We all have our opposites. Yin and Yang. Life and Death. Good and Evil. Good almost always comes out the victor. Almost. This is the story of a young woman named Bella and how she became the woman she is today.
Chapter 1: Names
Bella shook her head at the antics of her little brother. The boy, James, was only half a year old and he was already running around at full speed. Normally, most of the others would have found him to be a bother, running into their legs, tugging at their clothes but they didn't mind at all. He was a source of joy and relaxation in the hectic headquarters. At the moment, James was running around Statesman's office, occasionally poking the large man in the calf. Statesman laughed and picked him up easily, placing him on his knee and bouncing him a little absent-mindedly as he went over some papers.
"And you're sure these are correct?" he asked Bella. James looked up at Statesman before making a face. A second later, the boy had transformed into a miniature version of Statesman, complete with cape and helmet. Both of them had exactly the same expression of determination on their faces and Bella couldn't help but laugh out loud. Statesman looked confused before looking down at the boy and laughing aloud himself.
"Yes sir, they're completely accurate."
"Please, it's Marcus. Well you're done here. If you'd like you can go speak to Synapse or Manticore and see if they've got something for you. And you," he said looking down at the boy with a smile, "I've got a special task for you. Think you can handle it?" James giggled and nodded. "Alright. Now you see, I've got this big bag of candy," Statesman said with mock exhaustion. He reached into a drawer and pulled out a large bag of sweets and chocolates with a fake groan, as if the bag was extremely heavy, and held them just out of the boy's reach. "But I'm not sure what to do with it. Would you mind eating it for me?" The little boy bounced and giggled loudly, before promptly sticking his thumb into his mouth. "Now remember, don't eat too much at one time!" James laughed loudly and wrapped his tiny arms as far around Statesman's massive arm as he could, the closest thing to a hug the little tyke could give. Statesman laughed fondly and gave the boy's helmet a gentle knock before passing him over to Bella.
"Thank you sir." Bella said before leaving.
"It's Marcus!" he called just before the door closed. Bella smiled to herself before setting little James down and walking with him to Synapse's office.
Bella wasn't a superhero at all. She did have powers but was unable to control them, and no amount of training could help. Her powers seemed to be temperamental, activating whenever they wished. Thus, she decided to drop out of the training program; it had been a difficult decision for her but she felt that if at all she became a superhero she'd be more of a liability than assistance during a battle or mission. She figured she'd be able to help out at home. After a particularly nasty encounter with some academy bullies, who had told her that her phantom-like powers were practically useless, her belief that she was useless on the field was only further cemented; Bella resolved to work as hard as she possibly could to make up for her inability.
She walked with her little brother, greeting the heroes she passed and unlatching her little brother from their legs; he had a bad habit of hugging anyone he saw. She smiled abashedly when her little brother grabbed Sister Psyche's leg and hugged her tightly.
"It's alright. I know it's a habit of his." She replied with a bright grin. She put a force-field around the boy and levitated him up to her level. "Hey little guy." She said softly. The force-field disappeared and the boy fell a short distance into Sister Psyche's waiting arms. She rubbed noses with him before tickling him a little and handing him over to Bella. "He's a darling." She commented fondly. "Running errands for Marcus?"
"Yep. I just finished actually. I was going over to Synapse's office."
"He'll be there momentarily. You can go and wait."
"Alright. Thanks!" Bella smiled before walking off with her brother in her arms. How does she do that? Bella thought; she always forgot Sister Psyche's power. Sister Psyche chuckled to herself before calling, "Sister Psyche, remember?" Bella blushed before quickly turning into Synapse's office and setting her little brother down.
Unlike Statesman's office, which was very blank with only a few photos, some newspaper clippings, several whiteboards with information and a map of the city, Synapse's office was much more homely. He had several photos of himself with a few children and a few with the local authorities. There was also a map of the city but unlike Statesman, who had marked out known villain hideouts, Synapse had highlighted the best pizzerias and fast food restaurants within three hundred miles of the headquarters. Bella giggled to herself, thinking of the many jokes that the hero would crack.
"Hey there! What can I do for ya?" Synapse said jovially. He walked over to his desk and reclined easily.
"Well I was running errands for Mr. Cole—"
"Just call him Marcus." Synapse interrupted. Bella continued with a smile.
"And I finished early. He told me to come to you and to Mr. Sinclair—"
"Justin." Synapse interrupted again with a grin.
With a sigh, she began again, "Marcus told me to come to you and Justin to see if either of you had any tasks for me."
"There! Ya see? It's not that hard."
Bella blushed before looking down at her feet. "You know I hate calling you guys by your first names." She muttered.
"Yeah why is that?" he asked her, genuinely curious.
"Just…I'm not good enough to. Maybe if I was a hero like you guys…but…" she trailed away. Synapse stood up and walked over to her. When she still didn't look up, he lifted her chin gently until she looked up at him. When she did, he gave a soft smile.
"You are good enough. Listen if it really truly bugs you then I'll ask the others to let up on the first name thing alright? But please don't feel inferior to us because you're not. Just because I'm not as strong as Statesman doesn't mean I'm inferior but just because he isn't as fast as I am doesn't make me any more superior. It's the same with you and us. Just because you can't control your power doesn't make you inferior to us. Right?" he asked softly.
Bella smiled sweetly before nodding a little and whispering, "Right."
"Great. Well then!" he said rather loudly, hoping to get her to laugh a little, "Lemme see lemme see…nope I got nothin' for ya. If you want though you could have dinner with me." He asked suggestively, giving a flirtatious smile. He moved to lean on the edge of his table but he purposefully missed, falling flat on his face and earning a loud giggle from the girl. Mission accomplished. He thought with a grin. He moved to get up, but James ran up to Synapse, poking his visor experimentally. The hero grinned before rolling over onto his back and pulling the toddler onto his chest.
"Hey! It's my favorite two year old!" He exclaimed, tickling the boy profusely, who proceeded to scream in mirth and squirm around. Synapse stopped tickling him and stood up, holding the boy in his arms. "So how are ya, lil hero?"
The boy simply blew a spit bubble in response. "I'll take that as a "Oh the all-powerful, extremely amazing Synapse, I'm doing fine! Thank you for asking how was your day?" Synapse said.
"You got all that from a spit bubble?" Bella asked with a giggle.
"What can I say? I'm good with kids. Alright lil hero," Synapse said with a grin. "think you can beat me in another race? I gotta warn ya Ive been practicing." James giggled before standing up straight and scrunching up his face; soon he looked like a miniature version of Synapse. Without preamble, the little boy took off down the hallway, scampering around only a little faster than usual. The wandering heroes, who were used to this, knew he was having a race and therefore didn't stop him, simply smiling at him as he passed. Synapse pretended to lose, saying, "Wait up lil hero!" He sprinted back to Bella and said, "Wait here 'kay? I'll be back in a sec…give or take." And with that, he disappeared. Before Bella could even sit down, Synapse had returned with a huge teddy bear. "For when he wins." He explained.
"Has anyone every beaten you?" She asked, a little curious.
"Sure! Your little brother has done it loads of times!" he replied jovially before running off to lag behind the boy. He lagged behind to keep an eye on him and make sure he didn't hurt himself. After about ten minutes the two returned, baby clutching the teddy bear and hero clutching the baby. Synapse handed Mr. Sinclair and see if he has anything for me to do."
Synapse looked like he was about to interrupt but remembering their conversation he let it go; he didn't expect her to go on a first name basis with them immediately. It would take time for the girl to be that comfortable. Synapse nodded and opened the door for her, heading out himself. The two parted in opposite directions, Synapse heading towards the cafeteria and Bella heading towards Manticore's office.
Hardly thirty seconds later, Synapse appeared right up beside her and said, "Think about what I said alright?" He gave her a kiss on the cheek and ran off. Bella was used to his physical nature but she still blushed at the contact; she'd never dated before and such contact was unfamiliar ground for her so she was unsure of how to act. She knew he couldn't hear her, being so far away, so she simply nodded to herself and headed towards Manticore's office. A few minutes later she knocked on his door before walking in.
Manticore had his head down on the table, surrounded by papers. He seemed to be quite sick. Bella, instantly worried, thought about whether or not she should call Sister Psyche but decided that it would be better for her to try and help now rather than running around looking for the psychic hero.
"Mr. Sinclair?" Bella said timidly. Even her brother had gone silent, sucking on his thumb. "Mr. Sinclair?" Bella said again, shaking Manticore a little. She began to get extremely worried when the hero let out a snore. Bella snickered a little. He's not sick! He's asleep! She felt bad for waking him but she had to do it.
"Mr. Sinclair? Sir?" Bella said a little more loudly, shaking his shoulder a little harder. Manticore awoke with a start, sitting up straight and looking around quickly.
"Yes? What is it?" he asked her, as if he'd been awake the whole time.
"Well three things."
"One," Bella reached out and pulled a piece of paper off his cheek. Manticore simply looked at her before arranging a few more papers. "and two, judging by all these papers I'm guessing you need some help?"
"It would be welcome, yes. Thank you. And the third?"
"Is it alright if I keep my little brother in here? I don't want him to be a distraction to you."
"Yes that's fine." He muttered before half-heartedly waving to the little tyke, who continued to suck his thumb with a grin. He reached his hands out towards Manticore, who sighed and took him from Bella. He balanced James on his lap and continued to work but Bella took the files from him.
"You need a break sir. I'm guessing you've been up all night. I'll work on these and you play with him."
"It's Justin. And since when do you give the orders around here?" Manticore asked.
"Since I got more sleep than you did." Bella replied with a grin.
"I'd listen to her, Justin." A female voice said behind Bella. Both looked up to see Ms. Liberty leaning against the doorway with a smile. James saw her and immediately laughed reaching out towards her. Out of all the heroes, Ms. Liberty was his absolute favorite. She was the second closest thing to a parent he had (his sister was the first) and Ms. Liberty loved him back just as much. She loved to babysit him whenever she had the chance and sometimes, she would even ask Bella if she could spend time with the boy.
"Hey you!" she said in a high pitched baby voice. Both baby and hero ran toward each other and when they were close enough, she picked him up and spun him in a circle before kissing his cheeks. "How's my handsome little hero doing today?"
"Handsome little hero got a bag of candy from Mr. Cole, a little force-field ride from Mrs. Sinclair, and got to race Mr. Berry." Bella summed up with a smile at the baby. James grinned and cuddled into Ms. Liberty's neck causing her to giggle and rub his back affectionately.
"Hey Ms. Cole?" Bella asked.
"It's Jessica dear. Yes?" she responded. Bella tried to not let herself be bugged by the first name issue but she knew Synapse would talk to them soon enough. "I'm helping Mr. Sinclair with these papers. Do you have anything for me to do?"
"Hmm…not at the moment. Why? Did Daddy run you of things for you to do?"
"Exactly." Bella replied with a smile.
"Well you're a fast worker I'll give you that." She replied with a wink, hoisting the boy up higher. "Well we're all having a luncheon. Why don't you come up there with us?"
"No I couldn't—" Bella began to protest.
"Are we going?" Manticore asked. He walked up to the door and opened it for the two women.
"No honestly I'd love to but—" she tried to say but Ms. Liberty cut her off.
"Come on! It'll be fine trust me. It's not like we're strangers to you or anything. I mean you have worked with all of us before, haven't you?" Ms. Liberty asked her, letting James play with her long hair.
"That's true…I mean am I—am I allowed?"
"Of course you are. There are no restrictions to a cafeteria. Truth be told even the novices can come eat with us. But for some reason they don't. Can't imagine why…" Manticore said, seriously confused as to why trainees wouldn't join them.
"They're afraid. Duh." Ms. Liberty said with a grin. "Come on don't you be afraid too!" Bella sighed and nodded before following the heroes to the cafeteria. As they walked, Bella observed Ms. Liberty's figure and compared it to her own, grimacing at the results of the comparison.
"Don't do that." A voice said beside her. Bella jumped a little before realizing it was Sister Psyche.
"Don't do what?"
"Compare yourself to us." She replied.
"Oh…" Bella said, extremely put off. Was she that bad?
"No! No no no that's not what I meant. I'm sorry I should have worded my sentence differently. I didn't mean you aren't worthy enough I simply meant that friends don't compare themselves to each other. Yes we're aware of the differences but that is all they are; differences. We can't base our separate relationships simply on those." She rectified herself. Bella smiled a little and made a hard effort to not make any more comparisons.
"So how has your day been?"
"Rather easy. Mr. Cole didn't have anything else for me to do so he sent me off the Mr. Sinclair and to Mr. Berry. Mr. Berry didn't have anything and I was about to get started on Mr. Sinclair's work when I was—wait don't you already know all of this?"
"Well yes but I'd like to make conversation with you." Sister Psyche said with a grin. Bella grinned back before continuing. "Then I was invited to the luncheon. How was your day?"
"It was fantastic. Surprisingly no crime reports today. Ah well. I suppose that's why you didn't have much to do. How is your little brother?"
"He's doing fine. He loves those little rides in your force-fields, ma'am."
"Must you do that?"
"I'm gonna guess and say you're talking about my whole 'Mr. ms. Ma'am' thing right?"
"Well yes. We aren't your bosses you know. You work with us not for us."
"I know it's just...I feel like…you know as if…" Bella stammered. Sister Psyche stopped her by the shoulders and turned Bella to face her. "Can you read my mind right now? I'm a little embarrassed saying it out loud."
After a second or two, Sister Psyche shook her head with a smile. "You aren't. You're our friend not our servant. I couldn't help but notice Steven's bit of advice. I agree with him. Call us what you will but please..do feel free to call us by our first names. As I said before, you're our friend now our servant."
Bella smiled and felt her heart warm up for the second time that day. Sister Psyche smiled back and gave her a hug before walking quickly to catch up with Manticore and Ms. Liberty, both of whom were so busy coddling the boy, they hadn't noticed the others' absence.
In a matter of minutes, the group reached the cafeteria to find Synapse already there, setting up plates and the likes at a leisurely pace. He looked up and a smile lit his face seeing Bella and her brother.
"Hey! Lil hero!" the boy laughed and cooed and Ms. Liberty looked playfully affronted.
"You just stole my line, Steven."
"Little hero! He's my little hero!" she said with a smile. Synapse grinned and said, "No he's my lil hero!"
James' face moved back and forth between the two, as if we were watching a tennis match. Sister Psyche intervened. "Who's brother is he?" Ms. Liberty and Synapse paused, looking at each other, before slumping together in defeat and saying dejectedly, "Bella's." Bella grinned and helped set up the plates. Statesman arrived and ruffled James' hair before seating himself down at the table. The rest joined and Bella meekly sidled into a chair between Synapse and Statesman. Synapse nudged her and gave her a grin while Sister Psyche gave her and encouraging smile from across the table.
Bella soon relaxed. She'd been thinking that she was invited out of pure formality and that once she got there, she'd be ignored. This, however, was not the case. Statesman constantly asked Bella random questions to include her in the conversation while Synapse told funny jokes and stories when she was done responding to keep her laughing. Bella laughed at one of Synapse's stories before delving into her own.
"So, Bella tell us about your family." Statesman asked. He knew her least of the group and was curious to know her better.
"Well you've all met him." She said. The group gave a chuckle, glancing at the boy (currently in Sister Psyche's arms) before looking back to Bella.
"Well yes and he's a joy," Statesman said with a smile. "But I was talking about your parents? What do they do? And do you have any siblings?"
Bella's stomach clenched. Should she tell them? After all Sister Psyche did say they were friends and friends didn't lie to each other. She settled on the truth, knowing Sister Psyche would be able to tell if she was lying anyway.
"They umm…they died...about a year ago. James and I are all that's left." She muttered quietly. The table had gone deathly quiet.
"I'm—I'm sorry." Statesman stammered. If he had any idea he would never have even touched upon the subject.
"It was a fire." Bella continued, as if she hadn't heard Statesman at all. She was staring at a certain point on the table, but she could still feel everyone's eyes on her. Calculating. Judging.
No. Comforting. They're my friends. Remember what Sister Psyche said.
They were eager to know more yet unsure of how to ask. "I'd taken James out with me for a walk. I heard an explosion and went to go see what it was. I see my apartment building and right as I arrived I saw them jump. The twelfth floor. They fell straight down. I couldn't let James see so I covered his eyes. They landed in front of me. Mom and Dad. They were just…just lying there. The medical units came around and I see my two older sisters half burned by the flames. I stood there for the longest time. Mom and Dad. Gone." Bella finished and though tears were pouring out of her eyes, her voice did not waver once.
"I had nowhere else to go. I thought I'd take James somewhere safe, somewhere he'd never be hurt. And I looked around and saw the Headquarters. The next thing I knew I was standing inside, applying to the academy. I failed dismally and dropped out and applied for a job. A few of the people on the waitlist jumped off and the next thing I know I'm working for Mr. Cole." She finished lamely. Everyone was completely frozen, shocked by this new insight into their coworkers life. Synapse wrapped his arm around Bella and hugged her gently. Statesman unhooked his cape and wrapped it around Bella, who gave a watery smile and hugged Synapse back.
"So…what's your favorite color?" Manticore asked. Bella sniffled and laughed a little. They had gone from such a serious topic to such a basic question.
"Probably blue." Bella responded feeling much better. Synapse hissed a loud, "Yes!" and punched the air as a sign of victory.
"I see. I prefer red." Statesman said with a grin.
"I can tell." Bella replied holding up the red cape with a smile.
They continued to joke around the happy mood returning with each laugh. Little James constantly returned to Ms. Liberty's lap cuddling with her. Ms. Liberty and Synapse began to playfully bicker about who the boy loved move while Sister Psyche caught Bella's eye and discreetly tapped the side of her head. Bella nodded and pretended to watch the bickering with interest.
Are you alright?
Yeah I just…it took a lot out of me.
I understand. And you're right about one thing.
We will never be calculating or judging with you at a time like that. We'd be comforting you.
Both girls made eye contact once more, a wide happy grin on Sister Psyche's face and a small but confident one on Bella's.