“... Why did you give me the chicken? What do you want to do — they have their owner, don’t you know you’re stealing them???”
“Are they fat?”
“Huh? … Yeah, they’re very fat, you’re great—”
Billy’s eyes are glued to the chickens onscreen, shovelling dry cereal into his mouth, when he first feels it. A low, nagging feeling in his gut that makes him frown. He reaches over to pause his Netflix — and then he hears it.
Sirens. No one else in the apartment building seems to be reacting to it, and that makes Billy wince, because it means that these sirens are the ones pitched at a frequency only he can hear, silent to everyone but him because it was made for him. The siren from City Hall, the one that can only be sounded in case of danger. In case the city was under threat. In case they had to summon him, because the city needed him. Those sirens are the ones sounding in his ear right now.
He casts a longing glance at this screen, his hand still full of Lucky Charms. Maybe it’s a false alarm, he thinks. Maybe one of the other superheroes will handle it, or The Agency. It doesn’t have to be me.
Then his phone buzzes. He sees the notification: “BREAKING NEWS: FIREMASTER FARADAY RAMPAGING THROUGH CITY!”
Then: “ROSE CREEK REPORTER ALEJANDRO VASQUEZ CAPTURED AGAIN!”
Billy groans. He can never catch a break — no rest for the wicked, and no rest for the ones who have to take them down either. Just when things were getting good, too, he thinks mournfully at the screen. Still, though, duty calls, and he reluctantly puts his bowl of cereal on the table. Switches off his TV and stands up. Time to stop being William Kang Ji-hoon, and start becoming what the city needs him to be — the superhero, Billy Rocks.
God. He needs a vacation.
As expected, the part of the city he’s summoned to is at different stages of On Fire and Smoking Debris by the time he arrives. Cars overturned, half the windows in the buildings down the block shattered, trash cans on fire. Billy notes that at least everyone’s already been evacuated, which is a good thing, and continues down the street to find what he’s looking for — a huge, burly ginger of a man laughing like an idiot to himself while astride a massive, two-storey tall cyborg dog, surrounded by flames.
The man looks down at Billy, grin wide and pulling at the burn scars that cover half his face. “The Silver Pin! We meet again!”
Billy sighs. “Still not my name, Faraday. I had to pause on Wei Wuxian with an armful of chickens. This better be good.”
“What? Wait, no — As if Billy Rocks is any better. The hell kind of superhero name is that?” Faraday scoffs. “At least The Silver Pin sounds kind of cool, y’ damn ingrate.”
Billy wipes at his brow, largely ignoring the supervillain in front of him. He knows, objectively, that he should’ve expected this amount of heat considering it’s Faraday he’s up against, but still. All the fire is making sweat bead down his neck, and the Zorro-style black mask he’s wearing isn’t exactly the most comfortable thing in the world. The faster he can get this over with, the better. Plus, he’s already sick of Faraday’s yapping. How the hell Sam deals with this on a regular basis, he’ll never know.
“Ain’t like the press is any good at giving you a proper superhero name either. What was it last week? The Knived Knight? That’s so stupid.”
“Why are you here? You don’t usually come to this part of the city,” Billy steamrolls on, ignoring everything else because he really isn’t paid enough for this, “What, Chisolm busy?”
It’s kind of funny, seeing Faraday’s face cheeks turn red like that at the mention of his nemesis’ name. It becomes less funny when he opens his mouth again, though.
“Maybe me ‘n Wild Jack here just wanna settle some scores and beat your ass! Ever thought about that, you smug sonuvabitch?” Faraday scowls, cheeks still burning — pun not intended. Then he shakes it off, puts that cocky grin back on. “And just in case you need incentive…”
He kicks the side of his metallic canine steed, two solid thunks on the chassis, and something whirs as panels open. Two massive flamethrowers come out of ‘em on either side, and a few menacing metal tentacles — one of which has something, some one wrapped inside it, hanging upside down. Billy’s sure it’s supposed to be a threat. Maybe it’d work better if the man hanging upside down isn’t grinning at Billy, waving happily.
“Hello there, mi pollito,” Vasquez greets upside down, looking for all the world like his life isn’t at stake. “What a day, eh?”
“What a day,” Billy agrees. “You hurt?”
“Just a little pinched, but nothing major,” Vasquez says, shrugging. “Think I could do with being less upside down though. I think I’m actually getting used to this nowadays, and that really isn’t something I should be getting used to.”
“Really? Because the number of times I keep meeting you like this is saying otherwise,” Billy retorts, huffing at Vasquez’s answering laugh.
“Hey! You talk to me, not him!” Faraday squawks indignantly, shaking Vasquez a little.
Billy rolls his eyes. “You are not qualified to talk to me.”
Faraday bristles as Vasquez laughs louder. The flamethrowers roar to life, a little too close to Vasquez for Billy’s comfort, and Billy straightens up.
“Fine. Less talkin’, more fightin’.” Faraday says, broad shoulders straightening back to lend to an imposing figure. And then he says exactly the dumbest thing he could at that moment: “Come at me, you little bitch.”
Billy’s eyes narrow. “When I knock you on your ass, remember: you asked for it.”
After Faraday beats a hasty retreat from the frankly mediocre beating Billy gives him (Faraday must really be missing Chisolm if he’s being this boring today,) a different set of sirens start going off. It’s firefighters, going to tackle the worst of the flames. It makes Billy feel a little more relaxed, because it means that soon his job will be done, means he can go home soon. Off in the distance, he can hear the sound of civilians gradually reentering this part of the city, going to check the extent of the property damage and probably calling up their insurance people that’s been increasing by the hundreds ever since people like Billy and Faraday started taking up residence in this place.
Billy should maybe feel a little guilty about that, but he doesn’t, since everything is covered anyway. And besides, he has something else to focus on right now.
The metal cable that’s stringing Vasquez up from the lamppost looks pretty sturdy, but it parts like butter at the cut of one ofBilly’s knives. Vasquez hits the ground with an ungraceful oof, and Billy helps him up, eyeing him to make sure there aren’t any hidden injuries they’ve missed.
“You keep staring at my body like that, and yet you haven’t even let me buy you dinner yet,” Vasquez teases, making Billy’s eyes immediately dart up to his face and then away, face heating up against his will.
“Just making sure you’re not hurt,” Billy says, taking his hands off of Vasquez’s shoulders, leaving the man free to dust off his sweatshirt. “You really need to stop getting kidnapped by supervillains. One of these days I might not be around to save you.”
“Perhaps. But we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it, no?” Vasquez muses, brown eyes twinkling. Then he holds up his phone, and Billy hears the click of a photo being taken, making him scowl. “Besides, I am but a humble journalist. It’s in my blood to go where the story needs me to go.”
Billy covers the phone camera with his hand, pushing it out of his face. “Story isn’t worth you getting killed over, Vasquez.”
“No,” Vasquez says, still smiling softly at him, “But it’s worth it to see you.”
Goddamn it. Billy’s hand drops a little, seeing Vasquez look at him like this — he always does this, always somehow manages to disarm Billy with those brown eyes and that soft smile and the sound of his laugh, and Billy’s own traitorous mouth threatens to break into a grin at it. He quickly covers his mouth with the back of his hand and looks away until he can school his expression into something more neutral, deadpan, as is his brand.
“Just try and stay out of trouble,” Billy finally says, tucking his knife back into its sheathe. He still finds that he can’t look Vasquez in the eye, which is hilariously pathetic considering he’s the one with fucking superpowers, but hey. Can’t win ‘em all.
“No promises,” Vasquez says, and then winks.
The civilians are coming back, the fires are under control, and Vasquez is safe. Billy isn’t needed here anymore — or at least, that’s his excuse as he uses his ability to leap to the top of the nearest building, and speed away home. The heat on his cheeks is just a remnant from all the fire and the fighting, that’s all. He’s fine, he’s good, he’s a professional, and he definitely isn’t thinking of the way Vasquez had last looked at him; amused, grateful, and painfully fond.
Alejandro can’t help the grin on his mouth as he sees Billy Rocks leap into the sky and take off down the rooftops. He knows there’s probably a lot to pick out about how he’s willing to throw himself into danger just to get the scoop, and probably even more in how he puts all his faith in Billy coming to save him every time, but hey. He’s just a regular person in a superpowered world. If he has to be a little underhanded to get what he wants, then so be it.
He looks down at his phone, the screen still on his camera app. He taps on the gallery icon and scrolls through. He’s grateful he got this model, no matter how expensive it was — it’s paying for itself in dividends, especially with its crisp photo taking and the rapidfire shooting mode. There’s hundreds of pictures of Billy from the last five minutes; looking deadpan, looking exasperated, multiple blurs of his palm as it covered the camera.
But Alejo has his eye only one particular shot, right at the end. It’s amazing, crisp and clear and the background a whole lot of smoking debris and running firefighters, but what he’s focusing on is this: the man in the centre, with his hair in a bun with a silver hairpin sticking out, silver knives in their sheaths around his belt like an advertisement of danger — and the smallest of embarrassed smiles, dark eyes looking away and cheeks ruddy.
Alejandro’s cheeks hurt from smiling down at the photo. It’s the best photo out of the bunch he’d taken earlier, and the best photo of Billy Rocks he’s taken yet in general.
His thumb hovers over the picture for a second. His boss would love it. He’s going to want a good picture to put on the paper, and he knows Alejo’s always in the centre of the story.
Then the second passes, and Alejo taps his thumb on a few pictures of Billy scowling at the camera, and swipes it away to send to his boss. The one of Billy’s smile, he moves to a separate, password-protected folder in his gallery. Then he stuffs the phone back into his pocket, and whistles as he walks down the street to head back to shower before going back to the office — there’s still plenty of the day ahead of him, and the city is never boring.
What a day, Alejandro thinks cheerfully, what a day.