Chapter 1: These Tracks Stretch Out Before
Sam stared down at his tray, avoiding all the kids he still didn't feel comfortable around. There wasn't anyone he'd wanted to ask to sit with, and no one had offered or joined him at the small table in the corner. So he read his book and picked at his meal. The lunches here weren't any better than at a normal school. He'd figured they would be... well, not super, but good.
Halfway through his sandwich someone sat down across from Sam with a creak of both plastic bench and leather jacket. The guy clunked his tray onto the table and popped a handful of fries in his mouth without saying anything. He was dressed in black punked-out clothes and had sparkling dark eyes, shoulder length black hair with a few red streaks, and a vibe vaguely reminiscent of Dean, soft features hidden behind a sharp expression. He slowly chewed his fries as Sam stared. Then he reached in his backpack, pulled out his own book, and started reading, acting like Sam wasn't even there. Sam decided to go with it and looked down again. After a few more bites the guy finally spoke, jerking Sam back out of his reading.
"Bad first day?" His voice was surprisingly deep and rich.
Sam scowled. "They made me a sidekick." The coach had been distinctly unimpressed to hear that Sam dreamed about the future, especially since he couldn't do it on demand. Dean was never going to stop teasing him now.
"There's nothing wrong with that. Some of my best friends are hero support."
"I never thought I'd end up somewhere like this, but now I have and... and they made me a sidekick." After Sam decided to take the offer of admission, he'd had certain expectations and ideas, and so far, nothing about this day was going according to plan.
The guy leaned forward intently, elbows splayed around his tray, book set pages down now, voice even lower and rougher. "So which are you pissed about, having a power or not having a good enough power?"
Sam thought about it for a second. "Being told that I don't have a good enough power to bother with. My dad saves people's lives all the time without any powers so I don't see what the problem is." There was no point in being here if they were just going to teach him in a half-assed way, and he'd already seen the difference in the two tracks. He certainly didn't want to just hop to someone else's orders, either; he got enough of that from Dad already.
The guy nodded approvingly. "You'll do fine then. It's not what you have that counts, it's how you use it. We'll get that through to the rest of them eventually." He took a sip of soda and then pursed his lips. "What does your dad do?"
"He's a firefighter." In real life, at least. Sam could say that much.
The guy snorted for a moment in laughter. "You don't have any idea who I am, do you?" When Sam shook his head the guy stuck out a hand. "I like that. Warren Peace, student body president. I gave the freshmen their little welcome talk earlier this morning. We almost never have new students in the upper classes, so you get a special meeting, Sam Winchester." Sam blinked at that in surprise and reached out to shake the guy's hand. Then he jerked away when the fingers under his burst into flame. He actually grinned as he realized why the guy had laughed about Dad being a firefighter. "Two years ago I was the one sitting all by myself at lunch," Warren continued. "Now… now I'm going to head over and be with my friends. Wanna join us?"
Sam shook his head again, somehow warmed by the offer as Warren stood up and walked off, heavy boots clunking against the tile floor.
Going to superhero school was probably the stupidest thing Sam had ever done. Dad had freaked out when Sam got the admission letter saying he'd been tagged by the central computer database. Sam had finally confessed to the dreams he'd been having, but it had still been a doozy of a fight before Dad gave in and let Sam attend the school.
Understandable, since all Sam's life Dad had been practicing an illegal form of vigilante crimefighting. Registered superheroes were supposed to deal with powered supervillains, and the police were supposed to deal with regular crime. But after the housefire that killed Sam's mother when Sam was a baby, Dad had been putting his ex-Marine skills to use as the Hunter, an unregistered, unpowered hero who took on whatever kind of crime he could find. The fire had been set by an ordinary person, but the police never figured out who. The perpetrator was copycatting the notorious supervillain the Baron, but the superheroes didn't feel that meant they ought to get involved. Both groups were useless.
So John Winchester moved around the country, working as a firefighter in normal life and a caped crusader in secret. The Hunter was accompanied, after a while, by one and then two young boys called the Hounds, in clear violation of both child labor laws and hero support union rules.
Sam had always sworn that he would grow up, go to college, live a normal life, and never ever wear spanky pants again. But then he got that letter.
He didn't want to be a superhero. He did want to know what made them tick, though. So he was infiltrating their ranks, and hoping to get the knowledge to keep his unwanted power under control. Plus, it made Dad really angry, which was always a bonus.
And the flying bus turned out to be fun.
When Sam got home no one else was there, so he could lounge around on the sofa and look at his new textbooks. They'd moved to Maxville over the summer, renting this little duplex and signing Sam up for Maxville High. Dad had settled into a rhythm of letting them have a semester or a year at one school before moving a few hundred miles away again. Dean had been out of school for a full year now, and was working with Dad at the firefighting station part-time.
If Sam did like Sky High, and stayed there until he graduated, he'd have three years at the same school no matter where they moved. That was an incomprehensible thought. He could actually have friends - if he could make any with these kids. He wasn't sure how to talk to them. Most of them had superpowered parents. None of them had to hide what their fathers did from their classmates and teachers and the government. Sky High was the escape from all that for them, but only exacerbated Sam's problems.
There were eleven other kids in Sam's 10th grade 'hero support' class. Apparently some of the older kids were trying to change the hero/support tracking system at the school, but they were never going to succeed as long as the unions and registration regulations for adults remained unchanged. That had probably been what Warren's comment meant.
One thing Sam knew for sure was that he wasn't going to go on being a sidekick after graduation. He'd had fifteen years of that already. And The Physics of Hero Support wasn't doing anything to change his mind.
Dean barged in the door. "Sammy!" he called, flopping down on the sofa next to Sam. "How was school? Any cute girls?"
"Well, there's this one girl who can stick out her tongue like a frog..."
"Dude, if that's what you're into." Dean started leafing through Sam's social studies book, Heroes, Villains, and Everybody Else You'll Have to Deal With. "They let you save anybody yet? Show off in front of the other kids, because you know more than them about being a hero?"
Sam blushed. "You know I can't do anything suspicious," he temporized. Then Dean picked up Hero Support in Great Literature.
"Wait... They made you a sidekick?!?"
Yanking the book back, Sam nodded, eyes down. "It's based on powers. My power isn't much good in a fight."
Dean turned and put both hands on Sam's shoulders, staring him deep in the eyes. "Sammy, I'm only going to say this once. Who cares about your power in a fight? You're good in a fight. You're great in a fight. We all know they're just narrow-minded fascist idiots." He let go. "And now that's over, and I get to spend the rest of your life teasing you for being a sidekick."
"I'll kick your side," Sam responded, aiming a tickle attack at Dean's ribs. "What do you think you do every night, too?" Twenty minutes later they were both gasping for breath on the floor, but Sam knew he'd won the battle. Not the war, though.
At dinner Sam spent the whole time talking about how much he'd loved his first day at Sky High, just to be obstinate, while Dad gritted his teeth and scowled and Dean rolled his eyes.
The next morning all the students of the whole school were brought into the gym for a round of Save The Citizen. Sam sat there in his blue and orange sweatpants and t-shirt and looked around at the cheering crowd, all full of school spirit.
High up on a chair reminiscent of a lifeguard's throne, Coach Boomer blew his shrill whistle. "Okay, Peace, Stronghold, you're up. Heroes or villains?" Their names appeared on the giant scoreboard above his chair.
"Villains," Warren answered. He was standing next to a short boy with shaggy brown hair in the middle of the arena, both of them in orange and blue armored jumpsuits. The rest of the students went wild, with loud whistles and claps and a bunch of sarcastic, laughing boos and hisses.
"And who do you want to fight?"
The two guys conferred closely for a minute, then Warren turned and looked out at the crowd. "The new kid. Winchester." Everyone's heads swiveled to look at Sam, who shrank down in his seat. Warren winked at him.
"And?" Coach Boomer asked.
Both guys shrugged. "Whoever he wants," Stronghold said. Sam had heard of him already - Will Stronghold, son of the Commander and Jetstream, only student in the school with two powers, a really popular guy. The one thing Sam had started learning so far was that within the superhero community, everyone knew everyone else's identity. He was going to know the real names of every famous hero in the country before too long. They had no idea how loose their security really was. Heck, Dad didn't even know the real names of the small handful of other crimefighters he'd run across, not even the Pastor or the Mechanic, and Sam had grown up knowing them.
"Um," Sam answered. He knew a bit about the powers of the kids in his sidekick class, and the freshmen he'd been through power placement with, and a few of the really popular upperclassmen. Power placement had been incredibly embarrassing, though, and Coach Boomer was even glaring at him again now. "Any volunteers?"
"I'll do it," a tall, pretty blonde girl said from a few bleachers over.
"Oh, thanks," Warren yelled at her, but he was laughing. She stuck her tongue out at him and walked over to meet Sam. "Natasha Allen," she said as she shook his hand. "Otherwise called Freeze Girl. I'm a senior, and I can make ice."
"Sam Winchester, sophomore. I, uh, don't actually know how to play this game."
She turned to the coach's throne. "Coach, I'm gonna need a few minutes to confer with my partner after we suit up."
"Then get on with it!" Boomer shouted.
Sam struggled with the jumpsuit in the locker room, but eventually he got into it and met Natasha at the edge of the arena. Her hair pulled back in a high ponytail made her face look colder.
"Okay," she started. "The villains have captured a citizen and tied him up over that machine with all the spinning blades. The rope's on a timer that takes three minutes to lower him down. If we can free him in that time, we win. If he gets chopped to bits, the villains win." Sam thought that was an incredibly stupid and inefficient way to kill someone, but he didn't say anything. "Warren can make fire." Sam nodded at that. "Will has superstrength and can fly. They were undefeated together all last semester." Sam raised his eyebrows. "So, what's your power?"
"Uh, nothing we can use. I have these dreams sometimes. But I know a lot about tactics."
"Well..." She shrugged. "Oh, well. I wasn't expecting much."
Sam frowned, mildly insulted. "What do they normally do when they're villains?"
"Warren surrounds the death machine with a ring of fire, while Will flies above it. Will can attack anyone who comes near, or Warren can throw fireballs."
"Can you put out the fire?"
She smirked, the same way Dean did when he'd made it with an exceptionally hot girl. "Oh, yeah."
"Okay, I'll take Will and keep him distracted. You take Warren and deal with the fire. Can you make enough ice to grab the citizen or get one of us up there?" She nodded. "Do that, then."
It felt really different walking into the arena with her. Sam had worked with Dad and Dean for so long; he knew all their strengths and weaknesses, just as they knew his. They didn't even have to use words or signals to plan most of the time, could just slide together like three limbs of the same body. In fact that was when they worked best, because as soon as they did discuss anything, Sam and Dad started arguing.
The coach blew his whistle again, and the lights flashed as the timer started counting down. Will flew straight up in the air, and a stream of flames blasted out of Warren's hands, settling in a ring around the machine. Natasha let a burst of ice out of her hands at it, and the fire and ice warred together in the air, almost totally blocking the path to the citizen as the two of them threw fireballs and snowballs at each other. Will hovered up near the ceiling, apparently content to wait rather than attacking Sam or Natasha directly.
Sam ran as quickly as he could right under the path of Natasha's ice and toward the maelstrom of temperatures surrounding the machine, trying to keep obstacles between himself and Will. He could only hope that Natasha was paying enough attention to him to do what was necessary. Covering his head with his padded arms, Sam leapt and rolled through a wall of flame that singed his hair, coming to his feet just a few inches from the smooth metal sides of the machine. Above him hung the mannequin, suspended in the air, with no easy way for him to reach it. Natasha wasn't coming through with anything yet.
Well, there was one way up hovering above him. Sam looked up and gave Will the finger. Will opened his mouth in shock, then swooped down and grabbed at Sam. Sam dodged a few times, letting Will take some shrapnel, then finally slowed and was snatched up by the waist. As they rose above the flames and ice, above the mannequin, the crowd began to cheer. Sam kneed Will in the crotch.
The drop was heartwrenching, with the spikes rushing toward him, and Sam wasn't quite sure he was going to be able to grab anything and save himself, let alone the citizen. Then something cold closed on his wrist and he bounced to a stop, shoulder jerking painfully. A fireball whizzed past his head, and another. Sam reached out and grabbed the rope, wrapping himself around it, and more ice wound its way through the fibers just above his hands, bursting wide and splitting the rope in two. He dropped a few more feet onto a solid, cold, smooth surface, sliding to the ground with the rope and mannequin tangled around him.
"Heroes win!" everyone in the room roared. "With one minute left!"
Natasha ran to Sam's side. "Wow. I thought you were a goner a few times there. Just wow." Sam tossed the mannequin away and stood up, taking the hand she offered him. She grinned wickedly. "Hey, thanks for letting me kick my ex-boyfriend's ass."
That explained it. Sam burst out laughing. "My pleasure."
Warren and Will walked over, Will leaning against Warren's shoulder. "Just promise me you'll be as hard on the actual villains, and I'll forgive you," Will said. He winced as he held out his hand, but his face was open, mouth curling up easy.
"Yeah, sorry," Sam said, and shook Will's hand. "I get a little… into things? Competitive, sometimes."
Will snorted. "Never seen that before." Natasha rolled her eyes.
Warren responded with one perfect eyebrow arch. "I have no idea what you could mean." Then he slapped Sam on the shoulder. "Guess you're a winner, Winchester." The crowd was still clapping and cheering. "That means you get to choose who to play next. Want to team up with me? If you don't mind, Tasha."
"Go for it. I'm satisfied."
"What about me?" Will asked, mock-plaintively.
"Oh, Stronghold, I'll come back to you when you're up to it again." Warren shoved Will off playfully and held out a hand to Sam.
Sam didn't take it, leveling a sly glance at Warren. "You know, I haven't said yes yet." Warren just grinned at him until Sam took his hand. Warren's skin was warm but not flaming this time. "Sure, if you think you can keep up."
"Okay, what's going on down there?" Coach Boomer yelled.
"Winchester and me are gonna be a team together," Warren called back. "We just want a minute to conspire." Natasha and Will cleared out, and the sounds of the crowd changed from cheering to whispers and hushed expectation. Sam didn't mind when Warren took his shoulders and huddled in close in that atmosphere. "So what is your power, anyway, winner?" Warren asked.
It was probably never going to get easier to explain this, was it? "Sometimes I dream about the future," Sam answered. So far it hadn't come in handy even once.
In actually the least obnoxious response he'd gotten so far, Warren just cocked his head to the side for a second and examined Sam. "Know anything about how this game will go?"
Sighing, Sam shook his head. "No. It just... happens sometimes."
"Then how do you feel about taking on a guinea pig and a bunch of plants?"
Sam shrugged. "Bring it on."
"Okay." Warren nodded. "Now, I do like to play the villain team. I think it's important to train in a way that gives insight into that mentality, in order to better combat it. That fine?"
"I got a taste of the hero side, so yeah, I'll try it the other way."
"Great. Magenta can shift to a guinea pig, which is actually more useful than you might think. It makes her very maneuverable. Layla can control plants. She's been wearing these bracelets of live ivy recently, so watch out for that. I can burn it, though, and I think you're pretty good at keeping people distracted." Sam nodded, and Warren pulled away, turning and waving at the coach.
"Okay, heroes or villains?" Coach Boomer asked.
Boomer rolled his eyes at that this time. "And who do you want to play?"
"Williams and Wu."
The crowd cheered again and two girls stood up next to each other, the redhead letting go of Will's hand as she did so. They climbed down the bleachers and into the locker room.
"Which one is which?" Sam whispered.
"Layla's the hippie redhead, Magenta's the black-haired one in the purple fishnets. Now be nice to them, they're my two best friends in this place."
Warren grinned. "Will's more the idiot barnacle I have to like because I can't get rid of him."
"Sounds like my brother."
"Yup, pretty much."
Layla and Magenta came out into the arena, dressed in the same tacky jumpsuits now. The coach sounded his whistle again, starting the countdown on the scoreboard, and Sam dropped into a defensive posture.
With a shimmer Magenta sank to the floor, her body shrinking into a furry bundle that skittered off to the side, disappearing behind the fake mailbox that, along with a few other scattered objects, made the arena seem a bit like a minigolf course.
Warren spread his arms and blasted his protective wall of flames around the machine and the slowly sinking mannequin. Layla smiled wide at him and a flood of ivy poured out from her wrist, quickly covering almost the entire floor of the arena and trying to sweep Sam off his feet. He fought to stay standing and started to wade his way through it toward her.
The ivy withered and crackled where it met Warren's flames, most of it staying clear, leaving a moat of polished wooden boards, only some tendrils winding up into the air and attempting to climb above the fire. Sam decided the floor must be somehow burnproof.
Something small knocked the back of his knee just as he was taking a step, and Sam toppled over, wildly grasping at Magenta as he fell, but missing her. He was quickly wrapped in ivy, almost immobilized, and lifted into the air.
The ivy carried him through the air over to where Layla was standing, dangling him in front of her. "Hi," she said brightly. "Sam, right?" Sam nodded. "Nice to meet you. But, um, maybe you could try to be a little more careful?"
"And not kick your boyfriend important places? Sorry." She blushed when he said that, pink across her high cheekbones clashing with her bright hair, and the vines curled around him a little tighter. Some of Warren's fireballs flew past them and Sam swiveled his head as much as he could to look behind him.
A bridge of ivy stretched across to the mannequin now, wrapping around the rope and halting its descent, as a guinea pig made her way over to it. Warren was throwing fire at the vines, but always just missing Magenta rather than hitting her directly. A few more of his fireballs swept past Sam but didn't free him from the vines. Layla gave Sam a perky grin as he glanced quickly back at her, knowing they were about to lose.
Sam started wriggling, putting all his hours of practice with bonds and chokeholds to use, and managed to free his right arm enough to reach out. He caught one of the fireballs whizzing past, gritted his teeth against the heat of it in his hand, and lobbed it just above the mannequin. It sizzled through the rope and ivy and the citizen plummeted down, barely outpacing the vines grasping for it and then bouncing as it was torn to shreds by the spinning blades. Sam's heart surged in triumph.
Coach Boomer's whistle blasted. "FOUL!" The room shook with his shout. "Villains forfeit. Heroes win by default." The aftershocks faded away, leaving the room deathly silent and Sam cold inside. Everyone in the crowd was staring at him. Magenta was back to human form, standing next to an angry Warren. Layla's eyes were wide. She hadn't released him yet.
"You're not supposed to do that," she whispered.
"That's stupid," Sam snapped. He shoved his embarrassment away, replacing it with annoyance. "If I wanted to kill someone, I'd just do it, not use such a dumb method." He'd been trained to be efficient and to do what it took to get the job done. Those were things he actually agreed with Dad on. There was a point to rules and limits in practice exercises, but if they believed that real villains would just sit by and let the heroes rescue someone without trying to stop it, they'd be in for a rude awakening.
Layla was still looking at him like he'd stolen her pie right out of her mouth, and the vines still weren't letting go of him.
"I'm not gonna kill anyone," Sam continued, softer, trying to calm her. She started like she only just realized she still had him and he was softly set down. All the ivy retracted and disappeared back into a narrow band around her wrist.
"Hit the showers, Winchester," the coach ordered. Sam slunk off, shoulders lowered, feeling the whole school's eyes following his retreat. When he got to his next class, Mr. Boy sent him to the nurse, who put ointment and a bandage on his burned hand and then sent him to the principal's office.
The principal was an elegant, dark-haired woman in a white suit sitting behind a large desk. Sam had seen her when she gave a brief welcome to the new students before power placement, but she was even more imposing up close. "Well, Sam Winchester," she greeted him. "I'm sorry that our first conversation is under such unfortunate circumstances. However, the concerns over your behavior in gym this morning must be taken seriously. We've had certain, shall we say, incidents in the past, and we have to take care now to monitor students for signs of villainous behavior so that we can engage in effective rehabilitation or expulsion rather than just training our future enemies." She smiled at him regally. "I'm not accusing you of anything. I'd just like to hear your version of what happened."
Sam took a deep breath. "Principal Powers, I don't have parents who are superheroes. I don't know how this school works or what the expectations are. I was barely briefed on how to play the game before I was thrust into the middle of it, and I was just trying to achieve what I was told my objectives were. I'm sorry for breaking the rules, but I have to plead ignorance of them." He certainly didn't want to be kicked out so soon.
She nodded, and her tone was understanding. "I know. We can be a very insular group in many ways, and we assume that the children who come here already know how to handle it. I apologize for letting that trip you up. Please feel free to come to me at any time if you need help navigating this world. I like to be a friend to the students as much as possible."
Leaning back in his chair, Sam tried to relax. "I don't..." He had to swallow and start over. "I don't want to do this wrong. I want to learn." That was about as sure of the truth as he got.
"You will." They looked at each other for a moment, then the principal shooed her hands at him. "Run back to your class now, Sam. Just remember that the ends don't justify the means, and take care of that hand."
Sam felt better when he left, but as soon as he got back into class his heart sank again. He was used to being the odd one out at school, had been the new boy his whole life. But the suspicion he could see around him now felt different, more chilling. He sat quietly in the back until class let out for lunch.
In the cafeteria he was weaving through the crowd with his tray, trying to reach his hiding place in the corner, when someone caught his arm.
"Man," Warren said, pulling Sam around to face him, "undefeated for a whole semester, and then you go and mess that up so spectacularly. You've got real talent." Sam cringed for an instant before realizing that Warren was smiling at him. Warren jerked his head to the side to point at a full table nearby. "Come on, you're sitting with the gang today. You've met most of them already anyway."
He dragged Sam over and shoved him down into an empty seat across from Will and Layla, then sat down next to him. Further down were Magenta and a guy with bright yellow hair who was even taller than Sam. They all broke off from discussing homework to stare at Sam.
"Hey, yo," the tall guy said, sticking out his hand for Sam to shake, "I'm Zach, and I glow. The Zach Attack. You were pretty epic."
Frowning, Sam shook his hand a little limply. "I don't know. I had to go to the principal and she gave me a speech about how they need to watch out for potential villains."
Warren snorted. "Don't worry about that. I've gotten a million of those talks myself." That was surprising, because Warren seemed so popular and likable. Sam did remember him saying that he used to be the one sitting alone at lunch, though, so maybe that hadn't always been the case.
"Well, they do," Layla stated firmly. "After Royal Pain especially-"
"Oh, please. Even you've gotten detention," Magenta cut in. She turned to Sam and winked. "At least you didn't destroy the cafeteria or get caught in the fountain without-" Her words turned into mumbles as an ivy vine wrapped itself over her mouth. She immediately shrank into a guinea pig, dropped out of the loose curl of vine to the chair, and turned back into a girl, now free. The vine receded and Magenta calmly popped a handful of potato chips in her mouth.
"Most supervillains have attended Sky High, since the central system finds anyone with powers," Layla continued primly. "If we could do a better job of prevention we wouldn't have to deal with so many of them later. And since at least some recent cases have specifically been due to the hero/sidekick dichotomy, that supports my arguments that-"
"Ninety-five percent," a short guy with glasses said excitedly, dropping into the seat next to Sam. "Ninety-five percent of villains have attended Sky High. Well, that's of American villains who started after the school was founded. An unknown number have been involved in toilet-dunking incidents. I'm still looking into that." He startled when he noticed Sam. "Hey, that was you this morning. Hi, I'm Ethan, I melt. Welcome to Sky High."
Everyone seemed to introduce themselves that way, name and power, maybe grade. Sam didn't think he could handle saying it himself all the time. "Thanks," he said instead. "I'm Sam."
Nodding, Ethan turned back to Layla and continued expounding statistics. Zach got up and moved over to sit on Will's other side, poking him in the ribs. "Hey, did you watch the game last night?" He turned to Sam. "You like football?"
"My brother watches it," Sam answered. A moment later he was still just sitting there, eating his sandwich while Will and Zach discussed the game and Warren, Layla, Magenta, and Ethan argued about villains and attempts to equalize the superpowered world. Sam didn't even understand half the things they said, and the discussion wasn't reassuring him about his social prospects at school.
Then Natasha wandered by, accompanied by a guy with spiky dreads, and she and Warren did this quick weird thing where he handed her his yogurt and she handed him her cheese sandwich, and then they gave each other back a frozen yogurt and a toasted sandwich. She poked Warren in the shoulder and laughed. "Now you're not just sitting with juniors, but also a sophomore?"
"Like you can talk?" Warren answered. He turned to Sam. "That's Tasha's boyfriend, and he's a junior, too."
The guy stuck out his hand to Sam. "Name's Lewis. Power's acid spit."
He should've had better control, but Sam opened up his mouth and blurted it out to Natasha anyway. "You're dating a guy with acid spit?" Everyone laughed. He tried to recover, thinking about it a second longer and looking at the guy apologetically. "Well, I guess it doesn't eat through your own mouth..."
"It only affects inorganic material," Lewis answered.
"Right, okay. I'm Sam, by the way."
"Sam's going to be the next big thing," Natasha said, actually reaching out and ruffling his hair. "You watch out for him." Sam had to brush his hair back down.
"What, should I be jealous?" Lewis grinned.
"Of a guy who has the same hairdo as Will?" Magenta said. "I wouldn't be."
"There's nothing wrong with my hair," Will protested. "If Sam wants to copy it that just shows he has taste."
Warren slung an arm over Sam's shoulder and stage-whispered at him. "Don't worry, winner, Tasha would never condescend to cradle rob." Part of Sam's brain told him that he was being teased and he should be upset. But somehow, being involved in this conversation made him feel good instead, better than he had before. Sam thought this might be a glimpse of what it was like to hang out in a group of friends. Maybe going to superhero school wasn't the stupidest thing he'd ever done after all.
That night Sam dreamed of fire and dark eyes.
Chapter 2: These Tracks Stretch Out Before
Things did get better over the course of the week. Sam got to know more about the kids in his sidekick class and they stopped looking at him as oddly. Their powers weren't much more useful than Sam's, but they seemed happy with what they had.
Sam was still the only person in the class who didn't have a powered parent, and who hadn't already been there for a year, so he was the only one who interrupted discussions to ask, "Wait, what's the difference between the Presidential Power Committee and the Power Bureau?" or "Why are there regulations about color schemes in costumes and still no requirement that everyone wear a mask?" Mr. Boy always answered the questions, but the other students would sometimes look bored or annoyed, although other times they were glad when Sam derailed an already boring lecture with a weird tangent.
On the other hand, the hero support track also spent a lot of time learning unarmed combat, and how to use grappling hooks and nets, and other things that Sam had been doing for years. He tried not to let on exactly how much he knew, but he couldn't help feeling a little proud about being ahead. He was even pretty good at the costume quick-change the first time.
At lunch and at gym Sam sat with Warren and the gang, because they kept pulling him in. Eventually he found himself going over to them automatically. Will and Layla were nice, although maybe a bit earnest, and Zach, oddly, reminded Sam slightly of Dean with his dumb jokes. He found Magenta's caustic barbs always entertaining. Ethan was a great debate partner, able to argue esoteric facts and figures endlessly. Warren was a little bit of all those things, and he kept calling Sam "winner," which made Sam feel warm inside each time. Natasha kept dropping by as well, and she was helpful and practical.
And the flying bus still hadn't gotten old.
Late that Friday night, Sam was sitting in the bedroom reading about the founding of the sidekick union when Dean's voice came bellowing through the door. "Sammy! You have a gentleman caller." Sam wandered into the living room and discovered that it was Warren, standing on the front step with Dean interrogating him while holding a throwing knife.
"So are those tattoos or what?" Dean asked, pointing at the red flames on Warren's wrists.
"Just drawings," Warren answered. "I do them sometimes when I'm bored." Sam made his way over and leaned on the other side of the doorframe across from Dean, wondering how Warren had found the house. Warren hefted the paper bag he was holding. "Hey, Sam. I just got off shift at the restaurant and thought I'd bring you some Chinese food."
"Ohh, are there dumplings?" Dean put in before Sam could respond.
"No one said you could have any, Dean," Sam retorted. He loomed up to his full two inch advantage over Dean. Sam was even an inch taller than Dad, now, and also, he noted, the same over Warren.
"Or I could just tell Dad you had a visitor from school this late at night." After those calmly spoken words Dean turned around and flung the knife, embedding it right in the center of the target on the living room wall. Sam sighed. Dad was out at the fire station, and he'd been adamant that no one from Sky High was allowed over, because they might see something suspicious.
Warren grinned. "Yeah, actually, there are dumplings. Enough for everyone."
Dean looked back at Sam with an insouciant eyebrow lift. "See? I like this one. He has my blessing." He went to pull his knife out of the wall.
Sam ushered Warren inside. "Sorry. Come on." He handed off a couple dumplings to Dean and then set up plates for himself and Warren at the table in the little kitchenette, serving out sesame chicken and moo shi vegetables. Dean went back to knife throwing, and Sam realized he was sighting the target, then closing his eyes and spinning, throwing the knife while still blind and whirling. After two bullseyes in a row, between which he chomped down on dumplings, Sam snapped at him. "Do you mind, Dean?" Warren was watching Dean's little performance with an intense stare that made Sam uncomfortable.
Frowning at Sam, Dean tossed his fork at the target, fetching it up right next to the knife, but then he took his plate and disappeared into their bedroom.
"Are you an only child?" Sam asked. "If so, you are so lucky."
"Maybe. I mean, yeah, I am, and maybe that's lucky. I've wanted a sibling sometimes, though."
"You can have mine."
Warren laughed, then quieted and looked down at his plate. He took a few bites, leaving them both in silence for a moment. Then he looked up, eyes dark in the bright room. "I wanted to apologize."
"For what?" Sam was completely confused, because Warren certainly hadn't done anything.
"I kind of abused my student president access and read your file."
Sam shrugged. "That's worth a trip out here to apologize for?" At least now he knew how Warren had gotten his address. Hopefully there wasn't anything suspicious in the file. Well, there couldn't be, or else the school administration would have remarked on it.
"No." Warren's lips pursed, worry clear on his face. "It's still so weird how things have changed, that you could spend a week at school without hearing anything."
Sam blinked at him. "Hearing anything?"
"About my dad. Barry- Barron Battle. The Baron."
"Oh." Sam felt cold, and the whole room seemed far away, like it had dropped out from under him. The only thing in focus was Warren's face. "Oh." He struggled to breathe again. "He wasn't even the one-" Wasn't even the one who killed Mom. He couldn't finish that sentence. It was obvious his file had the information about how Mom died and the link to the Baron. Logic couldn't immediately wipe out fifteen years of learned blame and hatred. "It certainly wasn't your fault." That part he did believe, even though it was still difficult to talk.
"I know." Warren's voice was soft. He brushed a hand back through his hair, but it fell in front of his face even more sloppily when he pulled his fingers out. "I'm still sorry, though, and I thought it might be good if I told you, rather then letting it end up being something… messy."
Things made so much more sense now: Warren's power, his comments about sitting alone so much, why he would get lectured by the principal, even why he'd seemed pleased and surprised at first when Sam had no idea who he was. Everyone else must have always known, must have given him this idea that he'd be blamed for what his father had done.
"I mean, we're friends, right?" Warren asked.
"Oh. Yeah." Sam's voice sounded high and breathy to his ears, embarrassing. He wasn't used to people actually wanting to be friends with him. Especially people as cool as Warren. Then he thought of something. "Wait. Didn't Will's parents catch the- your dad?"
Warren laughed. "Yup. I hated him for that at first. Almost tried to burn him to a cinder. We busted up the whole cafeteria. But it turned out okay, because that's when he got his strength."
"That's hard to picture." Actually, he could see Warren firebombing the school easy; it was just harder to imagine him fighting someone in defense of the father he was apologizing for. But then, Sam might disagree with Dad on almost everything and he'd still have his back against the rest of the world. Except Dad hadn't murdered a couple dozen people.
"I-" Warren started, then stopped. "Mom and Dad were both heroes at one point, I guess. Then Dad just- you know. When I started at Sky High, everyone knew, and they all assumed I'd turn out just like him. It made me so angry, that Mom had worked so hard to raise me all those years and none of them thought that meant anything."
Sam could sympathize. His mother's death, even though he couldn't remember her at all, was the defining moment of his life. It had definitely snapped Dad, made him embark on this ceaseless war against crime, the war that made him a criminal in the eyes of the world.
"So I lived down to their assumptions for a while," Warren continued, "since they were going to act like that anyway, but it just made me angrier. After we defeated Royal Pain, I realized I didn't want to be like her or those other bullies. The only person I was really hurting by all the anger was me. I wasn't actually getting back at anyone else, only letting them get to me." He shrugged, eyes lowered, mouth tight.
Sam wasn't sure who Royal Pain was, but he nodded. He always said he wanted out of Dad's war, and in many ways he was just digging himself deeper into it by going to Sky High. He could see how Warren could have tried to fight back and instead undermined himself. Life was tricky that way. Sam took a few bites of his cooling food while he considered it.
Warren's lips twisted in a half-smile. "And that is my angsty conversation-killing tale."
"Well, I could tell you all about how I've moved around too many times and never fit in and argue with my Dad about everything and have a brother who thinks skin mags are the height of great literature. But you probably already know it."
The answering laughter made Sam smile too. "And I broke a nail today," Warren added.
"Oh, seriously, they work us too hard in school." Sam could just barely stop grinning even as he took another bite.
Later, as Warren was walking down the path to his car, he turned just before Sam shut the door. "You free tomorrow night?"
"No, I have to do something with my family." Sam didn't have to patrol on school nights, but Dad wouldn't let him off the hook on weekends unless he was down at the fire station.
"Oh, okay. See you Monday, then." For an instant Warren almost looked like he was going to say something more, but then he turned away. Sam watched until he'd driven off into the dark and then finally closed the door, leaning back against it for a long moment.
The second week of school was a lot like the first, except better. Sam was starting to get used to it, even to forget for a moment here and there that he didn't belong.
There was someone skulking in the shadows in the alley below, so Sam kept lurking on the roof of the abandoned warehouse. It had been a really slow Friday evening so far. The figure skulked for a few more minutes, and Sam lurked, and then he couldn't take it anymore. He sighed and stuck the stupid doggie ears headband back on, then jumped down to the pavement, landing in a patch of moonlight.
"Is something the matter, citizen?"
The figure turned, a flame blazing up beside it in an upraised hand.
"Hi, Sam. Cute costume." Warren smirked in the firelight. Sam's blood froze.
Shit. Shit shit shit.
Sam frantically reached up to feel for his mask, and it was still there, so how? How?
He tried to brazen it out as if nothing odd was happening, convince Warren that he was mistaken. "Do you need help with anything, citizen?" He hoped he sounded normal, but his heart was beating in his ears too loud to tell. This could not be happening.
"Do you know how many hours I've spent this week hanging around the worst parts of town trying to catch up with you? What if someone had mugged me, where would the service be?" Warren's tone was light and friendly, the flames lower but still glowing.
"I don't know what you're talking about. If you're not in trouble I'm going to go find someone else to help." Sam reached for the grappling hook at his waist, ready to swing back up to the roof and escape.
Warren snorted. "Come on, Sam. You can't hide from me forever. I wouldn't have said anything to your father or brother if they'd come along. And you don't have to worry about me telling anyone."
Sam dropped both the grappling hook and the pretense, striding over and pushing Warren back against the side of the building, an elbow across his throat. Warren's flame went out the moment Sam touched him. He didn't fight back.
"You better not tell anyone. I'm serious."
"I won't, I swear." They were in the shadow of the building and Sam could hardly see Warren's face, just the whites of his eyes, but he didn't sound like he was lying. Sam didn't pull off yet, though.
"How the hell did you figure it out?"
"I said I read your file."
"No. No." There was no way his school file could say that.
"Don't worry, I don't think anyone else would figure it out from that. Maybe the FBI team assigned to the case, but not Principal Powers or anyone. And the FBI's not reading up on random students at Sky High."
"That's not reassuring." Sam couldn't keep his voice calm, no matter how hard he tried. He was shaking, unable to stop that either, and he eased off Warren a little, trying to make it less obvious. He could feel Warren's throat move under his arm as he swallowed, and Warren shifted slightly against the wall, raising a hand. Sam caught his wrist and Warren stopped moving.
"Sam, hey. Don't freak out. I don't think what your family does is wrong." Warren's voice was low and soothing, and Sam gripped his wrist tighter, still shaking. "I've done a lot of research on crimefighters since it has a bearing on the hero support issue. I wrote this big paper last semester using the Hunter as a case study and I probably have his movements memorized better than almost anyone else. So when I looked at your file, I noticed how many of the dates and places matched, how they all lined up. Then I realized that explained how well you could kick ass, and your brother, too. Just don't, don't spazz like this." He looked so worried, staring into Sam's eyes.
"I told Dad it was stupid to have a recognizable name and identity." Sam could almost taste the hysteria bubbling up in his throat. "I hate this stupid costume. I hate these stupid tights. And the ears. He used to make Dean wear a little tail, but I wouldn't do it. It's twenty years minimum for impersonating a hero. I was ten, I wasn't going to wear a tail. Dean never talks back to him." It was all screwed. They were caught, and Dad and Dean were going to go to jail because of him, because Sam had wanted to choose his own school and make friends. They would never forgive him.
Warren rolled his eyes and his arms burst into flame, shocking Sam back away from him and back to his senses. He stood there panting while Warren pushed away from the wall and dusted himself off.
"I'm not going to tell anyone," Warren repeated, slowly and loudly. "I don't have a problem with what you're doing. I'm not going to send your dad to jail. Or you. We cool, winner?"
Sam opened his mouth to answer when a beam of light blinded him. He closed his eyes against it for a second and heard Dad's rough voice.
"Everything under control here?"
Blinking against the light Sam stared up at Dad's caped form on the roof of the warehouse, barely visible behind the blaze of the flashlight. "Yes, sir," he called. "Just giving directions to a lost citizen." Sam wasn't sure if he totally believed Warren, but he believed him enough not to bring Dad down on him right away.
"You be careful, young man," Dad barked. "This is a bad area at night."
Warren looked up, the picture of wide-eyed awe. "I'll be very careful, sir. Thank you so much. It's so great to meet superheroes, I've never seen any before except on TV. This is awesome. Wait 'til I tell all my friends." He backed away slowly, then waved and ran off down the dark street. Sam coughed. Dad signaled to him and he swung back up to the roof to keep patrolling.
Sam spent most of Saturday and Sunday waiting for the FBI to knock on the door. They never did.
At lunch on Monday Sam hid away at an empty table on the far side of the cafeteria from where Warren normally sat. He couldn't do it, couldn't talk and laugh with the gang today. Couldn't have some casual normal conversation with Warren, knowing that Warren knew. That Warren had seen him.
Natasha came by at one point. "You okay, kiddo?" she asked, and Sam foisted her off with a story of homework and headaches.
As Sam was gathering up his stuff to head to class Warren walked up and dumped a stapled computer printout on the table. "Here, read it." He left without even waiting for Sam to respond.
That evening Sam curled up in bed with Warren's essay.
It was titled: Are superpowers really necessary for stopping villains and criminals? It had some interesting points.
There have been cases where students without any acknowledged powers to show at placement were accepted to Sky High (though put in the hero support track). Well-known examples include Sue Tenney, Ron Wilson, Will Stronghold, Layla Williams, and Grace Jones. While some of these did develop or reveal powers at later times, at least one was granted a diploma from Sky High while still remaining powerless.
Will and Layla? And the bus driver? Oh, actually, Sam did remember Warren saying something about Will developing his strength while they were fighting each other. So they'd accepted him to the school because of his parents even when he had no powers to show? And Layla, that was weird, because she talked about having powers even when she was a little kid. Sam would have to ask about that. He knew the bus driver had powers now, too.
Since his first recorded appearance, the Hunter has been credited with foiling at least ten murders, three kidnappings, a major bank heist, and multiple sexual assaults, robberies, and other violence. One can only assume that the true numbers are even greater than those that have been made public knowledge. His record holds up well even in comparison to those of many renowned superheroes.
The numbers were much greater, Sam knew. And he was indeed smugly proud of what they had accomplished, even though he didn't always enjoy doing it.
Though the demand for prosecution of illegal crimefighting comes mainly from registered heroes, rather than the general populace, heroes do not spend time tracking down crimefighters, but prefer to leave that up to the FBI. Apparently the mundane authorities are considered good enough to protect the interests of heroes despite being unpowered themselves.
Sam laughed out loud at that.
The essay went on to describe two cases where crimefighters had been responsible for the capture of supervillains, one someone Sam had never even heard of and one the time when Dad and the Mechanic took out Doc Eternity. It also deconstructed the ways heroes and hero support were taught at Sky High. Sam was surprised to learn that the hero kids were mainly taught to use their own powers, and didn't get the training in martial arts and various tools and weapons that the hero support were receiving. He thought that sounded backward and dumb. Warren used that to argue that the education system was basically writing off the powers of sidekicks and considering them the equivalent of unpowered people, and that unpowered people could by that logic do just as well at the same efforts.
In the light of these points of evidence, it must be seen that even the current system of elitism and discrimination acknowledges the ability of unpowered people to fight crime, including crime by powered supervillains. Thus the rigid ranking of heroes, hero support, and crimefighters, and the outlawing of the latter, becomes an open exercise in hypocrisy and futility as well as hierarchical arrogance. The only clear conclusion is to allow all people equal access to all ways of doing good in the world, just as all are given equal access to become wrongdoers.
When he set the essay down, Sam felt much better. He was reassured that Warren wouldn't sell them out to anyone, that he hadn't fucked it all up yet by going to this school. He wouldn't be able to live with himself if Dad and Dean actually went to jail because of his stubbornness. He wasn't going to give them away to anyone else, he wasn't. He would be the carefullest person who was ever careful.
But he wasn't going to leave Sky High, either. Now that he'd started it, he wanted to see it through. He needed to see it through.
Sam settled onto the bench across the table from Will and Layla, clunking his lunch tray down. "So you two were both in Mr. Boy's hero support class for a while. Did he always talk about Tiger-Man that much?"
Will shook his head. "He talked about my dad all the time. And my mom."
"Oh, your mom!" Layla clasped her hands to her chest, eyelashes fluttering dreamily. Will elbowed her in the side and scowled.
"So if he's talking about Tiger-Man now, that's healthier."
"Wow." Mr. Boy with a crush did sound scary. Sam twisted the cap off his cranberry juice, looking at Layla. "Why were you in hero support, anyway? I haven't heard about that."
"She refused to perform for Boomer," Magenta answered, sliding in next to him. "It was a protest against the system. But they switched her eventually when they found out." She shrugged.
"I just don't think it's the right thing to do to everyone their first day here," Layla continued. "Sorting them out into who's good enough and who's not."
"When really the truth is that no one's as good as me." Warren dropped down to the seat next to Layla, across from Sam. "It's so much simpler." He stared at Sam, eyebrow arched challengingly, lips pursed.
"Which is why you lost four games of Uno in a row yesterday," Magenta laughed.
Sam pulled Warren's essay out of the backpack between his feet, handing it over. "Thanks." He held Warren's gaze for just a moment too long to be casual. Warren grinned and closed his hand over Sam's, pushing the papers back at him.
"No problem. Keep it." He looked down at his tray. "Is it me or does this meatloaf look like something the cat dragged in?"
"It is not just you," Will grumped, poking at his tray with his fork. Sam nodded and shoved the essay back in his bag.
Warren caught up with Sam at the end of the day as he was getting his stuff together, trying to cram all the books he needed for homework into his backpack. Warren leaned back against the locker next to Sam, arms crossed on his chest and one foot propped up against the metal, dropping his own bag to the ground.
"You feeling better now?" he asked. Sam nodded, and Warren's mouth twisted apologetically. "Possibly I shouldn't have sprung it on you quite so dramatically."
"Well, yeah. But I see why you did, because I wouldn't have stopped denying it otherwise. And I liked your essay."
"You're the only one. I got a B minus because Ms. Peters said my conclusion wasn't adequately supported, and the school newspaper refused to print it."
Sam propped his elbow inside the bottom of his locker, twisting to the left to examine Warren. "It is a little long for a newspaper." He shook his head. "You're really into this, aren't you?"
"I don't appreciate people being needlessly judgmental. I've done some stupid stuff, I admit, and things people actually do can't just be overlooked, but all the prejudice and assumptions don't lead anywhere good." He ran his hand back through his hair, tucking it behind his ears. "I sound just like Layla when I get going." His eyes were serious in his handsome face, full lips set and narrowed.
"I've moved around too many times to disagree with you, though."
Blinking, Warren's face relaxed and he grinned at Sam again, then slid over closer and leaned in to whisper, his voice a low rumble in Sam's ear, his hair a tickling sweep on Sam's cheek. "You know, winner, I'd really love to go out with you sometime and patrol. See what it's like."
"Can't you sneak out and show me?" Warren pulled away and Sam had to keep himself from reaching up to rub his cheek, rub away the phantom hair that still seemed to be brushing it. He spent a second figuring out what could work.
"He's at the station again this Friday." Sam approved of the extra free time he got due to Dad's recent willingness to work weekends. "If you swing by around sunset I can head out. Dean will grill me later but he won't mind." He glanced up and down Warren's all-black outfit and smirked. "I know it will be a challenge, but try to wear dark colors for hiding."
Warren laughed. "I'll see what I can scrounge up."
Arms laced through the bars of the fire escape, Sam kicked his legs in the air below him. The wrought iron grating dug into his butt even through his jeans. Warren was taking forever to examine everything in Sam's tool belt, oohing and ahhing over even such mundane items as the boomerang and the net, holding them up toward the streetlight in his leather-gloved hands. He looked different wearing one of Sam's extra masks, the strip of brown covering the upper half of his face, his hair pulled back. Finally he handed the belt over and Sam buckled it around his waist.
"Lead on," Warren said.
Sam stood, shaking the tingles out of his legs. Warren seemed interested in everything Sam did, following him over roofs and up and down the back streets for almost an hour, until finally they heard something suspicious and crawled over the top of a building to peer at the alley below. A man with a gun was ordering another man to give up his wallet.
Warren raised his arm, and Sam grabbed it and shoved it down before he could flame up. "No. No powers." He threw his boomerang and knocked the gun from the mugger's hand, leaping down to the ground, letting the boomerang clatter against the wall. He heard Warren land behind him. The mugger slid toward the gun and Sam jumped him.
"Run!" Warren yelled at the victim. The guy took off without a second thought. Out of the corner of his eye Sam saw Warren scoop up the gun. The mugger fought back pretty well, even got Sam's face down against the asphalt once, but Sam soon had him pinned. With help from Warren, Sam tied and gagged the mugger as he spit curses at them. Sam emptied the clip from the gun and stuck them both into his tool belt.
"Crime doesn't pay, you know," Sam said in his best heroically commanding voice, shaking his head. "I'll leave you here to ponder the error of your ways, and I suggest you not try to cause trouble again. You really can't get away with it in this city."
The police couldn't arrest the mugger without evidence, and Sam didn't want to stick around to draw attention to himself, so he just left the guy there. The bonds were tied loose so that he should be able to get free fairly soon, but not soon enough to follow them.
Once they were a few blocks away Sam stopped and leaned back against the rough brick wall, Warren dropping in beside him.
"Was it exciting for you?"
Warren's smile was softer than normal. "You're mighty impressive." He pulled the glove off his right hand and reached up, wiping at the dirt around the scrape on Sam's cheek. Sam shivered at the warm touch. Warren leaned in closer and his lips landed on Sam's, slow and gentle.
It was completely unexpected and Sam didn't know how to respond. So he stayed perfectly still. After a few seconds Warren stepped away.
"I crossed the line, right?"
"No. I mean, I- I don't know. You didn't do anything wrong." Sam shook his head, trying to knock his thoughts back into some semblance of order.
"Maybe I should call it a night." Warren looked blank rather than disappointed.
Warren drove Sam back to the house and neither of them said anything besides the most necessary minimum phrases. The engine of Warren's beat-up old car rumbled into the silences.
Sam opened the car door, got one foot out onto the pavement, and turned back, pulling Warren's face around and kissing him firmly. Warren grabbed at Sam's arms and kissed back, pushing his tongue into Sam's mouth. Sam tightened his fingers around Warren's face. He still felt dizzy and confused but he almost liked that.
Pulling away a few moments later was even more dizzying. "You wanna hang out tomorrow afternoon?" Sam asked.
"Sure." Warren looked wonderfully relieved and happy.
Grinning, Sam went inside and wandered past Dean, who was reading on the sofa and didn't even look up at him. Sam dropped his backpack on his bed, changed out of his dirty clothes into pajamas, and went to brush his teeth and wash the scrape on his cheek. He'd wait until later when he was alone to empty his backpack of the things that would give away the fact Warren knew about the Hunter.
When Sam came back Dean was lounging on his own bed. There were also three condom packets sitting on top of Sam's backpack.
"You still have to be careful even if you are doing it the gay way," Dean said.
"Oh my God, Dean, what is wrong with you? I'm so nowhere near doing that!" Sam tossed them on the floor along with his backpack, face burning. Dean had given him the same presents and speech last spring in Milwaukee when he found out Sam was dating Caitlin Schwarz. It was embarrassing enough then, even worse now.
Dean shrugged. "He's older. He might have expectations." He was clearly trying to sound casual but his face was tight and his voice damped down.
"What's your problem?" Sam was annoyed at Dean's annoyance, worried at what he might be thinking.
"I just- I thought we'd always be together. Now you're running around with all these different people and I have no idea what you'll do next. It makes it harder to watch out for you."
Sam came around and sat down on the edge of his bed by Dean. "It doesn't matter if I end up a hero or… a… a hermit in Alaska, you'll always be my brother."
"Dude, no need to get mushy." Dean reached out and punched him in the arm.
Sam stayed awake in bed for ages mulling it over. He'd never really thought about this before.
He was definitely sure that he liked girls. He'd been noticing them for a while now, getting flustered around pretty girls and getting crushes. Maybe he only had a little bit of actual experience with a few of them, but he'd really enjoyed it, the kissing and holding and when Caitlin had let him put his hands up her shirt. There was no question about how good that had been. She'd had the softest skin and hair and she always smelled so clean and sweet, and her eyes were so blue when he was making out with her, her lips so gentle, and when she smiled at him, just at him, it made him feel like he was walking on air. So that was a yes.
But guys? Sure, Warren was gorgeous, but lots of guys were. And Alexis, a kid in Sam's class who was sometimes a girl and sometimes a boy, was pretty either way. Seeing that just meant that Sam had eyes. Everyone knew that kind of thing. When Dean watched all those action movies, he admired the men's muscles the same way Sam did, right? If Sam liked guys, then he would have had crushes on them before, but he hadn't. He'd wanted to be friends with someone sometimes, like when they were in Boulder and Billy Haskell, who was on the football team, used to tell the other guys to stop when they teased Sam and give him a little smile, and Sam used to imagine inviting him to do something, go running maybe, but he was always too nervous to actually-
Maybe he did like guys. He liked Warren. Warren was smart, and fun, and for some weird reason he thought Sam was cool, which made Sam almost fit to burst with awe.
Kissing him had been good. It had felt different on the outside, the way Warren was built and the way he moved, but it hadn't felt different on the inside, the flutter in Sam's chest and the warmth in his belly. He wanted to do it some more.
Dean's little speech made him worry, though. Kissing Warren was good, but as soon as Sam started to think of anything more explicit he just couldn't picture it without getting shaky. It was weirder to imagine with a guy than a girl, but in fact, the thought of having any kind of sex with anyone made him freak out a little. Being naked, touching someone, letting someone- He just wasn't ready to do it yet.
He was sure that Warren and Natasha had done more than just kiss, though.
Sam's fading thought before he finally fell into sleep was that at least Dean had treated the whole thing the same as last time, regardless.
Warren's house wasn't very big, but it was bigger than the duplex the Winchesters were staying in. It had a nice yard with neat beds of flowers, and the front door opened into a spotless living room with a plush white couch. Warren took his boots off and left them on a rack by the door, making Sam do the same. He led Sam into the lime-green kitchen and the woman in there looked up and smiled at them, coming around from the counter where she was sorting through a paper bag of groceries.
"Mom, this is Sam," Warren said, and Sam reached out to shake her hand.
"Nice to meet you, Ms. Peace."
"Call me Paloma, sweetie." Her handshake was firm and her voice gentle. Sam could see her resemblance to Warren, the same high cheekbones and rich lips, the straight dark hair. "And what do you do?"
Telling a parent was even harder than telling anyone at school, and Sam hesitated to say it. "I-"
"He's an oneiromancer," Warren said for him. Sam stared. He hadn't even realized there was a word for what he did, hadn't thought to look it up, and no one had mentioned it before. That made a huge difference, that made it sound important and worthwhile, real.
Warren's mother smiled. "Excellent. I make people fall asleep, myself. Although it did come in handy when this one was little." She nodded toward Warren, who rolled his eyes. She quirked her eyebrow in exactly the same way Warren often did. "You might not believe it to look at him now, but he used to be very temperamental." Sam kept his jaw locked so he didn't laugh.
"Okay, Sam," Warren tugged at his arm. "Let's get you out of here."
His mom laughed and opened up the fridge. "Do you boys want any refreshments?" She provisioned them with lemonade and chips, and then Warren took Sam upstairs.
Sam took a long sip of lemonade and looked around as Warren closed the door and set his stuff down on the dresser. The walls were dark red, hung with music posters and Chinese scrolls, and Warren had a lot of books and comics. A lot. Sam envied him the ability to build up a collection without having to ditch it every time he skipped town.
Stepping closer, Warren kissed Sam quickly, mouth catching around Sam's lower lip. He took the glass out of Sam's hand and set it on the dresser behind him. Sam clutched at the collar of Warren's polo shirt instead, closing his eyes. He only had to tilt his head slightly to do this, not bend way down, and it was strange and comfortable. Warren twined his fingers around the cords of Sam's hoodie and bit at his lip. "I've never really done this before," he murmured, lips moving against Sam's mouth as he spoke.
"Me neither." Sam's throat and chest felt like they were closing up.
"I mean, with a-"
Warren moved away and Sam reached after him, opening his eyes, but Warren smiled and dodged, then dropped down and sprawled out on his bed. He crossed his arms behind his head, shifting and settling against the black comforter. His bed was twice as wide as Sam's.
Sam's skin felt prickly and his palms damp. He laid down on his right side next to Warren, who rolled to face him.
Reaching out, Warren traced his fingers along Sam's jaw and over his cheek, sliding them in to tangle in Sam's hair, pulling him closer. Sam flattened his hands against Warren's chest as Warren kissed him deep. He could feel Warren's heartbeat, fast and strong. Warren's tongue fluttered, then led Sam into his own mouth, opening up for him, and Sam wandered around in the feeling until he was lost.
He was brought back after a while by Warren tugging on the cords of his hoodie again. "Can I get this off you?" he whispered.
Sam sat up and unzipped it, shrugging it off and dropping it to the floor, leaving his t-shirt. Warren reached up and ran his fingers over Sam's lips, making Sam shudder. He sucked the tip of Warren's finger into his mouth, running his tongue over the pad, watching Warren the whole time. His face was soft again, eyes half-closed, breath coming tight through his teeth. Sam felt warm all over, hot and certain, no longer doubting that he was into this. He leaned down, back arched, releasing Warren's finger and cupping his face in both hands instead, kissing him again. Warren's hands slid into the back pockets of Sam's tightening jeans, yanking him over and down, pulling Sam on top of him.
The physical evidence of Warren's matching interest pressed into his hip, and Sam pushed down automatically, a sharp need pulsing through him. He froze, eyes and mouth squeezed shut, acutely aware through the spikes of adrenaline that he was making out with Warren lying down in his bed, that he was closer than he'd ever been to-
"I haven't-" he gasped, pulling his head away and staring down at Warren, sounding frantic even to his own ears. "I'm not-"
Warren ran one hand gently up Sam's back and neck, brushing the hair off his forehead. "Hey, just so long as you don't pressure me too much." He smiled up calmly, eyes dark and generous, still carding his fingers through Sam's hair, switching his other arm to wrap around Sam's back. Sam breathed deep and even until the tangles in his stomach softened and unraveled, melted away into the slow warmth again.
"I'm being dumb."
"No, you're not." Warren licked his lips. "You want to stop?"
Easing himself down, Sam rested on his elbows, linking his hands above Warren's head, fingers in Warren's hair, feeling how smooth and thick it was. He nuzzled his mouth by Warren's ear.
"I like this," he whispered. "I want to make you so frustrated you have to keep coming back for more." He ached inside, his chest and all his limbs, low down deep in him, warmth spilling all through his veins, wanting to cruelly burst Warren's calm and make him feel the same way.
The chuckle that rumbled through his chest from Warren's turned to a gasp as Sam closed his teeth on Warren's neck, and Warren bucked up under him. Sam clamped his knees tighter around Warren's thigh, holding him down. He sucked at Warren's skin, feeling it heat in his mouth, Warren making strangled noises in his throat, clutching at Sam's back and shoulders. Sam eased off, mouthing under Warren's jaw, licking and nipping across to his adam's apple, back to his ear, biting his earlobe. Sam really liked the sound of that low moan so he kept at it.
Warren pulled free and twisted his head, turning until he could kiss Sam, harsh and hard. Sam kissed back as wildly, tugged down. All his ferocious want started to ball up inside him again.
With a heave Warren turned them over, pushing Sam down into the pillows and rocking above him as Sam gripped his arms and felt his muscles flexing. Warren broke the kiss up piece by piece, pulling away and leaning in again, catching and releasing Sam's mouth, and the fierce burn in Sam's lungs eased. Warren slid off to the side, lipping at Sam's cheek, humming in his ear, leaving Sam feeling wrung out. Warren kissed him one more time, lazy and open, then sat up. Sam watched Warren brush his hair back and smooth it down, his breathing settling. He wrapped a hand around Warren's knee.
When Warren rubbed at his neck Sam could see a rough red mark there, and he smirked. Warren laughed and stood up, retrieving both glasses of lemonade. He settled back down against the wall and drank deep. Sam sat up enough to take a little sip and then set the glass down on the bedside table, flipping over onto his stomach and turning his head to Warren, arms wrapped around the pillow under him. It smelled freshly washed, with a vague hint of flowery detergent.
"Your mom seems cool," he said, because she did, and it was about as complete a change of subject as he could think of.
"My mom's the best."
Sam lay there for a few more minutes, almost sleepy, watching Warren's throat as he swallowed. Finally he gathered it together to ask. "Do you ever see your dad?" All his life he'd been taught to hate Warren's dad, but now he just thought how bad it must be for Warren. How could Sam tell whether it was easier to have a parent who was dead and gone or a parent who'd done all those horrible things?
Warren turned to stare at him, resting the edge of his glass on his chin. "About once a year. It's… weird. I hardly remember him from before. And what Mom says about him, the way she describes him, I can't even connect that to this man now. Mainly what I think when I see him is how glad I am that he isn't here, because he's not very-" Warren paused, frowned. "I wouldn't want to live with him. I can't even imagine it."
"Mmm. Sometimes I try to imagine my mom, but I don't remember her at all, and that pretty woman in the photos… I can't actually see her doing any of the things people say moms do. Dean did enough of those that- I just can't picture her doing the other stuff Dean does." He tried to laugh and it didn't quite come out right.
Setting his glass down, Warren curled up, his legs resting on Sam's side. "It's good that you had him."
"Your dad's kinda strict?"
"Dad's only a step below Coach Boomer in terms of yelling orders. I mean, he- The way you wrote about him." Sam sighed. "I'd like him more from that kind of distance. But he's still- He's still my dad."
"Truer words," Warren muttered, sliding down further and crossing his arms on Sam's back, chin digging into Sam's ribs.
A few more quiet moments under Warren's solid presence and Sam started to feel like he was drifting off again, until Warren leaned up and bit at the back of his neck, making Sam startle. His fingers were warm against Sam's skin under the hem of his t-shirt, slowly pushing it up under his arms. Taking a deep breath, Sam let his eyes close as Warren bent and mouthed at him, licking a long stripe down his spine to the small of his back and up again. Sam arched, shoulders flexing.
Warren nipped in under the edge of Sam's shoulderblade, tongue probing and teeth digging in, hands wrapping around Sam's sides. The pressure made Sam's lungs tighten and all his muscles melt. Warren started to push Sam's shirt even higher, up his arms and over his head.
There was a knock at the door, and Warren's mom's voice called, "Boys?"
Sam gasped. Warren stood and Sam scrambled upright, yanking his shirt down and trying to look reasonably calm and normal, heart pounding, face warm. He grabbed up one of the lemonade glasses and didn't realize until he was awkwardly swallowing that it was the one Warren had been drinking out of.
Warren smoothed his hair back and walked over to open the door. "Yes, Mom?"
She peeked in and smiled at Sam. "I was just wondering if Sam was staying for dinner."
Sam glanced around, noticing the clock on the bedside table and twitching again when he saw what time it was. "It's that late? Shi- I mean, no thank you. I have to- I can't, I have this thing with my family, I should go home now." He was just barely going to make it home in time for dinner and patrol anyway.
"Well, you're welcome any time you do want to stay," she answered.
When Warren walked Sam to class Monday morning, holding his hand all the way down the hall, no one even looked at them funny.
The only person who really commented was Natasha, who cornered him later in the afternoon as he was coming out of the boy's room.
"Two words of advice," she said, grinning wickedly at him. "One," she tapped the side of her neck with a finger, "and two," and she tapped the jut of her hipbone. Then she spun on her heel and strode away before Sam could respond. He stared after her, chewing his lip and knowing he was blushing again, watching the perfect sway of her hair and hips, the hem of her skirt swishing against her thighs.
Chapter 3: These Tracks Stretch Out Before
Sighing, Dean slid down against the warehouse chimney to sit next to Sam. "Dude, why did we ever move here? There is, like, no crime in this city. Too many superheroes. I don't even remember the last time I was so bored." He pulled a cookie out of his tool belt and popped it in his mouth. He'd already worked his way through half a pack on this patrol.
Sam twitched his flashlight up briefly then focused it back on the pages of his textbook. "I like it this way." He held out a hand until Dean gave him a cookie as well.
"You're such a geek."
"Yeah, I'm here with you on Saturday night when I could be at Zach's party. Who's the loser?"
"I don't skip patrol to get laid, you don't skip patrol to get laid." Dean elbowed him hard in the ribs.
The whole world fuzzed out, the words on the page in front of him disappearing in a wash of red. Sam struggled to breathe, distantly feeling the flashlight and book slip from his grasp, the red haze swirling into distinct shapes. There was a man with a gun, a woman in front of him, and he-
Dean was shaking him. "Sammy!" He sounded worried. Sam stared up at his face, dim in the dark night, hidden behind his mask, eyes showing wide whites. "What was that?"
Sam shook his head. "I don't…" He had to stop to catch his breath. It had been like one of his dreams, except he was awake now. He'd only had three of the dreams in the past, all before he started at Sky High. Two had been murders that hit the news in the next few days, and the other was a bank heist that happened a week later. None had been pleasant to watch. "I saw something. A man with a gun. He-" He was familiar, Sam had seen him before.
"He shot her." Dean shrugged away Sam's surprise, letting go of his arms. "I saw it when I grabbed you."
Sam frowned, staring out into the night. Oneiromancy, Warren had called it, divination through dreams. But if he was having visions when he was awake, and making Dean see them, too, that wasn't just precognition, that was a wider type of psychic ability. Was there a common thread to everything he'd seen, other than just violence? They were all- "Plans," he muttered. "They were all things someone planned to do. Not precognition, premeditation. I'm reading people's plans."
"What are you talking about?" Dean palmed Sam's cheek and turned his head back around, making Sam look at him.
"The dreams I've had. And this."
"So that guy's setting up to kill someone? Maybe tonight?"
"Maybe. We can check. I've seen that guy before, in the same place, I know where it is. I stopped him from mugging someone last week."
"Without reporting it to Dad?" Dean frowned.
Sam shoved Dean's hand away and stood up, Dean following him quickly. "Don't tell, okay? And don't- Don't tell Dad about the vision, either. Not yet. Please?"
Dean twisted his mouth in a reluctant grimace. "Okay, Sammy. But you better get your act together soon, because you have a lot to fess up about."
Nodding slowly, Sam agreed without really meaning it. He led Dean back across the warehouse district to the alley from his vision. There was no guarantee it was even going to happen for another few days, so he was expecting a long wait once they arrived. Instead, the woman was already standing there, smoking a cigarette and humming softly to herself.
"Warn her off?" Dean asked, as they crouched down on the roof across from where Sam and Warren had been the other time.
"Yeah, I guess so. But this guy's made enough trouble that I'd like to get him put away."
Just then the man appeared from around the corner, and the chance to get the woman out of there disappeared. She waved to him, and Sam suddenly understood, thought that he should have realized it before, that the man and the woman knew each other and she was there specifically to meet him. It fit into the whole "plan" theory he was working with a lot more than some chance encounter did.
The man leaned in close to the woman and they exchanged a few quiet words. Then she pulled a plastic bag from her jacket and he stepped back, shoving it into his pocket and taking out his gun. The woman spread her arms out calmly, saying something else, and the man shook his head. Sam knew he wasn't going to relent, because yeah, this wasn't just a drug deal gone bad, this was what the man had meant to do all along.
Dean's boomerang knocked the gun from the man's hand right before Sam's net swirled down over him, and Dean jumped down and chased the woman as she took off, catching her and pinning her. Sam had the man gagged by the time Dean got back, not wanting him to let anything slip. They tied both people up, Sam piling their drugs and weapons a little way off.
"I warned you last time," he said, shaking his head at the man, then used the man's own cell phone to call 911. They watched from the roof as the cops arrested both criminals.
Dean included it in their tally to Dad at the end of the night, but didn't say anything to imply that it hadn't just been a routine patrol.
Sam was practically vibrating with excitement when he arrived at the locker room before gym. Warren had been working at the restaurant all day Sunday so Sam hadn't been able to talk to him yet. He'd spent a lot of the day trying to focus on Dean and Dad, to see if he could pick up anything from them. It was a weird feeling but he really could do it, not thoughts or emotions generally, but plans, and with a visual orientation. Like he could watch in advance what someone was just about to do.
Warren was in the middle of changing, wearing a sky-blue gym tank top with his normal black jeans and socked feet. He was talking to Will. Sam just barreled up and grabbed Warren's arm, dragging him away in the middle of his sentence about some band. Sam shoved him into one of the shower stalls and rattled the curtain closed behind them.
He could hear Will calling after. "I'll send a search party if you're not back in ten minutes!"
"Good!" Warren yelled. "I have no idea what this psycho's kidnapped me for."
Sam pressed Warren back against the side of the stall, hands wrapped around his upper arms. "Think of something you're going to do."
"Just think about it?" Warren hooked his fingers through the belt loops on Sam's jeans.
Warren looked at Sam questioningly for a moment, then shut his eyes. Sam concentrated.
He got a flash of Warren kissing him. Seeing himself in other people's minds had been weird yesterday and it was still weird today. "Something a little harder to guess," he commented. The next image was Warren doing some complicated dance move and lifting Sam above his head. "Okay, yeah, ballet's harder to guess."
Warren opened his eyes, eyebrows raised. "Really?"
Sam reached out, trying something he hadn't done with Dean yesterday, because he hadn't wanted Dean to know that he'd been spied on all day, and pushed both images back into Warren's mind. It was amazing how easy it all was now that he'd learned he could do it, how natural.
"That's so cool." Warren's smile was wide and bright.
"I wasn't actually dreaming about the future, I was picking up people's plans." He wrinkled his nose. "Horrific plans, but still."
"So you're a psychic."
"Some kind of, yeah. I guess." Sam ran his hands up and down Warren's arms, because Warren really did have great definition, and here he was showing it off.
"You know what we're gonna do now?" Warren cocked his eyebrow. "We're gonna make even more of a killing at Save The Citizen."
"Absolutely." Sam kissed Warren once and then headed out to get changed.
"Okay, Stronghold and Williams, you were our last winners on Friday," Coach Boomer announced. "What do you want to be and who do you want to fight?"
"Heroes," Will answered. He and Layla watched Warren wave frantically at them for a minute before he continued. "And we'll fight Peace and Winchester, because they need to get taken down today."
Sam and Warren changed into the fight suits and headed out into the arena. When the timer started Warren lit up a protective circle around their citizen, urging it up almost to the ceiling to stop Will. He flew toward it, but couldn't quite make it through the flames. His strength helped with impact, but not so much with heat.
Layla's vines came whipping toward them, and Warren dodged, moving around the outside of the arena. Sam didn't even try. He let the vines wrap completely around him so that he couldn't move his arms or legs, barely even turn his head, and they lifted him up and carried him over to Layla, holding him in the air next to her where he could see the action.
"You secure there?" she asked. Sam wriggled as best he could, which wasn't much, and she smiled. "So how was your weekend?"
"Great. Excellent. How was Zach's party?"
Will was diving at Warren, who was warding him off with fireballs.
"Good. He spilled punch all over everything, though."
"So what are you up to right now?"
Sam smirked. "That's for me to know and you to find out."
The mass of vines covered almost the whole arena now, some tendrils trying to rise above the flames and others trying to capture Warren, who threw up a ring of fire around himself as well. Sam reached out his awareness toward Layla and Will, picking up their plans, seeing double vision of what was happening and what was just about to happen. Triple vision, actually, each of them and reality. It took a second for him to separate out the layers, but then he wasn't confused anymore. He tried sending some of it to Warren, but Warren didn't seem to handle it as well, stumbling and getting sluggish for a second, the flames going out around him so he almost got caught by Will. They'd have to work on that, and Sam left Warren alone again.
Instead he started broadcasting to Will and Layla, covering up where Warren really was with images of him being off just a little to the side. That seemed to work pretty well, as Sam watched vines and Will's hands miss narrowly until Warren restored the flames.
Layla glanced at the countdown, and Sam got another idea. He showed her the wrong numbers, making her think she had more time left. Then he adjusted the placement of the citizen as well as the clock for both her and Will.
He watched the citizen inch downward, knowing the two wannabe heroes saw it staying in place. Maybe…
Reaching out, Sam blanketed everyone in the room with his mind, over a hundred people. It wasn't any difficulty to make them all see the clock slow and the citizen safe. Only he and Warren could see the truth. He was definitely going to have to keep exploring what he could get from and put into people's minds, because this was awesome.
It was so easy it almost felt like cheating.
Warren looked over at Sam in complete confusion when the countdown hit ten and no one chanted along with it. Sam gave him a huge grin. Warren dodged one last attack by Will and then just stood there as Layla's vines wrapped around his arms.
"Got you!" Layla called out.
The timer went off with a noisy buzz as the citizen hit the metal spikes.
"What the HELL?" Coach Boomer shook the whole gym.
"Villains win," Sam answered, releasing everyone to stare in shock at the shredded and crunched citizen and the zeroes on the clock. The crowd was silent for an instant before erupting into cheers. Will landed next to Warren as all the flames died down and Layla's vines retreated, leaving Sam standing on the floor.
"What," Layla asked, shaking her head, "what did you do?"
"FOUL!" the coach yelled.
"Now, Sam Winchester," Principal Powers asked softly, "do you understand why what you did is against the rules?"
Flushing, Sam dropped his gaze to his lap and twisted his hands together. "It was unnecessary and manipulative. I invaded the minds of a lot of people who weren't really part of the game just to make a big scene."
"Exactly. All power brings responsibility, and mental powers bring special responsibilities. You have to be very careful that you don't accidentally cross the lines, especially now when your power is new and fresh. I've actually been expecting something like this from you."
"I'm sorry, I'm not trying to get into trou-"
"No." She cut him off, and he looked up to see her shaking her head, but she was smiling. "I was expecting your power to manifest further. You didn't talk about it the way you should." Sam stared at her, confused. "How do you feel now? Exhilarated, excited, like everything has suddenly fallen into place? What you can do is so natural, so perfect, that you just want to revel in it and use it all the time?"
"Some people are born with powers or develop them very early in childhood, but for most they appear during puberty. When you started here you were having the first stirrings of your power, but not the full blossoming. That's why you were so confused and embarrassed by it. Deep inside, you knew it wasn't right yet. It's possible that your power will still grow and develop in the future as you practice it, but you're over the threshold now."
Embarrassing as that sounded, it made sense, and Sam was starting to contemplate it when she continued.
"Have you seen the detention room yet?" Principal Powers smiled at him again as he choked. "No, I'm not actually giving you detention, I just want to show it to you."
The detention room was round and metallic, furnished only with a few desk chairs, and filled with a brilliant white light. As soon as they stepped inside Sam could feel his mind shrink down and close up when he hadn't even known it was open before.
"The detention room neutralizes all powers," the principal explained. "It can be very useful for learning the exact shape of your abilities. Your unusual background should be neither a handicap nor an excuse, understood? You may return to your class." Sam nodded mutely and started to leave, worrying again about what was in his file. Why would she mention his background like that? She wouldn't just let him go if she were suspicious, would she? He didn't manage to worry much, though, before his thoughts were derailed. As he was about to let the door close behind him she called after him again. "And Sam? Report to my office first thing tomorrow morning to pick up your new schedule. You're in the hero track now."
Sam's new first class the next day was social studies. He got to the room and a dark-haired guy standing by the door frowned at him, moving to block Sam's way as he tried to enter. Sam had seen him around before but had no idea who he was.
"Where do you think you're going, sidekick?"
Sam spread the paper out in the guy's face, straightening up to get all the extra few inches he had on him.
"I can't believe they keep trying to upgrade you losers." The guy glared.
"Please take your seats, students," Ms. Peters called from the blackboard. Sam slid past the guy into the classroom as he reluctantly gave way.
The same jerk walked past Sam and Warren after lunch as Sam was getting his books out of his locker.
"Sidekick," he hissed at Sam. Sam glowered after him, not wanting to get into anything, but Warren spun around.
"Michael Lash. That's a mighty high horse you're on for someone who almost didn't get asked back this year."
The guy turned back to them, sneering. "Screw you, Peace. Everyone still gives me crap for my brother, so why are they letting you off the hook for your daddy now?" All the other kids in the hall turned to stare.
Warren grinned sharp and vicious at him. "The average hero survives to retirement and lives happily ever after. The average villain tops out at a five year career, less if they're stupid, before getting life in prison. At least I know which side is winning."
The guy balled up his fists and Warren just glared frostily at him, Sam's gaze flicking back and forth between the two of them. Then he saw Principal Powers coming around the corner behind the guy.
"Go ahead," Warren continued, jerking his chin to indicate her. "I'll get detention and you'll get expelled."
The guy turned to look, kicked the locker next to Sam's, and stomped off past them and away from the principal. The crowd tried to pretend they weren't watching anymore.
Principal Powers came to a stop in front of Warren and Sam, arms crossed. Warren ran a hand nervously through his hair and Sam picked at the corner of the book he was holding. The principal sighed. "Well, Warren, even though it is preferable to use words rather than fireballs in such altercations, I think the better part of valor in this situation would have been to follow Sam's example and let it go."
"You're right, Principal Powers. I'm sorry."
"No, you're not," she responded, laughing. She looked at Sam. "Sam, you've fallen in with one of the most incorrigible students at this school, and if I were to be suggesting role models to you I could hardly suggest a better one."
Sam blinked, not sure if he'd heard the end of that right. "Better?" Warren draped his arm over Sam's shoulders, grinning now.
"I expect great things from this young man and his fellow band of troublemakers. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go give someone detention." Her heels clicked commandingly away as she headed in the direction the jerk had gone.
Warren tilted his head against Sam's once she was around the next corner. "Did you hear that? I should be your role model."
"Dream on." Sam smiled and gave Warren a little smack on the arm as he pulled away.
The scent of pancakes and bacon greeted Sam when he got out of the shower and he dressed quickly to get to breakfast. Dad was sitting at the little table reading the newspaper, with the TV news also playing.
"Morning," Dad said without looking up as Sam sat down. "Dean and I will be going out tonight. Do you have homework or will you join us?" Dean dropped a plate full of food in front of Sam and turned back to the stove.
"I've got-" Sam stopped and all three of them turned to look at the TV.
"-including infamous supervillain the Baron," the blonde newscaster said. "Regulators have declared the old building no longer up to code, and all prisoners are being transferred to a new facility with more advanced containment techniques. There are many difficulties inherent in confining supervillains. Here's historical expect Dolores Rodriguez to explain-"
The sound disappeared as Dad hit mute on the remote and the new woman on the TV screen moved her mouth futilely.
"Four consecutive life sentences is too good for that murdering superpowered bastard," Dad muttered, slapping the paper down. Dean murmured in agreement.
Sam bit his lip. There was no way he could mention that he knew the Baron's son, let alone anything else about Warren. He also couldn't say how stupid it was for Dad to put so much blame on someone who, despite all the horrible things he had done, wasn't actually responsible for Mom's death. Sam hadn't been saying much of anything about school to his family; he hadn't even told them that he'd been switched to hero track or how his powers had developed. They wouldn't understand.
"Those powers are just trouble," Dad continued.
Shoving his chair back with a loud scrape, Sam stood up. "Yeah, I do have homework. Good luck on patrol tonight." He grabbed his backpack up and stalked out the door and down the street, ignoring the rumbling in his stomach and Dean and Dad calling after him.
Pushing aside his books to make space, Sam rolled onto his back, staring up at the ceiling above Warren's bed. Warren was on the floor with papers spread out around him, muttering his way through the planning process for Homecoming. Sam stretched his arms, feeling his shoulders pop. His new law and ethics class and psychic powers class were both really interesting, but they added a lot to his homework load. He almost wished he hadn't already finished the geometry and mad science problem sets, because some nice clean numbers would be refreshing after all the stuff he was reading now. Instead he decided to take a break by pulling one of the space comics on Warren's bedside table out from under the volumes of romantic poetry and interleaved Taoist philosophy.
Warren looked up and grinned, then crawled onto the bed and straddled Sam's waist, lacing his hands through Sam's when Sam set the comic aside. "So my mom asked me if I'd actually asked you yet."
"Asked me what?" Sam tightened his fingers, sliding his hands higher above his head and forcing Warren to lean down closer.
Warren fluttered his eyelashes. "Sam, will you go to Homecoming with me?"
"I'll be busy all evening and won't be able to pick you up or maybe even spend a lot of time with you, though." Warren grimaced. "I hate this event."
"Tired of putting so much work into it?" Planning Homecoming was apparently one of the main duties of the student body president.
"No, I mean I really hate it. Ninth grade I didn't go. Then sophomore year my date hooked up with Will after his date tried to kill us all, and I ended up with Natasha."
"Wait, did you go with Layla?" Sam had heard the story of Royal Pain and the dance by now, but not that detail of it.
"Yeah, because she was trying to make Will notice her like that. Then last year, Tasha and I went together and broke up the next day." Warren dropped his head to Sam's neck, lips moving against Sam's pulse. "So I'm really hoping this year is comparatively boring."
Chapter 4: These Tracks Stretch Out Before
The crash of the door and the flash of light penetrated even through the shirt covering Sam's head, and he yanked it down the rest of the way to see Dean standing in the hall, disposable camera in hand, giving Sam a wink and a thumbs up. Sam slammed the door in his face and went back to getting dressed.
When he was done he went out into the living room, where Dean was sprawled on the sofa. Dad was at the station, which was probably the only reason Sam was even allowed to go to Homecoming at all. He really didn't think Dad would have let him skip patrol for it. They'd been giving each other the silent treatment a lot lately, with occasional breaks for arguments.
Face beaming with a foolish grin, Dean stood up. "Damn, Sammy. Yup, panties will drop all over the place." He circled Sam slowly while Sam shifted nervously, then stopped in front of him and moved closer even as Sam batted him away. Dean pulled out a little plastic box with two red rosebuds in it, taking one out and then sticking the box in Sam's pocket. He pinned the flower onto Sam's lapel, smoothing the front of his jacket down and straightening his tie needlessly, then ran his fingers back through Sam's hair while Sam scowled at him. "Here, since your date doesn't even have the class to pick you up." Sam just shook his head, because he'd already explained the situation to Dean, and then posed some more for Dean's photo shoot.
Dean insisted on waiting for the bus with Sam, standing around on the sidewalk in the surprisingly warm evening air.
"Go get 'im, tiger," Dean said when the bus came, smacking Sam on the ass as he climbed aboard. Sam clenched his jaw, face hot.
When Sam walked in, the auditorium had been transformed into an underwater fantasy with blue and green streamers and lights glittering everywhere and balloons shaped like fish floating around the ceiling. Sam saw Ethan on the dance floor with a girl he didn't know. He headed across the room to where Will, Layla, Zach, and Magenta were standing by the punch. Will was in a blue suit, Layla had on a pretty green dress, and Zach's yellow suit managed to almost not clash with Magenta's purple dress.
"Looking good," Magenta greeted him.
"Yeah, you do clean up nice," Layla added.
Zach shook his head. "Still not as stylin' as me."
Magenta slid her arm around Zach's waist. "No one is."
"You guys all look great," Sam answered.
"So do you," Warren's voice said behind him, deep and rough. Sam turned, breath catching. Warren was smiling softly at him, loose hair framing his face, perfectly fitted black tuxedo making him look both elegant and hot at once.
"Um. You… Wow," Sam managed to mumble. He fumbled in his pocket as Warren's grin took on a predatory edge. "This is for you." Warren slapped his forehead as Sam held out the rosebud.
"I knew I was forgetting something."
"That's okay. You've been busy." Sam totally left out the part where he hadn't even thought to do anything like that and had to be rescued by his stupid brother. He could hear Magenta giggling at them as he pinned the flower to Warren's jacket.
"I have to finish with the DJ and the refreshments, but then I'll be back for you." Warren kissed him fiercely for a moment and then hurried off. Sam stood around chatting with the others for a bit, watching Warren as he worked around the room, his resolution firming up. They all moved onto the floor after a while, the gang dancing in a circle, Sam trying not to look too pathetic.
A slow song finally started, and Natasha appeared, slipping her arms around Sam's neck and whirling him away. Her blue and white dress was cut very low and Sam had a great view of her cleavage every time he looked down at her. He tried not to stare too much. He could still feel all her curves, though, with his hands on her hips and her body pressed up against him.
Then Warren was there, resting his hand on Natasha's bare back as she winked at Sam.
"May I cut in?" he asked. Natasha nodded, leaning up to kiss Sam on the cheek, then pecking Warren on the corner of his mouth before walking away. Sam reached out to switch his hands from her waist to Warren's and knocked into Warren's arms as Warren reached for his waist. "Not that it matters," Warren laughed and wrapped his arms around Sam's shoulders. He frowned. "Have you gotten taller in the last month?"
Warren leaned in, pressing his cheek to Sam's jaw, breath warm against Sam's neck and ear, whole body close against him. Sam slid his hands tighter across Warren's lower back and closed his eyes, just barely swaying as they slowly turned in a tiny circle.
"If you end up taller than Zach, I'm not even going to look at you anymore."
"I guess I better lock up the shrink rays."
"I'm sure there are parts of you I wouldn't want to shrink," Warren whispered.
There was some kind of washing machine spin cycle happening in Sam's stomach. "You could investigate that." He couldn't even feel his mouth moving, just hear his voice vibrating in his skull, shaky and deep. "If you can drag yourself away from rearranging the chairs for a few moments to go somewhere and finally get past second base."
"I was talking about your brain, obviously." Warren nipped at Sam's earlobe. "But I might be able to sneak away."
They made it to the end of the song, Sam getting more and more nervous, feeling like he was going to shake apart. Then they slipped out and Warren led Sam down the hallway to one of the empty classrooms. Sam slid the bolt home on the door but neither of them turned the light on, leaving the room grey and shadowed.
Pressing Warren back against the wall, Sam kissed him deeply, hands cupping Warren's jaw. Warren's fingers were buried in Sam's hair, holding tight. Warren slid down a bit and pushed back up, his knee slipping between Sam's legs, his thigh rubbing against Sam, and Sam jerked even closer.
Sam dropped his hands, slid Warren's jacket down and yanked his tie off. Sam started undoing the top button of Warren's shirt, barely able to breathe as Warren stroked the nape of his neck. Warren's skin was soft under Sam's fingers, his muscles hard and smooth.
He reached the last button and spread the cloth wide, baring Warren's chest. Then Sam had to bury his flaming face in Warren's shoulder, unable to look anymore as he lowered his hands to Warren's hips, to the rough weave of his pants. Warren's hands slid up Sam's back, under his shirt, nails digging into his skin.
Sam sucked hard at the side of Warren's neck, pulling the skin between his teeth. His heart was beating so loud that he could barely think over it, could barely hear Warren murmuring his name, barely hear the shrieks and crashes-
They both froze.
"Damn it," Warren muttered. "After I graduate I am never coming home for Homecoming, ever." Then they were off and running, slamming though the door and pounding down the hall back toward the auditorium.
They stopped just outside the entrance.
The air in the doorway shimmered oddly. The room was lit with a blinding white glow, somehow familiar. A man stood in the middle of the room, his back to them, dressed in a red suit and cape, his dark curly hair shot with grey. His arms were raised, a white gauntlet on one wrist emitting the odd light. A red gauntlet was on his other wrist, and a ball of flame danced between his fingers.
Students and teachers cowered around the edges of the room, mostly unhurt, though a few were burned or crying. Sam wondered why no one had stopped the man, then realized where he'd seen that light before. It looked just like the detention room. He quickly sized up the casualties again, noticing that most of them were sidekicks, people who hadn't been trained to be so dependent on their powers. They had clearly been the ones to take initiative when deprived of those powers.
Trying to cast his mind into the room, Sam couldn't sense anything inside the light. The only person he could pick up on was Warren, and Warren was a whirl of conflicting images that overwhelmed Sam and made him pull back.
"Where's my son?!?" the man roared, tossing a fireball at the far wall and sending a bunch of streamers up in smoke. Sam hissed in sudden comprehension.
Straightening up beside him, Warren shook his hair back and tried to pull his shirt closed. "Right here," he called out.
The man spun to face them, and Sam got his first look at the Baron. His resemblance to Warren was clear: the same jawline and nose and eyes, except older and vicious, staring balefully at the two of them.
"I'll burn them all if you don't come with me," he said. Warren took a step toward the door and Sam grabbed at his arm. You didn't just give in to demands like that.
"Let go," Warren said, voice flat as he turned to look at Sam.
"Warren, no, at least tell him to release the hostages first, or-"
Warren's arms flamed up and he started walking again, but Sam didn't let go, tugging back and gritting his teeth against the heat, and he almost stopped Warren, but it was just another step to the doorway and they hit the glowing barrier. Sam's vision exploded in an oilslick of colors and Warren's fire went wild, expanding out of control, hot pain engulfing Sam's arms and face and throwing him down to the ground. He stared up at Warren's panicked expression for a moment and then everything went black.
When Sam woke up he was lying in a bed in a dim hospital room. His skin felt hot and tight, prickly, but it seemed oddly far away, like his mind was floating somewhere miles from the pain. Someone's head was resting against his side, and he tried to say something, but only a croak came out. His mouth felt too dry when he tried to lick his lips. Dean sat up immediately, eyes red-rimmed, and then he was leaning forward in his chair, propping Sam up and holding a glass of water to his lips as Sam gulped it desperately.
"They said-" Dean choked and continued. "They said the Baron and his son attacked your dance, and you were hurt."
Had Dean actually been crying? He'd seen Sam hurt worse than this before. But then, those times, Dean had been there when it happened, watching Sam's back and catching him when he fell. He'd never gotten a phone call from school, saying Sam was injured by their family's worst scapegoat.
"Where's Dad?" Sam managed to ask, though it scraped his throat. He finished off the last of the water. Dean set the glass down while Sam examined his hands, staring at the bandages covering them and the IV going into his right arm. His chest was wrapped as well under the hospital gown and there were pads on his cheeks and forehead.
"Out looking for the Baron. So are most of the heroes in the city, and a lot of cops."
"Dean-" Sam shifted his left arm over and Dean's hands closed around it, holding lightly. Dean looked so exhausted and worried. Sam glanced around for a clock, finding it on the table, and it was almost six in the morning. "You're wrong about one thing. Warren's not working with his father, he's been kidnapped."
Dean's chair scraped against the floor as he shoved away from the bed and stood up, pacing back and forth as Sam watched him. Dean finally came to a halt, arms crossed over his chest, and Sam was sure that if he weren't lying in a hospital bed Dean would have just decked him.
"Fuck, Sam, even if you were so hot to hook up with the kid of a supervillain couldn't you have at least picked a different one?"
"It's not like that. Warren's a good guy and he doesn't sympathize with his father at all. He only went with him to save everyone else at the dance." Sam tried to sound placating, but he couldn't stop anger from creeping into his voice.
"You sure about that?"
"I trust him. He hasn't ratted on us."
"You told him." Sam had heard Dean angry before, but that cold tone in his voice was completely new. His eyes were as blank and distant as if Sam was one of the criminals they caught, and all the pain in Sam's body seemed to rush in again, burning through him, warring with the ice water of Dean's rejection.
He wanted to be able to say that he hadn't done anything wrong, but instead he just shrank back into the pillows and whispered, "I'm sorry."
Dean leaned in and pressed the button on the side of Sam's bed, starting something flowing into his arm from the IV. "You're sitting this one out, Sammy. Dad and I will come back for you when it's done." Numbness spread through Sam's veins and he could feel himself sinking into sleep again as Dean closed the door.
The next time Sam woke up he was alone, and the golden pink glow of sunset was seeping in between the blinds. A fresh glass of water waited on the table beside the bed and Sam managed to press it between his two hands, even though that hurt, and lift it to his mouth to drink. The pain wasn't as bad overall, though. He could handle it.
Casting his mind out, Sam found Dad and Dean, learned that they were still searching the city. They didn't seem to have any leads, were just covering as much ground as possible. Sam couldn't find Warren or the Baron. That probably meant they were still inside the radius of the power neutralizer. He thought of someone else to check on, and tried to concentrate on Warren's mom. She was there, out on patrol with a few other heroes. That was good, that she was free, that she hadn't been caught or blamed for this. Sam knew how upset Warren would be if anything happened to her.
There was a knock on the door and a middle-aged nurse with a round face peered in. "Oh, good," she stated and walked through, closing the door behind her. "You're awake. How do you feel?"
"A little too well-done to be served anywhere respectable." Sam gave her his most innocent smile and wide eyes. "Could I have more water, please?"
She refilled his glass from the tap and set it back on his table, then started to check the bandages on his hands.
Sam knew he had to get away from here. He was sure he could sneak out of the hospital, but then what? How would he get anywhere else? First he had to figure out where he was. He twitched as the nurse fastened the bandage back up and it rubbed the burns.
"Is there anything else you need, sweetheart?" she asked, stepping back.
Sam closed his eyes and sighed, trying to look as young and hurt as possible. "What hospital is this?"
"Memorial." She frowned at him ruefully. "Your father and brother were here most of the night. I'm sure they'll be back as soon as they can."
"Okay." Sam nodded. "I think I'll try to rest more. I'm still tired."
"Just buzz if you need anything." She left and Sam settled down to figure out his next move.
Memorial was a ways out of the city, not on any of the bus routes that went near his house. Getting back from here was going to be difficult. Maybe he could ask Will to fly him? He might not- Then Sam remembered that Natasha had a car. She'd pick him up. If it was still visiting hours and they'd even let her in.
And if he could reach her. He didn't know her phone number.
Sam had never tried to reach Natasha mentally before, but she knew he could do it, so he hoped she'd understand. He reached out until he found her, apparently trying to do homework but mostly seeming muddled and worried. He sent her the image of getting in her car and driving to the hospital, a clear visual of the hospital's name, and her coming inside and meeting Sam. Nothing happened, so he tried again. This time the image in her mind was a plan to follow his directions.
It took a while for her to actually show, and the minutes crept by, but finally she opened the door.
"Sam!" She rushed in, clearly stopping herself from hugging him at the last minute, and he grinned.
"So you got my message."
"Totally confused me at first. You're not looking so great." She sat down in the chair next to his bed, putting her hand on his shoulder.
"I don't feel so great, either. What happened after I went down?"
"Warren was frantic." She sighed. "His dad made everyone get in one corner and he dragged Warren out. No one could really go after them, and a lot of people didn't even want to try. You and the other injuries got taken care of and everyone else was sent home. All the heroes are out searching now, though. Some people think Warren's a victim and some think he's an accomplice."
"Apparently they told my family that the Baron and his son attacked the school together. My brother flipped when I said that meant Warren and wouldn't listen to the rest of the explanation." Sam always felt awkward saying anything about his family, because it required so much translating and lying.
"Oh, Sam. They'll come around. Principal Powers is doing her best to squash the rumors." She patted him gently.
"Can you take me home? He left me here and I can't stand it."
"Sam, you can't just-"
"I totally can sneak out of here. If you'll drive me home."
Natasha stared at him sharply, blue eyes worried. "And you'll stay at home? You're in no shape to go running around trying to get yourself killed."
"Promise," Sam answered with all false earnestness. Maybe one day he'd stop lying to his friends, but not today.
He pulled the IV out and she supported him as he stood up. When he leaned forward to gather up the sheet the hospital gown gaped in the back. Natasha grinned and Sam blushed hot.
"Hey, I never said Warren had bad taste." She laughed as he hurriedly threw the sheet around himself. "Not about that, at least." Sam tried to push away his embarrassment. She wrapped her arm around his waist and he hung on to her shoulders. Her hands felt cool against his skin. "We used to argue about pretty much everything when we were going out. We get along a lot better now."
"That's what he said, too."
"Proof positive. So how are we doing this?"
"Just walk. They'll only see you, not me."
It was easy as pie to project that image into the minds of everyone they passed, Natasha walking down the hall by herself, nothing suspicious about her. No one stopped them or even looked twice as they headed outside to her car.
Sam thanked her profusely when she dropped him off at his house and promised again that he'd go straight to bed and rest up. This time he was the one to kiss her cheek before she waved to him and pulled out.
Sam had to hurry and leave in case Dad and Dean came back, but everything was slow and awkward and frustrating with his hands wrapped up. He poured himself some juice and cereal, but he didn't want to take any more painkillers, because he wasn't actually sure what he'd been given at the hospital. Taking the food into his room, Sam examined himself in the mirror, slowly peeling the pads off his face. His eyebrows and bangs were frazzled and crisped away. The skin was red and tight, but not opened or oozing, so he should be okay. His right hand was the same, but the left was raw, layers taken off. He didn't bother with his chest because that bandage wasn't in the way at all. He put more ointment on both hands and his face, then tried to wrap his hands in a way that protected them as much as possible while still leaving flexibility. His costume gloves went over the bandages, thin soft leather for more protection.
He struggled into boxers and jeans, then socks and a t-shirt, finishing off his food inbetween. As a hero-in-training he was legitimately allowed to battle a supervillain when necessary, and there would be enough heroes around that he didn't want to be caught in his Hound costume. He really hoped Dad and Dean were being careful. The last thing he needed now was for them to get arrested. A hoodie topped off the outfit, hood pulled up over his head for some camouflage. Lacing up his sneakers was a chore and a half, and Sam groaned, feeling pathetic. He managed to put his tool belt on, hidden under his shirt, but he wasn't sure how much of it he'd actually be able to use.
The Impala was gone, of course, and Sam trudged down the street toward the city bus stop, with no idea where to actually search. Maybe he should have tried to keep Natasha around. Or he could get in touch with Will. Or Warren's mom? No, there really weren't any grown-ups who'd let him try to do anything, not in the state he was in currently.
The sun was down, night settling in, and Sam sat at the bus stop, swinging his legs and keeping his mind open, constantly reaching for any hint of Warren or the Baron. When the bus came he paid and got on, riding the downtown route in circles for over an hour. As the miles ticked off, Sam grew more and more desperate. His skin got hot and itchy again and his bladder started to feel uncomfortable.
Suddenly there was a tickle inside his mind, nothing clear, like the view through wavy glass, just vague colors that hardly even formed shapes, but it definitely felt like Warren. Just an instant, and then it was gone. Sam pulled the cord and jumped off the bus.
It was the middle of downtown, skyscrapers everywhere, lots of banks and financial and legal offices. City Hall was nearby, Sam knew, and the art museum. If only he hadn't been injured so soon last time. It would help if he had any idea what the Baron wanted, if he'd just come for Warren, if he wanted to steal money, if he wanted to get revenge on anyone in particular.
Actually, Sam did know who ought to top the revenge list. But this was nowhere near Will's house.
Even though it was dark and most of the buildings were closed, the streets were still full of people. Sam was open enough that their minds jostled his as they passed in addition to their shoulders, and he kept seeing flashes of their errands, going home for dinner, going out to see a show, meeting for business deals or illicit affairs. A police car drove by slowly, lights and sirens off, cruising normally.
The building up ahead on the corner had a news ticker and Sam watched the streaming letters as they told him about the stock market, then switched. Manhunt continues for escaped supervillain the Baron. All citizens are warned that he is considered armed and dangerous. No one in the crowd seemed to notice, all of them just continuing about their business, living their normal lives among the big city lights. Sam felt more alone on this patrol than he ever had wandering around deserted alleys.
Sam turned the corner, randomly heading down another street. He started broadcasting as strongly as he could in all directions, tuned to Warren, an image of Warren stepping out of the white light, doing whatever it took to get away where Sam could sense him. A few seconds was all he'd need.
The answering vision a few minutes later almost bowled him over, leaving him collapsing against the wall beside him. A woman glanced at him in annoyance but kept walking past as Sam pushed himself upright.
That was a picture of the bank next to City Hall. Sam turned around and started running back the way he'd come, slipping through the crowd as fast as he could.
The bank looked calm and unmolested when he got there, closed up for the night. Sam peered through the broad windows lining the street and saw dim lights and two bored-looking security guards standing inside the lobby next to the door. He wiped himself out from the minds of the guards and the people on the street and started picking the lock. It took twice as long as it should have, his fingers clumsy and itching. Finally it gave way to him and he opened the door as quietly as possible, sliding inside. He didn't hear any alarms go off, which was good. Sam crept across the marble floor to the far side of the lobby, hiding in a corner behind a pillar and a potted tree.
A few minutes later there was a commotion outside and the front doors exploded inward in a blast of flame, throwing both the guards back. They slumped to the floor, unconscious and badly burned from what Sam could see. He winced in sympathy, but then focused on the strange white glow visible through the shattered glass. Warren was the first person to enter, his hands cuffed in front of him. He saw the guards and frowned, trying to go toward them. The Baron came in behind Warren, fire dancing along his fingers, gauntlets still around his wrists, and Warren stopped moving.
Sam had been thinking about it, and he was pretty sure that the red gauntlet was the reason the Baron could still use his powers. A kind of counteraction to the power-suppressing white gauntlet, although Sam had no idea how that would work.
The white light spread through the room, and Sam could feel his mind closing down as he tried to throw another message to Warren. The pain in his hands and face got even stronger. Police sirens wailed in the distance, quickly growing closer.
The Baron blasted open the heavy doors to the bank vault in back and pointed to the smoking opening. "Start packing up the money," he ordered to Warren.
That was when the alarm started, regular high-pitched beeps, and the fire sprinklers went off, drenching the whole room. Sam winced, sheltering closer under the potted tree, and pressed his hands over his ears. Warren looked pissed, rattling the cuffs around his wrists. He said something Sam couldn't hear, but the Baron just kept pointing, and finally Warren disappeared inside the vault. Sam could see a number of police cars gathering outside the bank now, officers shooing away civilians and drawing their weapons, the lights and sirens magnifying the chaos inside the bank.
"Come out with your hands up!" an amplified voice boomed, and the Baron lifted an arm, fireball at the ready.
It was definitely time to do something. Sam pulled out a handful of throwing knives, wincing at the pressure on his fingers, and tossed one at the red gauntlet on the Baron's upraised arm. It missed by a mile, clattering to the floor on the other side of the lobby. The Baron turned toward where Sam was hiding.
Something burst through the upper window of the bank and shards of glass showered everywhere. Sam looked up, identifying the intruders just before they plummeted to the ground in a flash of white light. The Commander and Jetstream, Will's parents, hit the floor with a sickening crunch.
The Baron turned back to them, grin wide and cruel, fireball in his hand blossoming even bigger.
Warren dashed out of the vault, off balance from the cuffs, slipping and skidding on the marble floor. "Dad, no!"
This time Sam's knife hit the red gauntlet straight on, shattering the controls. The Baron's fireball exploded, engulfing him with a roar. He collapsed to the floor as Warren slid to a stop beside him. Warren fumbled at the white gauntlet and it shut off, the room suddenly growing much dimmer. Sam breathed a sigh of relief when the cotton balls in his head disappeared and the sharp pulsing behind his eyes stopped.
There was a groan on the other side of the room, and the Commander and Jetstream moved feebly. Warren pressed his fingers to his father's neck, bending low over him. Sam couldn't tell from the mix of relief and anger on his face what the verdict was. He personally wasn't going to mourn much if the Baron didn't survive that explosion. Unless Warren needed him to.
A flash of motion in the corner of his eye caught his attention, and he glanced up toward the skylight of the building to see Dad and Dean there, in costume, looking down at the scene. They noticed him, Dad frowning and giving Sam the hand signal to meet back at the car. Then he and Dean turned and faded away into the dark as police officers started to pour in the front door of the bank. Sam knew Dad would be upset to have arrived too late to do anything. He also knew that he was in for a major fight now, that Dad wasn't going to appreciate anything Sam had done.
Even though he wouldn't be arrested for being here, Sam just couldn't bring himself to face the cops and deal with their questions. Old habits died hard. He blanked himself and his two knives out for everyone but Warren, laying his finger over his lips and creeping out. Warren bit his lip and stared at Sam desperately, then surreptitiously slid the knife across the floor to him. Sam slunk around the outside of the room, gathering up both knives from the floor and slipping out the door past the hordes of cops running in. Once he was beyond the barriers and into the crowd of spectators he let himself be seen again, pressing up front where he had a good view.
Five gurneys were loaded into the ambulances.
No body bags.
Sam told himself that was good. It wasn't actually very difficult to reach that conclusion, because deep down he knew he would have felt really guilty if he'd caused someone's death. He just couldn't quite admit to himself how very relieved he was.
Warren was led out and questioned by the cops just outside the door of the bank. He had a blanket wrapped around his shoulders, and under the blanket he was wearing the same suit pants and shirt from the dance. Sam only now had time to process how rumpled and dirty the shirt was, no longer crisp and white, the sleeves burned short. Warren looked exhausted, his eyes bruised dark and his hair lank. He wasn't cuffed anymore, though, so the cops must not be blaming him for anything.
Sam moved closer, trying to hear what they were saying. Warren caught sight of him, his gaze locking on Sam's and his voice raising. "I don't know what happened then, I was in the vault. I came out when I heard the crash, and it must have malfunctioned so that he lost control. They weren't quality, they were just jury-rigged."
"Son," one of the officers said, and Warren winced, "do you know much about how these things work?"
Warren straightened up, pulling the blanket closer. "I think I'm done talking until you get some proper authorities in here. According to Section 67-4 this arrest is under my jurisdiction rather than yours, and I've shared as much of my investigation with you as I want to now."
"Yes, he can," the other cop said, putting her hand on her colleague's arm. Sam grinned at Warren. He'd never heard of that section of the Superpowers Regulation Act, but he was already looking forward to studying it eventually.
Warren nodded to her stiffly, handing her the blanket. "Thank you. You've all been very helpful in this case." He turned and walked toward Sam. "Can you get us out of here?" he murmured once he was at the barrier, and Sam nodded. He led Warren through the crowd, making everyone ignore them and the cops not notice which way they'd gone. Eventually they reached a much more deserted street and turned down it. Sam pulled Warren into the vestibule of a closed building, invisible to everyone walking past.
They leaned back against opposite sides of the doorway. Warren reached out, fingers just brushing the charred tips of Sam's hair and then dropping away. He looked down at the ground. "Sam," he whispered. "I burned you." His face was in shadows, the smoky glow of the streetlight only illuminating their legs.
Sam stuffed his hands into his pockets. "I almost killed your father." He could barely get the words out through his dry throat.
"You were trying to save everyone. Otherwise you would have aimed somewhere else."
The fact that Warren automatically trusted his aim made Sam's throat even drier.
"Thanks for covering for me," Sam said when he could talk again.
"Thanks for rescuing me."
"I think I hate Homecoming now, too."
"Skip it next year."
There was a long pause.
Finally Sam coughed. "I have to catch up with my family. They were on the roof." They were in the first downtown quadrant now, so the Impala ought to be in the big parking garage two blocks over.
Warren looked up. "I'll split."
"No, come with." Sam watched Warren glance out at the street for a moment and then nod.
The car was right where Sam expected, in a deserted corner on the top floor of the garage. Dean sat on the hood, drumming his fingernails against the metal. He'd put on jeans and a buttoned-up flannel shirt, probably over his costume because the brown boots were the same, but the mask and ears were gone. He jumped down the instant he saw Sam and took a step forward. He didn't look pleased.
"Get in the car, Sam." Dean pointed at Warren, eyes narrowed. "And you better get out of here now before Dad gets back."
Sam shook his head, reaching out and squeezing Warren's hand despite the sting. "Dad!" he yelled. "Hey, Dad! This is my boyfriend Warren and he already knows all about you!"
"Fuck, Sammy," Dean complained, almost drowning out Warren's soft, "Sam…"
Dad appeared out of the shadows in the stairwell. His cape and mask were gone, leaving him in reasonably normal-looking grey camo. His face was completely blank, which meant Sam had never seen him so angry before. "You lied to me, Sam," he grit out. "I should never have let you go to that school. You disobeyed orders and you lied to me when I saw this- this boy before. I won't have you endangering us all any further."
Sam opened his mouth to answer but Warren beat him to it. "With all due respect, sir," Warren said, though his tone implied that wasn't much, "my father didn't kill your wife and I most certainly did not. You, rather than him, are the one who made your children criminals in the eyes of the law." Dad stepped closer but Warren didn't flinch. "I actually approve of what you do, though. See you Monday, Sam." He gave Sam a tiny smile and turned to walk away.
Crossing his arms over his chest, Sam glared at Dad.
"Get in the car," Dad growled. "From now on, you're grounded except for school and patrols."
Sam got in the car sullenly. He wasn't even going to dignify that with a response. He had apologized to Dean earlier, but there was no damn way he'd apologize to Dad for this. Dad ought to be proud of what Sam had done. He'd saved the day.
Chapter 5: These Tracks Stretch Out Before
When Sam got up Monday morning and headed into the kitchenette, Dean was the only one there. "Where's Dad?" Sam asked as Dean handed him scrambled eggs and cereal.
"On patrol." Sam raised an eyebrow. Dad never went on patrol first thing in the morning. "Eat up and then I'm taking you to school." Dean turned back to the sink and the dish washing. His shoulders slowly inched upward as Sam stared at him in confusion. Dean couldn't possibly take him to a school that floated above the city. "You're going to Maxville High now," Dean finally mumbled. "Dad already called them. He doesn't want you hanging out with the superfriends anymore."
"Dean!" Sam put his food down on the table and moved over to stand next to Dean, who didn't look at him. Sam leaned forward over the counter, tilting in, trying to get Dean to focus on him. "He's not here. Just let me get on the bus, you don't have to-"
"Dad's orders." Dean sloshed the water around, viciously sudsing up a glass. His voice sounded brittle.
Sam wrinkled his nose. "Look where we'd all be if Warren thought like that."
"Don't you dare, Sam," Dean hissed, his fingers tightening until the knuckles went white, and Sam thought for a second that the glass would break.
Sam didn't know what to say to convince him. He'd never had to convince Dean before, never had Dean stonewall him like this when he really wanted something. Sam's heart raced. "Please. Dean, they switched me to the hero track. You know the vision I had that you saw? My powers got stronger. I can see people's plans. I can do this now." He sent Dean an image of himself getting on the Sky High bus, Dean waving goodbye to him from the door.
Dean finally looked over at him, but his eyes were still cold. "What does it matter? You don't really want to be a superhero anyway. You hate what we do."
"I don't- I don't hate it." Dean shook his head at that and Sam continued, leaning in closer. "I've got these powers no matter what, I have to learn how to use them and control them." Dean kept frowning. Sam knew he was on the wrong track. "I think- I think I want to be a politician or a lawyer. Really be able to change things, help people, not just stand by if the FBI comes for you and Dad."
"Help people, huh?" Dean was looking down at the dishwater again, but Sam nodded anyway. Dean sighed. "Finish your breakfast. Then I'm driving you to Maxville High."
The food was an uncomfortable lump in Sam's belly all the way there. He'd left Warren's essay on the table, telling Dean to read it and to show it to Dad, but he wasn't sure if that would do any good.
"Meet me back here right after school!" Dean yelled as Sam got out of the car and joined the throng of kids streaming in the school gates. Sam hunched his shoulders and didn't wave or say anything in return.
As soon as he was through the gate and out of Dean's sight Sam wandered away from the crowd, quickly cutting around the corner of the huge brick building and jogging to the back of it. He stared up at the roof, flexing his bandaged fingers and beginning to climb, ignoring how much it hurt. Once at the top he sank down to sit on the gravel that covered the roof, leaning against the low surrounding wall and kicking his backpack in front of him.
He sent a message to Warren, made sure it was received, and then waited. The next ten minutes ticked by painful and slow, with nothing for Sam to think about but the stinging in his hands and the way Dean had looked at him.
Finally a speck appeared in the sky, resolving into Will and Warren as it swooped down.
"Hurry up," Will said, hovering just above the gravel. "I can't be late for second period math again."
Sam looped his backpack over both his shoulders and threw an arm around Will's neck, wrapping his fingers around Warren's arm, as Will grabbed his waist and took off. The school dropped away below them, the whole city quickly spreading out in miniature. It should have been exhilarating but Sam couldn't appreciate it. The wind was harsh and abrasive against his face.
"So what's going on?" Will asked, yelling past the wind.
"My dad doesn't want me going to Sky High anymore," Sam answered. "He thinks it's too dangerous."
Will shrugged. "Well, I'm glad you're back. It's where you belong."
"How, uh, how are your parents?" As soon as he asked Sam somehow felt guilty about them as well, even though he couldn't see how it was at all his fault.
"They'll be fine." Will tried to laugh, but it didn't come out right. "Dad's pretty hard-headed, and he kinda cushioned Mom's fall."
"What about your mom?" Sam rubbed at Warren's arm.
"Furious. I think she might remarry my father just so she could divorce him all over again."
"I like your mom," Will said, and Sam nodded.
They burst through a last layer of cloud and the school platform floated just ahead. Will dropped Warren and Sam off on the front lawn and zipped inside. Sam stood there awkwardly, tugging the straps of his backpack and staring at Warren, just a few feet away.
"You okay?" Warren asked.
That made it better, somehow, but Sam still didn't know what to do or say next.
Warren jerked his head. "I should get to class."
It was probably the most inappropriate thing in the world to think of right now, but Sam pushed Warren back against the stone pillar of the school sign and kissed him. Warren's chest felt warm under Sam's palms, even through the layers of bandages and clothing, and he opened his mouth to the kiss. Sam was suddenly glad that they'd been interrupted at the dance, because this, this made him feel right rather than nervous, and he didn't want that to change. He might want to do more eventually, but draw it out, make it good. They ought to talk about it.
Warren's arms wrapped around his shoulders, and Sam left off sucking on his tongue and moved down to nip at his neck. "Whatever." Warren's throat rumbled under Sam's teeth. "It's just history. They're all dead already, nothing I can do for them."
Sam pulled back, giddy-light with relief, flashing his best evil smirk. "I should go, I have mad science. I like that one." He started walking backward.
"You better run, at that," Warren called after him, and a fireball splattered on the path, nowhere near Sam. Sam turned and sprinted up the steps to the school, laughing.
The rest of the day was weirdly normal, for the most part. Dad apparently hadn't bothered to tell the school that he was pulling Sam out, so the only thing Sam got in trouble for was missing first period. No one but Warren knew that Sam had been there to catch the Baron. The attack at Homecoming was the talk of the school, except when Warren was around. A little bubble of silence followed him through the halls as he scowled at everyone.
At lunch everyone fussed over Sam's burns. Magenta asked him how much they hurt, Zach asked him if he'd had a cute nurse at the hospital, and Layla offered to give him a bunch of aloe plants. Warren climbed on Sam's lap and tried to spoon-feed him until Sam pushed him off onto the floor and the rest of the gang cracked up.
On his way to catch the bus a flyer on the bulletin board caught Sam's eyes and he pulled it down and folded it up to stuff in his pocket.
Dean was sitting on the front stoop when Sam got home. It was entirely possible that his face was just stuck in that scowl now and Sam would never see him with another expression again. He didn't move as Sam walked up and stepped past him, didn't speak until Sam's hand was on the doorknob.
"Where were you all day?" Dean asked quietly.
"At school." Sam ducked inside and Dean followed him in. Sam dropped his backpack on the floor by the sofa. "At Sky High." Not that it hadn't already been obvious, what with getting off the school bus just now. "Where I study a rigorous curriculum of the arts and sciences as well as my superpowers."
"You disobeyed Dad's orders." Dean's voice was still too quiet.
Sam spun around, pushing right up in Dean's face, pulsing hot with anger. "Is that all you ever talk about?"
"What do you want me to talk about?"
"I took down the Baron!" Sam threw up his hands in exasperation and Dean caught him around the wrists, gentle but firm.
"I know, I saw. You were great." The scowl was slipping off Dean's face, replaced by a soft smile, but his green eyes were still distant. "Probably working that psychic mojo, combining it with our techniques, pushing through the injury. It was a good job. But you shouldn't have been in the middle of it. And you shouldn't have told anyone about the family business."
Sam could have argued that Warren had figured it out for himself, but that wouldn't help. There were lessons to be learned from that security breach. They could wait. Best to let Dean think for now that Sam had actually made a decision about it. His anger was deflating, leaving him unsure how to respond.
The door to Dad's room opened and closed, and Sam's anger flared again.
"Dean," Dad said. "Don't encourage him."
Dean let go and Sam turned to face Dad.
Dad still looked cold and blank with fury. "Sam, Dean's told me everything he knows about what you've been up to recently." He held up a sheaf of papers. "And I read this. It doesn't make any difference." Dad ripped Warren's essay in two, dropping the pieces to the ground. "I knew it was a mistake to let you go to that school. It's too dangerous. You're not attending it anymore and I don't want you associating with any heroes again. Or villains."
Drawing himself up to his full height, Sam tried to look as cold and unmoving as Dad did. "You can't stop me. They haven't rescinded either my admission or my financial aid and according to school policy they won't unless I get kicked out."
"If you won't agree to obey my rules, we'll be moving again."
Technically Sam could attend Sky High from anywhere in the country, but that wasn't the point at all. The point was that he was sick and tired of Dad acting as if he owned Sam's life, as if Sam were just another version of him or an item in his tool belt. Move here, move there, go on patrol, wear this costume, follow orders. "Feel free. I'm not going with you. I've got friends who'll let me stay with them." He wasn't actually completely sure about that, but he said it anyway. This wasn't about his friends, or his powers. This was about having the freedom to make his own choices and control his own life.
Dad's grimace was darker than his beard. "Dean, start packing. Just stick Sammy's stuff in with yours."
Sam's stomach twisted up. He wasn't actually sure if he could go through with this.
Dean just stood there.
"No, sir," Dean said.
"What?" Dad sounded as shocked as Sam felt. Sam didn't remember ever hearing Dean say that before.
"No, sir," Dean repeated. He was staring at his feet, hands clenched together in front of him. "You're not gonna win this one. You're gonna drive Sam away. I can't- I can't let that happen." Sam reached out to touch Dean's shoulder and Dean flinched back, head dropping even lower.
The unexpected motion was like a cold spike through Sam's belly. He bit his lip as his heart pounded, looking up at Dad, who was staring at Dean as if he'd never seen him before, weighing him like the criminals they caught.
"I'll think about it," Dad finally said. He paused for a moment with his mouth still slightly open, then closed it, shook his head, and disappeared back into his room. Dean's shoulders slumped like he'd just been released from bonds that were holding him upright. He walked into the kitchenette and leaned forward against the counter. Sam went and stood next to him, facing the other way, the edge of the counter biting into the backs of his thighs.
Pulling the flyer from school out of his pocket, Sam unfolded it and reread it before handing it to Dean. Wanted: assistant bus driver and mechanic, it said.
"For your flying buses?" Dean asked, his voice rough, eyeing it suspiciously. Sam nodded. Dean snorted and set the paper down to open the cupboard. "What do you want for dinner? Your options are spaghetti or spaghetti."
Sam tilted in a little closer, his shoulder touching Dean's. "Actually, what I'd really like is some spaghetti."
"Always so demanding, Sammy," Dean grumbled. Then he laughed. The sound of it made Sam grin with relief. The cold, twisted feeling in his chest smoothed out. He leaned into Dean more firmly, resting his head against the soft spikes of Dean's hair. "Get off me, you freak," Dean complained, but he didn't move away.
Sam was perfectly content not to go anywhere.
Chapter 6: Bonus Art
Finally adding the art that I originally made to go with this fic.