“I don’t get it,” Will said. “I thought we were good, you know? I thought everything was...good.”
I nodded and tried to look sympathetic as he stared at the game on the screen. It wasn’t that I didn’t feel bad for Will. Will was like a big, clumsy puppy - impossible not to lo- like.
At the same time, he was a source of continual frustration.
“That sucks, man,” I grunted.
“It DOES suck. It-” There was a CRACK and I glanced over to see Will staring at dismay at the controller. He’d crushed it. “Oh man.”
“You haven’t done that in awhile,” I said.
“Yeah, well.” Sighing, Will tossed down the mangled plastic. “I don’t have any spares left. Sorry, Warren.”
“It’s cool.” I started winding the cord around my own controller. At least Will could still play single-player games with it until his family replenished his supply. Will went through controllers the way his dad went through phones.
“Let’s get some lemonade,” Will said after a minute. I shrugged, set the controller on top of the XBox, and followed him down the stairs.
Will was already getting out the makings for sandwiches when I got there, the bread and mayo out on the counter. “It’s just,” he said, rooting around in the refrigerator, “I was going to ask her to prom, you know?” His voice shook.
I guess some people would have thought it was funny. Summer was just starting, and prom was almost a year away. Will had everything, the perfect parents, perfect house, perfect powers, perfect life. But not the perfect girlfriend. Not anymore.
I didn’t feel like laughing. Will could be painfully oblivious sometimes. That didn’t make his own pain any less real. “I get it,” I said, low.
Suddenly Will straightened, his back still to me, and let the fridge door swing shut. “I’ll be right back,” he said. “I, uh, gotta go.” He darted out of the kitchen so quickly I hoped he wasn’t developing speedster powers, too. That would have been a bit much.
I got out the rest of the ingredients and started assembling the sandwiches. I’d worked at a deli through my Sophomore year and was better at it than Will was, anyway.
I was just pouring the lemonade when Will came back. I let my gaze skate over him quickly. His eyes were red and his collar a bit damp. Fuck.
I shoved his plate toward him. He blinked down at it. “Uh, thanks,” he said, then sat down and picked up his sandwich.
That made me feel a little better. At least I could do this for him.
“I can’t believe it!” Will said again.
“Magenta’s nice,” I said lamely.
He scowled at me. “Why aren’t you mad, too?”
I shrugged. Magenta and I had dated for a total of three weeks before we decided to break it off. “We were never all that into each other,” I said. “Not like you and-” I stopped. “Why did she break up with you, anyway?”
His frown deepened, but turned inward. “She said...she didn’t want to always be ‘WillandLayla’. Like my dad and mom are ‘TheCommanderandJetstream’.”
Blinking, I said, “But your parents are awesome.” Ever since I’d met them, I’d thought that their relationship was the ideal. “Why wouldn’t she want to be like them?”
“I don’t know!” He clenched his hands into fists, but I knew he wouldn’t lash out - not at me, not at anything. “They’re the best!” He shook his head and sat down heavily on his bed, which creaked alarmingly for a moment. He overcompensated and ended up floating an inch or two above it before sinking back down again. “God, I wish I weren’t so jealous.”
“Yeah,” I said. It came out a lot more raw than I meant it to.
He stopped and raised his head. “I knew it. You are jealous of Layla.”
I opened my mouth and closed it again. I was, but not the way he thought. Not because she was dating Magenta. “Yeah,” I said finally. “I guess I am, a little.”
“I’m sorry, man,” said Will, genuinely sympathetic for a moment, but then he got a gleam in his eye. “I didn’t know you were still carrying a torch for Magenta.” I snorted, and he gave me a sly grin, proud of his pun. His smile faded back into a frown after a moment, though. “You know, it’s petty and stupid, but I wish I could make them jealous.”
I rolled my eyes. “There are tons of girls who would be overjoyed to date you, Will,” I said.
He looked down. “I don’t want to lead someone on,” he said. “If I could find a girl who was trying to make someone else jeal-” He stopped and lifted his head, staring at me.
“We should do it,” he said, the spark of inspiration glowing in his eyes. “We’ll pretend to be dating-”
No no no. I gave a nervous laugh. “No way, man. You’d never be able to sell it.”
It was a stupid thing to say. Will’s back stiffened and he looked up at me challengingly. “I bet I could.”
“No way,” I said firmly. “This is a crazy idea.”
“Okay, they’re coming,” said Will, peeking around the corner. “Give me your hand.”
“No,” I said desperately.
“You said you would!” he hissed at me.
“I changed my mind! This is a bad idea! Do you really want the whole school to think-”
He grabbed my jacket and bodily hauled me in until our mouths were only an inch or two apart. I loved how strong he was, how he could pick me up and throw me around, even if he’d never done it except during battles. “Kiss me,” he whispered. “Do it!”
I couldn’t keep fighting him. Not when it was something I wanted so much. My arms lifted of their own accord, pulling him against me, and my lips met his.
Thankfully, Magenta had taught me how to kiss. I was, maybe, a tad more aggressive than I’d been with her, dipping into his mouth (which opened satisfyingly to mine) and sucking on his lower lip. I didn’t have much time, and I would probably never have this again. Not once Will came to his senses.
He made a quick, startled noise. Then, to my surprise, he started to give back as good as he got. His hands tightened their grip on me and his tongue darted out to meet mine. He was selling this way better than I’d thought he could. I could hear his harsh, quick breaths, feel his heart pounding as I lifted one hand and wrapped it around the back of his neck. I felt him swaying into me-
There was a sharp gasp, and we both froze, then pulled apart.
Layla was standing there, her hands covering her mouth, tears in her eyes. My heart lurched.
Had Will been right after all?
Then Layla’s hands fell and she smiled at us like the sun rising. “I’m so happy for you both,” she said. “Oh Will, I never thought you’d break out of the toxic masculinity our society has indoctrinated in you to the point where you’d see how Warren felt about you-”
The bell rang and she looked startled, “-oh, I have to get to class. Congratulations!” she threw over her shoulder as she hurried past us.
I closed my eyes.
“Wait...what?” Will said.
I hadn’t cut class once since I’d started at Sky High. I knew for a fact that Will hadn’t, either, except once when his dad had randomly decided to take him to Disneyworld (and had somehow talked his mom into it).
There was no way we were going to be on time for this one, which was too bad. Save a Citizen had become way more fun since the administration had started using more variety in their scenarios. Just last week Ethan, Zack and Magenta had won a Search and Rescue round where they had to save a group of trapped miners after a cave-in. Zack’s ability to glow without heat or the chance of an electric spark had been invaluable.
I felt something brush against my upper arm and opened my eyes. Will was standing there, one hand resting on me lightly. I could see glints of amber in his brown eyes. He said, “But, you were jealous of - oh. You were jealous of Layla.”
“Actually, the word you want is ‘envious’,” I muttered. His lips curled up into a smile, crinkles appearing at the corners of his eyes.
“Yeah?” he said.
“Yeah,” I replied, suddenly breathless again. “Jealous is when you’re afraid someone’s going to take something from you. Envious is when you want something that belongs to someone el-”
He kissed me again. I closed my eyes and let myself sink into it, the heat of his mouth, the strength of his hands.
In the end we were only ten minutes late to class. Which was good, because we got to watch Hannah turn into a rubber ball and rescue a “citizen” in danger of “drowning” in the school pool. She was beaming as she came out of the water, tears streaming down her cheeks and saying “I never thought my power would be worth anything!”
Coach Boomer, who’d mellowed somewhat the past couple of years, grunted and muttered something about the Coast Guard being a good fit. Then he pinned us with a glare and said, “So glad you decided to join us, Mr. Peace, Mr. Stronghold. DETENTION.”
He hadn’t mellowed that much.
“Don’t you have work after school?” whispered Will.
“Yeah,” I whispered back. “It’s fine, it’ll be a bit tight, but I can make it if I rush.”
“I’ll fly you,” he said. I blinked at him and he grinned at me. I’d flown with him a couple of times, but I mostly tried to avoid it after that. It had been a little too exciting, if you know what I mean.
I stared at him, my heart suddenly in my throat. “I really can’t be late,” I croaked.
He gave me a bright, smug look. “You won’t be,” he said.
I spent all of detention staring down at one of my textbooks. I have no idea which one it was, or if it was even the right way up. I didn’t see a word of it.
Sure enough, once it was over Will waited for me by the door. “Ready?” he said.
I swallowed. “As I’ll ever be,” I mumbled.
He stepped forward and wrapped his arms around me. He’d grown a lot in the past two years, and I hadn’t, making us about the same height. He pulled me flush against his body and lifted us off the ground.
Flying with Will was...awesome. Everyone likes to think about flying, but if you can’t do it yourself, flying with someone you lo- care about is the next best thing. He was so strong that he held me easily, comfortably, arms wrapped around me and supporting my weight as though it was nothing.
And he held me facing him, his lips inches from mine.
We rose up, lighter than air, then down into a cloudbank. The school was high enough to be bathed in sun most days, but beneath it was a sea of grey. We sank into it.
I couldn’t see anything else, surrounded by damp mist, but I could see Will. And I could feel it when his lips met mine.
I barely made it to work in time, damp and disheveled and grinning like an idiot.
It ended up being the best year I’d ever had. Granted, that wasn’t really a high bar, considering that most of my previous years had been filled with events like my dad going to prison. But the year I started dating Will blew them all out of the water.
Of course, we had to endure some teasing. Not because we were both guys, the superhero community is way more easygoing about things like that than the normals. But because my dad was a villain and his dad was one of the greatest heroes, and had captured my dad...all that led to a lot of ‘jokes’, some of which were funnier than others, and some of which weren’t funny at all.
I knew that my relationship would probably come to my dad’s ears eventually, but I really didn’t care, I told myself. He’d given up the right to have any say in my life or my decisions a long time ago.
My mom was happy for me, which was the important thing. And Will’s parents were...surprised, but supportive.
Somehow it still came as a shock when he asked me to the prom, though.
“Me? You want to go with me?”
He stared at me. “We’ve been dating for months,” he said.
“I know,” I said, “I just-” I trailed off and shrugged.
He rolled his eyes. “What’s it going to take to get it through your head that I like you?”
I felt the blush heating up my cheeks and hoped it didn’t show.
He sighed and leaned forward, his forehead against mine. “I didn’t think things would turn out like this,” he said. “But I’m glad they did.”
Are you? “And what if...if Layla decides she wants to be WillandLayla after all?” I asked.
I was grateful when he didn’t just dismiss the question. “I think a part of me will always be in love with Layla,” he admitted, and something inside me cracked. “And a part of her will always be in love with me. But I’m not going to leave you for her,” he went on. “Not ever.”
“How can you just say that?” I blurted out. “Anything could happen. I could - I could turn evil, and then you’d have to stop me-” I cut myself off sharply.
He wrapped his arms around me. “Are you planning on turning evil?” he whispered.
“No! But - but no one thought my dad would, either, and then he-” I clung to him, squeezing hard, knowing he could take it.
“You’re not going to turn evil,” he said with that crazy, unshakable certainty he always had.
“How do you know?”
“I know you.”
“So I know the kind of person you are. I know your heart.” It was so damn corny, just the kind of thing you’d expect someone like him to say. I don’t know why it made me feel better.
“You don’t know everything,” I said.
“Nope. But I know you’ll never be a super villain.”
Slowly, I let go of him, and caught a gleam in his eye. “No?” I said warily.
“Nah. A mediocre villain at best.”
“What?” I said with mock outrage, and he laughed. I tackled him onto the bed, or tried to.
“A second stringer,” he said. “You’d be a ‘B’ villain for sure. You’d-mmph!”
I shut him up the best way I knew, by kissing him. “Fuck you,” I whispered between kisses. “I would be an awesome villain.”
“Nope,” he said. Then he pulled back, his expression suddenly serious. “You care too much,” he said softly. “It’s what makes you such an awesome hero.”
So. Damn. Corny.
It shouldn’t have made me start to choke up. Shouldn’t have made my eyes sting.
I grabbed a pillow and clocked him with it and we ended up wrestling until I was trapped under him like always.
My favorite place in the world to be.
“So, you gonna go with me to prom or what?” he asked me.
“Sure, Stronghold,” I said. “I’ll go with you.”
I hadn’t thought prom would be all that fun, to tell you the truth. Like a lot of things in my high school career, it ended up being a lot better than I’d expected. I didn’t even mind much when Layla asked if we could trade partners for a dance, and she danced with Will while I danced with Magenta.
Magenta gave me her best unimpressed look and I gave her my best flat stare for awhile before both of us cracked up despite ourselves. “We’ve had a pretty good time, haven’t we?” she said.
Things had changed a lot since we’d started as Freshman. Of course the Hero/Sidekick system hadn’t just gone away overnight. The whole school was set up to use it, teachers already had their curricula planned around it...but with the Strongholds exerting pressure on the community, things did start to shift. Slowly but surely.
Making the things taught in sidekick class mandatory for all students to learn had been the first step. Putting more variety into the Save a Citizen tests had been another - and had gone a long way toward mollifying Coach Boomer, despite his mutterings about ‘coddling’ Sidekicks.
My favorite class had been one that Principal Powers had come out of retirement to teach this year. It was a new kind of power placement, one that sought to identify how each person’s special ability could help the world. There was lots of brainstorming and discussion groups. It had been Layla who’d suggested that, since fire couldn’t burn me, maybe I could extend that to protect another person and use it for fire rescue operations. That had been the first time I’d realized that maybe my power didn’t have to be only about violence and destruction. That maybe I could do more than fight bad guys with it.
Anyway, at least no one else danced with Will. I’d given up on the tall, dark and menacing act a long time ago, once everyone figured out it was all bullshit anyway. But to my relief, no one else even asked.
I was lucky. We didn’t have to take the bus back with the other students; we could get home on our own. He grinned at me and swept me up, above the clouds. When he started shivering against me, I surrounded us in a blanket of flame and kept it going even when we plunged down into the mist again, glowing like a fiery comet. Like a falling star.
“Where do you want to go?” he murmured. “Anywhere you want, Warren.”
I thought about it. “I don’t know,” I said. “It doesn’t really matter. As long as,” dammit, I was about to be as corny as he was. Maybe he’d infected me. “As long as we’re together.”
He laughed, the soft breath of air on my neck making me shudder. “My parents are out of town, you know.”
“Oh yeah?” They’d seen us off, with matching boutonnieres, the Commander thumping us both on the back. “Where’d they go?”
“Paris. My mom wanted to go,” he said, and I could feel his smile as he said it. “Wanna go back to my place?”
“Yes,” I whispered.
Best night ever.