After two years of working together with his partner, Brad Colbert knows almost every little idiosyncrasy about him. For example, Nate Fick likes to make color-coded lists. He lists the possible entrances into the places where they are going, all possible egresses, what he needs to improve. He lists the different training sessions that he and Brad endure, color-coding them according to how much he needs to improve and how much he hates or likes them. Brad doesn’t know how he does it, always scribbling in the little black notebook that he carries everywhere, but it’s just another quirk of Nate’s.
“Enemy shooter on your six,” Nate says evenly over the comms as Brad swivels around to shoot behind him. That’s the other thing about Nate—no matter what the situation, he remains cool over the comms, unlike some of the other Heroes they work with. Sometimes Nate’s so cool under pressure that Brad feels like they should call him the Iceman. They call Nate LT instead, lieutenant, for his penchant to give orders that make sense, to growl out commands in what Brad privately thinks of as Nate’s officer voice.
It’s Brad who’s called the Iceman, a nickname he picked up before Nate arrived, from his days as a Marine long before he became a Hero. Most days he doesn’t think about that but he’d be hard pressed to deny that his Corps training shaped him as a Hero, that one of the reasons he’s so good at saving people is because he was trained as a Recon Marine before any of the NEXTs started emerging. Not surprisingly—or perhaps surprisingly, depending on how you look at it—many of the marines from his platoon ended up having NEXT powers, which explains why all of their comms are so saturated with military jargon, even when they’re working for a civilian corporation that thrives on commercializing Heroes and their good deeds.
Right now Brad is trying to stop a series of bank robbers from blowing up Goliath National Bank while wearing a huge Bank of America logo on his chest. Just another typical day as a Hero.
“Roger that, LT,” he says when his targets have been eliminated. “Once more into the breach.” GNB lives up to its name—it’s a huge bank and right now their main targets are on the bottom floor, trying to set up C4 around the support beams, if their intel is to be trusted. What they want to do after they bring the entire building down around their ears is not something that Brad understands or even cares about. He just goes where the action is.
When they reach the basement, it’s easy enough to find the C4, sitting in the center of the room, but there is no one around. “No visual on enemy targets. Is the building secured and clear?” Brad sends out a call to the head producer, someone they all secretly call Encino Man, given his brutish looks and his sole focus on ratings—mostly at the expense of anything else.
“We got all the civilians out, but there’s probably so much C4 that the 1 mile radius isn’t going to be enough and you guys are still in there.” The last half of the message is delivered in Encino Man’s usual flair for stating the obvious.
“And the enemy combatants?”
“No other vital signs in the building other than yours and Fick’s. This is some good stuff; ratings are going sky high right now. Everyone is tuning in to see how you’ll escape this time.”
Encino Man continues to ramble some more about ratings so Brad just shuts him off so he can concentrate on the task at hand. It’s a timer set to the five blocks of C4 that captures his attention. The numbers inexorably count down towards 0.
“Well, what do you think? I haven’t encountered a detonator before.” Nate looks at him with earnest green eyes, looking like a young kid fresh out of school. It’s one of those rare moments that Nate defers to him.
Brad cracks open the casing to get a look at the wires. He’s pretty technologically savvy; maybe he can just diffuse it. His heart sinks when he takes in the complicated wiring surrounding the timer. “Too complicated to diffuse in two minutes.”
“Okay,” Nate accepts his assessment easily enough. “Options then?”
They stare at each other for a long moment. It’s not going to end like this, Brad thinks, not in Goliath National from a bomb placed by a terrorist.
“Iceman,” Encino Man crackles over the comms. “You guys’ve got to get out of there somehow.”
Encino Man’s voice brings Brad back to reality—that everything is happening with a watching audience. They don’t have time to make a coherent plan, not really but—he catches Nate’s eye and then they both look up.
As they execute a perfectly timed kick that sends the C4 straight through the top of the building, exploding just as it reaches the apogee of its flight, Brad notes with satisfaction that they are still the best team that’s come out of Central Command in a long time.
The thing is, Brad never wanted Nate on his team, at least not at the beginning. Brad already had a great team, mostly comprised of men from his platoon from Afghanistan, and they worked well together—i.e. none of them fucked up Brad’s shit. But Brad had received orders to take a new partner while he had been at the gym working out with Ray Person, his former RTO, now a NEXT with flame generating and shaping powers.
“Iceman. You have a new partner.” Eric Kocher, their lead liaise with central Command, came over the wristband that all Heroes wore for communication.
“I don’t want a new partner.”
Kocher ignored him. “Seems like you guys have matching powers. It only seems right to send you out on a few missions together.”
“I work alone,” Brad said.
“He’s new at being a NEXT so show him the ropes.”
“Show him the ropes?” Brad hoped his incredulity showed through down the line.
“Direct order from the Godfather himself. Seems like he has some connections from his Dartmouth days. You don’t really have a choice in this matter.” Kocher didn’t mince his words before disconnecting the line.
“This is bullshit,” Brad complained to Ray as soon as Kocher’s hologram disappeared from his wristband.
“Hey man, you know your RayRay is here to stand with you against the man, but if Godfather said it, it’s not like you can do much about it.” Ray let a small flame puff up in his hand, watching the flames flicker. “Sometimes you just gotta take one for the team.”
“It’s a good team now. But no, Command has to screw it up by adding in some Ivy-League educated, pansy-assed newbie who probably can’t even his own powers without crying, let alone use them to save people’s lives.”
Brad had hardly finished his rant when he heard a throat clear behind him. “I assure you, there will be no crying on my part,” he heard a cool voice say. “You must be Iceman. I’m Nate.”
Grimacing a bit in apology, Brad turned around to see a boyish face with the greenest eyes he had the pleasure of seeing in a long time.
“My god,” Ray exclaimed. “Are you even old enough to shave? You look as fresh and young as a baby’s bare bottom.”
Brad reached over and gave him a good smack on the back of his head. It was one thing to bitch to Ray about the new kid in private—or what he thought was private—and it was a completely different thing to complain about the newbie while he was standing right in front of them. “This is Ray; you’ll learn to ignore most of what he says. My apologies for him and for my earlier comment.”
“Don’t worry about it,” came the response. “Now let’s see what my Ivy-Leagued educated pansy-assed self can do, shall we?”
Just like that, Nate joined Brad’s team. And now Brad can’t imagine working without him.
Out of their entire team, Nate is the only one who doesn’t hide his Hero alter-ego. Scuttlebutt is that his parents were killed when he was younger and the Godfather took him in and raised him, and now he wants to be a Hero to avenge his parents’ deaths. Brad doesn’t put much stock in scuttlebutt. If Nate wanted him to know, he’d tell him. What it does mean is that when they’re here in the noon sun, giving a press conference on how well taking down the bank robbers had gone, Nate gets to smile charmingly at the camera, green eyes looking earnestly at the crowd, while Brad has a fucking mask on like it’s New Orleans at Mardi Gras. It itches and all he wants to do is take it off, but instead he stands dutifully by Nate’s side while Nate has the crowd eating out of his hands. The continuous pop pop flash of the photographers reminds Brad too much of mortar fire out in combat, before stuff like mortars and artillery became largely irrelevant, and gives him a headache, but Nate doesn’t seem bothered by it at all.
On the other hand, Brad, with the rest of the Heroes, hides his identity. His parents (adopted, so yes, he and Nate have more similarities than not) would probably be worried sick about him if they knew he was a Hero. Of course, they might have used up all their worry when he was a Marine.
(“I wanted to be a marine,” Nate once confided in Brad when Brad told him about his team in Afghanistan. “But Godfather put a stop to that idea.”
Thank god for Godfather, is all Brad can think, thank god because the senselessness of it all would have chewed up Nate Fick and spit him out until he was worse than a dried piece of rawhide. It might have been the only time that Brad truly appreciated Godfather’s iron fist.)
“Thank god that’s over,” Brad says as soon as the press conference is over. “What a waste of time, having to pander for the cameras.”
“They just want to admire you.”
Brad snorts. “Admire you, you mean. I’m old news. You’re the young, flashy Hero with the beautiful eyes.”
“One, you’re the best Hero, or did you forget that you’re still on top of the scoreboard? And two, you think my eyes are beautiful?”
When Nate grins at him, sometimes Brad forgets how to breathe. “No,” he says after a beat. “Go find someone else to kiss your ass.”
“Oh baby,” Nate says, putting one hand over his heart dramatically. “Don’t get too cocky on top though. I’m coming for you, and I’m coming hard.”
Brad calls upon every ounce of his training as a Recon Marine and as a Hero to not betray any reaction at Nate’s words. Surely he didn’t mean any innuendo in them. “If you can catch me,” he says evenly.
“Oh, I’ll do more than just catch you,” Nate promises, giving Brad a sly wink.
Brad is so screwed.