"Warren." The voice on the phone was familiar to Warren, the desperation and quivering tone in Will's voice were not. "I, I, can I come over to your house? Spend the night?"
Warren paused. What was going on that Will would make such a request on a school night? The sound of shouting in the distant background seemed to give at least a partial excuse for Will's question.
"Let me ask my parents." Warren covered the phone and left his room, going downstairs to the study where his father was working on his latest scheme. "Dad?" he asked, and Barron looked up, an eyebrow raised. "One of my friends from school is wondering if he can spend the night?"
Barron's eyebrow went up, not in questioning, but in confusion. "What friend?"
"Will, you've never met him." Barron nodded, having noticed that Warren had left out his friend's last name, but deciding not to call his son on it.
"Just don't stay up too late, and introduce him to me." Warren was out the door of his dad's study when his father yelled through. "Oh, what is his power?"
"Will's got superstrength, invulnerability, and flight." Warren yelled back before uncovering the mouthpiece on the telephone. "My parents say yeah, you can come. I'll expect you in about fifteen minutes?" Warren talked to a dial tone as Will hung up. "Huh."
It was fifteen minutes later when Warren heard a gentle knocking on the door, and went to open it. Surprised at the way his friend looked, he simply gestured Will into the house.
"Do you want a towel?" Warren asked, gesturing to the water starting to pool on the floor, and was not surprised when his friend only nodded. "Start getting out of those clothes, I'll bring a towel large enough to preserve your modesty, at least until I can get you into some of my things." He watched as h is usually outgoing friend just nodded and accepted his orders and sighed. "Here, let me take your bags." Warren reached out and took Will's backpack and duffel, slinging them over a shoulder as he walked upstairs.
Will turned around, his fingers going to the ties of the hoodie that had been Warren's gift to him for his birthday. Black with bright red flames racing up the sleeves and stomach, it was one of his favorite pieces of clothing. It went on the tile floor. Off came the sweater underneath, a rather usual mix of blue, red and white, like most of his parent-approved clothing. The t-shirt beneath the sweater was wet enough that it was dripping, and Will was about to pull it off when he heard Warren approaching, and turned to face his friend.
"W..Will?" Warren stuttered, his hand going toward Will's cheek before Will's hand intercepted his, gripping Warren's hand lightly before dropping it. Will took the towel, stripping off the t-shirt with his other hand. "What's on your cheek?" Warren asked.
"Dirt." Was Will's succinct answer, as he unbuttoned the jeans. They fell to the floor, muddy water pooling around them as Will cocked an inquisitive eyebrow at Warren, who turned around to let Will change. He heard the slight swish of the boxers coming off and falling to the floor, and Will pulling the towel tight around his waist. Warren turned around, bending down to pick up the wet clothes. His eyes traced over the familiar form of his best friend, logging each deviation from their normality. Only one was really noticeable, a large bruise that seemed to cover Will's left side.
"Where did you get the bruise?" Warren asked, nodding to it. Will laughed, which surprised Warren, and explained.
"Save the Citizen, yesterday. You were flaming the other team, I was in the way, you melted my armor and gym clothes off? I'm not invulnerable, not completely. The bruise will go away." Warren raised an eyebrow as he walked over to the clothes' chute that went from the entrance hall to the laundry room in the basement of the house.
Warren couldn't help but shiver in appreciation of Will, he knew how hot the flame that he had thrown was, and yet Will had not moved an inch as the fire poured around him. They'd done the maneuver before, yesterday had not been unusual in any way.
"Will?" Will turned to Warren and knew what his friend was about to ask.
"I'll explain soon." Will said softly. "My Father and Mother, they don't know yet." Warren's eyebrow shot up, surprised. Since when did the Strongholds not talk to each other?
"I need to introduce you to my father." Warren swiftly changed the subject, still not sure why Will would purposely hide something from his parents. Walking down the hall towards his father's study, he pulled Will with him.
Stopping outside the study door, Warren knocked, and waited for an acknowledgement before entering with Will.
"Dad, I'd like you to meet my friend Will. Will, my father." Will looked rather shy, and ducked his head, something that Warren hadn't seen him do in awhile.
"Will, it's a pleasure to meet you." Barron said, reaching out a hand to shake the hand that Will must've subconsciously extended, because Will didn't remember offering it. "Any relation to Josie Devrey?" Barron asked, remembering the girl with the gift of flight from high school.
"Aye, she' s my Mom." Will said. He didn't offer anything else, and Barron set out to find out more.
"And who is your father?" Barron asked. Warren winced, and Will hid a flinch.
"Steve Stronghold." Barron watched the boy withdraw, prepared to be booted out, to be yelled at, insulted, hurt, and then he watched his son snake an arm around Will's drooping shoulders. Barron made a decision.
"Your mother is one hell of a woman." He said, grinning. "Once stood up to me in Save The Citizen, playing singles. What are your powers?" Will began to relax noticeably, and Barron realized that the 'relaxation' was only in form, not entirely in mind.
"Flight, the super-strength/invulnerability combination." Will said ironically. "Supposedly, I take after my father more, but he disagrees. Takes me too long to want to fight for him." Warren raised an eyebrow at Will's offhanded comment about his own father.
"Why would he disagree?" Barron asked, noticing his son's interest in the statement. "Are you not his son, should he not be proud of you no matter what?"
"Theoretically." Will said, and Warren bit back a gasp at the latent hostility in his voice. Will was known for not being hostile, even to those who hurt him deeply.
Will hadn't been having the best of days, arguing with his father over not wanting to spend the summer at the fight-training part of Sky High's annual summer camp. The argument had culminated in hurled insults, with those his father yelled most stinging.
" Dad, I don't want to fight with brute strength! I want to understand why someone hits in a certain place!" An excuse, obviously not the truth. "I learn about brute force in gym, I need to study math to pass next year!" Will had known immediately that he had crossed a line with the last part of his remark.
"TOO DAMN BAD! Maybe if you do this, you'll be good enough that I'LL BE FUCKING PROUD OF YOU!" Steve's face was bright red with anger. "I SOMETIMES WONDER IF MY REAL SON WAS SWITCHED WITH YOU LITTLE FREAK AT BIRTH!"
Will had signed up for fight-training. He came within one point of failing math.
"How old are you?" Barron asked, deciding not to push too hard into the matter- the dark look passing through Will's eyes reminded him of himself at that age. His father had wanted so much from him- so much that Barron had landed in jail. What would this boy do to please his father's over-expectations? What had he already done?
"Ahh, I'm sixteen. Junior." Will seemed to smile the innocent, 'I'm a happy camper' smile, and Barron knew the kid had too much practice hiding emotions, and he worried for the kid.
"Anyway, don't stay up too late, and come downstairs for breakfast tomorrow morning." Barron warned the two, watching them go up to bed.
"Will, what's wrong?" Warren asked, watching his friend pull on his pajamas. It had taken Will nearly double the time tonight to get ready for bed.
Will just nodded slightly, slipping his legs underneath the sheet and comforter of the double bed that they shared, that was Warren's usually.
"My powers are changing." Will said. "Nurse Spex first spotted it a few months ago, during a routine check-up after a training mission. My healing time was down. We've begun charting my strength, and it is also down. It has been decreasing rapidly." Warren slipped under the covers on the other side of the bed, dressed in black boxers and black tanktop. He scooted so he could see Will's eyes, weary with the weight of the Stronghold legacy. "I've begun what is called Hormone Based Power Shift, or 'power puberty' for short. There are documented cases of the powered going through the Shift, and not having powers, or coming out with amazing powers. Basically, it is one's true powers coming to the fore, if they did not originally come out as they were supposed to." Will looked downcast. Warren knew that it had something to do with his father.
"Will, you know you can come here if you need help, right?"
"Yeah, I know, Guerre." 1
1 Guerre is French for war