It had started in a basement.
Simon’s basement, to be precise. Simon’s basement where he and Hugh had spent countless hours before Ace Anarchy took over hanging out for fun, countless more, in the beginning, hiding from the gangs that would want to exploit their powers, and countless more planning and planning on how to make the world a better place.
It had grown out of the basement, stretching to other prodigies and new places, and bit by bit it had cleaned up the city. Smaller gangs joined their cause, unofficially, of course, but they started to work with them in exchange for their protection. Bigger gangs learned to fear their names.
Which was funny, since Simon and Hugh had picked pretty much the most cliche comic book names they could have when they’d decided to be superheroes when they were eighteen. The Dread Warden, ooooh, so scary, he can turn invisible! And Captain Chromium. Get it? Because he’s the boss and also made of metal. Their names were stupid, they both knew it, especially when their other friends picked their names and their names were awesome. Like Blacklight. That was an awesome name, and got across that he could control light and darkness. And Tsunami, water manipulation, also a good name. Thunderbird, which was possibly the most badass name out of all of them.
And then there was Captain Chromium, the Dread Warden, and Lady Indomitable. All with pretty awful names they were stuck with once people knew them.
But it had started in a basement, when the Dread Warden was just Simon and Captain Chromium was just Hugh and they were just barely adults who wanted to fix the world they’d watched shatter into a million terrible pieces around them. When Simon was just the barely adult who turned invisible when he blushed and Hugh was the just barely older guy he’d been friends with since he was seven who could literally play music on his abs since they were lined with metal, and often did to make Simon laugh when he got lost in his own head.
Simon had a small TV that hadn’t been stolen yet, mostly because even though they weren’t part of a gang, both of them had strong superpowers, and the little they had squirreled away in Simon’s basement wasn’t worth fighting over. They’d been sitting in the basement, watching the news, and Hugh had said something. Something righteously angry and passionate, neither of them could remember exactly what, and even though he’d surely gone on similar rants before, something about that one had been different. Felt different. Contagious, so that this time rather than just nodding along, Simon felt compelled to join in, and suddenly instead of just being angry at the news and the state of the world around them, they were planning on how they could make it better.
Planning on how they could use their powers to work together, the two of them, to clean up the city, literally and morally. How they could become superheroes and prove that prodigies weren’t all like Ace Anarchy, like the gangs that were terrorizing the people of Gatlon.
That was when they had named themselves, getting more and more into their idea.
Hugh had called Simon “the Dread Warden, because nobody will want to be caught by somebody they can’t see, and everyone will always be scared you’re there!”
Simon had called Hugh Captain Chromium as a joke, but Hugh was Hugh and he’d loved it at the time, even if later they’d both regretted the names they were stuck with.
But that was how it started, the two of them in Simon’s basement passionately planning something Simon was still pretty sure neither of them had thought would actually happen.
But it had. Simon had scrounged up fabric and materials to make disguises, so that nobody would know who they were and nobody could retaliate against them. A cape and mask for Simon, a form-fitting suit for Hugh, one that had originally had a blue mask to go with it, until it didn’t matter anymore if people recognized them.
They called themselves the Renegades, sneaking out at night and stopping whatever criminal activity they could. Renegades, because the normal had become prodigies using their powers to hurt people, and Hugh and Simon were helping. Renegades because in the absence of law and the absence of leadership, they were choosing to do the right thing, and that made them dissenters, not following the norms. Simon added little red Rs to the chests of both their costumes.
That was how they started, Hugh Everhart and Simon Westwood, heroes trying to end the Age of Anarchy so the world could have some semblance of balance and peace again.
Something that didn’t spread to the other prodigies that joined them started though. Between him and Hugh, the originals. When they were on patrol, after Lady Indomitable and Thunderbird and Tsunami and Blacklight had joined them, and for the first time in months, it was just the two of them spending the night on the rooftops, watching over the city.
Once the other prodigies had joined, that had become pretty rare. Usually, they were either paired with somebody else or at least somebody else was with them, but this time it was just the two of them. Hugh and Simon, the Dread Warden and Captain Chromium, just like it had been in the beginning. Slightly different now, since Hugh was considered the leader of the Renegades by most people and now people knew their names and now they could sit for hours and watch the city without seeing anything that needed intervening because just the sight of Renegades close by was enough to get most people to stop.
A small fight broke out and resolved itself before they had to step in, a man considered robbing a store but all it took was Hugh standing up on the rooftop and looking down at him to make him reconsider, just a bunch of small things that didn’t require much action.
So they’d ended up sitting on the edge of the tallest roof they could find, close together and watching the city, talking like the old friends they were.
“Evander’s growing his beard.” Hugh commented, looking up at the sky instead of out at the city, making Simon roll his eyes and scan twice as diligently to make up for it. “I think he’s trying to copy your look.”
“Why would he be trying to copy my look?”
“Maybe he thinks you’re cute?” Simon laughed.
“You’re way closer to his type than I am, Captain, at least you’ve got the blond hair and blue eyes.” Hugh laughed at that and dropped his eyes back down to the street. “But I’m pretty sure he doesn’t find either of us cute.”
“I still think he’s copying you. Maybe he just thinks a beard is a good look.”
“That doesn’t mean he’s copying me, Hugh, just that he likes beards. I like beards.”
“Obviously.” Hugh elbowed him jokingly. “Good thing you can pull it off.”
“Oh yeah?” Simon laughed, leaning forward to look directly down at the street. “I’m glad you think so. It’s mostly just because it’s easier.”
“Oh please. We all know you take forever to get ready in the morning and I’m willing to bet the beard is the reason.”
“How much are you willing to bet?” Hugh thought for a moment, obviously seriously considering a list of things he’d be willing to give up over Simon’s morning routine.
“Two cans of peaches and my last new toothbrush.”
“You’re really serious about this, huh?”
“But if I’m right, you have to give me that box of cookies you think nobody knows about under your pillow.”
“How the hell do you know about those?”
“Simon, I spend like sixteen hours a day with you. I know all your secrets.” Hugh winked at him, and then burst into much louder laughter than he usually allowed himself to when they were on patrol. “Did I touch a nerve, Si?”
“Look down, doofus.” Simon looked down at himself and watched as he went completely invisible as he blushed, as opposed to the vague translucency he’d slipped into when Hugh had claimed to know all his secrets. “What secrets are you trying to hide from me, Dread Warden? What don’t you want me to know? Something worse than cookies?” Hugh was looking right through him at the building across from the one they were on top of. Simon brought himself back to visibility. “I’ll bet you’re dating somebody and you’re too embarrassed to tell me. Or, I would, except that I know where you are like ninety-nine percent of the time.”
“It’s that one percent that gets you.” Simon said, grinning at Hugh to let him know he was joking.
“That one percent that ends with you coming home with cookies to hide in your room.” Hugh smiled back at him. “But what do you say? Fair bet?”
“Sure.” Simon offered his hand and Hugh shook it. “I don’t spend that much time on my beard in the morning.”
“Ah, but see, you’ll have to prove that, or I’ll just believe you want my toothbrush and your cookies.”
“How do I prove that?” Hugh shrugged.
“Guess we’ll have to wait and see. But the bet has been cast! When it’s proved one way or another, either you owe me a box of gingersnaps, or I owe you two cans of peaches and a toothbrush.” Simon laughed.
“So what, when we’re the cranky old superheroes who probably live together and you see my morning routine, you’re gonna give me two cans of peaches and a toothbrush?”
“Oh, like we won’t practically be married by then anyway.” Hugh grinned and stood up, again offering Simon a hand. “We should probably move to a different spot and keep watching. It’s only a couple hours until dawn.”
Something had started then, on that rooftop, with a pretty simple conversation and a couple shared smiles and laughs.
A month later, the Age of Anarchy wasn’t over, even though they still felt like they were getting so close, and it was Simon and Hugh together on patrol again, sitting on the edge of a rooftop as the sun came up.
“It’s pretty from up here.” Hugh said, watching the sun start to tint the sky red.
“Seems so calm.”
“This is the calmest it’s been in years.”
Simon had noticed things start to change after that night a month ago, the last time just the two of them had taken a patrol alone, but he wasn’t exactly sure what.
Maybe it was a little bit how they were trying to find time to spend together, but they’d always done that. They were best friends, even in this crazy world where they dressed up in costumes to fight crime by night.
But maybe it was a little bit more than that, a little bit of that but with something extra, too. Like the way Simon kept looking up and finding Hugh watching him, only to look away with an only slightly guilty smile, or how often he found the opposite happening to him, when he’d been thinking about how ridiculously blond Hugh was or how annoyingly perfectly blue his eyes were.
No matter the reason, Simon was more than happy to be spending a patrol with Hugh again, without anyone else around, just like old times.
“Think the gangs are planning something?”
“Probably.” Hugh looked to the side, scanning the city for trouble. “But it’s calm tonight. Let’s just focus on that, huh?”
“So. This sunrise is pretty.” Hugh smiled at him.
“Mm.” Simon studied the street for a moment before looking back over at Hugh. He’d given up on the mask a while ago, once people had figured out who he was. Simon had kept his, liking the pretend anonymity it gave him. And the drama of the cape was fun, too. But Hugh had dropped the mask but kept the form-fitting blue outfit, which was looking almost purple in the light from the sunrise. “You know what’s even prettier?”
“Me?” Hugh turned back to Simon and grinned.
“I was gonna say that sandwich shop that sells grilled cheese at seven in the morning, but sure, you work, too.”
“It’s only six, so I’m the only option.”
“Mm, but that shop is like an hour away, walking, so you’re not, really.”
“You’re telling me I’m not as pretty as a grilled cheese sandwich?”
“Not when I’m hungry, and right now I am.”
“Okay, but when you’re not hungry, I’m prettier than a grilled cheese sandwich.”
“Good. Just clarifying.”
“What, are you worried I don’t think you’re pretty?”
“Always, Simon. You know my self-worth is supported solely by your opinion of my appearance.” Hugh pulled Simon into a side hug, both of them laughing. “Your admiration for my face is the only thing that keeps me from lower self-esteem than a disgraced Jackal.”
It was a comfortable moment. Simon and Hugh, alone on a rooftop as the sun rose higher and higher over the city, and it felt completely natural for Simon to lean into the side hug he hadn’t pulled away from as their laughter died down. He didn’t even think about it before letting his head fall onto Hugh’s shoulder, so both of them were just looking out at the city they protected as best they could, the sun starting to rise and Hugh’s arm still around Simon’s shoulders.
They were best friends, had been for a long time, through a lot of terrible things, but they’d never had a moment quite like this. With Hugh briefly tightening his grip around Simon’s shoulder, neither of them saying anything, Simon not lifting his head off Hugh’s shoulder, watching the sunrise and the city.
And then Hugh kissed his head, and even without looking down at himself Simon knew he’d gone invisible.
As soon as Hugh kissed his head, the thing that had started a month ago when they were on the roof alone hit him like a train. All the little things he’d noticed, Hugh looking at him and him looking at Hugh, and little awkward moments that shouldn’t have been awkward, they all gathered together and hit him over the head with the force of a category five hurricane. Because he kind of had been falling head over heels in love with Hugh Everhart for at least a couple months. And Hugh had just kissed him. Kind of. On the top of his head, but still.
“Oh. Um…” Simon forced himself to go visible again.
“Sorry.” He said, not moving from his position against Hugh’s side. “Couldn’t help it.”
“No, I, um, sorry.” Hugh started to pull his arm away, but stopped when Simon leaned closer.
“Yeah.” Simon tilted his head up at Hugh and saw him smile. “Really, really fine, Hugh, you just caught me by surprise.”
“I didn’t even actually kiss you.”
“You still surprised me. A real kiss might have surprised me more, but you still surprised me.”
“It’s okay.” Simon nudged his way further into Hugh’s side, still looking up at him. “Just warn a guy when you’re gonna kiss him, huh?”
“I’ll remember that.” Hugh laughed a little bit and adjusted his arm so they were both more comfortable.
Not that leaning against a man whose entire body was lined with indestructible metal was all that comfortable, really, but it wasn’t exactly uncomfortable, either.
“Our shift is up in like five minutes. Wanna get a grilled cheese at the most beautiful place in the world?” Hugh said after a while, and Simon nodded, allowing Hugh to pull him to his feet.
When they made it back down to the street, Hugh took his hand again and held it until he got distracted by something else five minutes later.
Something had really changed after that.
Nobody else seemed to notice it, or at least they didn’t acknowledge it, but Simon felt it. When he looked up and saw Hugh staring at him, Hugh didn’t look away, he just winked and grinned at him. They still didn’t get to spend too much time alone together; the gangs were acting up more than usual and all six Renegades were busy with that all the time they weren’t sleeping. But the times when they were had that same kind of simple companionship they’d had on the rooftop, where it was easy to share a casual touch, whether that was an arm around the shoulders or one hand on top of another while they sat close together.
The longest time they spent alone together was planning the organized strike they all knew was needed to take down Ace Anarchy once and for all. They tried to all plan together as much as possible, but often it ended up being whoever could be spared from patrol sitting at the only slightly broken table, going over the notes and maps and plans they already had.
“So we don’t know if his helmet actually has some kind of power of its own or if it just improved his focus.”
“No, and it could be either. Or both.” Hugh tapped a blueprint thoughtfully.
“The subway system…”
“Completely under the control of Anarchists.” Simon said. “I’ve scouted there myself, remember?”
“You could get through, though.” Hugh said, and Simon shook his head.
“And do what? You’re the invincible one, Hugh, not me. I could get through and spy, but I’ve already done that, and I can’t fight them. All I can do is scout, and I do that every couple of months. Nothing changes, really.” Hugh sighed.
“Nothing ever does.”
“Hey, things are getting better.” Simon kicked Hugh under the table, keeping it gentle more for the sake of his own toes than Hugh’s shin. “The Jackals are quieting down, other gangs are starting to listen to us more. It’s been seventeen years, Hugh, this can’t last forever.” Hugh frowned.
“Seventeen years is a lifetime in a city like this.” Hugh glanced up at the tiny ground-level window, and Simon could practically hear him thinking about everything they both know was going on outside their tiny basement. “Adrian doesn’t know anything other than this. So many kids don’t know anything other than this. He’s three years old and he thinks it’s normal for people to behave like this. Hell, Simon, some of these things I don’t even notice anymore until I think about it. We’ve been doing this for eight years and it’s always the same. It calms down for a month, or two months, and then the gangs we thought we got rid of come back, and something else happens, and more people die. We have to do something more, Si, obviously just being vigilantes isn’t enough.”
“They aren’t winning.” Simon said. “They aren’t beating us.”
“But we aren’t beating them, either.” Hugh deflated a bit from the passion he’d been speaking with before. “All we’re doing is holding them back.”
“Which is better than nothing.” Simon took Hugh’s hand from across the table and squeezed it. “We’ve saved lives, Hugh, we’ve done a lot of good, all of us have, and that’s so much better than doing nothing. We’re still working at fixing it, but what we’re doing now is good.” Hugh sighed.
“I want to fix it.”
“We will.” Simon said, much more confidently than he felt, and Hugh laughed.
“Don’t put on the Dread Warden with me, Si, I know you way too well for that to work.”
“You have a voice.” Hugh smiled. “I’m the Dread Warden and I’m big and tough and know exactly what’s going on and you can trust me and did I mention how capable I am?” He put on some weird, tough sounding voice that made Simon laugh.
“That’s not what I sound like. And your Captain Chromium voice is way worse than anything I do.”
“I don’t have a Captain Chromium voice!” Hugh protested.
“Haha it’s me, you’re friendly neighborhood invincible man! I’m invincible, did I mention I’m invincible? Because I’m invincible!” Simon laughed and scooted his chair backward as Hugh pretended to lunge for him, turning their teasing into a playful scuffle, which ended with Hugh easily pinning Simon to the couch.
“You know you have an unfair advantage, Captain Chromium. Super strength and all.”
“You could have turned invisible.” Hugh offered, grinning, the plans on the table forgotten in favor of this one stolen moment of fun.
“And hidden where?” Hugh shrugged, keeping Simon’s hands stuck above his head and looking down at him.
“I dunno.” Simon relaxed, meeting his eye and smiling, not bothering to keep struggling since it was useless, anyway. “Hey, Simon?”
“I’m gonna kiss you. Just thought I’d tell you, since you asked for a warning.” Simon smiled, and then Hugh was kissing him. For real, this time, not the top of his head or his cheek. For the first few seconds, Simon focused on keeping himself visible, but after a few moments, he stopped caring so much. It was easier, and better, to not really think about anything other than kissing Hugh, and Hugh letting go of his hands to drop both to his waist, and Simon wrapping his own arms around Hugh’s neck.
“I really, really hope Simon is also on that couch, because if he’s not, this is way weirder.” Evander cheerfully interrupted them, and Hugh let go of Simon, smiling somewhat sheepishly. “Simon is on the couch, right? You aren’t just being weird?”
“Hi, V.” Simon said, staying invisible so Evander couldn’t make fun of the goofy smile he could feel on his face.
“Kasumi and Georgia should be back soon. And Tamaya is upstairs. God, aren’t you guys glad I came down here first? Tamaya would have been horrible.”
“Walking in on Hugh making out with invisible Simon on the couch.” Evander grinned at Tamaya, who had entered the basement with her wings folded tightly into her back. She looked markedly unimpressed with Evander’s statement.
“There’s a bedroom upstairs.” She said pointedly.
“Gross, Tamaya, it was only a kiss.” Hugh said.
“Why is Simon still invisible?”
“Probably because he doesn’t want us to make fun of him.”
“Shut up.” Tamaya shook her head, but all three of them saw her little smile and knew she wasn’t actually upset about anything.
Hugh was right about process seeming slow.
Mind numbingly, terrifyingly, endlessly slow.
It seemed they moved two steps back every time they took two steps forward, like they pushed the Anarchists back and then two months later faced the same problems.
They patrolled almost endlessly, at least three of them out on the streets at any given time.
The normal people, the non-prodigies, started to listen more and more. There were fewer people dying who didn’t have either powers or real gang affiliations, but the gangs and power hungry prodigies only seemed to get worse as time went on.
Tamaya’s silhouette on a rooftop alone could scare normal people out of their criminal urges, but a single Renegade became less and less threatening to the more powerful gangs. At least two or three of them were needed to stop anything big from happening; on a few occasions, all six of them fought together.
So any downtime, any time when they could relax at all, any time they could spend together especially alone, got rarer and rarer and more and more precious.
They hadn’t really talked much about how to define themselves. It was a kind of weird situation. They’d been best friends for forever, the public knew them as superheroes, the world was in absolute chaos around them, and it was simpler to just be able to say they loved each other and that was enough.
Simon had been the first to say it out loud, without really thinking about it, and it had taken Hugh probably less than a second to respond.
So now that was what they were. They loved each other, and that was enough. They could share kisses, and nights, or days when both of them spent the night protecting the city, they could share laughs and worries and fears, and hopes and plans, and that was enough. They didn’t have to say they were boyfriends.
Maybe they didn’t really want to. In a city, a world, where everything was so unstable, it felt like putting a hard label on anything would jinx it. Like saying they were boyfriends would make what they had fall apart.
Or at least, that’s how Simon felt about it. He wasn’t exactly sure how Hugh felt, but that was how he felt.
But moments like this, when they’d gotten to sleep all night and wake up with the sun instead of before it, it was nice. More than nice.
“Morning, Si.” Hugh’s voice was always scratchy in the morning, and it was cute.
“Morning.” Hugh kissed his nose. “We should get up.”
“Yeah.” Hugh didn’t move, though, he just stayed lying on his side, looking at Simon. “I want to get married.” He said abruptly.
“I want to get married.” Hugh said it like it was the simplest thing in the world. “I want to marry you, Simon.”
“Like...now?” Simon couldn’t quite wrap his head around what Hugh was saying.
“Soon.” Hugh frowned a little bit. “It’s dangerous, Simon. We’re getting so close, and it’s getting easier and easier to get hurt, and I want to marry you before something happens. I want to know I’m married to you.” He was completely serious, looking into Simon’s eyes like he was trying to communicate something he couldn’t or didn’t want to put into words.
And if he was thinking the same way Simon was, it worked. If he was thinking about love, and fear, and the crazy, upside down world they lived in, they were on exactly the same page, and Simon was pretty sure they were thinking the same things.
He kissed Hugh in response to his proposal, not really needing to respond in words when he felt Hugh smile against him, and they were both smiling when they pulled apart.
“Yeah?” Hugh said, tracing Simon’s jaw with a fingertip. Simon just nodded, smiling at Hugh.
His fiance. That was a word they couldn’t avoid any more, not when Hugh had just proposed and Simon had just said yes. A real, permanent word.
Well, not permanent. It would be replaced with “husband.”
The last year of the Age of Anarchy was the most intense year of Simon’s life, of all of their lives.
Simon and Hugh got married, and it seemed like they blinked and suddenly Georgia was missing, driving everyone into a frenzied search until they finally found her.
Broken and dead, with a note on her belt. Leaving behind an almost seven-year-old son, and nobody knew how she died or why she died.
And barely a week after that, Simon and Hugh watched a baby being thrown into a river, and Hugh had saved him, and brought him back up towards Simon only to have Simon pass out and not be able to go near him.
Hugh wasn’t affected, but it hadn’t taken long for them to figure out that any other prodigy who went anywhere near the baby boy passed out and at least temporarily lost their powers. But he was just a baby, how could they leave him on his own? So Hugh had named him Max Everhart and found a normal nurse to take care of him.
They’d taken in Adrian, too, doing their best to figure out life as a married couple, with essentially two kids, who were also superheroes struggling to save their city.
They were planning, too. Every day was a long day, hours of patrol followed by hours of looking at maps and notes and blueprints, trying to figure something out that would let them finally defeat the Anarchists for good, and fix their city.
They couldn’t find an airtight plan. All of them had some fatal flaw. They would sit around their table, everyone frowning, thinking as hard as they could.
Adrian was doodling on the floor, literally, drawing little cats and dogs and pulling them out so they could play with him, although they were silent. He used a pencil, and for some reason could erase his creations even after they were alive. He didn’t pay much attention to the meeting happening above him with Tamaya, Hugh, and Simon, but he did look up at them occasionally.
Hugh was frowning, though Simon could tell it wasn’t at something either him or Tamaya had said. He was frowning at something inside his own head.
“What, Hugh?” He asked, and Hugh shook his head.
“You have an idea, don’t you?” Tamaya said, studying him. Hugh shook his head again, running a hand through his hair.
“I don’t like it.” He said. “At all.”
“But you think it’ll work.” Simon said, and Hugh nodded slowly.
“We need to take down Ace Anarchy. His gang is already thinned out from the last couple months, and if he’s out of the picture, the Anarchists fall. And when the Anarchists fall, the rest of the gangs will be easy to control. Especially with the other prodigies that are fighting with us, now.”
“So we need to get to Ace. Probably in the cathedral, where the fight could at least be a little bit contained.” Hugh poked at the blueprint, his frown deepening. “But Ace is too strong. I can’t beat him, all of us together can’t beat him, as long as he has his helmet and his powers, we can’t beat him.” Simon realized what Hugh was thinking, and inhaled sharply.
“I know.” Hugh glanced up at the window, and Simon could see the worry all over his face. “But what else can we do?”
“What are you talking about?” Tamaya said, leaning forward to look at the blueprint of Ace’s cathedral.
“Max.” Hugh said. “Max can take away his powers.”
“Your six-month-old son.” Tamaya said, glancing down at Adrian. “You want to use your infant son as a weapon.”
“Want to? God, Tamaya, you think I want to take a baby to fight the most powerful villain in this city?” Hugh laughed humorlessly. “But I genuinely don’t think there’s anything else we can do. We’ve looked at every single other angle.” He sifted through layers of papers and notes, looking at every possible plan they’d had over the years and years they’d been trying to stop the Anarchists. “We can’t take the cathedral with Ace still in it, unless we defeat him first. Defeating individual Anarchists is all fine and good, but he’ll just replace them. We need to take him out. Other gangs have all backed down, or at least aren’t openly fighting for the Anarchists anymore. At most, they’re against us and indifferent about the Anarchists, which we can handle once the Anarchists are gone. So Ace is really our main problem that needs solving, and we can’t solve it. If he weakened, even, I could take him.”
“You’d have to be alone.” Simon said. “Max will weaken everyone but you.” Hugh nodded.
“Me, Max, and Ace Anarchy. It...it would work.” Hugh didn’t sound excited about the idea, even though it was his own.
“It would.” Tamaya said. “But you would have to bring a six-month-old baby into a fight.”
“I know.” Hugh’s frown deepened even more.
“Last resort.” Simon said. “It has to be our last resort.”
He’d never gotten to hold Max. When he got too close to the baby, he could feel his powers leaving him. That was Max’s power, they’d figured out. He could pull the gifts out of anyone else, anyone but Hugh anyway, and put them into himself. Even from the little while Simon had spent around him, Max could turn invisible.
Hugh said he did when he sneezed, but Simon didn’t ever get to see it, because he couldn’t get close enough to.
But it didn’t change how Simon felt about him. Max was their son. They’d rescued him from parents who cared so little about him they’d tried to kill him, and they were taking care of him. He was their son.
Every fatherly instinct Simon had was saying that Hugh’s idea was terrible, that anything else they could possibly think of would be better than sending their infant son into battle.
But he’d also watched the city’s chaos for almost twenty years, now. He’d seen people die, helped clean up murder scenes, he’d seen things that showed up in his nightmares more often than not, and he knew the entire city needed order again.
Max was their best chance, even if that meant putting him in danger, even if Simon hated the thought of it.
“It would never be anything but a last resort, Si.” Hugh met Simon’s eyes. “But I think it needs to be our last resort.”
The Battle for Gatlon was long, hard, dirty, tiring, and the worst four days of Simon’s life.
None of them slept. The adrenaline was high enough, even in the calmest moments, that it would have been impossible as well as dangerous. All five of them were out for all ninety-six hours. They left Max with a nurse, close to the cathedral, and Adrian in Simon and Hugh’s basement, checking in on him whenever they had a spare minute.
They fought villains and normal people, forcing the gangs either out of the city or away from the cathedral. All of them fought alone, Tamaya swooping in and literally picking people up to carry them away, terrifying the anyone who didn’t listen. Evander plunged entire blocks into darkness, lighting up only enough space to pick off the people who couldn’t find their way out. Kasumi’s water flooded alleys and buildings full of gang members, washing them out to where they could be dealt with, and Simon slipped in and out of different fights, invisible, taking people out before they even knew he was there.
And Hugh fought his way towards the cathedral, untouchable.
People didn’t even try to fight him, and every time they passed each other, Simon could tell why.
Hugh was normally an intimidating enemy, what with the super strength and invincibility and all, but he had a look frozen on his face that made the people split in front of him so he only had to actually fight the stupidest people.
Halfway through the fourth day, he reached the cathedral, and all other fighting stopped.
Ace Anarchy was alone at the top, his gang had spread out somewhere in the rest of the city and were all either dead or hurt badly enough they weren’t trying to support him anymore. The other gangs had given up.
And Hugh was climbing the side of the cathedral.
The Renegades knew what was on his back; the other people on the street likely couldn’t even tell there was an oddly shaped lump of fabric there.
Max was strapped to his back, and he was climbing the cathedral.
Time seemed to move in slow motion during the fight. They couldn’t do anything but watch. They stopped any other prodigies who wanted to help without telling them why, and stood at the base of the cathedral, trying to make out what was happening at the top.
Things were falling, and at first, Simon could tell much of it was Ace Anarchy’s telekinesis. But as the fight went on, that slowed down, and it was more things falling from getting hit. They were too far away to see what was actually going on, and it scared Simon senseless. That was his husband and his son up there, fighting the most powerful and dangerous supervillain in the city and probably the world.
And then it stopped. For almost a half hour, the population of the city of Gatlon stood and stared up at the cathedral, desperately waiting for somebody to reveal they’d won, whether it was Captain Chromium or Ace Anarchy.
But nothing moved.
And then there was a burst of movement, and Simon squinted up at what was left of the cathedral, trying to identify the figure that was climbing out onto the roof.
Captain Chromium stood up tall, his blue costume positively identifying him, holding his pike up tall with Ace Anarchy’s helmet on top of it.
The city erupted. Some people were cheering, some were crying, some were angry, many were a confusing tangle of emotions.
Hugh made his way down to the street, joining his team on the ground, grinning and looking like he was going to pass out at the same time.
“Max is back with the nurse.” He said as soon as he was close to them. “Ace Anarchy is dead. Jumped into the fire soon as the helmet came off.” He wrapped Simon in a tight hug, and the rest of the group joined, Tamaya’s wings sealing them off from the outside world of noise for a moment.
Everything after that day was somehow both moving faster than anything and as slow as anything.
The started to rebuild the city. Any prodigy willing to help was given a little red R somewhere on their clothing and a task to complete. They started with buildings, repairing what they could and remaking what they had to. Then the economy, getting businesses working the way the should be and eventually opening legal trade with the outside world again. Laws started being followed again, and new laws were written, and the people wanted them to lead.
They got a building, eventually, and started to set up the infrastructure the city needed.
They were celebrities, too, which was wild.
People had found out who they were after a few years of the Renegades forming, and now they wanted to know everything about them, all the time.
And for some reason, they’d latched onto Hugh and Simon’s relationship. They hadn’t seemed to notice or care before, but now the magazines and newspapers that had started running again seemed to run a story about them once a week.
They really loved it when they adopted Adrian, and they had a collection of articles in the kitchen to laugh at labeled “reasons we’re getting a divorce.”
Theories ranged from “Somebody is cheating” to “Hugh is secretly Ace Anarchy (with photo proof),” and all the articles were very funny.
But life was rarely quiet and simple, with both of them serving on the council and starting to train new superheroes to make their job easier, and having two kids for real now.
Max had a quarantine, where Hugh spent a lot of time. Simon visited, too, as often as he could, sitting outside the glass and playing patty cake with him as he grew from an infant into a toddler.
Adrian slowly shifted into calling them both dad instead of uncle, and their family started to settle. Not down, exactly, with all the crazy business that surrounded them, but it at least settled into a family.
And they didn’t have to stay up all night anymore, at least not every night. They had other people working for and with them to take that assignment, since they’d been doing it for years and years.
“Is there a reason you’re just sitting in the bathroom while I get ready, love?” Hugh was sitting on the counter, silently watching Simon go through his morning routine. He shrugged, smiling.
“Maybe I just think you’re pretty.” Simon shook his head, turning back to the mirror.
“You’re very weird, Hugh.”
“You’re the one who married me.”
“I thought you were divorcing me so you could elope with Kasumi?”
“Oh yeah, I forgot about that. But weren’t you divorcing me so you could run off with the guy from the corner store?”
“That was months ago, Hugh, keep up. You and Kasumi have been the hot new couple for a while.” Hugh laughed and hopped off the counter, giving Simon a quick kiss before leaving the bathroom.
“I’m bringing Adrian in with me so he can do school with Tamaya later.”
“Okay. I’ll be in in a little while.” Simon listened to Hugh get Adrian gathered together and leave while he finished getting ready and ate breakfast before going in.
When he got home, there was a lumpy little package in the kitchen.
“Hugh, what is this?”
“Present! Ow, Adrian, not so hard, kiddo.”
“You’re invincible.” Adrian pointed out, hitting Hugh even harder and looking at Simon when his other dad didn’t flinch at it. “Plus you promised you’d teach me how to fight.”
“Just open it.” Simon picked up the package, which was badly wrapped in old newspapers, and opened it.
He started laughing as soon as he saw the first thing of three. Hugh grinned at him.
“Do you get it?”
“No, I’m laughing because I don’t get it.”
“What is it?” Adrian came over to the counter and looked. “Peaches. Peaches. And a toothbrush?”
“I told you I don’t spend much time on my beard at all.” Simon said. “Is that why you were watching me this morning?”
“Nah. I just remembered and thought it would be funny.” Hugh kissed him, laughing a little bit. “And I kind of wanted peaches, anyway.”
“Oh no, these are mine, not yours. I won the bet, not you. Adrian can have some, if he wants, but you don’t get to eat these peaches.” Simon picked up the peaches and put them away. “They’re my peaches.”
“Why?” Adrian asked, picking up the toothbrush and inspecting it like he expected it to be something other than normal.
“Because he bet me a long time ago that I spent most of my time in the morning on my beard.” Simon and Hugh shared a look, both remembering the same night when something had kind of started but not really between them. Before the end of the Age of Anarchy, before Max, before Adrian, before anything.
When it was just them on the rooftop, falling in love without really realizing it.