The Evolution Index 6/7
Unfortunately, Frank didn’t have cool teleportation powers or superspeed or a car. He had to take the El to get back home like all the other ordinary Joes. Somehow, his tickets had managed to get themselves squished into the farthest possible corner of his pocket, and he had to pause at the gates to fish them out before he raced up the stairs. It felt like people kept turning to stare at him, but he could see his train about to leave the station so he just sucked in his power as best as he could and ran across the platform, slipping through the doors just before they slid shut around him.
The train started to move before he was quite ready for it, and he stumbled a bit with the motion, catching himself at the last second on one of the poles that stood every few feet. He could see one empty seat but it was next to a surly-looking teenaged girl with headphones in. Frank honestly wasn’t in the mood to deal with Chicago’s hormonal youths so he just leaned up against his poles and settled himself in for the long ride. He still had to take a fucking bus before he could get home, where he had clean clothes and hopefully enough warm water for a bath unless Gerard or Mikey had decided to take one of their bi-monthly showers.
He sniffed, letting his head tilt back to rest on the pole. The cool metal felt good on the back of his head, which felt like it was going to be bruised for days. Ray would heal it for him though; the man was pretty good when it came to head wounds and other potentially life-threatening injuries.
The gentle motions of the train were soothingly familiar, and Frank let himself sink into the routine as he finally cast his power and eyes around. A few people seemed to be staring at him, but he ignored the grownups when a little girl across the aisle from him caught his eye. Her green eyes were wide where they peeked out from beneath the brim of her pink toque. She was wearing matching pink mitts and had a fluffy winter coat that was zipped right up to her chin.
Frank smiled at her, and her eyes widened even more. Her mom, sitting next to her, seemed to be engrossed in the novel she was reading, and the girl glanced up at her mom before looking back at Frank.
Why did she look so scared? Frank frowned for a moment when someone tapped on his shoulder. It was a woman who couldn’t have been much older than Frank. Her blonde hair was braided down her back and it looked like she was holding something out to him. A tissue?
She must have sensed that he was confused from the way he was staring at the tissue like a moron, because she cleared her throat and gestured to her own face. “You’ve got a little something,” she said.
“Where?” Frank asked, accepting the tissue. He glanced to his right, at his reflection in the small window in the door, and almost dropped the tissue. “Oh shit,” he said, poking at his nose and the dried blood smeared around most of his face. He’d completely forgotten about his broken nose after the pain had receded from “Holy shit my nose” to “Hey asshole, you’ve got a giant bruise coming, maybe try ducking next time like an actual professional fucking spy”.
“Yeah, shit,” the lady said. “Did the other guy look worse, at least?”
Frank eyed the tissue in dismay. No way was this flimsy bit of half paper going to get rid of any significant amount of blood, but at least most of it seemed to be dried enough to be flaking away now. He scrubbed as best as he could and stuffed the crumpled tissue into the pockets of his pants. “Uh, no,” he said, rubbing the back of his neck self-consciously. “The other guy’s as handsome a jackass as ever.”
“Sucks,” she said. “I’m Jenny, by the way.” Her smile was kind, and her eyes were really pretty. Kind of like Gerard’s.
“I’m Frank,” Frank said, without even thinking. Fuck, there went his entire secret identity. Brian was right; he was really obvious.
“And you work at Starbucks,” she said. “That’s cool. I love coffee.”
“Yeah, me too,” Frank said. “They don’t let me drink it though, they say I’ve got enough energy as it is.”
“What do you do with all the free coffee you take home, then?” she asked, tilting her head to the side. She looked really nice, and really, if Frank wasn’t a superhuman freak and if he didn’t have other superhuman freaks waiting for him back at home, he might have asked her for her number.
“My boyfriend drinks most of it,” he said instead, smiling sadly when her face fell.
“Of course,” she sighed. “Just when you think you’ve found the one straight guy on the train, huh?”
Frank grimaced. “Don’t get one with an overly protective brother, that’s all I’m saying. Hey though, come on down to the shop on fourth and I’ll hook you up, one of our baristas is totally single and totally straight. Also, he’s quite the looker.”
Jenny laughed, her eyes twinkling. “Sure,” she said. “Sounds good. Thanks, Frank.”
“No problem,” he said. “Thanks for the tissue.”
“Any time.” Jenny nodded when the train slowed to a halt and smiled at Frank again. “You want me to throw it out for you?”
“What, the bloody tissue?” Frank said. “I am not super comfortable handing my blood off to strangers. Also this is my stop, I’ll just do it. See you later, yeah?”
He hopped off the train before the doors could close and waved goodbye before running down the steps. One more bus and then he’d be home, just one more bus, one more.
“Son of a...” Frank grunted, trying to get his keys out of his pocket. Somehow, everything seemed to get lost in these pants. It was like they were a black hole for all of his valuables. “...motherfucking...aha!” He finally found them and fished them out triumphantly. When he looked up to put the key in, he caught sight of one of their neighbours, a mother with a little six-year-old boy. They were standing next to their apartment door, and the woman’s eyes were wide with shock. “Uh, nutcracker,” Frank said, laughing nervously. “I meant. Son of a nutcracker.”
He pushed his key into the lock and slipped inside as quickly as he could. In the background, he could hear the little boy saying, “Mommy, what’s a motherfu--”.
Whatever. He wasn’t going to worry about it. It wasn’t his kid.
He locked the door behind him and leaned back on the wood before he let out the breath he’d been holding for two days, the tenseness in his shoulders partially disappearing now that he was within these safe walls.
He was finally home.
He made it all the way into the living room before something came flying at him. Instead of getting tackled again, Frank threw up a shield and braced himself behind it a second before the thing could make contact. The loud CRASH that ensued made him blink and look down at the now-broken vase. While he was momentarily distracted by the pottery, Mikeyway caught him around the middle and tackled him to the floor.
“You stupid fucking asshole,” Mikey shouted, using all of his lanky limbs to keep Frank pinned to the floor. His eyes looked red behind his glasses, but Frank just twisted beneath him, trying to escape. “What the fuck were you thinking, Frank?!”
“I was just walking home!” Frank snapped. He swore when the threads of the carpet seemed to dig in to the open fucking wound at the back of his head.
“So you weren’t thinking, is that it?” Mikey said, blinking furiously. He released Frank’s wrists so he could take a swing at Frank’s face. Even though his hands weren’t holding him down, Mikey must have been using telepathy to keep him in place because it was all Frank could do to flinch away from Mikey’s fist connecting with his cheek.
“Enough!” Frank shouted. “Get the fuck off me! I’ve had enough of people hitting me in the face for a fucking month. Goddamn!”
“And you couldn’t have CALLED?” Mikey shouted. He reached down and pinched Frank’s sensitive nose tight until tears sprung up at the corners of Frank’s eyes. “You had us so fucking worried and you couldn’t even send a fucking text message? Your phone is in your pocket, shithead!”
“I was battling a motherfucking concussion, asshole!” Frank shouted back, tugging against the invisible restraints Mikey had on his arms. The man was still pinning his legs down like they were twelve. “He slipped through my defenses, I didn’t fucking know he was coming!”
“No he didn’t.”
Frank stopped struggling to look up at the door to their bedroom, where Gerard was standing. His arms were folded across his chest and he looked pissed. “Fucking what?” Frank asked the mad, upside-down Gerard.
“He didn’t slip through your defenses,” Gerard said, dangerous and calm. “Your defenses were down.”
Frank blinked. Mikey let his arms go free and he twisted to face Gerard. “I --”
“Don’t even fucking start,” Gerard hissed. “You had a shield ready when that vase came at you, but you fucking dropped your shield the second after. What the fuck, Frank?”
Frank blinked and looked from Mikey to Gerard. “Yeah, but. Mikey’s...”
“What? Telepathic?” Gerard demanded. “In the familiarity of your home? A dog? What. Which one of these things is something that our enemy won’t have, Frank?”
Frank pushed Mikey the rest of the way off him and scrambled to his feet. “Brian called you,” he said.
Gerard snorted. “He wouldn’t have had to if you weren’t a defenseless moron.”
“Gerard,” Frank said, swiping at his nose with the back of his hand. “I, look, I was having a bad day, I just --”
“Yeah, you were,” Gerard muttered. “And next time you have a bad day and you let down your guard, you’ll end up dead. You’re lucky that this time you knew your kidnappers. I wouldn’t count on this happening again.”
Frank noticed, when he scanned Gerard’s face, that not only were the older man’s eyes bloodshot like Mikey’s, but they were rimmed in red, and there were bags beneath them. Fuck, none of them had gotten any sleep the night before.
“I didn’t have a phone,” Frank said, his shoulders slouching together. “And they put me under with something, I didn’t --”
“Save your excuses,” Gerard said. His face was shut down as he held up a hand. “I don’t want to hear them.”
“Look, I got out, okay,” Frank said. “I’m fine.”
Gerard pursed his lips and nodded. “You’re a mess,” he said. His eyes flat when he offered Frank a cold, polite smile before he turned on his heel and shut the door to their bedroom behind him.
Frank ran a hand through his hair and squinted his eyes shut. He would have pinched the bridge of his nose, but he didn’t really think that would help to relieve the pain or the headache or the heartache he was feeling right now. “Fuck,” he muttered.
“He’s right,” Mikey said.
“I fucking know that,” Frank muttered darkly, toeing at the broken vase. He turned around, not ready to meet Mikey’s eyes just yet, but wanting to at least be facing the man. “It’s just, it’s really fucking hard. Working all day and keeping my mental shields up and scanning everyone who comes in and watching the building across the street and keeping my power in check and keeping this all up all the way until I’m here and I’ve checked the whole room for bugs and to make sure you guys are still here, and it just fucking sucks that on top of that, this whole thing was pretty much my fault.”
“Completely your fault,” Mikey said.
“Yeah,” Frank said. “I fucking know already. I know I’m a shitty-ass spy. I can’t even keep a fucking mental blockade up for one fucking day, right?”
“Well. At least you didn’t break cover,” Mikey said. Without even pausing to blink, he groaned. “Oh, motherfucker. You told them, Frank? Are you fucking serious?”
Frank rubbed the back of his neck. It was Tom. Mikey didn’t understand. It was behind a brick wall and Mikey didn’t understand. “Uh. Yeah,” he said. “They’re. I think they could be an asset. You know?”
Mikey knew. Even if he couldn’t ever completely get it. “You’re such a fuckass,” Mikey muttered. And then, “Gross.”
“I call this one’s your fault,” Frank said, because he certainly wasn’t offended by the image of Gerard bending over naked. “That was a vivid visual prompt.”
“One day I am going to go in your brain and beat you senseless,” Mikey muttered. “Fuck, about your head, Ray’ll be home soon. He went out because we were low on poptarts.”
“You are five,” Frank informed him.
“I know,” Mikey said.
“I’m living with a five year old,” Frank said. He shook his head and crouched down, picking the large fragments of pottery out of the carpet. “Come on, let’s clean this up before stick-in-the-ass tells us we live in a pigsty.”
“Ray really is a clean-narc,” Mikey agreed. “Sometimes I wear his shirts just to spite him. After not showering for a week.”
“Gross,” Frank said, laughing.
“Yeah, well, c’est la vie,” Mikey said, a ghost of a grin tugging at his mouth. He disappeared into the kitchen with his handful of pottery scraps and brought the garbage bin back with him.
Frank sat back, flicking at the small shreds of debris. “Shit.”
“We have a vacuum, dude,” Mikey muttered.
“I’m not. Not complaining about this,” Frank sighed, throwing a piece of vase halfheartedly in the direction of the garbage.
Mikey’s forehead wrinkled and he nodded. “I know,” he muttered.
“It’s just, this job,” Frank said. “Not the Starbucks one.”
Mikey picked at the carpet. “Yeah. It’s hard, sometimes.”
“But it’s...it’s all I know. And I want to help,” Frank said. “I want to help the world.”
“We need a vacation,” Mikey said. “Some time off. Somewhere far away, where nobody is coming after us...or you.”
“Yeah, fuck. Why do they want me, anyway? I mean, I get that I supposedly have a ton of power or whatever, but...”
“You’re dangerous,” Mikey said. “Look, just. Ask Gerard about it. He explains it better.”
Frank blinked at Mikey, who blinked back, owlish like he was still wearing his glasses even though he’d been on contacts for a year. “Don’t think you’re nothing though, okay?”
“Okay,” Frank said.
Mikey shrugged. “This’ll be over eventually.”
“But how do you know that?” Frank asked. “What if it’s never over? What if I have to be on like this for the rest of my fucking life? It gets easier every day, but sometimes it’s just too hard, too much, too everything.”
“Dude,” Mikey said, holding up a hand. “Which one of us is the telepath? I think I know what I’m talking about. Anyway, you’re you. You’ll take these guys down. It’ll happen. Sooner or later, it’ll happen, and then we can go to, I dunno. Fucking Nice or the Carribean or something.”
“Right. Nice, France,” Frank said. “The world’s premier vacation hotspot.”
“Shut up,” Mikey muttered. “Now go apologize to my asshole brother, asshole.”
Frank fidgeted with the sleeve of his shirt. “I have a fucking concussion, you’d think I’d get a little slack around here.”
“He’s not mad,” Mikey said. “Well. He is. But he’s also scared. Don’t tell him I said that. Don’t tell him anything until I’m gone. I’m going to the store to find Ray, you have half an hour to be gross. No more.”
Frank twisted his lips and debated against flashing an image in his mind, but Mikey waved his hands in front of his face.
“Stop! We have to practice your telepathy blocking when I get back, so you can’t just project like that. Go away, dickbrain.”
Frank giggled, more at the word dickbrain than how the word was actually quite an accurate summation of his mind, which made Mikey roll his eyes and march out the door. “Dickbrain,” Frank muttered, giggling again as he picked up the last of the vase and brushed off his hands. They’d have to break out the vacuum sooner or later, but Frank was pretty sure he could con Ray into doing the task for him.
Now, though...it was time to face the music. Or awful, horrible silence of Gerard being equal parts mad and disappointed at Frank for getting fucking kidnapped. He had to take a pretty deep breath before going down the hall to their bedroom, where he knocked on the frame before entering.
“Go away,” Gerard muttered. He was curled up on the bed in the smallest ball possible. “I have nothing to say to you.”
“No,” Gerard said. “I mean it. Shut the fuck up.”
Frank stared at Gerard, who had turned just enough so he could glare at Frank. It wasn’t even his I’m-kidding-let’s-make-up-in-a-few-hours glare. It was full on, sucker punch to the gut, you-betrayed-me.
“No,” Frank said. “I fucked up, and we’re going to talk about it. Like adults.”
Gerard snorted. “You’re just a fucking kid with a lot of power, there’s no way we can talk about this like adults.”
Frank couldn’t help it. A laugh bubbled out past his lips, filling the room and wrapping itself around Gerard’s disgusted face. “Are you fucking kidding me?” Frank asked. “A kid? I haven’t been a kid for about twenty years now, Gee. I didn’t have the luxury of playing like you and Mikey did. You always think I’m so cava-fucking-lier about things, like when I told you I was ready to join your spy team and you fucking shot me down because you thought I couldn’t take care of myself. I was ready to die for you, Gerard. You think I just walk around with a fucking deathwish? I kind of do. I thought I was done for that first winter when I was on the streets. And I know how lucky I am to have you and this life, this, everything we’ve built together. And I fucked up and if the people who took me hadn’t been my friends, I’d be dead now. But I can only do so much, and you know that. I try my fucking hardest to stay alive but I’m not perfect. One day I’m going to get taken or killed and you know what, maybe one day it’ll be you and I’ll be the one left behind. That’s the job. That’s the life we’re in. You just have to accept that.”
“I --” Gerard looked taken aback, and he swallowed. “I’m not ready to forgive you. I’m still your boss and this whole, everything we do, Frankie, it’s part of the job. So if you can’t perform or if you get compromised, we all do. I should take you off missions for a fucking month, suspend you or something for getting taken.”
“So do,” Frank said.
“Why, so you can get fucking kidnapped from beneath our noses? No fucking thank you,” Gerard said. “Do you have any idea how fucking powerful you are? How many people are after you?”
“If I did, I’d probably flip the fuck out,” Frank said. “Best I don’t know.”
Gerard snorted. “Yeah, you would.”
Frank smiled. “Look, I know we’re not going to be okay right now and I’ll have to be on my top game from here on out and if I’m not you’ll kick me out, but I still fucking love you, okay?”
“Don’t use that as an excuse,” Gerard said.
“I’m not,” Frank said. “I’m just saying it because I fucking like saying it and I fucking love you.”
Gerard nodded. “Okay. I’m not going to say it back.”
Frank smiled when Gerard didn’t exactly glare at him. “Probably best that way.”