CHAPTER ONE: Exclamation, Question, Statement, Command
“Oh shit, oh god.”
“What do you mean he has a brain disease?”
“Yeah, an experimental treatment sounds good.”
“Call the Thompsons and tell them that we want to be a part of the trial.”
And with those four sentences, eight-year-old Foggy Nelson’s life changes forever.
Foggy’s mom is yelling. She’s packing her suitcase and yelling and Foggy doesn’t understand.
“I can’t handle this, Ed, it’s too much!”
“Rosalind, stop! Think for just a moment! He’s your son, he needs you!”
“No. He’s never needed me. He’s your son through and through. I’m nothing but a surrogate and you know it. I’m leaving. I’ll send checks for child support, you’ll never see me again.”
“Rosie, please. Don’t leave me.” Foggy can hear his dad’s voice break and wobble. “Don’t leave us.”
Foggy waits for his mom’s response but none comes. There’s only the sharp click clack of her heels and the sound of their apartment door slamming shut. Foggy bites on his fist and tries to hold in his cries but his dad must hear because he’s rushing into Foggy’s room and sweeping him up in a hug in moments.
“It’s okay, son. We’ll do just fine on our own.”
“Don’t leave me, Daddy!” Foggy knows he sounds like a baby, but he can’t help it. He wraps his arms around his dad’s neck and whimpers into it.
“I won’t, buddy. Wild horses couldn’t pull me away...”
The next day, his dad dresses them up in their Sunday best even though it’s Wednesday and they take a taxi out of Hell’s Kitchen and up to one of the fanciest buildings in Manhattan.
The lady at the desk is nice and she offers Foggy a lollipop while they wait. It isn’t long before a lady in a lab coat comes out and shakes his dad’s hand.
“I’m Doctor Louise Thompson. You must be Mr. Nelson?”
“Ed, please. And this is Foggy. Say hi, bud.”
“Hello, dear.” Dr. Thompson has a warm smile and a voice that reminds Foggy of cookies and milk. “Would you like to go play in the toy room while I talk with your father?”
“Sure.” Foggy says, after he dad gives him an encouraging nod.
“Marvelous, right this way.” She leads them to an elevator where they go down, down, down and then through a series of doors and hallways until they stop in front of a steel door with a rainbow painted on it. She gives it a firm knock before poking her head in. “Albert? Kevin?”
“Come in, Louise.” Calls another warm voice and she pushes the door open to reveal a man in a lab coat and a boy about Foggy’s age.
“Ed, this is my husband, Albert, also Dr. Thompson. And Frankie, this is my son, Kevin. Kevin, my sweet, come say hello.”
The boy waves at Foggy and Foggy waves back.
"You and Kevin have the same type of brain." His dad says as he crouches down to look Foggy in the eye. "And Dr. and Dr. Thompson here are going to help you both."
“Really?” Foggy asks, giving a tentative smile- his first all day.
“Really really. Now you be nice to Kevin, I’ll be back in a bit.” He pats his back before standing and exiting the room with the two doctors.
“Do you like rugby?” Kevin says.
Foggy shrugs as he sits down on the floor next to the other boy. “I don’t know what rugby is.”
“It’s a sport. We play it back in England.” Kevin has a thin face, a shaved head, and deep eyes that Foggy thinks look quite a bit like a grown up’s.
“You can teach me if you want.” Kevin smiles widely at that, and Foggy smiles back. There. He looks better with a happy face.
Kevin spend the next hour showing Foggy how rugby works. He’s a year younger than Foggy but he doesn’t act like a baby and he has an awesome action figure collection that they play with once they’re tired of rugby. He’s starting to get hungry by the time his dad and the Thompsons come back
“Hey, Fogs. You and Kevin here had fun?” Foggy’s dad gives him a weak smile and opens his arms for a hug.
“Yes!” Foggy nods enthusiastically as he wraps his arms around the man’s neck. “I learned rugby and we played with action figures.”
“Good. Howa ‘bout we get something to eat, hey? How’s pizza sound?”
Foggy nods again and his father lifts him up and out of the room with ease. The last thing Foggy sees is Kevin waving goodbye, his parents in their lab coats on either side.
It only takes Foggy a couple of weeks to decide that he doesn't like the hospital. They shave his head and make him do really hard puzzles in front of a camera and he only gets to go to the hardware store with his dad on Sundays.
"It'll get better, Foggy. I promise.” He says as he drops Foggy off one day. “You and Kevin are both gonna get better and then you'll get to start kindergarten just like all the other kids."
His dad looks tired, Foggy thinks.
At least Kevin is nice. They play together every day and giggle over whispered jokes and share each other’s cookies at lunch and hold each other’s hands through needle pokes. Foggy doesn’t have any brothers but he thinks Kevin would make a good one.
“Kevin, wanna play eye spy?” Foggy asks. They’re both propped up hospital beds as Kevin’s mom and dad strap suction cups to their shaved heads.
“I don’t know how.” Kevin say, shivering under his thin gown.
“It’s easy. You just have to try and figure out what I’m looking at. Ready? I spy with my little eye something yellow.”
“Um, is it the soap?”
“Nope, try again.”
It’s two days after his ninth birthday when Mrs. Thompson asks Foggy to come with her to the basement.
“Come along, Frankie. We’ve got big plans today.”
“Okay.” Foggy hands Kevin his action figure. “I’ll be back in a bit.”
She leads him down, down, down until they’re at the end of the hall. She opens a steel door and a cool breeze rushes out. Foggy wraps his arms around himself.
“What are we doing here?” He asks as Mrs. Thompson ushers him into the room.
“I think we’re ready to help you now. We just need to test one last thing. It may hurt a little, though, I’ll need you to be brave. Can you do that?”
“Yes.” Foggy says, nodding firmly. His dad had told him all about being brave.
Mr. Thompson is waiting for them, wiping down something shiny, and he smiles when they come in.
“Ah, Frankie. Hop up here, now. Come on.” Foggy does as he’s told and lays still as they strap his arms tight to the table.
“Okay, here we go.” Foggy squeezes his eyes shut and bites his lip. He can feel something cold press against the back of his neck. “Three, two- “
“Ahhh! Stop! Stop!” Foggy thrashes as his whole body is consumed with pain. It feels like fire and ice at the same time, he can’t think, he can’t breathe-
“In through your mouth, out through your nose. One, two, three, in, one, two, three, out. There we go.” Mrs. Thompson’s voice is sweet, gentle, and Foggy has time to think through the pain that it sounds like poison.
“Aaaaand all done.” Mr. Thompson steps away from the bed and the pain recedes instantly. “It’s called cerebral fluid, Frankie. You did a very good job.”
Foggy’s throat tastes like blood and his eyes feel wet and he thinks that maybe he’d rather they didn’t fix his brain after all.
When Mrs. Thompson takes him back upstairs, he finds his dad waiting for him. “Hey, Fogo. Give your old man a hug- oomph.”
Foggy flings himself at his dad and wraps his arms around his waist. A cry bubbles up and out of his throat and he can feel his dad tense in his grip. “What is it? Foggy, what happened?”
“They- they poked my brain and it- it hurt really bad. Let’s go home. Take me home. Please, Daddy. I want Mom and I want to go home!”
“Son...” Foggy’s dad runs his hand over Foggy’s shaved head and pulls him tight. “I’ll care of it.”
The next morning, Foggy and Kevin can hear their parents fighting from the playroom. Their words aren’t clear, but the tone is angry and Foggy grips Kevin’s hand tight.
“Play eye spy with me.” Kevin whispers into the tense air. Foggy nods. “I spy with my little eye something blue.”
“Captain America’s shield?”
“No, try again.”
After an hour of whispered guessing and yells echoing in from the hallway, the door flings open and Foggy’s dad stomps in. “Foggy, come here. We’re leaving.”
“You can’t leave!” Mrs. Thompson rushes in behind him, breathless and red cheeked. “We’re so close, Ed. We need them both to find a cure. We can save both our boys, we know it.”
“There might not even be a cure!” He shouts back, tears gathering in his eyes. “He might have less than a year left and I’m not going to let him spend it in this god forsaken place! Come here, son, time to- Shit!”
Foggy’s dad collapses to the floor. Behind him is Mr. Thompson, a needle in his hand. His face is grim but determined and he takes a step towards Foggy. “Come here, Frankie.”
“Daddy!” Foggy wants to rush towards his dad but Mr. Thompson is blocking his path.
“Be brave, Frankie. Stay still.”
“No, stop! Don’t- “Mr. Thompson takes one quick step forward and plunges the needle into Foggy’s neck. Darkness swarms up and consumes him and the last thing he sees is Kevin’s scared, young face and his resigned, old eyes.
Foggy wakes up in the back of a van. He’s strapped into the back seat and Kevin is asleep on his lap, Captain America action figure hugged to his chest.
“Where are we?” He tries to say but his mouth feels like cotton.
“Ohio, dear. Now shush or you’ll wake your brother.” Mrs. Thompson’s voice is as soft and gentle as ever as it filters back from the front seat.
“Yes, little Kevin Peters. And you’re Franklin Peters. Aren’t you excited to move to Oklahoma? Our family has been planning it for oh so long.”
“No, where’s my dad?”
“He’s right here, driving. Now shush, Frankie.”
“My name is Foggy.” He protests weakly, but he lapses into silence anyways, tiredly taking in the blurry green landscape outside.
The next couple of years are a blur of pain. He's told to solve more puzzles in front of the camera and every time he fails, things just get worse.
"Be brave now, Frankie." Mrs. Thompson always chides. "It'll only hurt a bit."
It hurts a lot. There are needles in his neck and surgical scars on his head and it hurts so much that Foggy wishes he was anybody else. Anybody but Kevin, at least, because Kevin suffers right beside him.
Kevin whispers to Foggy at night about running away. Foggy whispers back about finding his dad.
They move from Oklahoma to Oregon, and then to Arkansas. Their new house has a hot tub outside that the boys are allowed to play in when the neighbors can’t see. Mr. Thompson brings home a stack of school work for the boys to work on. He always tells them that it’s high school level material and that “they should be very proud.” Foggy thinks that he’d rather be doing sixth grade work like other kids his age, if it meant he could go to a normal school.
“I spy with my little eye something silver.” Kevin nudges Foggy’s ankle as they sit at a bland table in a bland room in front of a camera.
“Scalpel.” Foggy answers numbly and Kevin sighs dramatically. He always picks scalpel.
“I spy with my little eye- “
“Knock knock, boys.” Mrs. Thompson walks into the room carrying a too familiar tray and Mr. Thompson shuts the door behind them.
“Kevin, you first. Stay still.” Mr. Thompson lifts the cerebral fluid needle from the tray and steps forward.
“No, please, Dad. Please.” Foggy watches, frozen, as the needle slides in, down, under Kevin’s skin. He screams louder. “Stop! Go away!”
They step away, faces confused. Foggy rushes to Kevin’s side and wraps his arm around the younger boy.
“Are you okay?” Kevin nods into his shoulder as the adults quickly rush out of the room, voices too low to hear.
“What happened?” He asks, accented voice wilted and soft.
“I don’t know.” Foggy answers and pulls him closer. “I don’t know....”
Nothing strange happens for a couple of months. Kevin turns ten and his parents bring him a rugby ball in a plastic grocery bag and a boxed cake to celebrate. The boys are being prepped by a team of scientists working out of an abandoned warehouse for brain surgery. They slowly grow more tense, months turning into weeks turning into days, until-
“Stop! Let us go!” Foggy struggles as two men drag him and Kevin out of their playroom and towards the makeshift surgical theater down the hall.
“Frankie! Frankie!” Kevin is sobbing, thin body shaking with his cries. “Help me! Mum! Da! Frankie!”
Foggy tries to dig his feet into the ground but his bare feet slip uselessly along the dirty cement. He and Kevin are both dumped and strapped onto cold metal tables. He can feel the prick of a needle being pushed into his vein, can feel the cool liquid surging into his body, pulling him into darkness. The last thing he hears before he loses consciousness is Kevin’s slurred voice.
“I spy with my little eye something red.”
Foggy blinks awake, vision bleary and hearing echoing dulling. He forces himself to focus, forces himself to sit up. He’s still in the surgical theater but he’s alone, all of the doctors and Kevin missing. He can hear a commotion though, shouts and laughter coming from the hall. Laughter that is most definitely Kevin’s. Without a second though, Foggy pushes himself off the table. His bare feet slap loudly against the cool floor but he doesn’t stop.
Kevin, where’s Kevin?!
“Kevin?!” His voice sounds too loud and too quiet, echoing back him endlessly.
“In here, Frankie!” Kevin’s voice doesn’t sound scared, hurt, sad- if anything, it sounds gleeful. Foggy follows it to the playroom, bursting through the door to find- oh.
The younger boy is lounging on their beaten-up couch, smile stretches wide over his face. And the doctors are.... jumping? Mr. and Mrs. Thompson and their four assistants are all jumping up and down is place.
“What’s going on?” Foggy asks, taking a hesitant step into the room.
“Oh Frankie.” Kevin beacons him closer. “Something marvelous. Watch. Mum, slap Dr. Richmond.”
Crack. She does as Kevin says and before Foggy can even follow the movement, there’s a red handprint on the other woman’s face.
“Tell one of them to do something.”
“Um... Mr. Thompson, touch your nose.”
He does. What the hell...?
“They did it, Frankie.” Kevin wraps his arms around Foggy, head buried in the crook of his arm. “They cured us. But they did something even better too. They made us superheroes.”
After the thought processes, the boys pack up what little objects they treasure and instruct the Thompsons to drive them as far away as possible. It’s the start of a long, leisurely road trip that stretches from coast to coast. They see the Grand Canyon, Mount Rushmore, Disney World, Disney Land, wherever their heart desires. They slowly experiment with their powers, testing each other’s strengths and limits.
They learn that they can’t influence each other but that they can override commands that one has already given. They learn they can control people for about twelve hours, and from about fifty feet away. They learn that wording is everything, and a well-placed question or an ill-timed sarcastic comment can make the world of a difference. They learn that people will stop at nothing to fulfill their instructions.
“What do you think will happen if I tell them to lick their elbow?” Kevin asks one day, as he and Foggy slowly lick away at ice cream cones under a beach umbrella.
“Maybe they’ll try for twelve hours until it hears off?” Foggy offers.
“Hm. Da, lick your elbow.”
Foggy watches as the now familiar blankness swims into the man’s eyes. He stretches and reaches for a few minutes, growing increasingly more agitated. It starts to lose its appeal. Foggy turns back to watch the waves lap at the beach. It’s relaxing.
“Hey, Frankie, look at- “
Foggy’s neck snaps around to find Mr. Thompson laying on the ground panting, arm dangling at an awkward angle.
He feels sick, like he might throw up. Mrs. Thompson is fretting over her husband, tears welling up in her eyes. Kevin is- Kevin is laughing. Light, bubbling giggles that push the air right out of Foggy’s lungs.
"Boys, would you like to do some school work today?" Mr. Thompson stands tensely in the doorway.
"Go away, Da, we're playing." Kevin says before Foggy can even lift his head. He immediately turns away but Foggy stops him.
"No, stay. I want to learn more about the history lesson from yesterday." Foggy starts to get up from where he and Kevin are building a Lego house.
"Sit back down, Frankie.” Kevin says.
"No. You might not care about school but I do." Kevin glares at him like he always does when Foggy ignores one of his demands.
"Whatever. Mum, bring me some ice cream."
Mrs. Thompson stiffens in the living room. "We don't have any, my dear.”
"What? Why not? Go get some, right now. You'd better hurry."
"Of course, love." She's out of the door as quickly as possible and Foggy sighs into his book.
It used to be fun, telling them what to do. After all of the surgeries and tests, it had felt fair. But now... now, Foggy is just starting to feel mean.
That night, Foggy curls up in bed and hugs his pillow to his chest. He's twelve. He'd be starting junior high soon, if he'd been born anybody else. As it is, he doesn’t even have any friends, let alone a traditional education. He at least used to have Kevin, but-
Foggy is pulled out of his thoughts and out of his bed by the sound of a pained scream coming from downstairs.
He clomps down the stairs and finds Mrs. Thompson curled up on the ground, hand covering half of her face. It looks red and- and burnt. And there's an iron on the ground beside her and Kevin is laughing. Laughing his giddy laugh that used to be the highlight of Foggy’s day.
“Kevin! What did you do?!" He demands, spinning the younger boy roughly by his shoulders.
"She told me to pick up my toys." He sounds happy and Foggy feels sick.
"We're just kids, Kevin! That's what we're supposed to do! Pick up our toys and- and study, and eat our vegetables! We can't just control people for fun!"
Kevin glares angrily, arms crossing in front of his chest. "But I can just control people, can't I, Frankie? And so can you."
The next morning, Albert and Louise are gone and Kevin cries like he used to at the testing facility, full body shudders that tamper off into hiccups.
"They're my parents. They’re the ones who did this to me and now they're leaving me because of it!" Between his thick accent and his tears, Foggy can hardly understand him. But he gets him and Foggy thinks that that's a scary thought indeed.
There's a girl in Kevin's bedroom, naked and dancing. They're fourteen and thirteen and sometimes they whisper to each other about girls the way they used to whisper about superheroes. But this-
"Oh, fuck off, Frankie. You know your powers don’t work on me.”
"But they do work on her! You have to stop, she doesn't want this."
Kevin sighs like Foggy is being purposefully obtuse. "She does want it. I told her to enjoy."
"That's not the same!" Foggy waves his arms around as the girl continues to obliviously dance. "She wouldn't be doing this if we didn't have powers!"
"But we do have powers!" Kevin yells back.
They've had this argument a million times. Kevin uses his powers, Foggy tells him it's wrong, and Kevin gets angry. They've been living like brothers for almost ten years, and it's- well, Foggy can't remember what it was like to be normal. His whole life has been a series of painful experiments and then trying to rein Kevin in.
"You, put on your clothes and go. Find your parents and stay with them. Forget everything he's told you." Foggy snaps his fingers at the girl and she bolts for the door.
"I wasn't done with her." Kevin is well and truly mad now, eyes squinty and face red. Foggy opens his mouth to argue but Kevin continues. "But I am done with you."
"You're- what?" Foggy feels his heart twist.
"Done. With you. You and I aren't the same anymore, Franklin."
"But" -but you're all that I have, but we're alone, but we're brothers- "But you don't have anywhere to go."
Kevin laughs cruelly. "That's the beauty of it. Without you in my way, I can go anywhere."
Foggy takes a step forward and jabs him in the chest with a well-placed finger. "I'll find you, no matter where you go. I'm not going to let you hurt anybody."
"Did you know you have a sister, Franklin?" Kevin's grin is slow and sure, his eyes alight.
"What?" Foggy staggers backwards for a second and his stomach lurches. "I don't- that's not-"
"Her name is Candice. Your father married a lovely woman, Anna, and had her while you were being tortured in a lab. She's ten right now. And don’t forget about your mother. Miss Rosalind Sharpe? She’s a successful lawyer, I believe. Living in a high rise in New York.”
The last thing Foggy hears is the thudding of his own heart and Kevin's manic laughter as he sprints out of the room.
It takes him three months to track down his dad and his new wife. His sister is enrolled in the fifth grade and seems to be a perfectly normal little girl. Foggy feels like he should be jealous. He's just relieved.
They're living in a suburb in New Jersey and safe. Foggy guiltily stares through their window for a few moments before hitching a ride to New York. Once he gets to his mother’s apartment building, he quickly jogs up the steps. He starts banging on the door- "Hello! Mo- Miss Sharpe! It's-" only for it to swing open.
No, no, no.
The apartment looks fairly average, if lavishly decorated. He takes a step forward and feels something crinkle underneath his foot. He looks down to see a piece of paper. On it, in blocky and rushed writing, is a single sentence.
Kevin wants you to know that I’m taking a trip up to the Empire State Building and that if you don't want this to happen to your dad and sister, you should leave him alone.
Foggy is tripping, falling, stumbling down the apartment steps, tears and air pushing out from his body. He thinks he makes it to the sidewalk before his knees give out. He can feel the world going on around him but it doesn't seem real.
Eventually there's a tap on his shoulder and Foggy tears himself out of the haze to look up. A police office with a gruff face and kind eyes is kneeling in front of him.
"What's your name, son?" He asks in a gentle voice.
"Foggy." Statement. Statements are safe.
"Alright, Foggy. I'll call your mom if you can give me her number." He's talking to him as if he were a child instead of a fourteen-year-old, but Foggy isn't in the mood to mind.
"Do you know if there was a suicide at the Empire State Building today?" Questions are safe too, adding a question mark is always a good idea.
"Oh shit." No. "Yeah, a woman." Kevin, why? “Kid, was that...?"
"Oh shit." Exclamations can be a little bit trickier, but he has practice.
"Hey, come here. We'll get it sorted, it'll be okay." The officer puts his hand on the back of Foggy's neck and Foggy rears back, hands pushing against the man's chest.
"Don't touch me!" Command. Commands are bad. Kevin uses commands, commanded his mom to burn herself, commanded Foggy’s Mom to- oh God, Mom- Kevin, why would you-
"I won't. Why would I touch you? I don't want to touch you."
No more commands, Foggy thinks. Not ever.