Frank’s head hurt like a motherfucker. He struggled not to cry out as he woke up in what appeared to be a completely unfamiliar, pitch black room at first glance.
He sucked in a breath and forced himself to relax as many muscles he could as he breathed out. His power stuttered out on his next exhale, restless like the crackling electricity he could feel waiting in the exposed lightbulb above him.
His head throbbed when his power strained at his limits. “Fuck,” he forced out through gritted teeth. He squeezed his eyes shut tight against the pain and let more of his power out, letting it splash against the walls and ceiling of the small room. No window, one lightbulb, exposed wiring to the switch beside the door, an ornate but ancient-feeling doorknob and an inch gap at the bottom of the door. He was lying on the floor, but there was a pillow beneath his head, which seemed intent on killing him.
“Owfuck,” he wheezed. Another wave of pain bloomed from the side of his head. He pounded the floor with his open palm and choked in a breath. “Fucking fine,” he muttered, and let go of his control.
The angry, tangled mass of clouds above his ship boomed with thunder when he took his place behind the wheel. His body was already possibly in mortal peril; there was no reason for his brain to be as well.
“Hold still,” he spat, his hands tight on the handles. His muscles strained with the effort when a gust of wind tried to take him off the deck. He had survived twenty-foot waves; a baby breeze wasn’t going to get to take him out. The water beneath them was as wild as the sky, tossing and roiling as though the water itself was mad at Frank’s attacker.
Lightning streaked along the crests of the waves, and Frank let the energy push through the cracks in the door and ceiling. His vision was filled with a narrow corridor, lined with picture frames and doors from which the paint was peeling at the corners.
His mind pushed its way beneath another door, mapping along the threadbare edges of a rug one room over, bunched up in the slightest where it was caught under the legs of a bed. The walls in this other room were bare, but it still had decorations. A chair, placed beside the bed, covered in a textured fabric that brought velvet to Frank’s mind. A small table beside the bed bore a tiny marble wolf and a clock. There was a window in this room, with fluttering curtains and glass dirtied by hands and noses.
And there was a man in the bed. His hair curled long around his face, which was covered with the scratchy hair of a light beard. His forehead was wrinkled and his eyes closed in disturbed sleep. Something made Frank pull back from the niggling familiarity he could sense in the man’s features.
He took in a deep breath and wove all the threads of his power he’d let escape back into the ocean. The sky was still furious, so he let the clouds out again. Lightning and thunder crashed above his head, fighting over the still-dark lightbulb as his wind flew out down the hall again, touching the edge of every picture frame. The photographs themselves were invisible to him, but the frames felt as though they had been worn in the past.
His sea calmed as he let out the last tangled threads, the light brightening to day as the water sighed, cool blue relief. When he opened his eyes, it was to the sound of footsteps. He felt like he could manage the pain in his head now, and he cracked all of his knuckles before sitting up.
Someone was outside his room. Before the guy had enough time to walk through the door, Frank let a handful of power leak under the frame and assessed the situation. Short hair, a stocky build, light stubble; this was the man who had accosted him and brought him to whatever hell he was currently in. And he hadn’t even had the decency to wait until Frank was out of his work clothes or had taken a shower. He was totally gross and sticky and he smelled like syrup and coffee and probably the cigarettes he’d smoked on the walk home, and his shirt was a Starbucks shirt. And he was wearing his apron. He was going to seriously fuck up the guy who’d kidnapped him.
Frank breathed in, letting his powers flow out in a calm wave, getting ready.
The moment the man opened the door, Frank shoved and moved. Fast as the stranger was, with Frank aware of the situation, he didn’t stand a chance. Frank had him pinned to the wall with a field of energy surrounding his forearm before the man could so much as cry out. He pushed energy restraints around the man’s wrists and ankles and anchored them to the wall.
“Who the fuck are you,” Frank growled, bracing himself with one leg behind him. “And where the fuck am I?”
The man struggled for a moment, back muscles working in vain as Frank held him in place more with his power than with his arms. “Wow, you’re strong for such a little guy,” the man wheezed, his voice strained.
“Where the fuck am I?” Frank asked again, eyes narrowed. The man opened his mouth to speak again, but someone else stepped into Frank’s power before he could. Instinct told Frank to push, and he flung out an arm to do so, sending the sandy-haired man flying down the hall.
“Get your,” the man on the wall choked, eyes flashing as he struggled on the wall, “filthy hands off him!”
“Shut the fuck up,” Frank told him, pointing one finger at the man. For good measure, he transferred the energy around his forearm to secure the man’s shoulders to the wall before he turned to the second intruder. The second man was just standing, hands up in a placating manner when Frank pulled out a blanket of power and moved it to wrap around him.
“Frank, stop,” the man said, eyes widening in surprise when Frank didn’t pause, but pushed the blanket (and the man) against the wall.
“Don’t you touch him!” Frank’s attacker shouted, but Frank ignored him.
“Who are you two, and what do you want with me?” he asked, walking up to the second one. “And why the hell do you know my name.”
“Holy shit,” the man said, barking out a laugh. “If you didn’t smell the same, I would wonder how I knew your name, too. You look so different.”
The man’s eyes looked familiar, the same light green as Frank’s attacker, and of something else that Frank could barely remember. “Spit it out or I will call up the fucking armed forces on your asses.”
“I’m sorry, Frank, I’m so sorry,” the man said. “Have I changed that much? Fuck. It’s, it’s me. Sean. Uh. Van Vleet.”
Frank felt his stomach plummet. Sean Van Vleet. “No fucking way,” he said.
“Yeah,” Sean said. If it really was Sean. “I have my birth certificate and everything.”
“Oh, shit,” Frank said, and dropped his tie to the blanket holding Sean. It disappeared as did the restraints on the dark man who’d attacked Frank before. “Sean fucking Van Vleet. Are you serious? I can’t believe you’re still alive! And in Chicago! What the fuck, man!”
“I know, I know,” Sean said, laughing again. “Oh, god. I’m so sorry about Ryan, uh. That’s Ryan, the one down the hall.”
“Shitty to meet you too,” Ryan muttered.
“Ryan,” Sean said, glaring, “knows that he isn’t supposed to kidnap people, and yet, here we are.”
“We needed help,” Ryan whined, slipping past Frank to look at Sean with wide eyes. “You know we do.”
Sean scowled. “You could have fucking asked.”
“Knock on a guy’s front door, for Christ’s sake,” Frank said. “Tell him his long-lost pals are in town and they’d like a word. Maybe skip past the whole knocking a guy out with your fist and the concrete, huh?”
Ryan rolled his eyes. “I’m a stranger, you wouldn’t have believed me. And we need help, Sean. Tom needs help.”
Sean winced bodily at the name and Frank frowned. “Tom? Little Tommy Conrad is here too? Who else you hiding in this place, Sean?”
“I --” Sean said. He ground his teeth together and squeezed his eyes shut. “Ryan, would you go help Max with lunch?”
Ryan stared at Sean for a good minute without blinking and then he sighed. “We need him,” he insisted.
“Please, just,” Sean said. “I know, okay?”
“Fine,” Ryan huffed. “You only like me for my sandwiches.”
“Yes,” Sean said, but there was a small smile tugging at his mouth as he said so.
“Fuck you,” Ryan said. He punched Sean’s shoulder and eyed Frank. “Stay,” he said, like it was a command.
“What do I look like, a dog?” Frank asked, scowling.
Ryan narrowed his eyes. “I dunno. You look kinda like a barista. Do you know sit?”
“I will hit you,” Frank said, hand already prepared to strike.
“Ryan, for the love of God,” Sean said, exasperatedly.
“Fine, fine, I’m fucking going,” Ryan said. He stuck his tongue out at Frank before he crashed through one of the doors.
“I’m sorry about him,” Sean said, shrugging. “But, um. Family is Family, right?”
“You’re related to that guy?” Frank asked.
“Well, no, but,” Sean said, eyes suddenly wide. He’d gotten a lot taller than Frank over the years, and Frank kind of wished for those days when Sean too was a scrawny kid. “I mean. I mean Family, like. Um. Capital F family. Like Pack?”
“Pack,” Frank said.
Sean rubbed a hand over the back of his neck. “What would you say if I, um, said me and Tom were kind of. Maybe. Werewolves.”
“Dude!” Frank said. “I’d say that’s awesome!”
“And that you can’t report us to the government,” Sean said.
“Oh,” Frank said. It wasn’t that he wasn’t great at lying. It was just. “I’d say I know a telepath.”
“Oh,” Sean said, face falling.
“But he’s trustworthy!” Frank exclaimed, patting the air in front of him like he was soothing it. “He doesn’t usually spill my secrets or take advantage of them.” Unless the secrets involved hot fudge that was supposed to be a surprise and for some naked body sex things and not at all for Mikeyway’s Own Personal Sundae Feast.
“Oh,” Sean said.
“Um, I know some werewolves too,” Frank said. “And a werecat.”
“And a telepath,” Sean said. “That one’s pretty crazy.”
“Come on, powers are pretty well-advertised,” Frank said.
“Some of us are too busy trying to stay alive to read up on fantastical comic book stuff,” Sean said.
“Yeah, but, Sean,” Frank said, “this is stuff that exists in our everyday lives. This is stuff that can get you killed if you don’t know enough about it. I don’t know what your definition of survival entails, but, I’d say not getting killed is probably a pretty big part of it, right?”
“Yeah, if you want to get nabbed and tagged by the government,” Sean said. “Our lives are hard enough, Frank. We don’t need the giant neon lights of SuperHuman flashing over our heads. Ryan finally got a job at a fucking sandwich shop after like a year of unemployment. That same place, and most places, turn away a good portion of their applicants just because they’re different, and not in any ways that they can change. And don’t tell me that’s illegal, because so are a ton of other kinds of discrimination and they all happen, too, and nobody can stop them.”
Sean’s hands were curled into fists at his sides and his chest was heaving when he stopped. His eyes glinted dangerously. Frank had seen this before when Bebe got agitated. Unlike Bebe, Sean didn’t seem to puff up like an angry cat; but his teeth looked sharper and his beard looked a bit fuller.
“I said I wouldn’t report you,” Frank said, with a shrug. He was not all that great with conflict resolution, and trying to talk out whatever was wrong would probably just end in them fighting, and his head, though it hurt less now that he’d smoothed out the wrinkles in his power, was still a constant annoyance.
Sean blinked twice, like hearing a human’s voice had startled him. “I, uh,” he said, still a bit shaky. “Oh.”
“The government kinda shelters us, I guess,” Frank said. “It’s hard to remember all the people on the streets, let alone the supers, when you’ve got a bed and food and a safe roof above your head.”
“Yeah,” Sean said. “Look, man, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to blow up at you, it’s, uh --”
“Dude,” Frank said, holding up his hands in a placating gesture. “It’s cool. Seriously. Like I said, I know a werecat and some werewolves. I know a few things.”
“But, seriously,” Sean said. “I mean, my fucking pup of a friend kidnapped you and here I am, standing in a hallway and yelling at you about...racial inequality. For lack of a better term. I totally derailed our conversation.”
“It’s a nice change, having a conversation that doesn’t get derailed in the first thirty seconds by something completely irrelevant to the situation,” Frank said. “But you did kidnap me, so you’d better show me what the fuck your Ryan brought me here for. He said something about Tom?”
“Fuck. Tom’s...Tom can wait.” Sean said, shaking his head and stretching out his arms. “Come here, motherfucker. I haven’t seen you in forever. It’s been what, fifteen years?”
“Almost,” Frank laughed, stepping forward to wrap his arms around Sean.
The man was as enthusiastic a hugger as ever; he squeezed Frank tight, apparently not caring about Frank’s gross work apron or post-work smell. He clapped him on the back before pushing him away. “I’d say you grew up, but fuck, you’re still a shrimp.”
“Haha, fuck you,” Frank said. The short jokes were never going to end.
“Seriously though, shit, you were cool back there,” Sean said. “What the fuck are you doing now? You’ve clearly been working on whatever your crazy mutant power is.”
“I’m a goddamn secret agent,” Frank said, grinning when Sean’s mouth dropped open. “Motherfucking CIA clearance and everything.”
“That is a lie,” Sean said. “I know because you’re wearing a Starbucks apron, Frank. It says Starbucks on it, right there. Seriously.”
“No, I, uh,” Frank said, looking down at himself. “Seriously, I’m undercover. The government didn’t want to pay rent on our apartment but they wanted us out here, so...jobs, you know.”
Sean looked flabbergasted. “Oh my god. Are you shitting me? When the hell did that happen?”
“The clearance, about three years ago. Uh, yeah, seriously. I don’t have, like, my badge and stuff because I left it at home,” Frank said. He counted backwards in his head again and frowned. “Shit, it really has been three years. Fuck, I’m old.”
“Me too,” Sean said. “We’re the same age, aren’t we? You’re like four months younger than me or something?”
“Yeah, Tom’s the old one,” Frank said.
“Fucking ancient,” Sean agreed, grinning. He scratched at his cheek right above his beard and then his eyebrows furrowed together. “Fuck.”
“Yeah, now is where you tell me what happened to make your face look so damn sad,” Frank said.
“It’s a long story,” Sean said.
“So tell the abridged version,” Frank said.
“I, uh, fuck. Okay, well, we’re um, we’re a Pack, right. And there are others in the area. Other Packs.”
“Of werewolves,” Frank said. “Right.”
“Yeah, and we’re kind of...territorial?” Sean said. He held one hand, palm up, out to Frank. “Here is us,” he said, drawing a jagged line around his pinkie. “And here...is everyone else. With their own little territory areas. Because we all shift on the full moon, and whenever we can, and that’s just how it’s done. And sometimes...usually nobody fights. We stay within our territories. But a little while ago, some new wolves showed up, and ever since then, we’ve all been fending off attacks. The group from a mile west lost the runt of their litter, and a week ago, Tom...” Sean stopped, eyes closing for a moment.
“Tom is the one in the bed,” Frank said, as realization struck him. “Fuck. How bad is whatever happened to him?”
“It’s bad,” Sean said. “Wait, what? How did you know? You aren’t a telepath, are you?”
“No, I,” Frank said, shaking his head. “It’s complicated. Too hard to explain. Tell me about Tom.”
“Well, his wound got infected,” Sean said. “And we can’t go to the hospital because we don’t have insurance and none of our jobs pay well enough for...whatever we’d have to get done, so I don’t know what the fuck to do.”
“Okay, well,” Frank said, “I know a healer.”
“Like a doctor?” Sean asked, frowning. “Will he work for free?”
“No, like, a super,” Frank said. He waggled his fingers, and Sean’s eyes widened. “Yeah, that kind of a healer. And yeah, he works for free.”
Sean fell silent. He was clearly thinking about Frank’s offer, so Frank clasped his hands behind him and rocked back on his heels. He turned his head to the side and noticed the picture in the first frame, which was plain and black. The photograph inside was of Sean sitting on a couch. The light streaming in from the window in the picture illuminated Sean’s face. It must have been taken a while ago because Sean’s beard was much shorter, and his face looked...lighter.
“This is really good,” Frank said, gesturing to the photograph.
Sean looked up from his musings and grimaced. “Yeah,” he muttered. “Tom took it. He’s...he’s a great photographer. He took all the pictures in frames here, actually.”
“No shit,” Frank said. “The guitar one, too?” He’d noticed it briefly when he’d been holding Ryan up against the wall, and he went to it now, the lone guitar sprawled out on a bed. “Fuck, it’s beautiful.”
“Yeah,” Sean said. He ran a hand through his hair, canines a bit longer than usual when he opened his mouth again. “Look, it’s not that I don’t trust you, okay. It’s just that we don’t really want a lot of people knowing where we are, right? I mean, if we have to like, pay extra taxes as supers or get fired from our jobs, we’ll lose this place, and this is kind of all we have.”
“I swear, he won’t,” Frank said.
Sean nodded. “Well, okay. Come on, the back exit is through the kitchen. We don’t really use the front one if we can help it. Shit, they let you get all those tattoos and you work undercover?”
“I’m kind of a big deal,” Frank said. “What is this place?” he asked as they navigated their way into a tiny, sunlit kitchen. There was a kid at the table who couldn’t have been more than 17. He was sitting in front of a steaming mug, and his hair was probably even longer than Ray’s.
“It’s Max’s place,” Sean said.
“My parents’, actually,” Max mumbled, his eyes wide behind his glasses.
“Right,” Sean said. “His parents’ place. We lost them a little while ago, but they gave the place to Max, and...Max lets us stay here.”
“So, what, you don’t have to pay rent?” Frank asked. He was jealous; paying rent was his least favourite thing and he didn’t even have to actually pay it, he just had to sign the checks and subsidize it all to the government.
“No, but there’s still some money left on the mortgage, so we have to pay that,” Sean said. He looked around the kitchen and sighed, a wistful sort of smile on his face. “It’s home.”
“That’s really great,” Frank said, smiling. “Really.”
“I guess, I’ll have to give you our address so you can bring your friend back here,” Sean said, patting his pockets, probably for a pen. “Max, there was a pen on the table, have you seen it? And didn’t I send Ryan in here a little while ago?”
Max frowned up at them, fingers tapping idly on the sides of the mug. “Um, yes. He said he smelled something and he went outside.”
“He what?” Sean asked, and Frank saw alarm flicker briefly across his face. “When was this?”
“About five minutes ago.” Max shoved his glasses up to rub at the bridge of his nose before settling the frames back down. He sniffed the air once, his frown deepening. “Why?”
Sean’s nostrils flared and his nose wrinkled moments before someone knocked at the door. Max was up and at Sean’s side in a second, hair slightly larger than it had been before, like his hackles were raised.
Sean’s eyes were narrowed. “Ryan’s there. Can you tell who else is on the other side of the door?” he asked, voice low as he glanced at Frank. He walked up to the door and cleared his throat, still looking at Frank. “Who is it?” he asked.
“Candygram,” the person said.
Frank scanned with his power, but the figure was fuzzy around the ankles. It felt like he didn’t exist below the knee, which was...strange. Frank doled out some more energy, feeling up past the knees to the torso, where Ryan was being restrained around the mouth by... “Hang on,” Frank muttered. He walked around the table and gestured for Sean to stand back.
“Do you know who it is?” Sean murmured, still clearly trying to place the stranger’s scent.
Frank held up a finger, making contact with Sean’s eyes. Sean nodded and stepped away, hands in fists at his sides. Frank took a deep breath and pulled open the door.
The person he saw on the doorstep matched the person he’d mapped out in his head, but his presence there still made Frank start. “Brian?”
Brian shoved Ryan across the threshold, and Frank was too busy watching the werewolf stumble to catch the fist flying in his direction until it connected with the bridge of his nose. He cried out and doubled over in surprise, eyes squeezing shut and hands clamping over his nose. “What the fuck, Brian?!” he shouted.
He didn’t bother to open his eyes: he could feel Sean steadying Ryan and surging across the kitchen, eyes narrowed and teeth bared in a snarl. Brian looked shocked, but stepped back and disappeared before Sean could catch him.
He appeared across the kitchen looking more pissed off than relieved.
“Who the hell are you?” Sean growled, eyes glowing dimly in the dark room. “And what the fuck are you doing to my friends? If you touch them again, I will slit your throat.”
“Call off your dogs, Frank,” Brian snapped, eyes focused on Sean.
“His dogs?” Sean spluttered, the glow in his eyes increasing.
“Sean, it’s fine,” Frank said, patting Sean on the shoulder. “Ow, fuck, Brian, what the hell? I’m pretty sure you broke my fucking nose.”
“Oh, your nose, that’s what we’re worrying about?” Brian asked, folding his arms across his chest. He was still glaring at Sean, and, fuck, Frank had been pretty sure that Brian was tall back when he’d been 16, but it looked like they were both about the same height now.
“Uh,” Frank said, swiping at the stream of blood with his forearm. He did not want to get blood on his apron. That was neither professional nor foodsafe. “Yeah, I’m worrying about it. It hurts. Because you punched me in the face!”
Brian’s eyes flashed and he disappeared, appearing right in front of Frank. Well, okay, he was still an inch or two taller than Frank, but Frank just straightened up as much as he could and looked Brian right in the eye. “You snarky little motherfucker,” Brian spat. “Since you are neither bound nor gagged nor locked away in a room, I’m going to go ahead and assume that you know the people in this house. Am I correct?”
“Maybe,” Frank said, tucking his energy back into himself in folds. If Brian moved to hit him again, Frank was going to throw up some serious force fields.
“And they probably have a landline,” Brian said, not blinking. “Sean, is it? Do you have a phone of any kind around here?”
“Yes,” Sean said.
Brian rolled his eyes. “You couldn’t have fucking called to tell your goddamn team that you were alive and not being held by some evil organization in the middle of fucking nowhere?” he snapped.
“You’re not my fucking mom,” Frank snapped right back.
Brian snarled and he pushed Frank, hard. “No, I’m not,” he seethed, his brown eyes hard. “You know who I am, Iero? The motherfucking guy your team called in a blind panic because they couldn’t go to the cops for twenty-four hours because you got kidnapped for the second time. I’m the guy who came in from New Fucking York to find your dirty ass because you didn’t call your fucking family to tell them you weren’t lying in a gutter or being sucked dry!”
“Fuck you, I didn’t ask you to come, why are you yelling at me?!” Frank shouted, pushing Brian right back. “I’m the one who got kidnapped by a fucking band of...” he remembered Sean’s plea not to report him just in time, “Well, a band of people anyway, who knocked me out and my head still hurts so don’t you fucking start on me not reacting fast enough. And to top it all off, you punched me in the face! I just woke up, motherfucker, what do you want me to do, send fucking telepathic messages all around? I was heading back when you assaulted my friend!”
“We’re friends now?” Ryan asked.
“DON’T PUSH IT,” Frank shouted, glaring at Ryan before he wiped at his nose again. “Ugh, ow. Fuck, my fucking nose.”
Brian looked up at the ceiling, breathing in slowly as he clenched his hands at his sides. “Well,” he said, voice suddenly calm, which was probably a bad sign. “I, for one, have a real job and paperwork to do, so if you don’t mind, Sean, Ryan, strange child, I am going to take Frank back to where he belongs. Iero, let’s go.”
Ryan threw himself at Frank for a bone-crushing hug before he stepped back. “Your nose is broken,” he said, matter-of-factly.
“Yeah, thanks,” Frank said. Ryan nodded and then reached out and snapped Frank’s nose back into place, which sent a spike of pain into Frank’s brain, right alongside the one he still had from Ryan smashing his head into the concrete. Frank didn’t quite black out, but it was a close one.
“Motherfucker,” he squeaked, when he opened his eyes and found that he was kneeling on the floor. “I am going to kill you. With my bare hands.”
“Please don’t,” Sean said, from where he was apparently sitting next to Frank. “But thanks. For everything you’ve done.” He stuck out a hand for Frank to shake, oddly formal even though they were sitting on the floor of Sean’s kitchen.
“Uh,” Frank said, sticking out the one hand that wasn’t on his nose. He blinked when a cool piece of paper met his palm, Sean’s fingers around it, and he curled his hand back around the paper. Sleight of hand. Cool. “Yeah, no problem.”
Sean nodded, and Frank scrambled to his feet. Brian’s hands were in his pockets. He was watching Ryan with what looked like mild interest. “Hang on,” Max said, piping up from the table. “Didn’t he have glasses when you brought him in?”
Frank blinked. Oh, shit. “Don’t tell Mikey,” he told Brian when Ryan reluctantly handed the glasses over. What an amateur. If he’d lost his fucking expensive spy glasses, Mikey probably would have tied Frank up and burned his Starbucks apron after smashing his XBox.
“Sure,” Brian said. “I won’t tell him you almost lost your dorky glasses.”
“Fuck you,” Frank said. He nodded to Sean and Max and glared at Ryan before following Brian out. The man was a hell of a lot faster than Frank had previously given him credit for, and he barely slowed down from his insanely fast walk to let Frank catch up with him.
Brian was walking in a straight line right on the curb when Frank finally managed to jog up beside him. His legs were barely longer than Frank’s, how the fuck did he go so fast? His shoulders were hunched together and he kept darting his eyes over to the shadows on their left like he’d give anything to sink into them and not be babysitting Frank. “If you aren’t going to keep up, Iero, I’m going to leave you behind,” he muttered.
Frank cracked his neck, which was satisfying, and then he pushed Brian off the sidewalk and in to the deserted street, which was much more satisfying.
“What the fuck is your problem?” Brian asked, seeming to tower over Frank even though they were walking, and Frank was only two inches shorter than him, fuck everything.
“You’re being a dick,” Frank informed him, matching Brian’s pace even though his legs were really not built to be taking these big steps. “And you’re treating me like a kid. I’m 23, Brian. I’m a Senior Agent. I’ve gotten out of worse situations with less help. You don’t need to look at me like that, and I’m sick of it.”
Brian closed his eyes and stopped walking. Frank put his own hands in his pockets, because it was cold here and he didn’t have his gloves with him. “Look, kid,” Brian said, when he had apparently calmed himself down or whatever the hell it was he’d been doing, “It’s great that you’ve got a ton of power or whatever. It really is. But you aren’t careful with it. You’re better than you used to be, but you’re still really reckless, Frank. And with whatever keeps coming after you and your group...I’d watch my back if I was you. And I’d keep your whole business under wraps. Maybe change locations. If that Ryan kid could find you, Iero, who else could?”
“That’s different,” Frank said.
“How?” Brian asked. “He tracked you down and kidnapped you. He kidnapped you off the street in front of your apartment. And he wasn’t even that strong!”
“Yeah, but, he wasn’t looking to hurt me or whatever,” Frank said. “He needed help. Sean needed help. And Sean’s his...you know, alpha, or whatever. And whatever, he was using were strength when he tackled me. I thought he was a dog!”
“And what’s keeping your enemies from using weres? If you can’t tell them apart from normal humans and normal animals, they could kill you without even thinking, Frank!” Brian sighed. “And these Ryan and Sean folks still hunted you down. It’s the same thing.”
“It isn’t though, okay,” Frank said. “Werewolves and dogs and shit, they remember smells forever right?”
“Well, yeah,” Brian said. “It’s their most highly evolved sense. That and hearing.”
“Well, Sean and Tom, another were that you didn’t meet, they were...” Frank paused, and took his hands out of his pockets. What was a good way of putting this? “They were with me, back when I was nine.”
“So you grew up together?” Brian asked.
“No, like, after my dad kicked me out of the house,” Frank said. “When I was on the streets. They were, too. Kids find each other, you know that. One of the places that would let me stay overnight was this club, they’d let people camp out on the floor every now and then, and they didn’t care if you were a kid, so long as you didn’t steal shit or make a mess, they let you sleep. And Tom and Sean, they were put off by my power, right, but they didn’t seem to care so much? And it was because they were werewolves, and we just...we became friends, I guess. It was easier to steal shit in groups because you could have lookouts, but we split up at one point, and...I don’t know. I found Butch, and I guess Tom and Sean found Chicago.”
“Well, shit,” Brian muttered, rubbing his temple. “Fine. God, I had a headache before I tried to find you. Now you’re just making it worse with all of this thinking. So, whatever. These guys found you with their crazy werewolf-past-remembering senses, but you know, I found you, too. And these werewolves are clearly unregistered.”
“Oh,” Frank said, blinking dumbly. “Oh shit. Be cool, Brian. Don’t tell on them.”
“Oh yeah,” Brian muttered. “Save the unregistered werewolves who kidnap people.”
“They’re my old friends,” Frank whined, but Brian was already waving him off.
“Look, just, anyone could find you. That’s what I’m saying.”
“Someone will,” Frank said. He put his hands back in his pockets. “No matter what I do, they’re going to come after me. I can’t make myself less obvious, Brian.”
“Shit,” Brian said. A wry grin tugged at a corner of his mouth. “I know that face. Iero, you’re about to make my life a living hell, aren’t you?”
“Think about it, Brian,” Frank said. “We’re here, looking for the corrupt members of this gigantic organization or whatever stupid leads Gerard has for us, and someone is going to hunt me down again if these guys are still sucking supers dry.”
“You need me to make myself available, is that it?” Brian asked, cocking an eyebrow.
“I dunno,” Frank said. “Maybe you could stick around Chicago for a little while? Do some sight-seeing, maybe some investigating, see what you can come up with. You are the world’s most elusive non-invisible man, after all.”
“Don’t flatter me, boy,” Brian said. “I taught you for a good two years. I know all the tricks in the book. They don’t work on me.”
“You have my number,” Frank said. “You should give me a call. I work ‘til nine most days, and I don’t usually have anything to do on the walk home.”
“Son of a bitch,” Brian sighed.
“That’s me,” Frank said, grinning.
“Well, all right,” Brian said. “Save the cheerleader, save the world, right?”
Frank tilted his head to the side. “Huh?”
Brian shook his head. “Never mind. You make me feel old sometimes, kid. Now, come on. I believe you’ve got some people waiting for you?”
“Ah, shit,” Frank said, running a hand through his hair. He had forgotten about how Gerard was going to kill him for getting kidnapped again. “Right.”
“Good luck with that,” Brian said. He stuck out his hand for Frank to shake, and this time there was no secret message waiting for him. Just a solid handshake with a former teacher who could melt into the night. “I’m going to take off. Get some paperwork done before I save this punk I know from getting his skinny ass killed.”
“You’re the coolest teacher I ever had,” Frank said.
“Don’t call me a teacher, asshole,” Brian said, moving back. His body disappeared when he stepped over the threshold of the nearest shadow, but his voice came out of the air as clearly as it had when he’d been standing right next to Frank.
“And stop swearing. You kiss your mother with that mouth?”