Not so long before the Crocell Fight
Jared stood in the elevator, holding Kizzy’s hand. He was wearing his costume, without the helmet and gloves, while she was wearing one of her favorite outfits, a red and white sweater dress with a built-in hood, white pantyhose and equally red-and-white sneakers that were so clean, they looked to be brand new. Her blonde hair was done up in a complex arrangement of loops and braids that their step mother had had way too much fun working on, framing her freshly scrubbed face, with just a little lip gloss to add an accent.
He’d just slicked his hair back with some gel, as he usually did. The style carefully chosen and maintained, but only requiring minuscule effort to do so, unlike Kizzy’s ever-changing, ever-evolving looks.
Her grip on his hand tightened as the elevator approached the Junior’s common level, though even if she’d put her all into it, she could never have achieved anything remotely sufficient to even discomfort him.
„Are you nervous?“ he asked, doing his best to sound casual, rather than concerned.
She looked up at him like he’d just grown a second head. „Of course I’m nervous, Jar Jar! How can you not be? We’re going to meet the princess of pop! THE Polymnia! The one who made ‚Armaterrium‘ and ‚Cascade of Moonglow‘ and, and, and are you laughing at me?“ She pouted, glaring upwards at him.
It was freaking adorable. Moreover, it was… it was heartwarming in a way he’d have trouble putting into words, if he’d even ever tried.
After a whole year of not talking, barely making a sound except to scream, she’d finally, finally started to recover. Now she mostly behaved like a normal girl again. More restrained and quiet than she’d used to be, but still, worlds ahead of where she’d been for the first year after their parents‘ death.
The team had helped, a great deal. Particularly Bismuth, who’d taken a particular interest in the situation and had made a point of building a relationship with her. She’d involved her in stuff Jared could not for the life of him figure out how to do right, like taking her on one of those overly elaborate and stupidly over-plotted shopping sprees she tended to organize once a month, and other stupidly girly stuff that Kizzy seemed to just adore.
Whatever makes her happy again. Even if it drives me insane.
The elevator stopped and let them out into the antechamber, of sorts, to the Junior’s lounge. Just a small, oval room leading to a sliding double door, for visitors to wait in case the Juniors had to put masks on (or do some last-minute cleanup, a task which usually fell on Jared, for obvious reasons, or lately also the Princess, for equally obvious ones).
Not that it was an issue here. Kizzy already knew nearly everyone on the team by name, excluding Kitty (whom rarely wore her own face anyway), Osore (who didn’t care), the Princess (she didn’t have a secret identity anyway) and Jugs, whom had agreed to unmask to her.
“You ready, Kizzy?” he asked, barely able to keep acting cool now that they were so close to springing the surprise.
“Yesssss!” she replied, nodding her head like only younger kids could, like there was less bone and more rubber in their necks. “Best Birthday Present!” she added, looking up at him with shining eyes.
Agh, so adorable! he thought, but just grinned. “Well, let’s not keep her waiting, she is kind of a busy person.”
Which was an understatement. Sometimes he wondered whether that girl would get out of her lab at all, outside of going out in costume, if it wasn’t for the Princess or the Buttboy dragging her out for this or that.
And he’d thought a Contriver like the Buttboy was obsessive about his work…
“Yes, let’s!” She gave that boneless nod again, eyes fastened on the door.
Time to shine.
He kicked his power into effect, adding the whole nine seconds he’d trained his power up to be capable of onto each second that passed.
The world beyond his immediate surroundings blurred, as if his eyes were bad again, and he wasn’t wearing his helmet to have the visor counteract the effect, but it didn’t matter.
He’d made sure that Kizzy wasn’t gripping tightly onto his fingers, as otherwise, he’d have been stuck – each second he added cut down the effect he could have on the world outside his power, and the effect the world had on him. Add one second, cut it down to half. Two seconds, and it’s cut down to a third.
Nine seconds, and he only had one tenth of the effect he ought to have on the world – and was protected from nine tenths himself.
Sliding his hand out of Kizzy’s, he sauntered forward and touched the doors, pushing more seconds from his store into them, to bring them up to his time and be able to affect them normally.
He opened them, one after the other, immediately releasing them from his power, so as not to waste precious seconds on them. The room beyond was decorated all over with streamers, balloons and a huge banner saying ‘HAPPY BIRTHDAY, KIZZY!’ in rainbow-colored, glitter-covered letters.
The others were all lined up, in costume but with their masks off (save for the princess, whom didn’t wear one anyway), already poised to cheer; Melody stood in the center, arms spread wide, an infectuous smile on her face, in just those skintight pink pieces she wore under her power armor, basically an athletic crop top and biker shorts, as well as a pair thigh-high pink socks and blue shoes.
Damn, she looks good.
He often wished his power would let him stop time for real, so he could just walk over and take a closer look, freely, but unfortunately, they’d still see him move as a blur, and…
Well, he had to stick to subtler ways of using his power to oogle the ladies, when he bothered to hide it behind his power at all.
Anyway, today’s not the day for that, dear hormones.
He sighed, jogging over to his team and taking up the empty spot to the left and slightly in front of the songstress, dropping down on one knee, gesturing at her with both hands in a theatric fashion, finally taking a deep breath before he allowed time to resume.
“HAPPY BIRTHDAY, KIZZY!” everyone shouted, except for Osore, whom just said it in his usual deadpan tone.
Still, it all but bowled Kizzy over.
Half an hour later, Jared was leaning against the wall, a chilled bottle of root beer in hand, watching and listening as Melody played a song she hadn’t yet released for the wide-eyed, slack-jawed Kizzy perched atop Bakeneko, whom looked like an over-sized, rainbow-furred unicorn-cat.
The song was pretty nice, even if he preferred music with lyrics and a beat.
He was so absorbed in watching and listening, he didn’t immediately notice it when the princess slid, literally slid over to lean against the wall next to him, nursing a glass of fizzy cherry juice.
Like always, he felt both excited and nervous at her proximity. On one hand, she really, truly, was the prettiest girl he’d ever seen, and that skintight bodysuit she always wore, though thicker than was usual, did little to hide and a lot to emphasize it. She’d told them about her power, how it worked, how it had aged her up and matured her, in body and mind, then frozen her for years, then given her another growth spurt, then kept her prepubescent for years again… and so on, point being that her power had literally reshaped and refined her appearance from day one.
Jared hadn’t said so out loud, but he quietly disagreed. He wasn’t anywhere near as smart as the princess, or jugs, or even buttboy and boss man (Jury was still out on Osore, but he was at least sure he was smarter than the kitty), but God damn it, he was a dedicated student of the female form, and he’d always paid particular attention to female Adonises (and wasn’t he glad that they now had a new term for that, calling females Adonises was weird), so he knew all the signs of an Adonis power’s effect. There were always tells, that let him pick out whom was beautiful due to their power and whom was merely naturally gorgeous with near-perfect accuracy – he’d even caught a supervillainess once, that way, when he’d realized the hottie whose butt and legs he’d been oogling also had a too-perfect face, and…
Well, it was mostly in the face. And he could tell, looking at the princess’ face, that she was most likely just plain that pretty. For one, she looked almost exactly like her mother, to the point where the two of them could probably pass for twins, with some hair dye, or at least as siblings rather than mother and daughter and oh god the images that conjoured in his head quick think of baseball, think of baseball.
He blinked, averting his eyes from her, almost missing the knowing smile on her lips.
Point being, there was precedent for beauty in her family (even if no one knew what the Dark looked like, there were pictures of his mother, and his sisters, and of Lady Light’s mother, and of course of Lady Light herself, so…
That was strike one against that theory.
Strike two was that her face was interesting. The faces of Adonises, particularly female ones, could get kind of… repetitive, even with racial differences in the mix. The same ideals were applied to them all. It wasn’t like they were always perfect, but… close enough.
The princess’s face was not quite so ideal. Her lower lip was a little too thick, her mouth just a touch too wide, her eyes just a hair too big, her cheeks not quite full enough. Tiny imperfections which actually made her look even better than most Adonises, because one’s eyes would get hung up on them, instead of just passing over her face. Drawing attention and interest.
Especially those lips. God damn do I wish I could kiss them…
He realized that his eyes had drifted over to her again, to her lips in particular. Which turned up at the corners in a smirk.
“Having naughty thoughts again, Beach Boy?” she asked with more amusement in her voice than on her face, which was blushing lightly.
“Can you blame me? I never said I had an issue with your appearance,” he replied, a little more caustically than he’d intended to in is effort to cover up his own embarrassment.
“Nah,” she said with a shrug, which of course drew his eyes downwards for a few precious moments. “I’m used to it. There’s like, four boys in our age range that I’ve met who’ve never oogled me, and two of them are gay.” She nodded towards said couple, whom were cuddled up on a couch and enjoying
“Four?” His eyes felt like they were going to pop out of his skull. He looked her up and down, from head to toe, with as meaningful a look as he could muster. “And only two of them are gay? Who’re the other two, Eunuchs?”
She blushed, rather adorably he had to say, looking away. “B-brennus and Os- Goudo.”
His eyes snapped over to the tall Japanese boy – almost a guy, really, he was going to be eighteen soon – standing behind the festivities, watching without watching, completely expressionless while he wore a red, white and blue party hat not unlike Jared’s own (even the princess wore one, though he’d missed it at first as his eyes had been focused… lower) and just… stood there, with about as much motion about him as a stone statue, holding a tray with drinks and snacks up within easy reach of his girlfriend and Kizzy.
Jared could totally buy that he wouldn’t show any reaction to the princess, even if she were to walk around stark naked.
The princess… stark naked…
A sharp snap of black-clad fingers in front of his eyes pulled him out of Heaven and back onto the cold, dreary Earth.
“Earth to Beach Boy! You’ve literally started to drool,” she admonished him, sounding half annoyed and half amused.
“Uh, uhm… sorry. Uh. You didn’t…” He looked at her, worriedly. They’d already established that she could simply follow along into his time dillation, so if she got pissed, there’d be nothing at all he could do to get away.
“No, I didn’t look. I don’t want to know, though I can imagine what kind of thought got you distracted,” she explained, while he wiped the drool off of his chin.
“W-well… anyway, uh… I guess I can totally buy Goudo acting like that… but Brennus, too? Are the hotties he hangs out with enough for him, or what?”
She giggled, at that, hiding it behind taking a sip of cherry juice from her glass. “Actually, according to Tyche, he won’t even look at her, even when she’s trying to get his attention by prancing around their base in the nude. He just tells her to put some clothes on.”
The sight of the red juice on her lips, and then her tongue licking it off, distracted him thoroughly enough that it took a few seconds for those words to register to him.
“Wait, what!? Is he a robot, or what?” he asked, incredulous, as he imagined that red-headed hottie Tyche trying to get his attention by going around in the nude…
She wouldn’t really have to try.
“No, he’s flesh and blood,” she replied, flatly. “Maybe some guys can control themselves, eh, eh?” She poked his side with her elbow, playfully.
He could only snort in response. “Yeah, no. Maybe there’s one guy out there whom can do it, but two, and in the same city? There ain’t no odds steep enough to describe how unlikely that is.”
She leaned away from him again, raising her glass. “How do you explain that we have two of them around, then?”
“Osore’s clearly secretly a robot built by Brennus to infiltrate the UH,” he stated, just as she was taking a sip of juice.
Irene sputtered something between a laugh and a groan, as cherry-red juice shot out of her lips and nose, and onto her costume’s top.
“Oh God that hurrrrrrrtssss!” she complained, raising a hand to her nose, as the fizzy liquid dripped out of it.
Jared couldn’t hold it in, he started to laugh at the sight as she shook her head like a wet dog, silky black hair whipping this way and that.
Then her power kicked in, and an odd distortion started at her head and travelled downward, distorting any parts it travelled over slightly, as if one was looking at them as a magnifying glass went over, drawing the juice away from her lower face and out of her nose.
The effect travelled downwards, distorting and unraveling the part of her cloak that was clasped around her throat, pulling the juice right out, drop by drop, from among the threads, then it travelled downward (along with Jared’s eyes), unravelling the portion above her chest, giving him the briefest glimpse of her… assets… as well as something glimmering between.
Before the effect could travel further downward and reveal them in full, though, it finished its work and dissipated, taking the juice along to nowhere.
This time, the princess blushed properly, wrapping her arms around her ample charms.
“You know, you could at least pretend not to stare, sometimes,” she complained with the cutest pout and glower this side of Kizzy.
“Naaah,” he replied with his best shit-eating grin. He was going to enjoy this memory for a long time.
She grumbled in response, pulling out her small canister of pills, popping one of them, then a second one right after, and washing them down with a more careful sip of juice. “You have no shame at all, do you?”
“Oh, I have plenty of shame all around, just not when it comes to appreciating the fair sex,” was his answer to that question.
This time, she could only roll her eyes. She didn’t leave, though, and it wasn’t like she had to hang out around him, so he figured she either wanted something, or else he wasn’t being too much of a jerk.
“So, speaking of stuff I just saw…”
“If you make a crack about my breasts, I will turn you into a guinea pig, wrap you up and give you to your sister as her new pet,” she threatend him with a glare.
He raised his hands in a placating gesture. “Never. Your boobs are perfect, what is there to joke about?” That got him another blush.
“So are Melody’s, and you constantly tease her.“
“She’s a fourteen-year-old with size G’s bordering on H, there is a LOT to make fun of,” he defended his humor. “You’re a B+ to C-, there’s really nothing to say there other than that they look just perfect.”
Her blush was getting positively fluorescent now. “How the fudge do you know our sizes? Have you been going through our underwear drawyers or what?!”
“You don’t have an underwear drawyer I could go through, on account of the fact that you don’t wear underwear, which, by the way, I completely approve of.” He gave her a double thumbs-up. “I wouldn’t need to anyway, though; I’m a devoted student of the female form and my uncle taught me long since how to tell any woman’s sizes at a glance.”
“Your uncle sounds like a perv.”
“That’s because he was a super-perv, by his own admission,” he shot back with a wistful smile.
She deflated again, probably putting together why he was speaking of him in the past tense.
So he pressed on in order to distract her, before things could get uncomfortable. “Aaaa-ny-way, what I meant to say is, I saw the one thing you do wear under that costume. Is that just for show, or are you actually a believer?” he asked her, in a much softer tone of voice.
“Oh. Um… yeah. I mean… it’s complicated, but… I do believe in something. Just not entirely sure what, exactly,” she explained. “Not sure how much I believe, either. But I like the teachings – care for others, don’t get hung up on the short term – and I like the music.”
“Can I see it?” he asked curiously.
She nodded, pulling on the collar of her costume to reach within. This time, he did avert his eyes, not that he could’ve seen much.
Taking the thin, golden chain off her neck, she held it out to him, and he picked up the small cross, looking at it on the palm of his hand.
It was only about as long as half his middle finger, and apparently wrought out of pure gold, three strands of the metal wound around each other in an elaborate pattern, tightly, forming the cross like a living tree that’d been shaped as it grew; it held a single jewel at its center, a tiny sapphire of the exact same shade as her eyes. The chain was much simpler in design, yet no less delicately worked.
“This is gorgeous,” he spoke, in awe at the artistry. “Where’d you get it?” He handed the precious jewelry back to her, and she put it on again.
“Dad made it for me,” she explained softly. “It’s a family tradition – every male Goldschmidt is supposed to know how to work gold, so when he was young, he spent a week learning it from his father and mastering it.”
“That’s… an interesting tradition. Though I guess it is in the name, and all,” he observed, quietly, as always feeling rather weird to talk about the freaking King of Supervillains like he was just another dad, or hearing her talk about him that way.
She nodded. “I’m not really a Goldschmidt, nor a boy, but I’ll learn it, too, once I can figure out how to practice it without my power just giving me the skill.”
“Cool,” he replied simply, handing it back to her.
“What about you?”
He drank from his cup, looking away to focus on the festivities. Kizzy was still listening to the music, looking just ecstatic.
“My parents used to send me to Sunday school every week, after making me sit through the service. I hated it. So many of my friends didn’t have religious families and got to hang out and play, and I had to study the bible and listen to that boring old priest talk about God and Jesus and stuff.”
The words summoned memories, of the room sunday school had taken place in, a room in the old community center that’d been built right next to the church. Red brick walls, red tile floor, wooden chairs with aged cushions that were sat through so thoroughly, they may as well have sat directly on the wood, and Father Maximillian, one of the most boring people he’d ever known, with those horrible horn-rimmed glasses, droning on and on about stuff.
“Then came… well, you know. Your sister,” he continued, trying not to be biting about it for once. She still flinched at the mention. “And I guess if I wanted to fulfill every stereotype, I could take that either as confirmation that God didn’t exist after all because why would he allow it, or it was God’s will, or… whatever… I still prayed, for Kizzy’s sake, even though I didn’t and don’t believe. She’s better now, though, so…”
He shook his head, interrupting his rambling. The princess’s eyes were focused quite intently on him, for a change, rather than the other way around, and he just knew she was taking it in in detail, rather than just acting like she was listening.
“Anyway… dunno,” he summed up his feelings on the matter. “How do you do it? Believe? Why do you think it makes sense?”
She shrugged, and then smiled at him, and it was the most beautiful smile he’d ever seen, short of Kizzy’s every one, of course.
“I don’t know. But if I ever do figure out God and Faith and all those things, I’ll be sure to tell you.”
He snorted. “Well, you’re way brainier than me – maybe you will figure it out.”
“That’s so nice of you to say.” She actually batted her eyelashes at him.
They fell quiet again, both of them focusing on and enjoying the performance.
Well, she might have been. Jared himself felt… contemplative. There was a question at the tip of his tongue, and he kind of didn’t want to ask it. Didn’t want to spoil the mood, because damn it, she could be such good company and this wasn’t supposed to be a heavy kind of day.
He turned, a little surprised she’d actually use his name.
She smiled, wrily, at him. “I don’t need superpowers to tell you’re bothered by something, so out with it,” she told him.
Well… might as well…
“So,” he temporized, taking a deep breath. “You’re… kind of Christian. You believe in the lessons it teaches and all.” She nodded. “And you’re, quite obviously, a superhero,” he continued, turning his head away to seemingly watch the show, though he wasn’t really paying attention to it. She nodded again. “So, um… and I guess, feel free to tell me to fuck off, but… how does that work… with your Dad?” He looked at her out of the corner of his eyes.
“Ah…” Her shoulders slumped, her usually flawless posture gone. With her head lowered, her fine black hair hid her facial expression from him, like a black curtain, though he was pretty sure it wasn’t a happy one. “It’s… complicated. I mean… he’s still my dad, you know? I know he’s done horrible things… and he still does pretty bad things… though everyone always tells me he’s been much nicer and way less villainish since I was born… but I don’t want to use that as an excuse, like I’m being nice to him just to keep him on the straight and narrow-ish… but… you know…”
It was kind of cute how she flailed to find the right words, even if the subject matter was heavy.
“I think, what it comes down to, is two things. One is, and it’s not a good thing, but it’s a true thing, he’s never been evil to me or in front of me, not really. Not beyond being a really annoying jerk prone to pranks and poking people until they snap. Everyone always tells me what a horrible monster he’s been, and still can be, but it doesn’t feel real, you know? It doesn’t match my lived experience, and while he and mom are probably the only people whom can interact with me on a regular basis and still keep secrets from me, I’m not blind, and I’m not stupid, so… yeah. Doesn’t feel real.”
She stopped, after that torrent of words, her breathing a little sped up, while he digested her words.
“Also, um, as a side note, quite a few of the people who’ve warned me against him have done it right to his face – but if he really was so bad, would they actually dare? Even if he wouldn’t lash out at them while I was around, if he really was so petty and monstrous, wouldn’t he track them down after? It’s not like I’m, surveilling him all the time, or even some of the time, really. But they’re still around.”
“That… hm. Dunno. But I gotta say, it takes cojones of solid uranium or something, to say such things in front of the Dark,” he said with a slightly exaggerated shudder.
“He really isn’t so bad… when you get down to it, past all the masks and names and stuff, he’s just big, goofy nerd,” she replied, with an annoyed pout, arms crossed again.
Yeah, I’m pretty sure no one else’s lived experience matches yours, in regards to him, he thought, but didn’t say, and he kept it off his face as well as he could.
“What’s the second reason?” he asked, instead.
“Whether or not my presence in his life makes him a nicer person, the simple truth is that if I removed him from my life, opposed him, I’d relinquish any influence upon him I do or might yet have,” she said, in a much more collected manner, only to flounder again on the next part. “I don’t… I mean, it might be arrogant of me to say so, but… I’m kind of hoping… I wish… it could be possible to…”
“Redeem him?” he finished the sentence for her, causing her to blush and nod. “Redeem the Dark?”
“It’s arrogant, I know, maybe even hubris… there’s no one he cares about, or for, nearly as much as mom, not even me, even if they both try to claim otherwise, and even she hasn’t been able to, but,” she gulped, swallowed, “maybe, if I add my own efforts to it… even if neither of them will tell me what drove him to be a villain in the first place… maybe it’ll finally be enough? Isn’t that… a good reason?” Her voice was barely a whisper by the final bit.
Fuck, she sounds so young. Easy to forget she’s only Kizzy’s age, no matter the power shenanigans involved.
“Um, don’t take this the wrong way, but all things considered, I think your dad’s a pretty bad person, even if he’s a good dad to you,” he answered, after a minute of thinking it over. Also, fuck, this is ending up heavy anyway. “Even if he’s not the worst villain out there… I know there’s even worse… he’s still pretty bad. Anyone else who’d done half as much as he has, they’d be executed for it, anywhere on the planet… and man, I’d promised myself I wouldn’t be a jerk to you today,” he finished, as he saw her shrink into herself (figuratively, not literally… this time). “Sorry. Shutting up now.”
“If that is the right thing to do… then I can’t do it. Ever,” she said, softly, her eyes seemingly aimed at the others having fun together, though he was pretty sure she was gazing far further away.
“I, um, I never meant to say… no. No, you shouldn’t. Others sh- no, enough. I’m sorry I even brought it up,” he said, awkwardly. Mouth, insert foot here.
There was (relative) quiet for half a minute, or so, before she finally spoke again, with some mirth in her voice, even. “You know, I used to think you were just a jerk, at first. Now, I’m not sure whether you are, or whether you’re just horribly apt at repeatedly inserting your foot into your mouth.” Her eyes twinkled with amusement, looking at him.
He crossed his arms, acting offended. “I’ll have you know, I am perfectly capable of being both, at the same time even!”
She chuckled, fortunately, and he felt the tension ease. “You’re such a dork. And an ass.” Her fist lashed out, punching his shoulder.
It didn’t really hurt, and he more than deserved it.
“So, in the interest of you not being the only one that’s insensitive and asking stupid questions, may I ask you one?” she asked, raising her head up and looking at him out of the corner of her eye in a curiously bird-like motion.
He looked back, and shrugged. “It’s only fair, isn’t it?”
“One might say so. Still, feel free not to answer, if it cuts too close.”
Jared couldn’t help but roll his eyes. “C’mon, princess, out with it already. Can’t be as bad as half the stuff I’ve said just in this conversation.”
She seemed to think it over, and nodded.
“Why don’t you ever talk about your parents?” she finally voiced her question.
Alright, that actually is pretty uncomfortable.
Still, as much as it hurt to think about, and as much as he instinctively wanted to lash out over it, he owed it to her to give her a proper answer.
It would be no less than she had done, after all.
“Well… there’s a lot of reasons… it still hurts to think about them… I miss them… but, I think… the biggest reason is…” He took a deep breath, as he realized he’d never said it out loud before. Not even to his handler, nor to his psych guy. “Because I’m still so damn angry at them.”
“Angry that they died?” she asked, her voice so soft again, he barely heard it over the music.
“Yes. No.” He crossed his arms, looking up at the ceiling. “Actually, yes, but not mainly.” He held it in for a moment… then it all poured out of him in one big go. “I’m angry because they fucking knew their powers wouldn’t be able to help! They knew they’d be little better than cannon fodder!”
He puts his hands up on his head, all but pulling on his hair as his vision went blurry. “They had Kizzy! And me! They were supposed to be there for us, but instead they fought and died! When they could’ve run! When, when-“
Suddenly, he found himself enveloped in a tight hug, his face pressed against her chest, her arms holding him tightly, close to her heart. So close, he could hear, feel, her heartbeat.
His arms went around her midsection – she had to be floating to pull this off – and he clung tightly, grateful that no one had to see his tears, or hear his sobs.
An indeterminate amount of time passed, before he calmed down again, and they loosened their grip on each other.
She floated back a step, while he looked away, rubbing his face to get rid of the tears.
It seemed that no one else had noticed the whole scene, or else they were pretending marvelously not to have.
Neither Jugs, Kitty, nor the boss were that good at pretending.
He looked at the princess again, as she smiled at him in an almost motherly fashion.
“I won’t do that,” he said, still choked up. “I’ve got Kizzy to think about. When the time comes, I’ll fucking run.”