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Next Wave

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 Two parahumans faced off against each other in the backyard. The woman, a blond with a glowing yellow ax and sword cautiously eyes her opponent, a dark-haired, green-eyed boy who stood opposite her, a glowing blue katana held in each hand. The reason for the cautious gaze was the boy's unnatural advancement in weapons handling. A mere month ago, he’d barely been able to handle a simple knife. Now, however, he was duel-wielding two katanas with an expert's grace, an unspoken monument to how quickly he had advanced.

   Gritting her teeth, the woman leaped forward, her ax swinging towards his head. Rather than move back and evade it, he almost lazily raised one katana to block it, then used the other to stop her sword from piercing his ribs.

   She pressed on, doing her best to be aggressive, hacking and slashing at multiple locations, trying to be in two places at once. The problem was that the boy already knew a lot of her tricks, and was familiar enough to guess what her next move would be. Perhaps if she could enter her breaker state, then the fight would be in her favor, but it had been her idea to use weapons and weapons only. After all, if she started using her Breaker state, then he would start using energy slashes.

   “How’s your schedule for this week?” the woman asked as she switched her weapons from an ax and a sword to a spear and mace. Had to keep him on his toes, after all.

   “Well, obviously I’m with you today,” the boy said, using a katana to parry the spear, and neatly moving back from the mace strike. Her blunt weapons were strong enough to make his crack or break with one hit, and he was restricted to only sharp weapons. “Then tomorrow and Wednesday, I’m with Sarah and Crystal to practice my Energy Discharge and Barrier strength. On Thursday, I’m practicing using Time Manipulation with Velocity, and Flash Foward with Armsmaster on Friday. On Saturday, I’m using Healing with Amy, and Sunday I practice Lightning with Neil.”

  The woman grunted as she lunged forward, her spear shifting at the last second and becoming a machete. The difference in length caused the boy to undershoot, allowing her to duck below his blade and nick his shoulder. 

    “I think you’re ready to move onto the next stage with your weapons training. I’ll start coaching you on using more bladed weapons besides swords and knives and possibly learn the limits of your energy slashes. I’ll talk to Sarah about clearing your week with me, and advancing your potency in them.”

   In a strange sort of way, she was proud of him and his progress. She had hoped to pass her skills down to Victoria when she triggered, but when she’d become a Brute, those dreams had faded, and Neil had helped with most of her training. But the boy was not only an adept fighter, he was flourishing under her guidance. It made her feel good about herself as a mentor and knowing that he would one day use those skills to strike down villains long after she was gone only made her happier.

   “Actually, I’m spending the next week with the Protectorate.”

   The woman paused in their fight. “What?”

 “Armsmaster approached Sarah about it. The adult heroes want to coach me more on how to use the powers that resemble their own the most. Battery wants to show me tricks that I can use with Lightning that Neil can’t, Assault wants to see Repulsion used in action, Velocity wants me to train my other speed abilities like Afterimage or Catch-Up , Miss Militia is interested in teaching me how to use guns in addition to Hunter , Triumph wants to see if he can work with my Shockwave , and Armsmaster wants to do tests with Channel Master to empower certain parahuman abilities. He thinks it’ll be a good tool for emergencies.”

     Like Endbringer battles .

Brandish frowned as her weapons dissipated. Normally, she had no problems with the Protectorate(besides the usual), but they were getting on her nerves lately. The boy was a member of New Wave , not the Wards. Yes, they had agreed to share his training amongst the two groups, but the majority of his time should be spent amongst New Wave, not the Protectorate. With how quickly he was progressing in his training, he could be on the streets in a matter of weeks with dedicated training!

   “I’ll talk to Sarah about it,” she said finally,  summoning twin daggers in her hands. “Unless you’d be willing to give up your healing session on Saturday?”

   She instantly knew that she had said the wrong thing when his stance became more guarded.

   “I like healing,” he said quietly, his katana’s growing in length. “It’s the only productive thing that I can do with my powers.”

   With a grunt, the two of them clashed, their blades creating ethereal sparks as they fought, only a small humming noise enemating as their weapons clashed.

    That was one of the main problems with the boy Brandish thought. He was an amazing fighter, with an almost prodigious skill in tactics and combat…but he hated that side of him for some reason. He hated the fact that there was a part of him that felt at home throwing bolts of thunder, blasting away obstacles with laser beams, or pushing past people with super strength. He instead seemed to think that his best work was done in a hospital. Maybe if he’d had Amy’s versatility, then he could argue about it, but h could only heal things like cuts, broken bones, lacerations, and the like. His power could do nothing for cancers and only seemed to weaken illnesses, not banish them. Still, he had fought them ruthlessly for that one day of healing, and Amy seemed to perk up on Saturdays, knowing there was someone to help her.

   Brandish just really didn’t understand them. As important as healing was, it wasn’t particularly hard, was it? Not like figuring out how to take down six parahumans at once, trying to overpower a parahuman capable of growing stronger the more he fought, or fighting against Tinkers.

  Nevertheless, all she could was teach him with what she had, and teach him well.

*******************************************************************

  Eric had kind of wondered what it would be like to have a brother. Not an annoying one, but a cool one, one that he could chill with, talk smack about the girls with, and even give him advice on stuff. It was a daydream, mostly, because having a baby right now would mean that New Wave would have a source of leverage against them for several years, and his parents felt like two kids were enough. But, if he had to pick someone to be his brother, Jason was a pretty good pick.

   When Jason had first moved into his room, yeah, he’d been a bit pissed. Who wouldn’t? Imagine having your own room for most of your life, decorating it however you wanted, and then one day after school, your parents are telling you that you now have a new roommate. So yeah, he had whined a bit, and he’d given Jason the evil eye when he first appeared, but Jason was an overall cool guy. He kept his side of the room clean and even helped Eric clean his if he asked. He did his fair share of chores, making the load lighter for both him and Crystal. He cooked breakfast in the mornings, and he was a good cook too(whoever had taught Jason how to make chocolate chip pancakes was an angel). And his powers were just like Eric’s too! With his armory of Blaster abilities, and his Barrier and Disk shields, they could maximize each other’s attacks or Defense, and Jason had actually shown him some tricks with his shields.

    “Hey man? You up?”

 Jason’s amused voice cut through the darkness with a chuckle. “Yeah, I’m up.”

    “Oh, good. Shit, I didn’t wake you, did I?”

“Nah, you’re good, Eric.”

   “Oh, okay. Cool, cool. So, I’ve been thinking about something.”

  “Oh yeah?” There was curiosity in his voice now. “What is it?”

  “You know those Super moves, like in Video games? When two heroes team up and do a big attack to lower the opponent's health bar?”

   “Yeah, I know what you mean. What about it?”

 “Would you be cool with us figuring out how to do something like that?”

  “Yeah, of course. You got something in mind?”

 That was the other cool thing about Jason; he listened to your ideas and didn’t say they were stupid. When he’d first approached the ideas of Super Moves with his family, Crystal had just laughed at him, whilst Mom and Dad just shook their heads and smiled. Jason however, was actually considering it.

  “So, I have this one idea where I use my shields to block attacks, right, covering the both of us, while you use Missile or something to take down enemies with the gaps that can make for you.”

   “Like a tank?”

 “Exactly like a tank!” He got it!  “Just think about it, yeah? It could be something we use against a large group or something, like crowd control.”

   “Huh. That’s not a bad idea. If you want, the week after next, we can talk to your mom and put aside part of my training to figure it out. You got any other ideas?”

   “Yeah, of course! So you know how my lasers are slow, right? I was thinking that with you guiding my shots with Homing, we do something like trick shots. Like, we send a bunch of obvious beams at someone like Hookwolf that he can easily dodge, but then one comes out of nowhere and just hits him right in the face!”

   For ten minutes, Eric prattled on about the Super moves they could do, whilst Jason either praised them and decided which ones to focus on or shot them down( “I don’t think combining Needle with your blasts would do anything but piss someone off. Needles fast, but it only leaves little scratches, and yours are still dodgeable. We’ll leave that one on the maybe pile for when I get the chance to strengthen it.”)

   And then Jason said something that kind of shocked Eric.

“You know, my grandfather would hate us talking about this,” he said with a chuckle. “He hates parahumans and powers, so this kind of stuff is taboo in my house.”

   “Wait, you have a grandfather? Who’s still living in the Bay?”

 “Yeah, why?”

    “Dude, I thought you were an orphan.”

It was only after the words left his mouth that he realized how stupid and insensitive it sounded. Like, who the fuck asks if you were an orphan in a place like the Bay? If Jason actually had been an orphan, he would’ve been well in his rights to beat the shit out of Eric. He still was, actually.

  It’s just…he didn’t know that much about Jason. From what he’d heard from the whispered conversation of his family, the things a few Protectorate members had asked him, and what Jason had let slip a few times, this was how much he knew about Jason: He’d grown up in the Bay and had gone to Claredon High School. He was probably second-gen Trigger because apparently he’d woken up one day with powers and hadn’t known it until he'd ripped off his bathroom door hinges. 

    Apparently, he had immediately called Aunt Carol and asked to join New Wave as a potential member. The Protectorate and New Wave had come to some kind of deal concerning his training, splitting his time between the two organizations. And he was the second coming of Eidolon apparently, but really watered down, because he could only have one power a day, with some stronger than the others, and he could sort of set a slot for his power to automatically change at midnight. It apparently made scheduling his training way easier, especially if everyone could point out which day they wanted to train him and with what power they wanted him to use. He basically had everyone’s power except flight, and he could fake that by using his disks as a flying platform.

    That was it. That was all he knew about his two-month-long roommate. This was the first time he’d ever heard of a potential family member. And if he did have a living family member, why wasn’t Jason living with them? Or why wasn’t his grandfather living with them as well?

   Thankfully, however, Jason didn’t seem mad. Just contemplative.

 “Yeah, I have a grandfather. Cool guy, just really strict. I looked up to him as a kid, and that hero worship made me ignore a lot of things about him…especially the bad ones. When…when the Protectorate and New Wave came to inspect my home, they found out that it wasn’t a suitable environment for anyone to be living in, much less a kid. So, they…took me away from him. And now that I’m around you guys, I know what we had wasn’t a healthy relationship. But I still call him and visit him every now and then. Check up on him, make sure he’s eating and stuff. I just can’t…live with him. Your mom and dad offered to take me in, and since I had already asked to join the team, it only took a bit of paperwork to make New Wave my new guardians.”

  “Oh, man…I’m so sorry. That was a shitty thing to ask.”

 “Not your fault Eric. Life just isn’t fair sometimes, you know?”

  Yeah, he knew.

 “Can I ask one more question? And this one isn’t stupid, I promise.”

 “Your first one wasn’t stupid either, but go ahead.”

 “Why’d you join New Wave? I mean, I’m glad you did, but why were we the first ones you called instead of the Protectorate?”

There was a good amount of silence in the room before Jason spoke again.

   “There were two times in my life when New Wave helped me,” Jason said slowly. “And the first time was when my parents died. I was about twelve years old. I didn’t really understand grief. All I knew was that I missed them and that looking at their stuff hurt. I had run away from the funeral, and I got lost in the Docks. It was getting dark. And then…Lightstar and Fleur found me.”

  Eric’s eyes widened in shock. He had faint memories of Aunt Fleur and Uncle Mike, and whenever anyone talked about them, it was because of how sad they were that she’d died and he’d left. That was it.

   “They took me to a diner and got me dinner, and Fleur knew something was wrong and tried to cheer me up using her powers. I think that was the first time that I learned what a parahuman was. I could tell that Lightstar didn’t want anything to do with me, but he still bought me a Protectorate toy set, my first superhero toy ever. Mind you, my parents and grandfather all hated parahumans, refused to watch the news when they were on, and homeschooled me for most of my life. Whenever I had seen billboards or toys of heroes, I thought they were just really popular cartoon series or television programs. I didn’t know that they were real people. Lightstar and Fleur were my first contact into the parahuman world. Anyway, they found my grandfather, and he picked me up. He let me keep the toys, but I was only allowed to lay with them in my room, where he couldn’t see them.”

   “...that’s the first time I’ve heard someone talk about them and it wasn’t related to how she died,” Eric said softly.

   “Really? What about your family?”

 “In our house, I think it’s as taboo as powers were in yours. And Aunt Carol only mentions them when she gets drunk. She sometimes says that New Wave could’ve been something great if Fleur hadn't died, or if Uncle Mike had stayed.”

   “...sorry.”

  “No, no, it’s good! It’s the first good thing that I’ve heard about them. What’s the other thing, the other New Wave member who saved you? Was it my parents? Aunt Carol or Vicky? Or Amy? It’s probably Amy, wasn’t it?”

   Jason snickered. “None of them. It was actually Flashbang that saved my ass a year back.”

   “ Uncle Mark ?”

He didn’t mean to sound so surprised, but… Uncle Mark? He was depressed, barely talked when spoken to, and hardly ever used his powers. Even though he’d gotten better recently(apparently when Jason had found out about Mark not taking his meds, he’d taken the responsibility onto himself, and Mark had agreed, considering he wanted to teach Jason how to maximize his Grenadier power. Now, Uncle Mark was more animated, if still introverted and a bit dazed-looking), but he still wasn’t fit to fight. Hell, did he even patrol anymore?

Jason laughed at his baffled voice. 

 “Yeah, I know. To be honest, I think Mark was lost that day and happened to save me by accident. I was getting mugged by some ABB goons, when Mark walks into the alley, looking confused as hell. One of the thugs pulled out a gun, and Mark threw his little orb grenade at it and blew it up without harming the guy. The rest of them scattered after that. I helped him get home and we talked a little. I didn’t know he was depressed, but just by talking to him, I knew he was going through something. At the time, I thought it was the superhero life wearing down on him. Now I know better.”

   “Damn…” Eric said in disbelief. “I still find it hard to believe. I mean, on PHO, people say that he used to be a badass, the only one who could properly tangle with Marquis, but I’ve never actually seen it, you know ?”

   “You should’ve seen our first practice match with Grenadier. I thought mine was going to smoke him since mine was bigger than his. Next thing I know, Mark’s waking  me up with this smug ass grin on his face, and telling me it’s time for round two.” 

   Huh…maybe Uncle Mark was more of a badass than he thought. Hmm…maybe he could even be convinced to create a Super Move?

   He could always ask…

*********************************************************************

 “How’ve you been doing Jason?” Robin asked as the two of them jogged through the city.

   “It’s been okay, Velocity,” he replied, panting a bit. “Training’s been taking a lot out of me, but I’m still doing good in school, so it’s not a problem.”

   “Kid, I told you that you can call me Robin when it’s just the two of us.”

   “Aren’t we technically on patrol right now?”

 Robin gestured to the greyscale version of Brockton Bay that the two of them were jogging through.

   “Kid, there’s literally no one else in the world that can hear us right now. I guarantee you that this way of talking is way more secure than anything Armsmaster can cook up.”

   After all, Velocity had always been alone in this darb version of the world. Until Jason joined him, at least. How they had found out had been an accident, to be honest. Velocity had mostly been focused on his speed abilities and had wanted to cultivate that, despite them being a bit slower than he was. It was only when he’d heard Jason describe what the world looked and felt like using Time Manipulation, and an eerie familiarity reminded Robin of his own power. On impulse, he’d gone into his breaker state, and to his shock, Jason had joined him mere moments later.

   Now, whilst Velocity was still going to show him how to fight in high-speed battles(Jason hit way harder than he could. Velocity was just showing him how to manage those hits without hurting somebody.), every now and then, he’d ask for a ‘training session’ with the kid, and the two would jog or walk throughout the city, just talking or goofing off, making the lonely days much more bearable. Was it any wonder that Robin had gained a bit of a soft spot for the kid?

   “Hey, Robin?”

“What’s up?”

  “Can I ask you something?”

“Sure, go right ahead.”

   “Will you tell me the truth if I ask you the question?”

“...it depends. If it’s classified, I can’t tell you. Otherwise, I’ll tell you the truth.”

“...why is everyone so focused on training me? I get that I have a lot of powers, and a lot of them resemble yours, but I thought I’d get a few hours of sessions with you guys at most. But whenever I practice with somebody, it’s from sun up to sundown, going over dozens of tactics and ways to fight using my powers. You guys made a schedule on how to train me without consulting me . Armsmaster, Miss Sarah, Miss Carol, Mr. Neil, and Director Piggot keep asking me to drop my healing days, saying that Amy can take care of it and that I could spend it training with someone like Dauntless, or even take me to Boston for the day and let Bastion teach me more about how to wield my Barrier.  Everyone keeps making these plans about me, talking about me, arranging my life, but no one tells me why.

   There was frustration and anger in his voice as he spoke, as well as confusion and a little bit of fear. Robin was surprised. Had no one actually explained it to him? Was everyone really just jerking him around, forcing him to train endlessly? Robin thought he got rest days: would the Protectorate and New Wave really just order a kid around without telling them the reason?

 …yeah, Robin realized. They totally would.

 “I can explain it to you,” he said gently. “But some of it is guesswork, and other parts…aren’t nice to hear. Do you still want to hear it?”

   “I’m not a child, Robin,” Jason said crossly. “It’s my life and my powers. I agreed to the training because I want to help people, even if it means I have to hurt others. The least you could do is tell me why I’m being treated like some pageant kid.”

   “...you’ve gained the attention of the Triumvirate,” Robin said bluntly, doing his best to ignore the shock on Jason’s face. “There’s been talk of moving you to New York or Houston, so Legend can help you master your Blaster abilities, or Eidolon can help you master all your abilities. Alexandria is keeping a close eye on your training and is demanding video logs and nightly reports on your progress. Add in the fact that your powers grow in strength, like Dauntless, and there’s a whole horde of people who want to take you under their wing.

   “Some of it is for the fame. We all want a chance to say that he helped make the future Eidolon the powerhouse you’ll inevitably become. Even though there's only been a few sightings of you, PHO is going wild over the powers that they have seen you use. Brockton Bay was only famous because we were the neo-nazi capital of America, the home of Dauntless, who people hope can one day kill the Endbringers, or the home of Panacea, the best healer in the world. Now, people are calling it the birthplace of the next Triumvirate member.”

  “But I’m not that good!” Jason insisted, his eyes wide. “I’m nowhere near Eidolon’s strength!”

  “ Yet,” Robin said solemnly. “Armsmaster’s been measuring your energy readings whenever you’ve been visiting the Rig to practice. He’s found out that the more you use your powers, the stronger you become. He also suspects that you have some kind of passive combat thinker ability, or an extremely prodigious propensity for fighting because you’ve been picking up things that took us months and years to figure out in days . We know Dauntless might beat the Enbdringers one day, but that’s more of a dream than a hope, especially with how long Capes live. Dauntless would have to make it to his forties to be able to solo kill an Endbringer, and the prospects don’t look too good on that, considering he’s an active cape. You, however, are a more immediate solution. People in the PRT are seeing you in two ways: the one who might actually kill an Endbringer in a few months, if trained properly, or…the next Eidolon, should the current one fall.”

   “...are you serious?” Jason asked in a small voice. Perhaps, in a lighter, happier world, this would’ve been good news. Who wouldn’t want to take up the mantle of the strongest man on the planet? But in theirs, with S-class threats and giant monsters destroying cities, it was clear just how everyone was expecting Eidolon to hand down his title. “People are really thinking of me as…as some kind of replacement? For Eidolon?

   “He’s strong, but he’s mortal. And he’s getting old. His powers are as strong as ever, but what happens when his body can’t keep up with them anymore? All it takes is one long enough scream from Ziz, one good shot from Behemoth, one lucky wave from Leviathan, and…well…”

    The end of the world truly begins.  

Jason swallowed in fear, but he kept moving, keeping pace with Velocity.

   “Alright, that’s on the PRT side. What was the guesswork you were talking about?”

 “The guesswork pertains to the New Wave side of things. Now, this is what I think is the reason why they’re training you so hard, not the actual reason. I could be wrong, and I don’t want to smear the image you have of them in your head. Are you sure you want to hear this?”

  “...yeah. I do.”

“We all know that the New Wave movement fell short once Fleur died and Lightstar left. But the real reason the movement died was that they couldn’t strike back. New Wave’s strong, don’t get me wrong on that. You have to be in order to survive as a team in Brockton. But it took their entire team to take out Marquis, one parahuman. True, Marquis was a monster of a parahuman. And that was entirely the point. People suspected Marquis had a hand in Iron Rain’s death. All-Father sent ten parahumans and dozens of the Empire’s strongest in order to get revenge. But Marquis was the one to walk away without a scratch.”

   “So what, because New Wave didn’t have a… monster? That was why the movement failed?” Jason asked in confusion.

  “ Yes. in the world of parahumans, if you want a message to be enforced, you do it with violence . And I know you hate that, but that’s how it works in our world. New Wave needs someone they can hide behind, someone they can pin their name on and let him speak for them. New Wave died becuase they showed that they weren’t strong enough to strike back against the Empire, to back up their words with actions. Fleur died at the Empire’s hands, no matter how indirect; they should have held them accountable. They want you to bring the movement back alive. Imagine this: the next Eidolon is unmasked, and is asking for accountability. You think people won’t follow that message, once you’ve proved yourself?”

   “So, the Protectorate wants me to be Eidolon’s replacement, New Wave wants me to be their new face for accountability.”

   “ Possibly . I’m not sure about them like I said.”

“Then…what do you want from me?”

   Looking at his jogging partner in surprise, he saw that Jason had a stony face, but his eyes…his eyes…

   Well, it seemed that Robin wasn’t the only one to have gained a soft spot.

Seeing a nearby bench, Robin motioned to it with his head. Once they sat down, Robin released his breaker state and watched as color, light, and sound bled back into the world. Seeing Jason appear next to him, he mulled over his words carefully.

   “If it gets to be too much,” he said in a low voice. They seemed to be alone, but you could never really tell, in a world full of powers. “If people start asking for you to do too much: if they keep asking for you to sacrifice more of yourself, to break your body over and over? Run.

   Jason looked at him, a mixture of shock and disbelief on his face.

 “What?”

 “You heard me. Run, hide, turn invisible, teleport. If people start acting like it’s your responsibility to save the world, and they start harassing you, leave . Remember, you chose not to wear a mask. You can’t just choose to hang one up and stop being a hero. So your only option is to get lost.”

   “But it’s my responsibility to be a hero. With my powers-”

  “Bullshit. Powers are a curse . It’s a monkey's paw, giving you what you want or need in the worst way possible. Do you know what I wanted to do? I wanted to travel the world, to see everything it has to offer. And now I can…at a snail's pace, from my perception, totally alone and unable to bring anyone with me. The Protectorate promised me that I could see the world, that I could switch between bases every month if I wished. I’ve been in Brockton Bay for ten years . Here’s the thing about us, we’re so wrapped up in red tape and bureaucracy that we have to wait for five people to give us approval to actually hunt down a villain. People forget the reason why the PRT was made: to investigate parahuman powers. Then it morphed into protecting people from powers. There is a reason why we don’t just tear through the gangs: we aren’t allowed to lay a finger on a normal unless they’re a clear and present danger to us or those around them.

   “The worst unpowered murderer could walk in front of us right now, and my jurisdiction would tell me to call the police and get to a safe place. That’s why I haven’t been clamoring for you to join the Protectorate like everyone else; because if you join us, the only thing they’ll ever have you do is train day in and day out to kill an Endbringer. And then they’ll tell you how you should be saving people, but aren’t allowed to because you aren’t strong enough.

   “And that’s why I’m telling you to run if people demand you to join us or save the world. You got your powers through something so traumatic that you can’t even remember it. They’re life’s shitty prize for your worst day ever. A man’s responsibility is to himself and his family. That’s it. Those are the only two real obligations you have. You’re just too nice to tell us all to fuck off.

   “So if it gets to be too much, run. Leave the Bay. Leave the States, leave this side of the hemisphere if you have to. If there’s a reason why we get certain powers, then there’s a reason why you have so many ways to run away, and it’s not because you’re a coward.”

   There was a look of…understanding in Jason’s eyes. He understood what RObin was saying. Maybe he didn’t like it or agree with it, but he understood it.

  “And…and…” Looking around and making sure that no one could listen in, Velocity once again entered his breaker state. A minute later, a confused Jason followed him.

   “Why did you-?”

“If it gets really, really bad…there’s functional Haywire tech at one of the Protectorate bases that the Triumvirate presides over. I don’t know which one, but it’s an even toss-up between Alexandria’s or Eidolon’s,” Robin whispered, despite the fact that only the two of them could enter this world. This was as close to treasonous as Robin could get. If anyone ever found out that Robin had told anyone this, he wouldn’t be fired.

   He’d be sent to the Birdcage.

 And from the dawning look of awe on his face, it seemed that Jason understood what Robin was telling him.

   “You’re serious about this, aren’t you?” he said, a tinge of disbelief in his voice. “You think it’ll ever get bad enough that I might have to run to another world?

   “Trust me on this kid. Don’t die for a world that won’t even remember your name a week after you’re dead.”

***************************************************************************

 Amy stifled a yawn as she neatly resolved the last case on her current floor. Stage three lung cancer that barely allowed the patient to breathe without an oxygen mask and reduced their life expectancy to a few short months, easily cured in the span of five minutes. As usual, the patient cried and waxed poetic about her deeds, but she merely nodded her head and walked out. She needed a smoke, but after seeing the black tar that had practically drowned the man’s lungs…maybe it was time to quit before it got too bad.

  She sat on a chair in the hallway and closed her eyes. She just needed a few minutes to rest her eyes, that was it. Just a few minutes to…to… to…

  When she woke up again, it was to the soft prodding of her cheek. Cracking open her burning eyes, she saw Jason, a small smile on his face and a cup of coffee in his hand.

   “Hey,” he said softly. “Got you a little pick me up.”

  She gave a nod of thanks and took a sip. A bit more bitter than she liked, but she could already feel herself waking up, so that meant she was good enough to keep going.

   “Thanks,” she said quietly, rising up from her seat. ‘Who’s next?”

 Jason’s smile widened a bit as he leaned against the wall. 

   “Nobody.”

 Amy blinked at him in confusion.

 “What do you mean, nobody ? There’s always somebody that needs to be healed.”

      Always.     

“You didn’t notice, did you? You cleared the first six floors. I finished the last four. We did it.”

   Amy suddenly found it hard to breathe. “You-you mean we-we-!”

 “Yeah. We cleared the entire hospital. It only took us half the entire day, but we did it.”

Amy suddenly found herself needing to sit down again.

   It had been a silly little benchmark for her: clear a hospital. Something to challenge herself with, to have something to achieve besides mindless healing, day after day. But she could never quite reach it. The most she ever reached was six, and after that, she always had to go home, mostly because the doctors insisted. But now…it was done. The entire hospital was healed.

   All thanks to Jason.

  When it came two the newest member of New Wave, Amy found herself torn between two emotions. Hate…and gratitude. 

    The hate part was easy to explain; she hated him for a lot of things. She hated the way that Victoria and everyone else had given him their sole attention ever since he had joined, training him, giving him tips and advice on how to be a better cape. She hated how he had an excuse to leave the hospital; even when he wasn’t healing, he was training to become a hero. He could never set foot in a hospital again, and no one would ever question it. Meanwhile, if she decided to go home early, then she couldn’t sleep because of the guilt that would eat her up.

    She hated how she couldn’t even force herself to give a damn about her patients anymore, whilst Jason still had plenty of empathy to give out, speaking to them in a low tone and with a soft smile on his lips as he both healed and comforted them. She hated how Carol gave him the same sort of affection that she gave Vicky: stern and unyielding, but intertwined with fondness and care. She hated how everyone looked at him like he was the next big thing. She hated how on top of having every amazing power that anyone could possibly want, he had healing on top of it all, and more than one as well. The one thing she could do on the team that made her invaluable, and now another person just strolled in and basically made her inadequate. After all, why settle for a useless healer when you can have a healer that shoots laser beams in his spare time?

   But as much as she hated him…she was grateful for his presence as well. She was grateful for the fact that she wasn’t the only outsider anymore, that she wasn’t the only part of New Wave that didn’t seem to fit. Despite how the others treated him, there was still some distance between them, a distance that Amy had felt her whole life, but now got to see from an entirely new angle.

    She was grateful that he had healing powers, that she didn’t have to shoulder the burden of being the only (non-Nazi) healer in the city. She was grateful that he wanted to use those powers for more than just fighting, that he’d fought Carol to all for a chance to heal just one day a week. She was grateful that there was someone who understood what she went through: seeing children being torn apart, grieving mothers who begged you to bring their babies back, bitter people who were ready to die, and angry that you gave them a new lease on life, selfish bastards who saw you as a commodity, and constantly asked you to do things like make their boobs bigger or their dick longer.

   She could see the circles under his eyes, almost as big as hers. She knew he trained as often she went out to heal. Their lives were a constant cycle of feeling that they weren’t doing enough and destroying their own health to make sure that others could be happy. There was no such thing as ‘ me time ’ for people like them; people with the potential for greatness or monstrosities. There were no breaks. Everyone was constantly waiting to see if they would break or rise above. They weren’t allowed to fall: there was no such thing as retirement or resting for them. It would eat them alive, knowing that there were people out there who needed their help whilst they rested.

   She rejoiced in the fact that she wasn’t alone but hated the fact that it was with someone who could always step away from this life, even when she knew, deep down, that the only way to get him to stop helping others would be death. The same as her.

   God, she was so fucked up.

She was broken out of her reverie when she felt calloused fingers intertwine with her own; Jason had taken a seat next to her and was now looking at her with a concerned expression even as his hand cradled hers.

   “The fuck are you doing?” she asked as she moved back a bit. She might trust Jason not to do anything dumb, but she didn’t exactly like him enough for them to be touchy-feely with one another. But her question was answered as Jason’s hand began to glow green, and a soothing sensation swept through her body. 

  “High blood pressure, weakened immune system, high amounts of imbalanced hormones,” he whispered as he worked. He gave out information on injuries the same way she did, except more broad. Whereas she might say broken tibia with dozens of microfractures and punctured veins, he would just say broken leg and internal bleeding.

  At the end of it, she felt…calmer. Stronger, more awake, and more alert than she had in a long time. This was the first time that she had been healed, been on the other side of the curtain. She idly noticed that he hadn’t asked permission, but with how good she was feeling at the moment, she honestly didn’t really care.

   So it was only right that she paid the favor back.

“Torn muscles and ligaments, high accumulation of fatigue toxins, discoloration of the skin due to bruising, and dozens of microfractures in your hands, knees, spine, and elbows,” she recited as she fixed it all. “Eat more meat when we get home.”

   He gave her a smile as his dark circles went away. “You know I can heal myself, right? You didn’t need to do that.”

  “Then why haven’t you done it, idiot?” she shot back. “It must’ve been hell for you to move; why didn’t you take five minutes off to heal yourself?”

  He merely shrugged. “Those five minutes that I could use to heal myself, could also be used to help someone with a bullet wound, or road rash, or a stab wound. There’s always someone to help in those five minutes.”

  Amy sighed internally. That was how it always went. They really were too alike. It was kind of annoying.

    “How does your healing power work?” he asked suddenly. “I’ve always wanted to know, but we never really speak to each other at home.”

   Amy wracked her brain as she wondered how to explain her ability in a way that he would explain.

  “Imagine a medical supercomputer made by the best surgeons and doctors in the world, able to diagnose anything with just a scan, with a scanner powerful enough to see individual cells, and is somehow able to manipulate them in any shape or form, telling them to ‘fix this,’ ‘move that,’ ‘burn fat for fuel to destroy that.’ Sometimes, I don’t even have to touch the patient to know what’s wrong. I can just look at them and get a feel for their symptoms, and what to do to fix them. I could be a pretty good doctor even if I couldn’t manipulate biology at will. What about you?”

   “...think of a little doctor on my shoulder,” he said after a minute. “That tells me what’s broken. He doesn't tell me how to fix it though; he does it all by himself. He just explains it to me like I’m a med student. Like, I know that the energy I produce when healing can do microsurgery on each and every individual cell, but I don’t know how to do it. The healing energy also takes care of infections and foreign bodies for me, so I literally just sit there and let my power do the job. I’m like a very cheap version of you.”

She gave him a little smile as she squeezed his palm.

  “Even cheap copies have their uses.”

The two overburdened teens merely sat there for a few minutes. Amy was still marveling over the fact that they’d finished off an entire hospital, and it was only four in the afternoon. Sure, Brockton General was small compared to some hospitals she had seen, but it was pretty big considering the Bay’s size. For them to have finished healing everyone…it felt good. Really good.

   “We’ve got to take care of each other Amy,” Jason said softly, drawing her attention back to him. “We’re the only ones who can do what we can do. People are counting on two teenagers to save the day. As crazy as it sounds, that’s our lives. We got powers that nobody else needs to deal with; powers that come with a big price tag reading responsibility.”

  “...yeah. We really did get the short ends of the sticks, didn’t we? If I go off the deep end, the Earth gets eaten alive by the worst virus ever seen. You go off the deep end, and it’ll be like a new Endbringer attack every day. We’re the kind of capes that aren’t allowed to go crazy. They’d kill us before that happened.”

   “They would, wouldn’t they?” Jason said with a bitter laugh. “And they’d be right to do so. Why couldn’t someone else have gotten this, huh? Why’d it have to be a dumbass kid from Brockton Bay.”

   “...sometimes…when I need to cheer myself up..I. I like to think I was given this power because anyone else would go crazy with it,” she said softly. “I was given this power to safeguard it. To keep it from changing the world. Because all we ever need to do is fuck up once, and then…”

   “Boom,” Jason finished quietly. “But we won’t let that happen. I’ll get stronger; you’ll get smarter, and we’ll both get better at this healing thing. We’ll fix this fucked up world and then…finally, we can rest.”

   Amy couldn’t help the little smile that made its way onto her face.

   “Rest. That sounds…good.”

 It was a nice dream to look forward to. The day that they could rest.

*********************************************************

“It would be an utter waste of Jason’s abilities to put him in the Wards,” Brandish argued. “All this training to make him a competent hero, and we’d just put him in the booster seat? Are you kidding me?”

   “This is bigger than us, Brandish,” Armsmaster said in return. “Think of what Eidolon or Legend could make him in a few months. We’ve all seen his learning curve. He’d be beating back S–class threat with ease if he just spent two months training with them!”

 ‘ And we’d get new equipment, a better budget, and more personnel, both capes and troopers,’  Miss Militia thought to herself. After all, that was what the Chief Director had promised them if they managed to bring Jason into the Protectorate; basically unlimited resources for the ENE. A chance to really fight back against the gangs. They could finally fix the city, and make the Bay a respectable place to live in.

   All they needed to do was sacrifice one boy’s childhood.

 She was loyal to the Protectorate; she loved this nation, and would happily die for it if they asked. But she would never condone twisting a child for them. She would never follow those orders. She would never make another child soldier.

    “Rather than arguing about who should train Jason, shouldn’t we be talking about rest days and going back to school?” she suggested. “He’s been homeschooling and training day after day ever since he got his powers. He needs to socialize with his peers and have a normal life.”

   Photon Lady frowned at her. “I agree to more rest days, but Jason’s a parahuman; his life will never be normal. We’re just preparing him for the day that he finally has to fight. Which will be soon. He’s been constantly asking about when he should start patrolling. We’re thinking the next couple of weeks should be good.”

   “ And we've noticed that just using his abilities makes them stronger. After all, his Energy discharge ability became capable of creating shockwaves just by continuous use,” Carol said smugly. “We don’t need the Protectorate to train him to be the best. We’re just letting you have a hand in the abilities that we’re not as familiar with.”

   “And we believe that you’re wrong ,” Armsmaster said, his voice coming out in a growl. “Yes, his abilities grow stronger with use, but you’re neglecting his library of powers for the ones that you’re comfortable with. Legend would be able to make him a blaster on par with himself, and Eidolon would show him the true depths of his abilities. He will stagnate if left in Brockton. What’s the point of being a big fish in a little pond if you get eaten by a shark the first time you step outside your comfort zone?”

   “Shouldn’t this be a conversation we should be involving Jason in?” Miss Militia cut in.

 Brandish waved away her worries. “He knows that we’re doing the best for him that we can. And besides, he likes training.”

   “No, he doesn’t,” she said loudly, finally gaining their attention. “He hates training. He hates violence. He hates thinking of causing harm to another human being, good or bad. He’s just very good at hiding it. Don’t you see the conflict in his face when we praise him for his combat abilities? He’s spent his whole life thinking that he was a peaceful person, only to discover that not only does he have a laundry list of abilities that were practically made to cause as much pain as possible, but he’s also gifted at the art of using them. It’s like a vegetarian discovering that he’s actually one of the best hunters alive: it changes his entire worldview, so he’s just going along with what everyone says, because we’re the adults, and in his eyes, we can’t be wrong.”

  “If it was really bothering him, wouldn’t he say something?” Photon Lady reasoned. “Or at least fake at being bad?”

   “Why would he fake being bad when he knows that people need him to save them, a fact that everyone keeps reminding him of whenever they talk about his powers? And he has said something. Why do you think he clings so tightly to his healing days with Panacea? The fact that he has healing powers is the only balm to the wound that he was made to be a killer in his eyes.”

   “Militia, why don’t you understand this? He could be our second wind in taking down scum like the Empire or ABB?” Brandish said eagerly. “ His power is an opportunity for us.”

   “His power is a result of an immense trauma that he cannot even remember. And Brandish, before you go on talking about second chances and winds, you forget something: he is a child ,” she said, stressing out the last word. “We are the adults. It is our duty to save the city. His duty is to goof off, get into trouble, have a girlfriend, and ruin his sleep schedule by playing video games with his friends. Instead, he trains like a Marine going off to war, his life is regulated by dozens of people who see his power instead of the person it’s attached to, and he doesn’t even get to pick what ability he gets to choose for the day! Since when did we start waiting for the children to take our place in our wars?”

   “Militia, this is different,” Armsmaster said, trying to bring her onto his side. “With a power like his, he could change the world.

    “He can change the world when he’s allowed to actually vote for his own damned leader,” Militia said, anger entering her tone. Why couldn’t they see what they were doing? Or were they intentionally blinding themselves? “We’re putting all of our hopes and dreams on someone who hasn’t even learned to drive yet!”

   “Age doesn't matter when it comes to powers,” Carol said. “Just look at Vista. She’s thirteen, and she could solo most of us with a taser!”

   “And guess what? We don’t give Vista that taser. She can whine and argue about being the adult that she wants, but I will not allow any of my Wards to see what a child soldier looks like. And that is exactly what you’re doing to Jason. And as a child soldier myself, let me give you one piece of advice; we do not react kindly to the ones that stole our childhoods away. The three of you should think about that before you try and make this boy Eidolon’s shadow.”

   The three parahumans shared a look, before seeming to come to a consensus.

 “Perhaps actually… letting Jason choose wouldn’t be a bad idea,” Carol said grudgingly. “At the very least, the options should be laid out properly for him.”

   Militia gave an inner sigh of relief as she saw their surrender. For now, she had stopped them from making a big mistake.

   For now. But what would happen when the next big crisis came around the corner, and it just so happened that Jason had the power to deal with it? She knew that he wasn’t going to enjoy what was left of his childhood. He would be just like her, in the end; a weapon to be pointed at her enemies.

    She just wanted to give him the chance to realize it before it was too late.