“Keep it steady, Chuck,” Phil shouted as his little brother wobbled down the pavement atop the second-hand tricycle. At four years old the smaller boy still lacked the necessary balance to handle a two-wheeled ride, but he was adapting well to the more stable method of transport. This likely came less from any inborn natural skill and more from the unwavering encouragement of his big brother. The duo were lean boys, both tall for their age and sharing in a hair color that resembled slightly burnt chocolate.
“You’re doing great.” Phil was right there, jogging to keep alongside. “How do you feel?”
“Scared.” Chuck kept his eyes trained on the road like he expected it to begin melting at any time.
“That’s okay. It’s a little scary at first. Once you get used to it, it’ll be fun.”
“If you say so,” Chuck called back, tempting fate slightly with the manifestation of a grin. He kept riding and Phil kept running for several hours more, late into the afternoon. Their mother was at work and they found it best to stay out from underfoot of their father. As the sun began to dip toward the horizon, they finally returned to their small home down the street, brows filled with sweat and muscles aching in a curiously enjoyable way.
Phil opened the front door and his entire body tensed. The lights were too low, the television too loud, and that god-awful bitter yeasty scent hung in the air. Chuck wasn’t yet old enough to understand these signs like Phil, but he could read his brother. Chuck felt the body in front of him stiffen, and he cringed involuntarily. His body shifted until he was directly behind Phil, trying to hide from whatever was incoming.
Phil didn’t blame his brother, but hiding wasn’t an option now.
“Boy,” came the voice from the living room. The words were slurred ever-so-slightly, polished with the practice that only came from extensive time spent in an altered state of mind. “Come in here a minute.”
Phil swallowed hard. It was one of the bad days. He reached behind him and took hold of Chuck.
“Yes sir,” Phil replied loudly, making sure to be heard. He immediately dropped his tone, hoping to hide his words in the amped volume of the blaring television. “When I go, walk as fast and as quietly as you can to our room. Don’t make any noise or come out for any reason until I come get you. Understand?”
Chuck nodded, visibly fighting off a small shiver that tried to race down his spine.
“Good man.” Phil gave him a quick hug, packed with all the reassurance he could muster in the brief moment.
“Boy, I told you to get in here,” came the voice again.
“Right away, sir.” Phil didn’t dare dawdle any longer. He headed toward the living room, and Chuck scampered away across the carpet, moving on his tiptoes, barely daring to step on any part of the floor that wasn’t well-padded. Phil watched as Chuck reached the room they shared. He eased the door open carefully, and slid it closed behind him. Just before it shut all the way, Chuck turned the knob, releasing it slowly so it wouldn’t make a loud clicking sound. With his brother safely out of sight, Phil resumed the long journey toward the living room. He didn’t know what the cause for being called in was this time, what kindling had lit the fire of his father’s whiskey-soaked rage. It really didn’t matter what the subject was anyway, the results would be the same.
The results were always the same.
* * *
The sheets were damp with sweat as Globe’s eyes flashed open, his right hand, his only real hand remaining, grabbed frantically around the bed. Honestly, even he wasn’t sure what he was searching for. It had been a very long time since anyone shared a bed with the world-famous criminal. Not since before the incident with Intra. Which made it all the stranger that he was fumbling about in his half-conscious state, hand closing around nothing as he struggled to pull himself out of the nightmare.
Finally, he fully came to his senses. Sitting in the dark, he had to resist the urge the snicker at himself. All these years, so many nightmares, and he was still so awful at dealing with them. Then again, maybe it wouldn’t have been so bad, if he hadn’t kept getting new ones. The day he’d killed Intra was a frequent player in his carousel of nightmares, beaten only by the time four Supers had managed to ambush he and Vince outside Kansas City. Vince had come so close to dying that day, even if he never knew it. Sometimes, Globe had nightmares about what had followed, when he’d faked his own death to put distance between himself and his adopted son. He’d been standing nearby, watching as Vince believed he was witnessing his father’s death, ready to step in if the boy did anything stupid. The horror on Vince’s face would never stop haunting him, not that he’d have allowed it to if given the choice. Globe had been trained as a Hero, he knew that life came with hard choices, and it was on those who made them to carry the burden.
Tonight hadn’t been any of the usual players, though. No, this was among his oldest nightmares. Memories of time before, when he’d been powerless. Helpless. Globe detested those memories. He sat upright, waiting for his pulse to slow. What he wouldn’t have given for Intra’s power, to change things about himself, rather than the world around him. Instead, he had to calm down the old-fashioned way; with patience and steady breathing.
When he finally felt somewhat more composed, Globe laid his head back down on the damp pillow. As he closed his eyes, he hoped to dream of something better. Pleasant, if not beautiful.
Like most of his life’s hopes, this one didn’t come true.
* * *
Phil tried not to limp as he walked into the room. The buckle from the belt had taken him squarely on the shin at one point, and had he known more about anatomy he might have suspected the bone to be fractured. All he knew was that it hurt, and he was set on downplaying that fact in front of Chuck. He couldn’t hide the bruises and the gashes, but he could hide the pain. That much he could protect his little brother from.
Phil opened the closet door and found Chuck curled up in the usual spot, eyes bloodshot and watery.
“It’s okay now.” Phil forced himself to smile, even if they both knew Chuck could see through it. “You can come out.”
He emerged slowly, like a baby deer being tempted with a carrot. Phil sat down and leaned his back against the bed; striking a sore spot and readjusting, trying to keep the wince of pain off of his face the whole while. Chuck stayed low and curled up against his brother’s chest, choosing his spot carefully in hopes of not hitting any of Phil’s injuries.
“Tomorrow let’s go to the canyon,” Phil said. “We’ll bring our backpacks and sleeping bags and we can stay out under the stars.”
Chuck nodded his agreement. He was still too scared to use his voice for fear of calling down another torrent of wrath.
“You can say something, its fine now.”
“What if we didn’t come back? What if we went to the canyon and stayed gone?”
“We can’t do that. Mom would worry too much.” Phil didn’t say the real reason he couldn’t leave. Chuck wouldn’t understand how much worse for her it would be without someone else to draw His ire. “You don’t want mom to be sad do you?”
“She could come too.”
He was too young to remember the time when she and the boys had tried just that. He had been too little. Too little to even defend himself. Too small to know how close he came to dying that night in the poorly lit highway motel. Phil needed to change the subject, and he had just the card to play.
“Can you keep a secret, Chuck?”
“You have to really mean it, this is a big one. If I tell you then you have to promise not to tell anyone until I say it’s okay,” Phil said.
“I won’t. I promise.”
Phil pulled a quarter out of his pocket. He held it in the palm of his hand for a moment, furrowing his brow in concentration. After a couple of seconds the quarter began to rise in the air, only an inch high, but hovering free of physical support.
Chuck barely kept his gasp quiet. “How are you doing that?”
“I think… I think I’m a Super, like we see on the TV. I noticed it earlier this month. I can move things that are close to me. They have to be really close though.” To illustrate the point, Phil raised the coin a little bit higher, at which point it instantly lost its floatation and came crashing back to his palm. “But the area is getting bigger; I can go further than last week. Plus, I can do more than lift.” The coin began to ripple, melting into a solid ball right before their eyes.
“What does it mean?” Chuck asked, all thoughts of running taken away by the magic set before him.
Phil wrapped his other arm around his brother and hugged him tightly.
“It means we’re going to be okay,” Phil told him. “It means everything will be okay.”