“Chuck, you need to eat something.” Globe, no, Phil Adair as he was out of costume, stood in the kitchen. It was the small house, where Abridail had first shown them Shelby sobbing on the floor. Bad a time as that had been, somehow this iteration was worse. Loss hung in the air, palpable at every turn and corner, most blatant of all on the face of Charles Adair, sitting motionless as his brother set a bowl of soup down in front of him.
“I know it seems hopeless right now. Things went badly, yes. But Shelby isn’t dead yet. She’s a tough one, and she knows her family is pulling for her. She’s going to make it through this, and one day she’ll get better. You’ll find a way.” Phil leaned down and gave his brother a brief but fierce hug. “We’ll find a way.”
“He really does sound a lot like Vince.” Mary seemed surprised by the sound of her own voice, as the trio and Abridail stood off to the side, watching the scene before them unfold. “Not his physical voice, just the tone and way he speaks. It’s so weird to here that kind of optimism come out of someone else’s mouth.”
“I imagine the people who knew Globe first have the same reaction when they meet Vince,” Nick said.
No one needed to ask where they were, all had the necessary intelligence to put it together. When their last dream journey ended, they’d watched as Charles was backed further and further into a corner. Try and change the nature of his wife’s abilities to save her, or allow the endless visions of Alice’s death to continue haunting Shelby. In the end, they all knew what he’d chosen, and in their hearts none were sure they wouldn’t have done the same. What they were seeing now was the fallout, a man who had broken the mind of the woman he loved, and perhaps destroyed himself as well in the process.
Charles made no motion to eat; he simply sat in place, staring down at the table. Even from this distance, Alice could see his red eyes. Whether the culprit was sobbing or lack of sleep was hard to determine, both were likely suspects and may very well have been working together. Regardless, it was a strange moment. Last time, she’d found it odd to see her father so happy, but this was even more off the mark. Charles looked broken, powerless, a distant shadow of the unflappable businessman he’d been for all her life. Part of her wanted to pity him; however, she steeled her heart against such sentiment. Whatever he had been, once, she knew the man he became. And there was no point in wasting such feelings on the current Charles Adair.
“Look, I know things are dark right now.” Phil pulled out a chair and took a seat next to Charles, staying close while still giving the man his space. “I won’t insult you with lies to the contrary. This moment in life is a bad one. But there will be others that follow, ones that are brighter, better, and worth seeing. We’ve lived through the darkness before, Chuck. You might have been too young to remember, but before dad died things were rough. It seemed like we were trapped, with no way out in sight, until one day everything changed. One toxic batch of whiskey, one lucky break, altered our whole world. Sometimes, that’s all it takes. A single shift, a bit of chance, to make the clouds break away.”
Phil paused, clearly waiting for some reaction.
“Why are we watching this?” Alice asked. “I’d assumed Charles would be depressed after the experiment failed. If you want me to feel bad for him, it’s a waste of effort.”
Abridail shook his head. “This is a large story, with many players. If you want understanding, then you need to know all of the key moments, not just the ones that involve Shelby directly. I’m showing you this because it is another point where history was changed. So listen well.”
“Chuck, what do you need me to tell you?” Phil had started talking once more, realizing that the first attempt hadn’t gotten through. “That there’s hope? There is, I promise you. Right now Blake is meeting with a half dozen tech-based Supers with a firm understanding of biology, as well as a few human specialists. Clarissa is hopping all over the world, speaking discreetly to people studying the same field, scouring the Earth to see if someone else has pertinent information. Joshua has even consented to have his brain scanned and tissue samples taken in hopes of providing some aid.”
“Joshua?” It was the first word Charles had spoken, and Alice noticed Mary tense up at the sound of the voice. Phil, on the other hand, was visibly elated to have drawn out some reaction.
“Yeah, Joshua. His power is complete bodily control you know, so if they can find out a way to synthesize even a hundredth of what he can do it might play a role in helping Powereds get control, even ones as far gone as Shelby. Yes, it’s a longshot, as are the other things, but we’re Heroes, Chuck. We’ve seen longer shots than any of these hit their mark. And if they all fail, then we’ll try new ones. Nobody is giving up on her, or you. We won’t stop until we find a way to fix Shelby. Heroes do the impossible every day; this is just one more hurdle that we’re going to overcome.”
For a few seconds, it seemed like Phil’s reassurance had fallen on deaf ears. Then, with incredible slowness, Charles reached out and lifted up the spoon resting beside the bowl. He dunked it into the soup and brought it to his lips, where the liquid quickly vanished. The barest trace of a smile flickered on the edge of his mouth. “You used mom’s recipe.”
“I tinkered a bit here and there, but I stayed true to the soul of it.” Phil looked as though he might burst into tears, but he barely twitched as the spoon descended once more, no doubt afraid any sudden movements would undo the progress he’d just made.
Charles took several more bites before turning to his older brother. “Thank you, Phil. For reminding me that this is a setback, not a defeat. You’re right. As long as Shelby is still alive, there’s hope. I’m going to fix this. I’m going to set it right. No matter what it takes.”
“Oh god. Oh my god.” Mary had paled, which was rather impressive given that she didn’t even have blood flowing through her mental form, and she took a shaky step back, away from what seemed to be a rather heart-warming scene. “This is what he meant.”
“No one else is a telepath, can you elaborate on that cryptic vagueness a little?” Nick was trying to keep things light, but Alice noticed a bit of an edge in his eyes as they darted between the Adair brothers and Mary.
“When I met Globe, he told me it was his fault Intra died. That the blame for all of it, and so much of what was still coming, was on him. This is what he meant. This exact moment.” Mary stopped her retreat and composed herself, looking Alice and Nick squarely in the eyes. “This is where he put the idea of using Joshua Taylor, Intra, as a specimen in Powered research into Charles Adair’s head. This… this is why Chad’s father died, isn’t it?”
“But Globe is the one who killed Intra,” Alice pointed out.
“We’ve not yet reached that point,” Abridail told them. “However we are very near. I think, after our next stop, it will all make sense.”
The world began to warp once more, and as it did Alice threw one last glance to the Adair brothers. Phil, watching over Charles as he slowly downed the soup that had been so lovingly prepared. It was a bizarre scene, knowing all that would come later, yet she couldn’t tear her eyes away.