Globe stood just outside the small room in their current warehouse, easing the door shut carefully as he exited. Inside, Quentin had finally fallen asleep, and Globe had no desire to wake him. True, he was muting the sound of the door before it could ever reach their youngest member’s slumbering ears, but some habits died harder than others.
“Kid finally down?” Persephone asked, reading a tattered novel on a threadbare chair nearby.
“He’s hardly a kid anymore. All too soon he’ll hit the teen years, and from there they grow like wildfire,” Globe replied.
“Of us all, you’d be the expert.” Persephone lowered the book and glanced at the door. While they all took turns looking after Quentin, Gerard and Globe always seemed to make a little extra time for the boy. With the latter, she wasn’t sure if it was out of concern for him, or because he simply missed his own adopted son. “How many stray Supers have you picked up off the streets in total, anyway?”
“To be fair, Gerard is the one who found Quentin. And Vince was technically a Powered,” Globe said.
“Hard to imagine Vince like that.” Though she hadn’t seen him since their fight at the end of freshman year, she could still recall the bright blue-eyes all but brimming with determination. “I bet he was a sweet kid, probably why you took him in.”
Globe smiled at the idea, seating himself on a couch with busted springs, across from Persephone. “I think you’d have been surprised.”
* * *
Keep moving. That was the key to survival, to holding on to the few meager scraps of life he still possessed. Just keep moving. Stay out of sight, keep to the shadows of the world. As long as Globe was dead, then he could endure another day. The moment anyone learned differently, there would be no more escape.
Sometimes, in the flickering light of his dying makeshift fires, he dreamed of more. He couldn’t be the only one. There had to be others. If he could find them, unite them, then maybe, working together…
Those thoughts never panned out, of course. Even if he had others, there was no way forward. Nothing made sense, and he had no idea who to trust. Not anymore. It was all too much, too big. He’d never been much for thinking or scheming, that was what Subtlety Heroes were for. No, when he’d worn the costume, he’d only known how to handle the problems right in front of him. That was what he exceled at. Those problems were so far away now, and he didn’t know how to find them, or what to do even if he could.
Moving silently, binding the sound before it could echo off his feet, he turned into an alley behind a sandwich shop. The cold air was biting him through the long red coat, so tattered, stained, and beaten it wasn’t even recognizable as part of Globe’s outfit. He could fix it up with a thought, or throw it away to secure his safety, but he’d never been able to bring himself to do either. Patching it was too great a risk, and casting it off too much sacrifice. He’d already lost almost everything else. All he had left were this, a watch, and the desire to not die.
With a bit of effort, he warmed the air around him, pushing back the worst of the cold. In a few days’ time, snow would begin to fall, and by then he needed to be out of this town. He’d already lingered more than was safe. The silent steps moved closer to the dumpster that was nestled in the small alleyway, and for the first time he noticed that sounds were echoing from inside of it.
Rats, probably, a nuisance but easily dealt with. His right hand, the only one he had left, gripped the top of the dumpster and hoisted it upward. What greeted him was not, in fact, the scurrying of rodents, but rather a flash of silver and a small fist swinging at him. The attack was easily dodged, as the arm throwing it was so thin it was amazing that it could swing at all. He peered closer into the dumpster, realizing that he’d stumbled upon a small boy, one so emaciated that he seemed more like flesh wrapped around a skeleton than a real person.
In his hands were the half-rotted remains of a sandwich, and as the man who’d once been Globe watched the boy gobbled it down hurriedly, completely ignoring the mold and stink coming off of it.
“S-s-stay away.” He scampered to the far end of the dumpster, words coming out through chattering teeth. As much as the older man had considered his own coat derelict, it had nothing on the boy’s attire. He wore shorts and a t-shirt that were both barely holding onto their shape, only a few more rips away from technically being rags. Between the thin coverings and the lack of fat on his body, it was no surprise he’d taken shelter in a dumpster. Truthfully, it was amazing he was alive at all.
There was no question on what he should do. Close the lid, maybe bring by some food to ease his guilt, then hurry on his way. If he was lucky, the child wouldn’t remember him, and he’d pass through without leaving any trail. That was the smart play. But, as he knew too well already, he’d never been a particularly smart man.
“Come on,” he said, reaching out his hand slowly. “Let’s get you to the nearest shelter. You need to be somewhere safe before the snowfall starts.”
The boy swiped at his hand, more like a cat striking with claws than a human’s attack. “C-can’t. Will c-c-call f-f-foster.”
Despite his better judgement, he widened the area of warmth, easing the boy’s shivering by a few degrees. He hoped the kid wouldn’t notice, but there was only so much time he could spend watching someone shake violently. “Foster homes are nice. They’re warm and there’s food.”
Even as his body calmed, the boy’s head shook violently. “Not for me. I’m Powered.”
And with that, it all fell into place. Really, he should have seen it sooner. The silver hair, the fear of human contact, the fact that he’d chosen to be out here instead of inside a warm shelter. Of course he was a Powered. Life was hard enough for the ones that had homes and loved ones. If this one was on his own…
“Do you have parents?” Even as he asked the question, he knew the answer, but part of him hoped that he’d somehow be wrong.
That hope was dashed as the boy shook his head again and whispered a single word. “Never.”
“And what about the foster people you were with? Did they throw you out?”
“Ran. Mean. Not first. But… I burned things. Called me monster. Always hurt people. Always a monster.” As the boy shrank in on himself, arms wrapped around his boney legs, an arc of electricity shot off him, hitting the edge of the metal dumpster. It never made it to the man, who killed the power surge with a single thought, but the boy’s eyes still grew wide with terror as he waited, presumably for a shriek of pain, followed by more anger.
“It’s okay. I’m fine. I promise.” He should leave. He should get the kid some clothes and food and then haul ass out of town as quickly as he could. Sooner or later someone else would find the child. Someone who wouldn’t care about the fact the he was a Powered, and a dangerous one at that. They would take him in. They would make sure he was safe and warm. All he had to do was trust that someone else would handle this problem.
But, if he were the kind of person who could do that, he would never have become a Hero in the first place.
“Do you have a name?”
“Vince. I think. Last people yelled it.”
“Vince. That’s a nice name. Do you have a last one?”
Vince’s head leaned back as he tried to remember, but eventually gave up. “No.”
“That’s okay. I don’t have one either. Got rid of it.” Though his hand was on the edge of shaking for reasons that had nothing to do with the cold, he reached toward the boy once more. “Vince, why don’t you come with me? We can get you some food and clothing. It will just be for a little while, until we find you a good home.”
“I’ll hurt you.” Vince backpedaled, pushing himself against the chilly metal at the dumpster’s rear.
“It’s okay if you hurt me. People get hurt. I’m tough, I promise. I won’t get mad.”
Vince’s blue eyes stared at him for a long time, scrutinizing everything about the man offering to help him. For a while, it seemed that he wasn’t going to budge, but slowly, like the advance of a glacier, he leaned forward. “You promise?”
If there had been any resolve left in the man, it burned away the sound of those two innocent, trusting words. The world would show this boy no mercy if he were left alone in it. Even the fact that Vince had survived so long bordered on a miracle. Though he would lie to himself quite a bit in the weeks to come before finally accepting the truth, in that moment he knew that this arrangement would be anything but temporary.
Vince reached out, and gently took the hand of the man he would know for the rest of his life as his father.