Author's Note: If you've never read my short story The Book of the Dead, this might be a good time to read it before you go farther. Information about various other questions asked can be found further down the page.
It turned out I was wrong about Zack and Magenta's wedding. They didn't get married over some weekend in Vegas with plastic rings they'd gotten out of a vending machine. It was a Tuesday afternoon in Vegas the week after the Council judgment, and they sprung for ten-dollar rings from an accessory shop. Will flew all of us all there; Ethan was the best man, and Layla was the maid of honor. The ceremony ended just in time for the Champions of Justice to help defeat Pair-A-Dice and his Gambling Goons. Magenta and Zack said they considered it the ideal honeymoon.
A little after Zack and Magenta's wedding, I was over in Westville, talking Monica through some potential kinks before her team went public. They wouldn't actually debut before they'd been able to train together, and certainly not before some of them got a better handle on their abilities, but that didn't mean Monica wasn't going to try to anticipate trouble before it started.
"Where'd they find this house?" I asked as I walked into the echoingly large Victorian that was going to serve as their headquarters. The rest of her group was still at the Maxville Bureau office, getting their promised training (and counseling) in how to better control their powers, amongst other things.
"Used to be a temporary sanctum and safe house, or so the Bureau tells me. But they're going to let us have it. Already soundproofed, reinforced walls and floors, and extra tall and wide doorways," Monica pointed out.
"For Brittany," I said in understanding. Voidhammer was tall as Chloe and built like a linebacker. I'd had several occasions where I'd banged my head on doors in Ethan's house, so I could relate a little, even if I was only a relatively shrimpy six-two.
"And Michael. Bruin," she clarified. "They want all of us to live here."
"Isn't that a little, you know, college dorm?" I asked. Granted this place was pretty damn nice, and there was tons of space, but still…
Monica shrugged. "They want us to keep an eye on each other. Make sure we don't have Super-Secret Meetings of Doom or something, I'm sure. It's supposed to be a 'team-building exercise,' I think I heard them say."
"Ouch," I winced. "Trust falls and campfire songs?"
"Well, the trust falls would work a hell of a lot better if we didn't have a gravity manipulator in our group. Besides, group home quips aside, it makes it fair for Duke. He can't leave the house."
I supposed it was a little impossible to stroll the streets when you had snakes growing out of your head.
"Hey, he came to talk to me yesterday. He wanted to see if I could fix him," I said.
"And you couldn't," she concluded from the expression on my face.
"His fire looks bright and normal to me. Except it's green," I said almost apologetically.
"Bright green. I guess it's because of his curse; I tried to fix it, but he scorched instead. Since I couldn't do anything, and the other doctors are stumped, they're sending him to the Beast-Tamer next," I explained.
Monica hid a laugh behind her hand.
"Oh God, I just had this mental picture of him trying to bribe his hair into submission…" she snorted, and I had to hold back laughter. I supposed it wasn't quite as funny for Duke, but still...
"No one's having second thoughts?" I asked to get her sober again.
"Not really. You know all those meetings we were having while you were recovering? That was a truly ridiculous amount of talking between the Bureau counselors and us. We were getting into… Let's just say we were getting very detailed at the end. Take Ash and Duke, for instance. I know they defected just to save their skins, but when they realized the Bureau really wasn't going to use them for target practice, their change of heart became a lot more sincere. Don't get me wrong, they're still jerks a lot of the time, but now they're good jerks," she said with a sigh.
"Like Lash, Speed, and Penny." Those three were still heroes, even though most other heroes couldn't stand them. But they did keep fighting crime with admirable dedication.
"Exactly. Quint and Michael are getting training from the Pattersons-."
"Magenta's family?" I asked incredulously.
"The same. They never had formal shapeshifter training, and I was told that can be bad for the psyche. You can pick up animal instinct that can override the conscious mind if you aren't careful."
"That explains Bruin," I said soberly. I remembered hearing that he'd killed poachers in the park before Royal Pain had found him, which made a lot of sense if his bear-self was defending his territory. Magenta had never seemed to have much of a problem with her shifting, but she also never spent much time as a guinea pig either.
"Unfortunately, yes. So they're doing that. Brittany, poor girl, is trying to find a cover job. Her powers are under control, but she's having a bitch of a time trying to find a citizen job where she won't be noticed."
"What about a costumed character? You know Big Bird, Mr. Frostee, Dancing Taco…" I quipped. Monica laughed so hard she couldn't even breathe, and smacked me on the shoulder.
"You're supposed to be helping!" she got out finally, collapsing on the stairs.
"You're laughing. That means I'm helping," I said, dropping next to her and draping an arm around her shoulder.
"You're horrible," she said, leaning against my shoulder slightly. "If you wouldn't mind answering a few questions seriously, Mr. Peace…"
"Ok, ok," I relented. "Do you guys even have a group name yet?"
"Shouldn't that be the Redeemees?" I asked.
"Ash insisted Redeemers sounded cooler. I'm reluctantly forced to agree with him."
"Me too. What else?"
"We're supposed to start on group training next week; I don't suppose you know any place that's large, private, and non-flammable? They don't want us in Sky High."
"With Voidhammer on your team? Not surprised. What about the abandoned quarry?"
We talked for a little while about places to practice, the layout of the city, and the myriad of other little things that would make the Redeemers' introduction into the superhero world a lot easier. Monica had a lot of good ideas herself, so she mostly wanted to pick my brain about specifics in Westville and Maxville.
"You should really talk to Will and the guys about some of this," I said at once point. Monica sadly shook her head.
"Warren, really, honestly, I don't expect to get chummy with the Champions. They're your friends."
"Hey, they were ok with you when I was out-."
"Because I refused to leave and they couldn't make me go. We reached a truce eventually, and that's about it. I think we're going to work together ok, but I really don't expect to get invited to movie nights all the time. Or any time," she said frankly, looking straight into my eyes.
"I don't want to hide you," I shot back, and could feel heat momentarily flash along my hands.
"I'm not asking you to. But don't force it. Either they'll like me or they won't, so don't try to drag me along to everything just because you think you can. Or I'll hurt you bad," she warned.
"Ok, ok," I conceded, but pulled her closer against me.
"Besides, I don't want the Redeemers to think I'm too good to hang out with them either. They aren't exactly going to have a ton of friends lined up. Things are going to be hard, and I just want to make sure they don't feel abandoned. There's enough going against them as it is," she said.
"It's all right. Listen to you; you sound like Will does sometimes."
"I hope that's a compliment!" she said with a playful swat at my knee.
"Will's a great guy. I think you're going to do just fine at this leadership thing," I promised.
"Why weren't you ever the leader anyway? Some people on your websites say you're really the driving force behind your team," she asked, hiding a smile.
"Logistics," I said, studiously ignoring the websites comment. "Will's tailor-made for leadership; look who his parents are!"
"Don't confuse the issue with facts," she muttered, and I laughed.
"Hey, I just had one more question before I have to get back to work. We're supposed to meet with the other heroes in Westville and have a sort of get-together; have cocktails, and plot out each other's strengths and weaknesses-."
"To make sure you guys aren't just going to rob a bank and then skip town," I added, and Monica nodded, rolling her eyes slightly.
"I knew this was coming up eventually. I don't expect the mayor to welcome us with a ticker-tape parade, but I'd like to get the other heroes on our side. So, costumes or no costumes?"
"No costumes," I suggested. "You guys are all built for intimidation. Try to look-."
"If you say 'innocent,' I'm going to laugh in your face," she warned.
"I was going to say 'less threatening,'" I assured her.
"Hmph. We'll work on that. Well, I already am working on it; Mercy has a new costume. I need to move my things out of my old Maxville apartment and into here. Don't suppose you'd be able to help me with that tonight, would you?" she asked hopefully.
I think the blood rushed out of my head. That would leave her and me, in her apartment, alone. We were no longer in the academy. That nebulous "perfect time" we'd been waiting for was pretty much here.
"I can haul boxes with the best of them," I said nonchalantly.
"I need some help in fitting my new costume too, if you'd be up for it." Her tone was extremely casual, but she did have one hand resting on my knee.
"I can definitely do that," I promised.
Bow-chicka-wah-wah, my brain snarked.
Shut. Up. I replied.
About three weeks after I'd changed my own job description, the Bureau director called a meeting with me. I had been so busy between working with the Champions, working at the Bureau hospital, and helping Monica with the Redeemers that I hadn't realized who'd taken over from Director Adams. It had been on one of those vague "I should really do something about that," lists that I just hadn't go around to.
So I was pretty damn surprised when Veronica Powers stood up behind the large director's desk. I was less pleasantly surprised when I realized that now-Director Powers must have taken a bad claw-slash to the face before I'd started on my "healing rampage." (That was Zack's term for it.) Three heavy dark red furrows slashed across her forehead to her jaw, from left to right, going right over the eye. Actually, her right eye was dark red as well, an unfortunate side effect, though it seemed she could see out of it.
"Director?" I asked incredulously.
"Of course Phoenix," she said, and waived for me to sit.
"If you're here, who's at Sky High?"
"Mr. Boy took over from me. He's gained a lot more self-confidence since your junior year," she said with a bit of a smile.
I nodded, surprised, as she came over to sit next to me. Unlike Director Adams, she didn't want the barrier of the desk between her and me.
"This isn't tiring you out too much, this pulling double duty?" she asked.
"I've gotten a hell of a lot better at budgeting myself," I promised.
And that was the honest truth. Monica and I had talked with Dr. Egret and decided that doing what we'd done as EMTs, partially healing people, would be a lot more useful than risking burning someone up on a full healing. I didn't try to completely fix anyone now, but instead we'd try to shave days to weeks off of his or her recovery time. That kept me from overextending, and heroes from thinking they were totally invulnerable. If coming back from something serious involved no real effort on their part, they might forget to be cautious. In that respect, I agreed completely with Monica's assessment that a little leftover pain was a good reminder to duck next time!
"I've noticed. Dr. Egret's very pleased with how things are going, and she's really happy with Mercy's help too. There are too many of us that have odd reactions to medications; we could have used someone with her abilities decades ago. Between you two, our turn-around time for injured heroes is dropping considerably. I'm guessing in a few months we won't be short-handed anymore."
With eight recent superhero deaths, and the dissolution of the academy and the attendant chaos their villains were trying to cause in retaliation, even the introduction of the Redeemers wouldn't cover all the gaps. Cutter's Crew hadn't resurfaced, but when they did it was going to be nasty. Every single person was going to be needed, and I was going to be able to help with that big picture.
"Thanks," I said, not really sure on what else to say.
"The Champions are also doing very well. No problems with getting back into the groove?" she asked.
"Like riding a bicycle," I assured her.
Even though I'd been away from fighting for close to a month, it had been comfortingly easy to slide back into my role as Phoenix, member of the Champions of Justice. The difference was now my days weren't on such a wacky schedule any more because of my cover job. Monica and I had quietly said good-bye to Medic-Co, and had entered a much more reasonable schedule as superhero health specialists. Granted, heroes didn't get hurt on a nine-to-five basis, but that meant they only called us in when they needed us. Which sometimes translated into having actual free time now and again. It was a novel experience.
"Glad to hear it. Phoenix, I didn't drag you down here just for a chat, though I am starting an open-door policy. Director Adams liked his privacy, but I'm more used to getting everyone's opinion. Pass that along, would you? And walk with me a bit," she said, suddenly standing.
I shoved myself up to follow her as we wove through the cube farm of the Bureau offices, to a half-hidden elevator at the back. I noticed the Director had to use her palm print to get it to open.
"There are a few changes I'm making to Bureau policies. Nothing really world-shaking, but a few things brought up by the academy's defeat, and a few old traditions that really don't make sense anymore. Ah, before I forget, I wanted to tell you about the technopaths while you're here. Techarcana vetted them, and they're going to work for us. The academy had some amazing defenses on its computer systems, and we could use something like that on our own," she said as we waited patiently for the elevator.
"They're all doing ok?" I asked.
"Very well. They became quite normal once away from the psychics' interference. We also managed, with their help, to trace the route Saurian Lord used to bring his nanobots into Metroplex. We've never had to deal with a nanobot manipulator before, but we finally managed to plug that hole in our security, thanks to them."
"What about Royal Pain?"
The Director sighed as the door swooshed open, and didn't reply until it had shut again. The elevator slowly moved downward as she considered her words.
"Insanity is not unusual amongst incarcerated supervillains. And developing a disorder, if they didn't have one already, is also not unusual. They're under surveillance, but many villains hide their symptoms well, even from their sessions with trained psychics. To be frank, Royal Pain is off her rocker. She's being treated, and we hope for the best, but she's too dangerous and too intelligent to be moved out of power-containment. Her sentence has been amended with her most recent crimes, and she will never, ever leave Metroplex."
"Good," I said with finality. I maybe felt just the tiniest bit sorry for Royal Pain. But not much. Not in the face of what she'd done.
The elevator finally stopped and the doors swung open.
It revealed a large, bare room lit only by a few spotlights, dominated by a single large pillar in the center, surrounded by stone benches. The Director and I stepped towards the pillar, our footsteps slapping loudly on the stone. From a distance the pillar appeared to be textured, or perhaps carved abstractly. Close up, it was apparent that it was carved with hundreds of names. The Iron Fist, Red Falcon, Tower Guard … Row upon row of names, stretching to the ceiling twenty feet above. Diamond, Seawalker, Iceangel, Cool Cross, Sonic Boom…
"This is the Superheroes' Memorial, the private one," Director Power said quietly. It was the sort of room that demanded you speak in hushed tones. "It used to be only the directors, Council members, and principals could get down here. Kane, Director Adams, once told me that it was because people might misunderstand seeing all of this at once."
"Why?" I asked, reaching out hesitantly to touch it.
"I don't really know. Let me show you something. Sonic Boom," she called out more loudly. Hidden projectors in the ceiling began to display pictures on all four of the blank white walls. It was every picture, every article, and every fan letter that Sonic Boom had ever gotten, right up until his memorial article from the day he died.
I'd seen other superheroes' memorials before, and war memorials, and accident memorials too. All of them had an air of tragic grandeur about them, the long list of names providing most of the impact. But here you had not only the names, but also everything about every person who'd ever had their names inscribed on the column. Everyone was in here, just waiting to be called out again.
I hesitated on seeing Boomer's face on every wall, and took a steadying breath.
"You didn't send Boomer to his death, Warren," Veronica said, dropping my superhero name in a relaxing of the most formal Bureau protocol. I glanced sharply at her, wondering if she was reading my mind. I had told myself I wasn't going to let those deaths weigh on me, but I still sometimes thought…
"You didn't," she repeated. "He knew it was a huge risk, going active again, and he knew it was very possible, even probable, that he wouldn't come back. I saw the most ridiculous grin on his face when he stopped Son of Silver. And I…"
She hesitated before starting again.
"I really hate Son of Silver. I have a grudge against him; he's killed several of my friends," she said baldly. "I was about to do a very spectacular, messy, and probably foolish kamikaze attack on Silver when the call went out for Sonic Boom. Every time we've gone up against Silver directly, we've lost someone. Boomer kept the deaths down to a minimum. He knew exactly what he was doing when he went into that fight."
I breathed out again slowly.
"I tried to go after Cutter when I saw what she did to Boomer, and got blindsided by Talon. Nearly lost the eye before you started healing," she said, and sat down on one of the benches. I followed suit, eyes still nailed on the pillar.
"Diamond," I called, and the images obediently switched to those of a heroine made of living gems.
While Powers waited, I went through the list of those heroes that had been killed during the academy attack, supplying the names of those few I hadn't known. It was strangely therapeutic, seeing everyone's faces in smiling publicity photos, rather than remembering how they must have been in their moment of death.
When I'd gone through the last name, she spoke again.
"I'm opening this place up to all heroes. It used to be just so the bigwigs could remember their responsibilities. But I think it's worth more than that. Everyone needs to remember the good things about their friends and fellow heroes," she said, and stood. "I'm telling you first, because I think you needed it first."
"Thanks Veronica," I said, and stood up as the projectors went dark.
"Anytime Phoenix. Come on," she said, heading back to the elevator. "You have a good head on your shoulders. You should remember to make suggestions to me from time to time; I don't mind listening to something different."
I turned my head away slightly to hide a smile. Clearly she'd wished I'd been able to tell more people about Monica's plan, so I wouldn't have had to sneak around so much. She wanted to be in the loop. I had a feeling there would be some unspecified unfortunate consequences if I went rogue like that again.
"Will do," I promised. I knew now that I could trust people; I hadn't known that before.
"Excellent," she said, and palmed the elevator control. We rode up in silence, and I could see her slightly turning the scarred side of her face away from the rest of the office as the doors swooshed open at the top.
"I'll see you later," she said, and I spoke before she could get too far away.
"Hey Comet!" She stopped in her tracks and turned back to me.
"You look pretty bad-ass," I said, smiling broadly.
Her returning grin was brilliantly white.
"Warren, I really need your help," Will pleaded.
It was going on three months since the academy fight, and I'd thought things were going pretty well. Mercy and the Redeemers had made a quiet and effective debut in Westville, neatly stopping a daring double bank robbery. They hadn't been welcomed with open arms, but neither had they been stoned from the gates. That was as good as they'd hoped for and better than they'd feared. Monica was determined to build on that.
The Champions of Justice were keeping up their own impressive record, and there'd been no major crises for a while. I couldn't think of what was bringing such a note of panic into Will's voice, particularly in public. He'd run into me coming out of the Bureau hospital (I'd been dropping off Trixie for her new gig as a therapy pet), and had literally dragged me into a deserted hallway for something of, apparently, dire importance.
"Stronghold, calm the hell down. What's going on?" I asked.
"It's… Chloe and Ethan were over at our house, and they're getting ready for their wedding, and Chloe wanted Layla's opinion on flowers, and-," he stopped himself from babbling with a wrench of effort. "I need to get a ring."
"Ok… so why don't you just go with Layla to get it?" I asked reasonably. It was about damn time for Will to propose. I was more surprised it had taken him this long to do it!
"I wanted it to be a surprise," he said, looking sheepish.
"You two have been destined for each other since birth. Unless there's someone else I don't know about, I'd say it's safe to assume she's going to know," I said.
"No, that's not it. I just had this plan…"
"What about Magenta? I don't know squat about engagement rings."
"Magenta would tell," Will said positively.
"Stronghold," I warned in exasperation.
"At least we'll both be equally clueless!" Will said.
"Isn't dragging a friend along to something like this a chick thing?" I asked, smirking.
"Warren! This is really important!" Will almost growled.
"Dude, I know. Trust me," I said. I wasn't exactly as ignorant of engagement rings as I'd let on. I'd been subtly checking out Monica's reactions to rings whenever there was a jewelry store ad on TV.
"I'm just freaking out a little," Will said with a sigh.
"You can use a skyscraper as a baseball bat, but are freaking out about a ring?" I asked.
"Let's see how you like it when it's your turn," Will muttered. Then he caught the thoughtful look on my face and verbally pounced. "Come on, it's going to be pretty soon, isn't it?"
Though I hadn't taken Monica along to every get-together I had with my friends, Will and the gang had been remarkably cool about purposefully extending an invitation to her every now and then. Though they were still a little reserved around her, she was actually starting to get to know them and like them. I think almost against their will, my friends were starting to like her too. As I'd predicted, she got along great with Magenta.
"Probably before your wedding, knowing what Layla has planned," I pointed out.
"She's reading bridal magazines," Will confessed. I got alarmed.
"Stronghold, we better go now before she proposes to you," I said, starting to walk towards the doors.
"So, this isn't a chick thing anymore?" Will asked.
"No, now it's male bonding," I said, palming open the doors. "Are we flying or driving?'
"Flying. I needed this ring, like, yesterday," Will said, ducking us both down an alley so we'd have a protected take-off point.
I thought for a second how Monica would take me showing up with an engagement ring tonight. Then I realized I probably needed a ring yesterday too. I loved her and she loved me; I should have done this a long time ago. This was going to be great.
"Ok Stronghold, let's hit the sky!"
Mega Author's Notes and Thanks
This story has been nearly two years in the making, and I have a lot of thanks to give to a lot of people.
Thanks to the writers, directors, cast, and crew of Sky High, for without them I wouldn't have had a springboard for my tale. Thanks to Disney for distributing, for the Almighty Mouse reaches far and wide.
Thanks to my husband for having me watch Sky High in the first place.
Thanks to my beta readers, MrRigger of this community, and my sister BrightEyed-Jill of the LiveJournal community. MrRigger, thanks for being a sounding board. BrightEyed-Jill gets a special shout-out for many late-night phone conversations and chats about plots, plot holes, and characterizations.
Thanks to my reviewers, especially all you multi-chapter long-term reviewers who stuck with me for so long. Thanks especially to those who asked questions, wrote detailed reviews, pointed out errors, or postulated on plots. You helped improve the quality of my story, and your reviews always made my day. Virtual hugs!
Thanks to my dad for keeping his Marvel comic collection from his childhood; there's nothing like the classics! Dad also gets the credit for teaching me how to play Dungeons and Dragons. That was invaluable for this story!
I also want to thank my co-workers, who involuntarily and quite unwittingly, donated their names for some bit parts. If you ever end up reading this, for the love of Bob, don't run me over with a forktruck. I love you all, and you know it.
No writer creates in a vacuum, and I have many inspirations to list too.
For political plotting and convoluted widgets, I turned to Daughter of the Empire, Servant of the Empire, and Mistress of the Empire by Raymond E. Feist and Janny Wurts.
For character-driven introspection, I turned to my favorite author, Mercedes Lackey.
For villain/hero relationships and how they can each change the other, I turned to Silence of the Lambs and especially Hannibal, by Thomas Harris.
For my mental soundtrack, I thank the works of Linkin Park and Nickleback. The themes and lyrics of many of their songs aided in writing some emotional scenes.
For my disturbing mental soundtrack, the music I used when writing the academy chapters, I turned to AKLO (dot) net, the music of the Cthulhu Mythos. Crazy strange awesome!
For quips and witty comebacks, I thank Monty Python and the Holy Grail, my D&D gaming group, and the ever-snarky Television Without Pity.
For writing action scenes with super-powered people, I turn to my near-decade of experience with Dungeons and Dragons Role-Playing Game. For those that have played in my games, I thank your innovation that kept me on my toes. Trying to describe the crazy stuff you did helped me beyond measure. Gary Gygax, this one's for you.
Seventh Sanctum also gets a shout-out for their Superhero Name Generator, which was quite a help when I was stuck.
A sequel? And Stuff.
A question I've gotten a lot is, am I going to do a sequel?
Long story short, yes.
BUT NOT YET!
I have another long story, non-Sky High related, that I want to do first. So don't even start pestering me for the next Warren Peace adventure until December 08. At the earliest. I'll put something in my profile if it's going to be later than that. It's gonna be cool, but I have a major jones to do this other tale first, so that has priority. (If you like the idea of a Heroes/Firefly fusion, do join me on the X-overs section for that. It'll be titled Big Damn Heroes.)
Also, for those readers interested in such things, I did write an M-rated scene between Warren and Monica. But I'm not putting it on this website (too many young'uns). Those readers of mine 18 and older can find in on AFF, or on my LiveJournal, which is under the name Jaune-Chat (watch the spelling) as of now. Please observe all applicable ratings. Read nothing you're not supposed to!