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The Fall

Chapter Text

Andrew leaned back, blowing smoke into the unnaturally still air as his feet dangled precariously over the side of the skyscraper he was currently situated on. The night was well into its darkest hours and Andrew had been holding this post for the past four as he waited for his target to arrive.

Casting a glance over the golden glow of the city, he watched as the people below him hurried along, not at all aware of their silent observer from above. Taking another drag of his cigarette, his eyes scanned the crowd, looking for a specific set of shoulders belonging to a specific man. His gaze caught on a black clad figure making its way quickly down East Boulevard before turning off into an alleyway. Crushing his half finished cigarette on the ground next to him, Andrew gracefully drew himself up to stand on the ledge of the roof.

His heart rate spiked as vertigo hit him, and the ever-present fear of falling rose up, attempting to take hold of his mind before he ruthlessly and efficiently crushed it down till it was only a sinking feeling in the bottom of his stomach. He didn’t have time for such distractions tonight. Tonight, he needed the sharp bite of nothing, of no thoughts or feelings to distract him from his job. He did not welcome the feeling of fear like he normally would, and once he had it under control, he proceeded with his plan.

Taking a deep breath, he stepped off the roof.

The fall was fast. Tens of stories rushed past him as the wind continuously roared in his ears. Silently, he counted as he went, keeping track of the stories in order to time this perfectly.

Reaching fifty, he reached out with his mind, concentrating on the pull gravity exerted on him and warping it.

Everything stopped.

Andrew stood there, a hundred feet above the pavement. Quickly, he pulled his mask over the bottom half of his face,his hood over his hair, and began casually walking to the opening of the alley. The lack of anything under his feet made his heart thump and shutter, but his expression was composed. Soon enough he stood over the alleyway, watching as his target exchanged heated words with another man, the smaller form of a child crouched behind a dumpster.

His target made a wild gesture, seemingly displeased with whatever was being said. The person he was arguing with said something lowly, taking a step forward in aggression, the palm of their hand lighting up with flame as they threatened.

Andrew dropped the rest of the way to the ground, landing lightly on the balls of his feet next to the dumpster the kid was hiding behind.

He glanced over, noticing the girl couldn’t have been more than ten, and gritted his teeth in an attempt to keep his face neutral. The kid stared up at him, wide eyes scared and face pale in the darkness of the alley. “You should run,” he stated quietly, turning back to the two adults who were too absorbed in their argument to notice him. Whether she listened to him or not wasn’t his business, but after a moment of hesitation the scuffle of feet echoed down the alleyway, and Andrew released a breath he didn’t know he had been holding at the thought that that was one more civilian he wouldn’t have to watch out for.

This would most likely get messy.

Unfortunately, the sound of the girl leaving was what brought the attention of his target --now targets-- to the fact that they weren’t alone anymore.

“What the fuck?” Flame guy spun around, the fire in his palm rushing until it had coated his entire arm. The acidic smell of burning polyester quickly filled the tight space.

Andrew's original target, a man named Tyson Feild, took one look at him before he tried to book it out of the alley.

Stopping himself from rolling his eyes, Andrew raised his hand and quickly sent Mr. Feild flying back from where he had made it to the opening to the street. Flame guy shrieked as Mr. Feild’s prone body crashed into him with the weight of a car, sending both men tumbling and skidding across the rough gravel and broken glass that decorated the ground here and there. They came to a stop with a crash, slamming into a pile of trash cans.

In a split second both men were standing, shrugging off their wounds with dual looks of murder in their eyes. They shared a look with each other, seemingly casting aside their differences as they came to the mutual conclusion that Andrew was the bigger problem at the moment.

Andrew always loved helping others come together.

A spear of fire shot past his shoulder, lightly singing the edge of his hood, and if not for his quick reflexes it most likely would have hit his face. Dodging, he hit the ground, rolling to the side and coming to a stop in a crouch. Quickly, he unsheathed one of his knives before lunging for the form of Mr. Feild. He shifted the gravity around himself, allowing it so in only three bounds he was on top of the man, plunging his knife deep into his shoulder. He had been aiming for his neck, but the man had moved just in time to avoid the worse of two injuries.

With a growl, Mr. Feild flung him away as if he weighed nothing more than a toothpick. Andrew noticed the fact that Mr. Feild seemingly had some form of enhanced strength as he slowed his descent through the air and came to rest on his feet.

A man with enhanced strength and one with pyrokinesis, Andrew thought as he dodged yet another flaming spear sent his way. This will be boring.

Flame guy seemed to be thinking something similar as he boldly dove at Andrew with a flaming fist and a yell. Andrew stepped back quickly, not wanting to deal with this today.

While the first flaming fist missed him by inches, he wasn’t fast enough to avoid the second. Andrew briefly felt the excruciating pain of the flesh on his shoulder being burned off before he was moving. Manipulating the gravity around the man in front of him, Andrew swiftly kicked the guy in the stomach and sent him flying across the alley. Just before he hit the wall, Andrew reached out and made the weight of gravity triple what it normally was. The man hit the wall with a crunch, crumpling to the floor where he didn't get up.

Mr. Feild screamed something unintelligible as he charged at Andrew, a battered wooden board clutched in his hand.  Andrew ducked under his guard, ramming his blade between two of the man's ribs. He pushed Andrew away and Andrew hit the wall hard before he could cushion his landing. He was on his feet in seconds, ready to defend against the man’s next attack, but was instead greeted with Mr. Feild on his knees, a steady stream of blood dripping from his mouth as he clutched at the knife protruding from his side.

Andrew slowly walked towards the man taking in the flash of fear that crossed his face as Andrew came to stand before him. “Where are they?” he asked, his voice flat as he looked down at the prone figure in front of him.

The man gurgled, a fresh rush of blood spilling from his mouth, and Andrew felt a faint wave of disgust before it faded back into the blankness of nothing.

“Where are they?” he repeated.

“M-Monster,” Mr. Feild wheezed, his eyes sliding shut and his body slumping against the concrete.

Andrew took a moment to stare at him before he kneeled and extracted his knife from the man’s ribs.

Takes one to know one, Andrew thought as he used the body’s shirt to clean off his blade. Standing, he walked over to the crumbling wall and the second man lying prone at the base of it. With his foot, Andrew nudged him in the side. His head was positioned at an unnatural angle, blood pooling in his close cropped hair, and Andrew didn’t need to check twice to know the man was dead.

Well, there went his lead.

A clatter at the back of the alley had him whipping around the knife in his hand, prepared and ready to strike. He was met with the wide eyes of the kid from before peaking out from around the corner of the alleyway.

“You’re still here,” he stated dryly.

“Are they dead?” she asked.

“Yeah,” Andrew answered, sheathing his knife and taking a careful step towards the child. She took a hasty step back and Andrew stopped completely. The kid was all rags and bruises, weary eyes in a wiry face watching Andrew with the type of gaze that knew too much of how the world actually was, at much too young of an age. Andrew recognized it easily, as it was one he’d seen in the mirror too many times to count.

She turned her gaze to the bodies after a minute of Andrew keeping perfectly still under her assessing glare. “Good.”

“Do you know where they are keeping the others?” Andrew asked slowly, crouching as the girl carefully moved away from the wall she was hidden behind to get a better look at the bodies. She looked back to Andrew at his words, a frown scrunching her face.

She shook her head, “It was dark, they kept me in the trunk.” A tear slipped from her eye which she quickly wiped away. “I was in there for so long.”

Sirens began echoing in the distance, letting Andrew know it wouldn’t be long before this place was swarming with cops. “What’s your name?” he asked, his voice emotionless as he fought down the urge to murder those men again just so he could make sure they suffered this time.

“Lily,” the girl mumbled, looking around as the sound of sirens grew louder.

“Lily, the police will be here in a few minutes.” She looked to him, scared. “You need to ask for a detective, Nicky Hemmick.”

“Why?” she asked, looking like she would rather run.

“Because he can help you,” Andrew said standing. “He might look like an idiot but he’s the only one you should talk to.”

“Where are you going?”

“Nicky will make sure you’re safe,” he said, ignoring her question. He turned his head, watching as the first headlights of a patrol car appeared against the red brick of the building. With one last look to the girl, Andrew rose in the air, quickly making his retreat from the crime scene.

He needed time to think.

++++++

Aaron stood in his living room watching the news play out on the television, a frown plastered on his face as the reporter droned on about the local baseball team’s scores and other irrelevant nonsense. The light from the screen was the only thing illuminating the room, yet Aaron didn’t move from where he stood to turn on any others.  

“And in breaking news, two bodies have been found just off of East Boulevard in what seems to be a continuation of a string of murders that have rocked the San Diego metropolitan area. Here’s Davis on the scene with more information,” the Newscaster said, her voice irritatingly pleasant as the camera switched to a middle aged man whose eyebrows seemed to be an entity of their own.     

There was a lag between when the camera switched over and when the reporter realized he should be talking, but finally he began speaking, his wary voice gravelly and rough. Aaron found it immensely irritating.

“Hello yes, I am on the scene of what seems to be the murder of two men, ages unknown.” The camera panned to reveal yellow police tape sectioning off an area around the mouth of an alley and a growing crowd of curious civilians.  “Preliminary reports show that these two men were of this citiy’s powered population, and police have determined the attacker to be powered as well.” The camera panned back to the man’s face, who looked like he couldn’t care less about anything he was saying. It zoomed in a bit to really highlight the News reporter's five o'clock shadow, and the tiny crumbs he had dotted around his mouth.

The screen split into two to show the news anchor smiling pleasantly and the reporter looking like something found in a gutter. “Do the police think this case has anything to do with the other murders by the same criteria?”

The reporter nodded along to himself for a few moments before answering, “Yes,” the camera panned back to the crime scene where two policemen were sitting around chatting as they idly drank coffee.  “There is suspicion that these last two murders are linked to the continued activity of the powered mercenary known only as 'The Monster', but police have not confirmed anything for sure, stating need for a more thorough evaluation of the evidence.” Aaron stiffened as the camera panned around once again, catching sight of his cousin as he navigated the crowds and ducked under the police tape into the crime scene.

“Thank you, Davis.” The screen abruptly cut to the news anchor’s still smiling face as she said, “More on that story at a later date. Next ‘Gluten’, should you be worri-” Aaron cut off the tv before she could finish that thought.

He stood there in the dark staring at the blank screen in front of him. The scene of the crime still playing over in his head and his frown deepened at the news. The fact that Nicky was involved in the case did nothing to reassure him. Instead, it just complicated things all the more.

A light creak was all the warning he got before the doorbell rang, startling him. All it took was a bit of concentration and a single step and Aaron was across the house, facing the front door. Quietly, he opened it, not needing to look through the peephole to know who it was. Andrew stood there on the front porch, soaked in blood and looking slightly ruffled as he stared at Aaron.

“You have a fucking key, you know,” Aaron huffed.

“Move,” Andrew said, and Aaron took a step back, letting his brother into the hallway. He closed and locked the door, setting the security system before following Andrew further into the house. While Andrew made his way upstairs, Aaron went to the kitchen, starting a pot of coffee before pulling his med kit out of a cabinet and setting it on the island.  

Some twenty minutes later Andrew reappeared in fresh-- yet equally dark-- clothes and sans the blood, which Aaron was momentarily grateful for. Silently, he walked over to the counter. pulling out a bottle of rum from one of the cabinets before walking back over to the island and sitting down. Aaron walked over to him, carrying two cups of coffee. Lightly slamming down Andrew’s cup in front of him, he took in his brother's appearance, noting the small scrapes and cuts before his eyes landed on the blistering burn that decorated his upper forearm.

“What happened?” Aaron asked.

Andrew said nothing as he poured a good bit of rum into his already too sweet coffee.

“Did you actually learn anything this time?” Aaron reached into his bag, pulling out antiseptic and gauze.

Andrew kept quiet as he stared at his brother and took a sip of the abomination that was now his coffee.

Aaron scoffed, not knowing why he expected anything else. He held up the medical supplies, his voice perturbed as he asked his next question, “Want me to bandage that or what?” He gestured to the raw red wound on Andrew’s shoulder.

Andrew glanced down at it for a few moments before looking back up at Aaron and inclining his head. “Yes,” he answered tonelessly as he reached up to roll the sleeve of his t-shirt up higher on his arm.

Aaron moved quickly and carefully, keeping his hands in Andrew’s line of vision as he skillfully cleaned and dressed the burn. He made sure to keep the amount he touched Andrew to a minimum, only doing as much as necessary for the wound to heal properly and not become infected.

Finishing, he stepped back out of Andrew's space, walking over to the sink to clean off his hands. “Don’t get that wet,” Aaron instructed tersely. “Tomorrow before you leave I’ll re-bandage it, but it won’t be healed for a few weeks unless you go find Abby.”

With barely a glance to Aaron in acknowledgement, Andrew stood and made his way to the stairs. At the bottom, he stopped, turning back to his brother, his face cast in shadow and his posture stiff. “There was a girl.”

Aaron stilled.

“Nicky will probably call you bitching about it later tonight.”

“Andr-” Aaron started, but cut himself off when he was met with his brother’s back as he retreated up the stairs.

Aaron rolled his eyes behind his brother’s form, and began cleaning up the mess of medical supplies scattered about the island counter. The fact that there was a witness gave him pause; he didn’t know whether Andrew’s implication that the witness was connected to the men he was hunting was good or bad, but if it was going to cause undue trouble, Andrew would have told him.

Predictably, Nicky called him right as Aaron settled down to bed.

Groaning, he rolled over to silence his shrill ringtone and answer the call. “What is it, Nicky?”

“Hey, sorry, were you asleep?” Nicky asked, his voice coming down the line much too cheerful for how early in the morning it was.

“What do you think?” Aaron countered, bitterly wishing he was.

“Right…” Nicky was quiet for a moment. “How is he?”

“Fine.” Aaron sat up, resigning himself to having to talk with his cousin. “Better than the other two, from what I’ve heard.”

“Yeah.” The grimace Nicky wore was audible in his tone. “He really did a number on those two.”

“They deserved worse.”

“I know.” Nicky sighed. “Listen, they weren't the only ones found at the scene.’

“Andrew said there was a girl,”Aaron stated.

“Yeah, the district wants to use her as a key witness in this investigation, but since she’s a minor the process to do so legally will be a long one.” Nicky said, a rustle and a murmur of unintelligible words coming through the line. “The fact that she’s most likely not mentally stable is another factor.”

“Where is she now?” Aaron yawned.

“Sleeping on my couch,” Nicky answered quietly. “She insisted that she’d only talk to me, and wouldn’t cooperate with anyone else.”

“Andrew’s doing.”

Nicky sighed again, “Yeah… social services is coming in the morning. Though she’ll likely be placed under protective custody given the circumstances.”

Aaron waited for his cousin to continue.

“She… they think she’s powered, Aaron.” Nicky’s voice was hesitant, unsure. “If she is…”

“What will you do?”

“Erik and I have been talking,” Nicky explained. “Either way, we’ll make sure she’s safe.”

Aaron nodded absently, then realized Nicky couldn’t see him. “Okay.”

He wondered what Andrew’s reaction would be if the kid ended up another ghost in the system. Nicky most likely wouldn’t let that happen, but it was still a possibility.

“How’s the investigation going?” he asked casually.

“Aaron… you know it’s classified,” Nicky said, then continued. “But we haven’t identified this mysterious ‘Monster’ yet, if that's what you're wondering.”

Aaron knew if Nicky had his way, Andrew would never be identified. Him leading the investigation was the only saving grace of the whole thing. Sometimes Aaron wondered how fast all of this would have gone to shit if not for Nicky. Well, gone to more shit than it already was. At least no one had been arrested yet.

“Good,” he answered, shuffling into a more comfortable position.

“I have to go now,” Nicky said distractedly as another set of murmurs took place on the other side of the phone. “But Aaron?” Nicky asked, then continued at Aaron’s resulting grunt. “Keep safe.”

“You too, Nicky,” Aaron said before hanging up.

The time read just past three in the morning, and with a tired growl Aaron flopped back against his bed, slipping his phone onto his nightstand a he lay staring at the ceiling.

Sooner or later, all of this would come crashing down around him.

But those were thoughts for later days. He had an eight am to get to in the morning, and wanted to catch what little sleep he could before then.

++++++   

Andrew woke in a cold sweat, the after images of his nightmare playing behind his eyelids in continuous loops. Sitting up, he shakily reached for the cigarette package sitting on his bedside table and, grabbing it with a crushing grip, stood. Walking across his room, he flung open his window, letting the cool breeze ground him as he willed his body to stop shaking. Pulling out his lighter and a cigarette, Andrew quickly light it and took a drag.

He held the smoke in his lungs for a few moments, relishing in the burn before blowing it out into the predawn light of the sky. How long he sat there watching the sun begin to peak above the horizon he didn’t know, instead willing his mind not to stick on the memories he unfortunately could never forget even if he tried. As the sounds of suburbia waking up slowly began echoing through his window, Andrew finished off his pack, flicking the last butt out the window where it landed in a pile with its siblings on the ground. Leaning back, Andrew shut the window harshly and made his way over to the ensuite bathroom.

After a frankly scalding shower, he changed into his clothes for the day and stepped out into the hallway. The house was quiet, Aaron most likely still sleeping, and Kevin most likely still passed out at Abby’s where Andrew left him last night after one too many bottles of vodka. Walking quietly down the stairs, he made his way to the kitchen and started a pot of coffee. Aaron would be up soon enough, and then he’d have to go deal with Kevin’s hungover ass.

A beep signaled the coffee was done. Grabbing a mug, he filled it halfway with the black bitter garbage that was unsweetened coffee and then filled the mug the rest of the way with some peppermint creamer he found in the fridge. Too lazy to walk from his spot situated on the counter, he gestured towards the creamer, making it lighter than it ever naturally should be. Reaching out, he lightly flicked it in the direction of the fridge. The bottle bobbed idly in the air, moving slowly in its direction, where it hit the side of the door and began spinning wildly in the opposite direction.

A small frown crossed Andrew’s lips as he watched the bottle aimlessly tumble through the air. Leaving it like that, he went back to nursing his coffee and waiting for Aaron to wake up.

He was halfway through his third cup of coffee when he heard the stairs creak and his twin walked down into the living room. With a heavy looking backpack slung over one shoulder, Aaron stumbled into the kitchen, making a beeline for the coffee pot and pouring himself a cup. Andrew watched as his brother then proceeded to do nothing with it before taking a big gulp of the warm liquid. Andrew repressed the urge to sneer.

The creamer bottle came wobbling through the air and thunked Aaron lightly on the head.

“What the fuck,” he said, reaching up and plucking the bottle out of the air before it could aimlessly float away again.

Andrew released the mild hold he had been exerting on the object and let the full force of gravity influence it once more. Aaron fumbled it as the full weight of the container and its contents came back to it at once.

“Maybe it’s the universe telling you to get some taste,” Andrew suggested indifferently.

Aaron glared at him before walking over to the fridge and shoving the creamer back on its shelf. He closed the door with slightly more force than necessary and turned back to his coffee,downing the rest in one go. Crouching, he reached into the cabinet and pulled out his medical bag from where he stashed it the night before. Dropping it onto the island, Aaron climbed onto one of the stools and turned to stare at Andrew, both eyebrows raised. Andrew took his time in finishing his drink, casually glancing out the window and ignoring Aaron’s frustrated exhalation of breath. The road their house was situated on was a busy one, and for a few moments Andrew watched as cars passed by before finishing his drink and making his way over to Aaron.

He sat in the stool next to his brother, rolled up the sleeve of his shirt, and waited. Aaron was quick and quiet in examining and redressing the wound, making an effort to touch Andrew as little as possible. He knew Aaron did this more for his own benefit than Andrew’s, but all the same the gesture didn’t go unnoticed. After all that had happened, they had somehow ended up sticking together, more out of a necessity for survival than anything else. Andrew held no illusions that Aaron wouldn’t leave at some point, the question was just when .   

Aaron finished with a nod of his head and a pleased glint to his eye as he took one last look at the bandages before standing. “That should be fine for now, but you’ll have to apply antibacterial ointment so it doesn’t get infected. Though,” he continued,shoving the supplies back into the bag before closing it and putting it back into its cabinet, “You can always have Abby heal it when you go get Kevin.”

Andrew made a grunt of acknowledgement. Grabbing his keys, he walked towards the door.

“Come on,” he said as he sidestepped Aaron.

Aaron quickly grabbed his backpack and followed after Andrew.

Andrew barely waited for Aaron to close the car door behind him before he was accelerating out of the driveway and down the street. One of their neighbors screamed something at them as they passed, and Andrew responded by flipping him the bird.

“Do you have to antagonize them?” Aaron asked, typing something into his phone. Reaching over, Andrew turned up the volume of the radio in answer to his question.

The rest of the ride to the University of California, San Diego campus, was quiet between them. Pulling up to the curb outside of the library, Andrew stopped the car and watched as Aaron quickly got out, not saying a word as he slammed the car door behind him. Andrew quickly peeled off down the street, making his way to Abby's, where his other problem was probably still passed out from a night of heavy drinking.

It was too early to deal with this shit.

Abby’s house was located in a quiet neighborhood a few miles from the university where old trees lined the road and the neighbors were too busy cooking apple pies to do much else. It was a large ranch-style, most likely built in the seventies, and tucked away on a side street next to a small park. Its quaint atmosphere fit in perfectly with its surroundings, and nobody passing through would have looked at it twice. Andrew always wondered if that was a purposeful doing on Abby’s part.

Andrew pulled into the red brick driveway, parking his sleek black sports car beside the green Chevy Suburban already there. He made his way up the walkway slowly, kicking a soccer ball out of the way as he reached the door. Knocking twice, he leaned back and waited. The soft sounds of voices seeped through its wood, and after a moment the light patter of feet reached Andrew’s ears and it was only seconds before the door was flung open in his face. Andrew blinked as his vision was met with nothing but empty space.

“Andy!” a squeaky voice shouted.    

Andrew slowly looked down to find big brown eyes staring back up at him. “Cody,” he returned.

“Cody!” A gruff voice called. “What did I tell you about oppeni- Oh it’s just you,” David Wymack deadpanned as he came into view of the door.

“Good to see you too,” Andrew said, stepping around Cody’s small form. The door shut behind him and Cody ran over to his dad before turning back to look at Andrew with a grin. Andrew quirked an eyebrow at the six year old and Cody’s smile just grew wider for some reason.

“Where’s Kevin?” he asked, looking back up at Wymack.

“Still sleeping!” Cody piped up at Wymack’s side.

Wymack rolled his eyes before pushing lightly at his son’s head. “Go help your mom fix breakfast.”

“Okay!” Cody said, then rushed off to the kitchen.

“He’s still asleep?”

“Yeah, he’s been out since you left last night.” Wymack shrugged, folding his arms over his chest. “How did that go, by the way?”

Andrew’s gaze fell on the picture frames decorating the living room wall. “We’ll see.”

Wymack gave him a look which Andrew returned with a steady gaze. “Andrew, if this is-”

Andrew pushed past him and headed down the hall.

“Damn it, Andrew!” David called after him.

“I’m getting Kevin out of his coma.”

Wymack huffed.

Andrew opened the second door on the left, slipping in quietly before shutting it behind him. Kevin was a blanket-covered lump on the bed, his breathing heavy as he drifted through dreamland.

“Kevin, wake up.”

Kevin mumbled something incoherent. Andrew walked over to his side.

“Wake up,” Andrew repeated, punching Kevin in the arm.

“Fuck off,” Kevin muttered, rolling over and leaving his back to Andrew.

Reaching out, Andrew grabbed the back of Kevin’s shirt and pulled him out of bed. Kevin landed on the ground with a thump, groaning as he blinked up at Andrew.

“Wakey wakey,” Andrew said, staring back at him, and fighting down amusement at Kevin's disgruntled face.   

“Ugh.” Kevin ran a hand through his hair, scrunching his eyes shut. “What the….”

His voice trailed off as his head nodded forward, and it was with exasperation that Andrew reached out his foot and kicked him in the thigh. With a start, Kevin was awake again, his green eyes glaring up into Andrew's indifferent ones. He looked ridiculous with his dark hair sleep-ruffled and still in his wrinkled clothes from the night before, a disdainful look on his face as he groggily scowled up at Andrew.

“Rise and shine, Day,” Andrew sang before stepping over Kevin and yanking back the curtains.

Kevin grumbled from the ground before grabbing at the top of the bed and slowly pulling himself into a standing position. His height was impaired a bit by the way his shoulders slumped, but Andrew still hated the fact he had to crane his neck to look up at him.

“What time is it?” Kevin asked rubbing a hand over the two tattooed onto his cheek.

“Eight-thirty,” Andrew answered, not sparing a glance at the clock.

Kevin grunted before stumbling over to the door and out into the hallway. Andrew followed him out, catching the back of his shirt as he tried to make a beeline for the front door. Kevin was pulled to a stop. Looking back, he frowned at Andrew.

“You’re not going near my car while smelling like you just crawled out of some gutter,” Andrew said, pushing Kevin towards the bathroom.

“But-” Kevin cut himself off by yawning, then continued, “but can’t I just-”

“No.” Andrew gave him another shove. “Shut up and shower.”

Kevin relented, letting Andrew push him into the bathroom and shutting the door behind him. Andrew waited until he heard the tap being turned on, then wandered into the kitchen. It was light and airy; the big glass doors that led out to the back yard were open, letting a breeze into the room. Abby and Wymack stood at the counter talking gently as Cody sat at the table coloring on a piece of paper. Abby looked up as he entered, giving him a little smile and gesturing for him to come forward.

“How’s Kevin?” she questioned, bringing a plate of waffles over to the table. Cody made an excited noise as they were placed in front of him and Wymack rolled his eyes, bringing over the syrup. Andrew could throw up-- it was so domestic.

“He’s showering,” he answered, stealing a waffle from Cody, who stuck his tongue out at him before gobbling down his food. Wymack gave him a look which Andrew responded to by taking a bite out of the waffle.  

“And you?” Abby asked, eyeing the bandage sticking out from under his sleeve.

Andrew looked down at it, noticing how his black shirt and armbands made the white stand out. “Slightly crisp.”

“Want me to look at it?” Abby offered.

Andrew stared at her, taking a moment to consider his options, then shrugged. Aaron could do a lot, but healing outright wasn’t one of his gifts.

Abby motioned for him to sit at the table, and he did so watching as she settled in the chair beside him and said, “may I?”

Andrew nodded and stiffened as she unwrapped the bandages, the sting of his wound being pulled at grounding him slightly.

“Ow,” Cody commented from across the table. Abby frowned but said nothing as she raised a hand, carefully placing over the red blistered flesh. A cool sensation engulfed Andrew’s arm, numbing the area as Abby began healing the burn.

Andrew looked away, focusing on Wymack and his son talking to each other across the table. Cody was gesturing wildly, explaining what was going on in his drawing. Wymack nodded along, asking questions at random intervals and trying not to look befuddled.

Abby finished after a few minutes. Leaning back, she said, “Well, it’s not perfect, but it’s better.”

Andrew looked down to find the blistered mess that was his shoulder was now just an excessively pink spot.  

“It should be fully healed in a few days or so,” Abby continued, standing and going over to the sink to wash her hands. Andrew nodded.

“Are you two staying for breakfast?” Wymack asked, eyeing the waffle Andrew had carelessly put on the table.

“No,” Kevin answered from where he stood in the doorway, an odd look on his face as he regarded Cody, that was there and gone in a blink. Andrew wondered how long he’d been standing there.

“Yes,” Andrew corrected casually taking a bit out of his waffle. Just to piss him off.

Kevin frowned at him, holding his gaze. He looked half asleep still, the morning light reflecting hazily in his green eyes, their brightness a stark contrast to the bags found below them. Andrew moved his gaze to look over Kevin's shoulder at the beige of the walls.

“We have things to do today, Andrew,” Kevin insisted, trying to catch Andrew's eyes again.      

“Do we?” Andrew crunched into his waffle.

“Important things,” Kevin nagged.

“Waffles are important things.” Andrew took another bite. Kevin’s frown deepened.

Kevin opened his mouth to say something but was cut off by Cody saying, “Com’on Kev! Waffles are more important than being grumpy!” Then patted the seat of the chair next to him.

“Yeah, com’on Kev,” Andrew repeated flatly.

Wymack snorted.

“You are welcome to stay,” Abby stated, setting another bundle of waffles on the table and sitting down. “There’s no rush.”

Kevin looked like he had been backed into a corner, and glancing around the room seemed to realize he had no allies in this. With an indignant huff, he sat down in between Andrew and Cody and grabbed a plate, piling it high with food.

“Waffles aren’t even healthy,” Kevin complained, staring at his plate. Andrew finished off his waffle, then stole his next one from the top of Kevin’s pile. Kevin shot him a glare even though he’d been complaining about said waffles a moment before, then dug in. The rest of the meal was mostly quiet save for Cody’s odd comments. They ate quickly, and by nine thirty were heading out.

Wymack stopped them at the front door before they could escape, a dark look on his face as he regarded the two. “Look, Andrew, what you’re doing-”

“Now, now, David, that’s not within your jurisdiction.” Kevin looked uncomfortable as Andrew easily interrupted the man.

“It will be if you don’t start trying to be more discreet.” Wymack stated, folding his arms and staring down at Andrew.

“Forgetting you’re retired, agent?” Andrew asked, leaning forward.

Wymack rolled his eyes. “You know what I mean, Andrew.”

“Do I?”

“Andrew, you know they’ll come after you if you keep this up, you can’t just-” Wymack stopped, then lowered his voice before continuing. “You can’t just keep going around leaving trails. You and Aaron are in a tight enough situation as it is, and if they find out Kevin is with you….”  he trailed off, glancing to the man in question. Kevin stared at him, gripping his arm through his jacket.

“Just… you know I’ll help you out, kid,” Wymack finished, shaking his head.

“We won’t need it.” Andrew reached back, pulling Kevin's hand off his arm. “Come on, Kevin.” He turned, opened the door, and tugged Kevin through it.

Kevin followed him all the way to the car, not making his usual fuss about driving. Opening the passenger door, Andrew pushed him into the seat before getting in his own seat. The drive back to their house was quiet, Kevin staring out the window and Andrew lost in his own thoughts.

Andrew didn’t want to admit it but Wymack might be right, and the feds tracking him down was not something he looked forward to; dealing with the ex-agent was enough already. He wouldn’t stop, though. The people he was tracking deserved what was coming to them and Andrew wouldn’t stop until their whole operation was crushed by his hand. That the general public was only seeing what he was doing in terms of the body count wasn’t his problem. That Kevin was too much of a coward to come out of hiding wasn’t his problem. That sooner or later he knew steps would be taken to stop him wasn’t his problem. Let them try, he thought, knuckles white as he clenched the steering wheel. They won't succeed. Nicky was working on exposing what was happening to the public, and once he exposed the core of it, Andrew would wipe the organization out, and they would never be able to lay a hand on another person ever again.

There wasn’t any other path. He had to keep Aaron and Kevin safe, and he had to-

“Andrew, watch out!” Andrew slammed on the brakes at Kevin’s shout, his car screeching to a halt before it could crash into the idiot who had ran out in front of them. Andrew had a second to catch a glimpse of dark hair and brown eyes that stared directly into his own before the man kept running. He was gone in a matter of moments, disappearing down a side street.

Andrew and Kevin sat there in silence, staring out the windshield until a car behind them honked. Andrew accelerated again, keeping a firm grip on the steering wheel and his eyes trained on the road.

“What the fuck was that?” Kevin asked, his voice shaky and miffed.

“A rabbit, it seems like.”

Chapter Text

Aaron sat hunched over a table, his text books spread out around him, a cooling cup of coffee in beside him, and the will to live slowly seeping from his being. He tried to concentrate on the text in front of him, the medical jargon flowing into meaningless sentences as his focus kept catching on the conversation some obnoxious undergrads were having behind him.

It was not as if they were speaking of anything interesting. Just aimless chit chat that seemed to be counterproductive to the studying they should have been doing.

“Hey, you hear about the murders that happened last night?” one of them asked, and Aaron stilled.

“Of course. Everybody thinks it was that ‘Monster’ guy again, scary right?” another commented. Aaron picked up his pencil and started taking vague notes to look like he wasn’t completely eavesdropping. He peeked back over his shoulder looking at the group. They definitely seemed to be undergraduates. There was five of them, gathered around the study table books and red bulls spread out around them as most of them chatted casually to each other. Only one of them looked like he was actually trying to study. A quiet spot in the noise of his friends.

“I hear that Heiress might be getting involved after this,” a dark haired girl said taking a bite of a sandwich.

Her friend nodded severely. “That’d be interesting, I wonder if they fought it out who’d win.”

Aaron really hoped they’d never get the chance to find out, his brother wanted for charges of murdering a hero of that caliber wasn’t something he wanted to deal with. Ever.

“Hey Neil,” The dark haired girl nudged the one guy who had kept quiet through all of this. “You were working camera for News 10 last night right? Were you out on the scene? Do you know more about what happened.”

The man- Neil apparently, Aaron thought he recognized him from around campus- looked uncomfortable. “Yeah I was on the scene but-” He was cut off as his friends burst into questions.

“You were?”

“What was it like?”

“Did you see the Monster?”

“Is it true what they say? Was there a witness?”

“Have you gotten that hot detective’s number for me yet?”

They all spoke over each other having no mind for interrupting one another. Neil looked like he wanted to puke and Aaron couldn’t help sneering down at his book. The others continued rambling for a few minutes before quieting down, all eyes expectant and curiously turned to Neil as the awaited his answer. Aaron griped his pencil tighter as he waited as well.  

“I know as much as you do, I was just filming. Besides nobody knows shit yet.” Neil answered shuffling his papers.

“But detective Hemmick was there right? That means the Monster has to be involved.”

“He was there.” Neil looked down then back up. “But that doesn’t mean anything, it’s all just speculation.” Neil said firmly his brown eyes narrowing as the group around him burst into another round of conspiracy sharing. Shaking his head lightly Neil went back to studying now that attention was diverted from him.

“But what was the scene like?” The question was directed at Neil again and he looked up with a carefully schooled face.

“It looked like a crime scene,” he answered.

“That doesn’t answer anything.”

Neil shrugged. “That’s all I know.”

The group groaned in disappointment.

Aaron went back to his notes keeping one ear open but focusing the majority of his attention on his books. Soon the group's conversation shifted to more inane topics. They knew next to nothing, the way it should be. Nicky was keeping the case completely underwraps. The public only knew as much as the media knew, and from what Aaron saw it knew little. If Heiress got involved though…. That'd change things. Andrew had been able to keep this up because of Nicky's involvement, and while the police might be investigating him he was still able to operate with as little attention directed his way as possible.

If Heiress got involved that would change. As far as low key hero's went she was not one of them, and if she started helping with the investigation more eyes would be drawn to what's happening. 'The Monster’ would be forced out of the shadows, and Aaron knew his brother didn't have solid enough evidence yet to begin working in the light.

At least it was just Heiress and not someone more troublesome.

Like the Ravens, if they got involved Aaron had no doubt it would go very badly very quickly.

Pausing a moment Aaron quietly knocked his knuckles on the dark wood of the table three times.

With a sigh he looked back at his book attempting to concentrate so he could finish this chapter. He quickly lost himself in the words; the noise of the library fading into the background.

He wasn't sure how much time had passed when a hand was gently placed on his shoulder.

He flinched, turning quickly to glare at whoever the hell decided to bother him but stopped when he realized who it was. “Katelyn.”

She smiled above him, dark hair tied up in a messy bun and eyes bright with warmth. Aaron felt himself relaxing as he always seemed to do in her presence. She sat down in the chair next to him setting her backpack on the table and pulling out her books to join him.

“Hey,” he voice was light and soft as she tied not to disturb the other patrons of the library. “Sorry about that, you just seemed lost in thought.”

Aaron shook his head. “It’s fine. What are you doing here? I thought you had lab until five.”

She shrugged flipping open an anatomy book. “Dr. Hetverin rescheduled, so I’m free for the afternoon.”

Aaron’s gaze caught on the lean lines of her neck, her almond shaped eyes, full lips, and bronzed skin before he forcefully looked back to his text book. “That’s nice.”

She smiled before looking back down at her own books. They sat in silence for at least thirty minutes each pretending to be studying while subtly stealing glances at each other when Katelyn closed her book. “Screw it.” she muttered.

Aaron looked up questioning.

“Come get lunch with me?” she asked quirking her eyebrow.

Aaron blinked, “okay.”

“Really?” she asked.

“Yeah.”

Katelyn grinned then shoved her books in her bag, and stood. Her tall stature only exaggerated by the heels she wore. Aaron followed her lead putting away his book and standing. She held out her hand to him, wiggling her fingers when he didn’t immediately take it. With a roll of his eyes he relented and she casually laced their fingers together and then began walking towards the exit.

“Come on, I know just the place.” She winked and Aaron smirked as she tugged him along.

“Of course you do.”

They ended up downtown sitting outside a sandwich shop people watching as they chatted aimlessly about school work and the lab practicals they had coming up. It was spring and the end of the semester was nearing rapidly, the rush of course work leaving little time for anything else. It was a warm sunny day, trees along the street were sporting blooms of purple flowers, and the breeze off the ocean was the only thing keeping it from being stifling. Katelyn was sipping at an iced coffee gesturing vaguely as she explained how one of her lectures had gotten completely sidetracked when someone asked about power's influence in treatment of autoimmune diseases, and nothing productive had been accomplished the rest of the period. Aaron listened idly, paying more attention to how the sun reflected in her dark eyes than her words. He knew Katelyn didn’t mind, fully content to fill the silence between them.

He wondered languidly in this was something he could keep.

The sound of gunfire interrupted that thought.

Aaron and Katelyn turned their heads in tandem to look at the source of the noise. A crowd of people began fleeing away from the scene just as a pink clad figure was flung through a wall. The resulting boom echoed down the street to where they sat in shared silence.        

“God damn it, I fucking hate this city,” Aaron commented, watching as the figure in pink strode out of the ruble a smile on her face and her blonde hair still somehow perfect after all that. She charged off down the street and out of view, as sirens began wailing and people started clearing the area. A powered fight was not something anyone wanted to get in the middle of.

“Heiress looks like she’s having a time of things,” Katelyn observed as yet another round of gunfire echoed distantly, then a screeching sound echoed through the air along with another crash.

“This is bullshit,” Aaron said taking a sip of his drink as he watched a column of ice freeze in the middle of the intersection a block away. It crumbled not a moment later leaving jagged shards scattered around the street. A car narrowly avoided having one go through its windshield and Aaron had to wonder what type of idiot decided it was a good idea to drive through that.

“Should we maybe leave?” Katelyn asked leaning back in her chair as she watched the scene with interest.

Aaron shrugged. “I don’t really see a reason to,” he said just as a body tumbled down the street and skidded to a stop.

“Okay,” Katelyn said taking a sip out of her straw. “Ouch,” she whistled watching as the man tried to stand then slumped back to the ground. “Since we technically have medical training, aren’t we obliged to administer first aid?”

“Nah.”

“Cool.”  

Heiress arrived not moments later, dropping as she dislodged her grappling hook and stepping towards the man on the ground. Her rhinestone heels clicked against the concrete and Aaron wondered if the criminal was shitting himself yet. She bent down telling him something before producing a pair of handcuffs. He said something back, obviously not satisfied with this outcome. Raising a hand he shot a spear of ice, which Heiress avoided neatly before kicking the guy in the face with her expensive heels.

“I wonder how she gets the blood out.” Katelyn fiddled with her straw.

“No idea,” Aaron answered. “You could ask though.”

The kick seemed to have knocked out the man.

Katelyn nodded. “Maybe I will.”

Heiress bent down cuffing the guy before raising again. Taking her phone out she placed a call, said something into the receiver, then hung up. Where she fit it in that skin tight suit was anyone's guess. Looking around she spotted them, sending a little wave their way before shooting her grappling hook into the nearest building and flying off. The sound of police sirens caught their ears a moment later.

Katelyn let out a sigh of disappointment, “There goes my chance to ask.”

“We should leave,” Aaron said, not wanting to deal with the cops. Or, god forbid, his cousin.

“Agreed.”

They stood quickly. Making their way down the street and around the corner, smiles playing on both their faces.

++++++

Andrew watched as Kevin paced back and forth across their living room. Five steps to the right, turn, five steps to the left, turn, and repeat. He leaned back into the cushion of the couch tilting his head up so he could stare at the white plaster of the ceiling and not Kevin’s stiff shoulders.

“We need to do something,” Kevin repeated, his voice thin. “We can’t just continue doing nothing.”

“Oh Kevin,” Andrew felt the itch for a cigarette his hand flexing lightly. “You seem to be forgetting that I am doing something, you’re the one sitting around training all day.”

“That isn’t what I’m talking about,” Kevin huffed. Andrew looked down to find him still pacing.

“Isn’t it?”

“If the Ravens-”

“No.”

“But if Riko-”

“He won’t.” Andrew stated.

Kevin turned to stare at him.  

“We have a deal,” Andrew reminded him, again. “The Ravens won't touch you.”

“What you’re doing could bring their attention here.” Kevin crossed his arms and narrowed his eyes. The could bring their attention to me went unsaid but was loud in the silence.

“This isn’t their jurisdiction. That’s why you ran here in the first place, remember?” Andrew stood, and Kevin took a quick step back before following Andrew as he walked into the kitchen.

“They’re the most powerful hero group in the country,” Kevin murmured leaning back against the counter next to the fridge. “Anything’s their jurisdiction if they want it to be.”

Andrew stopped, turning to Kevin who was all hunched shoulders, and drawn brows. Taking a step forward Andrew grabbed Kevin by the collar forcing him to look up from the ground. Andrew made sure to hold his gaze as he said, “they won’t be able to touch you.” He’d make sure of it.

The Ravens might have numbers and resources. They might have the entire country backing them, but if they ever made one move towards Kevin they’d regret it. Riko would never lay a hand on him again, Andrew would sooner kill him. Whether he was a Moriyama or not.

They stood like that for a moment before Kevin lowered his gaze nodding. Andrew let go reaching his hand up to flick Kevin on the chin, before opening the freezer and grabbing a pint of ice cream. Kevin gave him a disgusted look as he took a spoon out of the drawer and popped the lid off shoving a scoop into his mouth.

“We have a fridge full of food and you eat that.” Kevin judged him.

“It’s lunch.”

Kevin scoffed.

“It’s detrimental to your training,” Kevin began lecturing. “If you ever want to qualify for the Hero Registry you’ll have to start taking things more seriously.” 

“Good thing I don’t want to.” Andrew shoved another bite of ice cream in his mouth.

Kevin rolled his eyes. “Well you should you can’t just keep being a mercenary forever. Becoming a registered hero would-” Andrew zoned out as Kevin continued to rant, his voice fading to white noise in the back of Andrew’s mind. Kevin had given him this talk many times before. About how only through being an official hero would he actually accomplish anything. As if having the law on your side would be anything but a hindrance to what he did . Not within an institution that considered the Ravens to be their top tier. Kevin should have known better by now to even suggest such a thing, but he seemed set on the idea of Andrew becoming a hero. Even though, in the end, all Kevin had accomplished being one was the nation presuming him dead, and a target tapped to his back.

Real heroes didn’t exist they both knew that, but Kevin seemed to operate under the delusional notion that they could.

It was as Kevin began pacing again that Andrew decided he’d had enough. Carefully he lined up the shot, then skilfully flung his spoon at Kevin’s head. Kevin grabbed it out of the air before it could collide with his face, sharply turning to glower at Andrew in the same movement. His quick reflexes took the fun out of everything.

“This isn’t a joke,” Kevin said brandishing the spoon.

“Everything's a joke if you laugh hard enough.” Andrew forced up the corners of his lips in a smile he knew didn’t reach his eyes.

Kevin stared at him a moment before huffing and turning away to place the spoon in the sink. Andrew quickly let his face drop back into it’s usual blankness. Why Kevin even bothered still evaded Andrew. It had been a little over a year since Andrew found the man sitting beaten and bloody on Wymack’s couch, eyes distant and dead after what had happened with Riko. It was a far cry from how he was now, and how he was now was a far cry from how he had been when he’d tried to recruit Andrew to the Ravens. Yet there were still similarities.

“We should go train.” Kevin said turning back around to face Andrew. His green eyes intent and back straight.

“No,” Andrew answered indifferently.

“It’s a waste of a day otherwise,” Kevin crossed his arms.

Andrew stared at him boredly. It was always the same with Kevin, he never seemed to change his methods of denial and distraction; drowning himself in practice drills until they were the only things on his mind. Andrew felt the need to roll his eyes. He was a junkie through and through.

At Andrew’s insistent silence Kevin opened his mouth again. “Training is important, if you don’t keep up with practice the abilities you lost while medicated won’t be as honed as-” Andrew zoned out again letting his eyes drift over the kitchen aimlessly. There was a pile of dishes in the sink that had been sitting there for at least a week now. He wondered if it would be Aaron or Kevin who gave into the urge to clean them first, or it could be Nicky depending on when he finally showed up.

The pint of ice cream sat slowly thawing in his hand, and he took to reading the label as Kevin began gesticulating about some nonsense or another. With all the bitching he did all Andrew really needed to practice was his patience.

Kevin slammed his hand down on the counter. “You’re not even listening!”

“You were speaking?”

Kevin sputtered frowning as he lost the traction of his rant. “I-You-”

Andrew stood waltzing over to the freezer and depositing the rest of his ice cream inside before turning back around. Kevin stood there staring at him something between disdain and disbelief finding a place in the furrow of his brows and the down turn of his lips. Andrew held his gaze for a moment before turning and making his way to the front door. It was a moment before Kevin followed with a huff and a quietly muttered “what are you doing,” which Andrew ignored.     

He locked the door behind them then ushered Kevin to his car for the second time that day. Giving into Kevin’s request was easier than listening to him whine all day.

“We’re going to practice?” Kevin asked as Andrew climbed behind the wheel.

“You’re buying me another three pints of ice cream after this,” Andrew stated tuning the car on and pulling out of the driveway. Why today couldn’t be one of the times Kevin had too bad a hangover to even think about moving Andrew didn’t know.

“No I’m not.” Kevin seemed to think he had a choice in the matter. “The amount of sugar you ingest already is enough to give anyone diabetes.”

“Then we can go back and you can deal with Aaron when he gets home.” Kevin shut his mouth at that, and Andrew drove on in the silence.

“Fine,” Kevin finally relented.

Andrew pulled onto the interstate satisfied with that answer. Turning east he headed towards the mountains letting his foot rest heavy on the gas as he weaved in between cars and trucks, relishing the feel of the torque and the control he had over his vehicle. The drive out to their practice range was a long one involving a dirt road Andrew was sure his sports car wasn’t exactly made for and no less than ten switchbacks as they made their way into one of the only ‘rural’ areas one could find this close to San Diego. They pulled in front of the dilapidated warehouse Kevin insisted they use as a training area while the sun was high in the sky and the heat of a southern California spring was beating down onto their backs. Andrew’s all black ensemble didn’t help matters but he didn’t say a word as Kevin unlocked the door and lead him into what they used as a gun range.

Andrew shut the door behind them, looking around the dusty room with a critical eye making sure everything was in the places they had left them and nothing was disturbed. Not many people came out here but Andrew wouldn’t put it past the adventurous hiker or idiotic college student to try breaking in. Kevin stepped forward and Andrew shot his hand out holding him back as he scanned the room. After a moment of confirming everything was exactly the same as they left it -even checking to see if the dust had been unsettled- Andrew let go of Kevin’s arm. With a nod Kevin headed into the room going straight for the safe located in the far left corner behind their improvised targets. The whole warehouse was technically Wymack’s; that he continued to let them use it was mostly due to how insufferable Kevin became if he had to sit around ‘doing nothing’ for too long.

He pulled out two pistols checking them over before placing them on top the safe and pulling out two sets off noise canceling headphones one of which he tossed Andrew’s way without looking back. Andrew lazily raised a hand making them stop their downward descent and come to float gently a foot in front of his face. Lightly he plucked them out of the air as Kevin hung the other pair around his neck and made his way back to Andrew pistols in tow.

He held one of the guns out as he neared, a question in his eyes to which Andrew shook his head, instead of taking the offered gun he sat in the single chair the room contained. Kevin let out a small huff before setting the guns on the fold out table they had brought up here on their first visit meticulously disassembling them to check over their individual parts, and cleaning them with a q-tip before putting them back together and setting up the gun range for use.

Andrew leaned back in his chair staring at the ceiling listening as Kevin moved equipment around the room. It was cool inside the building, and it had a dampish smell that was out of place in the surrounding desert. Andrew had no idea what this place had previously been used for. Wymack was scarce on the details only saying he got the place back when he’d been with the CIA. Which meant it could have been used for literally anything; though Wymack swore up and down the rest of the agency didn’t know about it. Andrew believed him on that point; if he didn’t they wouldn’t have been here in the first place. He traced the outline of his knives hidden under his armbands contemplatively. If anybody new more about what was going on it was Wymack. The fact that he hadn’t stopped Andrew’s witch hunt meant he didn’t disapprove of what Andrew was doing. Not that Andrew’d stop even so. The more information he got the more the more this was shaping into a much larger picture than he initially thought. He got the feeling bigger players were involved, but exactly who they were was still unknown.

Kevin walked back across the room from where he had been positioning the targets to pull the table out to a more accessible location. He sized up the targets before turning to put on his headphones Andrew did the same not necessarily wanting to experience the ringing in the ears that came after shooting without protection for hours. Kevin picked up the first gun -a Beretta, Kevin’s preferred side arm- inspecting the magazine before loading the pistol. He hesitated a moment staring at the gun then switching it to his left hand and raising it to point at the target. Andrew watched as a tremor rocked through his forearm, not saying a word as Kevin gritted his teeth and tried to steady the weapon as he clicked off the safety. His shot went wide hitting the back wall with a bang. Frowning Kevin tried again, and again, and again. By the fifth shot it was obvious he wasn’t improving instead the tremble in his hand was only growing worse as he went on. His sixth shot hit the target by what seemed to be sheer luck while his seventh didn’t even make it close.

By the tenth Andrew had had enough, and let his sentiments be known by making Kevin’s gun weigh as much as a brick. He dropped it with a yelp.

Ripping off his headphones off Kevin turned to glare at Andrew. “What!?”

“Stop it.” Andrew pulled off his own headphones as he watched Kevin grab the gun off the floor stomp over to the table and slam it down. Kevin took a deep breath staring down at his hands before turning back around to regard Andrew.

“You should be training as well,” Kevin said his usual level of haughtiness back in his voice.

“No.”

“You need to learn how to use a gun to be better prepared in case-”

“No I don’t,” Andrew replied tracing a hand over his armbands.

“Yes you-” Andrew stood walking over to where Kevin was and covering his mouth with his left hand. Kevin grumbled incoherently but didn’t move to pull away as he stared down at Andrew.

“No I don’t,” Andrew repeated. Raising his hand he folded his fingers into the shape of a gun and pointed it at the target Kevin’s eyes tracking the movement. “Bang,” he said sarcastically the target crumpling in on itself in the span of a second until it dropped to the ground about the size of a baseball.

Kevin rolled his eyes as Andrew withdrew his hand. “That’s not what I meant.”

“Just because you don’t have powers doesn't mean I have to play by those rules.” Andrew patted Kevin on the cheek before turning around and making his way back to his seat. “Best continue practicing Boy Wonder.”

The sound of frustration Kevin made in response brought a quick smile to Andrew’s lips.                               

++++++

Allison was not having a very good day. It was one thing to wake up this morning only to discover Seth had been booked again, it was another entirely to be flung through a building.

Landing on top of the roof of a skyscraper she stowed away her grappling hook, and attempted to catch her breath. Her side throbbed in pain and it was more than likely she had a broken rib, if she was lucky it was only bruised. That was going to be troublesome either way. Her phone made a chirping noise from her side and it was with suppressed aggression that she pulled it from her pocket.

“What,” she answered looking about to see if there were any eyes on her before pulling off her mask and making a bee-line for the stash of clothes she had hidden off to the side of the stairwell.

“Hey Heiress,” Matt’s deep voice chuckled through the receiver and Allison let out a tired sigh.

“Matt.” She shifted her phone so it was pressed between her shoulder and her head as she bent down and began the process that was extracting herself from her suit. “What did I tell you about calling me that?”

“It’s just so ironic that that’s the name you got stuck with,” Matt said.

“Yeah ha ha funny. You know my pain yet you're still a dick, those reporters and their stupid fucking nicknames.” She kicked off her heels and carefully stepped into the dress she had left there before stuffing her suit, and weapons into the purse she had brought along. Picking up her shoes she grimaced noting the blood stains dotting the right one, those where going to be a bitch to get out. With a shrug she put them back on deciding to deal with it later.

“Hey we can’t all be superheroes here.” Allison rolled her eyes as Matt spoke again, the sarcasm in his voice was unwarranted. “Speaking of reporters you should stop by when you have a chance, Dan want’s a statement for tomorrow's paper.”

“Of course she does,” Allison said reaching up and undoing her ponytail letting her blonde hair fall down into her face before running a hand through it and making her way over to the door to the stairs. With a heave she shimmied the lock before swinging open the door and making her way inside.

“We saw you hit that building,” Matt said a little more somberly as Allison made her way slowly down the flight of stairs and out into the hallway of the top floor. “You okay?”

“Oh yeah because buildings are so soft Matt.” Allison pressed the down button for the elevator impatiently tapping her foot as she waited.

“Allison.”

“I’m a bit bruised but hopefully nothing’s broken,” Allison answered him as the elevator arrived. “The suit absorbed most of it.” She stepped in and clicked the button for the first floor.

“Dan says you should get it checked out anyway,” Matt said after a brief pause.

“I thought she wanted a quote,” Allison snarked making her way out of the elevator and into the lobby. She gave a wave to the security guard before exiting the building and making her way to her convertible.

There was another pause, “She says she’ll just make one up.”

“Well it better be a good one.”

“No promises.”

Allison laughed, “bye Matt.”

“See you later Allison.”

Hanging up Allison slid into the driver's seat of her car, and turned the keys in the ignition. The engine rolled over with a rumble and revved into life a moment later. Allison leaned over to check her reflection in the rear view mirror and grimaced at the purple bruise dotting along her neck. It looked worse than it felt and the only upside was she could probably pass it off as some sort of hicky if anyone asked. The one on her cheek would be a little harder to hide. Quickly she fixed her make up and made herself look presentable before pulling into the street.    

Sometimes she wondered if it was all worth it. Going against her parents to register as an official hero, and then becoming the highest ranking hero in San Diego. Most days she knew it was, knew that she was making a difference and saving lives, but today didn't feel like one of those days. How could she help all these strangers when she couldn't even help her boyfriend. She knew Seth could be good, could be better. But he didn't even try. She had a faith in him he didn't seem to have in himself, and she knew with work he could be the person she caught a glimpse of that day he saved her life. But Seth was stubborn. She supposed she was as well seeing as that's why she kept trying.

The light in front of her turned red and she quickly hit the breaks sighing as a crowd of pedestrians walked past.

Her eyes caught on familiar dark hair and rumpled clothes. Quickly she rolled down her window and stuck her head out. “Neil!” She called to the man as he passed in front of her car.

He startled, badly, one hand going to clutch at the strap of his duffel bag as he swung his head around to stare at her looking like he wanted to bolt. It took him a moment before he blinked in recognition at the sight of Allison’s car.

“Sorry!” She called out over the noise of the street. “Need a ride?”

He hesitated looking around before walking over and climbing into the passenger seat. A car honked behind them the second the light turned green and with barely a glance out the rear view mirror Allison took off down the road. “So, where are you heading Neil?”

“Work called me in,” he said glancing over then doing a double take. “What happened to you face?”

Allison shrugged, “I was in the area and a powered fight broke out. Got a few bumps.”

“The fight that just happened involving Heiress?” Neil asked his brown eyes narrowed as he studied her.

“Yeah,” Allison said making a right hand turn and heading towards the news station. “It was rather inconvenient. Is that why you were called in?”

Neil shook his head, “It’s an update on the murders from last night.”

Quirking an eyebrow Allison turned to give him a look. “Okay you can’t just say that without elaborating, do you know what the fuck is going on?”

“Honestly I don’t.” Neil held up his hands before running one through his hair making the curls even more unruly. “All I know is that everybody thinks they’re going to get Heiress involved in the investigation.”

Allison had to stop herself from jerking the car into oncoming traffic. “What?”

Neil gave her another scrutinizing look. “It’s all just rumor for now though.”

“People are saying Heiress is going to get pulled into the case?” That was news to her.

Neil shrugged. “Guess so.”

“Huh,” Allison replied. She hadn’t thought the Monster case was big enough for the police to want to involve her, at least not yet. While the Hero Registry often worked with the police the process to pull a hero onto an investigation was complicated, and involved a lot of legal jargon so it was often the last ditch effort for any case. Though the Monster case was shaping up to be more complex than originally thought seeing as no one had a clue who the mercenary was, or even if it was in fact a single person doing these murders. The power traces seemed similar according to evidence. Similar to the point that investigators had confirmed that they at least belonged to the same category of powers, but the murders were all executed differently suggesting it could be multiple people. Allison thought it was a definite possibility that ‘the Monster’ might actually turn out to be Monsters. The real question was if it was multiple people were they knowingly working together or not?

The motivation for the murders was also unknown. The victims had nothing traceable in common except for how they were killed and where. It all added up to a bunch of questions that were currently stumping the local police force.

Neil kept quiet as they drove seeming to be as occupied with his thoughts as Allison was with her own. He stared out the window as they drove through the city a furrow between his brows and Allison spared a thought to how tired he looked; the dark circles under his eyes looking almost like a permanent fixture by this point in time. She’d say something but she figured he’d hear everything she had to say from Matt soon enough.

Pulling over to the curb she stopped in front of the large concrete building that housed News Station 10. Neil pulled his bag into his lap before looking back at Allison. She flipped her hair over her shoulder before giving him a smirk. “I think this is your stop.”

His lip twitched. “Thanks Allison.”

Neil reached for the door clicking it open and stepping out onto the sidewalk, pulling his bag onto his shoulder and taking a moment to look up at the building.

“Hey Neil?” Neil leaned back into the doorway to look at Allison, she went on holding his eyes. “Try not to get to involved in this.”

“I don’t plan to,” Neil said, frowning.

“Yeah I know.” Allison gave him a wink. “See you later Josten.”

“Bye Allison,” he said then closed the door. Allison watched him enter the building a sinking feeling settling in her stomach which she couldn’t place. It felt like danger. It felt like despair. She didn’t know what it meant. As she pulled back onto the street she swore the feeling only grew worse.

++++++

Andrew dumped Kevin back at the house late into the evening to Aaron’s angered grumbling and Kevin’s displeased stare. He didn’t step foot out of the car before he was pulling out of the driveway and making his way back into the city. Nicky wanted to talk and Andrew didn’t feel like handling the backlash of ignoring his cousin. So he was heading to Erik’s. Opting to go alone, and leaving Kevin back where he couldn’t make a mess of things.

The drive wasn’t a long one. Erik owned a small cafe on the edge of downtown hidden between a corner market and some type of flower shop Andrew had never willingly stepped foot in. It was quaint, warm, and open much later than most other coffee shops in the area making it a haven for the desperate college kid needing a constant caffeine intake while studying. Andrew liked it for its comfy chairs and the free drinks he got. That it usually came with him being bothered by either Nicky or Erik was an unfortunate side effect.

The smell of ground coffee was the first thing he noticed upon stepping through the door. It was bitter but sweet something that mixed well with the low hum of noise the place held along with its warm lighting. This late it wasn’t crowded, only the few regulars spaced out amongst the tables all minding their own business. To absorbed in their minds to even notice the door opening.

Erik stood behind the counter cleaning one of the machines with a rag. At the sound of the bell he looked up giving Andrew a smile as he noticed the man. Andrew made his way to the counter coming to stand before Erik just as he stood to his full height.

“Where’s Nicky?” Andrew asked as Erik opened the pastry display and pulled out a chocolate stuffed croissant that he placed in front of Andrew. He took it with a bored expression and a nod that made Erik grin stupidly.

“He said he’ll be here in about twenty minutes,” Erik replied with a shrug. “The station kept him late.”

Andrew hummed in acknowledgement taking his croissant and heading to a couch that took up the back corner of the shop to wait for his cousin. It gave him a clear view of the door while keeping his back to the wall. Beside the couch sat a shelf of books he and Nicky had put in last summer which he had been steadily filling this past year. Carefully he pulled down a worn book he had been making his way through each time he visited the cafe. Flipping it open he fell into the world the words created letting the plot take him away as he sat there.

It couldn’t have been more than five minutes when his reading was interrupted by a commotion at the door. He looked up as the bell rang expecting to see his cousin but instead finding the sight of two men entering the shop. His eyes went first to the taller of the two recognizing him as the owner of the flower shop next door, Matt. Andrew new for a fact that he was powered, having found out after Erik bought this shop. Andrew had done the reasonable thing and checked into the backgrounds of the neighbors, wanting to make sure his cousin in-law wouldn’t be expecting any trouble. Matt, these days, wasn’t much trouble; but after what Andrew had designated ‘the rose bush incident’ happened neither man particularly liked one another. Though not liking Andrew didn’t stop Matt from befriending Erik or Nicky for that matter.

Matt was talking animatedly to Erik something about a fight happening downtown today gesturing vaguely to the person he had entered with. He was much shorter than Matt only slightly taller than Andrew himself, which was the first surprising thing. The second was that Andrew found he recognized the guy.

“You,” he said aloud. The three men turned to look at him Erik looking vaguely startled and a frown gracing Matt’s face. Andrew’s gaze didn’t linger on them, instead grazing over them entirely until his eyes were locked with the dull brown of the third man’s. Andrew definitely recognized him. There was something in the stranger's face that made Andrew think of danger.

“Andrew,” Matt greeted tightly. Andrew ignored him in favour of staring down the brown eyed man. Erik looked vaguely uncomfortable.

“Can I help you?” the man asked his tone challenging as he stared back at Andrew.

“You almost dented my car this morning.” Andrew wondered if anyone else noticed the faint flicker of colour that happened anytime the man blinked his eyes.

The man frowned. “What?”

“You ran in front of my car this morning.” Andrew tilted his head to regard the man. He looked like his clothes were found in the back racks of a Goodwill. His shaggy hair falling in rumpled curls over his face, and his eyes the kind of tired that knew all too well what long nights looked like. For some reason he reminded Andrew of that kid he found last night.

“So?”

Andrew narrowed his eyes. “So?”

Erik coughed a bit interrupting their little staring contest. “Ah, you haven’t met Neil yet have you Andrew?”

Andrew guessed almost running over the guy didn’t necessarily count as meeting him so he shrugged.

“Well then,” Erik started, fidgeting with a fork. “This is Neil Josten. Neil this is Andrew, Nicky’s cousin.”

“Nicky’s cousin?” Neil asked Erik before turning back to Andrew with a scrutinizing look. “You go to the university right?”

“No,” Andrew answered.

Neil frowned.

“You’re probably thinking of Aaron,” Matt put in. “They’re twins.”

Neil nodded opening his mouth as if to say something else. He never got the change as the bell over the door rang and Nicky practically ran in. Everybody swung their heads around to look at him. Noticing the attention Nicky stood straighter pulling the bottom of his suit jacket as if to get the wrinkles out.         

“Uh, hi,” he said sheepishly rubbing the back of his neck.

“Hello,” Erik replied sweetly. Walking over he gave his husband a peck on the cheek muttering something low in German before heading back over to the counter and handing Neil and Matt their drinks. Andrew watched as they took their drinks greeting Nicky then sitting at a table near the couch Neil's back to the wall while Matt sat nearer the counter.

Looking back to Nicky Andrew found his cousin walking over to the couch a smile on his face, yet his eyes weary as he sat in the opposite corner from Andrew.

“Hey,” Nicky said fiddling with his cuff link as he searched Andrew’s face. Andrew waited for him to speak his peace knowing Nicky wouldn’t have asked him here if it wasn’t important. Nicky hesitated before switching to german. “I need to talk to you about what happened.”

Andrew saw movement out of the corner of his eye and looked over to find Neil staring at him. As their eyes met Neil quickly looked away focusing back on the seemingly one sided conversation he was having with Matt.

“What happened?” Andrew answered in kind keeping his eyes on the stiffness that was seeping into Neil’s shoulders. He had a feeling this might end up being a problem.

“Andrew…” Nicky sighed. “I- Lily stayed with us last night. But this morning she went into witness protection. They’re planning to use her to further the case.”

Andrew looked back to his cousin. “Did they identify the bodies?”

Nicky nodded. “But there isn’t any connections between them other than that they both moved to this area from the east coast. Neither of them are all that remarkable as far as it goes. I’ll send you the reports but I don’t think you’ll find anything helpful. Our best bet is Lily.”

Andrew ran his fingers over the worn spine of his book. He knew he shouldn’t have expected more information than this, but it had been months and this was the farthest he’s gotten in finding where they were taking those children. He needed to find out more information, all of his leads were turning up dead. “Is she safe"?”

“Yes Andrew,” Nicky said softly, and Andrew hated that tone he used. “I’ll keep an eye on her.”

There was a pause before Nicky continued, “I’m more worried about you actually. You’re not being careful enough, if you get caught-”

“That won’t happen.” Andrew interrupted him shoving the last bit of croissant into his mouth.

“There’s only so much I can do about the investigatio-”

“Nicky.”

“There’s already suspicion that someone's impeding evidence if they-”

“Nicky. Be quiet.”

“Andrew this is serious,” Nicky said, reaching for him then pulling away once he realized what he’d been doing. “They’re talking about getting someone from the Hero Registry involved.”

Andrew hadn’t heard about that. “Who?”

“We haven’t decided yet.” Nicky slouched back into the couch.

“If they get in my way…” That made Nicky sit upright a look of horror on his face.

“Andrew you can’t kill them. After what happened with Dr-”

Nicky’s words were cut off by the press of Andrew’s blade into his stomach. He hadn’t even realized he’d gone for it. “Don’t,” he said softly.

Nicky gulped raising his hands. “I just meant,” his voice was strained, “that that investigation is still ongoing. If the two are linked… Just... Just be careful. You don’t know who could get involved.”

The unspoken knowledge that Andrew couldn’t afford to have too many eyes turn his way sat between them like a brick. The fact that he had a dead national icon sleeping in his spare bedroom only complicated matters. The likelihood of the Ravens being the ones to get involved was slim, but this case was getting bigger than Andrew originally planned. Finding the center of this mess was not going as soothly as it could have been. There was no chance he would stop though, not after what he’d seen.

Andrew stood suddenly, shoving the book back onto its shelf and turning towards the door. He heard Nicky stand behind him but didn’t look back as he began walking away.

“Andrew,” Nicky called after him.

Andrew stopped, he had words for his cousin but they weren’t ones for such a public place. Flickering a glance around the room he scanned the patrons, his eyes once again landing on Neil who looked up to blink at him. Andrew yanked his gaze away looking back to his cousin. “See you later Nicky,” he said instead. Not listening for his cousin’s answer as he exited the shop giving a brisk nod to Erik on his way out.

He had a feeling he wouldn’t be getting much sleep that night.

Chapter Text

Nicky sat at his desk twirling a pen between his fingers as he regarded the case file in front of him. It wasn't anything all too serious, just a string of muggings that had been happening around the area this last week. It wasn't really meant to be assigned to him, but they suspected the mugger was powdered, and while the powered crimes division had plenty of work Nicky's current case was at a stand still at the moment. So he was stuck with this little thing. Not that he was complaining; making sure the Monster case didn't go forward had been the point all along.

Sighing he flipped the folder shut resting his cheek in the palm of his hand. It had been a week and nothing. The last two murders had given no evidence to go off of. At least no evidence that would help Andrew move forward in finding the organization he was after. For Nicky's case it was a different story.

Dejectedly Nicky reached out to grab another case file this one much thicker than the last. Opening it he stared down at the pages upon pages documenting the evidence and case so far. To most people looking at the case none of it would add up. There were key factors missing, gaps in the logic that unless filled would make identifying the motive virtually impossible, and without motive the case was floating dead in the ocean. Sure they had a foundation to go on. Nicky had to sit through countless meetings discussing the suspect list for the mercenary dubbed the Monster -Nicky couldn’t help grimacing every time he heard that nickname, while accurate it left a sinking feeling in his stomach. The suspect list was practically nonexistent though, names would be added then removed on a near constant basis. None of the detectives could even agree if the murders were actually conducted by the same person or not. Andrew was doing a good job of covering his tracks, but Nicky was still worried it was not enough.

There was Lily.

The girl hadn’t said anything to anyone other than Nicky, and even then she had only spoken to him that first night, but she was the evidence they needed to blow this whole thing wide open. With her knowledge she could lead Andrew to where those kids had been taken, yet she could also lead the police force right to Andrew’s door step. Which wouldn’t end well for anyone. The best case scenario would be the force finding evidence of this organization and starting their own investigation into the people behind that. The worst case scenario would be them arresting Andrew before he could accomplish his goal. Either way it was a tangle of threads that Nicky had no doubt in his mind would leave someone hurt.

Hopefully he could make it so that someone wasn’t one of his family members.

A knock on the desk beside him had him looking up and plastering a smile onto his face in the same movement. Captain Hernandez stood over him looking slightly grim as he took in the case file Nicky had been looking at. “Having fun?” he asked.

“Oh you know it,” Nicky replied closing the file.   

Hernandez nodded distractedly. “We need you in conference room two.” Nicky raised an eyebrow and the Captain went on. “We found the girl's parents.”

Nicky let his jaw drop in shock. “What?”

“They're at the station now, I want you to be there as we ask a few questions.”

Nicky stood numb as a sinking feeling washed over him. The scars on his back were tight as he rolled out his shoulders from the hunched position they had taken as he read. That Lily had a family, a living family that knew her, that might have even been looking for her surprised Nicky. He thought her situation would have been more like Andrew's, or at least how Andrew's was before Aaron found him.

Silently he followed Hernandez to the conference room bringing along the case’s file to add notes to it. Opening the door to the conference room was like stepping into some weird alternate demotion. The gentle hum of working individuals was replaced by the wrecked sobs of the woman sitting at the table and the deep breaths the man at her side was taking. Captain Hernandez closed the door behind him with a click and motioned Nicky over to sit beside Detectives Lee and Dawning who had already been situated at the table for who knows how long. They greeted him with nods before turning back to the couple in front of them.

Nicky sat down taking a moment to study the two in front of him as Captain Hernandez took a seat at the head of the table. They were obviously distressed; faces red and tear stained. Nicky supposed the news that their daughter was alive was only broken to them recently. They probably hadn't even seen her yet.

Hernandez cleared his throat catching the couple's attention. “I would like to introduce you to Detective Hemmick. He’s the primary investigator on the case Lily is involved in. Detective Hemmick this is Brian and June Yeung.”

“It’s unfortunate we met under these circumstances,” Nicky said giving them a kind smile. June sniffled while her husband attempted a smile in return. It fell flat in the silence they shared.

“Where’s our daughter?” June asked after a long inhale.

Nicky shared a look with his colleagues before answering, “She’s currently in protective custody.”

“We’ve sent word to bring her over to the station,” Hernandez explained. “We have a few questions for you first.”

“What questions?” Brian asked.

Nicky shuffled his papers. “When was the last time you saw your daughter.”

“It was about four years ago,” Brian shook his head. “August fourteenth.”

“Can you tell me about the day she went missing?” Nicky asked scrutinizing them. Their distress seemed genuine, but Nicky wouldn’t make any decisions on the matter until he knew all the facts.

“It was the week before school was supposed to start,” June hiccuped. “We had dropped her off with her baby sitter that morning as usual. We both worked full time so Lily often stayed with her. It was around two when we got the call that Rachel couldn’t find her. They had been at the park Lily ran off while Rachel was looking away and didn’t come back. The police couldn’t find a trace of her.” June broke down again her husband sneaking a comforting arm over her shoulder.

“What was the baby sitters name?” Detective Lee asked.

“Rachel Belka.” Nicky quickly scribbled down Brian's answer. “She moved from California some time ago though.”

Nicky nodded. “Thank you, this will help.” He paused thinking for a moment before going on, “were you living in San Diego when Lily was kidnapped?”

Brian shook his head, “No we only moved here six months ago, we were in Oakland at the time.”  

Nicky blinked before writing down the information. Brian went on, “It seems like a miracle that we found our Lily here.”

Nicky gave him a weak smile pulling out the two pictures of the victims. “Do either of you know these two men?” he asked pushing the pictures across the table.

June and Brian studied them for a moment before Brian shook his head.

“Who are they?” June asked.

“Tyson Feild,” Detective Dawning said tapping the picture Nicky recognized as Andrew’s original target, “and this is Mason Hasse. Your daughter was found at the scene of their murders.”

June looked up eyes wide. “Were they the ones who took her?”

Dawning looked like she really didn’t want to be the one to answer that question, but a helpless look around the room bought her no pity from the other detectives so she went on, “we don't actually know…”

“You don’t know?” Brian had a temper it seemed. “Do you know who killed them? Maybe that person was the one to take our daughter.”

Dawning frowned. “No we don’t, that’s what we are currently investigating.” She shot a look at Hernandez who gave her a nod to continue. “This is an ongoing case these last two murders are the latest of a string. Lily is our first witness to any of this.”

“You want our daughter to help you in your case?” June asked. “She’s just a child!”

“What she saw could help save lives,” Nicky interjected. “And I think you’ll find she’s not the same after what she’s been through. If you go into this thinking she is you’ll only hurt her more.”

Brian glared at him. “What do you-”

“Sir,” Hernandez interrupted, “Lily has barely said a word since we found her, Detective Hemmick is right. The people who have been looking after her can explain more of the situation to you and the appropriate actions to take for Lily’s recovery.” He stood signaling this meeting to be over,  Lily’s parents stood to follow him along with detectives Lee and Dawning.

“One more question,” Nicky said standing quickly before they could leave. They turned back to look at him mixed expressions on their faces. “Are either of you powered?”

Brian and June shared a look but didn’t say anything.

“This is all confidential,” Nicky said raising his hands.

There was a moment of hesitation before June answered, “Yes, I am.”

Nicky nodded, then it was a definite possibility Lily would manifest powers as well.

“Does this have something to do with why Lily was taken?” June asked.

“It could,” Nicky replied seriously. “Thank you for telling me, it will help our case.”

June held his gaze a moment and Nicky felt like she could see through his mask before giving him a serious nod and exiting the room behind her husband. Nicky watched through the doorway as Hernandez handed the couple off to another set of officers. They left quickly probably going to meet their daughter. Nicky hoped she was going to be alright. The therapist they brought in seemed to think so, but Lily still hadn’t been speaking much last time he checked. It’d be awhile until she could tell them anything conclusive about the events of that night, or about the people who took her.

Captain Hernandez looked back motioning Nicky over to where he stood. “There will be a precinct meeting later today to go over what we know so far about the case. I want you to head it.”

Nicky nodded. “Okay.”

“After that a representative from the Hero Registry will be stopping by.”

“Sir?” Nicky asked turning to him. Oh fuck, he thought.

“We’re going to bring in someone to help with the investigation. This is getting out of hand, and unless we want the feds to end up getting involved this is our best bet for a quicker resolution.”

“Right… Do you know which hero they’ll send?” Nicky asked crossing his fingers it would be someone reasonable.

“Not yet, after the assessment they’ll decide.”

“Thank you for letting me know Captain.” Nicky forced a smile onto his face.  

“Best start getting prepared Hemmick,” Hernandez said patting Nicky on the shoulder then walking back to his office.

Nicky stood there a moment letting the happenings of the last hour sink in.

He needed to talk to Andrew.

++++++

Kevin walked impatiently next to Andrew as he idly strolled through a park located a few miles from their house. Andrew took no notice of Kevin’s growing frustration as he pulled out a cigarette lighting it then inhaling deeply. Kevin tugged his hood further over his face as they passed a group of loitering teenagers turning his head away in case they recognized him. Andrew blew smoke into the sky watching as it dissipated into nothing.

“You shouldn’t smoke,” Kevin felt the need to comment. Andrew turned to look at him taking another drag off his cigarette. “It’s not good for you.”

Andrew blew smoke into his face.

Kevin waved it away glaring at the small upturn of Andrew’s lip he caught. Andrew kept walking making a turn deeper into the expanse of the park. They were here to meet an informant who had information on the group Andrew was after. Since their last lead there had been nothing new; the police department was still sitting on what little evidence they had, and Nicky hadn't found out anything new on his end. So Andrew had taken matters into his own hands as he usually did.

Kevin suspected the only reason he was brought along was to alleviate some of Andrew’s boredom.  

The day was overcast, a thick blanket of clouds had rolled off of the Pacific sometime during the night and never made it past the mountains had settled over San Diego like a drape. It stilled the air, at once muffling and amplifying the sounds of the city putting Kevin on edge. It was the type of day people avoided for its promise of rain, a rare occurrence this late in spring. Tactically it would be a good time for an ambush, Andrew ignored him outright when Kevin brought this up but the thought sat in the back of his mind nonetheless.This was the first time Andrew had brought Kevin along to a meeting with his informant and the unknown of who the person was had made Kevin all nerves.

Andrew shot out his hand grabbing Kevin by the sleeve of his jacket and pulling him off the path they had been walking on and further into the park. He didn’t let go of Kevin’s sleeve as they made their way across the grass, and Kevin couldn’t help but roll his eyes as he watched Andrew drop his finished cigarette only to fumble out another one handed. He lit it with a flick of his lighter after shoving it in his mouth. Kevin decided not to say anything if only for the fact that Andrew never listened to him anyway. Instead Kevin took the chance to look around the park. It wasn’t crowded in this area, they were too far from the main playground, and the day wasn’t nice enough for the usual sunbathers to be found scattered around the grass. Except…  Turning to the left Kevin’s eyes landed on a figure halfway up a tree seemingly reaching for something higher up in the branches.

“Come here you little shit,” the figure said his words drifting lazily through the air.

Andrew stilled, his gaze turning in the direction of Kevin’s. “Roadrunner,” he muttered quietly.

“What?” Kevin asked.

Andrew didn’t answer him, instead tugging Kevin along towards the base of the tree. About six feet away he stopped, craning his neck to look up at the scene in front of them. “Rescuing cats from trees? How heroic,” Andrew drawled releasing a breath of smoke.

The man in the tree froze brown eyes going wide as he looked down at the two of them. The cat he had been reaching for let out a pitiful meow from where it clinged desperately to a branch. It was a tiny white thing that couldn't have been more than a few months old. Kevin honestly didn't know how it even made it up there.

“You know him?” Kevin asked. This can't be the informant , Kevin thought. He looked barely old enough to drink. At his words the man's eyes turned to Kevin. There was a split second of recognition that passed over his face before it went blank completely. Kevin slouched a bit and tugged at his hood.

“Don't you recognize him?” Andrew asked. Kevin shot him a look and the man in the tree stiffened again.

Kevin studied the man once more. His dark hair and brown eyes, high cheekbones and short stature. Maybe there was something in the nose? The thought was quickly dismissed; Kevin had no idea who the guy was.

“No,” he answered. Was he supposed to?

“He's the one who almost dented my car last week,” Andrew stated plainly.

“What?” Kevin asked.

“You're still on about that?” The man in the tree spoke at the same time. They’re eyes met for a moment before they both looked over to Andrew.

“Neil is one of Matt’s friends.” Andrew gestured lazily to the man in the tree.

“Matt Boyd?” Kevin questioned eyeing the man again. Kevin knew Matt from an unfortunate run in at Wymack’s one day. He also knew Matt and Andrew didn’t get along, but he didn’t know exactly why other than it had to do with Andrew's natural disposition and what had been dubbed ‘the rose bush incident’. Matt had caught one glimpse of his tattoo before socking Kevin in the face, it had all gone down hill from there.

Andrew nodded keeping his eyes on Neil who was looking down at them with a considering air.  “Though we almost made him roadkill, I doubt Matt would have been happy with that. I wonder, what were you running from Josten?”  

Neil shifted on the branch he was situated on giving Andrew a frown. “Nothing, I was just late to class.” Which made sense except for the fact they had been nowhere near the campus at the time.

Andrew gave Kevin a look that he didn’t know what to make of. Turning to Neil Kevin asked, “how long have you been up there?”

Neil turned his gaze back to Kevin keen eyes ghosting over him before answering, “a while...”

Kevin had a feeling Neil might have recognized him at some point. For some reason that fact didn’t scare him as much as it normally would. He looked over to Andrew who stared back contemplatively before shrugging.

“If you want to be a good samaritan go ahead, I won't be helping though,” Andrew answered Kevin’s unspoken question.

“I don’t need help,” Neil piped in from the tree.

Andrew quirked an eyebrow, and Kevin made a disbelieving noise as he looked back up at Neil. The kitten meowed again wobbling on its own branch as it tried to move closer to the trunk of the tree. Kevin huffed moving to the lowest branch and hauling himself up then stopping a moment to gauge the safest way to get to the cat.

The tree was large, at least thirty feet tall, and wide enough that Kevin suspected it had to be one of the oldest in this park. Neil was about fifteen feet up while the kitten was more like twenty. Kevin carefully maneuvered from branch to branch ignoring the pain in his wrist as he climbed the tree. Neil stared down at him something close to incredulousness on his face. It didn’t take long until they on the same height as one another, Kevin directly under the kitten while Neil crouched a few feet across from him on his own branch.

“This wasn’t necessary,” Neil said. Kevin didn’t answer him as he slowly stood to his full height using the branch over him for balance. A glance down found Andrew staring up at them his face pale in the flat light of the day.

Looking back up Kevin leaned to the side resting his right arm at the base of the branch while he extended his left arm towards the kitten. The kitten of course hissed and decided to back up further along the branch much to Kevin’s exasperation. Big blue eyes stared up at him in fear as Kevin reached his hand out further. “Come here,” he murmured in what he thought was a soothing voice.

“You know that’s not going to work right?” Kevin looked over to find Neil had stood as well, one foot crammed into a fork in the tree while the other rested on the branch next to Kevin’s feet.

“If your cat would cooperate it would,” Kevin said reaching out his hand once more to grab at the kitten. It hissed again batting his hand away with sharp claws its hair beginning to stand on end.

“She’s not my cat,” Neil muttered reaching his own hand out he whistled quietly, tapping his fingers against the bark of the tree. The kitten stopped growling taking a tentative step forward and sniffing at the air. “That's it, a little more,” Neil hummed reaching his hand out farther. The cat was still more than a foot and a half away, less for Kevin, but not within grabbing distance. Neil inched his foot out a bit more reaching his arm out farther as he whispered inaudibly under his breath. Kevin watched as the kitten began slowly inching forward teetering unsteadily on its feet. Neil was stretched as far as he could. His balance looking as unsteady as the cat’s as he moved his other foot to the branch they were now both standing on. “Little more…”

The kitten took another step forward, and Neil’s shoulders stiffened as he gauged the space between his hand and the cat. “Wait,” Kevin barely had time to say before Neil was lunging for the kitten with both his hands. Snapping his arm out Kevin grabbed Neil by the back of his shirt, which might have worked had his foot not slipped. They both went tumbling off the branch with little preamble.

Kevin spared a split second for regretting his decisions before he tucked his arms behind Neil's neck and braced for impact.

They never hit the ground.

Looking over he found Neil floating a few feet above the grass of the park the cat cradled tightly in his arms as he stared at something on the other side of Kevin. He followed Neil’s gaze until he met the unimpressed eyes of one Andrew Minyard staring down at them.

“Idiots,” Andrew deadpanned dropping them the rest of the way to the ground with a thump.

Kevin, extracted his arms from under Neil's body, and stood with a grumbled shaking out the dirt from his clothes as he watched Neil slowly rise from where he landed.

“I- You,” Neil started staring at Andrew, “Are powered.”

“Observant,” Andrew stated indifferently.

“And you.” Neil turned to Kevin eyeing him. “Aren’t dead.”

Kevin froze, realizing he couldn’t feel the weight of his hood on his head anymore. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” It was one thing to know Neil recognized him it was another for him to say it out loud.

“What’s under the bandage?” Neil asked lightly tapping the side of his left cheek.

Kevin raised his hand covering the bandaid that hid his tattoo, a stricken look coming over his face.

Andrew stepped forward a cold smile on his lips as he pulled Kevin’s hood up and over his head. “Now, now. You’ve rescued your pet, better get going roadrunner.”

Neil leveled a weighty gaze on them, at once seemingly not threatened by Andrew yet wary with the whole situation. “She's not mine.” Was all he said.

Andrew studied him in turn, his expression giving away nothing. Kevin looked between the two wondering what exactly it was Andrew saw.  

“Andrew, there you are.” A voice interrupted their exchange. Kevin looked back over his shoulder to find Renee Walker strolling across the dew dampened grass towards them. She fit with the day, the overcast sky making her pastel hair seem all the more faded. Like a specter in a summer dress. Andrew kept his gaze on Neil acknowledging her with a tilt of his head. Neil’s stare shifted and he went a little paler at the sight of her. “And Neil,” Renee added with a kind smile. “I didn’t expect you to be here.”

“I’m not-” Neil started.

“We only stumbled upon him rescuing his cat.” Andrew finally turned to face Renee. “He was just leaving.”

“She’s not my cat,” Neil repeated.

“She is now.”

Neil sighed.

“Best get going now,” Andrew said making a shooing gesture with his hand. Neil looked like he wanted to say something to that but held his tongue. Instead he abruptly turned and began jogging off towards the front of the park. The three of them watched in silence until he was out of earshot and slowly disappeared over a hill and out of view. Kevin had the distinct feeling that that had gone much too easily.

“You know Neil?” Renee asked, her dark eyes staring off in the direction he had been.

“Only because he almost dented my car,” Andrew answered.

Kevin turned to look at him. “You really are upset about that.” 

“No I’m not.”

There was a moment of silence before Andrew asked, “how do you know him?”

“He works with Dan at News 10,” Renee explained, “and is friends with Allison and Matt. Though, he’s never really spoken to me.”

“He’s dangerous,” Andrew stated.

“He isn’t powered,” Renee said, which to Kevin's ears wasn’t a disagreement.

“Do you know this because you’ve used your’s on him?” Andrew asked.   

Renee shook her head, “no.”

“So he could be.”

The silence and Renee's resulting frown spoke for themselves. Kevin shuffled wondering if now was a good time to bring up the fact that someone who worked for a news station learned who he was. He decided against it.

“Do you have what I asked for?” Andrew turned to her, Renee let a smile slip back onto her face as she reached into her bag and pulled out a folder.

“This is what I found out from my contacts, and the Hero Registry,” Renee said, handing the folder to Andrew. Kevin should have guessed Andrew would have gone to Renee, out of the people he was closest to Renee had some of the highest clearance. “I think it should help you find them.”

Andrew nodded skimming through the folder before handing it to Kevin. Kevin opened it finding lists of names ages and reports documenting missing children dating back over a decade. After that where names and profiles of people both powered and not. It was a lot of information that they no doubt would be sifting through for some time, but it was something, more than they’d had in awhile.

“That’s all I could find with the access I have.”  Renee tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. “Most of it probably isn’t relevant, but I did see some patterns that started emerging after a certain point. I think you might find them interesting.”

“Oh, I think I will as well,” Andrew said. Kevin suspected interesting meant the body count was about to rise again.

Andrew took the folder back from Kevin closing it as he turned back to Renee.

“There’s one more thing,” she said. “The Hero Registry is sending someone in to evaluate a case for the police department today. They’re planning on having a hero help with an investigation, it’s most likely yours.”

The news wasn’t surprising, only that it had taken them this long to get it approved.

“Do you know who it will be?” Kevin asked going over the list of heroes he knew operated in the area. It wasn’t a long one, made shorter by the fact that one of them was standing in front of them.

Renee shook her head, “Nothing has been finalized yet. Though I’ve heard it’s between Heiress and Valkyrie at the moment.”

Hopefully they’d decide on Valkyrie, Renee was at least willing to work with Andrew, and even seemed to approve of what he was doing in a way.

“Who knows,” Andrew said, “they could put both of them on the case.”

“Wouldn’t that be interesting,” Renee’s smile was all teeth.  

++++++

“Is that a cat?” Matt asked a rain soaked Neil who had just tumbled through the front entrance of his shop not moments before. The tiny bundle of white fur mewled sadly from where it sat in a ball on the counter by his cash register. Neil ran a hand through his wet hair attempting to get the tangle of curls out of his face.

“Yeah,” Neil replied giving the little thing a frown. “It was stuck in a tree.”

Matt couldn’t help the grin that broke over his face. “You rescued a kitten from a tree?”

Neil’s frown deepened as he reached over and scratched the kitten between the ears. “Not alone.”

“Oh?” Matt intoned, reaching for his phone. He had to document these moments for the future generations. Yeah, Neil with a kitten, surrounded by flowers was something the future generations needed to see. He snapped a discreet photo. “Who helped you?”

“Andrew and…..” Neil trailed off scrunching his eyebrows together. Matt lowered his phone as Neil looked towards him. “Kevin said he knew you.”

“Oh…” Matt scratched the back of his head. Well this was awkward.

“What are you two talking about?” Dan asked descending the stairs at the back of the shop a bundle of forgetmenots in her hand.

“Neil just met the worst kept secret in this city,” Matt told her taking the bundle of flowers gently from her hand and placing them in a vase. “Also he got a cat.”

“The worst kept…. Oh. Oh….” Dan turned to Neil. “You met Andrew’s shadow.”

The kitten rolled onto its belly batting at Neil’s hand as he absently played with it. “Why has it not gotten out that Kevin Day is alive.”

“Well…” Matt and Dan shared a look.

“Not many people actually know,” Dan explained.

“How do you two?”

“We met on accident at David’s one night,” Matt let out a nervous laugh. “It didn’t really go well.”

“David Wymack?” Neil asked sounding vexed. He picked up the kitten holding it to his chest.

“Yeah, he’s always been involved in the powered community, though we don’t know why Kevin is here, let alone what happened.” Dan crossed her arms over her chest. Not that we really want to know, Matt thought. He had no intention of stepping foot anywhere near that mess.

“But why don’t more people know?”

Matt shrugged, “David asked us not to say anything, and other than us it’s only Andrew’s family and Renee who know.”

“And there’s no doubt that Andrew wouldn’t hesitate to kill us if we told anyone,” Dan clarified.

Neil considered her answer before speaking, “why would the Raven’s lie about Kevin being dead?”

Dan shook her head. “I don’t know, it seems there’s more going on than anybody knows. But Neil?” He looked up at her. “You’ve already caught Andrew’s attention, don’t get anymore involved in this.”

“I won't.” Neil said petting the kitten under the chin. Matt didn’t know if he really believed him. If Matt had learned anything from the year and a half they’d been roommates it was that trouble followed Neil Josten like a curse.    

“Good,” Matt smiled. “Cause I’d hate to get in yet another fight with that tiny bastard.”

Neil’s lip quirked as he continued petting the kitten. It began purring the low rumble filling the silence of the room. Matt wondered if Neil knew how attached he looked already. Matt picked up his phone and took another picture. Dan gave him an amused smile bumping her hip lightly against his. He shrugged in response.

“So what are you going to name it?” Dan asked.

“I wasn’t really planning on keeping her,” Neil admitted.

Matt gasped.“What? Neil, you can't just bring this bundle of joy into our home and then tell me you're not planning on keeping her.”

“I didn't think you'd want a cat,” Neil shrugged.

Matt turned to Dan. “Babe, he didn't think we'd want a cat.”

Dan rolled her eyes. “Well I think he might be wrong.”

“He is definitely wrong,” Matt affirmed.  

The small smile that passed over Neil’s face broke Matt’s heart. “I’ve never had a pet before.”

“Well then you get to name her,” Dan said leaning against Matt.

“Can’t we just call her Cat?”

“Absolutely not.” Matt shook his head.

“Fat Cat?” Neil asked. “She’s pretty chubby,” he said poking the kitten’s round belly and getting a finger full of claws in return.

“That’s better?” Matt asked shooting a glance at Dan.

“No,” she stated

“Hmmm,” Neil hesitated. “Sir Fat Cat McCatterson?”  

Matt grinned. “That’s ridiculous, I love it.”

“It fits,” Dan agreed running a finger down the kitten’s neck. “She doesn’t seem to mind either.”

“Great!” Matt put his arm around Dan’s shoulders. “We have a cat!”

“Well technically Neil has a cat.” Dan smiled. “Though I have a feeling she’ll be good for business.”

“A feeling, or a ‘feeling’?” Neil asked placing the kitten back on the counter, Dan shot him a wink.

“I have to drop something off at work, so I’ll go grab some food and supplies for Sir on the way back,” Dan offered.

“I’ll give you money,” Neil said reaching for his wallet. Dan looked like she wanted to argue but held back, accepting the cash Neil gave her and putting it into her pocket.

“Alright boys don’t have to much fun while I’m gone,” Dan threw over he shoulder as she walked towards the door.

“Wouldn’t dream of it!” Matt shouted after her. Her laughter faded as she exited the shop into the rainy afternoon, and turned down the street.

“Well,” Matt said turning back to Neil. “You got yourself a cat.”

“Yeah, it seems so,” Neil sighed.

++++++

Aaron got back to the house late, his bag weighed down by textbooks and his mind still floating in the realm of cellular biology and the lecture he had just gotten out of. Katelyn had dropped him off at the corner forgoing their usual caution for Aaron not having to go through the trials of using the city’s sketchy transit system. Andrew was going to have too get over the fact of Katelyn one of these days and Aaron wasn’t opposed to the idea of making sure that day came sooner than later. Opening the front door and stepping into the house Aaron took off his shoes placing them next to the others sat beside the doorway. It wasn’t until he was halfway across the living room that he noticed something was different.

Looking up he stared at the pile of furniture pushed against the leftmost wall in a disorganized heap. Turning to the right found Aaron staring at his brother sitting against the far right wall numerous numbers of papers spread out in front of him and an intense look on his face as he gazed down at them through his reading glasses. Kevin stood at the base of the stairs facing a white board he had gotten from who knows where, and tapping a marker lightly against his chin as he pondered the notes written in a messy scrawl before his eyes. Neither of them seemed to notice Aaron’s entrance, the tv was turned on to a news station, the low mutterings of the reporters the only noise besides that of the coffee maker in the otherwise silent house.

“What the fuck is going on?” Aaron asked trying to make sense of what he was seeing. Andrew snapped his head up his glasses going askew with the quickness of the movement. Kevin shushed him without turning around.

“Oh you’re finally home,” Nicky said stepping out of the kitchen and making his way across the room to stand beside Aaron.

Aaron looked to him taking in the line between his brows that contradicted the smile he had plastered to his face. “Something happened.”

Nicky sighed, “Yeah…”

Aaron knelt examining one of the papers in front of him. It seemed to be the condensed version of a case report from seven years ago. Aaron stared at the picture of what looked to be a twelve year old surrounded by notes on one Danni Williams’ kidnapping. The case was considered a cold one, the child suspected dead. Putting it down Aaron took another paper from the floor finding something similar this one a case for a girl named Sasha Jain who had gone missing twelve years ago.

“Where did you get these?” Aaron looked up at his brother.

“Renee,” Andrew answered flipping over the paper he had been studying, his eyes quickly reading over the back.

“There have to be over a hundred papers here.” Picking up another of the pages Aaron began carefully reading through the information as Nicky headed back to the kitchen. It was halfway through the page when he realized something, “are they all powered?”

“Yes.” Andrew scribbled something into a notebook before reaching for another case.

Nicky entered the room once again, carrying four mugs that he carefully sat beside Aaron before setting them out for the others. “Most of the cases are cold,” Nicky explained. “And many have nothing to do with what’s going on, but some of them…” he trailed off watching as Andrew grabbed for his mug of coffee. If that much creamer even allowed it to qualify as coffee anymore.

Kevin came over to sit with them moments later, reaching for his own cup. “There’s more,” he stated.

Andrew looked over to him. “Oh?”

“I recognize some of these names.”

“You do?” Nicky asked.

Kevin nodded reaching forward he plucked three papers out of the pile then placing them in a line in front of Andrew before standing and leaving the room. He came back a moment later with a bottle of vodka in his hand. Sitting down he motioned to the papers. “The first two are currently Ravens though the Ma-, Tetsuji had them change their names before they officially joined.”

“Ravens?” Nicky leaned forward. “Are the Moriyama's involved in this?”

Kevin shook his head. “No. I don’t know. Maybe…”

“And the third one?” Andrew asked.

“Nathaniel Wesninski.” Kevin took a swig straight from the bottle.

“Wesninski?” Nicky asked voice startled. “As in Butcher of Baltimore, Nathan Wesninski?”

Kevin took another gulp from the bottle.

“The super villain?” Aaron asked leaning forward to study the paper. It, unlike the others was short and focused more on who the kids family was than why he went missing.

“Why would Renee include this case with the others?” Nicky questioned.  

“Because he was a child likely to develop powers who went missing within the last eighteen years,” Andrew answered simply pulling the paper out from under Aaron’s nose to look over it himself.

“He’s dead,” Kevin said, leaning his head back against the wall. “She shouldn’t have.”

“They never found a body,” Aaron pointed out.

“They wouldn’t have,” Kevin stated.

Andrew stared at him catching Kevin’s eye and holding it a moment before looking away. Aaron looked between the two wondering not for the first time what the fuck was going on there.

“The two Ravens,” Andrew said impassively. “What do you know about them?”

“Tetsuji brought them in three years ago, they were recruited like the rest of the Ravens.” Kevin’s shoulders slumped a bit. “I don’t know where they were before they came to evermore.”

“You never asked?” Aaron sneered.

“Riko didn’t think they were worth speaking to,” Kevin bit his lip frowning.

“Ah right, I almost forgot you were once Riko’s bitc-”

“Aaron,” Andrew interrupted. Holding his gaze Aaron scowled.

Nicky coughed awkwardly. “Uh so, how does all of this help you Andrew? It seems more like this wouldn’t help narrow down anything.”

Andrew stared up at the ceiling for a moment before speaking. “There’s a pattern that emerges when you compare the locations these children were taken from with the list of suspects Renee gave us.” He pulled out another stack of paper then handed it to Nicky. “Some of the places certain people were living line up with an increased number of children going missing.”

“The pattern is disrupted at some points, and none of the names who conform to it stay in one place for too long,” Kevin added. “There are also some who end up disappearing themselves, most likely because they became a liability.”

Nicky’s brow creased as he shuffled through the papers. “We found Lily’s parents,” he muttered flipping a page over. “I spoke with them today.”

Andrew regarded him for a moment. “And?”

Nicky hesitated.

“Nicky.”

“They were living in Oakland at the time of her disappearance.” He looked up so meet Andrew’s eyes. Aaron sucked in a breath.

“When,” Andrew’s voice was hardly louder than a whisper. “When was she taken.”

“Four years ago.” Nicky’s grip on the papers tightened. “August fourteenth.”

Aaron met his brother’s gaze their hazel eyes locking. He could see the barely suppressed rage sitting just below the surface. “Fuck.”

Andrew stood stepping carefully over the papers and walking upstairs without a backwards glance. Aaron watched Andrew’s retreating shoulders helplessly until he was out of sight.

Kevin made a move to go after him. “Don’t,” Nicky said holding out his hand. Kevin paused giving him a confused look. A moment later the sound of a door slamming shut echoed through the house.

They set in silence each seemingly waiting for some indication that Andrew would come back down, but none came.

Chapter Text

Aaron strode into the living room the early morning light filtering through the blinds to find his brother crouched over the case reports Renee gave to him as he had been for the last week and a half. The white board now had a followable mind map on it, starting with what they knew personally about the people Andrew was after then branching off into speculations and possibilities of who could be at the center of this and what sorts of players might be involved. The picture it was beginning to depict wasn’t a good one. It was big, a nation wide operation that could possibly involve some of the most influential names in the country. Legislators, hero’s, and businessmen alike were possibly involved, but the exact people organizing all of this where still unknown.

Andrew didn’t look up at him as Aaron passed by and went into the kitchen. Kevin was still convinced the Moriyamas weren’t involved but both Aaron and Andrew had let their skepticism on that front be known. Andrew hadn’t been taking any other jobs since he had found Lily so the news had been quiet on the Monster front leaving people guessing at his next move. Aaron glanced through the doorway to the living room wondering at his next move as well. He knew his brother had already memorized each scrap of paper in there front to back, and the pattern they had found pointed to at least twenty distinct people related directly to the kidnappings. The ones that had been in this city were all but wiped out by Andrew’s witch hunt. Only one was still alive and there was no doubt in Aaron’s mind that Andrew was already plotting the best time and place to kill her. Even going so far as to send Renee her information, so there would be more eyes tracking her movements.

Stepping over to the counter he turned on the coffee maker grabbing two cups from the cupboard. Kevin was still passed out in his room and most likely wouldn’t be waking up at all unless someone went in there and did it for him. A task Aaron was more than happy to leave to Andrew.

Leaning back against the island Aaron studied his hands flexing them his thoughts a million miles away. For a moment he swore he could see the blood that stained them. Red and thick, dripping in rivulets from his fingers after what he had done. That had been the last time he’d really used his powers, and if he was being honest with himself he didn’t regret it. If he was being honest with himself he would do it again in a heartbeat. For his brother he would. For all they didn’t get along, for all they fought and disagreed, Aaron wouldn’t let anything happen to Andrew. They were stuck together, through blood both their own and that they had spilt for one another.

Aaron looked over at the counter, the distance from the island wasn't much, four feet at most. Barely enough for a person to comfortably slide around another and definitely not wheelchair accessible. Still it was far enough that Aaron couldn’t reach the mugs he had placed out earlier. Aaron looked down at his fingers again then back up at the mug. Furrowing his brows Aaron concentrated, the distance growing shorter in his mind's eye until he was picturing the counter right before him. Reaching his hand up he grabbed the mug, and stared into its bottom as he relished the feeling of cold porcelain in his hand.

“Having fun?” Andrew asked from behind him. Aaron startled, the distance snapping back to normal as he lost his concentration. Yet when he looked down the mug still sat in his hand.

He looked back towards his brother setting the mug between them and pushing it his way. Andrew watched indifferently as it slid over the counter only reacting once it tipped over the edge. With a small quirk of his eyebrow the mug, instead of plummeting to the floor, began floating until it was level with their eyes. Andrew regarded it duly reaching a hand up and lightly flicking it in Aaron’s direction. It spiraled lazily through the air like some weird ass asteroid through the vast expanse of space. Aaron grabbed it out of the air before it could hit him in the forehead. Andrew looked mildly disappointed at this occurrence but didn’t say anything as he let the full weight of gravity effect the cup once more.

“I’ll be leaving for the day in a bit,” Aaron said turning and placing the mug back on the counter by the coffee maker.

“It’s Saturday,” Andrew stated.

“I know. I have plans,” Aaron said not turning around as he poured coffee into both mugs.

“With Katelyn.” The way Andrew said it it wasn’t a question just a fact. Aaron felt his shoulders stiffen nonetheless.

“She’s not a threat,” was all he said said as he placed the mugs down on the island. Andrew took his, a look of disgust briefly passing over his face as he noted the lack of creamer.

“We have a promise,” Andrew said pulling open the fridge door and taking out that disgusting peppermint creamer he’d never admit to loving.

“She’s not even powered.” Andrew turned back around to stare at him.

“They don’t need to be.”

“She’s not like…” Aaron lowered his gaze. “She’s not like how mom was.”

“I don’t break my promises,” Andrew said pouring an ungodly amount of creamer into his cup.

“You wouldn’t be.”

“Whatever.” Aaron suspected that was the best he would get out of Andrew.

A moment of silence fell between them.

“We could always talk about you and Kevin.”

“No.”

Aaron smirked into his cup.

Andrew wandered back into the living room soon after. The quiet sounds of the tv began playing in the background as Aaron sipped at his coffee and read through an article for one of his classes on his phone.

He had finished his coffee and was neck deep in medical jargon when his phone buzzed. Seeing a text from Katelyn that stated a simple ‘here’ he put his mug in the sink and headed for the front door. Andrew gave him a look as he passed through the living room which he ignored, and after pulling on his shoes he was out the door.

Heading over to Katelyn’s sedan he climbed into the passenger seat meeting her smile with a small one of his own, stopping a moment to admire how she looked in the light of the morning.

“Ready to go Aaron?” she asked, pulling her sunglasses down from the top of her head and turning out into the street.

“Of course,” he replied.        

++++++

Kevin leaned back against Andrew’s car tapping his foot impatiently as he stared up at the cloudless blue of the sky. He hated waiting around, was twitchy at the thought that someone might recognize him. The street he had parked on was too busy. The sound of cars drowning out everything else, and making it practically impossible for Kevin to hear if anybody approached him. The sidewalk was too crowded, pedestrians coming and going in a rush. Kevin knew there wasn’t a reason for him to be this cautious, but there was always a chance Riko already knew where he was.

Kevin hated going into the main part of the city for this reason. There were so many people. But Andrew had an appointment with Betsy and while Kevin could have stayed at home the quiet that came with being alone was almost as bad. He contemplated going back into the office but decided not to. The fresh air of the open street at least helped him think.

Andrew was getting himself into something much too big, and while Kevin wanted to believe it didn’t involve the Moriyamas he wasn’t so sure anymore. It was such an organized type of operation that he had no doubt at least one of the crime syndicates was involved. But if it was the Moriyamas….

Kevin blinked shaking his head and pulling his baseball cap further over his hair. Those weren’t the type of thoughts he needed to be having in such an open place where anyone could be listening.

Looking around Kevin’s eyes caught on a newspaper stand across the street. He glanced around again to see if anybody was watching him. Seeing nothing he pulled on his sunglasses, tapped his cheek to double check the bandage was still there, then quickly walked across the street. A car honked behind him, something angry shouted out the window when he cut in front of it which he resolutely ignored.

He stopped in front of the stand skimming over the headlines and magazine covers. It was good to keep up with current events, he reasoned with himself. Most of the articles were uninteresting, headlines about recent events in San Diego and around the nation. One article about reforms taking place within the Hero Registry and restrictions being put within powered circles in light of the events that had occurred within the last five years.  He’d have to look more into that later, he decided. As his eyes grazed over the gossip rags that took up the racks of magazines he contemplated going back to the car. Kevin had never really been a patient person, and having to wait around this long was slowly killing him.

His eyes caught on a magazine cover and he froze, then took a step forward to better read the caption. It was a picture, at least two years old of Riko, Jean, and him sitting around a table in what looked to be one of the towers at Evermore. They all sat crouched huddling over a scattering of papers with a tablet on top. In the photo Kevin was pointing down at it saying something to Riko who was looking over at him as Jean frowned over his shoulder.   

Kevin remembered the day, barely. They had been doing something for the registry ;helping plot out a mission to take down a group of powered people who were, to the NSA’s knowledge, involved in a terrorist plot. There had been a photographer there for publicity's sake, though the photos had never been used. Until now apparently.

The caption under the picture read 'Eighteen months after disaster, how the Ravens have coped with the loss of their second.’ The sub-caption read ‘Loosing the Day legacy; in remembrance of Kevin and Kayleigh.’ Kevin felt like he was going to be sick. He picked up the magazine with trembling fingers flipping it open to the center spread then quickly shutting it again at the sight of his and Riko’s smiling faces.  

This couldn't be happening.

He'd made a mistake.

Maybe they'd take me back maybe-

That's honestly the worst disguise I've ever seen.” A voice spoke behind him. Jumping, Kevin spun on his heel clutching the magazine to his chest, stricken. Neil stood before him an odd look on his face as he ran his eyes over Kevin's form. “A hat and sunglasses? Really?”

“I-” Kevin choked out.

Neil raised an eyebrow and Kevin just stared at him not knowing what to make of the man.

“Are you going to buy that or what?” The person behind the counter asked boredly, not looking up from their phone.

Kevin opened his mouth and then closed it again.

“No,” Neil answered for him. Reaching over he gently pried the magazine out of Kevin’s hands and deposited it back on the counter, giving the cashier a nod which they resolutely ignored. Turning back to Kevin he gave him another once over before turning around. “Come on,” Neil threw over his shoulder walking back across the street.

Kevin hesitated a moment, wondering what was going on, then hurried after him.

Reaching the other curb he paused looking over at Andrew’s car. “Wait,” he said.  

Neil turned back to him. “What is it?”

“I was waiting for someone.”

“Andrew?”

“Yeah…”

“This isn’t the best place to just sit around” Neil said like the fact should be obvious.

It was obvious. Kevin fiddled with the brim of his hat. “I don’t have the keys.”

Neil looked behind him at the car. “We can leave him a note.” He reached into his bag and pulled out a piece of paper and a pen. Walking over to the car he wrote something quickly and tucked the piece of paper under a windshield wiper. “Okay now let's go.”

He started back down the street, and Kevin followed him wordlessly. This was most likely a terrible idea but there was something… “Where are we going?”

“Not far,” Neil said as he turned a corner. Kevin narrowed his eyes at the back of his head.

Andrew was going to kill him when he found out.

Still he followed Neil down one block then two turning another corner. It was only as they passed a flower shop that Kevin realized he knew where they were. Neil opening the door to the little cafe and looking back at him was confirmation enough. “Erik’s?”

Neil shrugged. “Better than the side of a street.”

Walking in Kevin looked over the familiar wood paneling, plentifully cushioned seats, and bright paintings that hung on the walls. It had been a while since he had been here last but it hadn’t changed much in that time. The atmosphere was still warm, the smell of coffee just the slightest bit overwhelming. Kevin took a deep breath and relaxed. If Neil was planning to do anything to him here was definitely not the place to do it.

“Neil!” Erik greeted from behind the counter as the door shut behind them. “And- Oh, you two know each other?” Erik looked skeptical.

“Yeah he pushed me out of a tree,” Neil said examining the menu.

Kevin sputtered, “I did not.”

“Your word against mine.”

Kevin muttered under his breath something nasty in French. Neil stiffened then turned to him a frown marring his features once again.

“What can I get you two?” Erik asked still seeming puzzled with the whole situation. He's not the only one , Kevin thought stealing a glance at Neil.

Neil ordered tea while Kevin got himself a coffee. Ignoring Andrew’s couch Kevin pulled out a chair at one of the tables by the front window. Neil sat with his back against the wall so Kevin took the chair across from him wondering if Neil was always so on guard.

They sat in silence, Kevin fiddling with his mug looked out the window and watched as people passed by; paying no attention to much of anything. His thoughts began to drift again, back to that article, back to that night and the look on Riko’s face as he shattered Kevin's arm. As he forced Kevin to feel, and feel, and fear. It was the first time he had felt fear since Riko’s powers manifested. It was the first time Kevin felt helpless knowing he had none. It that moment he knew there was nothing he could do to fight back. Yet Jean, brave Jean, had tried to stop Riko, and had suffered for it no doubt. Was most likely still suffering for it, and Kevin could do nothing.

Andrew always said heroes where worthless.

He might be right.

“Why are you in San Diego,” Neil asked. Kevin looked up to find the man staring at him.

“Why do you care?”

Neil studied him, and Kevin shifted under the weight of his gaze. It was knowing, in a way. “California's one of the farthest places you can get from the east coast.”

Yeah, Neil’s gaze was definitely knowing.

They fell into silence again as Kevin shifted his eyes back down. This wasn’t a conversation he’d be having with a stranger. This was barely a conversation he could have with himself.

“Do you miss it?” Neil asked a few minutes later.

Kevin didn’t look up from his drink. “Do I miss what?”

“Being a hero.”

Kevin sighed.

Did he miss it? Every day, every breath.

It was all he had known. All he wanted.

“Sometimes,” he said.

“Every little kid dreams of being a hero at one point in time of another,” Neil said as if it was only natural Kevin missed it.

He finally looked up to find Neil staring out the window. “Did you ever want to be a hero?”

A small sad smile flitted across his face, gone in a blink. “Yeah.”

“But you’re not.”

“No, I’m not.” The look on Neil’s face was one Kevin knew from personal experience.

He had a thought. One he would have probably never entertained except for how strange the day had been. The first time he had met Neil had been equally as odd in retrospect. But even then there had been something. Something about Neil Kevin was beginning to recognize as potential.

“You could be,” Kevin said.

Neil laughed at that, a sharp sound that broke off after one huff of breath. “Yeah right.”

Kevin frowned. Why did everybody he say this to react the same way?

“You could,” he insisted.

“You don’t just make a hero,” Neil shot back.

It was Kevin’s turn to snort on a bitter laugh, “what do you think the Ravens are for?”

“I am not joining the Ravens,” Neil stated.

“You don’t have to.” Kevin shuttered at the thought, joining the Ravens was the last thing anyone should do really.

“I’m not powered,” Neil threw out like it was the deciding factor.

“Doesn’t matter.”

“What?” Neil asked disbelieving. “That’s bullshit heroes have to be powered.”

“No they don’t.” Kevin sat there a smug look coming over his face.

“You can’t even be considered for the Hero Registry if you’re not powered.” Neil stated.

“Yes you can.”

Neil huffed, “Name one hero who isn’t powered.”

Well that was easy. “Me,” Kevin blurted out.

He realized what he had admitted a moment later, his eyes going wide and face going pale. He hadn’t meant to say that. He’d wanted to prove Neil wrong but that… Neil sat there staring at him in what might have been shock.

“What?”

Kevin was saved from answering by the sound of the door slamming open.

++++++

Andrew left Bee’s office a headache forming between his brows and itching for a cigarette. Bee was herself as always, kind, willing to listen, and insistent that Andrew be careful. He hadn’t shared what he was doing with her, he never did, not really. But Bee could always tell when something was going on, and Andrew could always tell when she didn’t believe his slightly dodgy answers. She always let him get away with changing the subject though; perhaps knowing it was safer for her if he did.

Wymack had introduced them a little over three years ago in what could only be described as the continuation of a desperate outreach originally conducted by Nicky. Andrew had stuck with her because he’d had no other option at the time, and then never felt the need to stop.

That didn’t mean every session with her went well, and today was one of the days it definitely didn’t.

Betsy had tried to understand what was going on, but because of Andrew’s unwillingness to tell her anything that might get her hurt -and the fact that practically everything he was involved in right now could get her hurt- they had skimmed over what was really on his mind. Mostly they’d talked about Aaron. Which went… well it went.

Andrew descended the stairs quickly not wanting to think about his brother anymore at the moment.

It had been a long day; to consumed with his case he hadn't slept last night, and after spending the morning running errands with Kevin he was beginning to feel it. He planned to go home and laze around the house the rest of the day, maybe read more of the novel he bought last week before starting research on his case again. The house should be quiet without Aaron there, he thought opening the door to the building. He stepped out into the warmth of the day looking around the street and the people walking by. The relatively fresh air was a nice change from the chill of the air conditioning inside the building. It seemed peaceful, too peaceful. Kevin should have started nagging him upon sight. Andrew scanned the crowed again looking for Kevin’s familiar broad shoulders and the dumbass hat he had insisted on wearing this morning. Andrew came up short.

Kevin was nowhere to be found.

There was no way. It had only been an hour the Ravens’ couldn't have found him they didn't even know he was here. They could have a tiny voice in the back of his mind said you weren’t even there to watch him.

Andrew started towards his car steps heavy and quick. His face incredibly blank as his mind went through all the different ways he would destroy the Ravens entirely. Clenching his hands into fists Andrew pushed and weaved his way around pedestrians. A sign began crumpling in on itself as he walked past, someone let out a pained gasp as the air grew noticeably heavier Andrew didn’t spare a glance behind him.

Clicking a button on his key ring Andrew popped the locks, and was beginning to round the hood when his eyes latched onto a piece of paper shoved under one of his windshield wipers and gently fluttering in the breeze. Andrew halted. Then, reaching over, ripped the paper out from under the wiper and stared at its contents. Scrawled across it in messy writing that was distinctly not Kevin's were the words 'At Erik’s’. Andrew decided then and there that if Kevin wasn't already dead Andrew would take it upon himself to kill him.

Yanking open the car door Andrew got in, quickly turned the car on, and pulled out into the street ignoring the honks he got as he cut somebody off.

Erik's wasn't far, the distance made shorter by Andrew's reckless driving and the speed at which he flew down the street.

He had no idea why they'd be at Erik's but it was a place to start, and if they had threatened his family….

He came to a stop in front of the cafe with a screech of tires. Getting out of the car quickly and studying the front of the building. It all looked completely normal. No sign of a fight, no real sign of any distress for that matter.  His eyes found a familiar silhouette through the window, and he was across the sidewalk slamming the door open in a matter of seconds.

He immediately met Neil's wide brown eyes with his own hazel ones, holding them. That feeling of danger he'd had the first time they'd met back full force.

“Andrew?” He looked down to find Kevin staring at him completely fine.

Silently he walked over to stand behind Kevin saying nothing as he reached up and yanked off that stupid cap Kevin had been wearing. Craning his neck Kevin looked up at Andrew who studied his face for any sign something had happened. Kevin looked back at him mildly confused.

Flicking him on the forehead Andrew turned back to Neil who simply sat there looking at them. Andrew didn’t trust the man as far as he could throw him. The fact that Kevin felt the need to follow him made Andrew just want to throttle the both of them. Did Kevin not realize Neil could easily be working for the Moriyamas? It would only make sense with how often they seemed to be stumbling upon each other.

“What are you doing here.”

“He was sitting on the side of the street where anyone could see him.” Neil shrugged unapologetically. “I thought this would be a better place for him to wait.”

“No, what are you doing here?” Andrew didn’t move his eyes from Neil’s, noticing once again what seemed like a slight flicker.

Neil regarded him. “I live in the area.”

Andrew tugged lightly at the back of Kevin’s hair. “That wasn’t what I asked.”

Neil frowned. “It was what you asked.”

Andrew knew ulterior motives when he saw them, whether Neil’s were harmless or not was yet to be seen.

“We were just talking about the registry,” Kevin said as if that was all that really mattered about the whole situation. Andrew looked down at him impassively, while Kevin looked at him with something that could almost be considered a twinkle in his eye if that entire notion hadn’t been ridiculous. “He has potential.”

Kevin Day definitely needed to die.

“No,” Andrew answered.

“That’s what I told him,” Neil said.

“You never said no,” Kevin shot back an intensity on his face Andrew only saw rarely.

“That doesn’t mean I said yes,” Neil shot back.

Kevin took a deep breath opening his mouth, Andrew felt the need to roll his eyes knowing exactly what was going to happen next. “Is working at a news station so fulfilling? It’s a waste if you-” Andrew zoned out as Kevin began his rant instead focusing on Neil. The man looked a little overwhelmed as Kevin began listing out all the reasons to join the registry, but there was something in his eyes a certain type of want that made Andrew think he was stopping himself from saying yes in a heartbeat. Something occurred to Andrew.

“You’re powered,” Andrew didn’t phrase it as a question. Renee had said differently but it would only make sense.

“No,” Neil answered too quickly. It had to be a lie.

“He doesn’t have to be,” Kevin insisted. Andrew looked down at him wondering what the fuck he was thinking. They didn’t have spare time for Kevin to take on a pet project.

Neil didn’t answer him.

“Think about it,” Kevin said staring at him determinedly.

Kevin’s backbone only showed itself when it was really not needed, Neil looked like he was listing out all the ways this was a bad idea in his head, yet still seemed to be failing to convince himself. If he was a spy it was a good act.

“Maybe,” Neil finally said.

Kevin gave him a nod, and Andrew reasoned that if Neil was a spy the closer he was the easier he would be to deal with.  

++++++

Allison sat crouched behind an old rusted cargo crate, binoculars pressed to her face as she tracked the movements of the black clad figures in front of her. They were a little over three hundred yards away maneuvering boxes from the back of a truck into a large shipping container, green paint peeling at the edges, but logo still recognizable as one of the international shipping industries that frequented this port. Adjusting the binoculars further Allison focused on the group of people huddled together of to the side, watching as their workers handed off boxes to one another in a conveyor belt type fashion. Allison moved so her sight was on the boxes noting the emblem stamped on the top as she grabbed for her notebook and pencil not taking her eyes off the operation as she quickly sketched out a copy of the emblem.

All she was technically here to do was stop the smuggling operation and commandeer the goods within those boxes, but the more evidence she got on who was behind it and who was profiting from it the easier it would be to take them down completely in the future. If that meant taking the time to scout them out and not run in there guns blazing so be it. Allison could work with that.

Movement caught her attention and shifting her binoculars up she starred as a younger man walked over to where the bosses stood, holding out a manila envelope which they took checking the contents before closing it again. They were all heavily armed, side arms and semi automatic weapons at the ready, and Allison wouldn’t have been surprised if more than a few of them were powered.

Lowering the binoculars she blinked letting her eyes adjust to the dim light around her; the shadow she hid within masking her presence as she thought of a way to go about this. Running in there and kicking the crap out of them wasn’t the best plan unless she wanted to get shot, and while she definitely felt like kicking the crap out of something getting shot was not on her list of things to accomplish today.

Getting this done so she could go back home and take a well deserved nap was.

There was a quiet noise behind her a barely audible shift of gravel that she wouldn’t have noticed had she not been listening for anything out of the ordinary. Quickly she pivoted putting herself into a defensive position, back pressed against the cargo crate and fists raised ready for whatever type of ambush they had planned for her. Her mind was going through every possibility for the easiest way to take out her attackers quietly in close quarters combat when she looked up, eyes not meeting the barrel of a gun, but instead a warm smile on a face she knew very well.

“Renee?” she whispered lowering her hands and relaxing a bit. “What are you doing here?”

Renee crouched next to her tucking a strand of pale purple hair behind her ear as she peered over Allison’s shoulder. “We have the masks on Ally.” Renee responded equally as quiet, her finger sliding over to tap at the light silver mask covering the top half of her face.

Allison rolled her eyes adjusting her own mask and fixing her ponytail into a more secure position. “What are you doing here Valkyrie ?”

“Oh I was just in the neighborhood,” Renee smiled. “Thought I’d stop by and say hi.”

“Just in the neighborhood…” Alison left out a huff of breath lightly knocking her shoulder against Renee’s. “Yeah right.”

Renee shrugged leaning forward a bit. “What are they doing?”

Allison handed her the binoculars shifting. Renee hummed bringing them up to her face. Allison watched as she scanned the group leaning back so she could get a better look. Rene shifted her knee pressing into Allison’s thigh. “What are they smuggling?” She asked not looking away from the scene in front of her.

“Contraband. Weapons and drugs mostly.” Allison said turning to peek quickly over Renee’s head. “Don’t know who they are but the registry doesn’t want those boxes to get out of the port.”

“Guess we’ll have to stop them,” Renee said lowering the binoculars and looking back at Allison.

Allison smirked, “guess we will.”

“So what’s your plan?” Renee asked.

“A sneak attack would probably work best,” Allison muttered. “The registry doesn’t care how many of them we capture just that we take back all the contraband.”

“So we take them all out,” Renee stated a serious look on her face as she stared off in the direction of the operation.

Allison grinned. “Obviously.”

“Want to flank them?”

“I take right you take left?” Allison offered.

Renee nodded standing slowly, and Allison followed suit.

They gave each other a look before separating, Renee making her way around the back of the crate while Allison made her way around the front. Keeping to the shadows she slipped ever closer her footsteps not making a noise in the stillness of the dusk. Quickly she ducked behind a crate as one of the guards walked past. Silently she listened to his foot steps, waiting until he had walked far enough away before she moved.

She was lucky that Renee had showed up, this would have been much harder with only herself. Not impossible persay, just more difficult, and the no killing clause of her contract meant she had to hold back on how much force she used when the people she fought were definitely not doing the same for her. But those were the rules and as registered heroes they had to abide by them and set an example for the other powered citizens of this country, the consequences for doing otherwise were too severe to risk it.

Allison still planned to question Renee more on why she had been here, don't get her wrong, but she was glad that her friend had showed up all the same.

Rounding the hood of the truck she pressed he shoulder into into the metal of its trailer. She was standing out of sight of the main group quieting her breaths to nothing but a whisper so she wouldn’t be noticed. Shifting her weight to the balls of her feet she took a deep breath, counted to three in her head, then lunged.

She hit the first guy with hardly a sound. Disarming him quickly with a punch to his solar plexus, which sent him to his knees, and a sound kick to the chin which sent him the rest of the way to the ground. Sound erupted behind her, his friends having finally noticed her presence. Quickly she dived behind the truck again, a bullet ricocheting of the bummer near where she had been standing a moment before.

Catching her breath she reached into one of the pouches around her waist pulling out a little metal device.

There was no way she was going to let this turn into a gunfight.

Quickly she pressed the center of the metal device watching as it began to glow purple. In a smooth movement she threw it over her shoulder. Sticking her head out a bit she watched as it soared into the middle of the group of big-shots where they had conjugated in a defensive circle near one of the cargo containers.

“What the fuck is that!” One of them had the time to shout before the device hit the ground. It pulsed red once then went off, shooting volts of electricity outwards; shocking the men with enough amps to down a cow. They fell in a heap, collapsing on top of one another in what had to be terribly uncomfortable positions. The device turned off with a click.

The rest of the operation, seeing their leaders down for the count, began panicking. As one does. Renee took that chance to make herself known dropping from the top of the crate they had been loading goods into. She landed on top of the lady standing nearest the container, Renee’s foot connecting with the back of her head and sending her skidding across the concrete.     

Allison smiled, meeting Renee’s eyes from across the space of tarmac between them. She gave Allison a swift nod before deftly dodging a man that came at her with a knife. Allison had just enough time to appreciate the grace Renee conducted herself with before she was thrown back into the fray as a bullet narrowly missed her ear.

With a huff she stood catching the man who had thought to sneak up behind her off guard as she boldly yanked the gun from his hands and tossed it away. The man had the brief expression of someone pissing themselves before Allison smashed his head into the side of the truck. He crumpled to the ground like a rag doll, but Allison knew he’d live to see another day; that day would just be from prison.

Turning she spotted Renee again, fighting off three goons as another began running at her from the left. Allison intercepted him quickly, tackling him to the ground before he could even lay a hand on Renee. He landed a hit against Allison’s ribs, to which she retaliated by breaking his nose with the palm of her hand.

Groaning he rolled off her, and quickly both of them stood, facing each other. The man made the mistake of charging her again, and with a roll of her eyes Allison lunged forward jabbing him in the throat. He fell unconscious to the ground with a thud.

Quickly Allison turned to Renee plunging into the fight. The man Renee had been holding off hesitated at the sight of her giving Renee enough time to take him out with a quick blow to the temple.

Allison moved to guard her back their shoulders pressing against one another as they quickly caught their breaths.

“Took you long enough Heiress,” Renee laughed taking a gulp of air.

“Hey, Valkyrie that’s not fair. I was busy,” Allison said eyeing the two men that had pulled themselves of the ground as they joined with a woman whose fury was palpable.

Allison watched as they grouped up. Slowly encircling her and Renee. The man on the right raised his hands electricity beginning to spark from his fingertips, while the man on the left lurched; his bones cracking in an unnatural way as he shifted his form into that of a lion, releasing a deep roar as his front paws hit the ground.

“Fuck,” Allison said grabbing for her pouch.

“Don’t move,” The woman stated voice calm. Allison froze in place muscles tensing as she automatically obeyed the woman's words. “Disarm.” Allison gritted her teeth trying to fight back as her arm went to her belt undoing the buckle and dropping her weapons to the ground. She then took off her reinforced gloves letting them drop to the ground as well. Behind her she heard the clatter of Renee dropping her knives to onto the concrete. “That’s better,” the woman stated. The lion made a growl of approval.

“Ally,” Renee whispered. “I’m going to use my powers.”

Allison tried to nod but found she still couldn’t move. They lady must have been more powerful than she originally thought. “Do it.”

Renee took a deep breath, then exhaled. Allison felt as if the air was thickening; her heart beat sped up, the fatigue she had felt from the fight amplifying as her powers seeped away and the real extent to which she pushed her body hit her all at once. The lion screeched crumpling to the floor as it was forced back into its human form, and the man in front of her looked startled as his electricity sputtered out. Allison’s fingers twitched. With the confirmation that she could move again Allison lunged attacking the man in front of her as at the same time Renee charged the woman.

Using her body weight and little else Allison slammed into the man upsetting his balance and using her momentum to knock him to the ground. He landed with an umph, and Allison took the opportunity while he was dazed to jab her fingers into one of his pressure points; he went unconscious instantly.

Huffing for breath Allison turned just in time to watch the woman collapse to the ground with a scream a knife jutting out of her thigh and Renee standing over her with a dark look on her face. Renee quickly dispatched her with a brisk kick to the head before turning to the third and last member of their little group. Lion man was still writhing on the ground, his transformation having stopped somewhere awkwardly in between his cat and human form twisting his spine and legs in bizarre angles. He didn’t look like he would be moving anytime soon but just to be safe Allison walked over to her bag pulled out a taser and zapped the fucker.

Renee let out a long breath sheathing her knives. Allison put her belt back on accepting the gloves Renee offered her with a grateful smile. “That went… well?” Allison asked eyes roaming over the bodies and boxes strewn around the lot.

“.....maybe,” Renee said then took a deep breath. Allison could feel her trying to rein her power in by the lessening of her fatigue and the rush of strength that began going through her veins again. Allison waited patiently as Renee composed herself, not letting her guard down as she stood by her friend’s side.

“You should call the registry,” Renee said after a moment.

Allison nodded pulling her phone out and dialing the number for their local branch. Her conversation was short ending almost as soon as it began. “They’ll be here with the police in five minutes or so.”

Renee nodded usual smile back on her face. “Want to check out what they were up to?”

“Of course,” Allison said, flipping her hair over a shoulder.

They made their way into the freight container looking around at the stacks upon stacks of boxes within it. Renee went over examining one that was easily accessible while Alison poked her head to look down the path that led to the darkened back.

“Did you hear about the Monster investigation” she asked pulling out a flashlight and turning it on.

“Yup,” Renee answered as Allison walked towards the back. “Looks like will be working together.”

Allison laughed shining the light around. “It should be fun.” She paused as her flashlight illuminated a box much bigger than the rest, closed securely with a lock. “Renee,” she called stepping closer. “There’s something…” The box made a noise and she froze. Renee was beside her in a second one hand gripping Allison’s shoulder as she stared down at where the light was pointing.

“Open it.”

“Are you sure that’s a good id-”

“Allison open it now.”

“Okay, okay.” Allison bent down kneeling before the lock as Renee crowded behind her. Allison could have just picked it, but because of Renee’s urgency and a sinking feeling in her chest Allison just reached out and yanked at the lock braking its hinge. Renee stepped over her taking the lid of the box off.

“Oh my god,” Allison gasped covering her mouth.

Renee reached down face stone cold as she pulled off the tape covering the child's mouth. “P-please,” he whimpered. Allison felt shock course through her system. He couldn’t have been older than twelve at best, a tiny thing all elbows and knobbly knees. She felt like she was going to be sick. “Please don’t hurt me.”

“We’re not here to hurt you,” Renee’s voice was gentle, and Allison had to wonder how she wasn’t freaking out. It was almost as if she knew, like she’d been prepared for it. Is this why she was here today? “We’re here to help you.”

“Help me?”

“Yes, I want to cut away the ropes binding your hands, is that okay?” Renee kept her voice calm. The kid nodded, and Renee slowly brought out one of her knives. He flinched at the sight of it but held still as she cut through his bonds. She put it away quickly holding up her empty hands for him to see. “What’s your name?”

The boy hesitated then murmured, “Navid.”

“Navid, we’re going to get you out of here.” He looked up at her with teary eyes. Lurching forward and wrapping his arms around Renee’s shoulders he let out a broken sob. Renee returned it by pulling him against her tightly. Looking up she met Allison’s eyes something fierce passing between them as police sirens became audible in the distance.

Chapter Text

Nicky awoke with a startle to the shrill ring of his phone going off.  Erik groaned beside him burying his face deeper in the junction between Nicky's neck and shoulder. He reached out fumbling for the phone as the ringer went off again, its clock read 11:23pm meaning they'd only been asleep an hour. Noticing the call was from the precinct Nicky answered it immediately.

“Detective Hemmick,” he tried not to yawn.

“Nicky you need to get to the precinct now,” Captain Hernandez said voice very serious and very awake.

Nicky sat up dislodging Erik who thumped back to the bed with a grumble. “Captain?” He asked pulling the sheets off his legs and standing. “What happened?”

There was quiet at the other end of the phone. Erik stared at his husband's back rubbing a hand against his eye. Nicky looked back at him worriedly biting his lip as he waited for a reply.

“Something’s happened....we think it has to do with your case.” Hernandez finally said. “The rest I need to explain in person.”

Nicky blinked, “Alright, I'll be there in twenty minutes.”

With a grunt or affirmation Hernandez hung up. Nicky lowered the phone standing there silently, he had no idea what was going on but whatever it was didn’t sound good. The shuffling of sheets behind him alerted him to Erik's movements before two arms looped loosely around his waist.

“What’s going on?” He asked sleepily burying his face in the small of Nicky’s back. Nicky twisted in Erik’s arms so he was facing the bed. Lightly he ran a hand through Erik’s disheveled mop of hair and sighed.

“I need to go to the precinct,” Nicky muttered quietly.

Erik groaned again, “Why?”

“Because the Captain called me in,” Nicky said regretfully pulling away; Erik slumped defeatedly back onto the bed.

“Will you be back tonight? Erik asked as Nicky began pulling a pair of slacks and a button up from out of their closet.

Nicky grimaced shimmying into the pants. “God I hope so.”

“Call me if not.” Erik’s gaze drifted over the form of his husband, a slightly darker shadow in the dim light of their room. “I’ll bring breakfast.”

Nicky smiled softly tugging on his shirt. “I will.”

Buttoning his shirt Nicky wandered back over to the bed squinting at Erik’s dark form. Quickly he leaned down planting a kiss in what he thought was the vicinity of Erik's mouth. Nicky missed his lips by quite a large amount instead landing somewhere near the corner of his eye. Erik snorted a laugh out, reaching up he guided his husband's face until their lips met. Nicky kissed him deeply lingering just a second before he pulled away.

“Seems you still don't have night vision.” Nicky could hear the smile at the edges of Erik's voice.

He rolled his eyes. “Guess not.”

Erik pressed another kiss to his cheek. “Stay safe Engelchen.”

Nicky grinned pulling away. “Oh don't I always?”

Erik huffed a breath unimpressed. “I can name at least three instances in the last month-”

“Bye babe!” Nicky said cutting Erik off and prancing out into the hallway. Erik's resulting sigh was audible as Nicky closed the door.

Groping gracelessly along the wall Nicky flipped the light on bathing the hall in a yellow glow as he made his way into the living room. Taking in the clutter scattered about their small flat it was a moment before he spotted his keys thrown carelessly onto the coffee table where he had left them when he got home not even five hours ago.

Nicky grabbed them then left the apartment, making sure to lock the door behind him before he hurried out to his car. The night was hardly cooler than the day had been. Nicky doubted they'd be seeing many cool day's anymore, the summer looming large and heat packed over the city like it always seemed to do. Though it was nothing like the watery heat Columbia had been.

Getting into his car Nicky started it and pulled out onto the street. Whatever was happening Nicky was worried. He doubted it involved Andrew directly, his cousin usually at least vaguely warned him before doing anything, but he also wouldn't have put it passed Andrew to just snap. Not with how close he seemed to always be to the edge. Not after he'd already done it once for Nick's sake. They were still dealing with the repercussions from that incident. Not to mention the ones before then.

The drive to the precinct was relatively short, the roads were light on traffic and Nicky luckily seemed to be only hitting green lights. He pulled into the underground parking lot with little trouble, and quickly made it up the stairs and into the building.

Captain Hernandez was waiting for him in the bullpen, a troubled look on his face and dark circles under his eyes that showed exactly how much rest he had been getting. Which Nicky guessed was somewhere close to none.

He walked over quickly, forcing a smile he really didn’t feel onto his face. “Hey Captain.”

“Hemmick,” Hernandez greeted. “Good we can start the briefing now that you’re here.” Nicky followed behind as he took them to one of the conference rooms opening the door to a cacophony of sound. Nicky almost took a step back seeing how crowded the room already was. Hastily he scanned the crowed stopping when he spotted Valkyrie and Heiress then stiffening as he realized they weren't the only representatives from the Hero Registry. The Suits stood in the back stern gaze watching over the cowed of detectives and their agent’s in turn. The two heroes looked stiff next to them, Heiress shooting them glares every other second or so while Valkyrie’s usual smile was gone replaced with a little frown. Nicky wondered what happened. As of yesterday the two heroes had been assigned to help with Nicky’s own investigation into the Monster case, but he had no idea how this had anything to do with that. His hand went to his pocket as he wondered if he should text Andrew.

A hand pressing between his shoulder blades startled him and Nicky had to stop himself from flinching at the pain that shot up his neck. Captain Hernandez gently ushered him into the room before shutting the door behind them. Nicky moved off to the side as Captain Hernandez made his way to the front. A gentle cough to clear his throat was all it took for Hernandez to capture the attention of the entire room.  

“We’ll begin the briefing now,” He said standing behind the podium in front of the projector screen. Nicky took a seat beside the door worrying the underside of his thumb nail.  “For those of you who haven't heard; tonight a raid was conducted at the port of San Diego by the Hero Registry. The object of this raid was to commandeer goods being smuggled out of and into the country and arrest the suspects conducting these operations.” He looked back towards Heiress and Valkyrie who gave him nods in return then continued, “there was an unforeseen complication.” Hernandez then looked to Nicky. “Hemmick, you wanted to open up a sanctioned investigation into the people responsible for the abduction of Lily Yeung in occurrence with your current investigation into the Monster case.”

“That's right sir,” Nicky answered frowning.

“We’re opening that investigation but because of the circumstances we can't let you head it. Instead you and a select team will work in conjunction with Valkyrie and Heiress to investigate this.”

“What unforeseen circumstances sir?” Nicky asked, working with them wouldn't be a problem since that was the plan all along but Nicky still wasn't  getting the full picture.

Hernandez hesitated looking for all the world that he wished he was on a warm beach somewhere and not being forced to explain this. “We don't know of it actually has anything to do with the Monster case.” Nicky frowned crossing his legs and shifting his weight as the Captain preempted his explanation. “But we think it might have something to do with Lily's disappearance, so it's likely the Monster is somehow involved.”

“That's…” Nicky trailed off, “how so? Lily hasn't been questioned yet; she's barely speaking to her family.”

A silence settled over the room Nicky shuffled again as something dark and tiered passed over the Captain's face. The other occupants of the room were looking between the two of them as if it was some type of tennis match. Hernandez remained silent as he studied Nicky's face.

“We found another child,” Valkyrie's soft voice sounded from the back of the room. Nicky quickly turned to her something cold settling in his stomach. “During Heiress’ raid we found a child who had been reported missing almost three years ago. We believe the people who had taken him could be related to the ones who took Lily.”

“Heiress would you explained what happened in detail?” Hernandez asked turning to the woman currently occupying the corner of the room. Heiress took a visible breath before nodding and walking to the front of the room to stand beside the Captain.

The fluorescent lights brought out the dark bruises dotting her cheek and neck. There was a scrape at the edge of her mask, dirt coated her suit, and her ponytail was falling out and into her face. Overall she looked like shit. A stark contrast to how she normally presented herself to the public. Now that Nicky took a double look Valkyrie didn't seem to be fairing much better.

Heiress’ face, while covered mostly with a mask, still somehow encompassed the mix of emotions Nicky himself was feeling at the situation.

Horror, somewhat.

Anger mostly.

The realization of what this meant not only for his investigation but also for Andrew's own.

Nicky wondered if he knew yet.

Most likely not.

From Hernandez's actions Nicky doubted that any of this had been leaked to the media, and due to the registry's involvement the likelihood that it would be was slim. This information wouldn't see the light of day until the time that they allowed it. There were benefits to working with a powerful organization like the Hero Registry, even if they had a tendency of stealing cases out from under simple police forces. If there was one thing Nicky agreed with it was often times powered  people were best suited to deal with other powered people, and since most government organizations prohibited the hiring of powered individuals the Hero Registry was the leading authority on such things. If you were known to be powered and wanted to work for the public sector they were your only option. At least, your only legal option.

“This morning,” Heiress began coming to rest by the Captain. Her eyes flitted to the back of the room for a moment before she continued, “I was assigned to conduct a raid and recovery as Captain Hernandez has explained. The people I was sent after had been known smugglers under the investigation of the registry for some time now. They have been known to employ powered individuals and sale their products to potential hostile international organizations. I was to collect information and seize their goods. Apprehending their leaders was a secondary concern. The potential that they were related to a bigger organization was there thus small steps were to be taken.” She looked frustrated at this fact.

“Valkyrie was in the area and offered her help.” Heiress sighed, then began to explain in detail the sequence of events that led them to discover the boy, one Navid Drazi, the operation had seemingly been smuggling along with it's cargo of drugs and weapons. Nicky listened riveted, the knowledge that this was the same organization Andrew was after sitting firm in his mind. This was a lead.

“We arrested all those involved,” Hernandez said after Heiress had finished. “We'll start their interrogations as of tomorrow morning. That's also when I'll be assigning the roster of detectives working on this case. That's it for tonight, save your questions for the morning.” The dismissal was evident in his voice, the room standing to leave in one swift motion. Quiet murmurs began filling the silence as the extent of what they had learned finally seemed to process within their minds.

Staying in his seat Nicky waited for the rest of the room clear out wanting to get a chance to talk to Captain Hernandez alone. Nicky needed to clarify a few things, needed to know as much as possible before he told Andrew and Aaron what was going on. The fact that this case was now being investigated both through the police and in conjunction with the Hero Registry was a good thing, at least Nicky considered it to be good. More eyes were always good when looking for patterns, and they possessed more resources than anything Andrew could ever hope for. Nicky had the small hope that maybe now that the force had the case Andrew would stop his witch hunt, but it was only a small one as Andrew was Andrew and the hopes Nicky held out for his cousins could often be called unfortunately optimistic.

He worried though that there was a chance this would only lead to more conflict with Andrew. The fact that all of the leaders of this little smuggling unit were still alive and well in their holding cell wasn't one Andrew would take kindly to. He had been trying so hard to squeeze what little information he could from this for months now. The fact that he eliminated all of his targets was more due to lack of cooperation than anything else. It was likely that the force would be able to actually get something out of interrogating the suspect, and the fact that they now had not one but two key witnesses had to mean something. It had to. One way or another this had to be stopped, and Nicky would see it happen.

But he would also protect Andrew to the best of his ability. No matter what his cousin thought on the matter.

The Monster case was another matter altogether. Related, yes. But completely different. If Nicky could prevent Andrew from being arrested then he'd consider that a win, if Andrew could lay low enough that the case went cold all together even better.  

Hernandez seemed to realize Nicky wanted to speak with him, and lingered in the room as his detectives shuffled out. The agents from the registry were the last to leave, a quiet spot in the contemplative tones of the room.

Heiress and Valkyrie brought up the end of the group and were quietly talking amongst themselves as Nicky watched. Heiress was the one to catch his stare stopping in her tracks to return it giving him a once over before looking to Hernandez who had walked over to join them.

“You three know each other right?” he asked. Nicky nodded, they might not have had the chance to discuss the Monster case yet but, as far as heroes went Valkyrie and Heiress were often the two who cooperated with the police department the most due to their rankings within this jurisdiction.

“We do,” Heiress replied.

“Good,” Hernandez stated then paused seeming to be looking for the right words. “That will make working together easier. You three will be doing a lot of that.”

“I have some questions for you Captain,” Nicky said before Hernandez could change the subject.

“Hemmick… this can't wait?”

“No.”

Hernandez sighed in resignation.

“Why do you think this involves my other case? The Monster has conducted a string of murders not kidnappings.” Thought Nicky knew the reasons Andrew was connected to both he needed to know what their thoughts where. How they saw and rationalized the connections they were making. It wasn’t often Nicky wished he had the power to read minds but it sure would have made all this easier.

“He could easily be involved in both,” Heiress stated voice laced with barely concealed anger. Throughout the meeting it had grown increasingly obvious that this had rattled her, though Nicky was only now realizing the full extent. “There’s no way to say they're not related. Maybe it was a business deal gone wrong, maybe the Monster was trying to eliminate the competition.”

“There isn’t any evidence connecting them,” Nicky pointed out, the very thought that Andrew would be behind the kidnappings made him want to puke.

“There’s Lily,” Hernandez responded settling into a seat. “As we said we think there’s a connection between her and Navid’s abductors.”

“How so? You left that part out of the debriefing.” Nicky sat beside him while Heiress and Valkyrie sat in the seats in front of them.

“The registry searched the premises and the suspects, we found ample amounts of evidence,” Valkyrie explained. “There was a list of contacts found on the woman seemingly running the operation. The names where in code but our technician broke it a little before the meeting begun. Five of the names listed have turned up to be victims of the Monster murders, his last two victims included.”

“So the Monster is a primary suspect,” Nicky summarized.

“Yes,” Valkyrie agreed.

“There could be other reasons he’s targeting these people.” Nicky frowned biting his lip. “It doesn’t mean he’s working with them.”

“It’s a possibility he isn’t,” Valkyrie nodded.

“Hardly a possibility,” Heiress stated.

“We don’t have the evidence to go stating the Monster is directly involved with the kidnappings,” Nicky argued.

“Sure,” Heiress huffed rolling her eyes. “But we don’t know enough to say he isn’t either.”

“We have to consider all possibilities.” He wouldn’t have his cousin falsely accused.

“Maybe, but either way he’s a homicidal maniac who’s borderline villain status. We need to catch him before he takes more lives,” Heiress said heatedly. “And he might be key to finding out what’s happening with these kids.”

There was nothing Nicky could say to that, it was the truth; he lowered his gaze. “We need to question Lily and Navid.”

Heiress nodded.

“Lily has been making steady progress but the trauma therapist still thinks it will be awhile until she can speak about anything that happened.” Hernandez said looking between the three of them. “Navid still needs to be assessed.”

“He’s willing to speak about it,” Valkyrie told the captain. “It may take a few days but he’s willing to tell us what happened.”

“If we could get his testimony, along with the interrogations of those we arrested, and the evidence from the smuggling operation we’ll be closer to finding out who’s behind this, what exactly is going on.” Nicky said hesitant yet hopeful. If he could stop this legally before Andrew got himself into more trouble… Then wouldn’t that be best for everyone?

Hernandez nodded. “We’ll start interrogations tomorrow. Hemmick are you willing to come in?”

“Of course.”

“Good, we’ll keep the two cases separate for now, but examine the evidence side by side. Heiress, Valkyrie you’ve received the file for the Monster case from the registry right?” Hernandez asked.

“Yeah,” Heiress responded.

“Then until tomorrow that’s all we have.”

Nicky nodded before standing and excusing himself. He would have to wait before he told his cousin what had happened. Who knows what Andrew would do if he found out one of his targets was locked in custody. Nicky needed more time before this blew up in all their faces.

++++++

Andrew sat in the open doorway, back against the frame as he stared into the darkness of their front lawn. The street was quiet not a car driving by this late at night, the gentle hum of insects filled the air as a clump of ash fell from the tip of Andrew’s cigarette.

The floor creaked behind him and Andrew stiffened before turning to look back into the house to find Kevin standing, sleepy and somber, slumped against a wall and looking at him with a slight frown on his face. “What are you doing?” He asked between a yawn.

Andrew took a drag from his cigarette exhaling the smoke into the night before answering, “Aaron isn’t back yet.”

Kevin yawned again. “He's fine go back to bed.”

Andrew frowned in the darkness where the other man couldn't see. He knew that, he did. But there was something in the air, a shift in the wind that was making him restless. His mind flashed to a pair of brown eyes before shifting back to the city around him. Kevin huffed at Andrew's continued silence, yet instead of leaving as he normally would have Kevin made his way forward steps quite from years of deeply embedded training. He stopped beside Andrew looking out into the distance before sitting himself. Andrew glanced over to him but Kevin didn't look back leaning his head to rest against the door frame as his right hand traced over the scar tissue running jagged lines across his left.

“Stop that,” Andrew said taking another drag.

Kevin paused for a moment then looked at him. Andrew stared back curbing his rising annoyance as Kevin continued to remain silent. Turning away again Andrew decided to ignore his unwanted companion and go back to watching the lawn. He still felt the need to murder the man for running off the day before, and the something that settled in his stomach at the thought of how easily it could have been the Moriyamas that took him wasn't helping things.

Kevin sighed.

Andrew's eyebrow twitched and he snubbed out his cigarette only to light another one not moments later. He didn't know what Kevin wanted, the man did this sometimes; seeming only to need company. He'd told Andrew about the Ravens’ policy of pairs, the long term codependency he developed with Riko went unsaid, but was obvious to anyone who had eyes and a working brain. Though it didn't matter much since Kevin Day was dead.

Andrew eyed the very much alive man and blew out a breath of smoke. If Riko didn’t know his dear brother was alive then he was even more incompetent than Andrew gave him credit for. Why the Ravens hadn't acted yet was another question altogether.

Though maybe they had , Andrew thought going back to the sudden appearance of one Neil Josten in their lives. Twice may have been a coincidence but three times was a pattern, and Andrew wasn't one to put much thought into coincidence. Where humans were involved it never came to that.

The fact that Kevin was so willing to train the man was another factor in it all. What he saw didn't make sense to Andrew -it might have stemmed from the fact that Kevin once set on something was almost impossible to convince other wise- but Andrew had the suspicion that a simple 'he’s obviously dangerous and lying about multiple things’, or 'you found him stuck in a tree, what potential?’ wouldn't cut it in this case.

“Idiot,” he mumbled. If Kevin wanted to be stupid about things Andrew wouldn't stop him. He'd watch over him, but wouldn't stop him.

Kevin turned his head green eyes narrowed into a glare. “What?”

Andrew stared at him blankly before blowing a puff of smoke into his face. Kevin coughed lips turning down into a frown and brows creased. “Go back to bed,” was all he said.

“No,” Kevin replied fidgeting with the cuff of his sweatpants. “You shouldn't be out here alone.”

“You worry, how touching. Now go.” Andrew drawled.

Kevin shook his head. “There's no telling what kind of enemies you've made. You don't exert the necessary caution when-”

“Shut up,” Andrew said not wanting to deal with this tonight. He didn't need Kevin's concern or all the things that came with it, but his eyes were bright from sleep and the look on his face showed volumes they never spoke of in the light of day so as Kevin began opening his mouth to say something, most likely annoying, Andrew made a split second decision and leaned forward.

Kissing Kevin wasn't anything new. Their lips slotted with practiced ease that came from a mix of boredom and intoxication they both wore too often. There weren't any questions between them, none voiced at least. Not when this started and certainly not now. Kevin was too much of a coward, and Andrew knew that this wouldn't amount to anything anyway.

Pulling away with a quick bite of teeth Andrew took in Kevin expression and repeated, “shut up.”

“Okay,” Kevin breathed out. They were still close Kevin having frozen in place making Andrew the one practically hovering over his lap.

Andrew studied the man for a moment eyes searching before he stood and turned back towards the doorway. “Come inside.”

Kevin blinked, seeming to register his words for a moment before catching on and nodding frantically. Hastily he scrambled from his spot on the porch, and followed Andrew into the house the door shutting behind them with a click.

They made it to the living room before Andrew pinned Kevin against a wall, gripping his chin Andrew tipped it downwards craning his neck he stretched up and pressed a lingering kiss onto Kevin's mouth. The man needed to be shorter this was ridiculous. Kevin made an aborted move to garb Andrew by the waist, his hands making it halfway between their bodies before he froze. Andrew noticed immediately breaking away and reaching down to slam Kevin's hands back against the wall.

“No,” he said simply before delving back into Kevin's mouth. Kevin seemed fine with that answer gasping quietly as Andrew darted his tongue in poking around before nipping at Kevin's lip. Kevin kissed back feverishly meeting Andrew's tongue and turning his head for a better angle.

Andrew reached out griping Kevin's hips as he began kissing along the man's jawline nipping and biting whenever he felt like it. Kevin let out a week groan at the attention being lavished to his neck and Andrew felt his lip twitch at the man's reaction. Kevin was always a drama queen.

“Fuck,” Kevin sighed as Andrew bit down on his collar bone. Andrew felt something hot and heavy pooling in his stomach, pulling away he stared at Kevin who looked back rather desperately.

Kevin might have been pushy, and he might have been the cause of one to many of Andrew's headaches but he had never been one to take. No, Kevin had enough taken from him that he would never be that .

It was part of the reason Andrew let this start in the first place, and part of the reason he let it continue.

Kevin's look shifted to something questioning. “What?”

“What what?” Andrew repeated letting his hips rock forward. Kevin's head thunked against the wall as he mumbled something that Andrew couldn't understand exasperation lacing his voice. He seemed to be standing on weak legs slumped so low against the wall he was almost a reasonable height.

This was only a way to relieve his boredom, Andrew reaffirmed to himself cupping Kevin's face and kissing him deeply again, nothing more.

If Andrew let Kevin twine their fingers together while returning the kiss gently then that meant nothing.

++++++

Aaron sat looking out the windshield at the yellow glow of the city bright against the darkness of the night. His hand tightened where it rested against the center console intertwined with Katelyn’s own. Quiet music flooded their shared silence lulling and low. Gently she stroked her thumb over the back of his knuckles a smile on her lips and eyes closed as she rested her head back against the seat. Aaron could stay here for an eternity and not realize a second had passed.

He’d like that, he thought.

Katelyn hummed along to the tune her voice entrancing and Aaron let his eyes flutter shut. If they could just stay like this…

“Aaron?” Katelyn asked voice quiet. He looked up into her dark brown eyes and felt his heart catch in his chest. “Want to head back?”

Aaron began to shake his head then caught himself. “We should…” he said not really wanting to. The world seemed to be slowly coming back into focus and Aaron wanted only to grip at this dream like state as hard as possible. It left him feeling better than any drug ever had.

“Yeah…” she said seeming to share Aaron’s sentiment.

They fell into silence again, both looking back out the window and over the city. The clock read just past 2am, and while Aaron knew he’d get shit for it later he thought that maybe they could have just a while longer.

“If you could go anywhere where would you go?” Aaron asked thinking of how he could easily take them there. One word from Katelyn and he would gladly do so.

“Sunny California not doing it for you?” She smiled.

Aaron shrugged. “Well I’ve never really left…”

“Hmmm.” She touched her chin thinking for a moment. “Somewhere cooler, a bit more north. I’ve always loved listening to the sound of rain.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, I remember when I was younger playing in puddles and watching as rain poured from the sky. It was nice,” she sighed wistfully.

“Not much rain in San Diego,” Aaron pointed out.

“No there’s not.”

“Why did you come to school here then?” he asked turning to her.

Katelyn frowned. “It was… different. My family also thought it would be a good change.”

“Has it been?”

She met his eyes and let a smile slowly slip over her face. “Oh I think the good definitely outweighs the bad.”

“Does it really.” He smirked.

“Yeah, though there’s this short blonde that I just can’t stand. He always seems to think he’s some tough shit.” Her smile shifted into a grin.

“Sounds like an asshole.”

“Oh definitely,” she laughed, “but I think he might have a bit of a soft spot.”

Aaron snorted. “What for troublesome girls?”

“Exactly,” she winked at him.

Aaron rolled his eyes.

“What you know it’s true,” Katelyn said.

“Why do I put up with you?” Aaron asked trying to not let the fondness he felt seep into his voice.

“Well, because I’m hot obviously.” Katelyn twirled a strand of hair between her fingers.

“Yeah that’s gotta be it,” Aaron mumbled.

Katelyn laughed light and breathy. Bringing their interlocked hands to eye level she slipped her’s out lettings Aaron’s flop listlessly to his seat. “I guess you’re not so bad either.” She cocked her head running her eyes over him, Aaron felt a faint heat seeping over his face. “Kinda cute.”

“Cute…”

“Yeah, you’re so tiny,” Katelyn nodded in agreement.

“You’re just an amazonian,” Aaron grumbled.

“Does that mean I get to be Wonder Woman?” Katelyn asked quirking an eyebrow. “I’m not sure I could lift a truck.”

“Have you ever tried?” Aaron questioned sarcastically.

Katelyn was quiet for a moment her eyes growing distant. “No I don’t think I have, maybe I should try.”

“I think you would have realized if you had manifested powers it’s usually pretty obvious,” Aaron said looking out the window.

“Was it like that for you?” she asked voice going quiet and slightly distant.

Aaron frowned his mind going back to that day and the events that took place. Powers were fickle only ever manifesting if A.  the person carried a gene for them, and B. was forced into a situation where in that moment they truly needed them. It hadn’t been like that for Aaron, he had been in school just leaving math class minding his own business when they manifested. It wasn’t until after the fact and an unforeseen meeting with Andrew that he’d realized why they showed up out of the blue.  Twins, as he found out, always manifested their powers at the same time even if only one of them really needed them, and Andrew had needed them. Before that day he didn’t know he had a brother. He’d always wanted one, someone to share experiences with, someone who understood. He never thought he’d actually get one though. But when he’d accidentally ended up twenty miles from his school facing a bruised and bloody reflection of himself for better or worse he got what he’d wanted.

He had been in such shock that he hadn’t even noticed the other occupant of that small ally until it was too late.  

Aaron shook himself out of the past and back into the present.

“Yeah,” he answered plainly.

“Well I can only imagine how that went.” She smiled.

“Pretty horribly.”

“Knowing you that doesn’t surprise me,” Katelyn said reaching over to gently place a hand on his arm. A wave of contentment flowed over Aaron and he relaxed into the seat.

“Thanks for the vote of confidence.” Aaron smiled memories forgotten for the moment.

“Hey, I have complete confidence in your ability to start trouble.” she said voice light.

“This coming from you,” Aaron rolled his eyes.

“Hey, I don’t start trouble.” Katelyn’s hand snaked down his arm to brush against his hand again.

“You just like getting involved in it.” Aaron hooked his pinky with her’s.

“That explains why I like you so much,” Katelyn said casually.      

Aaron felt something squeeze in his chest. “Katelyn…”

“Shh,” She hushed gently tracing a pattern into the back of his hand. “Just ignore my rambling.”

Aaron wasn’t sure he’d be able to but nodded in compliance anyway.

“Oh look! A ufo!” She pointed to the sky grinning.

“That’s an airplane.” Aaron rolled his eyes letting her change the subject. Listening quietly as she began to speak of the statistical likelihood of aliens, he wondered how he could make this work.

He'd find a way to make this work.

Chapter Text

Andrew walked into the university's library gaze raking over the shelves of books as he nonchalantly looked for a familiar head of blond hair. Aaron had never specified Andrew couldn’t come to the university, and even if he had the likelihood of Andrew listening to him was slim. So here Andrew was, wandering a library, Kevin somewhere behind him caught up in the history section. They hadn’t come for any particular reason other than an insistent boredom that stemmed from no new leads, and a slow simmering anger barely suppressed under the surface of Andrew’s skin.  Bothering Aaron was his attempt at solving one of those two things, which it would end up being was yet to be determined but either way it would be more interesting than sitting around. Andrew could always take on another job, but that wouldn’t solve his investigation, though it might help with the anger.

He looked about again knowing his brother had to be somewhere around here.

Andrew’s relationship with Aaron was complicated to say the least. Years and promises lay between them bloody and broken only to be repaired by circumstance and will. If Andrew was being honest with himself the only reason they had stuck together was because they had no other choice, not after what happened. That Nicky took in their sorry asses after Oakland was as close to a miracle as Andrew got.

The thought of Oakland made the taste of bile rise up in his throat.

Turning sharply he willed himself to think about something else, anything else.

His eyes caught on the spine of a dark blue book, old and worn. The writing on its back was faded, and the angle Andrew was at made it impossible to read. It was better than nothing, he supposed.

Thinking of ways Andrew could get away with using Aaron’s library card he turned a corner to reach the shelf, but stopped as he spotted someone familiar. Neil Josten was situated at a table near the windows books scattered in front of him and notepad open to show more doodles than anything else. Andrew blinked looking at the man, then back to the book, then back to Neil. Silently he walked over to the shelf reaching and pulling down the book before looking over his shoulder at the back of Neil’s head. He had obviously not noticed Andrew yet, head bowed and back hunched as he idly traced a pattern on the table.

There was a moment in which Andrew contemplated a course of action whether or not he wanted to deal with the mystery- wrapped in an enigma, wrapped in a face that didn’t seem to fit quite right- that Neil presented, but the knowledge that this could be an opportunity won out over the reluctance of dealing with the problem of a man Neil was.

Putting on his best Aaron face Andrew walked over to the table and sat down in front of Neil with little preamble and the grace of a rock. Neil’s head shot up at the sound of Andrew’s chair sliding out, brown eye’s wide with confusion at the sight of Andrew.

“Can I help you?” He asked eyes narrowing as confusion slowly morphed into something harder.

Andrew tilted his head regarding him before he placed his book on the table and opened it. “No.”

Neil’s eyebrows twitched as a mix of annoyance and bewilderment crossed over his face. With a huff he looked back to his book. “Why are you here Andrew?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Andrew deadpanned vaguely wondering how Neil knew it was him immediately.

“You’re terrible at acting, it’s obvious you’re not Aaron,” Neil shrugged.

Staring at him a moment Andrew contemplated the puzzle that sat in front of him. Neil was all angles and edges tanned skin and dark curling hair held away from his forehead by a bobbie pin. He looked like your normal college senior -slightly frazzled, bags under his eyes, and a backpack that looked like it weighed at least forty pounds- but there was that feeling again that something about it all was forced. Andrew saw before him a man playing at the life of another. Why was a question Andrew was going to find out.  

“That was fast,” Andrew said. He wasn’t sure what he had expected.

“Aaron wouldn’t have sat here in the first place,” Neil said not looking up as he flipped the page of his book. Andrew had the thought that throttling the man now would save him a lot of trouble in the future, but squashed it only for the fact that Kevin would be pissed if Andrew became a suspect in yet another murder case. While a pissed Kevin was often amusing Andrew didn’t want to put up with the hassle that was fleeing the police…. again.

“Know a lot about my brother I see” Andrew’s voice was quiet as he traced the pages of his own book.

Neil snorted loudly, “It only takes a glance to know he’s an ass.”

Someone shushed them, Andrew turned to stare them down and the student hurried off face slightly pale and steps louder than their conversation had been. Turning back around Andrew caught the last second of a smile being wiped from Neil’s face.

Neil was definitely a problem.

“So why are you here?” Neil asked.

“Why does it matter?” Andrew returned.

Neil didn't answer him instead looking down to where Andrew's fingers were curled around the side of his book and raised an eyebrow. “An analogy of powers?”

Andrew didn’t answer him just looked down at the book, and flipped it open to a random page, the first line something about water adaptations. Neil silently watched him his gaze almost a physical presence Andrew could feel. One thing he had noticed about the other man was that no matter how unnoticeable Neil tried to appear he really sucked at remaining that way.

“Is it true Kevin isn’t powered?” Neil asked out of the blue.

“He told you that did he.” Andrew glanced up not believing for a second the feigned curiosity on Neil’s face. He doubted Kevin was the one to spill that secret. Kevin kept it to himself, the knowledge wasn’t public. What would the world think, knowing the son of one of the most successful heroes of all time -co founder of the Hero Registry- had no powers himself?

“I don’t think he meant to,” Neil answered. Andrew narrowed his eyes at the man.

“So?”

“So?” Neil mimicked him. “The best hero in the country isn’t powered.”

“Lot’s of people aren’t powered.” Andrew responded tapping at the page of his book. “You aren’t.

Neil took a breath, “I’m not.”

“Right.” Like Andrew believed a word out of his mouth.

Biting his lip Neil stated, “but you are.”

Andrew gave him a nod in acknowledgement of that statement. It wasn’t as if he kept his powers a secret from the world or had any need to.

“Why do you not hide them?” Neil asked.

“So many questions,” Andrew hummed. “Maybe we should play a game.”

“What kind of game?” Neil looked like he was split between curiosity and the urge to run now when he had the chance.

Andrew spared a moment to digest that observation before answering. “A truth for a truth. I answer your question and then you answer one of mine.”

Neil thought about that for a moment, and Andrew waited for his refusal. “Alright.”

He hadn’t expected that answer, giving Neil a once over Andrew decided to go along with whatever this was. “Okay.” 

“So why don’t you hide your powers?” Neil repeated.

“Because I seen no reason to,” Andrew replied truthfully.

“People often fear those with powers,” Neil stated blandly, his nails digging into the wood of the table.

Andrew was well aware of this. Of how powers were feared, of why people would fear those with power. His mind flashed back to hands holding him down as searing pain arched up his back, a voice in his head telling him to keep quiet. Being unable to move no matter how much he wanted to. Drake’s control had seemed unbreakable at the time, there had been nothing Andrew could do to help himself or the others. Even when he’d gained powers he had quickly learned not all were equal. His last resort had been getting thrown in jail, and he had only accomplished that in desperation to protect Aaron.

Yes, Andrew was well aware of how powers could be feared, but he was also aware of how that fear could be used to his advantage.

“Maybe they should.” He shrugged.

“Are you for the regulations the government wants to put into place?” Neil frowned at him. Andrew had to wonder if that was approval or incredulity that passed over the other man’s face.  For someone who claimed to have no powers of his own Neil seemed not only interested in them, but interested in the people who had them. It was a contrast to how powered people were normally treated by the general public. That was to say, Neil showed interest in the topic in the first place and didn’t avoid it like the plague.

Andrew tsked at him for asking, “Uh uh, my turn.”

Neil’s back straitened in apprehension and Andrew would have felt the urge to laugh if he was the type to feel much of anything. Neil might be a liar but Andrew was starting to suspect he became that way more due to nurture than nature. He let a cold smile slip over his face as he asked, “Why are you in San Diego?”

Neil tilted his head to the side, “I came here for school.”

Andrew didn’t say anything as he stared at the other man.

“And because I had nowhere else to go,” Neil added reluctantly.

His answer explained nothing, but Andrew let it slide. That he was getting anything at all was enough for now.

“How did you and Kevin meet?”

“He tried to recruit me,” Andrew said kicking up his feet onto the table and watching as Neil digested that.

“To the Ravens?” he asked disbelievingly.

“That’s two questions,” Andrew pointed out.

Neil simply continued to stare at him, Andrew relented tilting his head in acquisition. “The one and only.”

“And you told them no?” Neil looked like he was questioning if the present was reality or not.

“Three questions.”

Neil closed his mouth with a snap.

“Where were you before San Diego?” Andrew tilted his head up to regard the plain white ceiling of the library.

Neil was silent for an extended moment before he answered, “Arizona.”

Andrew felt his eyebrow twitch. “Arizona,” he repeated. He could really use a cigarette.

“Yeah,” Neil sounded like he was tasting the word in his mouth, “Arizona.”

“Huh.” Andrew hadn’t expected a straight answer but he hadn’t expected a boring one either.

Glancing down found Neil staring at his text book again, hands folded and expression blank. “Was Kevin serious about training me?”

Andrew opened his mouth, prepared to answer in the negative when he was interrupted.

“I was,” Kevin said, and Andrew looked up to find the man standing behind them, arms full of books and eyes serious. As he rested his gaze on Neil there was something in his expression that Andrew had never seen before. Oh, Andrew thought, Kevin you stupid fuck. The little dinosaur bandaid Cody had given him to cover the tattoo on his face, and Kevin’s patented baseball hat ‘disguise’ just made  this situation  even more ridiculous.   

Neil stared him, that slightly star struck look from their first meeting coming back over his face. “Really?”

Kevin inclined his head and Andrew felt the sudden want for the blissful nothing his meds used to give him, the fact that he had to be cognisant for this interaction was painful at best. That Kevin was serious was at once unsurprising and slightly disappointing. He was surrounded by idiots it seemed.

“Okay,” Neil’s voice was a quiet breath around the word. Andrew turned to look at him, and knew what was coming next. He debated walking out now, but stayed because the likelihood of Kevin ending up dead rose exponentially whenever Andrew left the room.

Kevin blinked, “Okay?”

“I’ll train with you,” Neil said, and Andrew sighed. Neil looked to him. Andrew ticked off another point on his ‘probably a Moriyama spy’ list and stood legs hitting the floor with a thud, and chair pushing back with a screech. Kevin looked like he’d just been given a puppy, staring down at Neil with bright green eyes.    

“Good,” he said simply. Folding his arms Kevin’s demeanor slipped back into the normally pretentious ass he came off as. “We’ll start tonight then. Are you free at ten?”

“Yeah,” Neil nodded in agreement.

Andrew rolled his eyes, then started planning how to counteract the disaster this would inevitably end up becoming as Kevin began constructing plans for that night.

++++++

Neil tickled Sir’s belly as the tiny kitten batted at his hands sharp claws extended and digging into Neil’s arm. Matt paced in front of where he sat lounging on their couch a distressed look on his face, and the plants that took up much of their living room shriveling in on themselves at the intensity of Matt’s emotions.

“You agreed to what?!” Matt asked again running a hand through his hair and tugging at the strands.

“Train with Kevin,” Neil repeated lifting the kitten up to hold it at eye level. Sir stared back at him bright blue eyes disturbingly like those Neil used to see in the mirror. The kitten batted him against his nose before Neil could drown in his memories, and Neil made a face at the little fur ball.

Matt sighed loudly, “Neil do you know how bad of an idea this is?”

“Yes but I get the feeling you’re going to tell me anyways.” Neil didn’t look away from the kitten.

“You don’t want to get involved with him,” Matt stated. “Hell you don’t want to get involved with anything the Minyards are a part of.”

“And Kevin is included in that?” Neil asked. He still didn’t quite understand how Kevin ended up with Andrew. Or in San Diego… Or faking his death. Or for that matter why the Ravens seemed to not care about any of it.

“Absolutely!” Matt threw up his hands. The rose bush he kept on the fire escape seemed to lash out for a moment. “He’s trouble Neil, whatever he got into is some bad shit. I don’t want you getting hurt.”

Neil lowered Sir so she was sitting on his chest. “What he got into? You mean with Andrew?”

Matt shook his head, “No, before. Don’t you ever wonder what the hell happened that christmas he disappeared?”

“Of course,” Neil sat up straighter. He had every article he could get his hands on collected in his binder, but the supposed ‘death’ of Kevin day was wrapped in mystery. The Ravens’ had reported it as an accident, that he went down on a mission, but there were theories that it wasn’t that simple. Some painted Kevin in the negative light stating it was his fault, but others placed the blame with the Ravens’ and even Tetsuji’s conduct.

Neil couldn’t help but wonder if it had something to do with his father.

“I just… from what I’ve heard the Hero Registry isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and you’re putting a target on your back by being around him.” Neil felt the need to scoff, as if he didn’t already have a target on his back. But he had spent so many years running, he never got the chance to stop and evaluate what he wanted to do. Not until now. His mother had made it clear he could never be a hero, but she was long dead, and Neil was tired.

And since Kevin didn’t seem to recognize him… well Neil would take his chances.

“I can protect myself Matt.” It was a lie Neil knew deep down, but it was also the truth.

“You don’t have powers,” Matt shook his head and the ficus beside him rustled in agreement.

Neil smiled something sharp. “I’m going to do it anyway.”

Matt sighed again and sat beside him on the couch. “Just be careful okay?”

Neil said nothing knowing he couldn’t promise that, not when he was getting involved with his past like this. Instead he resumed scratching Sir under the chin, and avoided Matt's searching gaze.

++++++  

“Wymack,” Andrew greeted plopping down into the seat in front of the other man. David startled badly looking up from the newspaper he had been reading to glare daggers at Andrew’s form. The dinner surrounding them was busy, waitresses scurrying about as patrons came and went. Outdated music played over the speakers, and the neon light of the open sign flickered haphazardly. Overall it wasn’t an impressive restaurant, yet the ex-CIA agent could often be found people watching there.

“What do you want Minyard?” Wymack huffed looking back down to his paper. Andrew smiled whistling a little tune as he reached over and stole the man’s coffee “Hey!”

“I’m calling in one of the favors you owe me,” Andrew said casually taking a sip of the drink. The bitter taste was terrible. Andrew grabbed almost half a dozen sugar packets and after quickly ripping off the tops dumped them into the coffee. David looked on helplessly as his drink was ruined.

“Couldn’t you have just ordered your own?” David sighed.

Andrew didn’t dignify that with an answer instead sipping at the now sweetened coffee and glancing around the restaurant once again to check if they were being watched. Wymack seemed to catch on to this looking around as well as he lowered his voice. “What type of favor?”

Andrew looked back at him, noting the dark circles under his eyes, and the little wrinkle that lived between his brow. It seemed the past few weeks hadn’t been kind to the agent, and while Andrew spared a moment to wonder what was going one he quickly discarded the thought and refocused on what he came here for. “Something that should be simple for you.”

“Andrew…” David said voice weary and eyes a bit skeptical.

“I need you to run a name for me,” Andrew stated..

“A name?” David’s voice somehow got even quieter. “Does this have something to do with who you’re searching for?”

“No, but it might have something to do with the Moriyamas.” Wymack froze at his words, and Andrew took another sip of his coffee letting that tidbit of information settle in.

“Andrew, I told you not to get involved in that. Taking in Kevin was enough of a risk.” Wymack reminded him. As if Andrew needed a reminder. He knew what he was getting into when he promised to protect Kevin, and he would keep that promise.

Slipping a hand into the front pocket of his pants Andrew pulled out a folded piece of paper sliding it silently across the table to Wymack who took it with reluctance opening it and reading over it’s contents. He paused a moment, seemed to do a double take then sat the paper down. “Neil Josten?”

Andrew nodded.

“Matt’s roommate?” Wymack asked a little disbelievingly.

Andrew just nodded again.

“You think he’s with the Moriyamas?”

Andrew shrugged, “Could be.”

“Andrew…. I know him, he’s literally just a college kid.” Andrew rolled his eyes. There were few things he knew for sure about who Neil Josten was, but he was certain he was not ‘just a college kid. ‘Just a college kid’ didn’t find themselves associating with people like him, ‘just a college kid’ wouldn’t catch someone like Kevin’s attention so wholly. That even Wymack saw nothing out of the ordinary with Neil didn’t put Andrew at ease. Far from it in fact.

“Just run his name,” Andrew repeated, anger at the thought of such an unknown this close to his family bubbling to the surface.

Wymack sighed, “Tell me why you want me too, and I will.”

Andrew paused for a moment, then decided to go with the truth. “Kevin want’s to train him.”

That got Wymack to stop. “Train him? Neil isn’t even powered.”

Shrugging Andrew downed the rest of the coffee then placed the cup back on the table with a click. “So it seems.”

“What the hell is Kevin thinking?” Wymack mumbled.

“Beats me, he’s your son.” Andrew fiddled with the napkin in front of him. Kevin was obnoxious on the best of days and whatever his fixation on training Neil was Andrew knew there was no talking him out of it. Maybe Kevin was powered after all, he certainly did have the ability to get on every single one of Andrew’s nerves. “He thinks Neil could get admitted to the registry.”

“Seriously…” Wymack looked like his soul was physically leaving his body. “He isn’t powered….”

“Kevin isn’t either.” Andrew pointed out. “Which is probably because you aren’t.”

“And Kevin was part of the registry because of who he was, who raised him. He thinks Neil can get in with his training alone?”

“Guess so.”

“He’s supposed to be staying out of the public eye, the Ravens are still looking for him.” Wymack waved his hand about then quietened his voice.

Kevin was aware of this, as Andrew was aware. Though how they hadn’t found him yet was a bit of a miracle, seeing as Kevin was the worst kept secret this city had, he was pretty sure even their fucking grocery store clerks had realized who the aloof man always wearing a stupid hat was. Andrew suspected it had not a small amount to do with Wymack and Renee’s interference that nothing had gotten out yet. “That’s why I need you to run a background check on Neil.”

“Because you think he’s with the Moriyamas?”

“Would you put your trust in the assumption he’s not?” Andrew asked.

Wymack was silent for a moment then relented. “Fine.”

“Good,” Andrew stood turning towards the door with a wave. “I’ll be over in a few days to pick up the results.”

“Of course you will,” Wymack sighed, “bring Kevin.”

“Sure thing,” Andrew said, then left the dinner without looking back.

++++++

Neil breathed in the cool night air, huffing as he looked back up to were Andrew sat off to the side playing with his phone. “Why aren't you doing any of this?” Neil asked a grunt escaping his mouth as his arms threatened to buckle under the heavy safe.

“Because I'm not Kevin's protege.” Andrew didn't even look up from his phone as he answered. The flickering florescent lights of the warehouse making the shadows on his face a stark contrast to his pale skin, casting him as an eerie ghost sat unmoving in a folding chair. It made for an odd image, Neil thought.

“Stop chatting and concentrate,” Kevin said from the other side of the gun safe, the muscles on his arms bulging as they both awkwardly shuffled to move the damned thing out of the way.

This, apparently, was Neil's first task in hero training; how to rearrange furniture in a not so abandoned warehouses. If Neil had had misgivings before Kevin and Andrew showed up outside of Matt's at ten for him, then they had only amplified when the drive to Kevin's “training facility” had stretched into the thirty minute mark. When they had turned onto that dirt road Neil had seriously considering hopping out of the car and running for it, but some sick sense of curiosity had kept him in his seat to see what happened next.

Which led to where he was now, trying and failing to cooperate well enough with Kevin to move a gun safe from one end of what seemed to be an old warehouse to the other. With the smell of gunpowder and dust clogging his nose he took another step adjusting his grip. Neil still wasn't quite sure why this was necessary in the first place.

Neil turned back to Andrew without answering Kevin. “Couldn't you make this lighter or something?”

Andrew seemed to consider that for a moment, glancing up to look over to Kevin who's eyes were boring into what seemed to be Andrew's hairline. “Hmmm... no.”

Neil didn't know whether to sigh or laugh. He settled for gritting his teeth as Kevin began walking again. As they made their way across the room Neil considered all the questions he had for the two men. There were many but he doubted either would be willing to answer them. At least not for free, and Andrew had already made it known he was interested in Neil’s past. Neil glanced to the man in front of him as he walked backwards. Kevin seemed to be fully concentrated in his task, and Neil not for the first time wondered just how the boy he used to know had changed. Whether Kevin remembered him at all. A part of him hopped Kevin didn’t, but he knew that hope was likely delusional. They had known each other too long, had spent too much time together playing at heroes as children for Kevin to forget. Neil sure hadn’t.

They made it to the other end of the room in silence setting the safe down with a thunk that made a cloud of dust rise from the concrete floor. Neil coughed as he inhaled a lung full waving a hand in front of his face as Kevin straightened his back rolling a shoulder out.

Looking over the safe Kevin nodded to himself before turning to Neil. “Have you had any training before?”

Neil didn't want to think about the type of training he'd had. “No,” he said decisively. He flicked his eyes over to Andrew who stared at him silently. He'd said that to fast, Neil realized.

“I know how to defend myself,” he corrected. “but not the type of training you mean.”

Andrew's eyes narrowed, and if Neil hadn't spent his life veiled in lies he might have second guessed how much the man knew already. He was out of practice, hadn't had to use his fighting skills since moving here, but Neil had a feeling it wouldn't take long for them to figure out he was down playing his abilities. Shoulders sinking in on himself Neil looked back to Kevin.

“That will have to do,” Kevin huffed. If he noticed Neil's defensive posture he didn't say anything. Kevin gestured to the rickety set of stairs in the far corner of the room then began walking towards them. “Follow me.”

Neil looked between Kevin's retreating form and the safe. “Why did we even bother moving that?”

“Hurry up.” Kevin didn't look back.

Neil turned to Andrew who had come to stand to his left, and raised a questioning eyebrow.

“Kevin likes redecorating,” was all the man said before he too headed towards the stairs.

“Seriously,” Neil muttered to himself watching the retreating forms in front of him. Taking another look around the sparse room Neil shook off the feeling of unease that had settled in his gut and followed behind. He wouldn’t be turning back now, it was too late for that, and while Neil knew what he was doing now would likely get him killed somewhere down the road, he had never felt so alive than when his foot landed on that first creaky stair. 

His time had been running out for years, and Neil had little hope for a future, but that didn’t mean he’d go down easily. He wasn’t sure if the protection being a part of the hero registry would give him was enough to deter his father when the man finally found him, but Neil had to try.

And if in the process it meant spending time with Kevin, then Neil would take it.

++++++

“Chaos rocked the East Coast today as another villain appeared to wreak havoc on the city of Pittsburgh. The so called “Black Razor” was apprehended by police after attempting to rob Brightstone Labs a well known pharmaceutical company owned by the Moriyama corporation. The thief was unsuccessful in his escapades and was quickly nullified by Brightstone's state of the arch security system.” The newscaster let out a huff of laughter as if she'd made a joke and Aaron rolled his eyes sinking farther into the cushions of the couch.

“The specifics of why he attempted to rob the facility are yet unknown, but the suspect has been confirmed to be in association with a group known only as Zero. This organization has been linked to multiple accounts of sabotage and theft and has been labeled highly dangerous by the FBI. Authorities have issued a statement for the public to come forth with any information they might have in regards to the group’s whereabouts.”

The screen quickly flicked away from the images of the pharmaceutical company it had been showing- a large concrete building that looked more like a prison than anything else- and back to the newscasters harshly lit face. A crease formed between her brows, and she shuffled the papers in front of her as an image of a memorial popped up behind her head. Aaron sat up straighter at the sight of it. “In darker news; today marks six months until the fourth anniversary of the tragic death of Private Drake Spear, and the senate seems to finally be coming to a decision on the countless bills proposed in the wake of his gruesome murder. While the criminal who killed him has still not been found the Spear family might finally get some closure as the Senate takes its final vote in passing a bill to better document and identify those with powers. As-”

Aaron hit the power button with enough force he was surprised the remote didn’t break. The tv flicked off taking its dim light with it and plunging the room into darkness. Aaron’s heavy breathing was the only sound as he tried to compose himself. They knew nothing. Aaron clenched his fists as he repeated the statement over and over again in his head.

Drake deserved worse than death.

Aaron did what he had to do.

He knew that, yet his heart rate refused to slow, and the churning in his gut only grew worse. For a moment he swore he could feel the hot slide of blood seeping between his fingers.

He tried to take a deep breath, but is caught somewhere in his throat.

He’d had no choice.

He would do it again.

The front door slammed open and without thinking Aaron was out of his seat and across the house ripping a knife out of the silverware drawer in less than a second. His fingers trembled as he waited.

“Aaron?” Nicky’s voice echoed from the living room. He slumped and set the knife back on the counter with a click. He wasn’t often relieved to hear Nicky’s voice, but at the moment he was. “Get out of bed we’re going drinking!”

Aaron rounded the doorway to the kitchen and peered at his cousin. “I’m not in bed.”

Nicky jumped whipping his head around to stare at Aaron. “Geez don’t scare me like that.”

Aaron scoffed at Nicky’s hypocrisy. Not that Aaron had been scared, but Nicky was a hypocrite. “Why are you here?”

Nicky scratched at the back of his head before reaching over and flicking on the light. “We’re going to get drunk.”

Aaron stared at his cousin, taking in the tired eyes and rumpled clothes that were out of place from how Nicky normally presented himself. It wasn’t a good look. He sighed, “okay.”

Nicky’s grin didn’t reach his eyes, but Aaron decided not to comment on that fact. Instead following Nicky out the door and to the car. The warm night air rustled against his cheek and Aaron took a moment to stare at the sky. The darkness was void of stars due to the light pollution this close to the city center. Sucking in a breath he wondered not for the first time what he was doing here. California was the last pace he wanted to be, at least in that moment. Before he could reach the door to the car Aaron stopped in his tracks in realization.

Nicky looked over his shoulder confused. “What’s up?”

Aaron’s gaze remained focused somewhere off in the distance, a slightly vacant look to his eyes. “Do you care where we go?”

“What?” Nicky asked turning to look over Aaron’s still form. “No? I guess?”

“Great,” Aaron said then reached out and grabbed Nicky’s wrist, not sure what exactly he was doing but not caring enough to question his actions.

“Wai-” Nicky was cut off as Aaron took a step and their surroundings shifted in a whirl of lights that blurred together until they became indecipherable from one another. The wind that had sung through the air was silenced leaving a void filled with the noise of nothing at all, and for a moment Aaron swore his heart stopped beating. The odd sensations lasted only a second and as soon as they started they abided leaving Aaron to look around the city he and his cousin now stood in.

Nicky doubled over face looking slightly green as he attempted not to retch onto the pavement. “God I hate it when you do that,” he groaned planting his hands on his knees as he shook his head. Aaron ignored him and turned in a circle taking in his surroundings.

They were definitely somewhere different, that was for sure. Something occurred to him, “do you have work tomorrow?”

Nicky slowly rose and glanced about. “No…”

“Cool.”

“It that french?” Nicky’s gaze was turned to a billboard across the street.

Aaron looked over and shrugged. It was an advertisement for some type of chocolate, and did seem to be in french. “Guess so.”

“But we’re not in the right time zone for France…” Nicky said staring up at the same nighttime sky they had just left then pulled out his phone. “Where did you take us?”

“Dunno,” Aaron yawned. “Might as well find a bar though.”

Picking a direction Aaron began walking leaving Nicky to catch up to him. The skyscrapers around them boxed in the streets and the crowds that hurried about not matter what time of night it was. The temperature was much colder than it had been in San Diego, and the hairs on Aaron’s bare arms stood on end in response to the cold.

“We’re in Montreal by the way,” Nicky called from behind him. Aaron paused a moment, it was odd considering he’d never been anywhere close to Canada before. But unlike Andrew he’d never used his powers much, and wasn’t sure their extent. His cousin typed out something on his phone then did a one eighty and started off in the opposite direction. “This way, I think.”

They didn’t find a bar but they did find a nightclub that worked well enough for the both of them. Mobs was a small club tucked into an ally lit by flowing neon signs on both sides, and even though it was a Friday night the place was relatively quiet--at least as far as clubs went. What patrons it did have were of the older variety. It was nothing like Edens, but Aaron found it had a sort of appeal even so.

Aaron sidled up to the bar ordering a round of shots for him and his cousin as Nicky ran off to the bathroom. Sighing he slouched and waited for his drinks, resting his head in his hand as he let his attention wander. The place was nice. All pale purple light and a deep base that made his thoughts sway in and out of focus. The distraction was something he didn't know he needed, but the jumbled mess that where his thoughts slowly untangled even so. It wasn't much but the distance between him and California lifted a weight off his chest he hadn't realized was there.

A man bumped into his shoulder and Aaron shot him a glare which was ignored for the boisterous conversation the man was currently having with whoever was on the other side of his cell phone.

“Yeah Stuart I know, but he isn't in fucking Montreal.” The man practically shouted over the din of the music, his thick accent softening the words. “I’ve looked everywhere!”

He bumped into Aaron again and Aaron let out a huff. “Watch it,” he grumbled.

The man barely spared him a glance before going back to his conversation. “No I haven't heard from Kate….” He trailed off. “Well why the bloody hell would I know where she is. Last we spoke she was following a lead down in America… Yeah, somewhere on the west coast apparently. You didn’t know?”

Aaron rolled his eyes and decided to ignore the man, not wanting to start a fight tonight. The bartender sat the shots down in front of him, giving Aaron a once over that ended with a raised eyebrow from the bartender and a sneer on Aaron’s face. He didn’t like that look. Before he could open his mouth and possibly say something offensive Nicky popped up on his right scaring the shit out of Aaron once more.

Nicky laughed at the look on Aaron’ face and grabbed his shot. “Cheers!”he shouted raising his glass in the air a chorus of consensus rang through the other patrons as Nicky downed his shot.

Aaron followed suite skeptical of what Nicky was celebrating. Nicky seemed to catch on and sighed in the face of Aaron’s silence. “Come on, let's just pretend nothing’s wrong and the world is absolutely perfect for the moment.”

“Uh huh.” Aaron frowned.

“For instance,” Nicky continued in between ordering more drinks, “next week marks the end of your first year of med school.” Nicky feigned wiping a tear from his cheek. “My little Aaron’s grown up so fast.”

“God I don’t know you,” Aaron muttered grabbing for his next drink as the bartender set it down. It was something fruity and left the sweet taste of pineapple to coat Aaron’s tongue. He took another sip of it and wondered why he couldn’t taste the alcohol before deciding it really didn’t matter.

Nicky chuckled taking his own drink. “You know, this isn’t so bad. Maybe I should run away to Canada. Just disappear. They’d never find me.”  

Aaron raised an eyebrow, “what’s the point.”

“Well for one thing I wouldn’t have to deal with work.” Nicky ticked off the number on his finger. “For another I wouldn’t have to deal with my cases.”

“Cases?” Aaron asked. Nicky had been so caught up trying to make sure Andrew didn't get caught that he hadn’t taken on any other cases, at least to Aaron’s knowledge.

Nicky hesitated a moment, “yeah. Just little things, like petty theft and such. My main case hasn’t progressed much,” the wink he added was unnecessary, “so the department wants me to keep busy.”

“Petty theft has made you want to go out drinking?” Aaron rolled his eyes.

“I…” Nicky hesitated again but didn’t meet Aaron’s eyes. “I had to do an interrogation today, it didn’t go well.”

Aaron hummed in acknowledgement the buzz of alcohol pleasantly fuzzing his thoughts. “They get a lawyer?”

“Yeah,” Nicky sighed.

“Smart.”

Shaking his head Nicky finished his drink and ordered another round. “Unfortunately.”

“You wanted to put them in jail?” Aaron watched as his cousin downed a glass of whisky in two gulps. It wasn’t like Nicky to try to get hammered these days, but it seemed today was an exception.

“I just think they have information that would be useful.” Nicky slumped into his seat. “We’ll get it from them eventually, it’ll just be more complicated now.”

Face scrunching in confusion Aaron stared at his drink for some reason that didn’t make sense but he couldn’t place why at the moment. “What the hell is this?”

Nicky looked to Aaron’s drink then to his own. “It’s called a Zombie.”

“Huh.” Aaron took another sip.

A clatter from the front of the club caught their attention and they both looked over just in time to see the man who had bumped into Aaron get thrown onto a table. There was a beat of silence before the world seemed to start again and a bottle came crashing to the man’s head. He didn’t dodge in time and the shattering of glass was what finally broke the stillness.

“Shit,” Nicky muttered staring as the man tumbled off the table his assailant going to the floor after him.

Aaron slowly stood as security guards rushed to break up the fight. The crowd clustered about, distracted as they watched the proceedings. Even the bartender had stopped in his drink making to watch. Aaron looked around and saw a door that most likely led to the alley behind the building. He looked back to the bartender, and in two gulps finished his drink. He hesitated a moment then reached over the counter to grab a bottle of Bacardi.

“Come on,” he grunted at Nicky then made his way to the back door.

After a moment Nicky followed.

The wind was sharp as they left the building, the alley they entered was a narrow thing heaps of garbage obscuring the walls. Aaron gave a brief precursory look about before continuing onto the street, the door slamming shut behind him in confirmation that Nicky followed.  

His cousin’s longer legs allowed for him to catch up to Aaron with little challenge. “Did you steal that?”

“Yup.”

“Aaron I work for the police!” Nicky said in indignation as he threw his hands in the air.  

“Not the Canadian police.”

“We didn’t even pay,” Nicky seemed to realize with a groan.

Aaron ducked around a corner onto a much busier street. “It’s not like we could. Our cards don’t work here.”

“Oh…. crap.” Aaron opened the bottle as his cousin seemed to register that fact.

“You could have just taken us to New York or something,” Nicky said sidestepping a noisy group of teenagers.

Aaron shrugged and took a swig not wanting to explain that he hadn’t planned on coming here.

Nicky snatched the bottle from his hands and took a drink himself grimacing at the taste. “Rum, really?”

“It’ll get us drunk.”

“Good point.”

++++++

Neil hit the floor with a grunt breath rushing out of him as he was winded by the impact. Defensively he rolled out of the way as Kevin's foot came to connect with his head. Grabbing the appendage Neil attempted to use his body weight to pull the other man down. Andrew felt his lip twitch in amusement when it didn’t work. Kevin stumbled but regained his balance and twisted in a way that had him on the other side of the mat in a blink.

Neil scrambled to his feet and got into a defensive position easily falling into it, it was well practiced, Andrew thought, his stance light as he watched Kevin.

“You shift your weight too far back, it throws off your center of gravity.” Kevin stated running a critical eye over Neil’s figure. “You stand like you should be holding a weapon.” Neil sucked in a breath at that his posture flattering at Kevin’s words. Andrew wondered about that as he watched Kevin take advantage at Neil’s apparent distraction and kick his legs out from under him.

Neil certainly had some base knowledge but it in no way compared to the years of intensive training Kevin went through. There was a reason it never even occurred to people that Kevin Day wasn’t powered.

“You need to concentrate,” Kevin said as he loomed over Neil. “If this was a real fight-”

Andrew was caught by surprise when Neil kicked up, going on the offensive, and nailed Kevin in the groin with his heel. Gracefully Neil rolled and came to rest in a kneel watching with sharp eyes as Kevin doubled over in pain. Andrew stood before he caught himself hands going to his armbands.

“I need to take advantage of my opponents openings, you said.” Neil reminded him. “Fights aren’t fair, good thing this is training.”

Kevin let out a hiss as he glared up at Neil, and straightened as much as he could.  

“You-,” Kevin's voice cracked. Andrew sat back down slowly, Neil might have got one up on Kevin but Andrew didn't need to do anything.

Neil stood sweat beading on his brow and something satisfied on his face. “What next.”

Kevin might have been an idiot but he saw the challenge for what it was. Andrew slumped into his chair settling in for what he knew would be a long night.

++++++

“Nicky,” Aaron said tapping his cousin lightly with the almost empty bottle of Bacardi. “Nicky hurry up.”

Nicky didn't hurry up, instead continuing to stand listlessly in the middle of the sidewalk as he stared up at a street sign. They were the only people in sight, the buildings around them dark as night shifted slowly into morning. It was the time of day before the sun breaks but after the moon fades and Aaron was ready to go back home.

His cousin it seemed, was not.

“We need a souvenir Aaron,” Nicky said, words slurring as he swayed a bit.

Aaron looked to him then looked up at the street sign he was staring at. “No.”

“Oh come on,” Nicky whined.

“No.”

“It’ll remind us of our youth.”

“You’re not even thirty yet.”

“But Aaron.”

Aaron looked around the deserted block again, then back up to the street sign which towered over his head. “Whatever.”

Nicky grinned.

++++++

Kevin tapped his foot impatiently as Neil stared at the bookcase in front of him sweat still drying from their workout. Andrew sat on the sparring mat off to the side playing with one of his knives and an uncomfortable silence had settled over them somewhere along the way. “Well?”

“You want me to read all of this,” Neil repeated. Kevin looked back to the shelves of history books.

“They will help you understand why the registry exists, what it is.” Kevin explained slowly. At first glance Neil didn’t seem like an idiot but Kevin was starting to question that assumption.   

Maybe he should have questioned it before seeing as he first met the man hanging out of a tree.

Neil turned to him. “You could tell me more about that than these can.”

Andrew switched hands and began twirling the knife in his left. Kevin’s gaze skirted to the side not meeting Neils eyes. “I-”

“Your mom founded it.” Neil stated.

“She did…” Kevin wasn’t sure he liked where this was going.

“And you grew up in it.”

“Yes…”

“So tell me about it.”

Kevin paused thinking on his years living with the Raven’s, being a Raven. Then he shook those thoughts away and focused on the facts Neil needed to know. “The registry was founded to combat the rising violence between those with power and those without, but you already know that,” Kevin started slowly.

Neil nodded leaning back against the bookshelf.

“Mom- Kayleigh had the idea that if no one would step in then she might as well. So she began…”

“Protecting people,” Neil offered.

“Yes,” Kevin said bitterly. She’d failed in the long run, he’d always thought. She couldn’t protect even herself in the end. “She met Tetsuji when she visited New York, and found he had had a similar idea to her’s. So they began helping each other and eventually formed the Ravens, the registry came years later.”  It had been after Kevin was born, five years before his mother was killed, he didn’t personally know of a time before it. But he had heard the stories. “The government had intervened in what they were doing, and demanded they put an end to it or become sanctioned. So they did.”

Kevin couldn’t help being vague about it all, there were things he didn’t want to say, things he couldn’t. He hoped Neil would just accept his words.  

Neil didn’t. “So the Ravens practically founded the registry.”

“They… Yes.”

“Is that why they’re considered the top hero group in the Nation?”

Kevin frowned.

“Riko uses his family's influence to maintain his team's status. No wonder he always seemed to have an inferiority complex.”

Kevin’s jaw dropped. “W- he- that-”

Somewhere behind him the sound of a blade slamming into wood could be heard, Kevin didn’t turn around choosing to continue staring indignantly at Neil. “That isn’t true.”

“Isn’t it?”

“Don’t underestimate Riko.” Kevin tried to suppress the shudder that wracked through his body.

Neil opened his mouth to say what Kevin didn't know, but closed it again after a moment and shrugged. “We all know he shouldn't be the one leading the Ravens.”

Kevin felt the need to defend Riko. After all these months and everything that had happened Kevin still felt the need to defend him. He knew he shouldn't, that it was wrong and Riko was in no way the type of person that deserved defending, but Kevin had to stop himself from automatically doing it anyway.

He was saved from responding by Andrew walking casually up to the bookshelf, grabbing one of the volumes at random, and shoving it roughly against Neil's chest. “Try reading something roadrunner, you might find it enlightening." 

Andrew grabbed Kevin by the arm and hauled him over to the weight section depositing him in front of the mirrors before turning and heading back over to Neil. Kevin watched as Andrew’s reflection said something quietly to Neil, and Neil snort something that in a different life might have been a laugh. Kevin picked up a barbell and began doing arm curls absently. It was a distraction, nothing more but a distraction was all he needed at the moment.

++++++

Aaron huffed as he heaved the pole of the street sign over his shoulder, Nicky stood in front of him holding the rest of it as they maneuvered down the avenue.

“Why didn’t you just,” Aaron tried not to trip over his feet as he kept stride with Nicky’s fast set pace. “Take the sign off?”

“I did.” Nicky gestured vaguely behind him. Aaron looked back taking in the melted end of the post and grimaced. Hopefully no one would notice the pool of molten metal slowly cooling on the concrete, but luck wasn’t often on his side.  

“That's not what I meant.”

“Shh, Aaron it'll be great.”

They rounded a corner and came face to face with a police officer. She took a moment to look at them, obvious surprise dawning her face as she saw the street sign. Aaron wanted to slam his head into a wall.

“Oops?” Nicky smiled awkwardly. It seemed to startle her out of her shock. She opened her mouth, most likely to call for backup, but barely got a sound out before Aaron was reaching for his cousin and pulling them away.

++++++

“You have a lot of opinions about the Ravens.” Andrew noted coming to stand in front of Neil, who for his part didn't even blink.

“Everyone has opinions about the Ravens.” Neil shrugged dismissively, turning he placed the history book back into its place on the shelf. Andrew watched the lean line of his shoulders shift under his sweat dampened shirt. He kept his face blank as Neil turned back around. “It's not uncommon.”

“And yet you have enough of a mind to see through Riko’s public persona.” Andrew tilted his head, the flightiness Neil often wore just under his skin had melted away sometime during the night leaving cracks in his armor. Andrew wondered what kind of pressure it would take to see through them.

“It’s not hard, he doesn't hide how much of a dick he is, yet people love him anyway.” Neil shrugged looking over Andrew’s shoulder.

“Very critical,” Andrew stated ignoring whatever had captured Neil's attention behind him. “Do you hate him?”

“Is this part of our game?”

Andrew waited for an answer not saying anything.

“I don't feel anything towards Riko, he’s just a brat,” Neil said. There was something personal in his voice as if he spoke from experience. Andrew remembered the day he'd met Riko and Kevin, brat hit the mark but he wasn't sure that's what he would have gotten out of that first interaction. Manipulative, used to getting his way, an asshole overall. Andrew wonder not for the first time how much of this was an act on Neil’s part.

“A powerful brat.”

“Not that powerful,” Neil said coolly. “Why does Matt dislike you?”

“He thinks I'm dangerous.” Andrew walked over to the bookshelf fingers grazing the spines. If Neil wanted to change the subject Andrew wouldn’t stop him.

Neil snorted, “you are.”

“Yet you're still here.” Andrew pulled out a book and placed it on the wrong shelf just to piss Kevin off.

“I am.”

There was a ‘for now’ in that statement, Andrew thought.

“It has to be more than that,” Neil went on. “It can’t just be because you’re dangerous.”

Andrew hummed lightly to himself, “your roommate used to be part of the registry.”

Surprise washed over Neil’s face before he could hide it. “He… didn’t tell me that.”

“Hmm,” Andrew fiddled with the edge of his armband. “He was part of New York’s.”

“That's a long way from California.” Neil voice housed unasked questions and for a moment Andrew debating elaborating.

“I looked into him when he opened his shop, it wasn't appreciated.” The exact opposite in fact.

Neil huffed a breath, something that might have been a laugh. “That doesn't surprise me. Do you check up on everyone who gets remotely close to your family?”

“Yes,” Andrew answered staring Neil in the eyes. Neil didn't react to that, only looking back steadily to Andrew’s disdain.  

“Neil,” Kevin called from across the room. Andrew and Neil looked over to find the man gesturing to them impatiently. “Don’t just stand there. Are you serious about this or not?”

Neil gave one last lingering look to Andrew before turning his back on him and heading over to Kevin.

++++++

Aaron couldn't fucking believe that even in Canada he was having to run from the cops.

++++++

Neil stared out the window watching the night landscape roll by as Andrew drove back into the city. Exhaustion washed over him in waves making his eyes heavy and the world around him soft, and while Neil’s only wish was for sleep he knew he wouldn’t be able to anytime soon. Andrew's implication hadn't gone over Neil's head, the opposite in fact. He wouldn't find anything, Neil knew, but maybe that was the problem. He wouldn't find anything, and Andrew didn't come off as the type of person who would be satisfied with that answer. Not for the first time Neil wondered exactly what it was he was doing.

His eyes drifted over to the back of Kevin's head and for a moment Neil pictured him as he had been when he was younger all awkward joints, and ears to big for his head. The two traced carefully onto his cheek with marker that would change colors every day always matching Riko’s one and Neil’s three. Looking back it made Neil vaguely sick. He hadn’t seen it at the time, had been to young to notice what was going on behind the scenes, the connection his father had to the Moriyama’s. So much had changed after his mother ran, they were different people than they had been. Neil should have left the moment he’d realized who Kevin was, but then the man had climbed a tree to rescue a kitten and Neil… Neil stayed. Besides Kevin didn’t recognize him anyway, if Neil even suspected the man started to he would leave.

Probably.

His mother was most likely screaming at him from the afterlife for his foolishness, Neil tried to ignore the thought.

“What?” Kevin’s voice broke through the wall of Neil’s thoughts. Neil startled realizing he had been staring at the man.

“Uh.” Neil glanced around, and found Andrew’s dark eyes looking at him coldly through the rear view mirror. He shook his head. “It’s nothing.”

Kevin turned in his seat to regard Neil a crinkle between his brows. “You need improvement.” Neil rolled his eyes, of course he did. “We'll begin weight training, you have no where near the strength needed for me to even consider bringing you out into the field.”

He had to wonder if Kevin got off from dragging people through the mud.

“But you’re fast, if you’re serious about this…”

Neil realized Kevin was as uncertain about this situation as he was. Why Kevin even offered this was a question Neil still couldn’t answer. He found himself nodding despite his resignations. “I’ve always wanted to-.” He cut himself off not wanting to say it out loud. As if that would break the fragile reality he had constructed for himself. It was stupid, a childhood dream that was buried long ago, but Neil needed something. Meeting Matt and Dan, and even Allison had brought a sort of stability to his life he hadn’t had since his mother’s death. It was disconcerting in a way, his want to keep what he had built.

“Then we will try,” Kevin said turning back in his seat.

Andrew scoffed quietly, but didn’t say anything as he took the exit to Matt’s apartment.

++++++

Nicky was never going to get drunk again, ever.

++++++

Andrew pushed open his front door expecting the quiet darkened house that was common at this time of night, but finding it the exact opposite. Every light seemed to be turned on, and loud music was playing from the back of the house covering what little noise the tv made as the endings of a soap opera flitted across the screen. Andrew walked further into the house taking in the mess. His papers were still where he had left them, but that was about it. The couch was in the kitchen for reasons unknown, and someone had drawn a little frowny face on his whiteboard next to his notes.  Andrew halted as his foot made contact with something metal, Kevin coming to a quick stop just behind him. The back of Andrew’s neck prickled at the proximity but he ignored that in favor of staring down at the street sign in front of him.

“That’s french,” Kevin stated unhelpfully. Andrew could tell it was french, what it was doing here was another question entirely. He ran his eyes over it again coming to rest on the partially melted base and frowned.

“Nicky,” Andrew muttered to himself. He stepped over the sign and made his way to the hallway that led to the downstairs bedrooms. This, unfortunately, was not an uncommon occurrence. Nicky had the tendency of showing up whenever he wanted and making an annoyance of himself.

Andrew bypassed the downstairs bedrooms heading straight for the closed bathroom door, and the music blaring from behind it. Kevin followed closely giving a mildly disgusted look to the mess the house had become in the time they’d been with Neil. Pushing the door open Andrew was first hit with just how loud Nicky’s shitty pop was being played from Aaron's crappy portable speaker, the second was the realization that if he considered the rest of the house a mess the bathroom was an absolute disaster.

Nicky sat hunched over the toilet bowl, the contents of the cupboards scattered across the floor, and his shirt hanging off the shower head for some reason. Andrew stared at Nicky’s back eyes ghosting over the burn scars on his shoulders. They stood out starkly against his dark skin marring it up to the base of his neck. Anger twisted his stomach at the site, they weren’t anything new but that didn’t make it better.

“You probably, shouldn’t bother him right now.” Andrew turned to find Aaron regarding him from his position on the floor, curled up against the opposite wall. An empty bottle of Bacardi lay empty beside him. Aaron shrugged listlessly when he noticed Andrew staring at it. “Nicky’s a light weight.”

Nicky groaned from his place by the toilet.

“What happened?” Andrew asked not moving into the room. Kevin hovered behind him, not saying anything but most likely judging nonetheless.  

“Bad day at work I guess,” Aaron said, the usual hostile tone he used to speak to Andrew replaced with something more tired.

Andrew had a hard time believing it was just that. “What’s with the living room.” 

Aaron looked off to the side. “Who knows.”

Andrew stared at him in silence, he didn’t have a problem waiting Aaron out. Aaron fidgeted still staring off to the side before letting out a huff. Andrew suspected Nicky wasn’t the only one who had too much that night.

“We might have left town for a bit,” Aaron admitted not looking at Andrew.

“Hate your powers,” Nicky muttered into the toilet bowl.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Kevin sneered, not pleased and not hiding it. The sound of his retreating foot steps filled the silence left by Nicky’s words.

“Nothing bad happened,” Aaron stated defensively.

“Got caught by the cops.” Andrew looked over to his cousin  who was now gazing blankly at the wall.

“We didn't get caught.”

“Almost did.”

“Yeah and who's fault is that?”

“Your's.”

“Fuck no it wasn-.”

“God Erik's gonna be worried.”

“Yeah because you decided to steal a street sign!”

Andrew rolled his eyes and left the bathroom turning off the speakers on the way out. He was not dealing with this today. Whatever Nicky and Aaron had gotten up to was not his problem.

Kevin had retreated upstairs by the time Andrew returned to the living room, the house oddly quiet for once. Ignoring the mess Andrew went over to his stack of papers picking up the folder Renee had given him, and shuffling through it. Something had been bothering him, something in the back of his mind that he had been pushing off to the side until it made more sense, Now though… His eyes came to rest on the last three papers of the folder. Taking them out he threw the rest off to the side not caring when they scattered across the floor. The faces of the current Ravens stared up at him blankly. Andrew had looked into them after Kevin’s admission but found only the bare bones of a past. Someone had obviously not put in the time to make something up.

He wracked his memory for any trace of having met them before but came up blank, they must have been gone by the time he got there.

Kevin would say otherwise but to Andrew it seemed impossible the Moriyama's weren’t involved in this one way or another. If they were involved directly, was a question Andrew couldn’t answer, but it was a possibility.

Sitting Andrew discarded the third piece of paper without a glance. He reached for his note book flipping open its pages, not for a need to look over the information --he had the contents memorized--, but because it had become something of a habit on nights like this; when he knew sleep wouldn't come.

The Ravens could be a coincidence. Andrew wasn't sure if he was willing to take that chance.  

He’d taken a lot of chances lately. He thought of Neil, and the unknowns he possessed. Allowing him near Kevin was a mistake Andrew was going to have to fix. That it seemed to all be leading back to the Moriyamas was as unsurprising as it was disappointing. Andrew set his notebook down and opened his laptop. The email he’d been writing after leaving Wymack at the dinner sat unambiguously on his desktop where he’d left it.  

Andrew skimmed over the words one last time before hitting send.

Kevin wouldn’t be happy with him, but that mattered little. Closing his laptop, Andrew stood and went upstairs.

Chapter Text

“Kevin, wake up,” Andrew said, flinging open the door to his bedroom and stepping in none too quietly. Kevin simply grumbled something incoherent and rolled over, shoving his face against the corner of the wall. How he was always this worthless in the morning was beyond Andrew’s knowledge. “Wake up.”

“No,” Kevin slurred sleepily.

Andrew didn’t have time for this.

Walking over, he grabbed the cup of water off of Kevin’s bedside table and dumped it on his head. Kevin sat up with a start, turning sleepy green eyes to glare daggers in Andrew’s direction. “What.”

“Hurry up,” Andrew said blandly, before turning and heading back into the living room. He ignored Aaron’s inquisitive look from where he sat on the couch that had now become a permanent part of their kitchen, and went out the door to their front porch, lighting a cigarette as he squinted into the bright afternoon light.

It was the sunny sort of day native to southern California, accompanied by light colors and laughter, the suburb around them seemingly content with itself. Andrew stuck out like a sore thumb in his all black and sharp eyes, tracking people as they crossed in front of his vision.  It was quaint, and boring, and Andrew needed Kevin to hurry up.

Kevin showed up some five minutes later, sleep ruffled hair standing on end and coffee mug in hand. Andrew gave him a once over, deciding the baggy sweats and green t-shirt was good enough. He’d forgotten to cover up the tattoo, but Andrew thought it didn’t really matter. It wasn't like Kevin would be coming with him.

Wordlessly, Andrew walked over to his car and got in, pulling out of the driveway as soon as Kevin closed the passenger door.

“Where are we going?” Kevin asked, a note of confusion in his voice. Andrew didn’t look over, keeping focused on the road racing past in front of him.

“Wymack’s,” Andrew answered, turning onto a backstreet.

“Why?” Kevin asked, taking a sip from his coffee.

Andrew stayed silent as he made another turn and pulled onto the block Wymack’s house was on. He parked out front and got out to Kevin’s distant noise of disapproval. Abby’s car was gone from the driveway, and the yard was messier than normal. Which, as it was always messy, meant cluttered with toys. Andrew’s knock was quickly answered by a harried looking Wymack, the sight immediately shutting up Kevin’s grumbled protests, and putting a frown on his face.

“Well, you coming in or not?” Wymack huffed, leaving the door ajar as he walked back into the house.

Kevin looked between Andrew and the door, that confused look back on his face.Andrew pushed him through the threshold, none to gently closed the door, and stepped in behind him.   

Wymack had situated himself at the kitchen counter trying to look busy as he indiscreetly side eyed the two of them. Andrew took a look around the house, eyes landing on a dejected looking Cody fiddling with a book as he sat in front of the TV. Grabbing Kevin's hand, he pulled the man behind him to Wymack’s frown and Kevin's confusion.

“Words not interesting?” Andrew asked blandly. Cody whipped his head around, eyes going wide as he noticed the two of them.

“Andy! Kev!” Cody exclaimed excitedly, jumping to his feet, a smile splitting his face that dimmed just as quickly. He looked back to the book kicking it with his foot. “They suck.”

“Words suck?” Andrew crouched down, picking up the book and reading over the page. A picture of Napoleon Bonaparte stared up at him with a short paragraph about him underneath.

“It doesn’t make sense.” Cody stomped his foot, frustration seeping from his voice. Andrew looked up at Kevin, who was standing uncomfortably off to the side. He noticed Andrew’s gaze, frowning as he raised an eyebrow.

“What doesn’t make sense?” Andrew asked amused as he looked back to Cody.

“This,” Cody seemed defeated as he gestured to the book.

Andrew remained silent.

“Why would he do that?” Cody asked, flopping to the ground to sit beside Andrew.

“Why do you think?”

“Because people suck,” Cody stated.

Andrew looked back to Kevin. “Kevin knows a lot about history, I'm sure he'd love to explain more to you.”

Cody smiled and turned to Kevin. “Really?”

“Uh…” Kevin looked like he was trying to slink out of the room.

The boy stood, running over to Kevin and practically dragging him by the arm. “Come on then!"

Kevin shot Andrew a beseeching look which was ignored as Andrew rose and left the room. Cody's chatter followed him out, excited and loud. Kevin would be distracted for awhile at least.

Wymack looked up as he entered the kitchen, setting down the knife he'd been using. “You don't want Kevin to hear this?”

“Is there something to hear?” Andrew asked, settling himself against the island.

Wymack sighed, shoulders slumping a bit in defeat. “Yeah, there is.”

He grabbed a tablet from where it had been charging, unlocked it, and after tapping against the screen a few times, handed it to Andrew. His gaze raked over Neil's background check. “... There's nothing here.”

“Yeah…” Wymack rubbed a thumb against his temple. “There isn't.”

He reached over carefully and swiped a finger across the screen. It switched to a similar profile that had decidedly more information than just a name. “Preliminary searches brought up this.”

Andrew read over what was there, the transcripts from his previous college and high school, the felony checks which had remained blank, and identifications that seemed as real as any Andrew had. Overall it was boring. Andrew looked up at Wymack and raised an eyebrow silently.   

Wymack was quiet for a moment as he stared at the floor, gaze resting a little to the left of where Andrew stood. “There were some discrepancies I noticed, so I ran it again through a deeper check, and then asked around some of my contacts. Turns out they're all forgeries.”

Andrew looked back to the tablet tapping on the transcript from Northern Arizona University to enlarge it. Neil was good at sticking to his lies it seemed.

“Who is he?”

Wymack was silent for a moment. “That’s the thing, according to my searches he’s no one, he doesn’t exist.”

“And?” Andrew asked, staring down at the tablet and flipping to the original file. The blankness stared back at him-- only a name seemed to stand between Neil Josten and nothing.

Wymack sighed, shaking his head. “If I had his fingerprints maybe…”

The silence between them was constricting.

Andrew looked over to where Cody was hounding Kevin with questions and what looked to be a T-Rex action figure. Kevin looked a little lost as he tried to get a word in but was interrupted before he could make a sound. Andrew frowned. “Kevin needs to stay with you this weekend.”

“Why?”

“I’m going out of town, he’s not coming with me.” Andrew folded his arms and waited.

“I don't want to know the specifics, do I?” Wymack lowered his voice.

“Do you?”

Wymack sighed in exasperation.

“You think he's a Raven,” Wymack stated, watching as Cody tried to convince Kevin to play with him.

“No,” Andrew said quietly.

Wymack turned to regard him confusion marring his features. “You don't?”

“Riko doesn't know yet, if Neil were a Raven, he would have told him.” Andrew traced a careful finger over his armband, the texture grounding him for a moment.

David's silence was considering. “Do you think he was sent by the main family?”

“I don't know.” The words tasted bitter on Andrew's tongue. It was a possibility; his presence couldn't just be a coincidence.

“It might not have anything to do with them, you know,” Wymack said slowly, scratching at the back of his neck. “I don't know what's going on but Neil…”

Andrew waited for Wymack to finish his thought, and when he didn't, set the tablet down and turned towards the door. “Make sure he doesn't run off while I'm gone. I'll deal with this when I get back.”

A huff of breath was Wymack’s only answer as Andrew left the house.

++++++

Kevin looked up from where Cody was trying to explain that T-Rexes were the best dinosaur at the sound of the front door slamming shut. Wymack stood by the kitchen counter, grimly staring off into the distance.

Kevin frowned. “Where's Andrew?”

“Looks like you'll be spending the weekend here, kid,” Wymack said, not answering his question.

Kevin made to stand, intending to follow Andrew and demand answers he'd most likely never get, but hesitated. He looked to Cody, then Wymack. “Do you know where he went?”

Wymack shook his head. “He didn't say.”

It wasn't unlike Andrew to leave town for a bit, but usually he'd at least warn Kevin beforehand. He was most likely under the assumption Kevin wouldn't like whatever it was he went off to do. Kevin frowned. Andrew was being reckless again and he didn't like it. “What did you two talk about then?”

Wymack looked off to the side. “You're going to have to ask Andrew about that.”

Kevin opened his mouth, prepared for an argument, but settled for glaring openly at the older man. What Andrew was getting up to, he didn't know, didn't know if he even wanted to know.

“Fine,” Kevin muttered to himself. There was no point in arguing when Andrew wasn't eve here.

“Wait,” Cody piped up from where he sat beside Kevin. “You're staying here for the weekend?”

Kevin sighed.

“Really?!” Cody asked excitedly, looking to Wymack.

Something soft came over the man's face as he answered, “Yeah, seems like it.”

Kevin felt uncomfortable. Tetsuji might have raised him, but he had never been so kind. Kevin didn't know how to deal with this.

“Yes!” Cody exclaimed, then jumped at Kevin, pulling him into a hug. “This is going to be so fun!”

Kevin awkwardly patted him on the back, sending a pleading look in Wymack's direction. He didn't know how to deal with children either. Wymack just shrugged at him, leaving him to his fate.

“Cody, let go,” Kevin requested.

Cody did so, smiling brightly all the while. “This is going to be awesome.”

Kevin wasn't so sure about that.

++++++

Andrew’s phone buzzed, startling him out of the reprieve of thoughts he’d become caught up in as he waited. Quietly, he opened the text, read it’s contents, and tried to push this new information Wymack had told him about Neil to the back of his mind. He’d need to get this done quickly if he wanted to get back to San Diego before morning rush hour rolled about. Pocketing his phone, Andrew stood and began walking to the address his informant had given him. It was only a few blocks away from where he'd parked his car, in a downtrodden neighborhood that was more empty warehouses than anything else. Andrew pulled his hood up as he drew nearer, and covered the bottom of his face with a bandanna. While the neighborhood was seemingly deserted, Andrew wasn't taking the chance of anyone catching sight of his face.

Andrew crept across an empty lot, his black cloths blending in with the shadows surrounding him. Nighttime in LA was never quiet, but here the noise of cars was dampened to a whisper in the background, and Andrew strained his ears to hear anything out of the ordinary in the darkness of the night. He slowed as he began to round the corner of a building, the house, his target, was in coming into sight. He stopped abruptly once it was in full view; something was wrong, Andrew knew immediately.

A inconspicuous black car was parked across the street from the house, lights and engine off, but Andrew could see faint movement behind the tinted windows. Someone seemed to be staking out his target. He moved closer, trying to get a better look at the car’s tag, and sucked in a breath when he did. It was a government tag, one that was unambiguous at first glance, easily mistaken for a state tag, but the registration sticker gave it away.

Andrew looked to the house, debating his options. He needed whatever information the woman inside had, if she had any. It was a big if. His informant was only going off of rumors that the woman had something to do with the organization Andrew was after. Technically this was only a reconnaissance mission, but if the government was planning a raid he needed to act fast or the evidence he needed would be lost.

Andrew made a decision and made himself lighter until he was at a decent height above the ground. Slowly, he walked across the street, ignoring the pounding of his heart. No one ever really bothered to look up, so he concentrated on making no sound as he dropped down onto the roof.

Crouching, Andrew scanned the area looking for any type of security measures that might be in place. He came up blank, not finding any on the roof, and with a peek over the side of the building determined there were none in the front or back yards either. It was odd, but maybe she felt as if she had enough protection on her own.

Andrew navigated to the nearest window, peeking into the room. Again, he found nothing, only an empty room, dust littering the floor and not a soul in sight. It didn’t look promising. If Andrew was being honest with himself, it looked like a trap.

He glanced back over his shoulder to the car, knowing there was no way they could be here for him. He'd never let it slip that he even planned on dropping in on the woman, and the continued buzzing of his phone let him know his informant was still sending him information as she got it. So if they weren't here for him, they had to be here for the house's occupant.

Carefully, Andrew reached out to the window, the old wood feeling weathered and worn under his fingertips.  He stopped abruptly to silence his phone, then got to work jimmy-rigging the window open. The latch caught with a pop that seemed louder than it should have been in the darkness. After a pause, Andrew slowly lifted the window pane and slipped in. His feet hit the ground with a thump, making light indents in the dust coating the floor.

He made his way across the room, careful of his steps and the creak of the flooring. Reaching the open doorway, he peeked his head out, finding a long hallway stretched out in front of him. A door lead off to the right, and on the left was an alcove filled with filing cabinets.  Andrew stepped out into the hallway, senses on high alert for anything. Andrew wouldn’t let himself be caught by surprise.

He went first to the door, not liking the prospect of an unknown at his back. It opened with no hesitance, soundless on well oiled hinges. The room itself was not empty, unlike the one Andrew entered through, but sparsely furnished. A desk was shoved under the window, littered with papers, and a small light set turned off on the corner. To the right was a small bed shoved into the corner as if an afterthought. Its sheets lay rumpled on the floor. Andrew walked over to the desk, grudgingly lifting one of the papers up and examining it in the dim light leaking in from the window.

Andrew put it off to the side, not finding anything worth his time, only simple bookkeeping. It occurred to him that his informant could have been completely wrong, and sent him after some sort of drug dealer. Andrew grabbed the next paper and skimmed over it quickly, finding much of the same. Numbers and figures and money exchanged with no context to build a bigger picture off of.

He continued this for a few minutes, focusing half his attention on the paperwork with the other half directed to his surroundings. It didn’t take long for him to come to the last piece of paper, which Andrew almost discarded as quickly as the others, when he noticed the signature at the bottom of the page. Andrew brought the paper to his face, gaze raking over the curling lines, and felt his heart plummet into his stomach.   

Slowly, he looked over his shoulder to the filing cabinets that sat across the hallway, and turned. It felt like he was only observing his body as he walked back across the room and out into the hallway, one hand clutching the piece of paper like a lifeline and the other balled into a tight fist.

Stopping in front of the first filing cabinet, Andrew took a breath before slowly reaching out and opening the topmost drawer. It made a dull squeak but opened with no problem, filled to the brim with alphabetically organized files.

The first one he pulled out was faded with age, its sides worn to softness by the caress of fingers. The name on the front read ‘Aadland, Delaney’, and it was with a steady calm that Andrew opened it. He stared down at the profile-- a young girl stared back up at him. Andrew skimmed the page, finding it to be dated seventeen years ago. The word ‘terminated’ stood out amongst the others, and Andrew closed the file with a snap. She hadn’t been one of the ones who’d lived.

He replaced the file, then pulled out the next: a boy around the same age who had most likely suffered the same fate. Putting the file back, he scanned over the cabinets. None of them were labeled, only plain and rusted from the years. There were five of them, four drawers each, and Andrew took a moment to consider just how many names they contained.

A sickly feeling settled in his stomach.

Andrew walked over to the last cabinet and opened the top drawer, staring down at the row of names all starting with S. It didn’t surprise him when he found the file of someone he actually knew. The name Janie Smalls hadn’t be one he’d thought of in a while, and truthfully would rather not. At the time, she had been more of an inconvenience than Andrew would normally admit, her powers playing a large roll in that.

He never found out what had happened to her.

Her file was thick with reports. So many, Andrew knew he’d be unable to go through them all before he needed to leave. Pulling out his phone, Andrew began taking photos of the pages, not stopping to read them. The fact that they hadn’t blacked out any of the information stumped Andrew, but perhaps they had never thought anyone would find this place.

He was halfway through the folder when a loud crash sounded from down the stairs.

Andrew looked up slowly, blinking out of his thoughts and towards the stairs.  Another crash, paired with a loud garbled shout. Andrew carefully set the file down.

“You!” Came a second shout, then a shattering noise like a window breaking. Andrew creeped towards the stairs on the balls of his feet. He should have just left, but something carried him to the top of the stairs and had him peering into the darkness, wanting to see more.

At the third crash, Andrew descended the stairs.

It was darker down here, blinds closed to the dim light pouring in from outside, making the shadows seem deep and endless. That didn’t stop Andrew from immediately noticing the movement coming from the kitchen, the scuff of feet on linoleum floor loud in the still air. Two figures, darker than the shadows surrounding them, seemed to be in the middle of a fight, one holding the other in a headlock.

He stopped abruptly as he took in the scene, eyes narrowing in on the glint of a knife held in a steady grip by the attacker. The person being held let out a ragged gasp grasping at the arm around their throat. “D-don’t.”

That voice.

Andrew recognized that voice.

He’d only met her once, the first time he’d been taken to the facility. She’d been a doctor then, he knew; it was unexpected to see her here of all places. His mind went to the filing cabinets upstairs, and anger he’d so carefully held back made itself known. If he could get his hand on her, he’d wring every inch of information from her until she told him where the children had been moved to. Until she explained what happened to each and every one of them. Until he found out who was behind all this. Only then he would kill her.

“Now, now, Dr. Shelds,” her attacker said. Another woman , Andrew thought, silently sliding through the shadows to get closer to the two. Dr. Shelds whimpered in pain and the other lady laughed. “You shouldn't have become such a liability if you didn’t want this to happen.”   

“Lola please,” Dr. Shelds begged. The sick smile that curled over the other woman's face seemed to be an answer to something unspoken.  

Andrew stepped forward listlessly, his body seemingly moving on its own as he watched Dr. Shelds’s attacker raise her knife. He couldn't let her die. Not yet.

Andrew lunged out before the woman --Lola, apparently-- could strike. Raising his hand, he made the knife as heavy as possible, the loud crash as it landed on the floor echoing through the house. Lola flinched back, releasing Dr. Shelds, who dropped to the floor like a bag of bricks.

There was a beat of silence before Lola slowly turned to where Andrew stood. “Well, that's unexpected.”

Pulling a blade out, Andrew advanced on the woman, maneuvering himself closer to Dr. Shelds.

“You aren’t Sol.” Lola tilted her head, eyes dark slits in the dim light. Andrew frowned, wondering what LA’s top hero had to do with any of this. “But my information wasn’t wrong…”

Andrew didn’t give a fuck about her information, who she was or where she got it from. She intended to kill his evidence. She seemed to realize he wasn’t listening, frowning in the middle of her rambling. “Oh well, doesn't matter much.”

Andrew only had a split second to react as the woman was suddenly in front of him swinging a fist at his temple.

++++++

Kevin tried to yank out the bows that had been tied into the tangle that was his hair.

“Stop that.” A tiny hand smacked his own.

Kevin huffed, leaning back to stare at Cody, who had taken to staring intently at a stick of eyeliner. “What are you going to do with that?”

“Don't worry,” Cody said confidently, pointing the eyeliner at Kevin. “I see mom do this all the time.”

Kevin wondered if prolonged exposure to Andrew was the reason Cody had become so good at not answering questions.

Kevin closed his eyes at Cody's insistence, resigning himself to his fate. Wymack wouldn't let him leave the house to go to the nearest gym and at least get in a workout for the day, so it wasn't like Kevin had anything better to do.

Cody got busy working on his face, humming happily as he no doubt made Kevin look like a fool. Kevin sat there impatiently, wondering when Abby would get back to control her terror of a son.  

His phone pinged and Kevin reached for it, unlocking the screen to read the text Neil sent him. Getting the man’s number had been some type of feat in its own right. Neil had been reluctant, but there was no fucking way Kevin would continue to show up randomly at Matt's house to get a hold of Neil. Why they had started actually talking, Kevin didn't know.

“Hey, close your eyes again, I'm not done yet,” Cody pouted.

Kevin rolled his eyes. “Hold on a second.”

He typed out a reply and put his phone back down.

A moment later it began ringing. Kevin answered it quickly, much to Cody's protests.

“Why not?” Neil's disembodied voice asked.

Cody gasped, “Is that Neil?”

There was silence for a moment. “Are you at Wymack’s?”

“Andrew's not here,” Kevin said, closing his eyes again for Cody. “We can't train tonight.”

Neil was silent again, a faint meow the only thing breaching the static of the line. “Tomorrow?”

“I don't know when Andrew's coming back,” Kevin admitted disdainfully. Andrew hadn't said a word to him before leaving. It bugged him.

“I'll come to you, then,” Neil said.

Kevin blinked, he hadn't thought about that.  “Okay.”

Cody's protest had Kevin closing his eyes again.

“We'll go for a run,” Neil said, something mischievous in his voice.

The fact that he was faster than Kevin was well known by now on both their parts. Kevin huffed a little indignantly. “Fine, be here at 6am. I’ll meet you outside.”

He hung up without another word, and looked over to Cody who was staring at him in confusion.

“What.”

“But I thought you liked Andrew?”

Kevin stared at him, not knowing at all what he meant. Sighing, Kevin leaned back. “Just finish with my face already.”

++++++

Andrew crouched low, searching for wherever his knife had fallen, a bruise blooming over his cheekbone. Lola stood at the other side of the kitchen, looking none the worse for wear as she lazily examined the damage they’d done. Dr. Shelds was slumped off to the side, having passed out sometime in the last few minutes. As Andrew’s eyes raked over her he spotted the knife, and lunged for it at the exact same time Lola did.

She got there first, grabbing the knife and then Dr. Shelds in the span of a second. Andrew reached out with his powers, intending to bring the roof down on top of that bitch, but hesitated at the last second, remembering the file cabinets full of evidence above them. Instead, he made his limbs lighter, gaining as much momentum as he could, and tackled Lola. She dropped to the floor with a thud, smile still on her face. He intended to change that with the use of his fists. The first blow landed with a crack, the noise wet as Lola’s nose broke.

Andrew raised his bloodied fist, intent on wiping that smug smirk off her face for good, when the front door slammed open.

“Oh shit,” a voice said behind them. “Oh, what the fuck.”

Before Andrew could stop himself, he glanced back, catching sight of Sol in all his golden glory, standing gobsmacked in the middle of the entryway.

“First mistake,” Lola whispered in his ear, and Andrew had just enough time to whip his head back around and watch her snap her fingers. “Boom.”

Andrew flew back, pain lacing up his chest. He hit the counter with a crack, falling to the floor in a heap. He struggled to get up, to move, but his limbs were weighed down and the world was swimming through waves of water. Sol seemed to finally be freed from his shock, moving quickly towards Lola, a beam of light forming in his hand, but it was too late and the knife she had been holding was embedded deep in the doctors throat. Lola ripped it out as quickly as it had gone in, turned to Sol, and snapped her fingers.

The second explosion was bigger than the one she hit Andrew with.  

Sol landed in a heap somewhere of to the side which, Andrew thought, was inconvenient. It was a thought he tried to hold on to as the world dimmed around him, then went black.

++++++

Sir chased after Neil's shoelace with the utmost concentration, batting at it with her tiny claws. A small smile slipped over Neil's face as he watched her be ridiculous. It was odd, he'd never known he was a cat person until he got a cat. Walking over, he scooped her up off the floor, and went downstairs to go find Matt.

It was late but Neil couldn't sleep, filled with a jittery energy he knew would lead to nightmares if he went to bed now. The shop was dark, filled with shadows at every corner-- it put Neil on edge. It'd be easy for someone to make their presence unknown.

Neil reached over and flipped on the light switch, finding the shop empty but for plants. Sighing, Neil turned towards the back and went out the door into the greenhouse.  Somehow it was even more crowded with flowers than even the shop was. Matt was crouched behind a bush of roses, gently whispering to them as he trimmed their leaves. Neil maneuvered around the rows of plants to stand beside Matt, who looked up at him with a smile.

“What's up?” Matt asked, turning back to his roses.

Neil shook his head. “Nothing, Sir just wanted to come say hi.”

Neil scratched under her chin, eliciting a purr much too loud for how small she was. Matt laughed. “Okay, just make sure she doesn't try to eat anything again. They don't like it.”

Neil rolled his eyes and placed Sir on the ground, where she promptly ran off to go cause trouble. He sat down next to Matt, watching as his friend went about trimming the plants in front of him, speaking soft words of reassurance. Neil knew if he wanted to, Matt could bend them to his will with a simple gesture, but he didn’t-- Matt wasn’t that type of person. He was powerful, though.

Neil wondered how it hadn’t occurred to him before that Matt might have been part of the registry. He had been so careful when he moved here... But then again, he hadn’t, it seemed. It made him wonder how much else he’d overlooked. His father might still be locked away, but that didn’t mean he could let his guard down.

“...Andrew told me you used to be part of the registry,” Neil broke the comfortable silence between them.

Matt looked up with a start. “He did?”

Neil nodded.

“Oh.” Matt looked away for a moment. “That fucker.”

Matt didn’t deny it, and that eased something in Neil’s chest. “Why aren’t you anymore?”

Matt sighed, setting down the shears he’d been using. Neil eyed them wearily. “It was…” he trailed off and ran a hand over the track scars on his arm. Neil thought he understood. “I made some mistakes, I thought it might be best if I left the registry.”

“I see…”

“They’re not all they’re chalked up to be, Neil.” Matt shook his head. “There were some things they wanted me to do that I just… couldn’t.”

Neil hesitated. He’d always seen the registry as one of the only good things about this country. It was the only thing he’d ever really wanted, to be a hero. “Why?”

Matt slumped a bit. “Too much bureaucratic bullshit. The registry isn’t bad… It just needs to be fixed.”

Neil considered that, considered what he knew; the fact that the registry was practically run by the Moriyamas didn’t slip his mind, nor the fact that they were somehow involved with his father.

Matt paused for a moment. “Besides, most heroes end up being absolute dicks.”

“Is that why you punched Kevin?” Neil asked.

Matt smiled slightly. “Kevin’s an asshole.”

“Yeah…” Neil replied, nodding solemnly. He was. “So what was your awesome superhero name?”

Matt blushed a bit, scratching at his nose. “Sequoia.”

There was a beat of silence between them.

“Cause I’m tall…” Matt elaborated, “and can control plants?”

Neil snorted back a laugh, and Matt grinned. “Hey, I didn’t get to pick it.”

“Are any hero names actually good?” Neil leaned back on his hands.

“No.” Matt answered. “Good names go to the bad guys.”

Sir came bumbling toward them with a plaintive meow and Neil reached out, scooping her up into his arms. The little kitten blinked slowly at him before tucking her head into the nook of his arm.

“She seems tired.” Matt commented.  

“Yeah.” Neil stood, stretching a bit. “I think we’ll head to bed.”

Matt smiled. “Night, Neil.”

“Night.” Neil shot over his shoulder as he went back upstairs.

++++++

Andrew woke up to the smell of smoke and light of flames. His first thought was a groggy what the fuck. His mind felt heavy and sluggish, and it took him too long to remember where he was. He tried to sit up, swayed a moment ,then steadied himself.

The house around him was on fire, bright orange flames dancing along the walls and ceiling.

Andrew had to move.

That thought spurred him on, and with unsteady legs he rose to his feet. The stairs to the second floor were engulfed in flame, and Andrew suspected the files were already ash. Stumbling towards the door, Andrew's thoughts were trapped somewhere between numbness and rage.

Dr. Shelds was dead, the files gone, and that bitch Lola was nowhere to be seen.

It wasn't a good situation.

Andrew felt his foot connect with something soft and looked down finding the body of Sol sprawled below where he impacted the wall. There was a lot of blood, but he was still breathing.

Andrew took a moment to stare disinterestedly at the useless hero. He should just leave him.

Sighing, Andrew made the man lighter and threw him over his shoulder.

Flames licked around the open doorway; Sol must have not closed it when he burst in there without a second thought. He only knew the hero from Kevin never seeming to be able to shut up about him, but first impressions weren’t setting the bar high.

Andrew didn’t mind it much when, as he dodged the flames, Sol's head hit the side of the doorway with a definitive thunk.

Something behind him crumbled and crashed, sending a wave of heat and dust barreling into Andrew. He coughed, pulling the bandana around his neck higher up his nose, not wanting to inhale the smoke. Carefully, he maneuvered them out of the doorway and into the night air, stumbling at the coolness. His back still blistered from the heat of the flames behind him, but he could barely move as he sucked in breaths of fresh air. He hadn't realized he'd been near the point of passing out from oxygen deprivation until he could suddenly breathe again.

His head throbbed along with his heart beat, quick and erratic, and his feet seemed  to be tunneling under him as he stared at the ground.

He swayed but caught himself before he could fall, trying to focus anywhere but the burning building behind him and the smoke crawling down his throat. His eyes caught on the dark entrance of an alley across the street, and it was with an odd sense of detachment that he moved towards it.

This situation wasn’t what he had planned. He couldn’t exactly remember what it was he had planned at the moment, but Andrew was sure this wasn’t it. It was novel, in a way, the sensation of not remembering. A laugh tried to worm its way out of his throat and he choked it down with a gasp.

The shadows of the alley where a welcomed thing, concealing and quiet. Andrew slumped, setting Sol on the ground with little care. The hero seemed  pretty useless in the dim light of fire. Andrew stared at him a moment before squatting down next to him. Quickly, he searched Sol for a phone, found it shoved into one of his suite’s many pockets, then dialed a number before he could think on what he was doing.

Andrew sat the phone next Sol’s head and stood. He looked to the fire, then farther down the alleyway, and staggered into the darkness.  

++++++

“Hello?” Aaron muttered sleepily into his phone as he wondered why the hell someone was calling him this early in the morning. Katelyn made a sleepy noise beside him, tucking her head farther under the covers. There was only silence and the quiet sound of static through the line, nothing to indicate another person was there. Aaron huffed pulling the phone away to stare at the caller ID. It wasn't a number he recognized, though the area code was from California. “Who the fuck is this?”

A ragged breath broke the silence before he had the chance to hang up. Something wet and whistling, painful in a way that put him immediately on edge.

“Aaron,” Andrew's voice croaked through the line. Aaron didn't realize he had moved to stand until his feet touched the cold tile of the floor. Without saying a word, he began searching for his shoes. “Come get me.”

“Where are you?” Aaron asked, silently cursing the world as he felt around in the darkness.

There was a pregnant pause before Andre answered. “I don't know.”

“You don't know.” Aaron repeated, finally finding his shoes and shoving his feet into them with little care.

Another pause. “Los Angeles.”

“Why the fuck are you in LA?”

Andrew didn't dignify that with an answer, only sucking in another harsh breath. Aaron was out the bedroom door and making his way through the apartment as fast as he could without running, not wanting to wake Katelyn up with the noise he was making.

Another sharp breath was taken through the line before Andrew was rattling off a string of words and numbers that might have made sense if any context was provided at all.

“The fuck,” Aaron huffed, stepping out into the dark night. Only the barest hints of sunlight were beginning to peek over the horizon.  

“Where my car is parked,” Andrew answered voice growing distant. “Hurry up.”

The line went dead and Aaron cursed every part of Andrew's being. Quickly, he pulled up google maps, typing in the address Andrew gave him, and tried to visualize the streets surrounding it. He'd only been to LA a few times with Nicky, and didn't know the city well. Shoving his phone back into his pocket Aaron took a deep breath and concentrated, trying to clear his mind. Taking a step Aaron shifted the space around him hoping he'd at least get somewhere close.

He stepped out onto a deserted street, slightly dazed, and promptly slammed his shin into the bumper of a car. Hissing in pain Aaron stepped back, staring hard at the slick black of Andrew’s car that greeted him. As his senses came to, Aaron heard the wailing of sirens not too far away. He looked about, noticing an orange light coming from behind him and turned. His heart seemed to still as he took in the fire, big enough that even from blocks away the flames could be seen.

He needed to find Andrew.

Looking around, he tried to figure out where his brother might be hiding. There were plenty enough places, since the warehouses along this block all seemed to be deserted. Aaron let out a sigh. Andrew was making this harder than it needed to be, as always. He closed his eyes, pictured Andrew, and took a step, hoping for the best.

The room he opened his eyes to could barely be considered that. Only two walls still stood, the rest a crumpled mess leading out to an alley. A bulldozer took up the majority of the room, its usual bright yellow a dim shade of grey in the light. Aaron carefully moved forward, squinting into the darkness in search of his brother.

“Andrew,” Aaron whispered., not wanting to draw attention to himself but not wanting to startle Andrew even more so.

He didn’t feel like getting stabbed today.

A grunt had him turning his head, frowning as a shadow he hadn’t noticed before shifted slightly.  He paused, waiting for another sign that it was actually Andrew, but got nothing. He didn’t even have socks on, this was fucking ridiculous.

Aaron rolled his eyes and maneuvered his way to the far corner. The shadow shifted again as he got closer, and he was finally able to make out the small hunched form curled up in the most defensible part of the room. He stopped some four feet away, staying quiet until his brother looked up at him. Andrew’s glare was sharp, and something wet glistened at the base of his hair.

“The fuck happened?” Aaron snorted, holding out his hand.

“Shut up,” Andrew replied shakily, attempting to get to his feet on his own. Aaron dropped his hand back to his side. It took a few tries but finally Andrew was able to stand without his knees giving out.

“We need to get you to Abby,” Aaron murmured, offering his hand again so he could get them out of here as fast as possible.

“No,” Andrew said turning his back on Aaron as he began limping towards the street.

After a moment of hesitation, Aaron followed him. “Andrew.”

“We're not leaving my car.”

Aaron couldn't believe this. “I'll come back for it later.”

“No.”

Aaron sighed.

Andrew made it to the driver side door with barely a stumble, shoulders stiff and back straight. The sirens had grown louder as more emergency vehicles arrived at the scene, putting Aaron on edge as he attempted to hurry them along. Andrew paused at the car door, staring down at the slight tremble that had come over his hand. Aaron took a closer look at the blood slowly seeping from Andrew’s head, and the bruises and burns that blistered from the right side of his jaw and up his cheekbone.

“You're not driving,” Aaron stated crossing his arms.

Andrew's eyebrow twitched. “I am.”

“You have a head wound.”

Andrew raised his hand to his forehead, something a bit confused coming over his face before he seemed to realize what he was doing and lowered it back to his side as casually as possible. There was silence as Andrew stared at Aaron, face blank but demeanor appraising.

Aaron didn’t care, there was no way in hell he was letting this concussed bastard drive.

Andrew’s shoulders slumped into an indifferent shrug, and he tossed the keys carelessly Aaron's way as he turned and crawled into the backseat. Aaron managed to catch them before they smacked him in the face and climbed into the car without a word.

“You better not crash it,” Andrew muttered darkly. Aaron glanced in the rear view mirror, finding his brother hunched over and rummaging through the first aid kit Aaron had stashed in his car after his last job.

Huffing, Aaron started the car and peeled into the street wanting to get as far away from the cops as fast as he could.

“Put  a compress on that,” Aaron said glancing at the rear view mirror. Andrew looked up meeting his eyes and giving him a glare before turning back to the first aid bag and ripping open a gauze packet. He pressed it into the gash on his head and settled back into his seat.

“Don’t fall asleep,” Aaron warned.

Andrew rolled his eyes and turned to look out the window where the sun was tinting the sky a little lighter shade of blue.

++++++

Jeremy was having a really bad day, he decided, blinking up at the bright florescent lights shining ruthlessly into his eyes. His whole body ached like sharp pins settled under his skin coming to a point above his temple that thrummed painfully with his pulse. He felt creaky, like if he moved an inch he’d either fall apart or get stuck in that position. The sheets against his skin seemed overly scratchy and were tangled awkwardly between his legs in a vaguely restraining manner.  

“You're awake.” The voice came from somewhere off to his left and Jeremy looked over on instinct. He tried to focus on the person leaning casually against the open doorway, but became distracted by the thin IV tubing poking out of the back of his hand which was suddenly very itchy.

“What the--,” Jeremy mumbled, rubbing at the tapped over needle.

“Stop that.” The person walked over and smacked his hand away. Jeremy looked up into the unhappy face of Alvarez and frowned himself.

“Why are you here?” he asked, words coming out in a bit of a slur.

“Because I was worried, dummy,” Alvarez said, face softening just slightly.

“Oh.” Jeremy scrunched up his face in confusion. “Why am I here?”

There was a beat of silence as Alvarez stared at him.

“You don’t remember?”

“Uh…” This conversation wasn’t sounding so good to Jeremy’s ears.

“Oh shit .”

Alvarez went to rush out of the room. “Wait!” Jeremy said, trying to stop her before she left. Pausing, she looked back, worry written in every line of her body. Jeremy held up his hands weakly. “Just… Just tell me what happened before you get a doctor.”

Alvarez's eyes turned to glare at the floor, but after a moment she closed the door and walked back over to Jeremy. He reached out, catching her sleeve. She bit her lip still staring at the floor.

“Hey, I'm okay,” Jeremy said, believing his words. Whatever had happened, he wasn't dead, so that had to be enough.

“Barely.” Alvarez shook her head. “You were attacked.”

Jeremy frowned. “I was on an assignment, that's not uncommon.”

“It wasn't by Mariah Shelds, she was dead when you got there.” Jeremy opened his mouth, a question on his tongue, but Alvarez plowed on. “That villain, ‘the Monster’ or whatever, he was there. He killed her, set the house on fire, then tried to kill you.”

“That….. doesn't make sense.”

“You must have had enough strength to crawl out of the house before you passed out from blood loss. We found you across the street in an alley.” She sighed, slouching a bit. “You'd dialed the emergency number before you lost consciousness.”

“No.” Jeremy sat up straight and immediately regretted it. The pain in his head grew sharp with the rush of blood. “No, that doesn't make sense.”

Alvarez looked at him sadly. “You have a head injury, Jeremy. I should really go get the doctor.”

Before Jeremy could respond, Alvarez had already left. The room was quiet in her absence.

He stared down at his hands, mind racing. There was something there, on the edge of his memory, that he couldn’t grasp quite right. A woman, pain sharp on the back of his head, heat surrounding him. Hands pulling him out.  

It wasn’t him, Jeremy realized with a start. The Monster, it hadn’t been him who’d killed Mariah. It’d been the woman. There had been blood dripping from her knife, a body at her feet.

He’d found her fighting the Monster.  

Lola, his original target, had been fighting the Monster when he arrived.

His head hurt more than it ever had in his life but Jeremy pushed through it, trying to remember more. It just wasn't making sense. He had definitely passed out in the building, there was no way he could have made that phone call. Unless….

Jeremy sat up straight, ignoring the pain blistering over his abdomen.

Had the Monster saved his fucking life?

++++++

Andrew leaned heavily against Aaron, waiting as his brother banged his fist against the door in front of them. The light of day made his injuries stand out even more. It didn't fit well with the nice suburban neighborhood around them. The thought made Andrew want to laugh; he doubted he'd ever fit into this sort of place.

Not that he ever planned on trying to again.

The door swung open, revealing a sleep-ruffled Abby. It was amusing how her face could morph from vague confusion to horror in the span of a second.

Andrew gave her a little wave.

“What happened?” Abby asked, ushering them into the house and closing the door definitively behind them.

Aaron shrugged. “Don't ask me.”

Abby gave him a hard look as he helped Andrew lower himself onto the couch.

“He has a concussion,” Aaron said, taking a step back. Andrew slumped into the cushions, watching as the two exchanged quiet words with one another.

His eyes traveled to the ceiling. He didn't like it when they talked about him as if he wasn't there. “Where's Kevin?”

Abby looked to him, coming over and crouching to better exam his head. “He left this morning with Neil.”

“What?” Andrew's voice was rough from disuse. He shouldn't have left him alone, he'd thought Wymack would keep to his word.

Abby gave him a confused look. “They haven't been gone long, I'm sure Neil will end up staying for breakfast.”

Andrew stared silently at her, watching as she shuffled about then finally situated herself. “I'm going to heal your head now, okay?”

Andrew nodded mechanically, tensing up as she applied her cool fingers to his scalp. His eyes shifted to Aaron, who looked back at him a question in his eyes. Andrew shook his head slightly: now was not the time. Abby pressed a cool hand to his head and a tingling sensation washed over his skin. It prickled in a mildly uncomfortable way but Andrew ignored it as the skin of his scalp knitted itself back together.  

There was a thud, then the sound of footsteps coming down the stairs, that caught their attention. Andrew looked up just in time to find Wymack stumbling down the stairs, barely suppressing a sleepy yawn.

His eyes caught Andrew’s and he stopped abruptly. “Damnit, Andrew, what did you do now?”

Andrew shrugged.

Wymack looked around, taking in the three of them and frowning. “Is Kevin still asleep?”

Andrew raised his eyebrows.

“He went on a run with Neil,” Abby said, moving her hand to Andrew’s shoulder, “right after I got home from my shift.”

Andrew gritted his teeth at the coldness flowing down his back.

Wymack cursed.

“Who the fuck is Neil?” Aaron asked.

“A problem,” Andrew answered.

Aaron rolled his eyes. “Right.”

“He’s Matt’s roommate,” Abby supplied helpfully.

“Neil Josten?” Aaron asked, confused. He turned to Andrew. “How do you know him?”

Andrew stayed quiet, thoughts tumbling in his mind. He might need to kill them. Kevin might be an idiot but Neil was trouble, and an enabler at best.  

“When did they leave?” Wymack asked Abby as she finished with Andrew.

“About an hour ago, maybe a little more?” Abby sounded unsure.”Why? What’s wrong?”

Wymack looked to Andrew.

Andrew shrugged. “Nothing yet.”

No one in the room looked convinced of that.

++++++

Kevin hunched over, sucking in gulps of air as he stared at his feet, the morning sun already beating down harshly against the back of his neck. He looked up through his lashes to where a sweat-soaked Neil stood drinking from his water bottle. Kevin straightened, running a hand through his damp hair. The sun was making its way through the sky, and while they’d been running for nearly an hour now, Kevin felt no need to turn back. It was relaxing, in a way.

Neil caught his eye. “I have a question for you.”

Kevin opened up his water bottle, taking a sip before replying, “What is it?”

“Have you ever considered making a team of your own? Like the Ravens, or the Trojans.” Neil ran a hand through his dark hair, making it stand on end.

Kevin blinked. “No.”

“Why not?” Neil frowned.

“It-” Kevin couldn’t say it had never even occurred to him. “That wouldn’t go well.”

“But you could,” Neil said, turning to rest his hip against the bench they’d stopped by. Kevin found his gaze lingering on the length of Neil’s legs before he forcefully shifted it back to his face.

“I guess…” It wasn’t impossible… in theory. “But Riko-”  

“Can’t control you,” Neil stated calmly, and Kevin felt an odd sense of familiarity. He shook it off. Neil didn’t know what he was talking about.

“You don’t know Riko.” Kevin wasn’t sure why he was continuing this conversation, what it was about Neil that gave Kevin the feeling he understood even though there was no way in hell that was the case.

Neil was silent for a moment, eyes trained on the ground. “He’s across the country, he doesn’t know you’re here.”

Kevin shook his head. “It would still be virtually impossible. We’d need to be accepted into the registry before we could even make a team, and I…”

Neil nodded. “Have you ever thought about going around the registry?”

Kevin turned to stare at him. “What?”

“Just a thought.” Neil shrugged.

“No.”

“Fine,” Neil said, rolling out his shoulder. Kevin doubted that meant he’d let the subject drop. “We should get going before our heart rates drop.”

“Right…” Kevin wondered what the hell Neil was getting at, but let the conversation end for the moment. He took a deep breath, then ran after the other man’s retreating form.

++++++

Nicky leaned back in the plush leather chair, staring at the ceiling. This is going to suck , he thought, eyes tracing over the cracks in the crisp white plaster. This is going to really suck . The couch next to his arm chair creaked as captain Hernandez shifted positions uncomfortably. Nicky tried not to fidget; he had to be professional.

The door across the room opened to reveal two figures, and Nicky straightened in his seat. The precinct's hired counselor and Navid walked through. Captain Hernandez stood, greeting them both in a practiced soft voice, and Nicky followed his example and rose from his chair.

“This is Nicky Hemmick,” Hernandez said carefully, gesturing from Navid to Nicky. “He’s of the detectives on this case.”

Navid eyed him warily and Nicky put on one of his brightest smiles. “Hello.”

“Hi,” the boy said quietly. Nicky felt a pang in his chest, and a small flare of anger. None of this should have happened. He took a moment to study Navid as Hernandez gestured for them all to sit once more, following a bit listlessly. He looked better than the pictures Nicky had seen of him, though his eyes were tired there was a flush to his cheeks, and a fullness that let Nicky know the past few weeks had been good to him. Hopefully he would be able to answer some of their questions.

“Miss Cassady,” Hernandez nodded in the counselor's direction. “I hope everything is going well.”

She smiled. “I think given the circumstances it’s going as well as it can. Right Navid?”

He nodded, “I guess.”

Nicky tried not to frown. “This won't take long, we just have a few questions for you.”

“About the people who took me,” Navid stated, eyes distant. Nicky couldn’t help but worry they were doing this too soon after Navid had been rescued. Captain Hernandez thought otherwise, though. He was insistent that either they questioned Navid, or they got Lily to finally speak, and there was no way Nicky could do that to the girl. She needed more time. Both of them did, really.

“Yes.” Nicky shifted uncomfortable. “If at any time you want us to stop just say so and we will.”

Hernandez opened his mouth in contradiction, but Nicky shut him down with a look.

“Really?” Navid asked, eyes finally meeting Nicky’s own.

“Yes,” Nicky answered sincerely. He thought he might be starting to understand why Andrew’s anger was so deep set.

“Okay.” Navid seemed to relax a little.   

Nicky smiled. This wasn’t going as badly as he thought it would.

“We need you to tell us about the people who took you,” Nicky said softly.

Navid’s head bowed under a weight Nicky doubted he’d ever be able to understand. “Okay.”

“Do you know who they were?” Nicky asked carefully.

Navid shook his head. “They kept us in the dark. We couldn’t see their faces.”

“Us?” Captain Hernandez butted in.

Navid looked to Nicky and he gave the child an encouraging nod. “Um, th-there were a lot of us. I don’t know how many.”

“Do you know any of the other’s names?” Nicky crossed his ankles.

“They didn’t let us speak. But…” Nicky waited for Navid to continue. “But there was this one girl named Robin, she used to be kept in the same room as me.”

Nicky wrote down the name. “Did you notice anything else about her? Her last name? Or what she looked like?”

“She had dark hair, like mine.” Navid paused. “And sometimes she would say things I couldn’t understand.”

“Anything else?” Hernandez asked.  

Navid shook his head and stared at the ground. “Sorry.”

“It’s fine,” Nicky’s voice was soft. “Let’s go to another question, okay?”

“Okay.”

“Do you know what they wanted with you?”

Navid looked up at him, eyes hard. “Yes.”

Nicky blinked. “What was it?”

“Our powers,” Navid told them.

Nicky nodded solemnly. It fit with what Andrew had told him. “And what are your powers?”

This. Navid’s voice echoed in his head, and Nicky startled. He was so young to have actually have had them manifest. I wasn’t that young, Navid stared at him. Nicky stared back slightly astonished, though he knew he shouldn’t be.

“Is that how you knew Robin’s name?” Nicky spoke aloud.

“No, she told me before they moved her.” Navid hadn’t looked away from Nicky, and Nicky had the odd feeling he was being dissected slowly. Are you like me? Navid asked. Nicky didn’t like thinking about that fact.

Yes, Nicky inclined his head then slipped his eyes over to Captain Hernandez. Don’t tell them, they don’t know.

Okay.

“Where did they take her?” Nicky asked, though he doubted Navid knew. If Andrew couldn’t even figure out where all these kids were being taken then surely the children themselves wouldn’t know.

Who’s Andrew?

Nicky almost cursed out loud. Holy crap, do you always do that?

No… Sorry. Navid looked off to the side. “I don’t know. They would never keep us in one place for long, not after the doctor almost died.”

Andrew is my cousin, he was once in a similar situation to what you were in. Navid’s eyes snapped back to him. “Who’s the doctor?”

“We didn’t know his name.” Is he my age?

No, he’s twenty-four. “Do you know where they planned to take you?”

“I didn’t even know I was still in California.” Navid frowned. And he’s still alive?!

Yes?

How?

“Uh…” Nicky was at a loss. Navid new about as much concerning the situation as Nicky had thought he would, and he didn’t want to push the kid.

“They kill us if we become useless,” Navid said aloud, and Nicky shut his mouth with a snap.

Captain Hernandez sat up straight. “They what?”

Miss Cassady looked pale as she stared at Navid, but  he didn’t look away from Nicky. “They only keep us alive if we’re still useful.”

“Did they experiment on you?” Nicky asked, thoughts going over what Andrew had told him.

Navid drew a shaky breath. “Yes.”

“I think that’s enough for today,” Miss Cassady interjected before Nicky could say anything else.

“O-okay,” Navid said slowly.

“One more question before you go.” Hernandez stood along with the other two. They paused before they could make their way towards the door. “Have you ever heard of someone called the Monster?”

Nicky tried to repress a sigh.

“No?” Navid looked to Nicky in confusion. Who?

Nicky shook his head slightly.

“We think he might be involved with the organization who took you.” Hernandez said.

“Or he might not be.” Nicky stood as well. “We don’t know yet.”

“Well, if that’s all.” Miss Cassady put a hand on Navid’s shoulder and began steering him towards the door.

“Goodbye, Navid!” Nicky called after the boy. The boy looked back over his shoulder as the door closed, Goodbye.

There was a moment of awkward silence as Nicky and Captain Hernandez stood alone in the room once again.  

“Well, that… went,” Hernandez muttered to himself.

Nicky opened his mouth to reply but was interrupted by the sound of his phone going off. Nicky shot Hernandez a quick glance before checking the caller ID. At the sight of Aaron’s name, he answered it with haste.

“Hello?”

“You need to come to Abby’s.” Aaron’s voice sounded tired and drained.

“Why?” Nicky asked, panic building in his chest. It was uncommon for Aaron to call him during work, and that knowledge alone put him on edge. Why did he need to go to Abby’s? Had something happened?

“Because Andrew fucked up,” Aaron stated before hanging up.

Nicky stared down at his phone before looking to his boss. “I have to go.”

Hernandez only looked at him in confusion before nodding his head. “Alright, can I ask why, though?”

“Family emergency,” Nicky said, grabbing his coat and heading out of the door before he could get a reply.

++++++

Neil stood behind Kevin as the other man opened the front door to Abby’s house as if he lived there. It was never something Neil had thought to ask him before, how he knew Wymack and his family. Stepping into the hallway, Neil took a look around. He hadn’t been back here since the last time Dan had decided to visit, though it didn’t look much different, Neil had to admit.

A shoe came flying out of nowhere, smacking against the wall between the two of them. They froze in place, sharing a glance before looking down the hallway to where Andrew was standing with his arms crossed. Neil squinted, taking in the barely fading bruises that marred the man’s face and how he seemed to favor one leg over the other.

“What happened?” Neil asked at the same time as Kevin.

“Shut up,” Andrew said, voice blank, as he walked towards them. Neil inhaled sharply at the scent of smoke coming from Andrew’s clothes. It wasn’t his usual smell of cigarettes, Neil could tell. It was something deeper, the combined smell of melted plastic making it sharp. Neil’s mind flashed to his mother, her corpse burning on the California’s coastline along with the last of Neil’s hopes for survival. He pushed the memories away before they could consume him and focused on the only person in the hallway who wasn’t a reminder of his past.  

“Andrew, where were you?” Kevin questioned. Neil would have thought he was worried if he hadn’t sounded so annoyed.

Andrew shot a look to Neil before stepping into Kevin’s space and examining his face. There were patches on Andrew’s neck and face that looked like recently healed burns. Neil looked down, taking in the slight tremble in Andrew’s hands, and the dried blood making a darker stain on his black clothes. Andrew and Kevin stared at each other a moment before Andrew seemed to be satisfied with finding nothing and stepped back. “Idiot.”

Kevin scoffed at him.

Andrew turned his eyes to Neil, and gave him a bland once over. “You’re still here.”

Neil cocked his head. “Yeah, I am.”

“God, are you two done already?” A voice said from further down the hallway and Neil looked up to find Andrew’s reflection staring at them from the door to the living room. Aaron Minyard glared in their direction, eyeing the three of them with disdain. There was dust caked to his hair, Neil noticed. “Three…”

Andrew turned to look at Aaron. “Why don’t you go be useful somewhere else.”

“Abby wasn’t done healing you,” Aaron said, but turned and left with little argument.

They stood in silence until Kevin rounded on Andrew. “What did you do?”

Andrew barely spared him a glance. “We’re going out this weekend. Roadrunner here is coming with us.”

“I am?” Neil questioned, wondering what Andrew meant by ‘going out’.

“You are,” Andrew said firmly. Neil raised an eyebrow but didn’t say anything, knowing if he didn’t want to he could get out of it easily.

“Andrew,” Kevin huffed.

“Kevin,” Andrew said indifferently. Neil looked between the two of them and took a step back.

“I should probably get going before I’m late for work.” Neil took another step towards the door.    

They turned to him in unison. Kevin with a nod and Andrew with a coldness Neil hadn’t seen before.

“Alright,” Kevin said. “But tomorrow we’ll continue with your training.”

“Right,” Neil sent him a small smile before walking the rest of the way to the door.

“Roadrunner,” Andrew called after him, and Neil paused. “Have fun at work.”

Neil shot him a look over his shoulder before opening the door and stepping out into the bright morning light. He was curious as to what Andrew had been up to. It couldn’t have been anything good, from Kevin’s reaction. He tried to push the thought  to the back of his mind as he stretched a bit, preparing to run back to Matt’s place so he could get a shower before he had to be anywhere. He startled when a car pulled into the driveway. The man who got out was tall, dressed in a nice suite, and Neil stiffened as he began walking towards the house before recognizing Nicky Hemmick for who he was.

Nicky looked up and blinked in surprise when he saw Neil. “Oh, wow.”

“Uh,” Neil tried to scoot past him discreetly. “Hi.”

“You’re that guy who was at Erik’s, right?” Nicky asked, and Neil stared at him in confusion. “Matt’s roommate.”

“Uh, yeah.”

“I’m Erik’s husband, Nicky.” He smiled.

“Right, Andrew’s cousin.” Neil scratched at the back of his head awkwardly, not wanting to continue this conversation.  

Nicky’s eyes shot to the house. “Oh shit, Andrew.” Nicky quickly hurried past Neil. “Nice seeing you!”

Neil watched as Nicky practically ran into the house without another word. He stared blankly at the house for a second before turning and making his way down the street with a little shake of his head. He wasn’t sure what that was about. Or even if he really wanted to know.

Chapter Text

Dan sat down heavily in the seat beside Neil startling him out of his thoughts. “Hey, you busy?”  

Neil looked to the video he'd been editing then back to Dan. “No?”

“Great, Sammy called in sick so the studio needs you to run camera two for today’s show.” She stood and stretched a bit. “That good with you?”

Neil nodded, quickly saving his progress. “Is she alright?”

“Yeah,” Dan shrugged. “She’s not actually sick, her boyfriend's in town so she wanted to be with him.”

“Sam told you that?” Neil asked raising an eyebrow.

Dan smiled something small and secret. “No.”

Neil huffed a laugh.

The controlled chaos of the studio ebbed and flowed around them as people hurried about. Neil sidestepped a coworker who had been moving at an uncontrolled wobble as he attempted to manage the tower of papers he was carrying. Dan motioned for him to follow as she lead him through the mess that was studio ten.  

“Watch out for the pen,” Dan threw over her shoulder.

Neil looked at her confused. “The what?”

“Pen,” Dan repeated.

Neil looked around wondering what she was talking about, there were a lot of pens in the vicinity but none that stood out to him. He turned back to face Dan about to ask her what she meant when a pen came flying out of nowhere and smacked him right between the eyes. Neil flinched back stepping into the path of one of his coworkers. The girl, in turn, stumbled sending the coffees she had been holding flying into a stack of papers. Neil watched in growing horror as they began to tilt then fall into a heap on the ground.

Dan turned back around at the sound of papers falling everywhere. “You didn’t watch out for the pen did you?”

Neil looked to her, then the girl he had bumped into, then the coffee stained papers. “Sorry.”

The girl stared back at him eyes wide. “Uh…”

“Neil,” Dan called. “We’re on in ten you need to set up.”

“Um, bye.” Neil gave an awkward little wave then hurried off away from the mess.

Dan was waiting for him by the door, smile playing on her lips. Neil ducked around her taking a deep breath as he entered the broadcasting room. If the outer office was chaos then the studio was just a plain disaster. If someone wasn’t running they were shouting and if they were doing neither it was because they were the news anchors getting ready for the show.

Dan gently shoved him in the direction of camera two as someone from across the room began frantically calling her name.

“You good here?” She asked ignoring the voice steadily increasing in volume. Neil glanced over here shoulder at the panicking crew man who shot him a pleading look when they locked eyes. Neil grimaced.

“I'll be fine,” he assured her gesturing for her to turn around. “You should probably take care of that.”

Dan sighed before turning around and leaving for her own duties. Directing people to and fro as to minimize the mess. Neil regarded his camera for a moment before grabbing his head piece  and putting it around his neck. He began to check over his equipment wanting to make sure it was working properly for the broadcast.

It took down to the wire for everything to get settled, and it was only as the five second count started that the studio truly became quiet, Neil got his camera into position an settled in until the program was over.

He wasn’t playing any particular attention to what the anchors were saying, instead he was focused on the camera in front of him and the occasional chatter over his headset between the rest of the crew. The signal to switch his camera off of recording was what pulled him away from the relative emptiness of his thoughts, and Neil looked up in time to see the broadcasting screen  at the edge of the studio switch from the image of the news anchors to that of the that of a roaring inferno. Neil’s breath caught in his throat as he stared at the fire.

“And now onto our main news story,” Maria spoke calmly voice misplaced with the scene being shone. “In the early hours of the morning, around 4am, fire brigades rushed to the scene of an explosion that had occurred earlier that night in the warehouse district of south LA. One body was found at the scene, along with LA registry hero Sol who was unconscious, and heavily wounded when first responders arrived. His condition has not been disclosed. After further investigation the LAPD now believe the culprit of the fire to be none other than the villain known as the Monster. It is unclear why he was in LA, but detectives believe it to be him after examination of the body and a powered analysis of the crime scene. This would be the first time he has been seen outside of the San Diego area, and witnesses to the scene report seeing a car fleeing the area of the fire.”  The scene of the fire switched to a grainy photo of a dark street and an even darker shadow of car zooming down it. Neil blinked then took a step closer maneuvering from behind his camera. “The car was described to be a black sports car. Make and model unknown. Anyone with further information has been asked to step forward and contact the LAPD immediately.”

Neil stood there in silence mind racing. The smell of smoke filled his thoughts but instead of the usual memories of his mother the image of Andrew from this morning popped into his head. The burns that had been recent, and the bruises that had dotted his face obviously from some sort of fight. His car… Kevin had said Andrew been gone over the weekend, that he didn’t know where. Neil shook his head and headed back over to his camera, he was reaching.

But…

But one of the only things that had been confirmed about the Monster was his power of gravity manipulation.

…..and Andrew.

Had a very similar power if not exactly the same.

Neil didn’t know what to do with this information, but he knew someone he could ask.

++++++

Andrew slammed down the mug in his hands glaring as a the contents sloshed over onto the counter, liquid quickly staining the grout between the tiles.  His head was buzzing with too many thoughts going too many different directions, and Andrew just wanted it all to stop.

Nicky couldn’t help the look of worry that was on his face as he stood awkwardly at the bar counter, and Andrew hated him for it. His cousin showing up hadn’t made the situation any better. It'd probably made it worse, Nicky often made things worse.

Andrew felt the need to laugh, then he felt the need to punch something. His head hurt.

“Andrew,” Nicky said carefully. “I think you should sit down.”

Andrew thought he should shut up.

“Nicky's right,”  Kevin said maneuvering around the couch in the middle of their kitchen. “You need rest.”

Andrew felt his mouth curling into a sneer without his consent. While Abby had done her job well there was only so much one could do for concussions even with the ‘gift’ of healing apparently.

Aaron decided that was the moment he should open his mouth. “What he needs to do is tell us what he did.”

Andrew turned his blank state on his brother. “Elegant Aaron.”

Aaron glared at him. “You know what I mean.”

Andrew gave him an unimpressed look before flopping onto the couch and ignoring the lot of them.  

Weariness made his eyes flutter shut but Andrew forced them back open, not wanting to fall asleep. Too much had happened within the last twenty four hours and Andrew had the sinking feeling he wasn’t exactly able to process it at the moment. Dr. Shelds was dead, and Andrew was back at square one, or not square one, but certainly not somewhere helpful. At least he’d found anything at all, the pictures he took of Janie’s file still sat unopened on his phone. He would have to look through them once he had the time. He’d also need to get in touch with his informant, she most likely already knew what had happened but Andrew needed to know if she knew anything about who that bitch Lola had been.

Neil was another problem Andrew would have to solve. His eyes drifted to Kevin who seemed in the midst of an argument with Aaron. Neil was too close to this for Andrew’s comfort. It was about time he got some answers one way or another.

His family's bickering brought him back to the present. He could worry about Neil after he got these idiots to shut up.

Nicky was bemoaning about not being told what was going on, his clear concern getting on every one of Andrew’s nerves. Carefully he stretched his foot out from where he sat and knocked his mug of coffee off of the counter. It hit the floor with a crash silencing the room.

Andrew could feel the prickle of three sets of eyes staring at him, but ignored his family keeping his eyes trained on the ceiling. There was a crack right above him running from the sink to almost the living room door.

“What the fuck Andrew,” Aaron growled.

Andrew ignored him and turned to Kevin. “You made Sol out to be a lot stronger than he was.”

Kevin blinked, jaw going slack. “You fought him?”

“Why don’t we turn on the news and find out.” Andrew said sarcastically. He had no doubt the entire incident would be all people were talking about this morning.

“Or you could just tell us?” Nicky suggested.

Andrew shot him a bland look. “Now Mr.Detective trying to get me to confess to something?”

Nicky’s face dropped. “Andrew…”

Aaron scoffed. “It’s not like you need his help getting arrested.”

The blow hit low. “No only yours.”

Aaron’s glare sharpened and there was an awkward silence before Kevin spoke up again. “What happened.”

Andrew turned his steady stare to the man, still irked that he’d run off with Neil earlier. Anger bubbled up inside himself over the fact he felt that way at all. His pulse beat against the inside of his skull and Andrew felt the need to rub his temple which he suppressed violently.

“Seems Sunshine boy is in trouble,” Andrew said instead of answering Kevin’s question.

Nicky glanced at Aaron and mouthed ‘sunshine boy?’, Aaron just shrugged noncommittally.

“He… what do you mean?” Kevin's nose scrunched up in confusion and Andrew had the sudden want to kiss his dumb face.

“There was a trap, but it wasn't for me.” Andrew frowned. Lola hadn't even known he was there, but why had she seemed to be waiting for Sol? He doubted it would have been hard for her to kill Dr. Shelds quickly so why prolong the fight? It didn't add up.

“It was for Sol?” Kevin asked.

Andrew shrugged. “Apparently."

The vague disbelief on Kevin’s face was enough to grab Andrew’s full attention. “You don’t believe me.”

“It’s not that…” Kevin trailed off.

“What does it even matter?” Aaron interrupted. “So what if there was a trap for Sol. What did you find?”

Nicky nodded. “Yeah I would like to know that as well.”

Andrew rolled his eyes at having his fun ruined then pulled up the pictures on his phone and slid it across the island for the others to see. Aaron was the one to pick it up frowning deeply as he scrolled through the contents. Andrew wondered what it was he saw having not looked over the pictures himself. “What the fuck is this?”

“Janie's file,” Andrew answered simply.

“Who's Janie?” Nicky asked hesitantly.

Andrew ran a finger over his armband for a moment tracing the impression of his knife against the fabric. “Someone I knew from the organization.”

He didn't like the look Nicky gave him at his words.

“She's dead, but its proof they had a paper trail.” Andrew folded his arms, more than that it was proof they were getting sloppy.

“Had?” Aaron asked.

“It was literal paper.”

“So it's gone now, in the fire.” Nicky scrutinized the images.

Andrew's burns itched. “Yes.”

Kevin looked rather pale when he asked, “how many other files were there?”

“Hundreds.”

“We need to find them.” Nicky stated the obvious. Whether he meant the files or the children didn’t matter. One would lead to the other either way.

Andrew of course agreed with him, but said nothing going back to staring at the ceiling.

He needed to talk to Lily, she was the only one alive who knew about the organizations recent actions, but she was only a kid and Andrew would rather her move on from everything that had happened than bring up those sorts of memories.

Andrew didn’t notice when Aaron left the room, absorbed as he was in his own thoughts. It was only when Nicky began to leave with a quiet goodbye, that Andrew registered any time had passed at all.

“Wait,” his voice was barely above a breath but Nicky stopped and turned to give him an inquisitive look. “This Friday we’re going to Edens.”

Nicky’s eyebrows shot up. “Okay… why?”

“You suddenly need a reason to get shit faced?” Andrew asked.

“.... that’s fair.” Nicky shrugged. “Sure yeah why not, as long as nothing bad happens.”

Andrew said nothing, not making any promises he couldn’t keep.

Glancing down at his watch Nicky’s face went pale. “Shit got to get back to work.” He turned to Andrew that stupid look of worry on his face again. “Get rest okay?”

Andrew made a shooing motion. “Get the fuck out of my house.”

The silence in Nicky’s wake was oddly constricting, like his presence had been the only thing alleviating the tension in the air. Kevin hadn’t moved from where he parked himself by the counter, fidgeting with his left hand meekly. It pissed Andrew off.

“Andrew-”

“I made you a promise,” the voice that escaped Andrew’s lips wasn’t as blank as he would have liked to believe. “To protect you.”

Kevin finally looked up at that, green eyes narrowed into a glare. “You didn’t tell me where you were going.”

“You didn't need to know.”

“I could have helped.” Kevin folded his arms across his chest.

Andrew sneered. “No you couldn’t have.”

“You almost died.”

“No I didn’t.”

“If Aaron  hadn’t-”

“Shut up Kevin”

“You could do more if you-”

“Shut up Kevin.”

He shut his mouth with a clack, eyes angry and intense. Andrew met his gaze with a bland look then glanced down at the shattered remains of his cup. He’d have to clean that up.

“What happened Andrew?” Kevin asked, against his better judgment.

He really needed to learn how not to be completely obnoxious one of these days. Andrew’s eyes grazed over the broken ceramic once again before he opened his mouth and relayed the events of the night in a monotonous tone. The look that slowly slid over Kevin’s face at his words should have been satisfying, it wasn’t everyday Andrew got Kevin to shut up so easily, but instead Andrew could only muster the vaguest sense of emptiness as he spoke.

There was a ripe silence once Andrew finished. Long enough that he had begun to think the conversation was done with before Kevin spoke. “So the registry knows.”

Andrew looked up at him. “They’ve always known.

Kevin opened his mouth to protest, but Andrew interrupted before he could. “Don’t defend them.”

“He might have been investigating something else,” Kevin said. His eyes were distant fingers picking at the bottom of his shirt absentmindedly.

“Maybe.” Whatever Sol had been there for didn’t matter much now. Andrew decided to change the subject. “Your protege has been lying to us.”

Kevin paused, frowning. “What?”

“Neil, he’s not who he claims to be.”

The frown deepened. “What do you mean?”

“I’m not sure yet.” The words didn’t settle right in the air, Andrew had a suspension, but didn’t want the coward in Kevin to rear its head at the moment so he left it at that. “But I’m going to find out.”

++++++

Allison answered her phone after the third ring covering the yawn that escaped her mouth with a well manicured hand. She hadn’t meant to fall asleep, but then again she hadn’t gotten of duty until 5am so who could really blame her.

“Hello?”

“Uh, hi Allison” Neil’s voice said through the line, and Allison couldn’t help the smile on her face.

“Well this is unusual what’s up Neil?” Allison asked stretching out then getting out of bed. She caught her reflection in the mirror, her hair was a god damn disaster a fraseled mess caused by her natural curls and the lack of her usual daily routine.

“Do you think we can meet up sometime today and talk?”  The question surprised Allison more than the call but she said nothing about it.

“Of course you done with work?” Neil spoke his assent so Allison continued. “Great why don’t we meet up in an hour at that cute coffee shop by your apartment.”

“That works.” Neil agreed before saying his goodbyes and hanging up.

Allison ruffled her hair, checked the time, and cursed. She’d slept for most of the day. After quickly writing up the report of her adventures last night she put her hair into a loose bun and pulled on something other than sweats. Fuck make up Neil wouldn't even notice. Allison made her way out of the quiet of her bedroom and into the relative quiet of the hallway. The sounds of the tv came through the living room door and with a roll of her eyes she opened it to find Seth stretched out on her couch playing a video game.

She folded her arms over her chest as she stood in the doorway staring at the back of his head. “What are you doing?”

Seth glanced up at her and shrugged. “Mario Kart.”

“That’s not what I meant.” Allison huffed stepping closer. Last time she’d check he didn’t have a key. “Aren’t you supposed to be in jail.”

Seth set up and turned to face her with a sneer on his lips. “What do you plan to do about it Heiress?”

She rolled her eyes, and turned away deciding not to deal with this now. “Stop breaking into my house.”

“Sure.” He laughed as he always did around her. Allison let the door slam shut behind her, better he was here being a nuisance than out causing trouble at least.

 

Allison parked in front of the coffee shop only made five minutes late because of rush hour and walked into the cozy little building to find Neil already at a seat in the back. Ignoring the stares she received at her entry into the cafe she waltzed past the cute barista, and settled herself into the seat across from Neil making the man jump just slightly before he realized it was her.

He met her gaze with a little smile that lit up his eyes in a way Allison couldn’t help but appreciate. “You didn’t get anything?” he asked noticing her empty hands. The cup in front of him was halfway to being empty, and Allison wondered how long he’d been waiting. 

“Caffeine and I don’t get along.” She smiled. Trying not to remember her college days when she downed six energy drinks then decided it was a good idea to try and juggle her car. It didn’t go well.

“Ah okay.” Neil twiddled with the edge of his sleeve and Alison sighed.

“Out with it Neil,” she said briskly but not unkindly.

“I… what do you know about the monster?” Neil asked, and Allison stared at him a moment in confusion.

“I probably know less than you do from working at the news station,” she lied through her teeth.

Neil watched her silently for a moment then released a breath shoulders slumping just a fraction. “Allison…”

Shit, Allison thought. She knew that tone of voice it usually meant unnecessary paperwork for her.

“What?” she asked wondering how the hell he found out.

“I know about the… stuff.” Neil said most likely going for casual but falling short.

“Matt told you didn’t he?” Allison was going to have to kill him.

“Uh…” Neil scratched at his ear then shrugged. “No I just guessed.”

Oh of course he just fucking guessed she was a superhero. “How?”

“It’s just kinda obvious.” Neil went on at the look she shot him. “You’re just recognizable to people who know you, and you go by Heiress.”

That was fair. “I didn’t get to pick that stupid name.”

Neil smiled a bit at that. “Yeah that seems to be how it goes. Are all my friends powered?”

Allison crossed her arms and rested them on the table leaning in and quieting her voice. “More or less. Seems you’re the odd one out.”

“Guess so.”

They fell into a companionable silence, neither feeling the need to speak. It was something about Neil she’d grown used to so she felt no need to break it. Maybe she could get away with not telling the registry someone else knew who she was. It wasn’t like Neil would tell anybody.

“So,” Neil broke their quiet. “About that question of mine.”

Allison sighed. “Why the hell would you want to know about him?”

Neil hesitated a moment, “... I guess I’m just curious after what happened last night.”

Allison stopped fiddling with her hair and looked to him. “What happened last night?”

“You didn’t hear?”

“I was a bit busy.”

“There was an attack in LA, they think the Monster did it.” Neil explained.

“Shit.” Allison muttered. “Look, no one's even seen the guy. I don’t know what more I can tell you, he’s fucking crazy.”

“If he’s so dangerous why hasn’t the registry dealt with him yet?” Neil asked leaning forward and lowering his voice.

Allison found herself mimicking his posture. They probably looked like they were up to no good but she ignored that thought for now. “Because the registry doesn’t know if it want’s to put him behind bars or hire him.”

Neil’s eyebrows shot up. “Hire him? Why?”

Allison snorted, “Because apparently the murderer has class four powers, though the fact that he seems to not know how to use them properly is a bit surprising.” Allison paused for a moment. “Wait did you understand anything I just said?”

From the wide eyed look on Neil’s face the answer was surprisingly yes. “Class four…” He trailed off eyes drifting to a point somewhere over Allison’s shoulder.

“Yeah.” There weren’t many class fours out there people that strong were few and far between Allison herself only had class one powers; it was the reason she’d gotten involved with tech building, a little assistance for when she needed it.

“But no one knows who he is?” Neil asked tapping out a rhythm with his fingers.

“No one who feels like sharing.” Allison sneered. “If he keeps this shit up it won't be long until we find out though.”

Neil hummed in agreement. “Thanks Allison.”

She puffed out a surprised laugh. “What for?”

Neil just shrugged and Allison rolled her eyes as the topic turned to lighter things.

++++++

Nicky found himself back at the precinct Captain Hernandez standing over him and a new file placed on the desk he was sitting at. He tugged at the collar of his shirt the air stuffy and a bit suffocating before he asked in a week voice, “they think he did what?”

“There's no ‘think’ about it,” Hernandez shifted. “The monster tried to kill Sol last night, and was successful in killing at least one other person.”

“At least?” Nicky asked wondering what the fuck he was going to do now.

“That we know of, there could be more he’s known for leaving multiple bodies lying around.” Unfortunately for Nicky that statement was true. Nicky should have gotten Andrew to tell him the details so he could curb the collateral damage his cousin theft in his wake. Now he was left with a mess and no way of knowing what to take at face value or not. The only two facts he was certain of were that Andrew didn’t start the fire and he didn’t kill Dr. Shelds no matter how much he may have wanted to. He would never impede his own investigation like that.

“So what does this mean for my case?” Nick asked fearing the answer. What did it mean for Andrew?

It was pretty much worse than he’d thought, it turned out. “It means LA’s involved now. All the evidence you’ve gathered on the Monster is being sent to them for their investigation efforts.”

“Are they taking my case?” Nicky hadn’t felt this much dread in quite a while.

“No-” Hernandez stopped then corrected himself, “Probably not, but this could mean it’ll be opened to bigger organizations than just our precinct.”

“The registry?”

“Maybe.” Hernandez shrugged. “Or the Feds.”

That was not reassuring.

“Or both.”

Even worse.

“Either way you’re going to want to organize what you have. This investigation is now active across the state, and we need some results. With both your cases. Find how they connect Nicky and find the Monster.” The Captain decided to leave it at that going back to his office, and leaving Nicky to the not so minor panic attack he felt coming on.

Andrew had really fucked up, and whatever this trap had been for Sol, whoever had been there that killed Dr. Shelds the police knew none of it. Meaning unless Nicky found evidence to the contrary Andrew was the one and only suspect for the murder and Sol’s attack. Sol… Nicky paused, Sol would know the truth. If Nicky could get in touch with him then he could make sure attention was turned away from Andrew. It was better than nothing, at least for now.

This was all going to blow up in their faces sooner than later Nicky just knew it.

++++++

Matt sighed deeply settling down in the seat in front of Neil. “You’re doing what?”

“Going out with Andrew on Friday,” Neil said not looking up from his cereal.

Matt shared a look with Dan over his head. She raised an eyebrow and gestured for him to continue.

“What do you mean… by that?” Matt tried to ask casually. Trying not to think about the possibility that his friend was dating Andrew MInyard.

Neil glanced up at him. “That I won't be here Friday night?”

Matt looked back to Dan slightly pleading but she shook her head. “Okay… but like… why?”

“No idea.” Neil shrugged. Matt gave him a disbelieving look, Neil had to have some idea.

“This isn’t going to go well,” Dane spoke up.

Neil turned to her something distant in his eyes that Matt didn’t like. “I know.”

“So… why go then?” Matt wondered.

“I have to.”

“Neil…”

“I want to.” Neil set his spoon down. “I have a question for him.”

“If he does anything…” Dan started.

“I’ll be fine.” Matt wondered if Neil actually believed that. Sir jumped up onto the table and made a beeline for Neil’s cereal before Neil scooped her up and placed the kitten on his shoulder.

Matt glanced at Dan again then looked back to Neil trying to keep the worry he felt for his friend off his face. “Okay…” This couldn’t end well.

++++++

The rest of the week passed slowly for Andrew as it tended to do when he was bored out of his mind, and had no way of alleviating it. Abby had told him to rest, and Kevin had somehow decided it was his job to make sure Andrew did. Which meant Kevin being annoying, Andrew unable to take jobs, and a whole lot of worried glances on Nicky's part. He'd never thought he'd find himself missing training, but there was an itch under his skin that wouldn't go away. Andrew had taken to combing over the evidence he’d gathered in the past six months. He had every scrap of paper memorized, but he was no closer to finding where they’d moved their headquarters to, which meant he was no closer to helping those kids.

When Friday finally came around Andrew was ready to get some of his questions answered one way or another.

The drive to Erik’s was short filled by restless chatter on Kevin’s part and silence on Aaron and Andrew’s. There hadn’t been much to say between the twins since Aaron dragged Andrew back from LA. Andrew had no intention of explaining himself to his brother, or anyone for that matter. It wasn’t their concern what he did or how he did it.

Erick’s was packed for so late at night, the interior crowded with smiling people. Andrew took one look at it then headed for the flower shop. Aaron continued to the cafe to retrieve Nicky while Kevin followed him to Matt’s. Andrew looked back to the taller man for a second before pushing open the door to the shop ignoring the closed sign. A little bell dinged signaling their presence, and Matt who was behind the counter looked up with a start.

“Oh fuck no,” he growled moving out from behind the counter. The plants nearest them began thrashing about in their pots at Matt’s apparent displeasure. Andrew stared at the man dispassionately, angeling himself slightly so Kevin was between him and the doorway.

“We’re just here for Neil,” Kevin said over the top of Andrew’s head.       

Somehow Matt looked even more displeased at that. “I don’t know what you’re planning but-”

The sound of footsteps on the stairs stopped him, and Neil appeared a moment later. White kitten perched on his shoulder and wearing his usual attire.

Andrew frowned, “No.”

All eyes turned to him at his voice.

The confused look that crossed Neil’s face made Andrew want to punch something. “No?”

“You’re not coming with us dressed like that.” Behind him he felt Kevin draw in a breath to protest but swatted the man’s arm to shut up.

Matt clapped his hands together. “Great Neil’s not going.”

“Why?” Neil asked ignoring his roommate.

Andrew shared a look with the kitten on his shoulder, there was no way that was a serious question.

“Because if you don’t you’ll stick out like a sore thumb,” Kevin huffed and crossed his arms. “Just change into something nicer.”

Neil hesitated for a moment, thinking, then placed the kitten on the ground and righted himself. “Alright.”

He turned and went back up the stairs. The white little trouble maker trotted over to them and mewed at Andrew who stared at it indifferently. He shouldn’t have been surprised that Neil ended up keeping the kitten, what with his hero complex and all.

“If he gets hurt I’ll kill you,” Matt threatened.

Kevin laughed and Andrew shared the sentiment.

“I’m serious.”

“We know you are.” Andrew reached down and scratched between the little thing’s ears. The kitten latched onto his hand with its front paws and began batting at him with its back feet, Andrew scratched it under the chin. “Don’t threaten us again or you’ll regret it.”

A stormy silence settled around them as they waited for Neil to return.

++++++

Neil stared at his closet dejectedly, wondering what type of place they were taking him, if a t-shirt and jeans weren't nice enough. Kevin and Andrew weren’t dressed all that differently from normal. Andrew still in all black just with a leather jacket over his shirt, and Kevin in jeans and a button up, with a colorful bandage plastered over his cheek,and  a fake pair of glasses on his face. Neil sighed, and grabbed a pair of pants and a shirt Allison had made him buy a few months ago, and pulled them on with little care.

He descended the stairs to the shop to find Kevin and Matt much where they had been, glaring daggers at each other. Neil found it a bit funny all things considered. Andrew on the other hand had settled himself on the floor Sir curled up on his lap, and a crinkle between his brows. Neil watched him for a moment while he went unseen trying to place the man with all the things he’d heard about the Monster. Neil was still skeptical, it was only a guess on his end based off of little evidence, but still Neil could see it. He didn’t know how he felt about that.

“Planning on stealing my cat?” Neil asked walking down the last two steps.

“I thought it wasn’t your cat,” Andrew said then looked up, his eyes widened slightly before his face went completely blank.

“She is now thanks to you,” Neil said paying him no mind. Kevin let out a slightly strangled noise and Neil’s eyes flickered over to the man who looked like he’d just been punched. “Something wrong?”

Kevin didn’t say anything just ran a hand over his face and closed his eyes in what seemed to be resignation.

“Damn Allison’s good,” Matt muttered, eyes darting to the two men in the doorway. “Maybe to good.”

Neil looked down at his shirt. “So this is better?”

“It will do.” Andrew stood depositing Sir onto the ground, she came bounding over to Neil sliding across the tile a few feet before stopping at Neil’s feet. He smiled bending over to pick her up.

Kevin sighed.

Neil walked over and handed Sir to Matt who took her reluctantly. He gave Neil one last worried look before nudging him towards the door. “Just get this over with.”

Neil nodded then followed Andrew and Kevin out into the night.

Fifteen minutes later found Neil crammed into the back of Andrew’s car, Aaron on one side and Detective Hemmick on the other. Neil tried his best not to touch either of them, and dodge Detective Hemmick’s --he insisted Neil call him Nicky but that didn’t mean he wasn’t a cop-- invasive questions. Which Nicky didn’t seem put off by, the opposite in fact. It must have been due to having Andrew and Aaron as family, he didn’t mind Neil’s silence.

Aaron other hand seemed to mind Neil’s everything if his glare said anything.

“So you’re not powered Neil?” Nicky asked.

“Uh, yeah.” Neil responded. He found Andrew staring at him through the rear view mirror eyes dark. Neil held his gaze for a long moment before Andrew looked away.

“Well at least Kevin’s not alone now.” Kevin grumbled something under his breath at Nicky’s words. Nicky laughed. “What, it’s true.”

“So you’re powered,” Neil said, surprised. It wasn’t uncommon but it was unusual, more people would be talking about it if they new. A powered detective to high ranking in the police force would draw attention.

Nicky smiled and put a finger to his lips. “But we don’t mention that.”

Neil nodded in understanding. Not mentioning it was probably for the best in the long run, though he wondered at Nicky’s reasons for hiding his powers.

“Besides Andrew, and Aaron’s powers are way cooler than mine.” He wiggled his fingers at Neil’s raised eyebrow. “I’d demonstrate but…”

“I’ll kill you,” Andrew finished for him.

Nicky just shrugged mouthing ‘see’ through the wide grin on his face.

After that the car fell into silence, and soon they arrived at the front of a large night club, nestled between two other buildings and lit up with bright neon lights. Andrew parked in one of the spaces that had a ‘reserved’ sign tacked in front of it and got out, the rest of them following. The que to get into the building was long, but Andrew bypassed it like it was nothing and the bouncer let them in with a few friendly words to Nicky and a smile for the rest of them.

“We worked here for a bit,” Nicky explained as Andrew led them to a table. Neil nodded along trying to avoid bumping into anyone in the crowd. His eyes finding the exits instinctively.

They situated themselves at a table in the corner that overlooked the dance floor, Aaron Kevin and Nicky sliding into their seats while Andrew turned towards the bar. Neil made to sit but was stopped by a gesture from Andrew. “You’re coming with me.”

Neil paused a moment, then decided helping Andrew carry back the drinks couldn’t hurt anything and followed him to the bar. It was somehow even more crowded than the rest of the club, groups of people milling around shouting to be heard over the loud thrum of the music. Neil kept close to Andrew’s back as he weaved in between people and came to stop in front of the bar. He ignored all the other bartenders opting to get the attention of a tall man who was currently preoccupied, then waited for him to come over. Which he did a moment later lazy grin on his face as he wiped his hands off on a towel.  “Hey Andrew.”

“Roland.” Andrew shoved his hands in his pockets, leaning his hip against the counter.

“The usual?”

Andrew nodded in reply then elbowed Neil before Roland could leave. “What do you want?”

“Uh, just soda.” Neil said sidestepping a drunk woman who had swayed into his space. His shoulder brushed Andrew’s for a moment until he moved back again.

Roland blinked in surprise having finally noticed Neil, eyes seeming to flash silver for a moment. “Oh damn, Andrew who’s this?”

“Neil,” Andrew deadpanned.

Roland leaned over the counter extending a hand. “Hi Neil, I’m Roland.”

Neil shook it reluctantly watching in mild trepidation as Roland’s dark eyes flashed silver again. He let go of Neil’s hand just as quickly. “It’s not often Andrew makes new friends.” His eyes wandered over to their table, and Neil looked over his shoulder watching as Kevin seemingly got harassed but Nicky.

“Roland,” Andrew said blandly and Neil’s gaze found him again. “Our drinks.”

“Right, the usual and a soda coming right up.” He sent them a wink then busied himself making their drinks.

Neil rested his hip on the counter next to Andrew and turned to the man. “Kevin really needs a better disguise.”

Andrew looked over to the table and frowned. “Riko was always the main face of the Ravens.”

Neil shrugged shoulder brushing Andrew’s lightly. “But he’s Kevin Day, everybody knows him.”

Andrew tilted his head in acknowledgment to that fact. “People tend to overlook what they don’t want to see.”

“Yet Kevin doesn’t even try to go unseen,” Neil said. He didn’t really get it blending in, hiding, had been the entirety of his life, even now with all he had built in this city he was still hiding. Kevin was hiding too, technically, but he was doing the very minimal to go unnoticed. Simply covering up a tattoo, and putting a pair of fake glasses on shouldn’t have worked. Except no one even realized who he was. It pissed Neil off. All he’d had to do to survive seemed worthless in the face of it.

“They’ve accepted that Kevin’s dead, they don’t like seeing ghosts.” Andrew shrugged eyes tracing over the figures of his family. Neil stared at him for a moment watching how the light played off his face staining his pale hair a light purple.

“Stop that.”

“Stop what?”

Andrew turned to him opening his mouth as if to say something then closing it again and looking beyond Neil’s shoulder. The clatter of a tray being set on the counter startled Neil out of his thoughts and he turned to find Roland back with their drinks.

He pushed the tray towards Andrew with a little nudge, then reached under the counter and pulled out a can of coke. “Want it in a glass”

Neil shook his head. “No.”

“Suit yourself.” Roland placed the can on the tray along with the other drinks, and hurried off to his next order. Andrew grabbed the tray and held it over the crowd as they made their way back to the table, where Nicky and Aaron seemed to be arguing over something. He sat down the tray and took a seat beside Kevin, leaving Neil with little choice but to take the last seat beside him.

“Oh thank god,” Nicky bemoaned grabbing a shot an downing it. Aaron took one as well, and Kevin downed three when Nicky asked, “Neil want to dance?”

Nile blinked. “No.”

“Damn,” Nicky sighed. And downed another shot. “Well I’m going dancing y’all can just stay right there.”

Aaron took two more shots then disappeared along with his cousin onto the dance floor. Andrew took a moment to watch them go, then reached out and took a drink for himself he grabbed Neil’s soda and placed it in front of him. Neil drew it closer to himself gazing at Andrew, he still didn’t know why he was here. The fact that this seemed like just an outing was disconcerting, putting Neil on edge. Kevin grabbed for a mixed drink and Neil watched in semi fascinated horror as he began chugging it.

“Did something happen?” Neil asked.

Kevin looked up at him a crease between his eyebrows. “No.”  

Andrew downed his shot.

“You shouldn’t be drinking,” Kevin muttered into his cup.

Andrew laughed humorlessly, the sound strange coming out of his mouth. “We need more drinks.”

Andrew stood grabbed the tray, and addressed Neil. “Make sure he does nothing stupid.”

Kevin’s protest went unheard, and Andrew walked away.

“What an ass,” Kevin mumbled, taking another large gulp then setting down his cup. Neil popped the lid of his coke and took a sip watching as Kevin played with the tiny umbrella in his drink. His glasses slowly slipped down his nose Kevin doing nothing to remedy the problem.

Before he could think about his actions Neil reached over and pushed them back up his nose. Kevin’s eyes widened in surprise, and Neil looked back at him surprised himself. This wasn’t the kid he used to know, what the hell was Neil doing. He retracted his hand quickly, he really shouldn’t be here.

Kevin opened his mouth, then closed it, then opened it again.

And was interrupted by Nicky swooping in and grabbing his arm in one hand and a shot in another. “Come on Kevin you need to dance with us.”

“But-” Kevin’s eyes were glued to Neil as Nicky pulled him out of his seat.

“Nope, come on.”

Neil watched in silent bemusement as Nicky boldly dragged Kevin away taking his shot and ignoring Kevin’s yells. Neil shook his head pushing memories best forgotten back out of sight where they belonged.  

++++++

Andrew walked back to the bar keeping Neil and Kevin in the corner of his sight. Roland for once wasn’t busy, standing by the edge of the counter drying a glass. Andrew stepped up to him silently getting his attention by the loud clatter as he dropped their tray onto the counter. He looked up with a start then grinned stupidly when he saw who it was. “Ready for round two?”

Andrew nodded, and Roland got to work mixing drinks the bass of the music drowning out any would be conversation between them. Andrew turned eyes searching out their table through the crowd. Kevin was where he’d left him seemingly trying to get alcohol poisoning still. He stopped and set his glass down staring dully at it. Andrew watched as Neil reached over, and pushed Kevin’s glasses back up his nose.

“Huh, didn’t know Kevin knew how to make friends.” Roland said setting the now full tray down onto the counter.

“He doesn’t,” Andrew responded turning to face the man, and handing his card over. Roland ran it with a little hum then handed it back to Andrew along with the receipt. Andrew scribbled out something that resembled a name and handed it back

“His an interesting one you know,” Roland said staring at Neil. Kevin had disappeared from the table sometime after Andrew looked away, and he quickly searched the crowd fining Nicky dragging Kevin on to the dance floor and relaxed minutely. “Don’t know where you keep finding these people.”

Andrew stopped his movement towards the drinks, his full attention turning to Roland as the man unintentionally veered into the reason he’d brought Neil here in the first place.

“Is he powered?” Andrew asked quietly.

Roland’s eyes widened. “You don’t know?”

Andrew stared at him silently and with a roll of his eyes Roland focused his gaze back on Neil. The color of his irises shifted from a dark brown to a bright silver. He frowned. “Yes, he is.”

“What kind?”

Roland shook his head. “You know my powers don’t work like that.”

Andrew did. “Then what do you see.”

“It’s like a mist covering his form, it shimmers sort of… Nothing like your’s,” he said turning silver gaze on Andrew. He watched as the color melted from his eyes. “Sorry that’s all.”

Andrew nodded lifting the tray. “Thanks Roland.”

“Anytime.”

Andrew made his way back to the table, his suspicions confirmed and his next course of action formulating itself in his mind, it was probably a good thing Kevin was gone for this. He sat the tray down with a clatter and turned to Neil, who turned to look back at him with dark eyes. Andrew wondered just how much of him was a lie.

“Don’t worry,” Neil said. “Kevin got dragged away by Nicky so he most likely won't end up dead.”

Andrew studied the man’s face then sat down in the seat next to him letting his head come to rest in the palm of his hand. “You lied to me.”

Neil raised an eyebrow. “What?”

“You don’t exist Neil.” Andrew wiggled his fingers in his direction.

Neil narrowed his eyes, then poked himself in the arm. “I’m pretty sure I do.”

Andrew frowned. Then tried a different tactic. “You’re powered.”

Neil’s eyes widened for a moment. “No I’m not.”

“Another lie.” Andrew tapped a finger against the table.

“It’s not.”

Andrew tsked then reached out and grabbed Neil by the chin examining his face closely. That tiny flicker that Andrew had seen in Neil’s eyes was still there a light blue coming through sporadically; almost unnoticeable unless one was paying close attention. “How much concentration does it take to keep your eyes from turning back to blue?”

He could feel Neil freeze under his fingertips and Andrew smiled coldly. “Why not some honesty and maybe I won't kill you.”

Neil stared at him for a moment face pale and gaze shaky. Andrew thought he wouldn’t go for it, but Neil surprised him when he took a deep breath and closed his eyes. When he opened them again an icy blue had replaced the brown, Andrew let go of him and leaned back.

“I want to play our game,” Neil’s voice was quiet under the thrum of the music, but composed.

Andrew nodded absently mind going over the possible powers Neil could have. “Your turn then.”

Neil thought for a moment eyes flickering around the room before settling on Andrew again. “How did you know?”

“Roland.” Andrew gestured towards the bar. Neil frowned.

“Why are you here?” Andrew asked.

“Because you invited me.”

“That was not my question,” Andrew said blankly.

“Don’t be so vague next time.” Neil wiggled a finger mockingly, and Andrew felt his lip twitch. Neil paused for a moment thinking. “Does Kevin know you’re the Monster?”

Andrew stilled at Neil’s words, he shouldn’t have known enough to ask that. “Yes.”

“Huh,” was all Neil said. How had he found out?

Andrew stared at him a moment, there were more important questions. “Do you work for the Moriyamas?”

“No.” Neil answered immediately frown decorating his lips.

“I don’t believe you.”

“What can I do to make you believe me?” Neil asked.

“I want the truth,” Andrew said after a moment. “Who’s looking for you?”

“Fine.” Neil folded his arms across his chest, his eyes melting back into the dark brown they usually were. Was it shifting or something else? “But not here.”

Andrew shrugged now or later mattered little to him, but he kept his eyes trained on Neil the rest of the night, just in case.

 

They arrived back at Andrew’s house long past midnight the moon high above them in the sky. Andrew slammed the car door shut behind him going over to the passenger side and opening the door with little care. Kevin tumbled out in a heap almost tripping Nicky in the process. Aaron made a beeline straight for the house disappearing through the front door without a word. Neil climbed out of the car and came to stand next to Andrew regarding the mess that was Kevin with an impassive expression.

“What are we supposed to do about this.” Neil reached out and nudged Kevin with his foot.

Kevin groaned swatting at his leg, and trying to stand. His first attempt failed miserably, sending Kevin sprawling back to the ground with a thud. His second attempt was more fruitful, and Kevin was able to stand with the assistance of Andrew’s car and legs that were only mostly unsteady.     

He took a step and fell again.

Andrew stared down at him in apathy. “Fuck this.”

He concentrated his powers around Kevin’s form, then threw him over his shoulder and walked into the house. “If you puke on me I will kill you.”

Kevin mumbled something into his shoulder incoherently.

Andrew deposited the man into his bed, taking a moment to yank his shoes off his feet, and take those stupid glasses off his face, then turned towards the door ready to be done with this. He found Neil standing in the doorway a glass of water in his hand and a mildly concerned look on his face. “Why is there a couch in your kitchen.”

Andrew didn’t respond to that simply taking the cup and placing it beside Kevin’s bed, then ushered Neil out of the room, he went without a word. Andrew contemplated his course of action for a moment before opening the door to his bedroom land leaving it open for Neil to follow him in. The rest of the house may have been quiet but that didn’t mean Nicky and Aaron weren’t still awake, and Andrew didn’t want them hearing any of this. Not yet at least. He pulled out a pack of cigarettes making a beeline for the window and pulled it open with little care. The cool night air infiltrated the room swiftly. Andrew lit a cigarette and took a breath letting the smoke settle in his lungs for a moment before exhaling. He turned to find Neil lingering in the doorway an inscrutable look on his face as his gaze focused somewhere in the middle distance.

Andrew snapped his fingers to get his attention. “Answers, now.”

Neil sighed deeply stepping the rest of the way into the room and letting the door fall shut behind him. He ran a hand through his hair a moment then spoke, “You wanted to know who I’m hiding from.”

Andrew nodded.

“Why do you think I’m hiding from someone?” Neil asked.

Andrew gave him a look. “Other than the fact your records are all faked? The way you act. I know a runaway when I see one.”

“How did you-”

“Wymack, now explain.”

“I..” Neil ran a hand over his face then walked forward and plucked the cigarette from out between Andrew’s fingers, and took a drag. Andrew stared at him in mild disbelief. “I don’t work for the Morriyamas but they’re part of the reason I’m here. My mother… stole some money from one of their associates. She took me and ran when things went south. I’ve been running ever since.”

Andrew made a gesture for him to go on.”What about your powers.”

Neil frowned. “Both of my parents were powered, and the people after me know I’m powered. I only use them so they won’t recognize me.”

“What do you really look like?”

Neil shook his head. “No, I’ve given you my eye color that has to be enough for now.”

Andrew lit another cigarette placing it gently between his lips as he stared at the man before him then lowered himself to the ground resting his back against the wall. Neil looked at him a moment before following him to the floor sitting cross legged in front of him. “And your father?”

“Was killed.”

“Where's your mother now?” Andrew asked.

Neil shook his head. “Also dead.”

“So it’s just a coincidence that you ran to the same city Kevin did.” Andrew still didn’t know if he believed that.

“Yes.” Neil rubbed at his neck. “I wanted to leave the day I recognized him, his presence is too noticeable, you have to realize the Ravens will show up for him sooner or later.”

Andrew tilted his head. “Then why didn’t you leave?”

Neil’s eyes shifted off to the side. “He offered to train me, not even knowing who I was.”

Andrew still had questions about that but they could wait. “Junkie.”

Neil’s laugh was weak. “Maybe.”

Andrew’s gaze turned to the ceiling as he wondered what to do about all this. “Are you still planning on leaving?”

“I should.” Neil frowned.

Andrew watched as he let his cigarette burn down to the filter. What a waste. “No, stay.”

“I’m as good as dead if I do.”

“Then we’ll make a deal.” Andrew looked back down to the man who was doing his best to stare only at his hands. “If you stay I’ll protect you.”

Neil turned to him at that. “And what do you want in return?”

Andrew thought about that for a moment. “For you to convince Kevin running back to Riko isn’t an option.”

Neil was silent long enough that Andrew had finished his cigarette by the time he spoke again. “Alright.”

Andrew hadn’t expected that answer, but he was starting to think he should stop expecting anything when it came to Neil entirely.

“Ask me something.” Andrew said.

Neil turned his gaze to the ceiling for a moment. “What were you running from?”

“Monsters.” Andrew let out a breath of smoke.

Neil nodded in understanding, and they fell into an easy quiet Andrew’s eyes trained on the night outside his window. It was only when he finally rose for bed that he realized Neil was still there head resting against the side of his bed sound asleep.

Andrew sighed and flipped off the light switch.   

++++++

Neil awoke to find Andrew already absent from the room and streaks of daylight leaking through the blinds. It couldn’t have been later than seven if Neil had to guess, he didn’t remember falling asleep but must have sometime after his and Andrew’s conversation had died. He sat up with a groan, though Andrew’s floor was hardly the worst place he’d ever slept Neil had gotten use to the bed he had back at Matt’s. A blanket he hadn’t noticed before fell to the floor, and he stared at it a moment in confusion before a little smile crossed his face. It must have been Andrew.  Neil checked his phone to confirm the time and make sure he hadn’t missed any messages before getting up and making his way to the kitchen.

The house itself was quite and vacant the others most likely still holed up in their rooms asleep. Entering the kitchen Neil almost tripped over the couch that for reasons unknown was in the middle of the kitchen shoved between the sink and the island. Neil took a moment to stare at it in confusion before shaking his head and heading towards the coffee pot. Finding it already full he scavenged for a mug poured himself a cup then headed out to the living room in search of Andrew.

It wasn’t hard to find him, as he sat in the middle of the room copious amounts of papers spread around him. Neil hesitated a moment in the doorway taking in the way Andrew carefully scanned the paper he held, then set it down and methodically picked up another one. Neil was still having trouble associating Andrew with the murdering sociopath the Monster was said to be, Andrew was too calm and calculated for the reports to be at all accurate, Andrew reached for another piece of paper and read it over carefully before setting it down. This went on, with the only sound being the flutter of paper until Andrew spoke, “staring.”

Neil blinked, and moved closer to examine the papers. “What is all this?”

Andrew glanced up at him eyes closer to brown than anything in the morning light and shrugged. “A project.”

Neil kneeled next to him picking up the page closest to his knee, after a moment of Andrew’s silence he read the paper frowning. “These are case files.”

Andrew plucked the paper from his hand giving it a brief look before placing it back on the ground. “Yes.”

“Are they all for missing children?” Neil asked examining another one.

“Yes.”

Neil looked up at him. “Why?”

For a moment it seemed Andrew wouldn’t answer him. “I’m looking for where they’ve been taken.”

“Where they’ve been taken, not who took them?” It was a small thing, but Andrew never said anything accidentally from what Neil knew.

“I know who took them.” Andrew’s blank expression wasn’t entirely there something seemed off, and Neil realized with a start that Andrew was angry. A deep rolling anger that must be an almost constant for the man.

“Then why not try to find that person, wouldn’t that make finding these kids easier?” Neil asked.

“He’s untrackable.” Andrew answered.

“His power?”

“Or someone in his organization.”

Was this the reason Andrew had been hunting people down?

“Well that makes it harder,” Neil said leaning back, and made a decision. “I’ll get in touch with my contacts and see what I can find.”

“You will.” Andrew arched an eyebrow watching cautiously as Neil pulled out his phone.

“Yeah.” Neil snapped a photo of the case file in front of him.

“I have informants.” Andrew said moving a bit closer.

“Obviously not good ones, how long have you been looking for these kids?”

Andrew just stared at him blankly before getting up without a word and leaving the room. Neil sat there quietly for a moment wondering why he’d left. It must have been something Neil said, or maybe he wasn’t happy with his interference. Except Andrew would have said something if that was the case, Neil simple shrugged to himself and continued what he was doing. Maybe he should have been more wary of the man after finding out who he was, and the entirety of their conversation last night, but instead Neil found himself not caring much.

“Why?” The question came some odd minutes later, and Neil looked up to find Andrew standing in the doorway a fresh cup of coffee cradled in his hands. It was vague but Nil understood what Andrew meant.

Why was he doing this?

It was a good question, Neil thought about it for a moment, about why he hadn’t ran last night, why he was his hear now. He had made Andrew a promise that he’d keep Kevin here. Was that why? He thought of Kevin, and how much he’d changed. How he was a link to Neil’s past he should avoid at all costs, yet didn’t.

Maybe it was because Neil had never had any type of future, yet Kevin offered him one anyway. Or was it Andrew’s steady conviction that he’d be able to protect them.

He’d never planned to live this long and he would end up dead sooner than later, but what Andrew was doing seemed important, and Neil was willing to take his chances. His father was on death row and Neil had nothing to lose in doing so.

Neil wasn’t sure of the exact reason, but he did know one thing. “Because I want to.”

Hope might be dangerous, but want was even more so, and despite his mother's ghost screaming at him from the grave Neil wanted to stay.

Chapter Text

Jeremy crossed his arms frustration building in his chest as he paced the area of his hospital room. “What do you mean they don’t want me to make a statement?”

Laila gave him an unimpressed look from her perch on the chair crammed into the corner next to the bed. “Sit down you're going to rip your stitches.”

Jeremy ignored her turning and making his way across the room again, she sighed in resignation. “It means the registry doesn’t want you saying anything about your encounter with the Monster.”

Jeremy threw up his arms, his back twanging painfully even under the dullness of painkillers. “But he saved my life, he wasn’t even the one to attack me.”

“I know that.” Laila lowered her gaze.

“Right.” Jeremy gestured, a little dizzy. “I know that, and you know that, and the registry knows that. So why can’t I tell the cops the truth?”

“Because the registry doesn’t want you to,” Laila repeated her earlier words with about as much enthusiasm as she’d said them the first time.

“But why?”

“Jeremy, don’t act like you actually think they tell me anything, because they don’t.” She was right as always, still…

“But if you had to guess?” Jeremy crossed his arms back over his chest and fidgeted with the bandages covering one of his burns.

“I’d say it’s because they really want to find out who he is, but don’t want to put money into it themselves. If you tell the cops he didn’t attack you, and that you were there investigating something bigger then they’ll want the registry to lead the case.” Jeremy nodded along to Laila’s words, it made sense.

“Why do they want to know his identity so badly?” Jeremy asked, there were many villains across the country, usually all the registry cared about was taking them out. They didn’t need to know exactly who they were first.

“I think they want to recruit him,” Laila said not looking Jeremy in the eyes.

Jeremy paused in his fidgeting and looked to her.

“So like they did with you?” It wasn’t uncommon, hero’s caught the registry’s attention in many different ways. Laila had been a terror before the registry had gotten a hold of her, a ‘national security threat’ or so they’d claimed.

It made sense, but Jeremy was still skeptical.

“Yeah.” She scratched at her head. “Guess so.”

He ran a hand through his hair. “Damn, shit’s fucked.”

Laila cracked a small smile. “Definitely. So Mr. Knox do you actually plan on listening to them?”

Jeremy grinned then shot her a wink, of course he didn’t, once he could get out of this hospital he’d make sure people knew the truth.There was no way he’d let someone take the fall for a murder they didn’t commit, even if that someone had very questionable morals himself. But before then…

“Laila, want to do some of your magic for me?” Jeremy asked sweetly batting his eyelashes at her.

She rolled her eyes. “How much trouble is this going to cause Sol?”

“Oh not that much, Jackal.” Jeremy raised his hand. “Pinky promise.”

Laila grinned. “Got your phone on you?”

“Uh no, they took it for ‘evidence’.” Jeremy quoted a bit bitterly he’d been stuck in here with nothing to do for over a week, having no contact with anyone except for when Alvarez and Laila came to visit. None of the other Trojans had been allowed to see him. He’d been put under a zero communications policy for what they said was “his safety”, but as he now suspected was to really keep him from telling anyone what had actually happened. The fact that he also was unable to use his powers due to the drugs he’d been put on was more concerning in light of that.

“Huh they took mine as well for ‘security purposes’.” The sarcasm in her voice could drown a man. And she stood with a sigh bypassing Jeremy and heading for the computer attached to his currently deactivated heart monitor. “They’re always so concerned.”

“I don’t see why, its like they don't trust us or something.” Jeremy rested his hip against the bed, and looked around the room. “By the way you probably only have about two minutes to do this we’re definitely being monitored.”

“Well that's fun.” Laila reached up and touched the screen of the computer, it turned on without a sound lines of code appearing on it. “What do you want me to say?”

Jeremy thought for a moment, “Just put the rumor out there that there were four people in the house that night. That someone at the crime scene got away.”

Laila closed her eyes and murmured something under her breath, a moment later the computer flashed a new line of code then turned off. She opened her eyes with a smile. “It's in the internet’s hands now.”

Jeremy laughed, class four powers were crazy.

The door slammed open a moment later revealing three security guards guns drawn and pointed at the two of them. They slowly raised their hands sharing a look.  

“Jackal you’ve overstayed your welcome, we’re to escort you out now.” One of the security guards spoke.

Laila shrugged, “Alright.”

She allowed two of the guards to step forward and grab her by the arms leading her out of the room. At the last second she looked over her shoulder and shot Jeremy a wicked grin. “Bye Jerbear!”

The door closed behind her and the room descended into silence once more. With a sigh Jeremy sat down on his bed. It was going to be a long day.

++++++

Nicky stared at Captain Hernandez in open shock. “They won’t let me?”

“No, Sol isn’t able to speak with anyone at this time.” The Captain looked tired something bone penetratingly deep that ran through every crack of his being. Nicky understood the feeling it had been non stop interrogations of the suspects they’d captured since Heiress's raid, and now having to deal with what happened in LA Nicky practically hadn’t had free time since the night out at Eden’s a week ago. It was all slowly catching up to him only really mitigated by coffee and Erik.

“But he’s a  primary witness for my investigation, I need to interview him,” Nicky insisted. He needed to know what Sol was telling the LAPD, and what exactly they were doing to find Andrew.

Why Sol hadn’t said anything about Andrew rescuing him.

“He’s still in the hospital apparently, no one’s allowed to see him.” Hernandez scratched at a dark eyebrow. “I know how inconvenient this is but, you’re going to have to work around it.”

“Which hospital?” Nicky asked casually.

“Nicky....” Hernandez sighed. “Don’t do anything stupid.”

Nicky smiled sweetly, a look he’d learned from watching Renee. “Wouldn’t dream of it sir.”

Hernandez gave him a long stare then relayed to him the hospital’s name. “This is need to know information keep it to yourself.”

“Of course Captain,” Nicky said seriously.

The man gave him another look, then patted him on the shoulder. “Best get going then, there isn’t much time until the precinct meeting.”

Nicky watched him leave a plan formulating in his mind as he organized his desk and got ready to give his update on how his last interrogation was going. He’d just have to take matters into his own hands it seemed.

++++++

Andrew stepped into Erik’s the warm smell of coffee and sweets hitting him like a brick wall. As always the place was relatively crowded. A long line extended from the counter to the door which Andrew ignored in favor of cutting to the front, protests trailing in his wake as he did so. He slid in front of the man who had been next in line to order and looked expectantly up into to mildly startled eyes of Erik.

Andrew grinned something unsettling, just to freak the man out a little more. “Nicky said you had something for me.”

Erik blinked glanced around the shop before reaching behind the counter and pulling out an envelope. “Right, he wanted me to give this to you.”

Andrew reached over the counter and grabbed it. Noting that it felt full of what seemed like papers.“That’s all?”

Erik shrugged. “Guess so.”

For a moment Andrew felt like punching something, namely Nicky who’d made him come all the way across town for an envelope. He could have just dropped it off at the house.

He lingered at the counter a moment longer and ordered a muffin as he listened to the angry grumbles from the customers behind him. Erik simply rolled his eyes and handed over something more chocolate chip than muffin, not saying a word when Andrew turned to leave without paying.

He was halfway to the door when the sudden feeling of eyes boring into his back made him pause. Caught between the urge to leave, and one to turn around Andrew stared resolutely forward finding the reflection of Neil staring at his back through the window. Andrew didn’t sigh, then made a one eighty to face the man who was crammed into the back most corner table. Neil met his eyes then silently moved his bag from the seat beside him, an offer without words. Andrew really hated him.

Neal didn’t speak until Andrew had sat down, simply continuing to type something out on his laptop without even a second glance Andrew’s way. “What’s in the envelope?”

Andrew reached over and slammed Neil’s laptop shut out of spite. “What are you doing here?”

Neil frowned at him. “I was using that, and you do realize I live right next door don’t you?”

Andrew took a bite out of his muffin retaining eye contact all the while, they hadn’t spoken alone with one another since their trip to Edens, and Andrew still wasn’t sure what to make of the man. He wasn’t a threat, at least not to Kevin, but he was still a mystery. A puzzle Andrew wanted to pick apart and solve. “Amazing, he has a sense of humor.”

Neil’s lip quirked up into a small smile and he opened his laptop again. “I’ve got some information for you.”

Andrew raised an eyebrow. “Do you now?”

Neil settled back in his chair opened his mouth, then paused a moment a debate going on behind his eyes before he spoke in German. “One of my contacts got back to me about my inquiry.”

Andrew raised an eyebrow. “Now this is a surprise, little rabbit.”

Neil frowned. “This way not everyone can eavesdrop on what we're saying.”

Andrew remembered back to the second time he'd encountered the man. “Like you did when I was here with Nicky?”

Neil's eyes flitted off to the side not meeting Andrew's gaze.

“You know, for someone who claims not to be a spy you're awfully good at it.” Andrew shoved more of his muffin into his mouth.

“I thought we'd moved passed this,” Neil sighed but his gaze was sharp. They had for the most part, but Andrew had never been good at leaving unanswered questions be, and Neil had interesting reactions to Andrew's prodding; that was all.

Andrew rolled his shoulders back in the semblance of a shrug. Neil must have realized that was all the answer he would get, and after a moment shook his head. “Do you want my information or not?”

Andrew studied him trying to gauge his intentions through the thin mask he always seemed to wear. Andrew had promised to protect the man in order for Kevin to have a reason not to run off and do something stupid, but what Neil was doing now hadn't been part of that agreement. He didn't know what to make of the man, and the fact that he seemed to be getting use to that pissed him off.

Andrew nodded jerkily. Fuck Neil Josten and his seemingly good intentions, no one had good intentions.

Especially people made up of lies.

“Right.” Neil stared at his computer for a second before leveling his gaze at him. Andrew blinked back his surprise at the bright blue that met him.

“Feeling honest?” He raised an eyebrow.

“Maybe.” Neil didn't lower his gaze, but Andrew caught his own eyes drifting over Neil's face trying to see if anything else had changed. For a moment Andrew found his gaze lingering on the cupids bow of Neil's lips, then he realized what he was doing and ripped his eyes away letting them settle on the poster of Freddie Mercury behind Neil's shoulder. He cursed himself internally.

Josten was a problem.

“What did you find?” Andrew changed the subject.

He could feel it when Neil's gaze left his face.

“Not much,” Neil muttered lowering his voice even though he spoke in German. “And I didn't ask after specific names.”

Andrew raised an eyebrow at that.

“On the case files, it would have been useless anyway. These people aren't the type to give that sort of information away.”

“They aren't?” Andrew asked curious despite himself.

“No, why do you think I know them?” Andrew looked over to Neil, he had his guesses. “But I did ask about this organization you're looking for. Though, it would have been easier if you gave me more information.”

Andrew stared at him blankly.

Neil sighed deeply and rolled his eyes. “Most of them had no idea what I was asking for, that or they lied about not knowing anything.”

“Of course they did.”

Neil shrugged. “I don't blame them, getting themselves involved is a quick way to die.”

“Yet you did.” Andrew leaned a bit closer.

Neil mimicked his movement. “I'm practically dead anyway, there's nothing for me to lose in helping you.”

Andrew didn’t like that answer. “But someone told you something.”

“Yeah, one of my contacts owes my…. family a favor.” Neil scratched at his neck. “She didn't know any details, but when I asked about an agency that had possibly been the reason a bunch of kids had gone missing, she admitted she'd heard of rumors like that before.”

“That's all?” Andrew knew as much already.

“She was convinced they were government funded in some way or another, and that one of their people came to her in order to use her forgery skills.” Neil leaned back folding his arms across his chest, starring off somewhere in the middle distance. “She's one of the best forgers in the nation, so I wouldn't doubt it. She told me she thought nothing of the request until she saw how many knew identities she had to make.”

“How many?” Andrew asked.

“Twenty three, and apparently all of then were for kids,” Neil sighed. “I don't know if this helps you at all.”

Andrew looked down at his hands running over the information in his head, trying to line it up with everything he previously knew. He had always thought the registry knew more than they let on, but if the organization itself was federal....“If they were government why come to her, why not do it themselves?”

“It's not uncommon, the government contracts out most of the time. Especially when something might not be entirely legal,” Neil explained.

“Did she get an address?” It might have had nothing to do with the people he was looking for, but Andrew saw no reason not to investigate it further.

“Uh… No that’s not how this sort of thing works,” Neil said a bit sheepishly.

“Then how does it work?” Andrew asked dryly.

“Any address given would have been a fake one all transactions are done face to face and in cash, how do you not know this?” Andrew didn’t answer that question and after a moment of silence Neil moved on. “My contact is located in Reno, but they could have come from anywhere to use her services.”

“So you’ve found nothing.” Andrew summarized.

Neil gave him a look then flipped his computer around. A grainy black and white picture took up the screen, a figure stood in front of a desk face halfway turned to the camera as another person seemed to be saying something from the other side of the desk. Andrew reached out and pulled the computer forward squinting to get a better look at the two people. The one closest to the camera was definitely a man and the other a woman.

“That’s my contact.” Neil’s finger tapped above the woman, then shifted over to the man. “And her customer.”

Andrew zoomed in on the man’s face took one look at the white hair, shabby beard and lines of wrinkles found there, then pushed the computer away with force. He stared blankly down at the table, mind racing and memories threatening to bubble to the surface. He didn’t want to remember, hated the fact he couldn’t forget. He felt like he was choking, felt like his heart was threatening to beat out of his chest, but at the same time he felt numb. Resigned. Like he was slipping back to that time when he had been but a puppet for those who wanted to use him. He traced a finger over the knives hidden on his arms.

“You recognize him,” Neil’s voice snapped Andrew back to the present.

He took a breath, then released the death grip he’d had on his forearm.

Neil shouldn’t have been looking at him like that, Andrew didn’t need protecting.

His chair scrapped the floor as he stood, Neil not turning his eyes away but not saying anything either. He hated it.

“Send this to me,” Andrew said before turning away.

“Wait.” Andrew paused at Neil’s voice. “You’re about to go to Reno aren’t you.”

Andrew wouldn’t admit he’d been about to go to his car and start driving without a second thought, but that was exactly what he’d been about to do.

“Do you think that’s a good idea?” Neil had closed his computer, and stood. Andrew ran his eyes over the man; he really needed a haircut.

“He’s there.”

“No.” Neil shook his head and took a step forward. “He was there a month and a half ago, if you go now your more likely to be found by the authorities then find any trace of him.”

Andrew closed his eyes for a moment. “I need to find them.”

“I know,” Neil said leaning back a little,“we will.”

Andrew scoffed at that. It shouldn't have brought a smile to Neil's face, and yet it did. “Kevin wants to train some more tonight, you know.”

Andrew rolled his eyes and grabbed his muffin. “I know.”

“You should join us.” Neil offered pulling his bag over his shoulder and lingering at Andrew's side as he headed towards the door. Erik gave him a look from over the counter and Andrew only barely stopped himself from flipping the man off. He wondered how much of that conversation Erik had heard.

“I’ll be there.” Andrew pushed open the door, he could feel himself shutting down, compartmentalizing to the point where it felt like his whole being had been dowsed in a bucket of ice water. Numb but all too sensitive all the same.

Neil bit his lip, then looked off to the side. “I meant you should train with us, if you want.”

Of fucking course you did, Andrew had to physically stop himself from rolling his eyes. Neil’s distraction techniques were poor at best.

He said nothing as he walked to his car, training with the two of them was at the bottom of the list of things Andrew wanted to do. Having a smoke was near the top. Finding Dr. Proust and killing him violently was even higher than that. That he had been that close, so out in the open made Andrew furious. He wouldn’t fail a second time, this time when Andrew found him the man would die. “No.”

“Alright,” Neil said from where he trailed along behind Andrew. His presence at Andrew’s side was quickly becoming something familiar, and that he had found Dr. Proust when Andrew couldn’t made Neil more useful than he had expected. It was disconcerting, Andrew knew how to work alone. How to function as someone who stood apart, even from those he promised to protect, even if those people were his family. Kevin was an exception, he hadn’t expected Neil to become one as well. Not when he still wasn’t sure if he trusted the man.    

Unlocking his car door Andrew turned to shoo Neil away. “Scram roadrunner.”

Neil huffed his hair had slipped into his too bright eyes, and a frown decorated his mouth. Andrew tried to ignore how good he looked in that moment, back lit by the sun. Now was not the time to think about that fact. “Fine, see you later Andrew.”

He turned away heading back towards the flower shop but before Neil could make it very far Andrew spoke once more. “Eyes Neil.”

Neil looked back over his shoulder confusion marring his face, then seemed to realize what Andrew was saying. He blinked and ice blue slipped back to dark brown seamlessly between heartbeats. “Thanks.”

Andrew took one last lingering look at him before giving a two fingered salute and brushing off the thought of what his lips might taste like. He didn’t have time for this, it was a distraction he couldn’t afford.

++++++

Kevin landed roughly on the soft training mat the breath leaving his lungs, and his right arm yanked behind him so hard he could feel tears welling in his eyes. His left was pinned by Neil’s bony knee, and it was with not a small amount of surprise that he found himself yielding to the smaller man. Neil let go quickly removing himself from where he had been straddling Kevin’s back and allowed enough room for Kevin to roll over and face the ceiling catching his breath. They had been training for hours it seemed like, yet it also felt as if it’d only been minutes. A smile stretched Kevin’s face and adrenaline pumped through his veins and Kevin felt alive .

“You’re a quick learner,” Kevin commented idly.

Neil huffed from where his was sitting beside him. “Is that a complement? From you?”

Kevin shrugged, it was but he’d never admit it. He was impressed. His eyes drifted over to Neil’s sweaty form, Andrew had never gotten around to telling him what the hell he had meant by those cryptic words he’d said last week, but Kevin was glad to find they’d seemed to work whatever issues they’d had out.

Neil’s laugh was distracting, as was the hand shoved in his face. Kevin reached out and grabbed it allowing the other man to help him stand. “What now?” Neil asked.

Kevin looked around for a moment taking in Andrew curled up in the corner with his book and blank expression then turning back to Neil who looked at him expectantly with dark eyes under dark lashes.  Kevin thought about it for a moment, Neil was improving fast getting better at hand to hand combat by the day and able to now use his small stature to his advantage, they should stop for the day to rest their muscles, but Neil obviously wanted to continue.

“Follow me,” Kevin said then headed to the stairs. Andrew looked up from his book as they walked past him, he caught Kevin’s eyes then closed the book with a snap. Kevin raised a eyebrow as he walked over to them and reached up flicking his fingers against Kevin's cheek then looking Neil over. Andrew turned without a word then headed down the stairs. Kevin took a moment to recalibrate before looking over to Neil who stood with a question on his face Kevin didn’t know how to answer. Neil shook his head after a moment of awkward silence then followed Andrew down stairs leaving Kevin to take up the end.

He found the two talking quietly with one another at the open front door, Andrew lighting up a cigarette and Neil leaning against the door frame face turned towards the sun, the bright light accenting his sharp cheekbones and making Andrew's hair shine a bright gold. Kevin felt himself pause as he took in the two, how they complemented each other in the light.

Neil reached over and stole the cigarette from Andrew's hand, and took a drag, a smirk decorating his lips at whatever Andrew was saying in retaliation.

Kevin hadn't seen Andrew so relaxed in a while.

Somehow Neil had gotten under his skin.

Maybe he'd gotten under both of theirs now that Kevin thought about it.

Taking a breath he turned and resumed what he'd been doing. He couldn't get distracted, Neil deserved to be as prepared as Kevin could make him with his training. He pulled a glock out of the gun safe and examined it carefully the cold weight of it settling heavily in his hand. Kevin placed it to the side and pulled out another handgun, this one an older model that Wymack had gotten who knows when. After checking them both over Kevin positioned the table a good distance in front of the targets and searched the shelves for ear plugs.

“What are we doing now?”Kevin glanced over his shoulder at Neil’s voice, finding the smaller man only a few feet away.

Kevin grabbed the ear plugs then handed a set to Neil who took them gracefully. “I’m going to teach you how to shoot a gun.”

Neil laughed loudly at that the sound sharp, and Kevin found himself staring in slightly dumbfounded silence at the noise. Neil wore a smile well. “Sorry, you’re going to what?”  

“Teach you how to shoot?” Kevin hadn’t meant to make it a question, but Neil’s laughter had thrown him off. He glanced over to Andrew who watched them silently.

Neil ran a hand through his hair making its already disheveled state even more so. “No thanks.”

“If you’re going to join the registry you’ll need to be as prepared as possible.” Kevin felt like he was repeating himself, but the fact that Neil didn’t realize this was a little more than frustrating.

Neil looked up at him lips quirked in thinly veiled amusement. “I already know how to shoot a gun.”

“Do you now?” Kevin raised an eyebrow in disbelief. “Show me.”

Neil smiled bitterly  and something in Kevin’s gut twisted. It was an oddly familiar expression. “Fine.”

He placed the plugs in his ears, and grabbed the glock with a confidence that spoke of intensive training. It was something Kevin had caught glimpses of over the last couple of weeks, but never seen outright, and it was with a start Kevin realized just how much Neil had been holding back. He placed his ear protection on, unable to take his eyes off of the man in front of him. The air about Neil was different, deadly as he inspected the gun for himself. Finding nothing amiss Neil clicked the safety off then trained his eyes on the target and raised the gun. He shot three consecutive rounds one after another in the span of a second, then clicked back on the safety and placed the glock back on the table in one fluid motion.

Kevin stared at him in dumbfoundment as Neil pulled the earplugs from his ears. “Well?”

“Impressive roadrunner,” Andrew spoke up from the doorway.

Kevin spared a single glance for him before yanking the plugs out of his ears and walking over to the target. He could hear two sets of footsteps behind him but ignored the others. He stopped in front of the target staring in disbelief at how close the grouping of bullet holes were, and how accurate Neil’s aim had been. Andrew whistled from behind him, “maybe you could use some lessons Kevin.”

Kevin turned to glare at him then looked at Neil. “Who taught you how to shoot?”

Neil hesitated a beat. “My mother.”

Kevin didn’t understand the look Neil and Andrew shared at that.

“I told you I didn’t need you to teach me though.” Neil folded his arms across his chest, not so much defensive as unyielding. Kevin felt a number of things in that moment ranging between the urge to give into frustration and leave, or kiss Neil because this situation was ridiculous at best. His mother taught him that?  

“Unbelievable,” Kevin muttered unable to move. It was as if Kevin was seeing Neil in a completely different light. The potential he possessed Kevin had been aware of, but not this. Was this what Andrew meant when he said Neil was dangerous? Neil himself had said everyone had a reason for wanting to be a hero, and Kevin began to wonder what exactly Neil’s was.

He barely knew anything about the man, and he realized with a blink that he didn’t like that fact.     

“Maybe we should stop for today,” Neil suggested leaning a hip against the target, Andrew had wandered away from the two of them at some point his attention most likely drifting to more interesting things.

Kevin looked down at the target, Neil was right, they should, but Kevin’s attention had been caught fully. He felt like he couldn’t look away from the man. Like perhaps he had been the one not taking this as seriously as he could have been. But underneath that he felt frustration.

Kevin nodded. “We’ll take you home then.”

Neil scratched at his ear. “Just because we stop doesn't mean we have to leave.”

Kevin frowned, “What do you want to do then?”

“Well,” Neil glanced over to where Andrew had settled on top of the gun safe then looked back at Kevin an intensity in his eyes that made his breath hitch. “Mind telling me more about the registry?”

++++++

Seth stalked down the street ignoring the people he passed by with practiced ease. The glare he wore was trained nowhere in particular as he slipped through the crowds. It would be so easy to pickpocket any number of the people passing by as distracted as everyone seemed to be; his presence was not even a blip on their radars. He kept his hands firmly in the pockets of his jacket only for the fact that he didn't need the police catching him for something so stupid after managing to break out.

But if he did get caught he could just escape again...

Allison might kill him, though.

She might even be successful.

Seth shook his head and shouldered his way through the crowd, he wouldn't take his chances today. Didn’t feel the need to. Allison's apartment building was in sight when someone rammed their shoulder into his gut.

Seth doubled over the air having been knocked out of him, and the asshole who apparently didn't know how to use their eyes stumbled back.

“Watch it,” Asshole snapped, as if Seth had been the one to run into them.

He looked up slowly a glare on his face, and something vicious on his lips as he straightened. The man in front of him was short, blond, and Seth recognized him immediately with a sinking feeling in his stomach. It'd been years, and the person who stood before him was much different than the dead looking teenager he'd met back then, back when he was stuck in that place, but there was no mistaking it. It had to be the same person, the kid he’d always seen with Spear.

What the hell was his name? Seth couldn't remember, the only thing springing to his mind being the pain of electricity shooting through him, and the cold feel of concrete.

Seth sucked in air through his teeth, the Asshole certainly hadn't gotten any taller. “What the fuck are you doing here?”

“Walking, now move.”  

The lack of recognition Seth saw on the other man's face irked him, and he stepped closer narrowing his eyes in distaste. This fucker got to forget that place so easily while Seth had barely survived, maybe he'd just have to make him remember then. Seth stepped into the other man's personal space and sneered. “Acting so high and mighty won't erase your past.”

Asshole looked like he wanted to throttle Seth in that moment and he took a swift step back before the man had a chance to throw any punches. It was satisfying watching anger flood the other man's face. He’d never seen so much emotion on it back when they were teenagers that’s for sure.

That face had always remained agonizingly neutral through everything he'd seen. Dead eyes trained on the horrors the Doctor inflicted with little care, Spear’s hand always seeming to rest lightly on his shoulder.

Seth doubted even if Asshole did forget him he'd be able to forget that place completely. The memory of Marissa tried to bubble its way to the front of his mind, but he crushed it back down with force. He didn’t need to think about her death right now. Though, the fucker in front of him had seen it as well...

“I think we should go,” another voice spoke up. Seth blinked, he'd been so caught up in his memories he hadn't even noticed the woman who'd stopped at Asshole’s side.He made to say something but stopped at the cold, sharp look the girl leveled at him, Seth's self preservation instincts kicking in at full force. The feel of danger she gave off was so strong in that moment it was almost suffocating. She placed a hand on the shorter man's shoulder then steered him away from Seth with a little push. Asshole shot him one last glare which Seth returned with little pleasure and a churning in his stomach, then turned and walked away before Seth could say anything else.

He watched them leave silently, the crowd swirling around him, and his thoughts miles away. After a few seconds he turned back towards Allison's apartment and continued walking.

++++++

Aaron looked back over his shoulder, the guy he'd crashed into having already disappeared into the crowd. “Who the hell was that?”

Katelyn followed his gaze a frown falling upon her lips, and something contemplative in her eyes. “I have no idea.” Aaron glared at the crowd, but continued walking  letting Katelyn take his hand with little fuss. She spoke a moment later as she stepped around a street sign, “he seemed to know you though.”

Aaron shrugged, trying to warn off the shaky feeling that had settled in his gut after that encounter and the anger weighing down his limbs; whoever that guy had been he had definitely never seen him before…. Then he stopped abruptly making Katelyn stumble to stillness alongside him. “Or Andrew.”

She tilted her head. “What was that?”

“Or he knows Andrew.”

+++++

“Erik!” Nicky burst into the apartment the door slamming against the wall with a loud bang and startling his husband from where he had been chopping tomatoes at the kitchen counter. The knife he’d been holding dropped to the floor with a clatter and Erik cursed quietly as he bent down to pick it up.

Straightening he adjusted his glasses then turned to look at Nicky worry etching his face. “What is it? Did something happen?”

Nicky quickly walked over to him and slammed his bag down onto the counter brushing back the stray hairs that had fallen into his face somewhere between getting out of the car and running up the flight of stairs to their apartment. “We have to go to LA.”

“I… why?” Erik asked, worry morphing into confusion.

Nicky bit at his lip then took a deep breath trying to slow down his thought process. “We need to break into a hospital.”

The worry came back. “Love, are you alright?”

“Yes.” Nicky might have answered too quickly if Erik’s face said anything. “This is hard to explain.”

“Do you need a moment?”

Nicky shook his head, frustrated with himself. He switched to German, just in case. “The LAPD thinks Andrew was the one who attacked Sol and killed Dr. Shelds, they’ve decided to start their own investigation. We need to get concrete evidence he didn’t do that.”

Erik frowned, “How?”

“Sol,” Nicky stated as if it were that simple. “He knows what really happened but apparently for some reason hasn’t spoken out about it. We need to find him then get his side of the story since Andrew refuses to tell us anything.”

“And he’s in a hospital?” Erik asked setting the knife down. “How do you know this?”

“The Captain might have let it slip.” Nicky shrugged a bit sheepishly, not mentioning the part where he’d promised not to use the information. Erik’s unconvinced look told Nicky he understood what Nicky wasn’t saying. “Will you come with me?”

Erik’s face softened, and Nicky felt a swell of warmth bubble up in his chest. There was not even an ounce of hesitation. “Of course, let me get my things.”

Nicky watched as his husband headed towards their bedroom, and could only be grateful for having the man in his life. He didn’t deserve it, but Erik’s support was what always got him through. Erik emerged a moment later backpack slung over his shoulder, and fluff of hair hidden under a beany. “Lets go.”

Nicky followed him out to the car without a second thought.

Chapter Text

“You’re still up.” Andrew looked away from the papers Nicky had made Erik give him to find Kevin lingering in the doorway to the living room. It was the middle of the night, but Andrew hadn’t even considered sleep once he’d realized the envelope Erik had given him contained Janie’s case file from when she disappeared. He’d never known she’d originally been from Phoenix.

Kevin’s baggy sweatpants and sleep rumpled shirt made him look younger somehow. After a moment of silence Kevin walked over to him flopping down next to him against the wall. Andrew looked back down to the documents he held, eyes running over the picture of a much younger Janie than the one he’d known. “Go back to bed Kevin.”

He closed his eyes and rested his head against the wall shaking it slightly, the line of his throat was highlighted by the light from the desk lamp. From this angle Andrew couldn’t see that damning tattoo that branded him a Raven, one of Riko’s pawns. It suited him, not having the black ink mar his dark skin. “I have a question.”

Andrew looked up to the ceiling, all these questions he was expected to answer, yet he couldn’t get any answers for his own. “What.”

“What did you mean the other day, when you told me Neil wasn’t who he said he was?” Kevin asked not opening his eyes, it was oddly vulnerable in a way. Andrew had thought Kevin had forgotten about that conversation, he’d said nothing on the subject after their trip to Eden’s.

Perhaps Neil's showing off had gotten through that thick skull of his.

Andrew debated whether he should tell Kevin what he found out about Neil and his powers. Neither of them would react well, Andrew knew. Neil technically had never said Andrew couldn't tell Kevin, but a non-answer wasn't a yes. And Kevin… well Kevin was never as subtle as he thought he was.

“Nothing,” Andrew said after a long pause. “It turns out he’s only a runaway, just like you.”

Kevin opened his eyes and looked to him at that. “I’m not-” He cut himself off. “What was he running from?”

Andrew shrugged in feigned disinterest, he didn't want to deal with the freak out Kevin would have if he answered that question truthfully, and it was not his truth to tell, so Andrew got as close as he dared. “Monsters, probably.”

It wasn't technically a lie.

Kevin frowned, seeming to think on that. The bags under his eyes had gotten bigger, Andrew noticed. His nightmares had gotten worse. “Then he fits in.”

So, Kevin had noticed how easily Neil slotted into place with them. Like a missing piece you didn't know was missing until it was found. It was odd. It put Andrew on edge, but at the same time he doubted Neil would willingly hurt either of them. It didn't fit with who Neil was. No matter how many lies he was hiding behind.

That didn’t mean he couldn’t be made to, however.

Andrew inclined his head. “He does.”

“The other day he asked me if I had ever considered making a team without the registry’s permission,” Kevin said contemplatively, Andrew raised an eyebrow at that. “I hadn’t before…”

“But now you are,” Andrew finished for him. Leave it to Neil to go planting such an idea in Kevin’s head.

“He said the registry wasn’t needed for heroes to exist” Kevin said it quietly as if someone might be listening in. Neil was right, but Andrew didn’t say that, the two were already delusional enough thinking real heroes existed at all. “What if we…”

“What? Become vigilantes?” Andrew rolled his eyes, he couldn’t be serious.

Kevin shrugged. “You already sort of are.”

Andrew leveled a blank stare at him. “That’s not the same.”

Kevin huffed slumping a bit. “Of course not.”

“You don’t want to be associated with a ‘villain’,” Andrew pointed out.

Kevin glared at the floor between his feet. “You’re not a villain.”

“Many people would disagree with you.”

Kevin turned those stupidly green eyes on Andrew. “You’re not.”

Andrew really hated him.

He reached up and pushed Kevin’s face away so that gaze was somewhere else. “Go back to bed Kevin.”

He could feel it when Kevin’s lip twitched up in a small smile. For a brief moment he leaned his cheek into Andrew’s touch.

Frowning Andrew shoved at his face. “Get the fuck out of here Kevin.”

“Fine, but you should get some rest too.” He said snipingly pulling away from Andrew, the heat of his skin not lingering long against Andrew’s fingertips in the face of his house’s AC. Kevin stood and glanced over his shoulder to Andrew once more before turning and heading for the door.

Andrew narrowed his eyes and watched quietly as Kevin left.

++++++

Nicky silently slid around the corner of the hospital, keeping out of sight of the security camera that was located above the door he planned to enter through, Erik not three steps behind him. It was late enough that this side of the hospital was practically deserted with a security guard only coming around every thirty minutes, and it was easy enough to avoid the side the ER was located on; where there was way more than one car in the parking lot. 

“What now?” Erik asked quietly at Nicky's back his hand ghosting over Nicky’s neck. Nicky reached into the pocket of his hoodie and pulled out a bottle of spray paint holding it up for Erik to see. He could hear Erik’s grin when he spoke next, “Ah it's going to be just like when I was in high school.”

Nicky elbowed him. “Troublemaker.”

The bottle was plucked delicately from his hand, and Erik stepped past him with a little pat on his shoulder. “Let me.”

“Hey, why do you get to have all the fun?” Nicky asked teasingly.

“Because I’m taller and can reach the camera,” Erik answered with a shrug.

That was fair.

Nicky watched as his husband pulled his hood over his head and snuck up to the door. Once he was in range he moved quickly reaching up and spraying the lens all the while keeping his face turned away. He had to admit it was a little ridiculous. Erik finished then gestured him over with a wave of his hand. Nicky came without a word nudging his husband out of the way so he could stare down at the lock. They had to move fast there was no way somebody wouldn’t notice a blacked-out camera.

He sighed, then reached out for the lock. There was really no other way to do this. Concentrating he felt his hand heat up, and the metal underneath began to glow a bright orange. In moments there was a fist sized hole where the door handle had once been. Nicky stepped back letting the door swing open with a creak. Erik whistled quietly. Nicky shot his husband a smile over his shoulder then stepped through the doorway.

The hallway they entered was luckily deserted. White walls and bright fluorescent lights the only things to be seen but for the closed doors at the end of it. Nicky and Erik stared at them with dual looks of trepidation on their faces. A bout of nerves threatened to rise up in Nicky’s throat before he stamped it out with a sort of vengeance he’d learned from Andrew. They’d made it this far and Nicky didn’t plan to leave until he got some questions answered, hopefully they wouldn’t get arrested along the way.

He started down the hallway with determination. Rushing just a little bit. Nicky had no idea which floor Sol was on, but he had a feeling it would be more obvious once they entered the main area of the hospital. There was no way he wasn’t being guarded, security would be tight. Which left more than a little problem for the two of them. Nicky didn’t actually have much of a plan for how he would get to Sol, but he’d find a way. Hopefully.

Erik reached out a hand and grabbed onto Nicky’s arm before he could push through the double doors into the main part of the hospital. “Wait.”

“What is it?” Nicky asked looking back.

Erik pointed off to the side where a door Nicky hadn’t seen before stood slightly ajar. “Locker rooms.”

The label next to the door did in fact say locker rooms. Nicky grinned.

Breaking into the lockers was easy, and after a few unsuccessful attempts they both found clothes that fit them well enough. Nicky had to admit, Erik looked damn good in a lab coat. Nicky couldn’t say the same about the scrubs he was currently pulling on. “Did you find an ID card?”

Erik pulled his head out of a locker, a grin on his face as he held up a card. “Yeah, it should help us get through any more locked doors.”

“Hey, my way worked.” Nicky said shoving his hands in his pockets after he finished stuffing their clothes into a backpack he’d found. It would throw off their disguises, but Nicky didn’t want to leave them behind in case they didn’t make it back here.

“It left quite a trail though.” Erik handed the card over, then gestured to the door that connected the locker rooms to the rest of the hospital. “Shall we?”

Nicky nodded hoping for the best.

++++++

Aaron shifted in bed unable to sleep, Katelyn’s warmth was missing from his side and his thoughts wouldn't stop spinning around in circles long enough for him to close his eyes. The man from earlier that day had thrown him off balance. The way he’d spoken to Aaron was laced with familiar resentment that gave off the impression of a deep-seated history, yet Aaron had no idea who the guy was, so he must have mistaken him for Andrew there was no other explanation. Andrew never mentioned anyone from his past unless he thought the information relevant to their family’s safety, and Aaron wanted to believe the man simply knew Andrew from his stint in juvie, but what he had said made him think otherwise. The possibility that the man knew his brother from that place hadn’t escaped Aaron. However, it was one thing to suspect but another thing to know, and Aaron didn’t even have a way to find the man again.

With a sigh Aaron rolled over to his back, staring at the ceiling for a moment before he sat up and got off the bed to find Katelyn. Following the sound of her quiet voice Aaron made his way towards the living room coming to a stop at the door. Katelyn was on the phone speaking softly yet intensely with whoever was on the other side. Aaron started to move out of the doorway and back to the room not wanting to interrupt her but stopped at the sound of her voice raising in anger.

“I know that Stuart, but that doesn’t mean I’m not still looking for him.” There was a moment of silence then a huff of breath escaped Katelyn’s mouth. “Yes, I have reason to believe he’s in San Diego I just haven’t found him yet….” Aaron frowned and turned back to the door wondering who Katelyn was talking to. “It’s not that simple and you know it, finding him with the type of powers he possesses is-” She cut herself off, and Aaron could hear the raised voice of a man coming through the line. “Well why don’t you fly over here and do it yourself then?” Katelyn said anger lacing her tone as she ended the call and flung her phone into the cushions of the couch. For a moment it was quiet then Katelyn buried her face in her hands and took a deep shuddering breath. Aaron’s heart stilled at the sight, Katelyn rarely ever cried.

Stepping forward out of the doorway Aaron walked over to the couch and sat down across from her. Katelyn flinched, head whipping up to stare at Aaron in wide eyed shock. He froze in his movement to lean back, not wanting to startle her any more than he already had. Faint tear tracks glistened on her cheeks, and with a sniffle she rubbed at her eyes sighing deeply. “How much of that did you hear?”

Aaron hesitated a moment, wondering if he should lie. “Just enough to know you’re frustrated with some guy named Stuart.”

He didn't mention the fact he'd overhead the part where she was looking for someone, but his mind fixated on it. He didn't understand, and it bothered him.

Katelyn laughed weekly running a hand through her thick hair. “Yeah… I- It’s family drama, you know?”

Aaron didn’t know if he believed that.

“Must be quite some drama at four am.” 

She shrugged looking a bit lost. “Honestly it's just the continuation of family drama that's been going on for a while now.”

“Want to talk about it?” Aaron asked slumping farther into the couch. Katelyn didn’t often talk about her family, and Aaron didn’t ask. He understood how it could be.

Katelyn seemed to think about it a second, a debate raging behind her eyes that Aaron wasn’t privy to. In the end she shook her head. “No.”

Aaron frowned, but nodded pushing what he’d heard to the back of his mind. He had other things to worry about. Glancing over his shoulder Aaron caught a look at the wall clock his frown deepening. “Any chance of going back to bed?”

Katelyn laughed a little hysterically. “I don’t think I could sleep even if I wanted to.”

Standing Aaron suppressed a yawn and held out his hand for Katelyn to take. Sleep would be nice, but it wasn’t like he had to go to work tomorrow so it could come later. “Well let’s go then.”

She raised an eyebrow, and grabbed his hand pulling herself off the couch. “Where?”

“Ice cream,” Aaron answered simply lightly tugging Katelyn towards the door. He didn’t have much of a sweet tooth, but Katelyn did, and he was willing to put up with that much sugar if it wiped that look off her face.

She smiled sadly and gave his hand a squeeze. “Alright.”

Aaron opened the door and tried not to think about the secrets they both kept.

++++++

Maneuvering through the hospital unnoticed was easier than Nicky had expected. There weren't many people roaming the halls, and those they did pass didn't give them a second glance. Nicky had no idea why Aaron wanted to become a doctor, every single one he passed looked exhausted. He turned a corner and halted abruptly Erik running into his back as he tried to duck back around the corner.

Erik rested his chin on Nicky's shoulder as Nicky peeked around the corner into the connecting hallway. “What is it?” 

“I think,” Nicky started, counting the number of guards he saw, “we found Sol's room.”

Erik hummed low in his chest. “They seem awfully concerned about his safety.”

“Yeah, they do.” It was odd considering Sol was one of the top heroes in the registry, and could likely defend himself better than three guards could. “How should we do this?”

“There are three of them?” Erik said thoughtfully. “I don't suppose we can just walk in there?”

Nicky was doubtful, though that would be nice. “What's the room number?”

“You ask the nearsighted person,” Erik muttered under his breath then squinted. “392, why?”

“I have an idea, come on,” Nicky said turning around and heading back the way they'd come. Erik raised an eyebrow but didn't protest simply following after Nicky.

They nurse’s station they had passed earlier came into view, and Nicky quickly stopped. Placing a hand against Erik's chest he gently pushed him back into a doorway. “Wait here.”

“This better be a good plan,” Erik said.

“It’s definitely not.” Nicky smiled, turned, then walked towards the nurse’s station. This might not work, but it was a better idea than just confronting the guards directly, there was not telling if they were powered or not and Nicky didn’t want to chance getting in that type of fight in a place with so many innocent bystanders. 

Putting on his most charming smile Nicky sauntered up to the desk attendent. “Hey there-” he glanced quickly to her name tag,”-Jess, I need room 392’s file. The doctor wants me to take his nighttime vitals.”

Nicky crossed his fingers silently behind his back hoping this would work.

Jess looked up slowly with a sleepy little frown. “Who are you again?”

Fuck. “I’m that one guy they recently hired, we haven’t met yet.”

She looked startled. “Oh, you must be Branden, I didn’t think they put you on graveyard.”

Jess held out her hand for Nicky to shake, and he took it with an awkward smile. “Yeah, you know how they can be with scheduling.”

“Don't I ever.” She gave a sympathetic nod and reached for the filing cabinet. “Room 392 you said?”

“Yup.” Nicky smiled and tried not to tap his foot impatiently.

She pulled out the folder flipped it open, then frowned. “Dr. Regis wanted nighttime vitals?”

A bead of perspiration ran between Nicky's shoulder blades. He tried to smile again. “Yeah, head wounds you know?” It might have been a wild guess but if Andrew hadn't gotten out of there without one he doubted Sol had.

She squinted at the file skeptically. “His concussion was very serious, and he hasn’t had his vitals taken in quite a while. Dr. Regis just hadn’t notified me it needed to be done.”

Nicky put on a look of confusion. “That’s odd, maybe he forgot?”

“He is pretty old,” she muttered to herself then signed the bottom of the folder. Nicky tried not to hold his breath as she handed it over to him. “If the security guards give you any shit come tell me, they've been trying to scare off the nurses all week.”

Nicky took the file and held on to it with a tight grip. “Oh, I'm not too worried about them.” He gave Jess a wink, turned and walked straight down the hall without looking back.

Once he turned the corner he let out the breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding looking down at the file. Erik came up behind him placing a gentle hand on his shoulder and rubbing back and forth soothingly as they walked down the hallway. “How did you make that work?”

Nicky turned to his husband wide eyed and shook his head a little. “I have no idea.” He looked back down the file he held, took a deep breath, then flipped it open.

“Jeremy Knox?” Erik said quietly behind him, “Quite an ordinary name for one of the nation’s top heroes.”

Nicky frowned flipping through the file, his eyes scanning over the contents quickly. “It doesn’t make sense. Even with his injuries he shouldn't have been kept here for so long." He paused, looking more closely at the paper. “Wait, they put him on Iniustifen.”

“What’s that?” Erik asked looking over Nicky’s shoulder at the file.

“It’s the same drug they put Andrew on after he defended me from those guys at the club, a power suppressor.” Nicky answered with a frown. “But this says he’s on a lower dose.”

“Why would they have put him on a power suppressor?” Erik’s voice was tight, hints on anger peeking through at the mention of that night.

Nicky met his husband’s eyes. “Well, we’re going to have to find out, aren’t we?” 

The guards still stood where they left them, in front of room 392 and as imposing as ever. Erik and Nicky shared a look before stepping around the corner and walking purposefully towards the room. The guards immediately noticed them hands going to the guns strapped to their waist and eyes sharp.

Nicky put on a smile and waved at them holding up the file a little defensively. “Hey there, we're just doing nighttime rounds and need to take some vitals real quick.”

One of the guards stepped forward, scowling. “That won't be necessary.”

“Uh-” Nicky glanced at Erik. “Actually it is, Dr. Regis wants his nighttime vitals so he can properly monitor the patient’s head wound.” 

The guard’s scowl intensified. “He doesn’t need his vitals checked.”

Nicky frowned, why the fuck was he in a hospital then? Erik stepped in before Nicky could say anything, face composed and demeanor calming. “He has been admitted to this hospital for a purpose of recovery. If I remember correctly this institution took over his care on the condition that the registry would not hinder us in doing our jobs, but if that is not the case and the patient has no need for further medical treatment I will be sure to notify the head doctor that he has recovered enough for release.”

Nicky force himself not to gape at the sheer amount of bullshit Erik had pulled from thin air. The guard’s scowl turned to a glare. “Who are you?”

Erik frowned shifting the bag on his back. “Dr. Weber, and I can assure you Dr. Regis will not be pleased if he does not get these vitals.”

Puffing up his chest the guard squared up, and Nicky was sure this was all about to go downhill very fast. “Well Dr. Weber-”

He was interrupted by a deep sigh from one of the other guards at his back. “Damnit Greg just let them through. We don’t need the shit storm the registry will throw at us if we get in the way of these people doing their jobs. Besides, the room is monitored anyway we’ll know exactly what they’re doing in there.”

Nicky kept a straight face at that bit of information. He hadn’t expected the room to be bugged.

There was a long moment of silence as the guard chewed that one over. “Fine, but don’t try anything.”

Nicky nodded in acknowledgement to the threat as the guard stepped aside. Quietly Nicky and Erik walked past the guards, opened the door and entered room 392. With a thud the door shut behind them, and Nicky looked around curiously at the dimly lit room before him. It wasn't much, it looked like every other hospital room Nicky had seen in his life, which was unfortunately quite a few. Nicky’s eyes drifted over to the hospital bed, then stayed there in bewilderment as he found it empty.

“Well that’s not a good sign,” Erik said from where he stood by Nicky’s shoulder. Nicky nodded in agreement then flicked the lights on flooding the room in brightness.

There was a startled gasp from somewhere across the room, then a thud and a mumbled curse. Erik and Nicky looked to each other, and after a moment quietly moved around the bed to find a man Nicky assumed had to be Sol sitting on the other side, head clutched in his hands and knees drawn up to his chest.

“Mr. Knox?” Nicky said quietly drawing the man’s attention. He couldn’t help but feel concern, Sol didn’t look good, and Nicky had firsthand experience with how bad power suppressors could be for someone. “You good?”

Sol looked up slowly brown eyes squinting against the light, his pupils were blown wide unable to contract due to the drug in his system. For a moment they flashed a bright gold before dimming a second later. “Yeah. Yeah, sorry let me just…” He reached his hand up to the top of the bed supporting his weight as he levered himself off the ground. It took a moment before he was able to stand without swaying.

Nicky reached a hand out gently setting it on Sol’s shoulder, he could feel a tremble under his fingers something that couldn’t have been a good sign. Looking closer Nicky realized Knox had taken out his IV and had left it hanging limply by the side of his bed. Sol was going through withdrawal, he realized with a start. “Maybe you should sit down on the bed, okay?”

A nod was all Nicky got before Sol flopped down onto the bed. He looked up at Nicky small frown on his face. He was cute, but he also looked like someone took a brick to his head, so the effect was ruined somewhat. His dark skin was marred with barely healed bruises, and if the bandages peeking out from under his clothes said anything the injuries went farther than surface level. “Who are you?”

“I’m Branden, and this is Dr. Weber.” Smiling Nicky went over to the heart monitor turning it on and pretending he had any idea how it worked. “We just need to take your vitals, mind if I hook you back up to this thing?”

Sol shook his head, and Erik came over to stand next to the bed watching the door. Nicky was grateful to have him here. Grabbing a handful of what looked to be the sort of pads you attach to a person to get their heart rate Nicky dragged the machine closer and settled next to Sol’s head with a smile. “Is it okay if I touch you?”

Nodding Sol watched as Nicky leaned a little closer and reached under his shirt, placing one of the pads above his heart and the other against his right rib cage. “You’re not really hospital staff, are you?” Sol asked quietly under his breath.

Nicky looked to him sharply, and after a moment nodded. Sol let out a sigh, “You wouldn’t have happened to be sent here to get me out, would you?”

Nicky shook his head.

“Okay.” Knox slumped further into his bed defeat written over his features.

Nicky hesitated a moment. “If you want us to we can.”

It was Sol’s turn to be surprised. “Really?”

Nicky nodded again, and a grin slipped over Sol’s face. He sat up slowly and Nicky took a step back watching as he pulled off the pads. Erik glanced to him. “What’s going on?”

Nicky opened his mouth but was cut off by Sol standing up slowly and moving towards the door. “I’m taking you hostage.”

“What?” Nicky asked incredulously. Sure, he had no plan for getting Sol out, but he wasn’t expecting Sol to have one of his own.

Sol gave them a smile and a thumbs up as the door was flung open all three security guards stumbling in with guns drawn. There was a moment of confusion where they seemed to not know who to aim at before they settled on Sol. “Don’t try anything Knox you know we’ll shoot. Raise your hands above your head slowly.” 

Sol raised his hands slowly, shooting Nicky and Erik a reassuring smile. Nicky was unsure how he was able to do that while having three guns pointed at him but didn’t have time to think on it for in the next moment all three security guards were being slammed into the wall by a giant fist of light. They slumped to the ground in a heap and Nicky’s mouth popped open in shock. It happened so fast he’d almost missed it. Jeremy had simply flicked his hand, bended the light around them, and manipulated it into a weapon.  

No wonder Kevin thought he was the best thing to ever grace this earth.

Sol turned to them with a grin blood trickling steadily from his nose and over his lips. “I hope you have a car.”

Nicky shut his mouth with a click. “We do.”

“Great,” he sighed in relief. “I'm going to pass out now.”

“Uh-” Nicky started but was interrupted by Sol collapsing onto the ground. They stared down at the prone hero shock written over both of their faces. This wasn't going according to plan. Nicky had the sinking suspicion they were going to get arrested today. He glanced over to the security guards, hopefully they hadn't had time to call for backup before Sol took them out. “Well fuck.”

“That's one way to put it,” Erik said crouching down next to the shorter man. “Is this a rescue mission now?”

“...I guess.” Nicky bent down next to his husband and checked to make sure Sol hadn't injured himself more in his fall. “We'll need to be quick.”

Nodding Erik reached over and grabbed Sol. With a huff he pulled the hero over his shoulder in a fireman's carry and stood. Nicky followed him mind miles away trying to come up with reasons they were doing this when the LAPD inevitably arrested and interrogated them. The problem was Nicky didn’t have a good reason for why they were doing this. They should have left the moment they realized Sol was under guard, but there was something about this entire situation that didn’t sit right with him. The registry was keeping one of their top heroes locked up and Nicky wanted to find out why.

++++++

Jeremy woke up to splitting pain in his head, dried blood crusting the top of his lip, and the soft tones of voices drifting through the air. It took a moment before Jeremy remembered what happened, and when he did the situation started to make even less sense. From the rough fabric pressing into his cheek and the bumps that jarred his body every second or so he could tell he was in a car. It shouldn’t have taken him so long to figure that out. He flexed his fingers lightly muscles protesting, and a tremble crawled up his spine. At least he wasn’t tied up, he always hated waking up in some random car tied up and bruised. The voices in front of him grew louder, slightly panicked as the driver took a turn.

Jeremy realized they were speaking in German and frowned. “My kidnappers are German? That's odd.”

His voice must have gotten someone's attention as a moment later the car came screeching to a stop and two sets of eyes turned to stare at him in mild shock. “Did he just speak Spanish at us?” The driver, Jeremy remembered him calling himself Branden, asked the man who had been posing as a doctor.

 The blond man shook his head. “You would know better than I would.”

“We've been over this, just cause I'm half Mexican doesn't mean I know how to speak Spanish.” Branden leaned a little farther into the back-seat eyes roaming over Jeremy’s face. “Hey, you okay?”

Jeremy stared at him a moment before slowly sitting up. They were stopped in the middle of a residential street that was unsurprisingly deserted. It was late everyone was most likely asleep. Jeremy considered his options, it wouldn't take much to get away from these two, but the drugs he had been put on had made him weak, and he wasn't even sure if there was a need to escape his rescuers anyway. He didn’t know what they wanted with him, but they also seemed relatively harmless.

He reached up to rub at his forehead and flinched when his hand connected with a bruise that hadn’t healed yet. “Yeah,” Jeremy shook his head to clear it of the grogginess that was clouding his thoughts. “Where are we?”

The two men shared a glance again before ‘Branden’ spoke, “Well… we’re not actually sure. We weren’t really planning on staying in LA for that long, so we've just been driving around.” He laughed awkwardly.

Jeremy frowned. “You don’t even know what street we’re on?”

“Resdin,” The blonde man -Jeremy remembered after a moment him calling himself Dr. Weber- spoke up, he’d been so quiet Jeremy had forgotten he was there.

“Resdin?” Jeremy’s eyes widened, and he looked out the window examining the buildings that surrounded them. “Oh… Oh! Take the next left.”

‘Branden’ raised an eyebrow and put the car into drive. “Um… okay.”

It was only a few minutes until a familiar house came into view and Jeremy directed his rescuers to park behind the sedan already in the driveway. They exited the car, Jeremy trying not to let his legs give out on him, and came to a stop before the front door, a solid wooden thing that had a little welcome mat at the base of it. All the lights in the house were off and Jeremy doubted anyone was awake, but he raised his fist and gave a few sharp knocks anyway. ‘Branden’ and ‘Dr. Weber’ stood behind him anxiously talking to each other in German. Jeremy had no clue what they were saying, but he could guess.

What they actually wanted from him was another matter entirely and while he was curious he was also tired. It could wait.

Hopefully they weren’t villains, or worse, part of the registry.

The door was pulled open a second after the thought crossed his mind a sleepy Alvarez staring out at him in angry confusion that morphed into a sort of baffled horror as she realized who it was. “What the fuck Jeremy.”

“Hey there.” He grinned. “Mind letting us in?”

She slowly looked over his shoulder dark eyes taking in the two men who stood behind him and stepped aside to let them through. He wasn’t sure exactly what she was thinking but he could tell by the defensive stance she took that she was wary of the situation. He didn’t blame her. Moving through the front door Jeremy made a beeline for the living room couch not having realized how exhausted he was until the prospect of laying down was presented to him. Jeremy dropped onto the couch with a groan body aching and head throbbing painfully under the beat of his pulse.

Looking up found his two rescuers standing awkwardly off to the side of the couch dual frowns on their faces as they eyed Alvarez in confusion. Alvarez on the other hand looked somewhere between worry and exasperation as she looked over Jeremy. “What the hell did you do now?”

“I didn’t do anything, my rescuers here were the ones who got me out.”

Alvarez looked over to the two men. “And who are they?”

Huh, Jeremy frowned, good question. “I’m not really sure.”

Alvarez’s gaze sharpened, and Jeremy could feel the moment she activated her powers, from the change in their facial expressions his rescuers could as well. “Who are you?”

“Uh…” ‘Branden opened his mouth them closed it. Looking uncertainly to his partner. “We’re-“

“What’s going on?”

Jeremy looked over to find Laila rubbing sleep from her eyes as she emerged from the hallway. He felt a smile slip onto his face at the sight of her. “Hey there Jackal.”

 Alvarez sucked in a breath. “Jeremy.

“Jackal?” Dr. Weber asked. “That’s an odd name.”

Branden looked pale as he spoke, “Please tell me we’re not in a room surrounded by superheroes.”

“That’s exactly where you are,” Alvarez said, folding her arms over her chest. “Now tell us who you are, and what you want with Jeremy.”

“Fuck.” Branden ran a hand through his hair.

“Well this is awkward,” Dr. Weber agreed.

Laila looked between the four of them. “Do I want to know what’s going on?”

“Probably not.” Jeremy shrugged.

“Great,” Laila said shrugging and walking past them to the kitchen.

There was a moment of silence between them the only sound in the house Laila clattering around in the kitchen. Alvarez let out an inpatient breath, “Well?”

Branden sighed, “I’m Nicky… Hemmick.”

Dr. Weber gave her a little wave. “Erik Klose.”

“Wait.” Laila popped her head out of the door way to the kitchen. “Nicky Hemmick? As in detective Nickolas Hemmick?”

“Uh…,” Nicky shrugged. “Yeah.”

“You know him?” Alvarez asked sounding a bit betrayed, Jeremy snickered at the thought.

Laila shot her a disbelieving look. “Of course I know him, he’s the head detective for the Monster case.”

Alvarez and Jeremy’s heads swiveled simultaneously to stare at the two men. Now that was unexpected. It did explain why they were here, but not really why they were here. Alvarez looked uncertainly to Jeremy. “So, they didn’t kidnap you and take you as a hostage?”

“No!” Nicky exclaimed looking a little stricken. “We just… uh…”

“Rescued him?” Erik offered repeating what Jeremy had said earlier, Nicky looked like he wanted to disagree.

“If it makes you feel any better I was the one who took them hostage,” Jeremy offered as way of explanation. Then continued before Alvarez had time to question him. “So, you came all the way from San Diego just to see me? Because of what happened with the Monster?”

Nicky nodded. “I need to know what happened that night. Did the Monster really attack you and kill Dr. Sheilds?”

“My mission is confidential,” Jeremy replied automatically, the answer ingrained in his head after the hours and hours of mission prep the registry had him undergo. “But…”

The two men perked up. “But?"

Jeremy bit his lip then continued. “But I don’t like how the registry is going about this, they don’t want me telling the police what happened because they have their own agenda and it doesn’t sit right with me.”

“So…” Nicky prompted shifting his weight, Jeremy could tell he was impatient and he didn’t blame the man. Jeremy would also be pissed if some outside agency was trying to hinder his case.

“I’ll try to help you as best I can.” Jeremy lowered his gaze to the floor and took a moment to go over what he could and could not tell them in his head. “To answer your question, no he wasn’t. There was a fourth person at the house that night, my actual target.”

At Nicky’s intense stare Jeremy continued describing in as much detail as he could what had happened without giving him names, or disclosing the fact that he’d seen the Monster’s face. He doubted the detective wanted to get involved with the Lola mess after all, and while he was a villain Jeremy owed the Monster for saving his life. There was silence when he finished, the kind that was all encompassing. Nicky was frowning down at the floor obviously deep in thought. Jeremy didn’t want to interrupt him but saw no way around it. “The registry thinks he could be an asset.”

Nicky looked up at that. “What do you mean?”

It was Laila who answered that question. “In some cases the registry finds it more beneficial not to dispose of highly powered individuals.”

Nicky and Erik look to each other eye brows raised. There was a beat of silence then Nicky burst out laughing. “They want to recruit him?” The man asked between gasps.

“That’s not going to go well.” Erik muttered running a hand through his hair.

Laila nodded in agreement. “It usually doesn’t.”

Jeremy looked between the two men their reactions were a bit odd all things considered, there was a sort of familiarity in how they spoke of the Monster. It was not the sort detectives usually held for their suspects. A thought occurred to him, and before Jeremy could stop himself he voiced it. “You two know who he is.”

The laughter died off immediately and Nicky looked up at him eyes wide and face pale.

Jeremy nodded to himself, ignoring the looks Laila and Alvarez were shooting him. “Huh, no wonder he hasn’t been caught yet.”

Nicky took a sharp breath. “I don’t know what you mean.”

“Right…”

“Maybe we should continue this discussion in the morning, it’s late,” Laila said. “Do you two have a place to stay.”

Erik shook his head a comforting hand descending on Nicky’s shoulder who for his part looked like he was on the verge of a panic attack. Guilt bubbled up in Jeremy’s throat, he hadn’t meant for what he said to come off as such a threat.  

“Great.” Laila clapped her hands together like that settled everything. “Jeremy’s taken the couch so you two can have the guest bedroom.”

++++++

Renee landed hard on her back sharp pain shooting up her spine, which she ignored in favor of dodging Andrew’s next blow. Repositioning her weight, she quickly kicked out her foot, not withholding any of the strength she’d put behind it if this were a real fight. She hit Andrew in the stomach, hard, and he doubled over with a grunt at the impact. Renee frowned, he should have been able to block against that. Seeing an opening she rolled onto her side foot shooting out towards Andrew’s temple. This time he did manage to block her attack. Hand grabbing her ankle in mid air before her heel could connect with his head.

For a second their eyes met. Renee grinned something fierce before she shifted her weight onto her shoulders and used her other foot to kick out at Andrew connecting squarely with his chin. He stumbled back losing his footing for a moment, letting go of Renee’s leg in the process. She shot up from the floor the moment her foot was free, grabbed Andrew by the collar of his shirt, and threw him over her shoulder in on swift movement. He landed behind her on the mat with a thud, breathing heavily.  

Taking a deep breath herself, Renee relaxed her stance and turned around a soft smile gracing her face as she took in the prone form of Andrew lying on the ground. He stared up at the ceiling barely concealed frustration present in his usually blank expression, a streak of morning sunlight highlighted his face turning his eyes a bright golden brown.

“I think we should stop for today,” she stated grabbing their water bottles then walking over to were Andrew had landed.  

He glanced up at her eyes distant but took the bottle from her when she offered it to him. Smiling she sat down beside his head and attempted to catch her breath. The silence between them was comfortable, and Renee found herself wondering not for the first time what exactly was going through Andrew’s head as they sat there.

“You’re getting better,” she offered softly, not wanting to disturb their quiet but wanting to voice her thoughts.

Andrew exhaled. “You kicked me in the chin.”

She shrugged. “Don’t leave your chin unguarded next time.” Andrew’s silences were not uncommon, and not unwanted on Renee’s part, but usually they were not so heavy. Loaded with thoughts Andrew wouldn’t voice. But she could tell when there was something on his mind. “Has your case progressed any?”

Andrew turned his head to her, indifferent stare landing somewhere over her left shoulder. “Are you asking as Renee or as Valkyrie?”

Renee felt the smile slip from her face, a small frown replacing it at the accusation behind that question. “I’ve not always been Valkyrie.”

Andrew’s lips curved up into something that was the sharp approximation of a smile. It reminded Renee of how he’d be when they’d first met. “Right, who can forget you used to be just like me.”

Her frown deepened, and she shook her head. “You’re not a villain Andrew.”

“Yes I am.”

“Not like I was,” Renee insisted. She might not have liked how Andrew was going about his case, but what he did was not comparable to even half the things Renee had done in her past life.

A bland laugh slipped from Andrew’s mouth. “The mighty Hero Killer, what would she think if she could see you now?”

“Don’t be cruel Andrew,” Renee reprimanded, Andrew rolled his eyes at her words. “What brought this on?”

He shrugged, then seemed to think about it for a second. “Kevin said something stupid.”

“Hmm…” Renee settled back on her hands. “So, this isn’t a distraction from talking about your case?”

Andrew sighed. “What do you want to know about my case.”

“I’ve just been wondering if you’ve heard anything more form Lily or Navid.”

“No,” Andrew answered immediately, then paused. “Who’s Navid?”

Renee froze her hand stilling where it had been fidgeting with the cross around her neck. Slowly she turned her head to look at Andrew. He stared back at her eyes intense. “Nicky didn’t tell you."

It wasn’t a question.

Andrew’s brow twitched. “Nicky didn’t tell me what?”

“Fuck.” Renee stood running a hand over her face. She had thought Andrew knew, that Nicky had told him about their run in with the smuggling ring all those weeks ago. There was no reason she could think of why Nicky had kept this from Andrew, especially when something like this could have given him leads in his investigation.

Andrew followed her up, face once again blank and stance loose. Renee knew better to assume he was anything near calm though. “Renee, what didn’t Nicky tell me?”

Renee took a deep breath then steeled herself. Andrew wasn’t going to react well, but there was no way Renee could keep this from him. “Heiress and I were investigating a smuggling ring, and we found a child who had been taken by the organization you’re looking for.” Andrew tensed at her words. “His name is Navid and he had been with them for years. The people behind the smuggling ring were taken into custody and are currently being interrogated. Nicky is involved with the case along with Heiress and I.” 

The air around them started to feel heavier the atmosphere of the room growing dense. Behind her there was a crunching noise, and Renee looked over her shoulder to find the bench their bags were on crumbling in on itself. Andrew stared ahead blankly at the wall eyes miles away.

“Andrew,” Renee said watching as the bench shuttered, its legs giving out under the increased weight of gravity. Her own joints began to ache in protest of the weight that seemed to be settling around her on all sides.

“I’ll kill him,” Andrew’s voice was a monotone when he spoke, dead in a way Renee had never heard before.

“Andrew.”

“I’m going to fucking kill Nicky.”  

Chapter Text

The front door of the house slammed open, and Aaron startled, dropping the piece of bread he had been about to slip into the toaster. Heavy footsteps sounded down the hallway, accompanied by the clattering noise of someone throwing what seemed to be a bag against the wall. Aaron poked his head out of the kitchen doorway to find Andrew looking indifferently around the living room, a knife flying between the fingers of his left hand. After a moment, Andrew’s eyes found Aaron’s, and while he tried to discern the look on his brother’s face, Aaron had no idea what was going through his head.

“Do you know where Nicky is?” Andrew asked, voice level. Aaron glanced down at the knife in Andrew’s hand, not sure if he wanted to answer that. Before he was forced to, the door opened again, and Renee Walker entered their living room, her usual pleasant smile plastered on her face.

Confusion and mild concern over what Andrew was up to turned into a glare at the sight of her. “What is she doing here?” Aaron sneered.

“Hello Aaron,” Renee said, quietly worried eyes trained on Andrew and his knife.

Andrew, on the other hand, was still staring at Aaron, obviously waiting for his answer. Looking between the two of them, Aaron frowned. “Why the fuck would I know where Nicky is? Can’t you just call him and ask him yourself?”

Andrew’s face somehow shuttered even more. “Where’s Kevin?”

“Probably still passed out.” Aaron shrugged. “Andrew, what the fuck is going on?”

His brother didn’t answer, instead sheathing his knife and heading upstairs without a word. There was a bang that sounded like the sound of a door slamming into a wall, then a thud and a startled yelp.

Aaron looked over to Renee. “What the fuck happened?”

She shifted her weight uneasily, hand going to her cross. “Andrew will explain.”

He didn’t believe her; Andrew never explained.  

There was another thud, and a moment later Andrew emerged from the stairwell dragging a sleep rumpled Kevin behind him by the front of his shirt. Kevin was sputtering indignantly in French, voice slurred by sleep as he tried weakly to pull away from Andrew’s hold on him. Aaron raised an eyebrow, wondering why his brother always had to be so fucking dramatic. Letting go of Kevin, Andrew turned his back on the man to face Aaron again. A sort of anger had settled behind his eyes, the type that seemed to consume without thought. Aaron had never feared his brother, not really, but sometimes he felt like he should.

“We need to find Nicky,” Andrew all but growled.      

Kevin leveled a groggy stare at him. “Why?”

That was what Aaron was wondering.

“Because I need to kill him.”

There was a beat of silence then Renee sighed. “Andrew, we talked about this.”

“He lied to me.” Andrew turned to her, eyes intent. “You lied to me.”

Renee lowered her gaze. “I thought you knew.”

“Knew what?” Aaron butted in. Andrew threatening to kill Nicky wasn’t uncommon, so he decided to ignore that in favor of the lying part.

Andrew’s eyes were dark when he looked to him. “They found another child.”

“The Police Department?” Aaron asked, doubtful. He’d never thought they were competent enough to actually find any of the missing kids. They weren’t even competent enough to start looking.

“Along with the Hero Registry.” Andrew drawled, eyes skimming over the room to Renee, then Kevin. “They apparently also arrested the people who were transporting him.”

“They caught some of the fucks who are involved with the organization?” Eyes widening, Aaron stared at his brother. “And Nicky didn’t tell you?”

Andrew inclined his head.

No wonder he wanted him dead.

What had Nicky been thinking?

“He’s not answering his phone,” Andrew said, folding his arms over his chest, and looking off to the side. Aaron followed his gaze to where it landed on the whiteboard that took up a majority of their living room wall. It was covered in notes as always, and he had to wonder how much farther Andrew would have gotten if Nicky had told him.

“Did you try reaching Erik?” Kevin asked through a yawn.

“Yes, he’s not answering either.” Andrew cocked his head to the side, gaze distant as it skimmed over the notes on his whiteboard. “And his shop is closed.”

“They’re both just missing?” Aaron frowned. Neither of them would just leave without someone being told where, it wasn’t like them.

…Unless Nicky was up to something.

“It seems we’ll have to wait until they get back before we can find out more about the interrogations,” Renee said, taking a step forward.

Kevin shot her a questioning look. “You don’t know if they’ve found anything?”

“I…” She trailed off, sharp eyes locked with Andrew’s blank ones. “I’ll tell you as much as I can, but Nicky definitely knows more.”

“Start talking,” Andrew said after a beat of silence.

And so she did.

Aaron tried to keep his face as blank as Andrew’s as Renee relayed the torrent of information the police department had found, but it was hard. He couldn’t believe they had opened an investigation into the organization Andrew was looking for, and the fact that Nicky hadn’t told them any of this….

“This Navid,” Kevin started. “He was found at the scene, and you believe he’s the link between the smuggling ring and the organization?”

Renee nodded. “Nicky actually interviewed him recently, though I haven’t been informed of what he found yet-- but there’s more.” She took a breath, then looked back to Andrew, eyes hard. “The reason I was there in the first place was because you asked me to find Shelby Gross.”

“She was there?” Andrew asked without elaborating. Aaron frowned, recognizing the name from somewhere. After a second, he remembered; she had been the last on Andrew’s list of people to track down in San Diego. The only one still alive.

“No.” Renee shook her head. “But the smuggling ring was hers, so I thought she might be there. It was only coincidence that Heiress was assigned to dismantle it the same day I finally found where it was.”

“Was it really?” Andrew hummed, turning his back to them and heading into the kitchen. The three of them stared in silence at his retreating form until Kevin broke it with a frustrated groan, following Andrew a moment later. Aaron rolled his eyes and joined them in the kitchen, Andrew in front of the coffee maker face blank and thoughts miles away. Kevin was leaning against the counter, staring at the top of his head, a small frown twisting his lips.

“What will you do, Andrew?” Renee asked from behind them, voicing what Aaron himself was wondering.

He was silent for a second, then he shrugged. “Get what information the police have gathered.”

“How?” Kevin spoke up.

Andrew’s eyes flitted to him for the briefest of moments before landing on Aaron. He tried to study his brother’s expression. Andrew was definitely not happy—Aaron had never seen his brother happy--, but he was calmer than he had been a few minutes ago, which was something. The calculating expression he now wore was something else. Aaron had a feeling he wouldn’t like what was coming next.

“I have a plan,” Andrew said, still staring at Aaron. The fact that he was apparently part of it did not escape him, though it did irritate him.

Aaron took a deep breath that he released in a sigh. “Well, what the fuck is it then?”

+++++++

Nicky fidgeted as he paced the small perimeter of the guest bedroom, the golden light of morning leaking through the blinds, and his thoughts running off in seemingly completely separate directions. Erik sat quietly on top of the bed, watching his husband with a thinly veiled look of concern that was interrupted by the occasional glance to the door that would lead them to the rest of the house and the superheroes beyond. Nicky knew they’d have to leave the room and face their hosts sometime soon, but he really didn’t want to. Especially after what Sol had said to him last night.  

“Nicky…” Erik started,not for the first time. “We need to get going soon.”

“I know, just-“ Nicky ran a hand through the tangles of his hair in frustration. “What do we do?”

“Get what information you need out of Sol and give as little as possible in return.” Erik shrugged. “I don’t know, but we need to get back home.”

Sighing, Nicky turned to face the door, trepidation seeping from his slim frame. He didn’t like this. Last night was a disaster and now LA’s top hero had somehow guessed that he knew the Monster more than he let on. Sometimes, Nicky forgot that heroes weren’t just kept around to look pretty; in a way, they often acted as detectives themselves. He’d been careless, but at what cost?

He didn’t know yet.

Opening the door Nicky popped his head out, taking in the deserted hallway in front of him with a little frown. There were quiet voices coming from the direction of the living room, and it was with no small amount of hesitation that Nicky exited the bedroom, Erik following close behind. There was no way for them to avoid this confrontation-- Nicky doubted they could walk out the front door unnoticed.  

Entering the living room found Alvarez lounging on the couch with Jeremy at her feet, sprawled out in a patch of sunlight. Their conversation abruptly stopped as they spotted Nicky, Alvarez’s expresion morphing into a disgruntled glare as Jeremy’s signature smile slipped on to his face.

“We were wondering when you two would wake up,” Jeremy said lightly, sounding significantly better than he did the last time they’d seen him. His bruises contrasted less with the rest of his skin, and he looked more relaxed, like the aches of his wounds had faded if only slightly.  

“Well…” Nicky faltered, wondering why the hero was acting so lax. “We uh… we’ll just be leaving now.”

He shoved Erik towards the door. They’d most likely be in trouble no matter what, and Nicky really didn’t want to speak to Sol at the moment.

“Wait!” Jeremy shot up into a sitting position, then seemed to regret it a moment later as he gasped in pain and grabbed at his ribs. Nicky stopped short, shooting Erik an uncertain glance. His husband seemed to be just as wary as Nicky was himself, but slowly they both turned around to face Sol again. “I-I didn’t mean to threaten you last night with what I said. I don’t care if you know the Monster or if you’re hindering your own case to make sure he doesn’t get caught.”

Nicky flinched at those words, Sol was much too close to the truth for comfort.

Alvarez huffed, not looking up from the magazine she was flipping through. “You should, though.”

Jeremy ignored the comment in favor of continuing. “I understand, I’ve been there. It’s complicated, I know, you don’t have to worry about me telling anyone.”

“I’m not making that promise,” Alvarez muttered to herself.

“Uh…” Nicky stared at Jeremy in mild disbelief.

“But I might just be a bit curious, why try and protect him at all?” Jeremy asked, gaze a bit distant. “Do you owe him? Or maybe you’re related? But… No, you don’t look anything alike.”

Nicky registered what he’d said after an awkward moment of silence. “Look like… Wait, you’ve seen his face?”

Jeremy’s contemplative expression fell. “Oh shit, I wasn’t supposed to mention that.”

Nicky could feel a headache coming on. “Who else knows?”

“What he looks like? Just me.” Jeremy tilted his head. “And you apparently.”

This was not good.

“But don’t worry!” Jeremy assured again at the sight of Nicky starting to have a panic attack. “I won’t tell anyone!”

Nicky didn’t know what to say to that. Words were failing him, and so were his lungs if his sudden inability to breath was anything to go by. LA’s top hero had seen Andrew’s face. Did Andrew even realize he’d let his mask slip? Who else had seen it? Jeremy had said another person had been there, and if that was the case, it was likely Andrew had made an enemy that knew what he looked like.

Alvarez closed the magazine with a snap. “Jeremy, you can’t do this again.”

Nicky might have found interest in that statement, but at the moment all he could concentrate on was how utterly fucked they were.

At Jeremy’s frown, Alvarez continued. “After what happened last time, you can’t go sticking your head into this.”

“This isn’t like what happened with Zero,” Jeremy replied a bit sheepishly.

“Yeah, but the registry still doesn’t trust you completely after that shit storm.” Alvarez stated.

“She’s right, you know,” Laila said, popping her head out of the kitchen doorway. A second later, she looked to Nicky. “Do you two want breakfast? We have cereal and… More cereal.”

Blinking, Nicky was startled back to reality. “Um… No, thanks.”

“You might be right,” Jeremy continued, frowning at Alvarez. “But what else am I supposed to do?”

“I don’t know, your job as a hero? Why do you always put yourself at risk like this?” Alvarez stood, frustration clear on her face.

“So what, I should just turn in Detective Hemmick here and get the Monster arrested?” Jeremy asked throwing his hands in the air.

“You could just pretend this never happened,” Nicky suggested, but was ignored as Jeremy and Alvarez continued arguing.

Laila gave him a sympathetic look. “If it makes you feel better, I erased all the video evidence from last night, so you probably won’t be arrested for rescuing Jeremy.”

Nicky gave her an unsure look. “Thanks?”

“Maybe we should just leave, then,” Erik suggested, and Nicky agreed wholeheartedly.

“Yeah,” Laila looked over to her arguing friends. “They’ll be at this for a while, I doubt they’ll even notice.”

Nicky nodded, not taking his eyes off her as he began backing up towards the door.

“Oh and don’t worry, the registry wont find out what we learned while you were here.” Laila gave him a wink, which Nicky returned with an uneasy smile. He didn’t believe that for a second.

The front door closed heavily behind them, leaving Nicky to stare blankly out into the daylight. “We never found out why he was on Iniustifen.”

“Maybe that’s for the best,” Erik said, looking over his shoulder at the door behind them. “It doesn’t seem like something we need to get involved in.”

“God, this is such a mess.” Nicky covered his face with his hands for just a moment.

Erik gently placed a hand on Nicky’s shoulder. “We should get going.”

After a moment, Nicky nodded and headed for the car.

+++++++

Neil scratched under Sir’s chin gently as he sat back on his bed, one foot hanging over the edge while the other was curled up to his chest. Usually, he would have been training by now, but he had heard no word from Kevin, and as the sun slowly made its way across the sky into the evening, he gave up on the prospect of it happening at all. There was plenty he could have been doing instead, but Neil felt the urge to do none of it. Sir bit at his thumb, sharp teeth poking through the skin. Neil flicked her gently on the nose until she let go. A drop of blood seeped out where her tooth dug in and Neil watched in boredom as it began to be slide down towards his palm.

Maybe I should go for a run, Neil thought.

The thought didn’t get very far, as in the next moment a tapping noise sounded from somewhere in the vicinity of his window. For a second he thought he had imagined it, until once again an impatient tapping sounded from the other side of his windowpane. Neil stared at the curtain covering the glass, mild trepidation settling in his mind. Slowly, he sat Sir on his bed and got up, grabbing the knife he kept on his bedside table, and made his way to the window. Carefully, he drew back the curtain, mind running through all the possibilities of who could be on his fire escape, but paused when he finally saw Andrew staring blankly at him through the glass.

Neil frowned and opened the window, taking a step back as Andrew made his way into the room. “What are you doing here?”

Andrew didn’t say anything, eyes roaming over the bare bones of Neil’s room until they landed on Sir. He made a beeline for the kitten, dropping the bag he’d been holding ungracefully onto the floor, then scooping her up in the next motion. Sir made a startled noise, but after a moment settled into the crook of Andrew’s arm and began purring.

Neil took a few steps forward, then reached for the bag Andrew dropped, opening it to find an assortment of clothes that resembled the ones Andrew currently wore. “Clothes?”

“We’re going out tonight,” Andrew finally said, turning to face Neil.

“To do what?”

Andrew paused a moment. “Create a distraction.”

Neil raised his eyebrows in barely concealed bewilderment. “Um…”

Andrew set Sir down and turned bat to the window. “Come with me or don’t, it’s your choice.”

He stepped through the window without another word, descending the stairs to the back alley until he was out of sight. For a moment, Neil stood there unmoving, eyes trained on the window, and thoughts trying to figure out what the fuck Andrew was up to. Looking back to the bag, he made a decision, quickly got dressed, and grabbed his own duffel bag.

Neil knew Andrew would do whatever he had planned with or without him, and Neil didn’t actually want to see him get arrested.

Andrew’s car was parked in the narrow alleyway behind Matt’s shop. Its headlights were off, making it almost indiscernible from the shadows it lurked in. Neil might have ran into it if Andrew hadn’t been waiting for him, leaning against the hood while he smoked a cigarette. At his arrival, Andrew gave him a once over, then popped open the passenger door before he walked around the hood and got in on the driver’s side.

Neil slid into the seat a moment later, looking around the car with a frown. “Where’s Kevin?”

Andrew tapped a rhythm on the steering wheel, then put his car in drive, leaving the alley at an unnecessary speed. “He’s with Aaron.”

“Your brother? I thought he hated Kevin.”

“Everyone hates Kevin.”

Neil thought about disagreeing, then decided not to. He shrugged. “So what’s this distraction we’re causing?”

Glancing to him, Andrew frowned minutely. “We need to keep the police occupied for at least an hour.”

“And how are we going to do that?” Neil asked skeptically, wondering why he’d decided to come with Andrew in the first place. He had a feeling he’d regret this.

Andrew’s answering grimace didn’t convince him otherwise.

+++++++

Renee knocked quietly on the door to Allison's apartment, listening intently as the soft murmur of voices stopped abruptly at the sound. A moment later, the door opened and Alison blinked at her in mild surprise before smiling happily and stepping out of the doorway to let Renee in.

“What are you doing here?” she asked. Renee took a quick look around the apartment, finding the other voice she had heard through the door in the form of Seth spread out on the couch, fiddling with a tennis ball. Boredly, he threw the ball at the ceiling. Instead of rebounding back at him, the ball phased through it, dropping back a few seconds later and landing in Seth’s outstretched hand. It was a good thing Allison’s apartment was on the top floor, Renee supposed.

She probably should have been surprised Seth had broken out of jail again, but at this point it was expected.

“We hadn’t seen each other in a while, I thought we could hang out,” Renee lied easily; it would have been harder if it hadn’t contained the truth. Renee missed seeing her friend outside of work. Andrew’s warning to keep Heiress occupied for the night just served to give Renee a reason to see her sooner.

That, and she didn’t want to find out what Andrew would do if Allison tried to stop him tonight.

Allison closed the door behind her. “Well, I’m down. It wasn’t like we were doing much anyway.”

Seth looked over at them and finally seemed to register that there was a third person there. “Oh, hey Renee.”

Renee resisted the frown that tried to worm its way across her face. Something in his voice seemed off, more distant than normal, like part of him was missing. Allison caught her eye,  concern barely hidden in her brow. Renee thought she understood. Something had happened, but Seth wasn’t talking about it.

Allison made her way back to the couch and Renee followed her, sitting down at the far end as Allison pushed his legs off and sat beside Seth.

He huffed, and a moment later placed his legs over both of their laps, his feet landing on the arm of the couch. “Don’t even try to tickle me, Renee, I’ll end you.”

Renee smiled sweetly as the threat fell flat, placing her hands over Seth’s ankles. “I guess I won’t, then.”

Allison sighed tiredly, her head landing against Renee’s shoulder. “What is it you wanted to do?”

Renee thought for a moment. “Well, we could go out to eat.”

Allison and Seth looked at her in dual expressions of disenchantment.

“Or we can order pizza and marathon movies?” Renee corrected herself.

Seth sighed, hunching lower into the couch. “Fine.”

Allison nodded, mouthing ‘thank you’ as she moved Seth’s legs to go place their order. Renee watched silently as Seth glared up at the ceiling. She knew asking the man what was wrong wouldn’t do any good. “If it’s something major, I’ll take care of it,” she offered instead.

Seth’s gaze slid to hers, and for a moment he seemed to be lost in thought before he shook his head. “There’s nothing to be taken care of.”

“Seth-“

“No.” Seth sat up a bit straighter, turning his head away from her. “Just go pick out a fucking movie, Renee.”

She gave him one last look, then stood, heading towards the TV. She’d talk to Allison later to figure out what was up with him.

++++++

“Andrew,” Neil said, staring up at the bank in front of them. “You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.”

Andrew said nothing as he handed Neil a mask as black as his own and started for the alleyway flanking the building. Andrew was, unfortunately, completely serious. It wasn’t the best plan, he could admit, but it would serve as the distraction Aaron and Kevin needed to break into the police station without any trouble. He just needed to cause a scene big enough to warrant multiple officers showing up. Thus, the bank.

“At least we’re not just walking through the front door,” Neil muttered to himself quietly. Andrew looked back at the man as he pulled the mask over his head, a black fox-like thing that covered the top half of his face, leaving the bottom half uncovered. Andrew pulled on his own, covering the bottom half of his face with his usual black bandanna and the top half with a pair of black sunglasses he’d found in the dash of his car. They might have been Kevin’s. Neil gave him a questioning look through the slits of his eyes. Andrew couldn’t give him an answer-- he wasn’t sure why he’d decided to bring Neil either. He hadn’t expected for Neil to actually come with him, and he wasn’t sure why he asked in the first place.

He stopped once he reached the back corner of the bank. Gauging the distance to the roof, he supposed it was doable with two people.

“Do you actually have a plan?” Neil asked. Maybe the man had been spending too much time with Kevin; all this nagging was getting on Andrew’s nerves.

“No,” Andrew answered, then held out his hand for Neil to take. Neil gave it an uncertain look before meeting Andrew’s eyes and settling his warm palm against Andrew’s colder one. Something electric shot up his arm that Andrew ignored vehemently.

“Your hands are freezing,” Neil commented.

“Shut up and hold on,” Andrew said, before lifting them both off the ground. Neil made a strangled gasp, surprise gracing his face as he clung tighter to Andrew’s arm, warm body plastered to his side. Andrew suppressed a flinch.

They landed on the roof with a soft thud, Andrew shoving Neil away the moment their feet hit something solid. Andrew looked around the roof, quickly spotting the access door and heading for it without another word.

“There are cameras,” Neil hissed, and Andrew followed his line of sight to find a camera pointing directly at them.

He shrugged. “We have masks.”

Neil looked at him in disbelief as Andrew tried for the door knob, finding it unsurprisingly locked. A second later, Neil’s eyes flickered to blue and for a moment something shimmered in the air, only barely noticeable in Andrew’s peripheral vision.

Andrew raised an eyebrow in question.

“I’m not letting us get caught.”

“We need to cause a distraction.” Andrew pulled out a set of lock picks, then set to work on the door.

“Fine.” Neil folded his arms over his chest. “But we’re not getting caught.”

Silence fell between them as Andrew attempted to unlock the door.

“You’re really bad at this, you know,” Neil commented.

Andrew shot him a look over his shoulder and stood. “You do it, then.”

Neil shrugged, then settled down in front of the lock. A few seconds later there was a click and Neil stood, opening the door wide. “After you.”

Andrew gave him a blank stare and walked into the building.

Almost immediately an alarm went off, loud sirens filling the air.

“Great,” Neil sighed, but followed when Andrew began running down the stairs to the lower levels where the safe was located.

The hallways were brightly lit with fluorescent lights that offset the yellow of the walls. There were no good hiding spots, really. They’d have to make it to the safe before security found them. There was a commotion up ahead, raised voices echoing down the hallway, and Andrew took the next left, not really caring were it led them.

Neil kept up the pace easily beside him, the hood and mask obscuring his face almost completely. “What’s the plan, Andrew?”

“Play cat and mouse until the police arrive,” he answered in a huff of breath.

“And then?”

Andrew stayed silent as they rounded another corner, the sounds of boots some ways behind them. He didn’t have much of a plan after that.

“We rob the bank, I guess.”

++++++

Kevin taped his foot impatiently, not liking the continued silence of the night. “What’s taking him so long?”

Aaron turned to glare at him. “How the fuck should I know?”

“Well, you’re the one he explained the plan to,” Kevin tried not to sound as irritated as he felt and failed miserably. He didn’t like how Andrew had decided to explain nothing to him.

“I wouldn’t call pretending to rob a bank a ‘plan’,” Aaron said, tapping something out on his phone, then peeking out from the shadows of the alley they were hiding in and looking towards the police station.

Kevin stiffened. “He’s doing what?”

Aaron shot him an apathetic look. “Robbing a bank.”  

“He was only supposed to create a distraction,” Kevin said, torn between panic and anger. Andrew was an idiot.

Aaron shrugged. “It is a distraction.”

Kevin cursed Andrew’s very existence. The man was too reckless for his own good, not to mention everyone else’s. The fact that he hadn’t told Kevin anything pissed him off, but at the same time he was worried. What would they do if Andrew got caught?

“He’s going to get himself killed one of these days,” Kevin muttered quietly to himself, troubled at the thought.

“Probably,” Aaron agreed.

Somehow that pissed Kevin off even more.

Silence fell between them, and Kevin didn’t feel like breaking it. In most ways, Aaron was harder to deal with than his twin. Andrew was at least straightforward in a way Kevin found easy to understand. He was an incredibly complex person, Kevin had no doubt, and each day it felt like Kevin learned something new about him, but even in the beginning Andrew had never been as prone to bullshit as Aaron seemed to be.

Aaron had never really liked Kevin in the first place, and when Andrew had started… whatever it was between them, Aaron had grown outright cold. Kevin couldn’t tell if Aaron disliked him because of the promise Andrew had made him or if it was because he was jealous Kevin could actually hold a conversation with his brother that didn’t turn into an argument.

Why Andrew had told Kevin to help Aaron retrieve the files, he hadn’t understood at first, but now Kevin had the sinking suspicion Andrew hadn’t wanted him to find out about the stupid distraction he had planned.

Police sirens interrupted that thought, and a moment later at least eight police cars tore down the road in the direction of downtown. Kevin supposed Andrew had started. He shook his head minutely, still not wanting to believe Andrew had decided to rob a bank of all things. Was it because of what Kevin had said the night before? Most likely not, but then again, Andrew loved proving him wrong.

“That can’t be all of them.” Aaron frowned.

“There are more that are likely out on patrol, the rest will have stayed in the building. We need to move quickly.” Kevin said, not wanting to take his eyes off the building in front of him. They needed to find a way around the officers who remained within it.

Aaron sighed and, after a moment of contemplation, held out his hand. “Let’s get this over with.”

Getting this over with was probably their best option, Kevin thought. Yet he felt himself hesitating. This was the first real mission he'd been on since leaving Riko, and for a moment he felt uncertain in his ability to help Andrew get what he needed. They didn't even have real masks, just hoods to pull over their faces.

Reluctantly, Kevin grabbed his hand, and suddenly they weren’t standing in an alleyway; instead, they found themselves crammed into what seemed to be a broom closet. He flinched back at the suddenness of the change, dizzy with nausea, and slammed his head into a shelf.

“Shh.” Aaron glared.

Kevin glared back, the sound of feet shuffling down the hallway the only thing keeping him from telling Aaron off.

They waited a few moments until the footsteps faded. Slowly, Aaron peeked his head out the door and whispered, “Holding is to the right, Nicky’s desk is in the bullpen to the left and records should be just past it.”

Kevin nodded, coming up behind him. “We need to know how many people are still here.”

“I’ll find out, then,” Aaron said before vanishing. At least Aaron knew the layout of this building well enough that he wouldn’t end up appearing on top of someone’s desk, Kevin reasoned. Though, that didn’t mean he wouldn’t get caught. Hopefully the man was decent at lying.

Aaron reappeared a few seconds later, slightly frazzled and with what looked to be part of a fern stuck in his hair.  

Kevin raised an eyebrow in question.

“Shut up,” Aaron growled. “There are eight officers still here. Most are cooped up in the break room, but three are on standby in the garage, and one is going over evidence, so we’ll have to be careful.”

Kevin thought a moment. It was most likely the case files would be at Nicky’s desk, but the records room could also have something. “You search your cousin’s desk. if someone comes in, just tell them you’re grabbing something Nicky left there on accident. I’ll look in through the records.”

Aaron nodded, then grabbed him by the arm. A moment later they appeared in a room full of filing cabinets and bookcases. Aaron shoved him away just as quickly.

“Good luck finding shit,” he said, and disappeared in a blink.

Kevin shook his head in exasperation and began shuffling through files.

+++++++

Dan sat at her desk, typing out the itinerary for the next day’s broadcast, when the images began. At first it wasn’t anything unusual, just flashes of police lights and the vague echo of sirens that passed through her mind. Dan ignored them easily and continued typing. Then they became more specific, and Dan’s hand stilled in its movement. She saw Neil, crouching beside a door as he said something to a person who looked suspiciously like Andrew Minyard. The image shifted to that of a safe, door forced open and black duffel bag just barely visible through the crack. Then the image became that of her boss bursting through the door to her office.

The slide show of premonitions her mind was giving her was interrupted by her boss bursting through her office door.

She tried not to startle as hard as she wanted to. There was a moment when the image in her mind and the one before her eyes overlapped dizzyingly. The transition was that smooth.

“Sir, what’s wrong?” She asked, quickly getting her bearings back in the present.

“I need you to run camera for me. Josten’s not responding and there’s been an incident,” He explained hastily, going for the keys to the news station’s van.

Dan stood slowly, an uneasy feeling spreading in her chest. “What type of incident?”

“Someone’s robbing the First National Bank downtown.”

Dan stilled, thought back on the premonition she’d had, and prayed Neil hadn’t gotten involved in something stupid.

++++++

Allison watched the movie on her television with bored interest, a warm feeling settling in her chest that she couldn’t place. Maybe it was due to the pile of blankets she was currently under, or maybe it had to do with being in the company of her two closest friends, a more sentimental part of her thought. Seth would give her crap for saying that out loud even though he felt the same, but it might be worth it to make Renee smile.

She slumped lower on the couch and shoved her feet further under Seth’s leg, eliciting an irritated huff. At least he seemed to be in a better mood than before Renee showed up. Allison didn’t know what happened, but she hadn’t liked how quiet he had been, how distant. It was like he’d retreated into himself, which wasn’t normal for the man. Seth didn’t often talk personal matters, but he always voiced when something was bothering him.

Renee had shown up just in time, as usual.

Renee, unlike Allison, knew how to actively be the sort of presence that made people forget their troubles.

Allison’s phone buzzed, catching her off guard.

Trying not to elbow Renee in the side, she reached into her pocket for it, read over the message she received, then sat up straight, distracting the others with her movement.

“What is it?” Renee asked from where she was curled up against the arm of the couch.

“Change the channel to one of the news stations,” Allison didn’t answer her, instead trying to make sense of the emergency message she’d received from the registry.

Seth sighed, as if he’d actually been enjoying the romcom they’d been watching, and begrudgingly switched the channel to cable to find news ten. The sight of a bank surrounded by police cars and an assembling SWAT team greeted them.

Allison stared at it in disbelief. “Someone really is trying to rob a bank…”

“And they attracted so much attention?” Seth scoffed. “Amateurs.”

“This isn’t funny.” Allison glared at him. Seth just shrugged, but it was clear he found it hilarious. “I have to go.”

Before Allison could even think about moving, Renee had grabbed her wrist in a firm grip, smile on her face but eyes hard. “You’re not on duty, Allison.”

Both Allison and Seth gaped at her for a moment. “But--”

“No.” Renee stood. “Stay here, you don’t need to do anything, let the others handle it.”

Allison frowned. “Why are you trying to stop me? You know I should go.”

“Just…” Renee trailed off, smile disappearing for a moment, then coming back with full force. “I need you to trust me. Stay here for tonight.”

Allison studied her; there was something more going on behind Renee’s eyes and she didn’t like not knowing what. Renee obviously knew more about the situation than she was letting on, but Allison didn’t voice that observation. There were things they didn’t speak about, like the fact Allison knew Renee was involved in dealings outside the registry. She just didn’t know what. Didn’t know if she even wanted to find out.

Seth tilted his head, expression unreadable as he watched the two. He turned his gaze back to the tv and frowned. Allison sighed, “Fine, but you better tell me what’s going on.”

Renee simply stared at her, saying nothing.

Allison threw her hands up in exasperation flinging herself back onto the couch. She could only deal with such stubborn people in moderation and between Seth, Renee, and herself, sometimes she just had to give up completely.

“Yeah, you know what? Who cares, it’s just a bank.” Allison folded her arms over her chest.

“That’s not what you said when I robbed one,” Seth pointed out.

Renee let out a laugh at that, and Allison glared at the both of them. “Shut the fuck up, Seth.”

+++++++

Kevin had been shuffling through files for what seemed like hours when Aaron finally burst through the records room’s door, holding a file triumphantly in his hand and making an unnecessarily loud commotion. “Found it!”

Kevin took in the folder and found it lacking; surely they had found more. “That’s all?”

Aaron’s smile turned into a frown in a blink, then a glare in the next second. “Well, did you find anything?”

Kevin didn’t like the accusation he heard in Aaron’s voice. He looked to the ten file cabinets he had combed through. There were at least fifty more he hadn’t even gotten to yet. “I wasn’t done looking.”

Aaron shrugged unimpressed, then pulled out another file from behind his back. “I also found Andrew’s.”

It was amazing how something so troublesome could be contained in such a small file. Kevin wondered if Andrew would find it funny how few papers separated him from jail. He certainly didn’t.

Kevin didn’t have time to formulate a reply when there was suddenly a loud commotion in the bullpen. The shouts grew louder as the sound of footsteps came towards the door. Kevin and Aaron looked to one another then frantically began scrambling to put the room back in order.

Aaron grabbed him a few seconds later, giving up almost as soon as they’d started. “Fuck it.”

The trip back to the house was just as unpleasant as the trip from it.  

+++++++

Andrew stared at the safe door contemplatively, Neil standing by his side, and the upper floors of the bank barricaded by a SWAT team.   

“You’re not actually planning on robbing it, are you?” Neil asked, not for the first time.

“Well, we’re here.”

“Yes, and the entire city knows it,” Neil pointed out, hands fidgeting with the cuffs of his shirt. He was nervous, that much was obvious, yet he was hiding it well. His blank stare almost rivaled Andrew’s in how much it concealed. Andrew was starting to see past it, though; for someone who always ran his mouth, Neil was often quite scared.

Andrew looked away from him, then to the camera above their heads pointed expectantly in their direction and defiantly recording them. Andrew shrugged, “Who cares?”

He reached out his hand in the next second, concentrating, and the safe door crumpled into a ball like a piece of tinfoil. The noise unsurprisingly alerted the guards that were roaming the halls to their whereabouts and not three seconds later two showed up, guns drawn and pointing right at them.

Before they could shoot, they paused, confusion blossoming over their faces as they stared at Neil and Andrew. “Are those… Cats?” One of the guards muttered.

Andrew raised an eyebrow, glancing at Neil, who only shrugged, eyes a cold blue. Andrew didn’t hesitate when he lunged forward, cracking one guard’s head into the wall and punching the other in the throat. They both went down with barely a sound.

Glancing back at Neil, Andrew headed to the safe, not wasting anymore time.

Neil sighed but followed Andrew without a word.

It turned out bank safes were more disappointing than movies made them out to be. Andrew looked around dispassionately, then picked a random lock box, tearing the lid off it. Surprisingly, it was cash that sat inside.

Andrew gestured lazily to Neil and waited for the man to walk over to his side. “Your bag.”

Neil stared at him blankly, the grip on his duffel tightening. “What?”

“Where else are we going to put the cash?”

Neil took another moment to move, slowly setting the bag on the ground and unzipping it. It was empty but for an equally black binder that took up only half of the bottom. Andrew decided he would have time to question that later and began shoving the contents of the lock box into it. Neil looked on, expression unreadable, before picking another lock box and opening it.

They worked in silence for a while until the duffel was almost completely filled. Amazingly, the security guards and police seemed to still be occupied with the floors above, though Andrew and Neil hadn’t been on them in over an hour. It was strange how they seemed to think they had the robbers cornered when in reality they were going in the opposite direction. Andrew had a thought. “Cats.”

“What?” Neil asked, not looking up from where he sat reorganizing their pile of money.

“They thought we were cats,” Andrew elaborated, catching Neil’s eye when he glanced up at him.

Again, Neil’s stare was blank as he thought on what to say to that. “It’s probably because they saw cats.”

Andrew stayed silent at that.

Neil huffed, gesturing up to the camera. “It’s better than them seeing our faces.”

“You’re creating an illusion.” It finally clicked, the pieces fitting seamlessly together in Andrew’s mind. And if Neil’s appearance was anything to go by, it wasn’t just one illusion, but multiple layered on top of one another.

Slowly, Neil nodded.

Andrew wondered if these illusions dropped once Neil was asleep. It would be the most likely assumption, but for some reason Andrew felt like Neil was once again an oddity. “Huh.”

Neil looked at him for a second longer then went back to his task, hands just barely shaking from were Andrew could see them out of the corner of his eye. Andrew turned more fully and ignored the man, pulling another lockbox open.

“Don’t tell Kevin,” Neil said after several long minutes of silence.

Andrew refused to look up at him. “Why?”

“Because you want to keep him safe.”

There were words of denial at the tip of Andrew’s tongue, but he held them back, thinking on Neil’s words. “So do you, for some reason.”

“He’s Kevin Day,” was Neil’s hesitant answer.

Andrew examined the stack of hundreds he held in his hand. So much money surely didn’t take up a whole lot of space. “And you’re Neil Josten.”

Neil sighed. “So?”

“So.” Andrew walked over to the bag, shoving the money unceremoniously in Neil’s face. “What’s the difference?”

Neil looked up at him, mouth slightly agape. “I--”

“Wrap up your pity party, we need to get going,” Andrew said, turning away.

++++++

Escaping the bank was easier than Neil thought it would be. Apparently, the sight of two cats using a back exit was not suspicious in the least. Neil could always rely on the incompetence of cops, it seemed. It didn’t take much to avert their gaze. Andrew’s car was silent as they drove back to his house, the man staring blankly out the windshield while Neil tried desperately not to think about what Andrew had said to him. There had been something in his eyes…

Neil shook his head, attracting Andrew’s attention. Trying to ignore the dark eyes that darted his way, Neil turned to face the window and startled at the bright reflection of icy irises that met him.

His flinch caught Andrew’s attention even more. “Another one of your issues?”

“You’re one to talk,” Neil muttered to himself, eyes slipping back to brown with a thought. If Andrew’s stare said anything, he wasn’t impressed.

The car ride continued in silence until they reached the house, unloading themselves and Neil’s bag carefully, eyes on the road watching for cars, and masks carefully tucked away in the trunk. Kevin and Aaron had already wrapped up what they had been doing and where arguing loudly in the living room when Neil and Andrew arrived.

They stopped abruptly when the door opened and turned to them, Aaron with a glare and Kevin with his mouth partially hanging open. It snapped shut when he noticed Neil. “Tell me you didn’t go with him.”

Neil shifted his weight, the bag of money he held feeling a bit heavier all of a sudden. “Uh…”

“You didn’t actually rob the bank,” Kevin said, turning to Andrew, eyes oddly pleading.

Andrew shrugged, and Neil lowered his bag slowly to the ground. “What did you find?”

Aaron glanced to Kevin before picking up two files Neil hadn’t noticed were sitting on the kitchen counter. He handed them over to Andrew without a word. Andrew raised an eyebrow. “There are two folders for the case?”

“No,” Aaron shook his head. “One of them is the file for your case.”

Andrew’s other eyebrow twitched. “Interesting.”

Neil couldn’t help but agree, and while Kevin was obviously unhappy with what they had done, there was something in his face that spoke of satisfaction. They were a step closer to finding those Andrew was looking for and they all knew it.

++++++

A shrill ring rang out, jolting Nicky awake from the deep sleep that had descended upon him once his head had hit the pillow. He groaned, dozily groping for his phone, smacking Erik in the face along the way. His husband gently smacked him back. “Hello?” Nicky grumbled. He didn’t like not sleeping on his day off.

“Nicky,” Hernandez’s voice, unfortunately, came through the line. “You need to come to the station.”

“It’s my day off,” Nicky stated, not having the patience for this conversation. His day had been long enough, Hernandez contacting him on top of everything else was unwanted as well as disconcerting. A small part of Nicky bubbled in fear that Hernandez had somehow found out what had happened with Sol, but another part of him couldn’t care less, not when it got in the way of his sleep.

“I need you to come in,” Hernandez stated the obvious.

“It’s my day off,” Nicky repeated.

“First National Bank was robbed,” Hernandez said, obviously done with Nicky’s shit.

Nicky for his part blinked, too tired to actually be surprised. “And?”

“And,” Hernandez sighed. “The perps not only got away but are powered. I need you to analyze the video evidence collected.”

“Video evidence?” What kind of amateurs… Nicky thought.

“Yes, Nicky,” Hernandez sighed. “Be here in thirty minutes.”

He hung up without another word, leaving Nicky to stare up at the ceiling in blank silence.

“Does that man ever sleep?” Erik asked the question Nicky had been wondering for quite a while now.

“I think he’s too dead inside for sleep,” Nicky voiced his opinion on the matter.

“Hmmm,” Erik seemed to contemplate that for a moment. “Well you better get going.”

Nicky couldn’t help sighing again.

+++++++

Aaron stared down at the pile of cash as Andrew intently went through the files they had stolen. Neil and Kevin sat between the two of them, bickering amongst themselves. Somehow, even after everything they’d done, Aaron couldn’t believe Andrew actually went and robbed the bank. There had to be at least five hundred thousand dollars sitting in their living room floor.

“What are you going to do with it?” Aaron wondered aloud.

Andrew looked up at him, seemingly contemplating his answer for a moment, and shrugged. “Who knows.”

“We should get rid of it,” Neil spoke up. “Or stash it somewhere, either way it can’t stay here.”

“We shouldn’t have it in the first place,” Kevin stated, not for the first time. “Andrew, what were you thinking?”

“It was Neil’s idea,” was Andrew’s immediate response.

“No, it wasn’t.” Neil rolled his eyes.

Kevin looked between the two of them, eyes narrowed. “Both of you are to blame.”

“All three of you are disgusting,” Aaron interrupted. “And Nicky is going to cry when he finds out what we did.”

“Don’t let Nicky find out, then,” Neil said, as if it was that simple. Aaron felt a pang of annoyance at the man, what did he know?

“Nicky shouldn’t have lied to me,” Andrew said, glancing at Neil. “Besides, he’ll come to us first when he finds out, not anyone else.”

Aaron knew that was true, but he didn’t like the fact they weren’t just telling Nicky outright.

“Fine.” Aaron crossed his arms. “But get that shit out of the living room.”

+++++++

The police station was bustling when Nicky finally showed up. Officers yelled at each other over the rush of voices, trying to be heard in the clamor, and nobody seemed to be able to sit still. Nicky took one look at the mess and made a beeline for Hernandez’s office, not wanting to deal with any of it. The Captain was waiting for him behind his desk, a grim look on his face and his arms crossed.

The door shut behind Nicky with a thud, leaving the two in awkward silence before Nicky broke it with a sigh, “Is it really that bad?”

“I called you in, didn't I?” Hernandez ushered Nicky over to take a seat behind his desk, gesturing to the computer screen in way of explanation. He sat down slowly, looking at the blank computer screen and wondering why he was asked to come in and analyze. Hernandez could have easily brought in someone who wasn’t already working on two large cases. Someone who wasn’t taking the day off.

Nicky forced a smile as Hernandez loaded the file containing First National’s security footage. He noticed it already had a case file attached to it before the screen was filled with an image of the bank’s roof. The lighting was dim, to be expected with how late the robbery apparently took place, and the image was grainy but not enough to obscure the two figures that floated leisurely onto the roof within seconds of the recording.

Nicky leaned forward, interest peaked.

It seemed Hernandez wasn’t lying about them being powered.

The first thing he noticed was how short the two of them were. One a little taller than the other but only just. The second thing Nicky noticed was the familiar leather jacket the shortest one of them wore. He paused the video abruptly, letting out a soft disbelieving breath as he zoomed the picture frame in. A tuft of light blond hair could barely be seen in the crack between the robber’s hood and mask, and the sinking feeling in his stomach grew worse. Either that bank robber had the exact same jacket Nicky had gotten Andrew for his birthday, or his cousin robbed a bank.

He wanted to assume the former but if it was Andrew…

“You haven’t even got to the interesting part yet, detective Hemmick,” Hernandez said, reaching over to unpause the screen.

Nicky didn’t like the sound of that.

The figures resumed movement, the shortest walking briskly over to the door. To Nicky, it seemed like he was trying very unsuccessfully to pick the lock. The other man came up behind him and seemed to say something. A few moments later the image on the screen shimmered and the two of them disappeared.

Nicky and Hernandez sat in silence as they watched the video continue. Nicky was unable to look away. The screen flickered again and suddenly the image shifted.

Nicky stared at it, not really understanding what he was seeing. “Cats?”

Hernandez nodded. “Keep watching.”

Nicky then proceeded to watch through the lenses of surveillance cameras as two cats robbed a bank, confusing a SWAT team into uselessness. He really hoped his hunch that Andrew was one of the two was wrong because his ability to deal with this evaporated the moment he watched a cat crush a safe door.

“What the fuck?” Nicky asked god.

Hernandez shrugged. “Good question.”

Nicky had another comment on the tip of his tongue when the door to the office slammed open, a policeman huffing heavily on the other side. “Captain Hernandez, Detective Hemmick, someone broke into the precinct.”

“What?” Hernandez asked, taking a step forward. Nicky didn’t know whether to laugh or not. What the hell was this day?

“They stole the Monster’s case file and the Registry’s.”

Nicky froze, looked to the screen with the surveillance video, and decided that he needed more coffee to actually deal with this. “When did this happen?”

The officer looked a little sheepish. “While we were dealing with the bank robbery.”

Hernandez frowned, but Nicky finally understood, not realizing his thoughts had decided to slip from his mouth. “Oh, so it was a distraction.”

Hernandez and the officer looked at him and Nicky snapped his mouth shut.  

“A distraction?” Hernandez paused. “You think the robbery was a distraction for the theft?”

Nicky felt the blood slowly drain from his face. He defiantly thought it wasn’t a coincidence that Andrew decided to rob a bank while his case file was stolen but he didn’t want the other officers thinking the same thing. Why he did this was a different question all together. It seemed they’d have to have a talk.

“Well, that complicates things,” Hernandez said, echoing Nicky’s thoughts.

 

Chapter Text

When Nicky entered the twins’ house at the completely reasonable hour of 3am, he hadn’t expected the first thing he’d do was trip over a literal pile of cash. He took a moment to stare at it in vague despair before looking up to find Andrew watching him over the lip of a manila folder. Nicky’s despair grew into a sense of outright dread; they’d really robbed a bank.

They’d really stolen his evidence.

“Who was with you?” Nicky asked, getting to the point without any of his usual rambling. “It wasn’t Aaron, he was breaking into the station, so who was it?”

“Kevin was also breaking into the station,” Andrew pointed out, going back to where he’d been flipping through the file.

The feeling of frustration was common when dealing with Andrew, but for a second Nicky felt like giving up on the man entirely. “Andrew…”

“You didn’t tell me about Navid.” Andrew shrugged and changed the subject entirely in the same second, leaving Nicky in the dust to catch up.

For a moment he was stunned into silence. Then his brain registered what Andrew had said. “How do you know about Navid?”

“A contact of mine told me,” Andrew answered vaguely.

“That’s…” Knowledge of Navid was limited to only a select few for the boy’s safety, and Nicky couldn’t even begin to think of who amongst them would have sold that information to his cousin.  

“Why didn’t you tell me, Nicky?” Andrew asked, voice quiet.

For a second Nicky actually felt danger in regards to his cousin. Andrew’s posture was relaxed, forcibly so, but Nicky could see the tension barely hidden underneath. Other than that, he looked fine. Robbing a bank didn’t seem to have taken much out of him. But then again, he hadn’t been alone.

“Andrew… It wasn’t for the reasons you think.” Nicky said, not really liking the way it came off as an excuse.

“Enlighten me then.” Andrew sat the file he’d been holding down.

Nicky thought on how to word what he said next. Pissing Andrew off wasn’t something he wanted to do. Actually, scratch that; pissing his cousin off more wasn’t something he wanted to do. Andrew was already angry, that much was obvious from the way he was acting, and Nicky wasn’t stupid enough to think he hadn’t lost some of Andrew’s trust in the past two days.

But that didn’t mean he wasn’t pissed either.

Nicky shook his head, knowing this would end up with them all losing in the long run. “Because I knew you’d react badly.”

Andrew didn’t so much stiffen as freeze. “Meaning?”

Nicky gestured to the stolen case files and sighed in exasperation. “This? Andrew, you and I both know the moment I told you about Navid you would have gone and tried to gather as much information about him as possible.” Andrew’s silent stare was disconcerting, but Nicky continued, “You would have put yourself in danger when the easier way was to just let the police do their job.”

“So, you were planning on telling me?”

“Yes,” maybe, “once we’d actually figured out something.” Slumping, Nicky moved to take a seat on the floor in front of Andrew. “It’s all been taking longer than it normally would.”

There was a long moment of silence before Andrew spoke again. “Shelby Gross was connected to that smuggling ring.”

Nicky blinked, registering that statement. “The last one on your list?”

His cousin answered in a slow nod not breaking eye contact.

“Shit.”

“She wasn’t there when the registry arrived, though,” Andrew continued blandly.

Nicky thought for a moment, considering the circumstances. Finding Gross meant another body in the long run, but it also meant more answers for Andrew. Though there were other ways to get those, Nicky supposed. “Navid is a telepath.”

Andrew didn’t say anything to that, so Nicky continued. “He might have… found out some things while we were questioning him. I think he wants to meet you.”

A thoughtful expression crossed Andrew’s face as he considered that. Nicky didn’t know if he’d agree to it. Andrew and telepaths did not get along, but from his cousin’s actions tonight, Nicky could tell he was growing desperate.

Andrew released a small sigh, then shrugged. “Then find a way for us to meet.”

Nicky nodded slowly. It was a bad Idea, but really, when did they ever have good ones? “Okay, and what do you plan to do in the meantime?”

Andrew looked off to the side. “Deal with some loose ends.”

Nicky held in a sigh, knowing that meant he’d probably be covering up another body trail. Which would be harder now that the station had been broken into. It was one thing for the Monster to be just some murderer, it was another for him to actively sabotage his investigation. Andrew was becoming too high profile “Just be careful.”

Andrew didn’t say anything to that.

++++++

“He’s gone again, isn’t he?” Neil asked as Kevin pulled open the front door to his house and let him in. It’d been three days since their heist, yet Neil hadn’t heard from Andrew since that night. Kevin closed the door behind him, frown twisting his face, and tired eyes trained somewhere over Neil’s shoulder.

“He left to find Shelby Gross,” Kevin said. Neil paused a second, not recognizing the name.

He said nothing as Kevin led him into the kitchen, sat down silently on the couch crammed between the cabinets, and grabbed for a half-finished bottle of vodka.

Intercepting his movement before he could take a swig, Neil pried the bottle out of Kevin’s reluctant fingers and sat it back down on the countertop. “What’s going on, Kevin?”

He sighed, “She was the last one on Andrew’s list, or at least the last of his list that was in San Diego.”

So, the Monster was going to strike again. Andrew’s investigation had almost gone cold, or at least cold enough to the point that the media wasn’t much concerned with the Monster these days. The police were a different story. “He really thinks that’s a good idea?”

“No,” Kevin paused to think for a moment. “Probably. He has a plan, eliminating Gross was always part of it. He just got side-tracked.”

“Why aren’t you helping him?” It was a question Neil had been wondering for a while now.

Kevin gave him a disgruntled look. “Kill people?”

Neil shrugged. “It’s not like you haven’t before.”

“That’s different.”

“Why? Because you were with the Ravens?”

Kevin was silent for a moment. “The registry has a no killing clause.”

Neil rolled his eyes and leaned against the counter. “You and I both know that’s bullshit. ‘Accidents happen’.”

Kevin’s shoulders slumped as he rubbed tiredly at his eyes. “I try to help where I can, but I won’t help Andrew murder people.”

It was noble, and stupid. Neil doubted Andrew would be having so many issues with his investigation if Kevin had been out there with him. “Well, obviously you’re not doing much.”

“What else am I supposed to do? Nobody can find out I’m still alive.”

“Not be a coward.”

Kevin’s shoulders stiffened, and he looked up. “You don’t get it.”

A sharp grin twisted Neil’s face into a sneer. “I think I do.”

The stare Kevin leveled at him was a bit disbelieving, but there was something else in his eyes as he carefully watched Neil. Something that put him on edge. It looked a bit like recognition.

“How did you manage not to get caught?” Kevin asked, completely changing the subject. “Andrew’s powers can only do so much.”

There was a meaning behind those words that Neil didn’t want to think about at the moment. He shrugged, aiming for casual, and quickly checked his eyes in the reflection of the window pane. They were a dark brown, as they should have been. “The guards weren’t expecting us.”

“So, you think it was luck?”

Neil shook his head. “I don’t believe in luck.”

Standing Kevin crossed back over to the living room, stopping in front of Andrew’s white board. Neil followed him, eyes skimming over the newly added notes found there. “It’s just odd how there hasn’t been a press release on the robbery,” Kevin said.

It was odd, now that Neil thought about it. The media had covered the initial robbery, but no further investigation had been announced, and in the few days that had passed everything had quieted down surprisingly fast. “You don’t think-.“

“They’ve linked it to the Monster case already.” Kevin crossed his arms. “Andrew needs to stop drawing attention to himself or they’re going to be forced to get others involved.”

“Like the Ravens.” Neil stepped up beside him. “Would they show up for something like this?”

Kevin shook his head. “No, it’s still too small.”

Neil didn’t like the ‘for now’ that hung in the air between them, suffocating in different ways for both of them. If the Ravens came here, Neil would have no choice but to run again, not when their leader was part of the Morriyamas, and in turn tied to his father.

Kevin turned to him swiftly. “We need to continue your training.”

“Andrew’s not here,” Neil pointed out.

“Doesn’t matter.” Kevin took a breath, eyes hard, if a little frightened. “There’s a gym downtown that will serve our needs today.”

Neil thought for a moment, trying not to linger on the part of his brain that told him to pack his bags right now and run. He had his binder, which really contained everything he’d need. He could be in another state by nightfall if he wanted to be. “Alright.”   

++++++

“Have you applied for your residency yet?” Katelyn asked, sipping at an iced tea as she and Aaron leisurely walked down a street.

“We can’t even start residency for another year and a half at least, what’s the point?” Aaron suppressed a yawn. Breaking into the precinct had been exhausting, and summer classes weren’t letting him off easy.

“It’s good to get your application out there at least.” Katelyn shrugged. “You know how the applicant pool can be.”

Aaron shrugged, he did. Didn’t mean he cared at the moment, through. “Right now I just have to make sure I don’t flunk my summer classes. The rest can be dealt with later.”

Katelyn laughed, “Have you ever failed anything in your life?”

“Yeah,” Aaron replied, thinking back to high school, then scoffed at the startled look Katelyn shot him. “We can’t all be perfect miss valedictorian.”

“Huh.” Katelyn looked at him a moment and then off to the side. “I guess you’re right.”

Aaron couldn’t help but laugh at the begrudging acceptance that traced its way over her face. They really had grown up in two completely different worlds. It was times like this that made Aaron wonder why she decided to stick with him.

He sure didn’t understand it.

“Aaron,” a voice called out from behind them, and Aaron groaned instinctively before turning to find Kevin standing there in sweats and a workout shirt, customary band-aid covering his tattoo, and sunglasses covering his eyes. Neil Josten stood to his left, scanning the crowd around them with sharp eyes and stiff posture.

“Shit,” Aaron muttered at the sight of them.

“You know them?” Katelyn asked, raising an eyebrow.

“No,” Aaron answered, and made to turn away again.

Regrettably, Kevin decided to approach them. “Of course he does.”

“They’re friends of Andrew’s,” Aaron explained, trying not to look like he was attempting to escape the situation. He really didn’t want to deal with Kevin. For once he’d just like to go on a date with his girlfriend in peace.

“Oh really?” Katelyn gave them a once over. “I didn’t realize Andrew had friends.”

Neil shrugged. “I didn’t think Aaron had any either.”

Katelyn’s eyes flicked to his, and she smiled tightly. “Well, he does. I’m Katelyn, and you are?”

Neil paused for a moment, then answered. “Neil.”

Katelyn gave him a friendly nod and turned to Kevin. “And you?”

Kevin looked frantically to Neil, hand coming up to trace over the band-aid on his cheek. “I-“

“He’s Kevin.” Neil took a step closer to the man and feigned casualness. “Anyway, we should probably get going.”

“Wait,” Katelyn said to Aaron’s surprise. “Where are you headed? We might be going the same way.

Aaron sure as fuck hoped they weren’t.

“Dox’s Gym,” Kevin answered slowly.

Fuck, it seemed they were.

“Oh, really?” Katelyn smiled. “We’re headed that way as well, mind if we walk a bit with you?”

Kevin and Neil shared a glance, some type of silent conversation going on between them, before Kevin shrugged, and answered, “Sure.”

Aaron groaned, cursing his luck.

++++++

Andrew was starting to remember why he’d saved finding Shelby Gross for last. For someone so active in the underworld she was notoriously hard to track down, though Andrew supposed that might be due to al her lackies getting in the way at every possible moment.

His leather jacket was probably ruined by the amount of blood he’d gotten on it in the past few days.

Andrew couldn’t linger on that thought as a knife flew by his head, narrowly missing his ear, and embedding itself into the wall. He glanced at it considered how long he was willing to drag this fight out for, then pulled it out of the wall and tested its weight.

Nothing special, but it would do.

His attacker sneered from across the room. “You’re gonna fucking die here.”

Andrew ignored the threat. “Where is she?”

“You think we didn’t know you were coming? You think we weren’t warned?”

Shifting his weight to the balls of his feet Andrew’s grip on the knife tightened. Someone had been tracking his movements, that much was made obvious. Who it was, though, Andrew didn’t know.

A smile cracked the man’s face in two, ugly and wolf-like. “I’m sorry it’s come to this, AJ.”

Andrew threw the knife, eyes wide and heart pounding in his chest as the name AJ repeated over and over again in his mind.

++++++

It wasn’t everyday Seth felt like crawling into a hole and dying, but there was always an exception, and this week had been full of them. Seth didn’t like being reminded of his past, any of it, yet he couldn’t shake the feeling ignoring it wasn’t possible anymore. Not since he’d found out that fucker was also in this city. AJ, that’s what Spear had always called him. Seth had unfortunately remembered the fact during one of the nights sleep decided to elude him.

Seth was exhausted, and he didn’t know what t do about it. Didn’t know if he wanted to do anything about it.

Sighing, he stopped walking, the crosswalk in front of him blinking a red hand as cars zoomed by without a care. He technically didn’t need to stop at the light. If he wanted to he could just keep on walking, the cars couldn’t hurt him if he used his powers. He’d just phase right through them, maybe he could even nab a few bucks while he was at it.

Allison, though, would be pissed if he ended up in jail again, so he didn’t.

The light turned green and Seth stepped forward with the rest of the people crowding the sidewalk.

“Hey, you!” Someone shouted behind him and Seth paused looking over his shoulder. There was no way they’d meant him, but instinct had him looking anyway.

Seth really wished he hadn’t when he caught sight of two familiar hazel eyes staring at him through the crowd.

Taking a moment to curse his luck, Seth turned to the people who’d stopped to stare at him along with AJ. Most of the group wore looks of vague confusion, except for the woman who had been with AJ before-- she simply watched him keenly. Seth blinked in surprise as he realized Neil Josten was among their number.

He didn’t understand why the fuck Neil of all people was here.

Seth turned back to AJ, taking in his unhappy eyes and frowning face. He wasn’t sure what expression was on his own, but it probably wasn’t anything good. Seth had no reason to speak with the man and didn’t like the fact that AJ seemed not to share that sentiment.

“Fuck this,” Seth muttered to himself, turned away, and crossed the street; ignoring the shouts that followed him. There was no fucking way he was dealing with this shit today. Let his demons haunt him tomorrow.

++++++

“You know him?” Neil asked staring at Seth’s retreating form.

Aaron turned to glare at him. “Do you?”

Neil considered the question then shrugged. “Sort of, he’s dating a friend of mine.”

Aaron was silent for a moment. “He knows Andrew.”

“He does,” Kevin butted in, “how?”

Aaron’s glare left Neil and settled on Kevin. He opened his mouth as if to say something, then closed it, eyes flitting to Katelyn. After a second, he shrugged. “Doesn’t matter.”

Kevin looked like he was about to start an argument, but Aaron had already turned the corner and walked away. With a huff, Kevin followed, leaving Neil to wonder what would have happened if Seth had stayed.

Katelyn gave him a reassuring smile. “Don’t worry, I’m sure it was nothing.”

Neil didn’t believe her for a second.

++++++

Nicky didn’t know what he was doing anymore, he thought as he stood in the back of the meeting hall waiting for Captain Hernandez to wrap up his speech on precinct updates. Amazingly, he hadn’t brought up the fact that he suspected the Monster had broken into the precinct to steal his case files, for once listening to Nicky’s want for discretion.

Nicky might have had to imply that he thought there might be a mole in the force, but at least that meant he didn’t have thirty other officers out for Andrew’s blood, even if it did mean he’d planted a very dangerous notion in Hernandez’s head.

The meeting adjourned with the usual ruckus, and Nicky slipped up to the front, not wasting any time as he stepped up to Hernandez’s shoulder. “Captain, I need to speak with you.”

Hernandez flinched, then turned to Nicky with a sigh. “Detective Hemmick, it’s important?”

Nicky shrugged, not put off by the thinly veiled apathy; he used to live with the twins, his Captain’s bluntness was nothing. “Yes, sir. It involves my case.”

The Captain's eyes widened, and he lowered his voice. “Is this about the robbery?”

When he said “the robbery,” he somehow meant both the break in and the bank robbery at once, as if they were interchangeable. They were, yet weren’t, and Nicky didn’t like how careless Andrew was being. He’d robbed a fucking bank, simply because he didn’t know how to ask Nicky for help. It was infuriating, and ridiculous, and so like Andrew. Nicky should have expected something like this to happen sooner or later.

But Nicky had made Andrew a promise, and he didn’t plan on breaking it this time.  

“Not exactly,” Nicky straightened. “I have some more questions for Navid.”

“You want to talk to that boy at a time like this?” Hernandez asked, face going slack.

“Doesn’t the timing make it even more important to have as much information as possible? With all that’s happened…” Nicky countered, trying not to look as anxious as he felt.

“Navid isn’t your primary case Detective,” Hernandez reminded him. Like Nicky could forget.

“But isn’t he?” Nicky asked, really wishing he didn’t have to tie Andrew to this to get his way, but Andrew wanted to talk to Navid, and since this technically wasn’t Nicky’s case…. Well, Nicky was just going to have to take it over one way or another. “You were the one who brought up the initial thought that the Monster was connected to Navid, so what if he is?”

Hernandez looked interested at that. “Have you found something, Detective Hemmick?”

Nicky took a breath, then decided to play one of his cards. “I have a hunch. It’s not much.”

“Go on.”

“Navid spoke of an organization, you thought the Monster was connected to it, and I think he is too, just not in the way we initially suspected,” Nicky said in a breath.

Hernandez raised an eyebrow, and Nicky knew he had his full attention, so he let the words flow in a rush. “This organization has been abducting and experimenting on children for years. We don’t know the reason, but we do know this was not a singular occurrence. We’ve never encountered them, but there have to have been others, some might not even be children anymore. What if the Monster is one of the others?”

“What do you mean, Nicky?” Hernandez asked.

“I mean I think the Monster is involved, but not as a co-conspirator but as a victim.” Nicky held up a hand to stop the Captain’s question. He needed to get this out there, even if the thought of Andrew ever finding out Nicky had called him a victim sent a shiver down his spine. “There was a connection between the people he killed that I could never place, I think it’s the same connection that can be found between Navid and Lily. I think it’s that organization, and that’s why he stole the case files.”

“But then how did he find out about Navid in the first place?”

“I think someone told him.”

“You think there’s a mole.”

“There’s always been that suspicion, hasn’t there, Captain?” Nicky kept his eyes trained on the man, even when he wished to turn them away.

“True.” Hernandez nodded. “Why would he start killing though?”

“Hatred for those who abused him,” Nicky answered easily, then decided to elaborate, just a bit. “But it could be more than that, maybe he’s trying to stop the people who are doing this, maybe it’s a way to find the kids.”

“Are you saying the serial killer is trying to save these children?” Hernandez’s voice was skeptical.

“It’s a possibility we can’t rule out,” Nicky sighed. “Something to consider.”

“I had forgotten how good you are at getting into criminal’s minds,” Hernandez said. “Sure you aren’t powered, Detective?”

Nicky smiled weakly. “Positive, Captain.”

“It’s an interesting theory,” the Captain paused, and Nicky waited with baited breath. “Alright, I’ll warn his parent’s you’ll be stopping by. Try to find out if your reasoning is sound. If we can find something… then this all might unravel. We could find all of them.”

Nicky took a breath. “Yes sir. I’ll be there around ten am, and I’ll find out something. We need to solve this.”

Hernandez gave him a nod. “You’re dismissed, Detective.”

Nicky tried not to seem like he was fleeing the room as he turned to leave.

++++++

Staggering Andrew stumbled into a wall, breath whooshing out of him in a pained gasp. The amount of people standing in between him and Gross made sense now that he knew she’d been warned. What didn’t make sense was how they found out who he was. He’d been careful, or so he’d thought.

“Stupid,” Andrew breathed, pushing himself off the wall.

There was a click and Andrew looked up, finding a gun pointed at his face. The woman holding it was bloody and battered, yet unfortunately still able to stand. Gross must have had an enormous ego if she thought she could take Andrew out with a simple gun after everything he’d been through to get to her.

“You should have given up while you had the chance,” Gross croaked through a bruised windpipe. “You’re never going to find those kids now that Proust knows it’s you who’s been assassinating our people.”

“Our people…”

“You think this is much smaller than it is. That if you find the kids the organization will collapse.” She smiled, rung out and cold. “How naïve, Andrew Doe.”

Andrew had enough of her blabbering and took a step forward,not really thinking on what he was going to do next; it didn’t really matter as long as he got her to shut up.

The woman took a step back. “Hmmm, how about you just stay still for a bit.”

Andrew lunged at her knife posed to rip her throat out.

A bang echoed through the room and Andrew fell to the ground, pain shooting through his knee, suddenly unable to bare weight with his leg.

“Ha. That’ll teach you, AJ.” She smiled.

Clenching his teeth, Andrew looked up at her, not giving into the need to scream. With unsteady hands he reached out, releasing all the frustrated anger that had built up inside him.

It wasn’t as satisfying watching her head implode as Andrew thought it would be.

++++++

“Those two, they were interesting,” Katelyn commented as they walked away from the entrance to the gym Neil and Kevin had been going to. The sky above San Diego was starting to turn the gold of sunset.

Aaron shrugged. Interesting wasn’t the word he’d use. Odd, more like. Definitely something troublesome, but then again, Andrew was as well. Maybe that was why his brother seemed to actually tolerate the two of them. “I guess.”

“Do you know them well?” Katelyn asked, curiosity obvious.

Aaron thought back to the other night, how he and Kevin had broken into a police station together, how they’d lived together for over a year now. Even Neil could be found at the house more often than not these days. Aaron might have known Kevin relatively well, but Neil was an enigma who showed up out of the blue and seemingly decided to plant roots at Andrew’s feet.

He didn’t know what to make of Neil, and he didn’t like it. “Why do you ask?”

“They just seem a bit familiar is all.”

The words were casual enough, but they gave Aaron pause. Katelyn hadn’t recognized Kevin, or so Aaron thought. “Neil just graduated from the university.”

“And Kevin?”

Aaron shrugged again. “You might have seen him with Andrew before.”

“Hmmm.” Katelyn tapped at her chin, dark eyes searching his for a moment, and Aaron shoved down the feeling of guilt that bubbled up in his stomach. He didn’t understand it, he hadn’t even lied to her, but he felt compelled to blurt out the truth nonetheless. “Maybe.”

A strained silence fell between them like a blanket. It was awkward, and unusual. Katelyn had always seemed so straight forward, simple in a way that Aaron wasn’t used to. Being with her just always seemed to click. Aaron never felt the need to question much in their relationship, but these days he was starting to think he should.

There was something going on that Katelyn didn’t want to talk about, but he wasn’t sure what.

“We should get going,” Katelyn said, sending him a smile.

“Right.”

They walked aimlessly after that. Not having a destination, but not feeling the need to go home either. Aaron was too caught up in his thoughts for much conversation, yet Katelyn didn’t seem to mind, making idle comments along the way. The sun steadily sank below the horizon, and before they knew it darkness had set upon them, leaving the city lights to glow through the streets.

“Hey,” Katelyn turned to him smiling slightly. “Want to go find a bar?”

Aaron looked to her, then glanced around his surroundings. They were in a part of town he didn’t even know. Somehow, Aaron hadn’t noticed them leaving the density of downtown as they neared the ocean. He should have, but he hadn’t. “Know any good ones in the area?”

Katelyn glanced around their surroundings. “Yeah, actually!”

She grabbed his hand and pulled them into a side street. Dimly lit and with too many blind corners, it looked exactly like the type of place someone would get mugged at. “This is sketchy as fuck.”

Katelyn laughed, “What, do you think we’d get mugged?”

“God, I sure hope not.”

++++++

“That girl who was with Aaron,” Neil said, trying to come off as casual as he watched Kevin set up the weights on a bench press. “Do you know her?”

Kevin grunted as he slid another fifty pounds on. Neil sure hoped he was planning on going first, because there was no way in hell he could lift that much. “She’s Aaron’s girlfriend, that’s all. Why?”

Neil looked off to the side thinking back on the relatively awkward afternoon they spent together. Katelyn had been nice, friendly in a way most people weren’t, but there was something in her eyes that was familiar. Neil didn’t know how he felt about it. “She just seemed a bit familiar, that’s all.”

She reminded him of someone, but he couldn’t figure out who.

Kevin looked to him. “How so?”

Neil hesitated a moment, then shook his head. “I’m probably just imagining it.”

Or at least he hoped so.  

++++++

Andrew opened his eyes sometime later to a dimly lit room, and an intense pain shooting up his leg. Shelby Gross was dead on the floor in front of him, lifeless body almost invisible in the shadows of the room. Her blood had seeped into the floor, leaving a dark stain that would probably be there for the next ten years.

Andrew had to get out of here before someone else showed up.

He definitely couldn’t face another one of Gross’ lackeys while he was hurt like this.

Taking a sharp breath, Andrew pushed himself into a sitting position, then regretted it a moment later as a dizzying bust of pain washed over him. Andrew stared uncomprehendingly down at his knee. Something wet had soaked into his pants, and the floor, and part of his shirt. Reaching down Andrew brushed his hand over the fabric pulling away quickly at the pain his action elicited. He pulled his hand closer to his face, it glistened a sickly crimson.

Andrew remembered the gun Gross had held. It seemed she’d shot him.

That was unfortunate.

Deciding it was about time to stand up, Andrew got his good leg under him and pried himself off the floor with the use of his powers. Upright was somehow worse than sitting down. What little blood he had left seemed to take the opportunity to start flowing from his leg again. Andrew swayed as his vision blacked out, left leg coming down hard to catch himself before he passed out on the floor.

Ripping pain shot down his leg, and his knee gave out, sending him sprawling towards the ground. At the last moment Andrew reached out, pushing the gravity in the area away. He stopped abruptly a mere six inches from the ground.

Andrew felt like he was going to hurl.

Slowly, he used his power to lift himself up and floated a few feet above the ground. His leg was useless, and nobody knew where he was. He needed to get to his car and tell his family they’d discovered who he was. Aaron was in danger.

Andrew’s vision flickered again. He needed to stop the bleeding before he died. He pulled off his jacket, pressing it to his knee and gritting his teeth in order to hold back the scream that wanted to rip out of his throat. Pressing it harder to his knee, Andrew tied it as tight as he could, manipulating the gravity around it just slightly to increase the pressure. Next, he took off his belt, and looped it around his leg as close as possible to his knee, then pulled it tightly.

“Fuck,” Andrew muttered through a groan. His best bet was getting to Abby before he lost consciousness again. Andrew grabbed for his phone and dialed Aaron’s number, not quite able to think through his actions. The phone rang, and rang, and rang, and went to voicemail.

Andrew stared down at it for a moment. It seemed his brother was ignoring him.

What a convenient time.

Carefully, Andrew dialed another number, not sure what good it would do.

Kevin answered on the first ring. “Andrew, what is it?”

He sounded out of breath, or maybe that was Andrew. It was impossible to tell at the moment. Andrew ignored how his hands were shaking. “I need you to meet me at Wymack’s.”

There was a pause that Andrew didn’t have time for. “Are you alright?”

“Just meet me there,” Andrew said before hanging up the phone. Kevin, he knew, would at least listen to him.

With weak movements, Andrew lowered his feet to the floor, making his body as light as possible as he grabbed for the wall, and began the long limp to his car.

++++++

Aaron couldn’t believe it, they were actually getting mugged.

The man in front of them grinned wickedly, gun raised and pointed at Aaron’s head while a ring of knives floated delicately around Katelyn’s neck. Aaron cursed himself, and the five-foot distance that separated them. If he could reach her, he could get both of them out of there. If he could use his power fast enough the bastard trying to mug them wouldn’t even notice. He should have been more cautious, it was night time, of course cutting through an alleyway would backfire on them.

Shifting his weight Aaron gathered his power, preparing to bend the space around him so he could get them out of there. He wouldn’t let Katelyn get hurt. Aaron would rather die.

Something pricked at the base of his jaw, and Aaron hesitated, losing his concentration. Eyes flitting down he found yet another fucking knife that hovered just too close to his jugular for comfort.

Andrew would fucking love this guy; the shear number of knives he had was ridiculous.

Then again maybe that was his power, a stupid amount of knives.

“I told you not to fucking move.”

Aaron stiffened, gritting his teeth as Knife Guy turned the gun toward Katelyn. “Or is her life more important than your own?”

“You bitch-,” Aaron started, but was cut off by a sharp look from Katelyn.

“Don’t,” she said softly.

“You should listen to her.” Knife guy smiled. “Now reach slowly for your wallets.”

Aaron and Katelyn didn’t move.

Their mugger sighed. “Oh come on, you don’t want to die here, do you?”

“Not particularly,” Katelyn said, then to Aaron’s shock took a step forward.

Their mugger blinked. “What the fuck are you doing?”

“Are you sure you want to be here?” Katelyn asked. Aaron watched as the knives around her throat trembled at the question.

There was something wrong with her voice. Normally it was light, soothing in a way, but now it seemed to echo eerily around the alley. Knife Guy seemed to be as affected by her voice as Aaron suddenly was, if the glazed-over look in his eyes was anything to go by. His grip on the gun slackened minutely. “Wha-.”

“Maybe you actually want to be in your bed, sleeping, at home,” Katelyn suggested, eyes staring steadily at their mugger.

Aaron suddenly felt very tired, yet he couldn’t look away, transfixed in a way he couldn’t escape.

Something was very wrong.

Gently, Katelyn pushed at the knives around her throat, and they floated away, back towards their mugger with little protest. Aaron couldn’t understand what was going on.

“That would be nice,” their mugger mumbled to himself.

“It would, wouldn’t it?” Katelyn smiled. “Why don’t you just go to sleep?”

“Right,” the mugger muttered, and Aaron watched in awe as the mugger’s eyes rolled back in his head and he passed out on the ground, his knives hitting the concrete with a clang.

“What,” Aaron slurred, swaying on his feet. Katelyn sucked in quick breaths as if she were winded, her face suddenly to pale in the dim light. Distantly Aaron heard his phone ring, but he ignored it. “You’re not supposed to be powered.”

Katelyn looked over her shoulder at him frowning slightly, turning she reached out to him gripping his hand lightly. “I’m not,” she said, eyes housing an apology in them. “You’re just in shock Aaron.”

Aaron nodded slowly, he knew it wasn’t true, but he began to want to believe it. Part of him yelled to pull away, that something wasn’t right, that this wasn’t the Katelyn he knew, but another part of him was lulled into compliance by her soft voice. “Maybe.”

Katelyn smiled sadly. “We should get you home.”

“Right,” Aaron sighed.   

++++++

Kevin didn’t waste any time getting to Wymack’s house,leaving the gym in a rush with Neil following not three steps behind him. he had no Idea what was going on, but after three days of radio silence, Andrew calling him out of the blue wasn’t a good sign. The way he’d sounded over the phone wasn’t one either. Something had happened, and Andrew had definitely gotten himself hurt.

“Do you know where he was?” Neil asked as they stepped off at a bus stop three blocks down from Wymack’s house. “How he got hurt?”

Kevin shook his head, not even knowing if Andrew was hurt in the first place. It seemed the most likely scenario, since he asked Kevin to meet him at Wymack’s. Abby was the only healer in town that Andrew knew. The man never tended to hang around Wymack’s unless Kevin was with him in the first place, so it was the only conclusion he could come to that made sense. “Your guess is as good as mine.”

“Andrew didn’t tell you any of his plans?” Neil turned to look at him.

“No,” Kevin replied, and they fell into silence.

It wasn’t long after that they arrived at the door to Waymack’d house Kevin gave three sharp knocks before lowering his hand and stepping back from the doorway.

“Something’s wrong,” Neil said, eye’s darting around. “Andrew’s car isn’t here.”

Kevin paused, looking back to the driveway. Neil was right-- Abby’s SUV was the only car parked in it, and none of the cars that lined the road were his either.

“Shit,” Kevin muttered. He should have noticed sooner. He’d let himself get distracted by his thoughts.

The door in front of them opened with little preamble, Wymack staring at them in confusion as voices chattered happily behind him. “Kevin, Neil, what are you to doing here?”

Kevin stared at him, eyes wide, and blood slowly draining from his face. “Andrew isn’t here.”

Wymack opened the door a bit wider and looked over his shoulder as if to check that the aforementioned man wasn’t lurking behind him somewhere. “No?”

“Fuck.” Neil breathed.

“What’s going on? Was he supposed to be here?” Wymack asked, worry briefly etching his face.

“Yes,” Kevin answered, fighting the urge to shove past his father and look for the man himself. “He called me, he sounded hurt.”

Wymack opened the door fully, and Kevin spied Cody and Abby laughing together at the kitchen counter. “Maybe you two should come in.”

Kevin was about to agree when the sound of crunching gravel caught his attention. Neil pulled on his shirt a moment later, and Kevin’s eyes landed on a familiar black sports car stopping halfway up the driveway. Kevin was already running when the door opened and out slumped a half conscious Andrew. Neil was only a few steps behind him. Neither of them were able to catch him before he hit the ground, but Kevin though that might have been for the best seeing as he really wasn’t a fan of getting stabbed.

“Get Abby!” Kevin called over his shoulder to Wymack, then dropped to his knees beside Andrew’s head. Neil stopping to stand right behind him. “Andrew, can you hear me?”

The man blinked barely up at the sky pupils attempting to focus on anything and failing miserably, after a second they landed on Kevin. “Don’t touch me.”

“He’s in shock,” Neil muttered crouching down next to him eyes flitting over his leg. Kevin looked to where Neil stared and found some type of a shitty tourniquet tied around Andrew’s leg.

“What the fuck?”

“Move, you two,” Abby’s voice spoke behind them. They did, and she slipped between them, eyes worried.

“Andrew, how did this happen?” Abby asked, not hesitating in the slightest. Andrew simply groaned in pain, his eyes fluttering shut after a moment. “Shit, he’s unconscious.”

She turned to Kevin. “We need to get him in the house.”

Kevin nodded, then picked Andrew up gently,giving Neil a look as they followed Abby through the doorway. She went straight to the guest bedroom without any delay, depositing Andrew in the bed, then examining his poorly rigged bandage with worry. Wymack and Cody were nowhere to be seen, which was probably for the best,; Cody never reacted well to Andrew getting hurt. Kevin lingered awkwardly by the wall, knowing there wasn’t anything he could do, but not wanting to leave.

He startled when Neil shoved past him coming to stand by Abby’s side. “He’ll lose his leg if you don’t take that thing off of it.”

Abby gave him a sharp look, that softened a moment later when she registered the expression on Neil’s face. “You’re right, but he’s lost too much blood already. Taking the tourniquet of now could make it worse.”

“Then you need to start healing him quickly,” Kevin spoke up, stepping forward.

Abby nodded, and a second later her hands began to glow a steady blue. “Neil, how are you with blood?”

There was a pause, then Neil shrugged. “It doesn’t bother me.”

“Great,” Abby said, looking back down to Andrew. “I’ll need you to loosen the tourniquet after I take off the wrappings. Kevin, hand me that pair of scissors.”

Kevin did as he was told, unable to take his eyes away from Andrew.

Abby made quick work of Andrew’s improvised bandage, throwing the blood-soaked jacket onto the floor behind her, then cut away the part of his pants that obscured the wound.

“He was shot.” Neil said as the ugly red hole was revealed. It’d almost hit his knee cap. Kevin’s heart sank, right hand going to grip his left. Would Andrew be able to walk after this? The bullet didn’t look like it had lodged in his leg, but Kevin wasn’t a doctor, and he knew even if there was an exit wound shrapnel was often a problem.

“He drove here…” Kevin spoke his thoughts. “That stupid idiot.”

“Neil, take off the tourniquet now,” Abby instructed as she pressed down on Andrew’s leg with force. Neil did, discarding the belt without a second thought. Kevin tried not to stare as blood began slowly soaking between Abby’s fingers. He’d never seen the woman so concentrated before.

The silence between them seemed to last hours, the only sounds between them the rasp of Andrew’s breathing, and Abby’s diligent workings as she slowly extracted the shrapnel from his leg. Finally, after what seemed like forever, she pulled away, sweat dripping down her brow and skin much paler than normal. “That’s all I can do for now.”

Where there once was a bullet hole was now a quarter sized circle of bright red puckered skin, somehow sticking out even amongst the rest of his bruising. It was definitely going to leave a scar, Kevin thought. Abby could only do so much.

“When will he wake up?” Kevin asked from the position he had taken beside Andrew’s head. Neil sat cross legged at his feet, eyes shifting between Andrew and the closed doorway.

“It’s hard to say.” Abby slowly stood from where she had been crouching beside the bed her knees popping loudly as she stretched them out. “He lost a lot of blood.”

Kevin didn’t like the sound of that and looked over to Andrew. His face was relaxed in unconsciousness, but somehow that just made his injuries seem worse. Neither Neil nor Kevin followed her to the door.

She gave then a little frown, eyes flicking between the three on them. Unsure, in a way. “If you want I can make up the other guest room for you. I doubt he’ll be waking up tonight.”

Kevin shook his head, but before he could speak Neil did: “We’ll stay here.”

Kevin shot him a glance, which Neil met with a steady one of his own. Neither of them planned to take their eyes off of Andrew, it seemed.

Abby sighed. “Alright.”

++++++

Andrew woke slowly, in waves, like emerging from underwater; that is, if the water was intense pain and copious amounts of blood-loss mixed with some of that good old drug called shock. All in all, it wasn’t a pleasant experience, and it took much longer than necessary for Andrew to get his eyes to actually crack open. His body felt weighted down in an all-to-familiar way, as if he was tied to the bed he was currently laid out on, like gravity’s influence decided now was the time to get back at Andrew for daring to play it like an instrument.

The ceiling above him looked like any other ceiling he’d ever seen, white and utterly boring. Nondescript. He could be anywhere for all he knew. Though, he was definitely not in a hospital. It was too dark in the room. He wasn’t in that dingy warehouse either, which was something.

Andrew vaguely remembered wanting to get to Wymack’s, but whether he did or not he couldn’t tell.

Something stirred on the bed next to him and Andrew flinched back, head whipping over to find Kevin sitting on the floor, arms folded on the bed beside Andrew’s, and face tucked into the nook of his elbow. He was fucking asleep, Andrew couldn’t believe it. He was going to wake up all grumpy with a crick in his neck, the idiot.

At least that meant he’d made it to Wymack’s.

Shifting, Andrew pushed up onto his elbows, leaning over the man. He debated waking Kevin up, though the man wouldn’t appreciate it. Pain pulsed from his leg steadily, but it didn’t hurt as much as it should have. It was like it was dampened behind a curtain-- that was Abby’s doing. Glancing down to his knee, Andrew took in the new scar decorating his skin. Slowly, he bent his leg, winching at the pain. He could move it, but Andrew wasn’t sure standing was an option.

With a sigh, he laid back down, eyes sliding back over to Kevin. Carefully he slid his fingers over the other man’s forehead, finding a furrow between his brows even in sleep.

“You’re awake.” Andrew shouldn’t have been surprised to find Neil there, but he was. Quickly he dropped his hand, trying to find Neil in the darkness.

A shadow moved by the doorway, and Andrew’s eyes focused. Neil was curled up not far from Kevin, knees drawn to his chest with arms folded on top. He had shoved himself into a corner beside a nightstand, in a way that he could see both the door and the bed easily.

“You’re here,” Andrew found himself stating the obvious.

“I was with Kevin when you called,” Neil said, standing. “I just wanted to make sure you woke up.”

Andrew watched as his shadow moved to the door and opened it carefully. The hall light bled into the room, illuminating Neil’s face in the darkness. He was going to leave, just like that. A rabbit always ran, it seemed. Before he could really think about it, Andrew spoke. “Stay.”

Neil paused in his retreat out the door, turning back to look at Andrew. “Why?”

Andrew didn’t know. He didn’t say that, though. “The buses wont start running again till six.”

Neil gave him a skeptical look, then pulled out his phone and checked the time. His frown deepened. “Oh.”

There was a grumble by his knee and Kevin lifted his face, squinting from the hallway light, and mumbled a sleepy, “’Drew?”

“Go back to sleep, Kevin.” Andrew nudged him with his elbow.

Kevin grunted, reaching for Andrew’s face, but stopping before he could touch it. “You’re real.”

Andrew rolled his eyes and looked back over to Neil. “Obviously.”

Neil looked between them. “I should go.”

“Just sleep here,” Kevin told him through a yawn.

Neil looked around the room apprehensively. “Where?”

Kevin yawned again, half asleep still, it seemed, then yanked the comforter off of Andrew’s bed, along with two of the pillows. He laid them out on the floor with little care, then flopped down in the spot closest to Andrew’s bed. With a vague gesture Kevin pointed to the other spot and let his hand fall to the ground with a thud. A moment latter his light snores drifted through the room once again.

Andrew doubted he had been awake enough to remember any of this in the morning.

“Well, you heard the man.” Andrew pointed at the makeshift bed, then settled down on his own, shifting his weight until his back was pressed against the wall. All the while he stared Neil down.

Neil met his eyes, something shadowed in his face that Andrew couldn’t place. With a sigh Neil shut the door, and shuffled over to the pillow, settling there after a moment.

Andrew waited for the question Neil was inevitably going to ask, but when Neil finally did open his mouth it wasn’t a question at all. “You should have told us where you were going.”

Staring blankly ahead of him, Andrew let out a dead laugh. “What difference would that have made?”

“You wouldn’t have gotten shot if we’d been there.”

He might have been right, but Andrew refused to think about that. There was no way Kevin would go along with the things he did on his missions. “Go to sleep, Neil.”

“You wouldn’t have.”

“Sleep, Neil.”

There was a huff, then the sound of sheets rustling as Neil turned over. “Fine.”

Andrew closed his eyes, thought’s lingering on Kevin’s strong hands, a black fox mask that saw all too much, and the knowledge that his identity was no longer a secret. If Gross knew then Proust knew, and if Proust knew then… Well, maybe Andrew wasn’t going to have to track the man down after all. Surely the good doctor would come calling himself.  

Chapter Text

Andrew opened his eyes to the bleary feeling of pain, and his phone binging with a text message. Groggily, he groped for his phone, finding it a moment later sitting neatly on the bedside table next to his head. He definitely hadn’t had the cognizance to place it there last night. Kevin or Neil must have.

Shifting into a sitting position, Andrew unlocked his phone to find a text from Nicky waiting for him. Andrew read it over carefully. It was simple, not like Nicky’s usual text messages, only sent to inform them he was having a meeting with Navid at ten. As Andrew stared at the text another one popped up, this one only an address on the south side of the city and nothing else.

Andrew typed out a vague reply about being there, then sat his phone down.

He didn’t know what to expect when it came to the kid, but he had some ideas, none of them good. Navid wanted to talk with him, which was something he hadn’t expected. Lily was in no state to do so and, once Andrew had learned about Navid, he’d thought the boy would be similar. Mentally at least. Andrew had definitely been.

The fact that Navid was a telepath was another thing. Andrew would rather avoid his mind being picked through, and from what Nicky had told him, Navid could use his powers to do just that.

It made Andrew wonder just how much Navid had learned in that place.

There had to be something.

Nicky hadn’t known what questions to ask, but Andrew did.

Anything was more than Andrew had at any given time. He didn’t regret killing Gross, but he did regret not wringing the answers he needed out of her neck beforehand.

Andrew’s eyes drifted back to the phone, and he realized he hadn’t told Nicky what had happened with Gross.

Not to mention the talk he needed to have with Aaron.

Surely, they had found her body by now. Though Nicky hadn’t mentioned it in the text, that didn’t mean he wasn’t going to get an earful when they saw each other next.

Which, Andrew looked to the bedside clock, would be in less than an hour. It was already past nine.

Andrew sat up, eyes scanning the room; they landed on the sleeping form of Kevin, and Andrew blinked slowly at the sight. It seemed Neil had actually stayed, though Andrew doubted he could leave if he wanted to. Not with the way Kevin was curled around him, head tucked under Neil’s chin, and long legs tangled in the blanket he’d stolen from Andrew last night.

Andrew ignored the little thing in his chest that thrummed a rapid beat at the sight.

This is stupid , Andrew thought, looking away from the two men.

A moment later, his eyes drifted back to them.

Silently, Andrew cursed himself, then pushed off the bed.

It was a bad idea, Andrew realized as his left leg decided taking his weight wasn’t happening today. Andrew stumbled, then tripped over Kevin’s stupid legs.

He landed on the ground with a thud, half on top of the two men sleeping peacefully, the other half banging hard onto the cold wood floor. Andrew really hoped he hadn’t just gotten a concussion, he probably wouldn’t be able to escape Wymack’s house if that was the case.

Neil startled awake at his landing, blindly groping for something under his pillow that wasn’t there, and accidentally hitting Kevin in the face along the way. Kevin groaned, flinging an arm over his eyes to ward against the morning light, and muffled a yawn. “What the fuck.”

Neil’s eyes locked on Andrew –wide and brown, it seemed he was able to keep up the illusions while asleep after all— and he paused in his frenzied scramble, a look of confusion coming over his face. Andrew glared at him. “Not a word, Josten.”

Neil raised an eyebrow, and Andrew got the sudden urge to strangle the man.

Kevin slowly lowered his arm to squint at them. “’Drew, what are you doing?”

Deciding not to answer that, Andrew huffed and untangled himself from the two of them. He wasn’t in the mood today, touching was definitely a no. He levered himself carefully into a standing position and limped to the door, only putting the most minimal amount of weight on his leg that he possibly could. With his powers it wasn’t hard.

Ignoring Kevin’s grumbled complaints, Andrew slipped into the hallway and made his way to the kitchen. He found Abby and Wymack there, talking softly to one another as they cooked breakfast. Their conversation stopped abruptly when they noticed Andrew standing in the doorway.

Abby’s eyes widened as she took in Andrew’s vaguely haggard form. “Andrew, what are you doing? You shouldn’t be standing on that leg yet.”

Andrew ignored her, and continued on his way to the front door, only stopping when Wymack stepped in front of him, arms crossed and an unimpressed look on his face. “Where do you think you’re going?”

“Out,” Andrew answered blandly.

Wymack stared at him in exasperation.

“Andrew,” Abby said softly. “You were shot.”

As if Andrew didn’t fucking know.

Andrew sidestepped Wymack, hugging the wall to balance his weight. He didn’t want them to know how bad his fucking leg was hurting. Thank fuck Cody was nowhere to be seen-- Andrew didn’t think he’d be able to deal with the boy at the moment.

“At least let me get you some crutches,” Abby paused. “And a change of clothes.”

She couldn’t be serious, he didn’t need crutches, but as for clothes… Andrew looked down at himself and realized he was still in the blood-soaked ones from yesterday. That wouldn’t leave a good first impression, he supposed.

But she couldn’t be serious about the crutches.

Apparently, she took his stillness as some sort of consent, as a second later she had disappeared back down the hallway.

“You’re a stubborn idiot, Minyard,” Wymack sighed in her absence. Andrew didn’t feel the need to disagree with him. “You realize we just want to help you, right?”

Andrew didn’t answer that, instead finding a nice piece of wall to stare at. He didn’t need help. He needed to get out of here so he could meet up with Nicky, but he didn’t say that.

“I’m serious, Andrew,” Wymack said, trying to meet his eyes. “I have connections that could make all of this much easier.”

There was something oddly jarring about the exact bright yellow Abby had decided to paint the kitchen. It was everywhere.

“Andrew are you even fucking listening to me?”

While he was, he also wasn’t. There was no way Andrew would resort to using whatever federal connections David was suggesting. He could find Proust on his own.

There was a bang from somewhere down the hallway that cut off whatever half-hearted words of exasperation Wymack was about to spew at him next, Andrew never thought he’d be glad to hear Kevin and Neil bickering loudly yet there he was.

Kevin stormed into the kitchen a moment later, sleep-rumpled and angry. His shoulders set, and his eyes trained on Andrew. It seemed a bit of Kevin’s stubborn streak was shining through at the most inconvenient time.

Fantastic.

“What are you doing, Andrew?”

Andrew wondered how many people were going to ask him that exact same question. “Going out.” He waved a hand dismissively. “Go train, or something.”

Kevin looked like he’d just been slapped. “You’re not leaving.”

“Yes I am.”

“You were shot.”

“So?”

Kevin’s face morphed from slapped to willing to throw punches in the three seconds of silence it seemed to take for him to register Andrew’s answer. “What do you mean ‘so’?”

Andrew thought about it a moment then shrugged. Abby sure was taking her time.

“God damn it,” Wymack muttered, running a hand over his face.

The sentiment was shared.

Carefully, Andrew pushed himself off the wall, brushing past Kevin as he headed back to the hallway, ignoring the look the two men shot him. Really, it was ridiculous that Kevin ever thought he could hide his relation to Wymack, the two were too similar for their own good.

Abby was taking too long, and Andrew needed to get going.

Rounding the corner brought him face to face with Neil, and Andrew stopped abruptly, barely six inches away from the man. “Eavesdropping, roadrunner?”

Neil shrugged, and Andrew glanced down to find Neil’s hands were occupied with holding a bundle of clothes Abby had probably pawned off on him. “We’re coming with you.”

He looked back up to Neil’s face. “No, you’re not.”

Neil glanced over Andrew’s shoulder, and Andrew didn’t need to turn around to know Kevin was standing in the doorway looking at him disapprovingly. “Yes, we are.”

Andrew stared at him silently, and Neil stared back with a stubborn twist to his lips.

Un-fucking-believable.

Andrew took the clothes from Neil and pushed past him, heading towards the bathroom to change. There was no point in arguing over this, Andrew couldn’t care less whether they came with him or not. “I’m not using crutches.”

Neil’s lips turned up in a small smile that Andrew decided to pretend he hadn’t noticed. That look wasn’t something he needed to think about, and the feeling in his chest it inflicted was definitely nothing. “I’ll tell Abby.”

“Whatever.” Andrew slammed the door behind him.

++++++

Aaron slowly opened his eyes, blinking in confusion up at the white of Katelyn’s ceiling. What was he doing here? He couldn’t remember. He’d meant to stay at his own home, there was lab work he needed to check up on. Aaron’s eyes slid to the side landing on the alarm clock Katelyn kept on her bedside table, and groaned. His petri dishes needed rotating an hour ago.

Great.

He’d have to start the experiment over.

He shouldn’t have drunk so much at the bar they’d visited.

Aaron frowned at the clock. Wait, no, that didn’t seem right.

Did they go to a bar?

Fuck, Aaron didn’t know.

There was a big fat blank space were there should have been something.

Katelyn wasn’t even in sight, so Aaron couldn’t just ask. She was always an early riser; it’d never frustrated him till now, she could have woken him up. His poor petri dishes.

Aaron tried to stomp out the small-- large-- part of him that was freaking out over the situation.

Taking a breath, Aaron sat up, and steadied himself as a wave of dizziness washed over him. His head felt like bricks were rattling around within it, clashing violently with the dull throb behind his eyes.

He was probably hungover. That had to be it.

Actually getting out of bed took more effort than Aaron would admit, and as he stumbled to the kitchen, he wondered exactly how drunk he had gotten last night. His hangover was killing him.

Katelyn wasn’t in the bathroom, and the kitchen was empty as well. A cursory glance across the counter into the living room confirmed Aaron’s suspicion that Katelyn wasn’t in the house.

“What the fuck,” Aaron muttered to himself, glancing around the empty space, his eyes landed on his cell phone charging idly on the kitchen counter with a pink sticky note attached on top of it. Aaron frowned and pulled the note off.

Went to get bagels. Call me when you wake up.

-Katelyn

Rolling his eyes, Aaron reached for his phone and dialed her number, flinching at the shrill tone when it rang. God, his head hurt.

She answered before the second ring. “Aaron, you’re awake,” her voice crackled through the line, a forced cheeriness in her tone. At the sound, a pang of pain echoed through his head, seemingly reverberating around in his skull.

“Hey.” Aaron ran a hand through his hair, the blond strands deciding to take the opportunity to stand straight up. “Where are you?”

“At the bakery, thought you might appreciate waking up to some carbs.”

Aaron’s stomach rumbled at the thought, and he let slip a smile. “That doesn’t sound half bad.”

“I guess I just know you pretty well.”

Something pricked at the back of Aaron’s head, and his smile fell into a frown. The statement bothered him for some reason. “I guess.”

There was a pause on the other side of the line and a shuffling noise accompanied by the sound of soft voices. “Hey, I’ll be back in a bit. We can talk more then.”

“Alright.”

“Love you.”

“See you in a bit.”

Aaron was the first to hang up.

He sat the phone down, slumping as a wave of pain washed through his head.

Something was wrong.

There was a tension to her voice while they were talking, an awkwardness that hadn’t been there even when they first met. He couldn’t remember what happened last night, but the way Katelyn spoke, something definitely had happened.

Why did Aaron feel like he suddenly didn’t know Katelyn at all?

Waiting in silence for Katelyn to return wasn’t a very exciting task, and Aaron found his thoughts straying without his consent. For a while now, Aaron felt like he was missing something. He was used to people keeping things from him, Andrew being one of the foremost offenders, but that was to be expected. It was Andrew. Nicky also liked leaving him out of the loop. His family was just like that. They always seemed to ignore their actual problems, keeping their troubles to themselves. Aaron knew he was the same, but he’d thought Katelyn was different.

He’d never considered she might be lying to him about something.

Had she been lying to him?

Aaron didn’t know, but something wasn’t adding up, and the fact that he couldn’t remember anything from last night added to that.

Maybe it was just a hangover, but Aaron only rarely got blackout drunk --he unfortunately had the tendency to remember everything that happened when he was wasted--, and last night wasn’t one of those times. Or at least he’d thought so. He hadn’t meant for it to be.

The thing was, he couldn’t remember getting to the bar, let alone drinking anything.

Scrolling through his phone didn’t give him any answers, since apparently he hadn’t told anyone what he’d been doing before his memory went blank. Aaron paused. He had missed a call from Andrew, that was odd.

Aaron sent off a quick text to his brother as the front door finally opened, Katelyn coming through a moment later with a wide grin as she held up a brown paper bag presumably full of bagels. “Hey there, sunshine, want breakfast?”

Aaron couldn’t find it in himself to smile back, something missing when he looked into Katelyn’s bright face. “What happened last night?”

Katelyn paused where she was unloading a pile of bagels onto the counter and turned to give him an unreadable look. “You don’t remember?’

Aaron scowled. “Why else would I be asking?”

“Right…” Katelyn trailed off, hands aimlessly organizing the bagels. “Well, unfortunately we never made it to the bar.”

That was news to Aaron. “We didn’t?”

Katelyn shrugged.

“What happened?”

“We kind of, got mugged?”

“What?”

Katelyn came to stand next to him, concern on her face. “The guy hit you on the head. If you can’t remember anything, we should get you to the hospital.”

Now that was definitely a lie; Aaron hadn’t seen any sort of injury when he’d looked in the mirror.

Aaron shook his head, thinking back to the night before. He remembered agreeing to go to the bar, and Katelyn had seemed so excited, but after that there was nothing. Just a sinking feeling of dread, and an assortment of random images Aaron couldn’t make sense of. “How did we get away?”

That was a good starting point.

“Um, well.” Katelyn looked off to the side. “He was powered, like he could control knives? I’m not really sure, it could have been telekinesis, but that’s a weird way to use it.” Katelyn was rambling, and there was a nervous fidgety movement to her hands. It was something Aaron wasn’t used to. “But I didn’t know what to do so I kind of just gave him all our cash.”

“All of it?”

“Yeah...”

“Fuck.” Aaron rubbed at his eyes, his wallet was on the counter, but it was looking pathetically empty.

“So, then I just brought you back to my apartment. You were kind of out of it, and then you fell asleep.” Katelyn frowned. “I should have checked you for a concussion first thing, but I was panicking.”

She seemed pretty convinced he’d been hit over the head. Aaron wasn’t, though. “You panicked?”

“Yeah.” She gave him a once over. “We should really get you to a hospital, though.”

Aaron shook his head. “No, I don’t have a concussion.”

“But you can’t remember anything, that isn’t good.”

“It’s not from a concussion though, I wasn’t hit over the head.” Katelyn paled at that, and Aaron’s suspicion was confirmed: she had been lying to him. He just didn’t know why. “Are you sure his power was some type of telekinesis?”

He really hoped she said no, because the other option wasn’t something Aaron wanted to think about.

“Yes,” Katelyn answered. “Why?”

Aaron knew what that sinking feeling was now, he supposed. “Because it feels more like someone used some sort of telepathy on me.” Aaron stated bluntly, staring at Katelyn. He really wanted to be wrong. “Or hypnosis.”

“I- you know what that feels like?” Katelyn asked, horror crossing her face, she covered her mouth with a shaky hand. “Oh my god.”

She was taking this fact personally. “Yes, I do.” He’d only met Drake once, but it was something he couldn’t forget.

“I just- I’m so sorry.” Katelyn looked like she was seconds away from breaking down.

Fuck.

“Katelyn, what actually happened?”

Katelyn just shook her head, staring at him wide eyed.

“What are you hiding?”

“I’m not-”

That sinking feeling was back, along with a suspicion Andrew had planted in his head a long time ago.

“Katelyn, you told me you weren’t powered.” He didn’t phrase it as a question.

She sucked in a breath, a tear falling down her cheek. “Aaron.” He froze in place at the tone her voice took; it was soothing, like music. Aaron felt a sudden static in his brain, but he found he didn’t mind much. A part of him was screaming at not to listen, to get out of there, but he ignored that. It was Katelyn, he trusted her. A wave of calm washed over him, replacing his headache. “Go back to sleep, and when you wake up forget we had this conversation.”

Aaron turned on his heal and did as he was told.  

++++++

The door closed behind Aaron, and Katelyn let loose a shaky sob, hand grabbing at her cell phone and dialing the first number she thought of.

The line was picked up at the second ring. “What is it, Kate?”

She sucked in a breath. “Stuart, I fucked up.” She’d fucked up bad, Aaron knew, and her powers only worked on a temporary basis. He’d remember, eventually. Hypnotism was meant to wear off, and if Aaron remembered and questioned her further, she didn’t know how well she’d be able to lie to him. Her mission was compromised, though she didn’t want to admit it had been for a while. She’d let Aaron get too close. She’d only ever meant for him to be a cover while she was in America, someone who could vouch for her just being your average grad student if the Moriyamas came poking around, but she’d let him get to close. “I think I need to come home.”

There was a long pause, and Stuart sighed. “Then come home.”

++++++

Nicky waited by his car, impatiently checking his watch as the minutes slowly passed by. Andrew was late. Andrew was nearly thirty minutes late, and Nicky wondered how long he could put off just going into the house he was parked in front of and talking to Navid. There wasn’t much of a point without Andrew there, since Nicky didn’t have the right information, and he didn’t think anything he’d ask would get him new answers.

He didn’t want to trouble Navid if Andrew wasn’t there. Checking his phone, Nicky frowned. Andrew had said he’d be here, and his cousin didn’t ever go back on his word.

Before Nicky could make the decision to just say fuck it and go talk to Navid alone, Andrew’s car came screeching around the street corner.

“Oh, thank god,” Nicky muttered to himself as the car pulled up to the curb behind his own. The sigh of relief died in his throat as the passenger door opened and Kevin stepped out, Neil emerging from the back a moment later. Nicky felt the smile on his face fall off in confusion. “Why are you two here?”

They gave each other a look Nicky didn’t like, then Kevin spoke up, “We didn’t want to leave him alone after what happened.”

“What happened?”

“Andrew didn’t tell you?”

“Andrew didn’t tell me what?”

They shared yet another look, and Nicky might not have known what had happened, but he got a feeling he wasn’t going to like it when he found out. “Okay, what the fuck happened now?”

“Nothing,” Andrew’s voice cut through the tension Nicky hadn’t noticed was building between the three of them.

Nicky looked over to his cousin and blanched, his eyes going to the fading bruises taking up the side of his face. Those hadn’t been there the last time he’d seen him.

“That doesn’t look like nothing.” Nicky gestured to Andrew's face.

“I don't know what you're talking about.” The obvious limp his cousin had didn’t look like nothing either. Andrew came to a stop in front of him, and Nicky had to wonder just how much trouble Andrew was in now. “I’ll tell you what happened after I meet with Navid.”

Nicky hesitated at that, looking back to Neil and Kevin. “Okay… Are you all planning on coming?”

“Yes,” Kevin answered immediately.

Andrew shrugged.

“What exactly are we doing here?” Neil asked, and Nicky had to wonder just how much of the situation Neil knew about. He definitely knew something-- Andrew wouldn’t keep him so close otherwise-- but Nicky didn’t know exactly what.

Looking over at the two of them, Nicky's thought ground to a halt. It hadn't occurred to him before, but Neil fit the height and build profile for the second bank robber, and as Andrew came to a stop beside the man, it was made even more obvious. They were even wearing the same fucking coats; Nicky could barely hold in a slightly hysterical laugh at that. His cousin had said it was one of his informants, so was Neil an informant? Was that how they'd met?

But Kevin didn't seem to know. Nicky blinked. If Neil had been the other person there, that meant he was powered, and if the power tracings gathered from the scene were anything to go by, very powerful at that. Kevin didn't seem to know that little fact either. Nicky looked between the two of them, wondering not for the first time where Andrew had found the man.

Before Nicky had to figure out how to answer Neil's question with the sudden revelation he had clouding his thoughts, Andrew did it for him. “We’re going to interrogate a telepath.”

Neil paled significantly. “We’re doing what?”

“We’re not interrogating him,” Nicky said, before anyone got the wrong idea. “He’s twelve.”

“Fine,” Andrew rolled his eyes. “We’re questioning a telepath.”

“A telepath,” Kevin’s voice was strained as he clenched his fists. “Maybe I should wait in the car.”

Neil nodded silently, face blank and eyes far away. “Kevin’s right, we should wait in the car.”

Andrew leveled them an unimpressed look. “No. You insisted on coming with me, you’re not waiting in the car.”

“But-“

“Andr-“

“If I have to deal with the telepath, you do too.”

Nicky looked between the three of them. Kevin and Andrew, he understood, but he didn’t get why Neil was so opposed to speaking with Navid. He might have been a telepath, but the stigma against mental powers wasn’t as bad as it had once been, and Nicky really hadn’t expected this from Neil, not with the type of power Nicky was beginning to suspect Neil had. “We should get going, we’re already late.”

“Blame that on these two,” Andrew threw over his shoulder, but started heading towards the front door at Nicky’s words. Glancing at the other two, Nicky sighed. Andrew didn’t seem all that worried about leaving them behind, even after what he’d said. Somehow, Nicky wasn’t surprised when a moment later Kevin and Neil began reluctantly following them to the house. How his cousin had wrapped the two men around his finger Nicky didn’t know, and he wasn’t quite sure it was a good thing in the long run. Not with the path Andrew seemed set on heading down, at least.

It wasn’t really one of stability, no matter how much Nicky wished it was.

Nicky knocked on the door and took a step back, turning to the men behind him. “Just follow my lead.”

Kevin frowned, but didn’t say anything as the door opened in front of them to reveal a small woman, her hijab in slight disarray, and a rushed look on her face. “Oh, detective Hemmick. We were wondering if you were coming.”

Nicky gave a sheepish smile and scratched at the back of his head. “My apologies, we were held up at the precinct.”

Navid’s mother peeked behind him and frowned. “Who are they?”

“My colleagues,” Nicky said, easily slipping into his professional mask. “They’re specialists, I thought they might be of help.”

“Captain Hernandez said only you would be coming to speak with our son.”

Nicky widened his eyes in surprise. “The Captain didn’t call you to warn you ahead of time about our change of plans?”

“No.”

“I’m so sorry Mrs. Drazi, Captain Hernandez had said he would give you a call, but he’s been so busy with the case it must have slipped his mind.” Letting a bit of guilt into his voice Nicky bowed his head. “We can reschedule for some other day. While the case is time-sensitive, we wouldn’t want to burden your son anymore than he already is.”

There was a beat of silence as all of them seemingly held their breaths waiting for her answer. “What kind of specialists?

Nicky took a breath. This was it, his answer would determine if they saw Navid today or not. “They’re-“

“We’re from the Hero Registry,” Neil cut in, and Nicky turned to look at him in shock before quickly schooling his expression a moment later. What the fuck was he doing? “We specialize in trauma analysis, specifically concerning individuals with mental powers. We’re simply here to interview Navid and see if his testament aligns at all with any of the other victims.”

Nicky tried to give a reassuring smile that he didn’t believe himself; Neil was going to get them fucking arrested.

“There are other victims?” Mrs. Drazi asked, eyes widening.

“Yes,” Andrew answered her, and Nicky resisted the urge to stare at his cousin. Andrew was going along with this? “But further information is classified.”

Kevin looked like he was somewhere between shock and indignation. Nicky was having a similar feeling-- if they got caught impersonating registry agents, getting arrested would be the least of their problems. Nicky just had to hope Hernandez would never find out about this. It was a small hope, but Nicky was working with barely any at this point.

Mrs. Drazi looked between the four of them, then took a step back and opened the door wider for them. “Fine, Navid is waiting in the living room.”

They followed behind her silently, and Nicky sent out a little prayer that this wouldn’t blow up in his face. The inside of the house was warm and smelled a bit like cinnamon. The walls were packed with photos that Nicky found his eyes lingering on. Most of them were pictures of Navid, but a much younger version of the boy than the one Nicky was acquainted with. He supposed this was how the Drazi's had coped with their son’s disappearance, by filling the void he left with memories.

“You're pretty good at that,” Neil said from his side and Nicky had to stop himself from jumping; he hadn't noticed Neil approach him. “Acting, I mean.”

Nicky held in a bitter laugh, trying not to think of the years spent in his father's house, and the lies he had even fooled himself into believing at one point in time. Instead, he put on a small smile and studied Neil's face: there was definitely something there… “You're not so bad yourself. Though, the registry? Seriously?”

Neil shrugged.

Navid was fidgeting on an oversized couch when they entered the living room, looking nervous. The nerves seemed only to get worse when his eyes landed on Nicky’s little group. Mrs. Drazi came to stand beside her son’s shoulder and turned to look at them, a worried frown still decorating her face. “You can sit down if you’d like.” She gestured to another couch and an armchair on the other side of the room. “Is there anything I can get you? Tea, perhaps?”

Nicky shook his head as he sat down in the armchair, Andrew, Kevin and Neil taking up the couch. “No, I think we’re fine.”

Navid’s mother nodded, then looked to her son. “Do you want me to stay?”

Navid shook his head hastily, eyes going between the four of them in turns, and Nicky couldn’t help but notice how the boy had clenched his hands into fists. Hopefully he wasn’t reading any of their minds right now, that would be awkward.

“I- alright.” She looked between them, then turned to Navid. “I’ll be in the kitchen then. If you need anything, just tell me.”

Navid nodded, and after a moment of silence, Mrs. Drazi left. They were lucky she wasn’t a telepath; while there wasn’t a clear connection between manifestation of certain powers and genetics, there were cases where powers ran in families, and with Nicky’s luck she could have been.

“Hi there, Navid,” Nicky smiled, pushing the thought away. “Thank you for talking with us.”

Navid’s eyes went to Nicky and he blinked, a little startled, to Nicky’s amusement. “Nicky, who are they?”

Nicky’s smile turned into something a little less forced and a little more bemused. “You haven’t already found that out?”

Navid shook his head. “I’ve been trying to be better, and Miss Cassady says I should ask first.”

“Well, thanks for asking, then,” Nicky said, then pointed over to Andrew. “He’s my cousin, the one I told you about.”

Navid’s eyes widened as he looked over to Andrew, who in turn narrowed his eyes at his cousin. Nicky shrugged, and Andrew looked back over to the boy. “I have some questions for you.”

Navid stilled at that, face going a bit blank, and Andrew flinched back violently, startling both Kevin and Neil. Nicky might have found it funny if it wasn’t incredibly out of character. “Don’t do that.”

“Oh…” Navid frowned, then looked to the ground. “Sorry.”

“If you do that again, to any of us, we’ll leave,” Andrew told him, arms crossing over his chest.

Nodding, Navid looked back up to him. “Okay.”

“When did you get your powers, Navid?” Neil asked, considering. Nicky looked to him and wondered what he was getting at.

“I don’t remember, a few years ago.”

“That’s very young,” Kevin muttered to himself.

Andrew elbowed him, and Kevin yelped. “I’m the one here to talk to Navid, you two tag-a-longs need to shut up.”

There was a small huff of laughter and all eyes turned to Navid, who seemed just as startled at the sound as they were. The fact that Andrew had elicited the reaction was another thing entirely. “How are you still alive, how did you escape?” the boy asked a moment later, eyes trained on Andrew.

Andrew’s gaze dimmed, a faraway look crossing his face. “My brother.”

“He escaped too?”

“No, but he gave me a reason to leave.”

Navid looked confused at that. Andrew had left out a few significant details, but Nicky suspected his cousin didn’t really trust the boy with the truth. It was more complicated than an escape experiment. Andrew’s gaze flicked to Nicky before he looked back to Navid. “I need to know if you’ve met Dr. Proust.”

The boy stiffened at that. “Who’s Dr. Proust?”

“He is the head doctor who runs everything, I’m trying to find him.”

“Oh.” Navid frowned. “Why?”

Andrew was silent at that, and after a moment Navid answered with a shake of his head. “Robin did, though.”

“Who’s Robin?” Andrew asked, and Nicky wanted to kick himself for forgetting to tell him that part.

Navid frowned, and he looked unsure for a second as his eyes went from Kevin to Neil.

“They’re helping me track Proust down,” Andrew answered the unspoken question, or maybe it had been spoken, Nicky couldn’t tell.

Navid didn’t look convinced. “She was my… friend. We were put together.”

“And she met the doctor?”

Navid nodded. “Before we met, she said he was in the place she was kept before they moved her in with me.”

“And where was that?”

“I don’t know.”

“Did they ever move you? Before you were found by Valkyrie and Heiress, that is.”

“Yes, the doctor almost died a few years ago so they started relocating us every month or so, but I don't know where. We were kept in the dark.”

Andrew’s lips twitched downward. “Do you know where Robin was from?”

“She said she was from New Jersey,” Navid said. “Are you going to try and find her?”

“I’m going to try and find all of them.” Andrew said lowly, a serious look on his face.

Navid nodded solemnly. “It’s going to be hard.”

“Probably.” Andrew shrugged. “Did you ever try to read any of the scientists’ minds?”

Navid froze at that, something scared crossing his face making him look like a caged animal. “I-,” his voice broke. “I wasn't supposed to.”

“But that doesn't mean you didn't.”

“They were always so loud.”

Andrew nodded quietly. “Do you think you could tell me some of what you heard?”

Navid hesitated for a moment, “...yes.”

Andrew waited silently, and Nicky tried his best not to fidget. That was something it hadn't occurred for him to ask last time he'd spoke to Navid. It was something he definitely should have considered a possibility. There was a reason untrained telepaths were often labeled national security threats. Depending on the specific powers a telepath possessed, they could do anything from read minds to outright control thoughts and actions. Navid's powers seemed to be communication based, or at least that was how he used them, but that didn't mean he hadn't overhead something.

Navid took a deep breath. “They always wanted to know if they could control the way powers were acquired. If they could happen earlier in life, if it was predictable which of us could get what power, so they tested things on us.”

“Right.”

Navid studied him for a moment, the absolute lack of doubt in Andrew's voice making him pause. “Sometimes it was different drugs, sometimes it was…. Things that might cause a power triggering.”

“Like what?” Kevin asked bluntly, and Andrew gave him a look.

“Like electricity, or water, or…” Navid trailed off, “Powers are triggered by stressors, so they'd… see if they could stress us.”

There was a long silence before Navid spoke again, and Nicky could tell the questions were starting to get to the kid. They needed to wrap this up. “Sometimes it worked, but most of the time they'd go too far.”

Nicky felt sick.

“But what did they do after they triggered the powers?” Neil asked slowly. “What were they using them for?”

Andrew and Navid turned to give him a look.

“What, it's a serious question. What do they do with the kids they trigger powers in?”

“Bad things.” Navid shuddered.

“And after the organization runs out of uses for them, they're sold off to the highest bidder,” Andrew added blandly, waving a hand through the air. “You know, the usual.”

“Oh.” Neil blinked. “So, they're weaponized.”

It wasn't a question, and Nicky didn't know how he'd come to that conclusion so easily. Not when Andrew had explained so little.

“So those Ravens…. The two that were included in that file…” Kevin said, voice hoarse as he stared at Andrew.

“It fits the criteria.” Andrew shrugged, and Nicky had to agree. If the organization was selling powered people off as weapons, then it only made since the Ravens might have gotten their hands on a few.

“Wait,” Neil interrupted, “what Ravens?”

“Later, Neil,” Andrew said, not looking his way.

Kevin looked like he was about to throw up on Mrs. Drazi's nice rug.

Navid gripped the edge of the couch looking between them. “Is-is that all...or?”

“I have one more question for you,” Andrew turned his eyes back to the boy. “What was your number?”

Navid sucked in a harsh breath, and his grip on the couch tightened. Neil caught Kevin's eyes over the top of Andrew's head and mouthed 'number?’ Which was met by a small shake on Kevin's part. Nicky got the feeling he wasn't going to like this.

“S567,” Navid said in a voice barely above a whisper.

Andrew tilted his head. “Do you know Robin's?”

“S493.”

“Was she much older than you?”

“No, but she'd been there since she was very young.”

Andrew nodded, then moved to stand, turning his back to the room. Nicky really wished he could understand what was going through Andrew's head in that moment, so maybe then he'd understand what was going on.

“Wait,” Navid said, and Andrew paused, looking over his shoulder at the boy. “What was yours?”

“S035,” Andrew answered, not looking back at him, then left the room.

Oh… Nicky was definitely going to be sick.

Chapter Text

Jeremy tried not to fidget under the unrelenting glare of his boss, though he really wanted to. The silence between them was full of tension, and Jeremy really did not want to be the one to break it, but he knew he had to. “I have patrol in an hour, you know.”

“I need to talk to you,” she repeated herself.

“Yeah, you’ve said that.”

There was that silence again.

“Are you done being petulant, Sol?”

Jeremy shrugged. “That depends, are you done locking me in hospitals and drugging me for no goddamn reason?”

“We did that for your safety.” Jeremy rolled his eyes. It seemed like the conversation was just going to repeat itself. “Lola was still in the vicinity, and you were left incredibly vulnerable after that incident with the Monster. If she had-”

“Yeah, yeah, I know. If she’d decided to come murder me, she would have succeeded.” Jeremy waved a hand about and the light flickered. It was good to be at full power again. “So, you had to ‘protect me’. You know, I know that’s bullshit. Why am I here?”

“Your mission can’t be compromised, we need it completed.”

“You realize that’s what I’ve been doing, right? Taking out what’s left of the Wesninski circle isn’t as easy as you seem to think it is,” Jeremy pointed out. It was an S ranked mission, for fucks sake, there was a reason they asked him to do it.

“We know your loyalties to the registry have been… tested at times, but we cannot have that get in the way of you accomplishing this mission,” his boss said sternly.

Jeremy stopped himself from rolling his eyes. “My affiliation with Zero is in the past.” You made sure of it , he didn’t say. He’d never meant to get involved with the vigilante organization, but well… he didn’t disagree with what they were doing. When he was assigned a mission to gather intel on them, he might have gotten a bit too close. The fact that their leader was an old friend of his didn’t help the matter.

Anyway, the registry didn’t like them, which meant a constant watch on Jeremy’s actions, since they couldn’t get a spy into Zero. Thea was really meticulous with who she let near her people.

“We simply want to make sure you know what’s at stake.”

God, again with the threats. “Listen, if that’s all, I need to go on patrol.”

“Who was with you when you broke out of the hospital?”

Of course they wanted to know that, but there was no way Jeremy was telling them the truth. Detective Hemmick had enough on his plate already, and he didn’t need yet another threat to his case. Jeremy planned to keep his promise: no one would find out about the detective's connection to the Monster from him. Luckily, he’d talked this out with the rest of his team, and they’d come up with a plausible lie. “It was Laila.”

HIs boss frowned folding her hands together. “That explains the lack of security footage.”

Jeremy nodded slowly, stepping back towards the door.

“But not the melted locks.”

He paused, not having any idea what she was talking about.

She stared at him as if dissecting him under a microscope for an agonizingly long minute, then lowered her gaze. “You’re dismissed, Sol.”

Jeremy booked it out of there without looking back.

++++++

Andrew slammed the door behind him, hands shaking as he sat in the silent emptiness of his car. He knew Kevin and Neil would show up any moment now, and Andrew needed to pull himself together before they did.

Fuck, his hands wouldn’t stop shaking.

Andrew slammed a fist against the steering wheel sending a jolt up his arm. It wasn’t enough, nothing would ever be enough, and he was getting nowhere with his investigation.

Andrew slammed his hand into the wheel again, wanting the dull pain that came with it. He knew what he’d been getting into when he agreed to speak with Navid, and the boy had been more cooperative with answering his questions then Andrew would have been in that situation, but it still wasn’t enough. He’d run out of usable leads in San Diego.

567.

That was a much larger number than Andrew had thought it’d be. Renee’s case files weren’t even half that. Navid wasn’t even that young, and from the way he talked, he’d been there for quite a while. So, the number had to be larger. Andrew dug a fingernail into the fabric above his newly acquired scar, the pain from it centering his thoughts. Navid said they moved him every month, but he also said Robin was from a different location. They had multiple bases where they moved groups of kids to and from, on a month to month basis.

Andrew had started his investigation in San Diego not only because that was where his family had ended up, but also because it was a known smuggling hub. One that he knew the organization used from time to time, but there wasn’t a base here. That had become clear after a year of investigating.

Maybe it was time he started looking elsewhere. LA was a good bet, but they already had an investigation going against him, and Andrew wouldn’t have Nicky there.

There was a tapping on the passenger window and Andrew looked up to find a concerned Kevin staring down at him. Andrew forced his face back into blankness and unlocked the doors. Kevin slid into the seat beside him, eyes unsuccessfully trying to catch Andrew’s. Amazingly, Neil wasn’t three seconds behind him.

“Where’s the road runner?”

“Neil’s helping Nicky with Mrs. Drazi, you leaving all of a sudden didn’t reassure her,” Kevin said looking away from him. “Are you okay?”

Nothing about this was okay.

Andrew didn’t answer him, and the car descended into a stilted silence that lasted all of five seconds before Kevin spoke again. “What are we going to do?”

“There’s no we.”

Something vaguely like hurt crossed Kevin’s face and he shut his mouth, and Andrew thought that’d be the last of it, but it wasn’t. “That’s bullshit and you know it. So, what are we going to do?”

Andrew frowned, tapping out a rhythm on the steering wheel. Stupid Kevin. “Nothing for now, I need time to think.”

Kevin nodded, and wisely shut his mouth.

Neil showed up a few minutes later, and Andrew drove off with little care to where they were actually going. Probably back to the house eventually, but for now Andrew just wanted to drive with nowhere to be.

He tried to ignore the feeling of eyes staring at the back of his head, but after twenty minutes of driving he couldn’t any more. He caught Neil’s eyes in the rearview mirror and quirked an eyebrow. “Spit it out, roadrunner.”

Neil kept his mouth shut for a moment longer, a countless number of questions crossing his face. Andrew didn’t want to have this conversation, not now, but he had been the one to insist the other two be there when he spoke to Navid even when they wanted to back out, so it was to be expected. Neil would ask about the organization, or the number’s, or what they did to him, and Andrew would answer because he was an idiot who’d let not one, but two people get too close.

“Do you know someone named Seth Gordon?”

Andrew’s foot slammed down on the break, stopping the car abruptly in the middle of the road as he turned back to look at Neil. How. The. Fuck. Kevin cursed and reached over to turn the hazards on, none of them paying attention to the honking cars behind them. Andrew didn’t understand where the question came from. Maybe he’d misheard. “What did you say?”

“Seth Gordon, do you know him?”

Did he know him? Andrew felt a hysterical laugh bubble up his throat and out his mouth. Did he fucking know him? Unfortunately, the answer was a definite yes. Seth, Seth, Seth. How could Andrew forget Seth, and Janie, and Marissa, and all the things that had happened to them?  Seth had always hated his fucking guts. Andrew had never blamed him for it. He would have too, if their positions had been reversed.

He’d thought the man was dead after what’d happened to Marissa.

“Do you?”

Neil shrugged. “He’s dating a friend of mine, we’ve met.”

Well, that sounded oddly normal, especially for the type of people the organization typically produced, and if Seth had survived, there was no way he’d come out of it unscathed. Andrew hadn’t, and he’d ended up running in the end. Neil was right when he’d said the organization produced weapons, after all.

Kevin looked between the two of them. “Are you talking about the guy Aaron yelled at yesterday?”

Aaron had been in contact with him?

That wasn’t good.

“Where,” Andrew managed to growl out, Neil raised an eyebrow still staring at him. “Where did you see him?”

If Seth fucking Gordon had been in San Diego this entire goddamn time, Andrew was going to strangle someone. While the man was definitely trouble, he was also a connection to that place in one way or another.

“You know he won’t be there, right?”

Andrew didn’t care.

Kevin sighed. “We shouldn’t be doing this now, don’t act rashly, Andrew, you’re not thinking straight.”

Andrew shot him a glare. Kevin could fuck off. “Tell me.”

Neil nodded slowly. “Alright.”

++++++

“I'm worried about Neil,” Dan said, settling against the counter where Matt stood, carefully watching the customers in his shop. Matt looked over to her, a frown clouding his face, and she went on, “I know you are too.”

His frown deepened. “Yeah.”

Sir jumped up on the counter beside them, and Dan gave her a short scratch behind the ears. “Has he been back to the apartment?”

“He was here yesterday morning, but he left before I had the chance to talk to him,” Matt answered. “He’s been doing that a lot recently.”

“I haven’t spoken to him outside of work for about a week now.” Neil had seemed to be avoiding her. Though, Dan couldn’t really blame him, not after what she’d seen in her vision. She probably shouldn’t have asked him outright if he’d helped rob a bank. His reaction had been answer enough, however.

Matt looked over to her. “I feel like this is Kevin’s fault.”

“You’re just saying that because you don’t like him,” Dan rolled her eyes. “It’s definitely Andrew’s.”

Matt didn’t argue with that. Dan had told him about her vision, but had left out some of the more incriminating details. Matt could get overprotective when it came to Neil, and while Dan could as well, she knew better than most how poorly Neil could react to people caring about him. It was frustrating. They both cared for Neil deeply, Matt just had a tendency to be louder about it.

If he’d known Andrew had somehow convinced Neil to rob a bank with him, Matt wouldn’t have reacted well. Dan barely reacted well. She still needed to interrogate Neil about that.

“I think we need to stage an intervention,” Dan said, casually.

Mat nodded. “Corner him when he shows up at the apartment next?”

“Sounds like a plan.”

“Do you think he’ll actually listen to us?”

“No, but we have to try.”

++++++

Andrew had never gotten around to telling Nicky how he’d gotten hurt, but Nicky supposed that didn’t matter much now; he could connect the dots. Shelby Gross’ corpse was still where Andrew had presumably left it lying limply on the ground, hand clasping a gun, and head an indiscernible pile of mush.

“This is horrific,” Detective Dawning muttered to herself from where she stood beside him. Nicky couldn’t disagree. She’d been dead at least twelve hours before the call had come in that someone had found a body. Needless to say, it wasn’t the prettiest of sights, and the worst part was once they’d gotten there it turned out she wasn’t the only body in the building. Though, she seemed to be the only one Andrew chose to use his powers on.

“There’s too much blood for just one person,” Detective Lee added, and yeah, that was the problem wasn’t it? Andrew had gotten himself injured, and this time he didn’t have a fire to burn away the evidence of it.

He was getting sloppy, and there was no way for Nicky to cover it up.

“Yeah,” Detective Dawning agreed. “Think some of it is the Monster’s?”

“Let’s hope so, then this investigation will be over real quick.”

That was the issue. How was Nicky supposed to make sure they never got the chance to run a DNA test without incriminating himself?

Andrew had seriously fucked up, and it wasn’t just him who would get the backlash from this; their whole family was involved.

Nicky cursed silently. Not to mention Neil and Kevin, who had somehow winded up tangled in this as well.

“Detective Hemmick, are you okay?” Lee asked, giving Nicky a concerned look. Fuck, he’d been silent for too long.

Nicky gave him a weak smile. “Yes, I’m just… LAPD will be pissed when we beat them to the arrest.”

Dawning snorted. “Fuck LA, it was our case first.”

“It was,” Lee said, patting Nicky on the shoulder. “Now let’s get out of the way and let forensics do their job.”

Nicky gave a small nod, filled with dread as he watched the forensic specialists begin to collect blood samples.

++++++

Neil might have hit a nerve with his question, he supposed, watching as Andrew stood silently next to him on the sidewalk, eyes scanning the buildings surrounding them. Kevin was on his other side glancing between Andrew and the crowd of pedestrians that moved endlessly around them. They were a few blocks away from Allison’s apartment in the middle of the city center, though there was no way in hell Neil was going to tell Andrew Seth more than likely lived there. He’d probably try to break into the apartment, and Neil didn’t want to see what a fight between Allison and Andrew would look like.

“We should go back home,” Kevin spoke up. He seemed anxious. “I have a bad feeling.”

“Shut up, Kevin,” Andrew muttered, eyes still tracing the skyline.

Neil took a step closer to him. Andrew was trying to keep his face indifferent, but there was a high-strung energy to his movements. “You’re just trying to distract yourself from what happened with Navid.”

Andrew sent him a glare. “What would you know?”

“We should go home so you can plan our next move.” Neil pressed a bit closer, getting Andrew’s attention again from where it had wandered back to their surroundings. “You know you’re not going to find Seth here.”

Andrew didn’t say anything to that, but Neil knew, he knew that Neil was right. He just didn’t want to admit it. He’d rather distract himself with the notion of Seth than face the implications of what Navid said to him.

“He’s right.” Kevin came up behind Neil. “We should leave.”

Andrew redirected his glare. “We’re not-”

An explosion interrupted him. Neil instinctively grabbed for Andrew and Kevin, shoving their backs against the nearest building. A skyscraper across the street from them was missing a significant portion of its windows on the topmost floor, and as Neil watched, another explosion rocked the building, sending glass and debris shattering across the street below.

Something about those explosions struck him as familiar, but Neil didn’t have much time to think on that.

“Villain attack!” someone shouted. That seemed to be the trigger, and in a split second the crowd was panicking.

“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me,” Andrew muttered, barely avoiding getting trampled as people began to run by. He quickly yanked Neil back against his chest and looped an arm around his waist as a piece of metal shrapnel landed in the spot Neil had just been standing. Andrew’s breath shuttered against the back of Neil’s neck. “We need to get out of here.”

“That’s what I’ve been saying,” Kevin hissed from where he was leaning over them, a protective arm raised above their heads.

“Oh, so you just knew a villain was going to attack?” Neil snapped at him. Kevin sneered, obviously pissed. Sucked for him though because Neil was too.

“Heiress!” someone else in the rapidly developing mob shouted. Fuck, of course Allison would be the first one on the scene, this was practically her front door. A second later, Neil spotted the pink of Allison’s costume out of the corner of his eye as she swung up and over the crowd, landing lightly in the destroyed face of the building.

She disappeared from view and Neil saw their chance. The sound of a fight had broken out from the upper floors of the building, which meant Allison was doing her job. “Now, while Heiress is distracting them, let’s get back to your car.”

Andrew nodded, lacing his fingers with Kevin’s and grabbing Neil by his wrist he began the task of dragging them through the crowd. Andrew had parked a couple of blocks away. Neil hoped they could get back there without incident, but luck wasn’t his friend, and neither Kevin nor Andrew really inspired it either.

It was all going well until it wasn’t. A third explosion rocked the street with little warning, and that was when it all really went to shit.

A large chunk of the building had been dislodged and was hurtling to the ground, the mass of people near it running away in panic. Neil couldn’t do anything but watch, his powers useless in such a situation. The street was relatively large, but that didn’t mean there was much room for the rubble to go when there were so many people around.

“Kevin!” Andrew’s voice ripped Neil out of his thoughts, and he whipped his head around to find the man running across the street to where the debris were soon to land. Andrew had somehow lost his hold on him. Kevin was an idiot, and he was going to fucking die. But then Neil’s gaze landed on what Kevin was running towards and he understood. There was a little girl, no older than five, directly in the path of the ruble, and Kevin --the goddamn hero that he was-- was trying to save her.

He wasn’t going to make it, though, Kevin couldn’t run faster than gravity.

And Neil could only watch as in a split-second Kevin reached the girl grabbing her and pulling her against his chest, bracing for the impact half a building would make crashing down on top of them.  

Time seemed to stop as Neil held his breath, heart pounding in his chest, but the rubble never hit the ground. Neil sucked in a lung full of dust filled air, then looked over to Andrew who stood there with hands extended and clear exertion on his face. Kevin seemed to realize he wasn’t crushed under ten thousand pounds of rubble a moment later, as he slowly opened his eyes to look up at Andrew and let out a shaky laugh.

“Get out from under there, hero,” Andrew grunted, sweat beading on his forehead.

Kevin stood slowly, picking the girl up and carrying her to safety in what seemed like an agonizingly long time, but couldn’t have been more than five seconds. She clung to his neck tightly, her hiccupping sobs loud in the sudden quiet of the street. Neil frowned at that. There had been a lot of more panicked noises a moment ago. He glanced over his shoulder slowly and suppressed a flinch at the awestruck crowd that was slowly gathering around them.

Oh, fuck.

Kevin came to stand in front of Andrew, eyes never leaving the man. “It’s all clear.”

Andrew nodded, and released his hold on the wreckage, letting it crash to the ground with a defining boom. “Don’t ever do that again.”

Neil had to agree with Andrew’s sentiment, though he suspected they were about to have bigger problems than almost getting crushed to death.

The crash seemed to make time speed up again, the people around them bursting into hushed whispers. Somewhere in the commotion the band aid Kevin usually worse over his tattoo had slipped off his face, along with his hat. Neil didn’t have to look back to know all eyes were trained on the three of them.

Kevin seemed to register this a moment later, his face going blank as he forced himself to drag his eyes away from Andrew and look at his surroundings.

“That’s Kevin Day!” someone shouted from the crowd. A chorus of clamoring noise began to fill the air as more people turned to stare at the commotion the three of them had caused. Kevin stood there frozen, eyes wide, and face pale as the debris of the fight still rained down around them. Gently, Kevin placed the young girl on the ground, not taking his eyes off the gathering crowd. She ran back to her mother’s waiting arms, eyes full of both fear and awe as she glanced back and forth between Kevin and the fight Heiress was currently having.

Someone pulled out a camera and Kevin flinched as the bright light of a flash illuminated his face. Andrew looked like he was three seconds away from committing murder. Neil wasn’t sure exactly when he had pulled out his knives, but the fact that he had at all wasn’t reassuring in a crowd of this many people.

If another explosion went off, they’d be screwed.

Neil weighed his options as Kevin began to be bombarded with questions, the bystanders easily ignoring the fight above them for what they deemed as more interesting. There really wasn’t much of a choice in the long run, there had never been. Not when it came to Kevin. Not when Kevin’s face looked like that. No after what had just happened. He was panicking. Quickly, Neil reached out with his hands grabbing onto Andrew’s and Kevin’s wrists and squeezed his eyes shut in concentration.

Kevin was going to find out about his powers sooner or later, so fuck it.

There was a gasp that echoed through the crowd then somebody shouted, “Where'd they go!?”

Neil let out a shaky breath and opened his eyes. The mass of people looked around in confusion as they tried to locate Kevin once more. Neil straightened slowly, legs slightly shaky at the effort he was exerting, and tugged the two men towards an alley behind them so they could get away from the crowd. Both were silent as they followed him, saying nothing, but the questions they had weighed heavy in the air all the same. They turned a corner and Neil could feel Andrew’s gaze boring into the back of his head.

“Invisibility?” Kevin asked as Neil turned another corner his steps picking up speed, accusation clouding his voice. Police sirens had begun echoing down the street and Neil really didn’t want to deal with that on top of all this. At least if Kevin’s anger was concentrated on Neil, he couldn’t have a breakdown over the fact that Riko was definitely going to know he was alive after that.

“No.”

“Illusions,” Andrew stated, a layer of boredom barely concealing the anger held underneath. Neil kept quiet as they emerged on a less crowded street, what few pedestrians there were giving them a wide breadth. Neil wasn’t projecting anything specific, only making it so others perceive them as an obstacle to avoid as well as putting out a general ‘don’t get in the way’ vibe. The sooner they got back to Andrew’s car the better. Neil wasn’t sure how long he could actually keep this up along with the other illusions he held on a near constant basis. Something had to give, and he was not about to drop the ones hiding his identity.

“Where did you park?” Neil gritted out, his hands beginning to shake.

“Fourteenth street,” Andrew said, voice blank. Neil looked back at him again and caught his gaze. Something silent passed between them and Andrew’s lips dipped lower into a frown. “Eyes, Neil.”

Neil stared at him in confusion, then realized what he meant as they dodged around a group of teenagers. He’d let his eyes appear as they naturally were. Glancing to Kevin was a mistake, he looked confused and a little hurt as he stared back at Neil. Neil shook his head then looked away concentrating on getting to Andrew’s car as fast as possible without collapsing.

A police car flew past them, lights flashing brightly, the other people on the street stopping to gawk. Looked like Heiress was getting the backup she needed, so hopefully they could stop the rest of the city from getting destroyed.

Neil spotted the car up ahead, Andrew popped the locks, and they hastily got in.

Andrew tore down the road a moment later, not caring for the other cars on the street. Neil didn’t drop his illusion, fearing that someone would be able to track them to this car, or possibly Andrew’s house. Someone had definitely gotten Kevin’s face on video. It had probably already been uploaded. The Ravens would know he was alive soon enough.

Neil didn’t know if any of them would be able to deal with the consequences of this.

Kevin and his stupid heroic self.

They were going to fucking die.

“What’s happening to your hair?” Neil’s eyes shot open, locking with Kevin’s own, widening as Neil realized the rest of his illusions were slipping in his panic. “And your eyes…”

He forced himself to look in the rear-view mirror. There was red seeping into the tips of his hair, and his eyes….

He shut his eyes at the sight and counted to ten in every language he knew. This couldn’t be happening, not now, not with Kevin sitting right there. When he opened them again, he was back to being Neil Josten.

Kevin was still staring at him, shock, then realization, then pain and sadness crossed over his face before it settled on some faraway look. “You’re….”

Neil gaped at him, Kevin hadn’t…

“You’re-,” Kevin’s voice cracked through the middle, shattering something within Neil at the sound.

Kevin knew.

“Save the staring for when you’re alone,” Andrew spoke up, snapping his fingers to break the tension between the two. Neil couldn’t breathe. “We need to get home first.”

“Right…” Kevin croaked, yet continued staring at Neil as if he’d seen a ghost.

+++++++

Andrew followed Neil and Kevin quietly in to his house, the tension between the tree of them palpable in the air. Neil couldn’t seem to take his eyes off the back of Kevin’s head, and Kevin, for his part, had adopted the ramrod straight posture he’d had when he’d first showed up, bruised and battered, at Wymack’s house. Without a word to either of them, Kevin crossed the living room and went up the stairs, probably to go have an emotional breakdown in the quiet of his room.

Andrew wondered if there was enough alcohol in the house to deal with the fallout from this.

Neil hesitated in the middle of the living room, eyes still trained on the stairs as if Kevin might turn around and come back down any moment. He wouldn’t, but Andrew didn’t think he needed to tell Neil that. He sighed, “Just go after him already, roadrunner.”

Neil turned back to look at him, brown eyes dark. “What are you going to do?”

Andrew waved a lazy hand through the air. “Plan our next move, or something.”

First and foremost, he was going to call his stupid, unreliable brother. Aaron needed an update on what had happened. Needed to know what Nicky told him about Sol seeing Andrew’s face, and needed to be interrogated about Seth. He’d probably also tell him about the Kevin incident. Maybe.

Neil nodded slowly, eyes going to the stairs, and with reluctance he made his way to Kevin’s room. Apparently, Neil didn’t like getting caught in his lies, but Kevin would get over the fact that his protege was powered, eventually. The man liked Neil too much to hold a proper grudge, that much was obvious.

It was only after Neil had been gone a few minutes that Andrew pulled out his phone and dialed his brother’s number. Aaron had sent him a text earlier that day, but Andrew didn’t see a need to reply to that. Leave the fucker waiting, it wasn’t like Aaron had answered when Andrew had needed him.

The phone rang three times, and then went to voicemail.

Andrew pulled it away from his ear and stared at the screen for a long moment before redialing the number.

It rang three times and went to voicemail again. Andrew was going to kill Aaron when he figured out where the fuck his brother was. He re-dialed the number.

It rang, and rand, and clicked. A static like noise coming through the other end before his brother’s voice slurred out a tired, “What?”

“Where the fuck were you last night?” Andrew asked, walking over to his whiteboard.

There was a beat of silence on Aaron’s end. “I don’t know…”

“You don’t know?”

“I can’t remember. I just woke up.”

Andrew frowned. “No, you didn’t, you sent me a text this morning.”

“I did…. Oh. Huh, that’s weird. Why? Did something happen last night?”

“Nothing major, I just got shot.”

There was a thud on the other end, as if Aaron had dropped something. “You got shot? Why didn’t you call me to come get you?”

“I did call you.”

“You did? I-fuck.” Aaron let out a frustrated noise. “I can’t remember what I was doing at all last night.”

Andrew popped the lid off a dry erase marker and began making idle swirls along the bottom of the board. “Hit the bottle a little too hard it seems like.”

“Oh, go fuck yourself, Andrew.”

“That doesn’t matter now,” Andrew said, shrugging to himself. “We have bigger problems.”

“What problems are bigger than you getting shot?” Aaron huffed.

“Kevin decided to play hero and got caught on camera.”

“...shit. What are you going to do?”

“Figure something out.” Andrew scratched out one of his notes and wrote a thought over it.

“Oh great, that sounds like an amazing plan.”

“Shut up, Aaron.”

Aaron groaned. “Well if that’s all, I need to go find Katelyn and figure out just how much I drank last night.”

“Wait,” Andrew said, tapping his marker against the board.

“What?”

“You met someone named Seth Gordon the other day.”

There was a pause. “You mean that fucker who called me out on the street because he thought I was you? What of it?”

Aaron was a fucking idiot. “Did he say anything to you?”

Aaron seemed to think about that, letting out a huff in annoyance. “Not really, he just bitched at me a bit then left.”

Well that sounded like Seth, all bark and hardly anything to back it up.

“How do you know him?” Aaron asked.

“Doesn’t matter,” Andrew said indifferently, then hung up the phone before Aaron could start his questioning shit. Only after the line went dead did he realize he hadn’t mentioned what Nicky had told him. It could probably wait.

Damn, Andrew needed a cigarette.

+++++++

Aaron stared down at his phone, cursing his brother silently for his evasiveness. Aaron wasn’t in the mood for Andrew’s bullshit. His head felt like someone had taken a sledge hammer to it, and all he could think about is how he needed to find Katelyn and ask her… something.

Maybe she’d know why he couldn’t remember fuck all from last night.

Or this morning, apparently.

Something was definitely wrong, and Aaron was going to find out what.

+++++++

Neil closed the door behind him, looking anywhere but at the man who stood silently in front of him. He knew he should meet Kevin’s eyes but the thought of facing him made Neil want to gag. He hadn’t meant for this to happen, he never wanted Kevin to find out who he was. Nathaniel should have stayed down where Neil had buried him, but Kevin saw through the cracks in his mask.

Neil should have been running, but he couldn't. Not when Kevin was looking at him like that. Like someone had ripped his heart out then taken scissors to it. Like he was seeing a ghost, or worse, like he finally understood just how impossible Neil being here was, just how stupid they both were for making it this far.

“Nat-” Kevin started, but Neil took a quick step forward and placed his hand over Kevin's mouth not wanting to hear that name said in his voice. It would make things too real.

“Don't.” Neil wanted to be angry at Kevin's surprise, but couldn't be. He’d made it so Kevin wouldn't be able to realize who he was so easily. The adrenaline from their near-death experience was slowly wearing off, leaving Neil with a weariness he felt in his bones. “Just don't.”

Kevin reached up and grabbed Neil's hand, pulling it away from his mouth. Neil couldn’t tell if he looked angry or frightened. It was probably a mix of both. The grip on his hand didn’t loosen, and Neil couldn’t seem to tear his eyes away from Kevin’s face. He should have been gone already, he should have run as soon as he realized Kevin knew. Should have been gone the second Kevin’s face had been captured on camera. The Moriyamas would have to make a move now.

Why wasn’t he letting go?

“How are you not dead?” Kevin asked, hand squeezing Neil’s, and Neil looked up at him.

“I could ask you the same thing.”

Kevin paused a moment. “Jean.”

Neil took that fact in. Jean Moreau was someone he knew little about. Though he was the third highest ranked in the Raven’s, he had always been kept out of the spotlight unlike Kevin and Riko.

Neil took a breath. “My mother, she took me and ran.”

“But the Butch-” Kevin started, and Neil slapped his other hand over Kevin’s mouth. The man let out a frustrated grumble but didn’t move it away.

Slowly Neil lowered it once he was sure Kevin wouldn’t continue. “He hasn’t found me yet.”

“You’re a dead man.”

“So are you.” Neil paused, then reconsidered that statement. “Not so much anymore, though.”

Kevin groaned, and sunk down to sit on the bed, head bowed under a weight Neil understood. He felt it to. They descended into silence, the only noise coming from Andrew’s quiet murmurs as he talked to his brother. It was heavy, the air in the room. Kevin still hadn’t let go of his hand.

“Do you think I could still be a hero?” Neil wasn’t sure why he was asking; the answer seemed a pretty obvious no.

“Of course,” Kevin said without hesitation, surprising Neil. He looked and met Neil’s eyes, something determined settling in his gaze. “Don’t think I’m letting you get off that easily.”

Neil felt something loosen in his chest. “I see why Andrew thinks you’re an idiot now.”

Kevin rolled his eyes, then fell back on the bed, pulling Neil down with him. Neil landed with a grunt, half on top of Kevin, legs dangling off the bed awkwardly and on the floor. Neil watched Kevin’s face as Kevin examined the ceiling, the grip on his hand tightening once more. Kevin slowly closed his eyes and let out a long, shaky breath. “Just- Can we just stay like this a while?”

Neil tried not to think about how different they were from the kids they used to be. So much had changed, yet they’d still ended up with dreams of making the world something good. Maybe they were both idiots, they should have known by now real heroes didn’t exist. Neil shut his eyes and tried to imagine the type of world Kevin used to talk about making when they were young. It still seemed so impossible. “Fine.”

+++++++

Andrew ran a hand over the scar on his leg, feeling how the skin puckered in a semi round area around where the bullet had entered. He was lucky it had missed everything important, just above his knee, and off to the side enough that it had only grazed the bone of his femur.

It still hurt like a bitch, though.

“What are you doing? “Neil asked, and Andrew looked over his shoulder at the man, wondering when he’d gotten there.

“Where’s Kevin?” Andrew didn’t answer his question.

“He fell asleep.”

Andrew nodded at that and looked away.

“You should talk to him when he wakes up.”

Andrew supposed he probably should.

“It’s not that bad, you know,” Neil walked over to where he was sitting, and settled himself beside Andrew gesturing at his leg. “At least you can pass it off as just a normal leg scar, it doesn’t look much like a gunshot wound.”

“Know a lot about those, roadrunner?” At this point Andrew wouldn’t be surprised if the answer was yes.

Neil stared at him a long moment, seemingly contemplating something, then pulled down the collar of his shirt. Andrew tried not to get distracted by the sharp cut of his collar bone; he wondered what sort of noise Neil might make if he bit down on that spot. Andrew mentally slapped himself at the thought. Not now. Instead, he watched as Neil’s tan skin slowly shimmered, its smooth surface morphing until a white sheen of scar tissue was revealed. It seemed the answer was, yes, Neil knew quite a bit about gunshot wounds. Slowly, Andrew raised his hand, fingers lightly brushing over Neil’s skin. The scar didn’t feel all that different from his own.

Andrew covered it with the palm of his hand and looked into Neil’s eyes silently asking a question. Neil looked back, icy blue and cold. “I learned something about you today,” he said simply.

So, he’d decided to give something in return, what an idiot. Andrew didn’t move his hand away, thumb brushing over another scar that looked a lot like road burn. “Looks like someone wasn’t being careful.”

Neil shrugged, shoulder muscles moving lightly under Andrew’s palm. “Sometimes the people we were running from caught up with us.”    

“Why are you still here? The Ravens will be showing up sooner than later,” Andrew pointed out indifferently.

“I can’t just leave Kevin after what happened, or you,” Neil said, eyes sharp and intent as they caught Andrew’s.

“Yes, you can, that’s what your good at.”

“You need my help.”

“I need nothing.”

Neil shook his head in frustration. “You’re terrible at lying.”

Andrew simply stared at him. Neil needed to learn when to shut up.

“I’m staying,” Neil said, not shutting up.

“I hate you.”

Neil shrugged. “Too bad.”

“80%,” Andrew stated.

“What?” Neil’s face contorted in confusion.

“The likelihood that I’m going to end up stabbing you.”

Neil barked out a short, startled laugh. “I’d like to see you try.”

Somehow, Andrew was going to have to find a way to make sure the Moriyamas never got the chance to harm either Neil or Kevin. Never even got the chance to lay eyes on them, let alone touch them. It was easier said than done.

+++++++

Jean stared blankly at the television screen, its dim light flickering lightly over the planes of his face and a news anchor’s voice droning unintelligibly in his ear. Kevin’s face stared back at him, green eyes wide in surprise and in fear as he realized someone was filming him. The footage was bleary, but it was definitely him. Jean would know that face anywhere, spent years growing up with it, watching it change.

He should have known Kevin would be unable to keep up the ruse he was dead for long, but he had hoped…

Something smashed somewhere distantly behind him, and one of the other Ravens screamed in pain. Needless to say, the news Kevin was alive hadn't been taken well

Riko’s angry yells reverberated down the hall, but Jean couldn’t find it in himself to move, seemingly frozen in place, unable to take his eyes off the screen.

After everything he had gone through to get Kevin out, the man had thrown it all away in an impulsive act of heroics.

What a fool.

The door behind him slammed open, and Jean stiffened, knowing who it was without having to turn around.

“Jean,” Riko spoke, voice cold. Jean noticed there was something a bit pleading in Kevin’s gaze, and he fought the urge to plead back. It wouldn’t do any good. “Come here.”

Jean turned his head slowly eyes meeting rage and hate and the promise of pain. There was no way he could save Kevin now, not when he couldn’t even save himself.

Riko’s face contorted into something dreaded. “Now!”

Jean stepped towards him and braced himself for what was to come.

Chapter Text

“Katelyn!” Aaron said, bursting into the living room as Katelyn was trying to escape out the door, a bag at her side.

His head throbbed in pain at the sound of his own voice, but he’d remembered the question he needed to ask her.

Katelyn froze, one hand on the doorknob, and the other clutching her cellphone to her chest. “Oh, Aaron. You’re awake.”

“What happened last night?” Aaron asked, trying to make it not sound like a demand. He failed. “Did I take something? What happened to that mugger? Are you-”

Aaron cut himself off, Katelyn simply stared at him, eyes wide and face pale. “Are you really powered?”

“Fuck.” Katelyn let out a breath, her shoulders slumping and her hand falling away from the doorknob. “God damnit.”

Aaron couldn’t believe it. “Seriously, Katelyn?”

Giving a small nod, Katelyn turned to him, folding her arms across her chest. The expression on her face was pained.

“You lied to me?” She was powered?

Katelyn sighed. “Technically yes?”

“What the fuck is going on?”

“It’s a bit hard to explain…”

“Try me,” Aaron deadpans.

“I’m not sure how.”

“All that mind fuckery shit that happened earlier, the lack of memories from last night, whatever happened this morning, that was you?” Aaron asked. He knew the answer, but he wanted to hear Katelyn say it. None of this made sense. But it did, some little voice in the back of his mind said. Aaron ignored it. “Are you a telepath?”

“No, it was hypnosis,” she said, as if that was any better. Katelyn wasn’t looking at him. “I panicked.”

“You panicked?” Panic attacks usually didn’t involve mind controlling your boyfriend into forgetting the entirety of a night.

“You were picking a fight with a guy who could have killed us, yeah, I panicked.” As if this was Aaron’s fault.

“Did you panic this morning, too?” Aaron asked, sneering. “Or when you tried to make me forget what happened last night?”

“Yes.” Katelyn looked to him and frowned. “You weren’t supposed to find out I have powers.”

“What was supposed to happen then? I just continued to not know?”

“Yes!”

“Why?!”

“Because it compromises my mission!” Katelyn said, then slapped a hand over her mouth and let out a muffled, “Fuck.”

Aaron stared at her for a moment. “What fucking mission, Katelyn?

“Why are you so hard to lie to?” Katelyn mumbled, leaning heavily against the doorway.

“Apparently it’s not that hard, since you’ve been doing it our entire relationship,” Aaron pointed out.

Katelyn had the nerve to look apologetic at that. “It wasn’t all a lie.”

“So, you’re from some small town in Washington, and none of the rest of your family is powered?” Aaron asked with a huff.

“...Okay, so maybe that was a lie.”

“Katelyn!” Aaron tried to force his voice back down to a reasonable volume, but it wasn’t working.

“Don’t shout, Aaron!” Katelyn shouted.

“Then tell me what the fuck is going on!”

“I’m a spy, you dumbass!”

Aaron closed his mouth with a click, biting down on the words he was about to yell. She was a what?

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Aaron said quietly.

“I wish I was.” The admittance seemed to drain everything out of her, and she folded her legs, sitting down with a gentle thud.

Aaron stared at her for a long moment, before following her to the ground. They shared a weighty silence. It all suddenly made sense, and that pissed Aaron off. “This was all just a cover.”

“It started out that way, yeah.” Katelyn leaned back against the wall, and Aaron flopped the rest of the way to the ground, bone weary. He caught the implication that it wasn’t like that for her now, but it was too much for him to process. She’d still lied.

“Your name isn’t even Katelyn, is it?” Aaron asked, pretty sure the answer was a no.

“I’m not going to answer that,” Katelyn said softly.

Of course she wasn’t.

“Why the fuck would you choose to pretend to be a med student?” It was all Aaron could think of to break the silence that had fallen between them.

Katelyn scrunched up her eyebrows and gave him a look. “It’s a good cover.”

“It’s hell.”

A smile slipped onto her face at that. “You might be right.”

Aaron stomped down the anger that tried to bubble up in his chest. How could she smile?

“So, what, you’re just here...spying?” Aaron didn’t really believe that. What the fuck was there to spy on in San Diego? Aaron couldn’t think of anything.

“Well, technically I’m here looking for my cousin, but also spying, yes.” Katelyn said it so seriously that Aaron couldn’t help but laugh. Of course his only steady relationship came about because a spy decided she needed a boyfriend for her cover.

Everything was falling apart, so this only made sense.

“Who the fuck is your cousin?”

“I don’t really know if I should tell you that.”

It was ridiculous, really, a reflection of the rest of Aaron’s life. Just completely fucked. “You were already planning to run off and leave. Can you just explain why first?”

“I wasn’t-”

“Save it, Katelyn.”

She sighed. “Fine, do you know who the Butcher is?”

A sinking feeling settled in Aaron’s stomach. “Of course I do.”

Katelyn cleared her throat and looked away. “Yeah… so it’s his son.”

Aaron paused where he was picking at the carpet, and his mind flashed to the folder of missing persons reports Andrew kept stashed in their living room. “Nathaniel Wesninski.”

Katelyn froze. “How do you know his name?”

Fuck, even if Katelyn was admitting her truths, there was no way Aaron could tell her his brother was the Monster. Not to mention the fact that he was trying to take down some type of child weapon ring. He had to think of something, fast. “My brother’s been keeping Kevin Day hidden in our fucking closet for over a year.”

Katelyn blinked. “I know.”

“Wait, what?”

“We met him yesterday, remember?” she asked, looking over to Aaron.

Aaron thought back for a moment, then groaned when the memory returned. “God, I wish I didn’t.”

Katelyn actually laughed at that. “He was interesting, not what I thought he would be like.”

“You’ve imagined what Kevin is like?”

“Well… he is Kevin Day.” Katelyn smirked.

Aaron shot her a disgusted look. “Feel free to start lying again any time you want.”

Resting her chin in her hand she gave him a mischievous look. “Maybe I’ll stick around and get to know your friends a little more.”

And Aaron was almost willing to fall back into what they had; it was too easy for Katelyn to make him feel like they weren’t fighting. But he couldn’t fall back into her. She was a really good spy, now that he thought of it. “Don’t get your hopes up, he’s in deep shit now.”

Katelyn raised her eyebrows in question. “What do you mean?”

“You haven’t seen the news, have you?”

Katelyn gave him a look, then stood up and walked over to the TV, turning it on with a quick flick of her fingers. A second later, Kevin’s stupid face took over the screen, a news anchor’s voice yammering on about the fight that had apparently happened earlier that day. “Oh shit, I really do have to leave.”

Aaron raised an eyebrow. “You were actually thinking of staying?”

“Well… no. It’s a nice fantasy, though.” Katelyn continued to gaze at the TV contemplatively. “But now the Moriyamas are coming.”

“You hate the Moriyamas too.” Aaron was starting to wonder how that sketchy family had ever fooled the general public into loving them. It probably had something to do with Kayleigh Day creating actual super heroes. At least Katelyn wasn’t working for them, Andrew might have actually murdered Aaron if that had been the case.

“Yeah, well it's my family’s business, not mine, I just can’t get caught in the crossfire.” It was less like Katelyn had revealed a new side of herself and more like she’d just given him the puzzle pieces to make sense of the side that was already there. Aaron really wanted to be mad at her, but honestly? He couldn’t find it within himself. She’d lied to him, used him as some sort of cover to make her life seem more real, yet she was still the same person he’d come to know.

Aaron was either a complete fool and Katelyn was still playing him, or she’d let her cover slip around him, just a little.

He wanted it to be the latter, but life fucking hated him so he really couldn’t tell.

“Do I want to know who your family is?”

Katelyn shook her head, and leaned closer to the television. “Is that your brother?”

Aaron turned his eyes to the screen, and yeah, there was Andrew, face blank as he stared at his ‘not-boyfriend’ who’d just gotten exposed as not being dead. It would be hilarious if it weren’t terrible. Aaron narrowed his eyes, and Neil fucking Josten had been there as well, of course. Slowly he stood up, cracking his back along the way.

“Aaron,” Katelyn said and turned to him, a serious expression on her face. “You need to leave.”

“Kicking me out already?”

“No, not like-,” Katelyn began ushering him to the door. “I mean yes, but only because you need to get home.”

She opened the door and shoved him out into the hallway. “Why?” Aaron asked incredulously.

“Because your brother was caught on camera with Kevin Day, and when Riko Moriyama shows up, he’s going to hunt down any leads until he finds that poor bastard.”

Aaron let that sink in. “Fuck, you’re right.”

Riko knew Kevin was with Andrew, so his family was now a target. Great.

Katelyn frowned as she stared at him, then leaned down and planted a lingering kiss on his lips. Aaron stiffened for a moment, then melted. He was an idiot, he knew, but that didn’t stop him from being one.

She pulled away first. “I didn’t lie about loving you.”

“I know,” Aaron said, resigned.

Katelyn gave him a small smile, then closed the door in his face. Aaron turned, and stiffly made his way to the stairwell, trying to ignore the pain building in his heart.

++++++

Seth walked quickly back to Allison’s apartment, not bothering to watch where he was going, and instead simply keeping his power activated to avoid running into people. The fight she’d been in earlier that day was bad, really bad, and he didn’t know whether she’d come out of it unscathed or not.

He really hoped she wasn’t hurt. If she had been, he’d… He’d what? Steal from them? Seth was relatively powerless in the grand scheme of things. If it wasn’t a wall, he didn’t pose much of a threat these days.

More because he didn’t want to pose one than anything else.

“Seth Gordon,” a quiet voice said at his side.

Seth whipped his head around, losing his grip on his powers for just a moment. He was grabbed by the collar and yanked into an alleyway by a strong hand. The person slammed him up against the rough brick of a wall, and pressed a knife firmly to the base of his throat. He’d thought the day couldn’t get worse, yet there he was.

The woman holding the knife smiled up at him, sharp eyes glinting in the dim light. “Or should I call you S026?”

Seth’s breath hitched, his adam’s apple brushing the sharp blade. “Who the fuck are you.”

“Call me Lola.” She grinned. “I have a mission for you.”

“From the organization,” Seth choked out, his hands trembling at his sides.

Lola pressed the knife harder against his neck. “Who else?”

Seth should have shot himself when he had the chance, of course they would find him. “What mission?”

“I need you to take out a hmm… loose end.” Lola slowly reached into her coat and pulled out a manila folder, shoving it in Seth’s back pocket.

Seth gritted his teeth. “And if I don’t?”

Lola’s grin turned into a sneer. “Well, Allison Reynolds certainly didn’t impress me when we fought today, and I’m afraid if it happened again… say, if you didn’t complete your mission, then unfortunately she’d probably die.”

Seth didn’t need to be threatened twice, not when it came to Allison. “Fine.”

Lola reached up and patted him on the cheek. “Good boy.”

She took a step back, then turned and walked away with a wave of her hand. “Better be quick about it!”

Seth watched her leave in silence, clutching his hands into fists. He didn’t move until she’d turned the corner and disappeared into the crowded street.

When she was gone, Seth reached for his phone and dialed the first number he could think of. It rang twice before a soft voice answered, “Seth?”

“Renee.” Seth let out a breath he didn’t know he was holding. “I need you to do something for me.”

“What is it Seth? Did something happen?” Renee asked, voice growing steely.

“I need you to stay with Allison for a while, watch over her,” Seth said, ignoring her second question. “Make sure she doesn’t get hurt.”

Make sure Lola got nowhere near her.

Renee was silent for a long moment. “Okay Seth, I will.”

“Thank you, Renee.”

“You know we can help right?”

Seth took a deep breath, mumbled a quick ‘bye’, and hung up the phone. Curling in on himself he clutched his head in his hands, and ignored the tears that slipped down his cheeks.

++++++

Allison sat curled up on her couch, knees tucked under her chin, and eyes trained blankly on the TV in front of her. It seemed like every station was playing some rendition of the same news story; Kevin Day, alive and well. Or maybe not so well. He’d been in hiding for a reason, and her little fight with that exploding bitch had blown it. She wasn’t even able to catch whoever the fuck that had been. What a disaster.

She might have always thought Kevin Day was a fucking asshole, and he was, but she didn’t want this.

A knock on her door startled Allison out of her moping, and she was on her feet the next second, gripping a bat in her left hand and slowly opening the door with her right. She relaxed when she saw it was only Renee on the other side and took a step back. “Don’t scare me like that.”

Renee brushed past her into the living room, and Allison closed the door behind her. “Scare you?” She turned back to Allison. “Something happened?”

“Villain got away,” Allison explained, shoulders slumped as she set the bat back down. She then threw herself back onto the couch, burying her face in a pillow, and let out a muffled groan.

“Is that what Seth called about?” Renee mumbled quietly to herself.

Allison looked up at her. Renee stood off to the side all pastels and delicate floral designs; she wasn’t looking at Allison. Instead, she stared out the window, a frown gracing her lips. “Seth called you? Did he say where he was? He was supposed to be home an hour ago.”

Renee’s frown deepened. “I think something might be wrong.”

“You mean other than Kevin Day turning up alive, and me letting a villain get away?” There was definitely something wrong, and it had everything to do with this whole situation being fucked.

“Right, that too.” Renee was distracted, but she also didn’t seem surprised.

She didn’t seem to care much at all about the revelation, in fact.

Allison’s brows creased. “Did you know about Kevin?”

Renee looked to her, and grimaced. “Well-” Something caught her attention on the television, and she looked away.

Allison followed her gaze, and let out a curse. The screen had switched to a grainy video of Kevin rescuing a child, Neil Josten and Andrew fucking Minyard standing behind him. Something happened that was out of frame, and Neil was reaching for the two of them.  They disappeared a second later. The newscaster began going off about the mysterious people with Kevin, and their relation to the man. Allison’s eyes widened. “.... Neil’s not powered.”

And why the fuck was he with Kevin-- scratch that. Why was he with Andrew and Kevin?

None of it made sense.

“Hmmm…” Renee turned back to her. “Do you have a pen and paper?”

Allison blinked at the change of topic, but took it in stride. “Yeah, let me go get them for you.”

Renee gave her a soft smile, and replaced Allison on the couch. Allison returned a moment later with a pen and notebook, and handed them over. Renee scribbled something down on the notebook, then handed it back. Allison read what she wrote; Do you have a debugger?

Allison looked to her frowning, but nodded. She left the living room and walked down the hallway to her work room. It was full of half-finished projects. The gadgets she made strewn about the place in an organized mess. It was probably a fire hazard, but she never cared much. There was definitely a debugger laying around somewhere.

After a few moments of rummaging she found one and came back into the living room. Renee stared coldly at the TV, but when she saw Allison her eyes warmed. Allison made a show of setting the debugger down on her coffee table without a word. It crackled when she turned it on, letting out a few steady pulses of energy, until it beeped and shut itself off.

Allison set it down next to Renee, satisfied. “No bugs now. What’s going on, Renee?”

“Do you want the short version or the long version?” Renee asked.

“Short, then tell me the long when I don’t get it.” Allison replied easily.

“I think Seth’s in trouble.”

“Why?”

Renee frowned, then glanced back to the television. “You’re not going to like it, Ally.”

“Rip that band aid off quick, then, Renee,” Allison didn’t know how much more bad news she could take. “What did Seth do now?”

“He hasn’t done anything.”

“But?”

“But…” Renee still wore a smile, though it was strained. “I’ve been working as an informant on the side, for a friend.”

Allison’s jaw dropped. “You’ve been what?”

“He’s been trying to take down an organization that’s been abducting kids.”

Allison stilled at the implication. “You mean the one we’ve been investigating?”

Renee nodded.

“Is that way you were there when I was busting that smuggling ring? And everything that’s happened with Navid…” Allison couldn’t fucking believe it. “I thought you’d stopped that shit, Renee.”

Renee straightened her posture, folding her hands in her lap. “Yes, but this isn’t about that.”

“Then what is this about, and how is Seth involved?”

“A couple of months ago, my friend asked me to get him some missing person’s reports that fit the criteria of kids an organization has been taking.” Renee reached into her bag and pulled out a folder. She handed it to Allison, who took it with trepidation and flipped it open, staring down in horror at the picture of the child it contained. “I didn’t know what to make of it at the time, but I’ve been thinking...”

Allison furiously flipped through the pages; it was not Seth’s name on the report, and the birthday was wrong, but that was definitely a young Seth in the photo. He looked to be about five, but there were traces of the man he would grow to be in the shape of his chin, and the slant of his eyes. Even then he wore a scowl on his face.

“My friend says they’re experimenting on the kids to research powers, which lines up with what Navid has said. He also says they’re being trained, though, so that their powers are more useful.” Renee said it slowly, as if she was trying to make sure Allison understood.

“You think Seth’s one of those kids,” Allison’s voice cracked somewhere in the middle. She didn’t want to even entertain the idea.

“Do you know more about his past than I do, Allison?”

“...No, we both know fuck all.”

“Right, so I think it’s a possibility.”

Allison pulled at the curls of her hair in frustration. “Who is your friend?”

“I can’t tell you that.”

“Renee!” Allison snapped.

Renee leaned over and grabbed at her hand. “If it becomes important, I’ll tell you, but right now trust me when I say, you don’t want to know.”

Allison’s mind was running a mile a minute, and she was coming to a very bad conclusion. “Renee, tell me it isn’t the Mo-.”

“Allison,” Renee cut her off. “Leave it for now.”

“But-.”

“Leave it.”

Allison shot her a glare. “So, why do you think Seth is in trouble now?”

“He called me to ask if I’d come here to watch over you,” Renee explained.

“I was in a fight.”

“Something in his voice was off.” Renee looked away from her. “It could have been because of your fight, but it seems like more. I don’t know what’s going on, but I’m worried.”

Worried was an understatement. The bombing had seemed random, Allison had just been responding to an attack, but what if it hadn’t been? What if this was bigger? And she didn’t even want to think about the possibility of Renee working with the Monster, it would explain too much. The police did suspect there was a mole. “Me, too.”

“I’m staying until he gets back,” Renee said firmly.

Allison nodded.

“And when he does, maybe we can ask him some questions.”

“Oh, we’re definitely going to ask him some fucking questions.” Allison closed the folder and placed it on the table. She just hoped nothing happened to him in the meantime.

++++++

Kevin couldn't leave the house, that much became obvious once the news story broke. He’d taken one look at the image of his face plastered across the news channels, fallen into a bottle of vodka, and broken down; shattering like glass that had been dropped carelessly onto the floor. It’d be a pain to pick up the pieces, but Andrew had dealt with worse.

Neil seemed to be taking Kevin’s self-imploding well, all things considered, and while he couldn’t say Kevin was taking anything well at the moment, he wasn’t as upset about Neil’s powers as Andrew thought he’d be. The two of them sat together in the kitchen, Neil curled up in one corner of the couch while Kevin hogged the rest. The man was nursing a bottle, staring up at the ceiling with a listless look on his face. It was clear Kevin was trying to drink himself into a coma, but Andrew didn’t think he’d be very successful with Neil sitting there staring at him like that.

Ander turned back to his whiteboard, going over everything he knew, everything he needed to know. It was a lot, but less than it had once been, which was something. He thought he knew where they needed to go next, the steps they needed to take to find that damn doctor.

A ringing interrupted the silence that had descended upon the house, making all three men flinch. Kevin inhaled a swig of vodka and began coughing violently, as Neil scrambled and reached for his phone. He frowned down at the screen. “It’s Dan.”

Andrew was on his feet in a second, walking across the living room, and plucking the phone out of Neil’s hand. He hit the answer button. “Neil’s phone, leave a message after the beep. Beeeeeep.”

He then hung up, and placed the phone back onto the counter. “You should silence that, roadrunner, or people are going to start mistaking you for an old man.”

Neil barely had time to open his mouth before his phone was ringing again. Andrew rolled his eyes and picked it up, Kevin still coughing his lungs out in the background.

“Andrew Minyard, if you hang up on me again, I’ll find you just so I can end your life myself,” Dan’s voice said through the speaker. “Where’s Neil?”

“Who wants to know?” Andrew drawled, staring down at Neil, who was watching him with sharp eyes.

“Just hand him the phone.”

Andrew pulled the phone away from his ear, and covered it with his hand. “A Miss Dan Wilds wants to speak with you, Mr. Josten.”

Neil reached up. “Let her.”

Andrew handed over the phone without a word, and Neil began speaking quietly into it. Andrew watched him for another moment, before rounding the couch to where Kevin was sitting, looking like he’d been hit by a train.

Andrew pulled the bottle from Kevin’s quaking hands, and gave the man a once over. “You look like shit.”

“Fuck you.”

“Not when you’re drunk,” Andrew said offhandedly. He looked over the bottle and made a decision, dumping the rest of its contents into the sink. Kevin let out a startled gasp, and lunged forward. He over balanced and would have tumbled onto the floor if Andrew hadn’t caught him with his powers, it was too late anyway-- the bottle was empty, meaning the last of the alcohol in the house was gone. “Sober up, Kevin, we have shit to do.”

He waved his hand, and Kevin drifted back gently to his place on the couch. The man grumbled something incoherent, then shoved his feet into Neil’s lap. Neil shot him a look, but continued his conversation a moment later.

“Yeah, I know, Dan.” Neil’s eyes traveled over to where Andrew had settled himself on the arm rest next to Kevin’s head. “I know what I’m getting into, I don’t care about the consequences.”

The little voice they could hear from the speaker got louder for a moment. Neil winced. “Yes, I know I’m an idiot, Dan.”

Neil sighed. “It’s just Andrew.”

Andrew snorted; he wasn’t used to being called ‘just’ anything.

There was another long string of words that Andrew couldn’t make out. “...I’m sorry for lying about my powers.” Neil was looking at Kevin when he said that, and Andrew looked down to find a complicated expression playing over Kevin’s face. Andrew tugged at his hair and the man looked up to him for a second, before looking back to Neil and his one-sided conversation. “I’m always careful...Alright, I’ll tell them. Bye, Dan.”

Neil hung up the phone, and looked back over to the two of them. “Matt and Dan are pissed at the both of you.”

“Tell them to get in line,” Andrew said.

Kevin nodded along. “It’s a long line.”

Neil’s lips twitched upwards, before falling flat again. He rested his hands on Kevin’s ankles softy, but his eyes were hard. “Matt’s gotten in touch with some of his registry contacts in New York. Activity at the Nest has increased, the Ravens are definitely making their move.”

Kevin sucked in a breath, and Andrew’s hand stilled. It wasn’t surprising, they all knew this would happen eventually. Didn’t make it any better.

“I think we should leave,” Andrew said into the silence. The two men looked at him with unspoken questions on their faces. “I have no more leads here, there’s no reason to stay.”

“Leave?” Kevin asked quietly.

Neil’s eyes were widening. “We could get out of town before the Raven’s get here, or at least before they figure out where Kevin is.”

“But where would we go?” Kevin looked to Andrew.

Andrew thought for a moment. He had a list of cities and names, places where the organization had people. In nearly every major city there was someone. The easiest target would be Oakland-- Andrew new where to look there, but there was no way he could go back. Drake’s murder was still too recent, and Andrew didn’t think he could stomach the place.

They needed to go somewhere the Raven’s wouldn’t go looking immediately. Though, now that they knew Kevin was alive, Riko wouldn’t stop until he tracked him down. It wouldn’t be easy, however, with both Andrew and Neil watching Kevin. “I’ve heard Salt Lake is nice to visit this time of year.”

“Are there people from the organization there?” Neil asked.

It was a midway point, so the answer was a definite yes. Andrew shrugged. “Surely.”

Neil raised an eyebrow. “Good enough for me.”

They looked to Kevin. He was fiddling with his left hand, fingers tracing over the intricate patchwork of scar tissue that started there and wound up the rest of his arm. “When do we leave?”

Neil and Andrew shared a look. “Will two days be enough time for you?”

Neil laughed bitterly at that. “I could leave now, if you wanted to.”

Andrew considered it, then shook his head. “Two days. If we need to, sooner. Hopefully Kevin won’t be a mess by then.”

Kevin turned a glare on him. “I can hear you, you know.”

“Oh, I know.”  

++++++

It was late when Aaron finally got back to his house, yet all the lights were still on. Aaron frowned as he unlocked the door; Andrew could at least pretend to care about their electricity bill. Or maybe Aaron was just trying to distract himself.

The living room was empty, but when Aaron looked into the kitchen, he found his brother crammed into a corner of their couch reading a book. Kevin was asleep with his head in Andrew’s lap, and Neil was passed out on top of Kevin. Aaron stopped and blinked at the sight, an “ew” slipping out of his mouth before he could stop himself.

Andrew looked up to him at that, face unimpressed. “You’re actually back.”

Aaron thought about telling his brother the truth, but the knowledge of how Andrew would react weighed heavily in the back of Aaron’s mind, so he didn’t. “Katelyn and I broke up.”

“Oh, no,” Andrew said sarcastically. “How did that happen?”

“...We decided it was for the best.” Aaron shrugged, then gestured to the scene in front of him. “What the fuck is this?”

“None of your business.”

Aaron should have expected that.

“We’re leaving before the Ravens figure out where Kevin is,” Andrew said the next second.

“Where?” Aaron asked.

“Salt Lake City.”

Aaron guessed that made about as much sense as anything did. “I’ll make sure Nicky doesn’t do anything stupid, then.”

Andrew nodded slowly, not taking his eyes off of Aaron. “If the Ravens do anything…”

“You’ll be the first to know.” Aaron folded his arms across his chest. “Don’t worry about us, Andrew, we can handle ourselves. Just take your-” Aaron gestured vaguely at Neil and Kevin, “-Whatever the fuck those two are, and get out of here before you cause more trouble.”

“Right.” Andrew looked away from him.

“Right…” Aaron turned and headed to his room, the conversation ending like most of theirs did. Aaron just hoped Andrew knew what he was doing; if he had to travel halfway across the country to save his brother Aaron was going to be pissed.

++++++

It was almost laughable how easy it was for Seth to break into the small house. He simply walked through the backdoor, deathly silent and incorporable, like a ghost. The kitchen he ended up in was a dull beige, and would probably be considered homey if it wasn’t eerily dark. Seth didn’t need light to navigate by, however, and simply made his way across the tiled floor, steps muffled into silence by years of training. None of the occupants stirred as it was long after midnight, in the early hours of the morning. Everyone was asleep as they should have been.

Seth didn’t know if it was a blessing or a curse that no one in the house seemed to have insomnia. He didn’t know if it would have made a difference anyway. He could as easily go unnoticed in a room full of awake people as he could in one where everyone was asleep. His training had been ingrained in his mind for so long now that it was almost second nature.

He’d been made for this.

Seth tried not to gag at the thought, keeping his face carefully blank as he began up the stairs to the second floor.

He’d been left alone by the organization so long that he’d almost forgot his continued life was contingent upon his usefulness. That he was only a tool, though a rather unneeded one, or so he had thought.

Unfortunately, those people had found a use for him again.

Seth wasn’t sure life was worth it anymore if it always came back to this, being used for his powers like he was nothing more than them. Executing his Master’s dirty work at the drop of a hat.

But there was no way he could refuse the job, not this time, not when Lola was threatening Allison. Seth’s life might not be worth it, but her life was.

Allison didn’t need Seth’s shit on top of everything else, didn’t need his handlers’ eyes trained on her as well as the registry’s.

At the top of the stairs he stopped, and pulled out the gun strapped to his hip. With gloved hands he twisted the silencer on, then continued down the hall.

There were four doors on the second story, one at the end, two on the left and one on the right. Seth went to the rightmost side of the hallway first. Not bothering with the door, he stepped through the wall and into what looked to be the master bedroom. Two figures were asleep in the bed, unaware of Seth’s presence. Without much of a care, Seth walked over to the bed and raised his gun.

He must have made some sort of sound, because in that second the woman’s eyes shot open, fear flashing across her face. Before she could make a noise, Seth had already pulled the trigger, a hole appearing in the dead center of her head as blood splattered the pillowcase behind her. She fell back to the bed with a thump. The man beside her startled awake with a strangled yelp that was cut off a second later by Seth’s gloved hand over his mouth, and the gun shoved under the man’s chin.

They stare at each other for a moment, the man’s eyes pleading and full of fear. Seth thought that look might have mattered to him once, but now it certainly didn’t.

Seth pulled the trigger and dropped the man's body back to the bed, turning and exciting the room in search of his actual target.

It took him two tries to find the right room, but when he did, he entered it quickly, wanting to get this over with.

Unfortunately, his target was awake when he entered the obnoxiously pink room, her eyes wide from where she sat ramrod straight at the end of her bed. She was so small, and Seth really was going to be sick. He never thought he’d be forced to kill a child. Taking a breath, he clicked the safety off his gun and aimed it at her head.

“You don’t have to do this,” the kid said in a small voice.

“I do,” Seth answered against his better judgment.

“You’re like me, aren’t you? They got you too.”

Seth really couldn’t take this. “Just shut up.”

“Are they making you do this? Is that why you killed my-.”

“I said shut up.” Seth’s hands were shaking, and when he tried to steady them the shaking only grew worse. He had to do this, or they would go after Allison. Renee couldn’t keep her safe forever.

“What’s your name? Mine’s Lily,” her voice was small, and her eyes only looked at his gun, but she kept talking. “Someone saved me from them, you know. Maybe they could save you as well.”

Now that was just ridiculous. Seth gritted his teeth, but it was too late: he couldn’t do it. The trigger was right there, it’d be as easy as blinking for him to pull it, but he couldn’t do it. Lily still stared at him, fear barely hidden on her face, and Seth found traces of the boy he’d once been within it. Before they’d flayed the hope he’d held out of him.

What might have happened if he’d been saved?

Seth clicked the safety back on, and somehow Lily’s eyes got even wider. She’d gotten out from their control, and they were trying to use Seth to eliminate her for it. It was bullshit. What would Allison say if he did this? Not to mention Renee. They both thought too highly of him.

How could he revert back to whom he’d once been?

“When you wake up,” Seth said carefully, “call someone you trust.”

She frowned and opened her mouth, but Seth was already swinging his arm, the butt of his gun hitting her in the temple. She slumped onto the bed, unconscious. Seth gave her one more look before holstering his gun, and turning away. He needed to get out of there before he threw up in what would likely become a crime scene.

++++++

Nicky stood at his desk, listening dejectedly as the precinct lost its shit around him. It’d not even been twenty-four hours since Kevin had been found out, and it seemed like the entire country had lost its mind. Nicky might have lost his as well-- he’d never actually expected Kevin to get caught . Maybe he’d wake up and this would all be a dream, or perhaps he was hallucinating. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?

Captain Hernandez walked over to his side, and popped that little fantasy the next second. “Detective Hemmick, I need you to come with me to conference room one.”

“Is something wrong?” Other than the obvious everything, Nicky meant.

It was too early in the morning for this.

Hernandez looked like he wanted to say yes, but his eyes flicked over to the side and he frowned. “There are some people who want to speak with you.”

“Who?” Nicky asked, wary of the way Hernandez was acting.

Hernandez shook his head and gestured Nicky down the long hallway that lead to the conference rooms. “You’re going to just want to get this over with, Nicky.”

Well, that was foreboding.

He followed Hernandez silently, fingers worrying at the cuffs of his suit jacket as he tried not to let his nerves get to him. It might not be the worst-case scenario , Nicky tried to reassure himself, it might just be one of those annual reviews we have to do. But the timing was off, and Nicky didn’t really buy it.

When the door to conference room one appeared, Nicky slowed, his eyes going to the two men standing before the door. They wore all black, the only specs of color on them the crimson trim that accented their uniforms. Oh, fuck my life, Nicky thought.

He pulled out his phone, and sent a quick text to Andrew, warning him the Ravens had shown up. Hopefully he’d get his shit together and leave already. His cousin taking Kevin and leaving wasn’t the best solution, but at least it was better than the shit show that was about to happen here.

It’d give them more time, if anything.

Hernandez turned to him, resting a hand on his elbow. “Just answer their questions, Nicky.”

Nicky gave him a tight smile; like hell he was going to do that.

They got to the door, and were let into the room, its bright interior at contrast with Nicky’s current mood. His eyes immediately landed on Riko Moriyama, who was lounging back in a chair at the head of the table while he stared idly at the door. Riko’s eyes brightened when Nicky paused in the doorway, a sharp smile gracing his face. Jean Moreau stood behind him, sill as a statue. He gazed somewhere off in the distance, grey eyes not lingering on anyone in the room. The left side of his jaw looked like someone had taken a brick to it, and Nicky didn’t have to guess too hard as to what happened there.

Anger settled itself somewhere under Nicky’s skin, but he ignored it in favor of the current situation.

“Riko Moriyama,” Nicky said, infusing every ounce of professional training he’d acquired over the years into his voice. “How can I help you?”

Thank god Hernandez was staying at his side-- the tension in the room might have killed him otherwise.

Somehow Riko’s grin grew wider. “Oh, I think you can definitely help me, Detective Hemmick. Though, I would also like to help you in the process.”

In that instant, Nicky decided he really fucking hated Riko Moriyama. “How so?”

“I take it you’ve seen the news; when was the last time you spoke to your cousin?” Riko asked with fake pleasantries.

Nicky pretended to think for a moment. “Which one?”

Riko’s eyebrow twitched, and his smile grew strained. “Andrew Minyard, of course. He was one of the people last seen with Kevin.”

“I can’t say,” Nicky lied through his teeth. “It was probably a couple of months ago, maybe longer.”

“You two aren’t close?”

“Andrew’s been busy.” A none answer was as good as anything. “So have I.”

“With the Monster case, correct?” Riko stood and rounded the table. Nicky didn’t miss the way Jean took a hasty step back at that. Riko’s eyes slid to Hernandez. “Your captain here was telling me about that, the Ravens would like to offer our help.”

“Valkyrie and Heiress are already assisting us with the case,” Nicky said through gritted teeth. He saw where this was going.

“Yet, your progress has been lacking. The registry thinks you need a more experienced team to help take down this villain.”

“I thought you were here because of Kevin.” Nicky tried not to sound defensive, but he might not have been successful.

Riko had the nerve to look concerned. “Now that we know he’s here it’s definitely our secondary concern, but the registry has been planning for us to intervene for weeks now. It’s a coincidence that Kevin has turned up here alive as well.”

Well, he knew that was false.

Nicky glanced to Captain Hernandez to see if he was buying into this bullshit. The Captain was simply nodding along, a serious look on his face. So, he was okay with the Ravens’ intervention. That wasn’t good. “So you’re just here for the investigation.”

“On record.” Riko leaned a hip against the table, not taking his eyes off Nicky, and while the other man was smaller than him, there was something dark and dangerous in his eyes that Nicky wanted to avoid. Everyone knew the rumors of Riko’s powers, but no one knew exactly what class they fell into. For America’s top hero, it was odd how little anyone knew of exactly how powerful he was.

“And off record?”

“We all thought Kevin was dead, Detective Hemmick, no one knows what happened to him after he disappeared. You have to understand my concern, he’s family.” Riko said empathetically, and if Nicky didn’t know what exactly was going on, he might have believed him. “I want to speak to your cousin.”

Nicky’s lips thinned, then he schooled his face. They could work around this, Nicky would find a way. “I don’t know if Andrew will agree, but I’ll see what I can-”

Nicky’s phone began ringing cutting off what he was about to say next, and Riko’s face twisted into a glare. “Hold on a second.”

The call wasn’t from Andrew, which made Nicky pause, but it was relief that flooded his veins. Andrew calling right now would not be a good thing. “Detective Hemmick here.”

There was a shuddering breath, then a tiny voice spoke. “Detective Hemmick, help me.”

“Lily?” Nicky asked, shooting a hard look at Captain Hernandez, and ignoring the frustration that crossed Riko’s face. “What’s wrong?”

“My parents are dead,” she said quietly. “They were shot.”

Nicky froze, the statement setting off alarm bells in his head. “Where are you right now?”

“What’s going on, Hemmick?” Hernandez asked, but Nicky raised a hand to stop the questions that were inevitably coming.

“At home, in my room.”

“Stay there and keep me on the phone; we’re coming.” Nicky was already turning back to the door a hand grabbing at Hernandez’s arm.

He pulled the phone away from his face, and said, “Lily Yeung’s parents were killed, we need to get over there now.”

Hernandez’s eyes widened, and he rushed out the door, probably to alert the officers nearest to her house.

“A murder?” Riko asked, voice chipper. “We’ll be coming too.”

Nicky shot a glare at him but nodded stiffly; he doubted Riko listened when people told him no. Raising the phone back to his mouth he spoke into the receiver, and ignored the footsteps that followed him out of the conference room. “Lily, there’s a patrol car coming to your house.”

“Okay,” she responded.

“Stay on the phone when they get there, I’ll be there soon.”

“Hurry.”

And Nicky took that to heart, not wasting any time.