Actions

Work Header

Roots

Chapter Text

Perhaps it was a whim.

He sat in a rather old and withered chair, staring at a television. He had never been a fan, too much of a distraction, but Brockton Bay was a hot topic. He couldn’t allow himself to miss the show. Leviathan’s destruction provided...fun, to be had. He had nearly made the decision to revisit, to set a reminder that their boot would always lean ever so slightly on the city’s neck.

Except something had caught his eye.

A hero, from the looks of it. The footage that circled the screen sang praises to one ‘Blacklight’, a man in a gaudy black costume with a white spiral design in the middle, reaching out to cover his body. The man himself was forgettable, visually cluttered, and uninteresting.

His actions, however, spoke for him

‘BLACKLIGHT SAVES THE LIVES OF DOZENS OF CAPES, INSTRUMENTAL IN DRIVING LEVIATHAN OUT OF THE BAY.’

That was no small feat. He nearly had reason to doubt it until he saw the proof.

The skies above the bay flashed with light, and his eyes followed the ball of white that sped down to leviathan. The comet, nearly instantaneously, transformed into something with the vague shape of a man, colored black enough to swallow the light around it.

And then the shape slammed into the head of Leviathan, and Leviathan rocked with enough force to collapse into a nearby building. That had turned the proverbial tide, with Leviathan attempting to rip Blacklight apart, and Blacklight seemingly dancing out of the way each time.

It was there, he knew their next move.

Visiting Brockton Bay would only be more of the same, and that was a realization that was near uncomfortable in its significance. He wanted to prove that, no matter how hard a person fought, no matter how they struggled, they could be broken. Yet the ravaged body of society seemed to stand on two shaking legs, over and over again.

But Blacklight had stirred...something, within him. Brockton Bay had seemed so 
obvious to him now. Formulaic. And as much as he loathed to admit it, he was hitting a wall. He needed not just inspiration, but a return to form.

He had never looked back, not once, but what was the harm in going back to your roots?

He’d need to do some research. The town of ‘Santa Mosemar’ was credited as being the home of the small-town hero, so step one was already complete. Lucky him.

Blacklight represented a special kind of hope he had seen before. A burgeoning hope that people clung to like a lifeline. That maybe, just maybe, things would become better for them. That someone like him could turn the tides.

He couldn’t have that, could he? He fancied himself a teacher, and it was time for an education.

“Please…”

Jack Slash glanced at the man, a hero named Jackalope, nailed to the wall.

He smiled, standing up and tipping the television over with a boot. The poor idiot had attempted to save this shithole of a town from them, and Jack had planned to flay that ever so slightly infuriating protective instinct from him over the course of days. But now?

Now, he had other plans.

“It’s your lucky day,” Jack began, twirling the knife around his fingers, over and over. He paused, as if lost in thought as he stared out of the window. The sun was just starting to rise over the horizon.

New beginnings, how appropriate.

“Me and my friends had planned to spend days here in this backwater. You, I was going to make you watch as I tore open the stomachs of every man, woman, and child here. But now? I think it’s time we went on a little trip.”

The man, Jackalope or whatever it was, gazed at Jack with an interesting combination of fear and relief. He opened his mouth several times, trying his best to sound out a sentence. Jack waited, his eyes never leaving his victims.

Then, the million dollar question;

“You’re...you’re letting me go?”

Jack had to laugh at that. A genuine chortle that, by the time he was done, made his stomach hurt.

Instead of answering, he merely placed the knife upon the hero’s skin.

“Well, I’d say I have a few more hours to spare.”

Jack would never get tired of hearing a new scream.



========================================

May 17th, 2011.

...It was there that previously small-time hero, Blacklight, landed a decisive blow on Leviathan as it attacked Brockton Bay. Although Blacklight was unable to keep fighting, his intervention saved lives, leaving Brockton Bay with the lowest recorded amount of deaths in an Endbringer attack in over a decade.”

I glanced down at the radio as I drove, the quiet of the highway unable to distract me from the report. At five in the morning, everything felt distant, but the words had the unfortunate effect of dragging me back into my mind.

“...Blacklight, while gravely injured for a time, was generously healed by Panacea of New Wave. Although we were unable to reach the rising star for comment, many are speculating that as a Triumvirate level hero, Blacklight will continue to protect those in need…”

“Triumvirate level my ass,” I grumbled, wiping my eyes. I had never liked West Virginia itself all that much, but I had to admit that the rolling hills of green were nice to look at. In the distance, the sun began to rise, lethargic but unimpeded.

I checked the time. Five-Fifteen in the morning. That only left me twenty minutes. I knew right then that there was no use lying to her.

I’d have to tell her that I had nearly died trying to kill Leviathan.

That...wouldn’t make for fun dinner conversation, unfortunately.

“...We’d like to take a moment of silence for those who put their lives on the line to fight Leviathan. Although many were gravely injured, only twelve lost their lives. These include Erudite, Brandish, Assault, Vista-”

That’s when I shut it off.

It was one thing to live through it. To see the fear on a person’s face when you failed to save them. On a child.

It was another thing entirely to be reminded.

And I just wanted to go home.

The rest of the drive was, thankfully, calm. I distracted myself by looking at the clutter in my seat.

Car registration. A book I had bought from Pageturners. My wallet. A crushed and sad-looking fast food bag, and my backpack carrying the bloody remnants of an abused costume.

At least my helmet had kept itself together.

I’d have to thank Evelyn. Again.

Eventually, Santa Mosemar reared its head as I rounded a corner, and with a heavy sigh I realized just how exhausted I was.

Home.

Seeing it brought a wave of relief, then apprehension. This was a failure I had to face. I had gone to Brockton Bay for nothing. It didn’t matter if ‘only’ twelve people had died. It didn’t matter if those numbers were ‘exceptionally low’ for an Endbringer fight.

Nobody should have died. But they did. How could I have thought I had the answer?

A strange anger washed over me, then. It raged with nowhere to go, nobody to direct it to, so it was vaguely pointed both at the newswoman I heard and myself. How fucking dare she even imply that the fight was anything less than a tragedy? She should have been angry. Pissed off. I’d understand if she had said ‘Arrogant bastard can’t even save a kid’, but she hadn’t. It was-

It was over. I was home.

Santa Mosemar, as always, had a way of calming me down. The town was just as simple visually up close as it was far away. But what it lacked in apparent extravagance, it made up for with being there. Someplace consistent, warm, inviting. A place that wouldn’t turn you away. My refuge.

Santa Mosemar, no matter how many times I came back, served as a pleasant distraction.

And a pleasant distraction was more than enough.

The streets were only now just waking up, people milling about them with sluggish bodies and light smiles. I recognized a few faces as I drove slowly, waving to them as I took in the atmosphere, my eyes drawn to the mountain only a few miles away.

Marianne, walking with her kids to what I could only assume was their dad’s house. They all waved back at me, almost giddy.

Frank, briskly walking on his way to work. The wave I offered him was met with a curt nod before he continued.

Abigail, Harry, and Michael, three teens who I’m sure shouldn’t have been on the street corner with cigarettes in their mouths. They met my wave much less enthusiastically, although I was sure I could see their smiles.

With a population of just under twelve-hundred people, you’d have a good chance of seeing someone you’d never really get to know more than once. It was a community, close knit, and while some people would call it boring, I was just glad to be in a place that didn’t seem on the verge of collapsing in on itself constantly.

But Santa Mosemar couldn’t keep me from my house. As I parked on Hannigan Street, I frowned at the fact that the lights were mysteriously...off. Maybe they were still asleep, and I could…

I sighed. What, explain? That wouldn’t go well.

Tomorrow. Then I’d...figure something out.

Sure.

I eased out of my car, shrugging my wallet into my pocket and my backpack over my shoulder as I walked the sidewalk. A few fallen leaves scattered the ground, and I kicked them idly as I reached the door.

Now for the hard part.

The key I had still worked (I purposefully ignored the fact that it wouldn’t matter in a few months) and I eased into the house. The dark was oppressive, and I coughed as I set my backpack down on the floor, moving towards the couch.

Then, a click. Metallic, sharp, my eyes widened.

Gun. Gun.

My skin shifted as I moved, the brown sliding to black as I dove for the light switch. I felt my body shift to something hard, ridges forming as I covered myself head to toe in my signature armor. I’d have to subdue them first, and once I saw them I’d have a better chance at-

The lights clicked on, revealing a woman with a pistol leveled at me and panic clearly evident on her face. She was dressed in light blue pajamas with a rubber duck pattern, and her hair was up in a hastily put together ponytail.

Rosa Diaz. As beautiful as the day I saw her, and my soon to be ex-wife.

Her eyes widened when she got a good look at me, and the pistol was lowered in an instant. “Russ?”

I grimaced, and my body slowly shifted back into my best approximation of normal. “Hey, Rosie.”

“That’s not-” she began, before sighing and turning around. “Jesus, why didn’t you fucking call me? I could have…” she trailed off, shaking.

I wanted, so badly, to reach out and hug her. I should have. Instead, I coughed and ambled back to the couch. “I didn’t want to wake you and Hector up.”

“Oh? Well you’re doing a great job so far,” she sniped back, and I sighed. I was good at clashing words, usually, but not with people I liked. I was even worse at it with people I loved. So I just sat there and waited for her to sit next to me, silently thankful as she kept the light on and sat next to me.

For a while, we just sat, and I was...okay. Rosie was pissed off, that I knew for sure, but she at least seemed to understand how I was feeling. We’d talk in the morning.

Except we didn’t.

“Hector and I saw you on the news,” she began. Through the quiet, I was all too aware of the bite in her voice. There, it simply couldn’t be ignored.

“Oh?” I responded lamely. I fished a blanket from the floor and draped it over myself, sighing.

“Mhmm. Hector was...we were really worried.”

That’s what I was dreading.

I didn’t bother telling her that if I wanted, I could either take punishment from Alexandria herself (maybe) or run faster than Velocity (I was pretty sure at least). It was beaten into my head now that I wasn’t invincible, that all it would take was someone who could take away powers or hit me hard enough to kill me or some other esoteric shit to end every single one of my withering hopes and dreams. Plus I needed time to get to either of those levels anyway, time I wouldn’t always have, and time I didn’t have before.

But I needed to reassure her. Worrying over me was what got us here in the first place.

“I’m fine. I always make sure not to push myself too hard, and I wouldn’t have felt right with myself if I hadn’t tried to help them.”

Despite the fact that I did push too hard. Despite the fact that I hadn’t saved the one person I tried to.

“You always say that. ‘I’m fine, I’m okay, I didn’t just almost die fighting a giant fish, you worry too much Rosa.’”

“I never said you worry too much.”

She didn’t answer. We both knew I had never said it, but…

Words never said speak for hours.

It never made sense to me. Getting my powers had been a wake up call. There was finally something I could do with myself that didn’t involve the police, or a cell. Ever since that day, I tried my best to make a difference.

If I could do that, if I could change something, it’d all be worth it.

Silence reigned again before she spoke, her voice level. “Um...Hector got accepted to Bluefield.”

Oh. “Oh?”

She chuckled. “Oh, in-fucking-deed. Fastest I’ve seen anybody get an acceptance letter.”

A swell of pride grew, and I smiled. “That’s...holy shit, you’re serious?”

She rolled her eyes. “Why would I bother telling you if-”

I never let her finish. I swept her up in a hug as I stood, and her protests quickly turned to a shriek as I spun her around. “Holy shit! Holy-”

“Russ, shut up,” she hissed, holding back a smile. “Let me-”

She was back on her feet after only a moment, and I tried my best to match the glare she gave me with a toothy smile.

College. Holy shit.

I had never gotten the chance, not after my mom walked out. My dad just couldn’t afford it, and then he couldn’t afford to see me throw my life away. But Hector was getting something I never got. An opportunity.

It was all I could do not yell. Maybe sing a song. Both, from past experience, would be rewarded with a glare from Rosie.

“He’s...pretty excited,” she continued, a fond and far off smile now gracing her features. “It’s just kind of hard to think about. I mean, in one more year…”

“He’ll still be here for you, Rosie.”

A pause, and then, “I know.”

“And we’ll support him, won’t we?”

The look she gave me told me that I hadn’t slipped that under her radar. “We?”

I coughed, although I couldn’t quite erase my smile. “We. I mean, separately. Separately together...separately.”

Rosie didn’t laugh much, but the twinkle I saw in her eye was when I knew she was close. She walked over to one of the window’s and opened the blinds, peering out at the morning sun. “Separately together separately, huh?”

“Look, it’s only...” I checked the time on my phone for a moment, “...six thirty-seven. This is the best you’re gonna get out of me.”

She hummed, and I took a moment to collect myself. College. It was...something. The concept to me seemed so far away. I had thought about trying. Once.

“It’s just,” I began casually, “I dunno. I thought he’d want to do what I do, since his powers...I dunno.”

Silence.

I glanced at Rosie, seeing her still staring out the window. I could see the outlines of the edges of the mountains from where I sat, and I knew she liked looking at the mountains. But the silence felt...off.

“Rosie?” I tried again. Standing up. “What’s-”

“My name is Rosa.”

Shit. “Ah-yeah. You’re right, I’m sorry. It’s just that, we were together for so long-”

“Can I ask you something, Russ?”

I trailed off, staring at her as she turned to me. Her expression was blank, but I knew by now that only meant she was trying not to get angry. For me. Even as apprehension welled inside of me, that was only something I appreciated about her.

I nodded, sitting down slowly and clasping my hands together. “Yeah. Shoot.”

She seemed to hesitate, maybe wanting to spare my feelings, but she steeled her expression and took a breath. “Did it ever occur to you that maybe, it’s about time you quit?”

I was never one for the dramatic.

My pain and my troubles were mine alone, and I didn’t find it easy to talk about them. It was one of the first things my old therapist had me acknowledge. I liked to think I was better than I was before, because at least I knew how fucked up I was.

But my reaction, somehow, must have been physical, because Rosie sighed. “Russel...”

“I know. I just…I don’t know. I don’t think so,” I admitted, leaning back. “I’m good at this. I’m good at what I do. And...I don’t know if I’ve done enough.”

She looked at me like I grew a second head, and I could tell she was getting annoyed. “I saw the footage. You slammed into an Endbringer hard enough to bring it down, if only for a little bit. And I know you need time to do that.”

I only shrugged my shoulders. “I don’t mean to sound rude, but what does that have to do with anything?”

“I know you. If you think you’re not making a difference you think you may as well be wallowing in your own shit. Well newsflash; You did enough to save lives. What else were you expecting?”

To kill it, I thought. Outwardly, I only shrugged. “I...it was a lot. How could I have done enough if...there was someone I tried to save, Rosa. I couldn’t. That’s-”

“I know, Russ,” she interrupted, her expression softening.

If I was angrier, younger, perhaps more idiotic, I would have told her that she didn’t understand. After all, she didn’t have the same power I did. She didn’t have to deal with something like Leviathan.

And then I had learned, years ago, that you didn’t need to turn into light or shoot fire from your fingertips to see someone you know die in front of you. Rosa was a cop, used to be at least, and she had always been better at dealing with it than I had.

“But this,” she continued, searching for the right words, “is just...what’s stopping you from staying here? If you want to support Hector 'separately together separately’, then it’s going to be a lot easier if you would just stay put.”

I mulled it over, and she gave me time. Eventually, my answer was almost completely certain. “I am staying put. I’m just going out to make sure I can help people from time to time.”

“By fighting an Endbringer.”

“If...If I have to.”

She sighed, and I grimaced. I tried to think of something, anything, to reassure her that yes, I would be okay. And even if I wasn’t, if I could change something, anything…

Instead, I was blindsided once she crossed her arms and spoke again. “You know I won’t lie to you, Russ. I think you’re ruining your life, or you’re getting close to it.”

What.

“What?” I countered, and for a moment confusion warred with irritation as I stared at her. She only stared back, and I took that as a cue to continue. “My...my life is better. Actively. I have Hector. I have my friends. I have Santa Mosemar and I have you. I’m happy.”

“I’m not denying that you have a better life. What I’m saying is I think, if you thought you had to, you’d throw it away.” When I didn’t answer, she continued, walking over to a window and opening more blinds. “And if you’re happy, why not just let yourself be happy?”

“Rosa,” I began, my words coming out in a jumbled mess, “You of all people should know what it feels like. If there’s people that need my help, I can’t just turn my back on them.”

“I know. But has it ever been about just helping for you?”

I looked at her helplessly, and she continued on to explain.

“I know what addiction looks like. More importantly, I know what addiction for you looks like. There’s nothing you have to prove. There are people out there who fight because they either have nothing left or they’re trying to protect something. You don’t have to do either.”

“I-”

“We live in Santa Mosemar for god’s sake, Russ. We have a total of three capes. Nine if you count the ones that either aren’t public, don’t stay in town for too long, or are retired. Nine. Crime here is almost the lowest in the entire country, and it’s so quiet and peaceful and picturesque here that the SMPD actually get bored. We are safe here.

With a sigh, I shake my head. “Hector-”

“Hector,” she interrupted, crossing her arms. “Is my son, Russel.”

“We both raised him.”

“And now you’re trying to get yourself killed. You won’t ever be seeing him again if you do that. I have half a mind-”

She cut herself off, but the damage was done.

My mind was a fog, after that. We both ushered out apologies and shared a hug, promising to talk about it more when we weren’t quite so tired. She left me there with my hands in my pockets, alone. Realizing you have nothing to do with yourself wasn’t a comforting realization.

Then, a text.

I read it, and let out a sigh. Looking back now, if I had ignored it, I never would have forgiven myself.

Minutes later, I was out the door, my backpack slung over my shoulder and a headache making itself known.

========================================

The hills just outside of Santa Mosemar were beautiful, green and yellow grass swayed gently under the sky, and the forested trees and bushes of the countryside served as a natural complement to the giant mountain that seemed to loom over the town. I gazed upon them in wonder.

This, of course, was instantly soured by the first face I saw.

The gathering was in a copse of trees, far from prying eyes but still close enough to town for us to get there in case something happened, secret identities be damned. It had served as a meeting place for us for years, after Evelyn had offered it. A capes only club, incidentally, but not out of any self-perceived ego or self-importance.

In a way, having someone who understood what you were going through was a unique comfort all its own.

But Mathew Patel seemed to always do his best to fuck with that.

As I approached the copse, I saw him sitting on a stump, idly petting one of Beatrice’s...creations. Poppet, I think she called it. It was an odd mixture of a dog, a fox, and a raccoon, colored a neon green, and engineered solely to be friendly to any and all it encountered.

Of course, it couldn’t leave this little hideout of ours. Tinkers who worked with flesh weren’t exactly looked upon favorably, and there wasn’t any point in risking herself. One of the many rules we had engineered between ourselves was that no matter what, we would never out each other. It took us a long time to be friends, but we would never let ourselves be enemies.

Case in point. Sometimes, I was sure Mathew was more dangerous than Beatrice ever could be.

As I approached, he stopped petting Poppet and looked up to me, a smirk on his face. The designer clothes and purple dyed hair contrasted almost comically with my plain jane jeans, t-shirt and shaved head. “Well, if it isn’t the hero of the hour.”

“Asshole,” I sniped, walking past him.

“Egomaniac,” he shot back, getting up and following after me.

This was our routine. Annoying, but...familiar, at least. Comforting, in an infuriating way.

Inside the copse, I saw five more people, and as they saw me and waved me over excitedly I hid an embarrassed smile.

Mathew and I drifted apart, and I found myself wandering to Ennui and The Grafton Monster first, although here I was more than comfortable calling them Cody and Graf. Talking to Evelyn and Beatrice would have to wait, at least for now.

Graf swooned as I walked over, earning an eye-roll from me as she put on the usual theatrics. “Russ. Russel. Russie. You’re going to have to explain to all of us why you didn’t tell us you were going to punch out Leviathan.”

I shrugged, sitting down in the patch of grass. Graf looked nearly straight out of the 70’s, with a blue jean jacket, jeans and hoop earrings ‘enhanced’ by the numerous patches, rips and tears. With the silver of her hair and the lines on her face, I wagered she had probably seen the 70’s when she was younger.

Cody O’Hannigan, on the other hand, always seemed comfortable with the tank top and shorts he wore, both the same red and white as his walking stick. His blonde hair was cut short, and his sunglasses rested on his forehead as he smiled directly at me.

“I didn’t have time. I figured I’d see you guys there if you were going, but…”

“Or,” Cody began, “He just wanted all the glory to himself.”

I rolled my eyes while Graf cackled. “Say it ain’t so! I thought you were better than that Russ. I guess when you’re in the big leagues, you forget about the little guys…”

I fought back a smile as they both leveled a shit-eating grin at me, stretching out and laying in the grass. “You got me. I’ve been chasing glory this entire time. The small-town evil therapist and old lady have got me dead to rights.”

Grafton pinched my arm, ignoring my yelps and complaints as she fixed her perm. “I’m not old, Youngblood. I’m aged. I’ve been around longer than you have and I’ll probably be around after you’re gone, too.”

I glanced at the space next to her that usually would’ve held a left arm. “I’m sure.”

“Don’t think I didn’t see that,” she hissed. “I lost this arm on purpose. Everyone knows you don’t fuck with someone who has an arm missing.”

“She’s right, someone with a missing limb is definitely terrifying for us regular folk,” Cody quipped.

Graf’s expression soured, then she smiled. “Exactly. And I always look on the bright side. For examples, those trees over there are beautiful...ohhh, sorry, Cody.”

Their bickering continued, and eventually I found myself joining in as we jabbed and poked at each other, each of us managing to get a rise out of the other filled with faux anger and fabricated outrage.

Our cape lives and our lives together were different, and it was here that I saw it in action. Cody may have been a small-time 'advisor' to a number of villains he owed debts to, but his heart was in the right place. Grafton may have been a retired villain, but I could see the way she acted when she was with us.

For some of us, this small group of ours was the only family we had left.

My thoughts were interrupted as Evelyn, Beatrice, and Mathew made their way over to us, joining us in the patch of grass. Beatrice looked nervous, her wild brown-black hair and the full-moon glasses giving her a distinctly...small, look. She joked, often, that she could pull off a great mad scientist.

“M-Mr. Ray! Hi! Is...is Hector here?”

I grimaced, and shook my head. “No such luck, kid. He may show up later, but right now he’s with Rosa. He probably just didn’t get the text, or maybe he’s asleep?”

“Oh. Okay, I just...had something for him,” she murmurs. It’s then that I notice her carrying Poppet, with him trying to comfort her by licking her face.

I hid a smile. Teenagers. That was certainly nostalgic.

“I’m sure,” Evelyn began, drawing attention to herself, “that you’ll get to give it to him soon, Bee.”

Beatrice practically preened under the nickname, and I allowed myself a small chuckle, even as she gave me a half-hearted glare. I raised my hands in surrender as I turned to Evelyn, and smiled.

She was our rock.

Evelyn was never what you expected. The piercings and earrings, the short black hair, the tattoos, they all suggested a much less approachable person than who she was. She was the one closest to my age, younger and older than the rest of us. The only public cape in Santa Mosemar besides Cody and I, she spent her time using her power to help, not to hurt. She was more of a hero than I was in a lot of ways, maybe in every way that really mattered.

I knew there were no such things as pure good or pure evil. I wasn’t a kid anymore. Even so, Evelyn was the closest thing to the former I had ever seen.

She smiled back at me, laying a hand on my shoulder. “It’s good to see you back Russel. We missed you.”

“It’s good to be back. I missed you all too,” I offered, unable to stop a smile. I looked around and frowned, tilting my head. “Where’s?...”

“Dana and Sam are out of town,” Cody offered, rolling a flower between his fingers. “Dana’s doing a job for Accord up in Boston, or at least I think she is. Sam is being Sam, and they’re coming back from Louisiana, of all places. They should be home soon.”

I nodded, my frown remaining. Accord. Some Boston villain, if I remembered correctly. The fact that Dana was doing something for him worried me, but she was nothing if not sure of herself. I trusted her to handle it.

“The sooner the better,” Graf mumbles, tossing a rock towards a tree. “If I can’t annoy Miss perfect then what am I here for? And Sam is the only one nice enough to bring me doughnuts when I ask!”

“That’s because Sam is too nice,” Mathew countered. “They don’t know how to say no.”

“Maybe you’re just bad at saying yes?” Beatrice offered with a rare mischievous smile.

Mathew made a grab for her, with Beatrice dancing out of the way with a shrieking laugh. Evelyn shot me an exasperated smile, and I returned one.

It was good to be home.

“I just wanted to say,” Evelyn continued, shifting into another sitting position, “that we’re glad you’re safe. When we saw your name on the news, we thought maybe…”

News. Brockton Bay. A kid who just wanted to be saved, reaching out with a tiny hand-

No. Fuck. Fuck. I forced myself to push those thoughts down into the dark.

“I’m here now,” I reassured her, laying down. “That’s...enough, right?”

After a moment, Evelyn laid down next to me. Graf grabbed Cody’s arm and pulled him down with us a second later. After a moment, I saw Beatrice and Mathew ease themselves to the ground as well.

Evelyn touched my arm with a smile, and nodded. “It always was.”

I didn’t cry.

It was a near thing.

As we stared up at the stars, a thought of how bizarre this was came to my mind. It’s not like we were all heroes. Cody had debts. Dana was a mercenary. Graf was a former villain. Mathew was a villain, even if he was conscious enough to keep his shit out of town. Sam was a shut in, Hector wasn’t public, and Beatrice never wanted to go public.

That only left Evelyn and I, and Evelyn wasn’t a traditional hero. She wore a mask, sure, but her help was personal, and she changed lives every day. In a way, I was the odd one out.

But this was home. And we all knew it.

Santa Mosemar kept us coming back. The world outside was enough to keep us busy, but when we came back here it all seemed to fade away. That itch to do something with myself never gripped me as much when I was here. Being out there in the world made me restless, agitated.

Deep down, I knew I’d probably be away soon, again.

But I knew, in my heart, that I’d always be back. Leaving town permanently just wasn’t an option, because then you’d be leaving behind family.

I glanced at the others, and I felt myself smile.

And family was always more important.