down and not worry about accidentally ensnaring him. There was a reason why Tony’s room at the Demi Liar was the closest to his. No one else had been willing to sleep next to a Charmer. There were too many disturbing stories around for them to feel comfortable.
He only had to look at Calypso to see why people were scared. He barely gave her a taste and she looked at him with the defiance already defeated in her eyes, the strength swamped and absorbed by her overwhelming desire to please him.
“I don’t want to hurt you.” More than I already have. “Turn yourself in, do your time. It shouldn’t be too long,” he said.
She wavered, he could see it, the brief reluctance as her mind fought back. But it barely lasted a few breaths before she relaxed and held her wrists out invitingly. She smiled coyly. “Are you going to cuff me, officer? Do you want to give me a strip search?”
“WarSong will put the cuffs on you. You’re going to let her do it, aren’t you?” He didn’t want to get close to her. If he put her down too deep the result would be a permanent obsession on her part. And he wasn’t too keen on receiving hanks of hair in the mail or having her kill a President in his honor. It seemed like too much.
Calypso turned toward WarSong with a seemingly benign expression, her wrists extended. Credit to WarSong, she didn’t relax her guard even when the suppression cuffs were snapped in place. She’d obviously realized how overmatched she’d been, which was an uncomfortable wake up call for every young superhero. Seth still remembered meeting the Inevitable Imogenia for the first time, and the sheer horror when he’d realized how helpless he was before her.
“Thank you for coming with us,” he said, giving Calypso a smile. She practically glowed under his attention and he pushed away the sense of unease.
Charm had a low risk, and high yield of success. It was a subtle effect with a lasting result, and it scared the hell out of him. The gift he was the least likely to use in a fight. Except he’d been given his orders and he was signed on for another six years.
“Saint Kloude, call the wagon for a pick up. WarSong, make sure the prisoner is thoroughly secured.” He gave Calypso a smile and lightened his tone. “I know you would never betray my trust by escaping. Everyone always says that you’re an honorable criminal. But the guys upstairs have gotten a bit paranoid and all these memos were sent around. You understand, don’t you?”
The tension that had been bunching Calypso’s shoulders slipped away. He could practically see her brain tuning itself to his frequency. It left a bad taste in his mouth and made him not want to see her.
“Of course I understand. I will behave so well, you’ll see. They’ll give you awards for handling prisoners,” she said. Her face turned toward him, a blossom to the sun, and she followed him with her eyes even as WarSong gagged her and immobilized her on the ground. She near burned a hole through him with her focused interest.
Seth shuddered at the creepy sensation and pulled his ePad out of his utility belt. It had an application that worked with the added sensors tech-support had installed to let it look through walls. The details weren’t great, but it let him tell where people were.
He was disappointed by the image quality. There were a lot of blocked spots due to electronics parts and EMP shielded alcoves. But he was able to make out six people inside moving around, and a mass of warm bodies all piled up in one room.
He glanced at Calypso, knowing she’d happily tell him anything she knew. But that was the one thing he wasn’t allowed to do.
Charm could be used to make criminals more receptive to turning themselves in peacefully, but they could not be questioned by the Charmer. He wasn’t even going to be allowed to speak to her after her Representative arrived. Not that he wanted to.
Sure, it would be great to ask her what exactly was going on here and have her spill everything. There’d be a lot less danger entering the building and they’d know everything waiting for them. Good intel all the way as she tried to impress him.
And right there was the problem for him. The fact that she would try to impress him. That every second of attention he gave her would reinforce the psychosis building in her brain. It wouldn’t take much for him to become the center of her world.
Humans were surprisingly fragile creatures, their minds malleable to whims and suggestions. Even the most stable of people were susceptible to Charm-obsession, and there was no cure. Only distance.
He kept in Calypso’s line of sight, but he did not look at her and he focused on the building before him. From what he’d learned at Charm School, he’d become an icon for her, an unattainable goal that would still keep her moving forward with her life.
To speak to her or give her further attention was to risk accidentally giving her a command suggestion. One wrong look and she might latch on to some passing notion. A worm of thought would burrow through her brain, unleashing the worst form of obsession and zealotry.
School had taught him that being an icon was a powerful and lasting impression. To introduce the idea of a behavior change and offer no other feedback — the criminal would come to their own decision to follow the laws. It was a legal method to use a Charm metability without being charged with misuse.
Iconography was a quickly growing field of study. It made logic out of Charm phenoms like Darkstar and Masque.
Seth wasn’t a strong Charmer, or he had enough control on it to keep from affecting everyone around. He was able to pretend most times that he was a normal guy. Being a superhero was his job, and in his off time he ate pizza and played video games. Except — he risked a corner of the eye glance at Calypso — he had it in him to turn someone into a slave to his will.
He hated that he’d been ordered to use his Charm on prisoners. Being the icon and impetus that made people live better was a great thing, but he didn’t like the way it made him feel.
He’d met plenty of other Charmers that shared his distaste. The power felt unpleasant to use. It was like crawling naked through a room full of slugs, that instinctive gagging cringe as slime coated every surface and bodies burst beneath his hands and knees. Only it was all in his head and his superiors insisted that he use his ability again and again.
He’d heard there were some Charmers blessed with a fantastic biofeedback response. They enjoyed focusing their Charm on people and received a burst of pleasure in response. It was said that they could literally feed off of their victims, psychic vampires of the creepiest kind. Secret life thieves.
Seth hated every second he consciously used his Charm. It did not like being focused and used. If he could get away with it he would never use it again, but orders were orders.
Seth turned away from Calypso and did what he usually did when his morals started twinging away at him — buried the discomfort down deep. He’d already used his Charm, there was no taking it back. The best thing he could do for Calypso was to make sure they never met again.
Was it weird that he hoped prison therapists would be able to break through his Charm on her? He didn’t want her to go back to her criminal life, but he didn’t want to forever be buried in her mind either. A ghost looming so large that she gave up being herself and lived for him instead. He hated it.
“Backup should be arriving in ten,” Saint Kloude said through the com.
“Roger that. I’ll take some more sensor grabs, but it looks like they’re doing a long-term project inside. We wait for backup.”
“But sir …” It was WarSong.
“Negative,” Seth said firmly. “There’s too much blockage to get a clear image inside and you’re both rookies. We wait for proper scanning gear and we follow protocols. Clear?”
“Yes sir.” They both sounded disappointed. He’d tell Powergirl that they needed to learn how to hide their emotions better.
“Live and grow stronger,” he said. “Backup is always the best thing to have. We’re not a bunch of cowboys going it alone. We’re a team, which means there’s always someone to watch our backs.”
Their agreement was lackluster at best, but he didn’t care. Gone were the days when superheroes headed into danger by themselves. As a result, the stories of dead heroes had gone down significantly. At least the CMPF had done that much.
Seth ran his ePad scanner over the building, careful to stay away from windows as he flew around it. The scanner was taking constant snapshots and the app would be compiling them all together to create a complete 3D image.
He remembered a time before imaging tech existed where he would have crashed his way into the building alone. The idea was to get in and surprise the bad guys before they had a chance to respond. It was an idea that mostly worked, though there had been times when the bad guys were ready and waiting. It was then that he was grateful to have an Alpha-class offensive metability. He was able to burn his way through most trouble. Other heroes had died for the sin of going in without a plan. Capes that he had known or admired, but who just didn’t possess the powerbase to claim the title of superhero.
He hoped that new heroes like WarSong and Saint Kloude would understand how lucky they were to have imaging technology and backup to call when there was trouble. Because as boring as it was to kids raised on stories of legendary heroes like The Deliverer and Blue Ice, the new ways were safer and had a higher success rate. The time of lone superheroes battling to stop the apocalypse was over.
There were way too many metahumans needing to be policed for single heroes to handle the job. There had been studies done about the veritable explosion of metahumans that had emerged from the population of normals since the late 1800s. From single digit beta-class to millions of alphas worldwide.
In the last ten years the metahuman-to-human ratio had risen twelve percent. There was talk that 46% of humans possessed some form of metability, though most were completely useless. Still, that was a massive shift in the human genome. There was talk about normals becoming extinct within the next one hundred years.
Seth shook his head to clear it. He was only thinking about that population study because he was trying not to think about giving Tony a call. He’d only watched that Capes and Cowls documentary because Tony was into that kind of thing. The same with the ancient alien stuff.
He sighed and kept his eye on the ePad, making certain that each scene was complete before moving on to the next. The software was still a bit buggy and not giving a scan time to process was a way to spoil the whole image. It was a lesson he’d learned the hard way.
His senses were alert to anyone spotting him, but he wasn’t too worried. From the infrared readings, there was no one close enough to see him through the windows and there were no hot spots in the closet-sized room he was 98% sure was the surveillance room.
Whoever was inside wasn’t expecting interference.
He thought about calling Tony and seeing how Henry was doing, but he knew better. Personal calls during an operation was one of the biggest no-nos out there. He didn’t want to be called to the carpet by Overwatch, who monitored all of the team phones with the obsessive detail of a bunch of retired capes.
A personal call had gotten Katmandu’s family killed. She’d called the babysitter to ask about her kid’s cold, and the call had been traced right to her house.
Sunfire might scoff in the face of danger, but Seth refused to be the one to get Henry killed. Even with Tony there to save the day, a “Hey, I miss you” phone call wasn’t worth sacrificing safety.
He sighed and got back to work. Unless the situation blew up, he’d be seeing Tony and Henry in a few hours.