Simon is invisible, as he so often is. Suited and everything, not that anyone would be able to tell, and, yep, still stuck with the same name he picked for himself at nineteen: The Dread Warden. Too late to change it now. He stares at the mirror of the basement bathroom, dingy with the grime of half a dozen Renegades, at the water that splashes against his face, rolling down his chin, his sad attempt at stubble. In the mirror, the water drips down air. This must be what vampires feel like.
It's a reminder, cold and wet, of what the world is capable of creating. So much more than what life he had in the apartment above his parents' corner store, before Jackals looted it and killed them. He knows what it feels like to want revenge against a world that has hurt you. But he knows better than to punish people who don't deserve it.
It felt like a miracle when he found them. Tamaya, Evander, Kasumi, Georgia, Hugh — golden Hugh — prodigies, like him, but prodigies that didn't want to hurt people. Prodigies that didn't make him hate his own powers. Come on, Hugh said, so fucking handsome, shiny teeth and wavy hair and eyes that said we're gonna change the world. And Simon followed. And now they are, Renegades, even if a lot of the time it means barely getting out of minor scrapes alive and hiding out in a basement.
He turns the faucet off, steps out into the main room, which is just a couch and a side table sequestered off from the sleeping bags. Say what you will about gang life, but Simon imagines they're turning a profit. Hugh is sitting on the couch, elbows resting on his knees and face resting on his hands. Tamaya is sitting next to him —
is she molting?
Simon is glad he's still invisible, because molting freaks him the fuck out. He makes his way towards the stairs.
"I hate when he's out on patrol," says Hugh from the couch, and oh, this should be interesting. Simon's always interested in getting his heart broken. He takes a cautious step back towards the couch.
"I think you should tell him," says Tamaya, picking at her nails in a way that suggests she's heard this before.
"I can't — I can't tell him," says Hugh, pulling at his blond hair. God, what a textbook superhero. "It'll only distract him. Even if...even if he feels the same way."
"If," scoffs Tamaya, and plucks a feather from her wing. "Good, we're lying to ourselves now."
"If I love him, Tamaya, if I love him," — and Simon inhales so sharply he almost gives himself away — "that only makes him less safe. Makes Gatlon less safe."
"Enough with the 'if'," says Tamaya, more gently this time, as close to kind as she gets. "You love him. You can't change that. He loves you too, you know—"
"I can't hear this," says Hugh. "I'll do something dumb, like kiss him."
"Why is that so terrible?"
"What if he's in danger and I lose it? What if he's injured or captured and I can't be trusted to keep a clear head?"
Tamaya sighs. "That's a problem you have whether or not he knows about it."
"I am such a coward," says Hugh.
"Worse," says Tamaya, "you're noble."
Someday, after Simon gets buried under debris and they have their first kiss, sloppy and desperate and a little bloody, after Georgia is killed and they find themselves with a child, after they kill Ace Anarchy, and after Simon realizes he'll never be able to hold Max, Simon makes breakfast for his family in a mansion far bigger than their old basement. Adrian sits on the counter and talks for half an hour about Insomnia, and her weapons and surveillance skills and heroism, and Simon stifles his smile. He and Hugh survive assassination attempts and watch shitty movies and sleep in and run the world. He worries about Max, who he wants more than anything to touch. He worries about Gatlon, which he sometimes thinks could be in better hands than theirs. He worries about Nova, even, and her penchant for self sacrifice.
And then one day Adrian comes home and says he can't kill Nightmare, that he's in love with her, and he wishes he wasn't. "I'm a coward," Adrian says, and Hugh looks up at him, at their son who is ashamed he can't hurt someone. That he isn't the perfect superhero.
"It is our love," says Hugh, looking painfully earnest, looking like Captain Chromium, looking like the man Simon fell in love with, "that makes people, prodigies and non prodigies, worthy of protection."
"She's the enemy, Dad," says Adrian, voice choked up. He's so young. So were they.
Simon doesn't want to fight another war.
He reaches for Hugh's hand and squeezes it. A pulse. A reminder: maybe the Renegades fought, but they fought to protect, not defeat. To protect love, and family.
He'll do anything to protect his family.