It had taken several years but the world had eventually forgotten about the son of The Commander and Jetstream. They recognized his name if he bothered to introduce himself but beyond that he was unrecognizable, for which he was grateful. It was certainly a welcome change from the persecution that he had faced at Sky High.
Even if he had wanted the recognition of being his parents son he wouldn't have dared to expose himself. It would have been as good as a death sentence. Will hadn't seen them, really seen them (seeing them on the news didn't count) for eight months. Eight months and there was nothing to connect him to the memory of Will Stronghold or to the Legion of Superheroes except perhaps the fact that the flowers on his windowsill never stopped blooming. Every morning the first thing he would do was go check that they were still alive, brushing his fingers over their petals.
He dreaded that one day he might wake to find them dead.
Will worked as a messenger boy. Threading his bicycle through morning traffic with his cap pulled down over his eyes he was almost invisible to the watchers. Today he was carrying a legal document to the Fortress of Dread. The first time he'd delivered there was four months ago and he'd done so with his heart in his mouth, certain that he'd be recognized. But no one ever had ever done so. Since then he'd been there six or seven times and gotten adventurous enough to flirt with the secretary. She was the only one he ever saw. His fears of seeing Lady Peace or worse Baron Battle, had been replaced with complacency. Which is why it was such a shock when he ran into Warren Peace.
Literally ran into. He was back on his feet in a moment, looking deliberately into Warren's eyes. Warren might not recognize him. Sky High had been a long time ago.
Warren was still as darkly handsome as he'd been back at school but his face was thinner, high cheekbones more exposed, and his hair was short, uncolored. Ironically he'd looked more like a villain then than now. If Will hadn't seen him on TV almost every day for the past two years he might not even have recognized him himself.
Warren's pouty lips were turning down at the edges. He slowly brought his arm up and ran his fingers down Will's jaw, frown turning thoughtful.
Will leaned forward into the fingers and heard Warren draw his breath in sharply. The fingers on his jaw turned tight and Warren's eyes widened for a moment, only a second and then he closed down, mouth flat and eyes hooded.
There was a hearty laugh from behind Will; he flinched and Warren's fingers immediately dropped.
"Playing with the help, son?" Baron Battle stepped around Will and put his hand on Warren's shoulder.
They were remarkably similar, but Battle's face was longer, less well put together, and his presence suffocated. Warren had a sleek, dangerous quality, a tiger waiting to strike. Baron Battle gave off the impression that the tiger had already struck and taken everything there was to take. He stole all sense of self.
For a moment Will knew nothing, only that he was consumed.
Then the moment was over, Battle turning away, Warren muttering petulantly as he passed.
Will took the opportunity to gather his wits and shifted his weight back on his heels.
Warren's attention snapped back to him in a heartbeat, eyes pinning him in place.
Will froze, held for a moment to gather himself and then opened his mouth to speak.
Warren abruptly surged forward, grabbing Will's hand and sweeping him along in a flurry of motion toward the exit.
Will almost tripped as he twisted around to follow down the hallway and out the door.
Warren stopped in the vestibule and dropped Will's hand , shoving him up against the wall and stared at him.
Will stared back.
Finally Warren pushed away with an irritated hiss and folded his arms. "What are you doing here, Stronghold?"
Will let himself lean against the wall. "What I have to do."
Warren snorted, his eyes narrowing. "Bullshit. Go back to your girlfriend, sidekick. Move out to the country, grow plants, stay far away from the Fortress. Maybe you'll survive."
He turned away to open the door and Will moved fast, hardly even realizing what he was doing until he had his hand on Warren's arm, restraining him, as if he could ever restrain him, but Warren stopped, stopped when Will said no.
"No. I can't. I have to do this, it's who I am and I won't stop. Who are you Warren? Do you have to do this?" He spread his other hand palm out, indicating the building.
Warren looked at him without expression. "This won't work."
"Maybe not," said Will, "But I'm going to keep on trying. I'm going to keep coming every week and the only way you can stop me is to turn me in. Are you going to do that, Warren?"
Warren glared and flame crackled in his palms. "That's not the only way I could stop you."
Will held his eyes, moved his hand slowly down Warren's arm and said softly, "I don't believe you." He put his hand in Warren's.
The flames died an instant before their palms touched, dry skin on skin. Will could feel his pulse surging between their hands. He licked his lips.
It was silent for a long moment, Warren's mouth quivering with indecision, his brows furrowed. Finally he sighed and leaned against the door, smiling ruefully at Will.
Will watched, entranced. He'd never seen Warren smile before.
"Goddamn it, Stronghold, you always were too brave for your own good. I'm not making any promises." But he squeezed their hands as he said it, fingers stroking the back of Will's hand delicately.
Will closed his eyes in relief and let out a shaky sigh. He hadn't been entirely sure that it would work, that the Warren Peace who'd protected him from bullies back in school would still protect him here. No one else had believed that it was even possible, but Will had stubbornly insisted, had grasped on to the shred of hope within him and fed it with memories and dreams. And now he was proved right. When push came to shove Warren would always be on his side.