Disclaimer: You don't want me to own it. Seriously, you don't.
Fandom: Sky High
Summary: In the aftermath of homecoming, the Commander gives Will an assignment.
Note: A big thanks to Espantalho, who let me borrow her idea of Warren's (and so his father's) ability to manipulate fire into (for lack of better words) beings who can think and act for themselves. Not featured much in this fic, but still; I owe you one!
Time had moved fast for the Commander; barely a breath seemed to pass before the crackling blue light faded into a burning white one, and he found himself lying on the floor, his cape draped loosely over his frame. Still weak, his legs shaking, Jetstream had to help him to his feet and back into his suit. It was only then that he noticed the people milling around the hallway, some clutching sheets around their bodies, a vacant yet waking look in their eyes as Principal Powers' voice drifted above the screams of infants.
He hadn't seen him at first, his gaze roaming the hallway and taking in the strange sight before finally locking with the dark eyes. He would have liked to say that there had been no surprise, and that no tenseness had invaded his muscles; Jetstream paused and looked up, her hands which had been wiping dust off the front of his suit hovering in mid air, a questioning glance in her eyes.
For a moment, she disappeared. He was standing in the street on 45th and 37th, the wind whipping up gusts of ash around him and the rank smell of burning rubber assaulting his senses. Ten feet away, stood Michael Peace.
He was dressed in a black suit, jacket nowhere to be seen and the sleeves of his white dress shirt rolled up above his elbows. Like he had been on his way to work, but then suddenly decided to take the day off and instead head downtown to set fire to the heart of Maxville. His head was bowed, dark hair hanging limply over his face as the heat of the flames dancing around him made it curl slightly at the ends. His eyes, which had been closed, opened upon hearing the Commander's soft footfalls over the crackling of the fires, pinning the man before him with a dark look.
"Baron," the Commander acknowledged. "You need to stop this. Now. Or I will."
Michael Peace, or Baron Battle as he had been dubbed upon graduating Sky High, laughed. The flames roared with him, shooting higher and growing stronger as they reveled in their master's pleasure. By now they had engulfed the whole block, leaving smoking ruins of buildings behind, and were licking at the edges of the surrounding streets, as if awaiting permission to expand their feeding range.
"Why?" The Baron let fire drip from his hands onto the ground below him, watching as it spread out in a circle, advancing in every direction to find new kindle to feed on. Like rats scurrying along the ground. "Fire purifies."
"It also destroys."
The suited man snarled, throwing his head back to ease his red streaked hair out of his face. "It only destroys what it does not find pure!" Raising his hands above his head, he gathered around them a great sphere of fire that grew until it reached the size of a small car. "That which pleases it, does not succumb!"
And at that, the sphere burst open, sending a volley of flames flying through the air. They took the forms of giant eagles, gliding on strong wings above the ground and forcing the Commander to duck to avoid getting struck by several of them. Some of their numbers collided with nearby houses and cars that had not yet been ravaged by the fires, while others swooped down streets and began eating away at homes and gardens so far unharmed. Screams of men and women could be heard above sudden explosions, as people living in nearby blocks were caught off-guard, having had expected a little sliver of more time to gather their belongings together and escape before their homes too were enveloped in the rapidly growing zone of destruction.
Picking himself up off the ground, knees and hands stained black with soot and ashes, the Commander's eyes had turned hard with conviction.
"The fire is pleased with me," the Baron murmured, eyes trained on a flame rising up out of his palm. "It has accepted me as its master, and does what I ask of it." He looked up, dark eyes unblinking as he took in the Commander's approach. "You, however… I think you shall leave a sour taste in its mouth."
The fires leapt hungrily over the Commander just as Jetstream descended from the sky behind Baron Battle.
The struggle had been fierce, and the damage done great, but eventually they had won; and once again, Steve Stronghold and his wife had walked away, slightly burnt but alive, faith trained on the future rebuilding without the threat of Michael Peace looming overhead.
But now, standing in the hallways of his old Alma Mater, his wife's hands a comforting presence on his chest, he couldn't help but feel that maybe it was all for nothing.
The boy in front of him had fire in his eyes. It was the same dark suit, the jacket missing and the sleeves rolled up, revealing forearms marked with inked fire. Long hair streaked with strands of red, framing brooding eyes and high cheekbones that made the Commander once again feel the wind against his face and the dry, bitter taste of ashes on his tongue.
There could be no mistake; this was Michael Peace's son.
Jetstream turned, glancing over her shoulder and finding the cause of her husband's clenched jaw. Diverting her eyes from the young boy behind her she looked up into the Commander's eyes, determined blue orbs urging him not to do anything rash. For a moment, he was torn.
It was Will who unknowingly interrupted before he had any chance to come to a decision. His son was remorseful, telling of violating the sacredness of the Sanctum and causing Royal Pain to again gain control of her weapon. The vision of the dark pyrokinetic behind him faded into mist as the role of father took precedence over everything else; Will offered a hesitant smile in turn for his father's reassurances. Not until Mr. Boy handed him the phoney trophy and he again turned to face the ill fitting group of Sidekicks and Heroes did he remember.
It was Layla that laid his fears to rest, though she would never know it; she was standing next to the Peace boy, leaning towards him with her head tilted back as she whispered something in his ear. The boy allowed a fleeting smile to pass across his features before his eyes flickered up and froze at the sight of the two Heroes in front of him. The Commander watched as he subtly withdrew to the side, as if trying to disappear into nonexistent shadows, the sheer intensity of his being causing him to never quite vanish from people's minds. Pity fluttered and died within the Commander as Ethan grabbed the trophy out of his hand, and Jetstream placed a light kiss on Mr. Boy's cheek.
They left in silence; the only words spoken of the scene that night being Josie's. "He looks just like his father," she murmured as she slipped into bed and turned out the lights. "That poor boy."
"Will!" Will downed the last of his orange juice before he turned and looked at his father, who was standing in the doorway to the kitchen with a determined look marking his face. "Just the man I wanted to see. Come with me, I have something I want you to do."
Glancing at his watch and finding that he still had plenty of time before the bus was set to pick him up, Will rose from the breakfast table and followed his father through the living room. A moment later they stood in the center of the Sanctum, Steve Stronghold wearing a pensive frown while his son looked around in confusion.
"There was something you wanted me to do…?"
"Yes, yes," Mr. Stronghold muttered, eyes sweeping the walls of the room as if trying to remember something specific. "Now if I could only… Ah!"
He moved on deeper into the giant expanse, Will trailing after him like a lost puppy. A little less than half of the Sanctum was a memorial of battles fought and won, pedestals of weapons and masks and random artefacts plucked from struggles and proudly put on the display for whoever happened to stumble upon them. Will forced his eyes not to drift toward the spot where Gwen's – Royal Pain's - Pacifier had once rested, the place now adorned by the claw of a giant lizard which had had the nerve to launch an attack on Buenos Aires. The guilt was still there, lingering in the back of his mind, mocking him as he pushed it aside.
His father suddenly stopped, nearly causing Will to walk right into him. Stepping back, Will watched as he open the large glass door of a display case, reaching up to pluck something from the topmost shelf before turning and placing the object in his son's hands.
Surprisingly heavy, the old and singed leather gloves felt rough against his skin. Their fingers were cut off, and Will's eyes widened as he took in their size and imagined the giant of a man who must have once worn them. His mouth opened in a question, but his father beat him to it.
"Those," the Commander said, "were Baron Battle's gloves." He let the fact sink in as his son slowly began to understand what his father asked of him. "He wore them in his final showdown, the one that killed so many people and ruined downtown Maxville. When your mother and I finally overpowered him and brought him to justice, I took them as a kind of memento."
His eyes travelled the walls of the Sanctum, taking in the pieces of costumes and weapons lining the walls, old relics of villains who had been defeated and imprisoned, shards of lives frozen in a moment of failure and defeat. "It just recently occurred to me that maybe it wasn't right of me to keep them."
"You want me to give them to Warren." Will's response was a defeated sigh.
Steve Stronghold nodded. "I do."
A strangled laugh. "He'll kill me."
"For some reason I don't think he will," his father replied, voice steady and eyes showing a conviction that hadn't been present twenty four hours ago.
Will looked up, the seriousness of his father's demeanour sobering. "No, I guess he won't."
The gloves weighed heavily in Will's backpack all day. He caught himself checking regularly if they were still there, the sound of his bag's zipper being pulled interrupting many a lecture until at lunch Layla grabbed the bag out of his hands and opened it to see for herself what had so captured her boyfriend's fascination.
"Gloves," she said, a dubious look on her face. "Old, smelly gloves."
Will gave a nervous laugh, thankful that Warren had yet to show up, and pulled his bag out of Layla's unresisting hands. "Yeah," he said, placing it on the bench beside him, hand resting on the fabric to make sure it stayed safe. "Just gloves."
By the time school was out, Will felt like he had been carrying a bar of gold around all day, forever making sure it wasn't misplaced or stolen. Seeing Warren Peace sitting on the front steps of Sky High was a relief, until he remembered that he had yet to actually come up with a suitable way of telling his friend that he had in his backpack a souvenir of his incarcerated father.
Warren grunted in response, eyes locked onto the page of the dog eared and badly worn book he was holding. Will slid down onto the steps beside him, carefully placing his backpack inbetween his feet.
"We didn't see you at lunch today."
They spent several minutes in silence, Warren now and then turning the page of his book while Will drummed his fingers against the marble steps, an intricate rhythm soon merging in sync with the movements of the students pouring out of the school's front doors.
Finally, Warren sighed in defeat and closed the book, sending the boy next to him a glare. "What, Stronghold?"
Will tried not to resemble a deer caught in the headlights of a car. "What, what?"
"You better have a pretty damn good reason for sitting here and distracting me." Under Warren's dark look Will's dancing fingers soon slowed down, the motions dying in the afternoon light.
"I'm waiting for the bus to leave?" Will replied vaguely, more of a question than an answer.
"You can fly, Stronghold. You don't need to wait for the bus."
Will took a deep breath and forced the air back out from inbetween his front teeth. "Okay." Reaching down, he pulled his backpack onto his lap. His hand hesitated before reaching for the zipper.
"You remember homecoming, right?" Warren snorted, and Will let the unspoken insult slide, instead taking his friend's reply as a sign to continue. "Well, my dad saw you…" (The slight clench of Warren's jaw didn't go unnoticed). "…and," Will continued, "he wanted you to have these."
The gloves looked different under the strong June sun. The creases and burns in the leather were more prominent, the use and abuse they'd suffered screamed out by faded patches of dark brown leather.
A moment passed, in which Warren hadn't moved since Will unearthed his prize; dark eyes fixed on the relics in an unreadable stare that made Will wonder if perhaps his friend didn't even know what they were or who they had belonged to. The thought hadn't occurred to him before, but thinking about it made the already uncomfortable situation unbearable, as explaining to the pyrokinetic exactly why he wanted him to have the gloves would be more than he thought himself able to do.
His thoughts somewhere else, Will was quite startled when Warren suddenly reached out to take the old gloves out of his hands. The flame thrower settled back against the steps and examined them almost idly, turning them over in leather clad hands of his own (coincidence, or imitation? Will wondered absently) and letting his fingers run over the soft leather in unseen patterns, his face as expressionless as a blank canvas. The last of the students passed down the steps around them as Warren finally spoke.
"I remember these." If Will had expected to hear more, he was disappointed. After another moment of silence Warren stood, swinging his bag over his shoulder and looking out at the school buses gathered below them. "Well, see ya, Stronghold."
Will sprung up from his seat and grabbed his bag, as his friend climbed down the stairs. It felt strange to be cut off like he had been, left with more questions than answers after guarding the keepsakes with an almost zeal of paranoia for most of the day. "Wait! What are you going to do with them?"
Warren turned, a flash of dangerous annoyance fleeting across his face as Will was suddenly struck by the realization that perhaps it was none of his business any more. But lo and behold, with a tilt of the head to the side, as if contemplating the boy in front of him, Warren flashed him a sudden and wolfish grin.
"I'm going to burn them."
Before Will had a chance to form an opinion about whether it was a fitting end for the old things or not, Warren was on his way down the steps again. Will followed at a slower pace, cautiously. It wasn't until he reached the last few steps that he noticed that Warren had stopped and turned, as of he was waiting for Will to catch up. He had already shoved the gloves into one of the pockets of his own leather jacket, and was as close to impatient as Will had ever, or would ever again, see Warren Peace.
The flame thrower studied the significantly shorter boy in front of him, giving Will the uncomfortable feeling of being sized up but not being able to do anything about it. Then he turned again and walked off, and for a moment Will was left wondering what had just transpired, and if he was supposed to follow the older boy or not.
Warren had almost made it halfway to the buses when he glanced over his shoulder and saw his friend still standing where he'd left him.
"Damn you're slow, Stronghold!"
Will scrambled to catch up.
Josie's husband was a pacer, though she had not seen him anxious enough to actually revert back to his habit on more than a handful of occasions.
As the Commander, Hero and protector of Maxville and her citizens, nothing seemed impossible. As Steve Stronghold, husband and father of one, there were times when he could do nothing but let go and sit back, forced to silently watch from the sidelines. The lack of control made him nervous.
So through the kitchen he went; out into the hall, turning right into the study and making another right to find himself back where he started, the soft hum of the refrigerator cutting through the silence like a knife.
From the moment Josie had taken a seat at the kitchen table until then that her coffee cup sat cool inbetween her hands, her husband hadn't paused once; repeating the never ending cycle of heavy steps and the occasional glance at his watch. Her reassurances had fallen on deaf ears.
He had wakened her at five o'clock that morning, a gentle shake of her shoulder that stopped as her eyes fluttered open, followed by a whisper in her ear; "The gloves, Josie! The gloves!"
Childlike excitement had danced in his eyes as she agreed that it was a good idea, to have Will give the Peace boy his father's apparel. What good were they in the Sanctum, gathering dust on a shelf as someone who had a stronger connection to them than any member of the Stronghold family was wandering the halls of Sky High?
The only thing she had refused to do was let her husband accompany their son to make the delivery. "No good can come of you being there," she's said, and he'd reluctantly watched from the living room windows as Will boarded the school bus with the keepsakes in his bag.
"This was a bad idea," he now muttered, finally sinking down opposite Josie at the table much to his wife's relief.
"You didn't think so this morning."
Steve stopped running his hand over his face to shoot his wife a look. "Well, that was before Will broke curfew."
Their son had called in the late afternoon, as his father heard the school bus drive by their house without stopping. Will had given no reason for not being on the bus, nor revealing why he would be home later than usual. He didn't have to, after all; several possible, and quite disturbing, scenarios had been playing in Steve's head since hanging up the phone.
"Honey, he's half an hour late."
"I know." He pushed his chair back and stood again, eyes trained on the clock ticking away above the refrigerator. "If it had been Layla or Zach… But the Peace boy, Josie? Who knows what trouble he's dragging Will into?"
Josie shook her head, rising from the table. "Will is a smart boy. Nobody can make him do anything he doesn't want to do." She put her coffee cup in the sink. "And if you're worried about Peace's son going on a killing spree and dragging Will with him, I think the chances of that are pretty slim."
She smiled as her husband turned his attention back to the kitchen clock, knowing that was exactly one of the thoughts he had been entertaining. She walked up and gave him a peck on the cheek. "Don't worry about it. Now, I'm going to bed. Are you coming?"
Steve shook his head, allowing a small smile to grace his lips. "No, I think I'll wait up for Will. Give me another thirty minutes, and if he's not home by eleven, I'll be up."
Satisfied, Josie nodded and left, her husband again settling into one of the kitchen chairs, fingers drumming against the wood of the table. Prepared for a long vigil.
As it was, Will didn't pass through the front door until eleven thirty. If the fact that his father was still up waiting for him hampered his spirits, it didn't show; he was red faced and mud streaked, the heavy smell of smoke hanging around him like an invisible mist.
Shrugging off his jacket and kicking off his shoes, he gave the Commander a bright, albeit sleepy, smile. Its meaning was understood, his father's shoulders sagging quite unnoticeably in relief; everything went well, and I'll tell you all about it in the morning. Yet Will paused before heading up the stairs, expecting the question that was sure to come.
"No one got killed?" His father's gruff tone demanded vocal confirmation that everything was well.
Will laughed, shaking his head. "No one got killed, Dad."
"Get up to bed, Kiddo," the Commander grunted, plucking a stray leaf out of Will's hair as his son moved past with a grateful smile.
Twirling the leaf between thumb and index finger, the Commander stared at it in a thoughtful silence, not moving until he heard Will's bedroom door open and close on the floor above. Some doubts as to whether he had done the right thing still existed, lingering in the back of his mind and conjuring up scenarios of what could still go wrong, even as he tried to banish them.
They were just gloves, he knew, but also the first items that had left the Sanctum since being removed from their owner. Somewhere, there had been an emotional connection that had made him give up his priced bounty, and he couldn't quite figure out how.
Emotional connection, that was the key word. The thought of gloves back in the hands of a member of the Peace family made him uneasy; unexpected actions, schemes of revenge, had been triggered by less.
But it was late, and he was tired; dropping the leaf onto the rug under his feet, he decided to trust in his son's judgment of the situation. Will was a smart boy, and if he didn't see anything wrong with giving Peace's boy his gloves, the Commander would respect his opinion.
Turning out the lights, he headed up the stairs for some sleep, knowing full well that the night would bring with it nothing but dreams of Will standing in ash covered streets, dodging spheres of fire out of gloved hands.