Dinner

I sit next to Twin Cities Paragon for dinner. He’s changed out of uniform, back into casual clothes, and he looks more like himself – or at least the pictures I’ve seen of him – even if his sweatshirt has our logo on it instead. His halo of curls doesn’t look any more luminescent than it did on the roof, though. He looks up from his book, gives me a slight smile, and puts it away. Our Paragon shoots either him or me a slightly dirty look, although I couldn’t give you a reason on that one (in either case).

“Good book?” I ask Paragon.

He shrugs one shoulder. “Summer reading.”

I glance at his backpack. It’s black, nondescript, and completely full. “How old are you?”

He gives me an amused smile. “Over eighteen.”

“I can probably just look you up in the database,” I threaten, brandishing my fork.

He grins. “Oh, I’m sure you have the clearance, but I’m technically a vigilante.”

I just stare at him.

“What, Minnesota’s going to say no?” He waves it off. “It’s not for anything bad, I just don’t trust your security. You can check out the newspapers. I’m clean as a whistle.”

“Yeah, because they’d report on anything you did wrong,” I say.

“You see my point,” he tells me, and digs into his salmon.

“They let an adjunct use the name,” I say, shaking my head and clucking.

“Oh, I’m a full member. Because of reasons.” He frowns slightly. “There’s precedent. And anyway, I didn’t pick it.”

“You’re a deputized vigilante,” I clarify. “Oh, this is going to end well.”

“Eh, I’m sure I’ll get unmasked soon enough,” he tells me. “Or I may just legally change my name and register. Either way. You know they don’t like that term, anymore, right?”

“Law, or extranormal history?” I ask, amused. With that kind of pedantry, I’m not surprised he wants to keep his name out of our notes.

He hesitates, then says, “biology, actually. Minor in philosophy.”

“Oh, ethics, nice.” I pry the lid off a cup of grapes. “They make you read all the old casefiles?”

“No.” Paragon stirs his mashed potatoes, drawing little designs across the top. “I did that on my own. I mean, I know I’m not formally enrolled in the program, but, I figure, I may as well learn the basics if I’m going to be capering.”

“Sure,” I say, wondering why the hell he looks so guilt-ridden. “Makes sense.”

Paragon sips his soda. “I mean, I know they let me get away with a lot more than anyone else just because they don’t have a choice, but I don’t want people signing warrants just on my say-so.”

Well, I understand that, at least. “You have the whole self-study course?”

“The official one?” He shakes his head. “Yeah, but it’s shit. It’s okay. I’ve got a tutor.”

I laugh. “I was going to give you some book recommendations, but, hey, if you’ve got it covered. You’re welcome to call me with questions. I’ve got to get used to it, anyway.”

“Oh? Are you going to be teaching the course?” He finally takes a bite of the potatoes.

“Sort of? I’m in charge of the junior version, anyway,” I explain.

“Oh, god,” he says, “I’m so happy Minnesota outlawed that.”

“Why, so kids with powers can’t get guidance?” I ask.

“More like they can’t get guidance from me,” he says, “because I don’t even know what I’d be filling their heads with, and no alternatives there, am I right? Besides, there’s always school.”

“Because the school programs did so well for you,” I say. I stab a grape.

His eyes flick from side to side. “Didn’t get my powers ’til college.”

“College,” I repeat, quietly enough that he doesn’t panic.

“I mean, don’t go spreading it around, but, yeah, I didn’t exactly grow up with them.” He shrugs.

“You’ve got the White Hat Complex, and you didn’t get it until college?” I say.

“Well, it was more of,” he says, “well, you know, someone had to take down Villain, right? One day I’m arguing ethical obligations, next day bam.”

“Oh my god,” I say. “You Kanted your way into powers.”

“That wasn’t even my argument,” he tells me, twisting the cap on his bottle back and forth. “But, I don’t know, it had to have been something like that. I woke up with them.”

“You’re kind of chatty for someone who’s afraid to even write his real name up on the board,” I say. Because, wow, maybe I’m developing a psychoactive power, instead, and wouldn’t that suck.

He laughs. “It’s not people like you I’m afraid of. It’s people like that douche, and that douche, and that douche over there.”

He doesn’t gesture at anyone in particular, but I get his sentiment. I don’t even know if he had anyone in particular in mind, except maybe Paragon.

“You ever get the feeling some of them are out to murder you?” he asks.

“What,” I say, not quite laughing, “me in particular, or everyone here, or what?”

He frowns. “I meant you in particular. With. Um.” He gestures at me.

I pat my hair down self-consciously.

He shrugs. Frowns. Avoids eye contact. “Sorry. I didn’t mean anything by it.”

I turn my attention to my food.

“I really didn’t mean it the way it sounded,” he reiterates.

“Yeah, of course not,” I say, “it’s fine. Don’t worry about it.”

“I look different, under the mask,” he says.

I just stare at him, trying to parse his hint.

“Very different,” he says, emphasizing both words. When I still don’t say anything, he adds, “it’s some stuff the AI came up with, for, you know, better keeping a secret identity.”

“You have an AI?” I ask.

He frowns. “What, you don’t?”

I shake my head.

“I thought that was probably standard equipment in State towers.” He runs a hand across the back of his neck and laughs. “Maybe just mine.”

“People have played with automation before,” I tell him. “If someone was going to implement it without exhaustive testing, it probably would’ve been a tower like yours.”

“Damn,” he says. “Are you sure they’re not just keeping it from you? The AI told me not to tell the armors, and I’ve heard you only recently turned mask…so?”

I shrug. “I’m sure there are things they’re not telling me, but you do know the clearance levels aren’t different across divisions? So…. Very good computers, but, no, not a real AI.”

“Huh,” he says. “Well, don’t pass it on. Only way I’ve been winning my fights.”

“I won’t,” I assure him, with a bit of a raised eyebrow, because at least that explains how he got so good so fast.

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Psych Eval

There’s a knock at my door. I look up, and Dr. Waters is there, leaning against the doorframe. I barely resist the urge to roll my eyes, and tidy up my desk instead.

“Got time to talk?” he asks.

I shrug. “Is it really necessary?”

“Hunch says you lost control of your powers for a minute,” he tells me.

“I didn’t lose control,” I explain, leaving my perfectly tidy desk and following him to his office, “I thought I might, so I dropped them for a minute, but I never lost control.”

“Still,” he says, waving me into a plush and disarming armchair.

“Still, what, Doctor?” I ask, sitting down and snapping on the cuff. I flex my wrist. “Do I really have to wear this?”

“Can’t be too careful,” he says, holding up a hand, “no, I know you underwent a full analysis last month, but it’s protocol, especially when we’re discussing something like this.”

“They itch, though,” I tell him.

His gaze jerks up from his notes. “Itch like –”

“Itch like they irritate my skin,” I say, “I haven’t developed any memetic abilities.”

He nods. “Well, given –”

“I know.” I fiddle with the cuff.

“Given your –”

“I know,” I repeat.

He grins at me. “Are you sure you haven’t developed an ability that tells you what I’m going to say next?”

I hold up my wrist and shake it at him.

The good doctor sighs. “Travis – would you prefer I call you ‘Teke’?”

“No,” I say, “it’s fine.”

“Alright.” He shuffles his notes into a neat pile and clasps his hands together over them. “How often are you having nightmares?”

I do roll my eyes, this time. “Not that often.”

“Are you still taking anything to sleep?” he asks.

“No,” I say, “I’m sleeping fine.”

“And if I ask Agent Donahue in here to confirm?” he asks me.

I laugh at that one. “You’ll probably get punched in the face for knowing, and, anyway, it’s been over a week, at this point.”

“Since you slept together?” he asks.

“Since we woke up together, at any rate,” I tell him.

“That must be frustrating for you,” he says, with that patronizing faux-compassionate smile.

“Not frustrating enough that I’m going to start smashing buildings into other buildings,” I drawl, “I have better emotional control than that.”

He nods, jotting something down.

“I’ve never done anything that anyone has any cause to be worried,” I remind him. “What, you want me to be like Arsenal and not even blink when I kill someone? Because that kid –”

“Is not someone I can discuss with you, even if he were my patient,” Dr. Waters remonstrates.

“- has issues. That’s all I was going to say.” I fold my arms over my chest. This guy.

“You’re welcome to speak with him yourself, of course, if that’s really what’s bothering you,” he says, “you’ve been assigned to the same patrol team, after all.”

“Oh, great, we can commiserate on how we know exactly how each other feels,” I say, “isn’t it bad enough I have to put on the mask and the cape?”

“If you have a problem with the costume design, you can have it changed,” the doctor tells me, extremely sarcastically, but at least he’s emoting honestly for once.

My fingers tap against my arm, just below the cuff.

The doctor sighs. “Are you having problems with the idea of a masked identity?”

“No shit,” I say.

“I know by now that you’re conceptually okay with it, so I won’t bother repeating the party line,” he tells me. “You do understand that the secrecy is about keeping the children safe, not hiding who you are?”

“Of course I understand that, but it’s not like I’m going to know their names or addresses, anyway,” I say. Aside from Gatling, and his parents are idiots for signing him up. Or maybe not, considering his powers, but I still would’ve gotten him to join without a paper trail, anyway.

Or maybe I’m biased because now I’m even more responsible for the little shit. No handing him off to a social worker anymore; I’ve practically got to raise him now.

On the plus side, I’ve stopped wishing he’d shoot himself. I don’t bring that up to Dr. Waters.

“I don’t think you’re ready to return to hostage crisis duties,” Dr. Waters pronounces.

I throw my hands up. “I never said I was!”

“Oh?” He checks my folder. “You made sure to recertify after your analysis.”

“Yeah, just in case, and good thing I did, too, isn’t it?” I wave my hand. “Because sometimes emergencies come up, and I need to help, and I don’t need your formal report on whether or not I’m sane to tell me I don’t want to deal with them if I don’t have to.”

He glances at my hand in amusement.

I tug at the cuff a little as I flex my fingers. “Fine. Reasonable precaution. You win.”

“I’m not trying to win, Travis.” Dr. Waters leans forward. “Do you want to talk to me about why you’re so worried over Arsenal?”

“The kid is barely college age, and he’s already killed four people,” I say.

“He didn’t die,” Dr. Waters corrects me. “He regenerated. We have him in custody, for the time being. Would you like to speak with him?”

“You know what I mean,” I say.

“You were worried Arsenal had killed a man with your help,” the doctor tells me.

I clench my hand, and relax the fist when I feel the cuff pressing against the tensed muscles. Notably, I didn’t need it to keep my TK silent. “I know he didn’t die. I saw him come back. You and I both know that Arsenal couldn’t have known that would happen for certain.”

“I think,” Dr. Waters says, “we may be concentrating on the wrong issue.”

“Fuck you,” I tell him, “I’m fine. That monster was pointing some kind of sadistic disintegration ray at a bunch of defenseless civilians. Some of whom were children.”

“Hmm,” he says, with that benevolent fucking smile.

“Hmm, what?” I say. Because if he’s going to bring up –

“I’ve reconsidered,” he explains, tapping his chin with one finger.

“What?” I say.

He beams at me. “Maybe you are simply concerned over your new teammate, after all.”

Who knows what’s going on in his head? I shrug. “How do you figure?”

“Because you obviously haven’t looked into what the gun was going to do,” he says.

I stare at him for a minute. “Why would I do that?”

“Alright,” the doctor says. “If you’re not running yourself ragged making sure it was a good shooting, I believe you that you feel it was justified.”

“Oh, good. Now that we’re clear I’m not going to have a breakdown over this one,” I say, “can I go now? Or are we really going through the checklist?”

“You’re going to have to go through it before you can return to active,” he explains, like I haven’t been here for years.

I glare at him. “What part of –”

“I can give you a provisional okay, but it’s only going to last a week,” he says, “and emergencies don’t time themselves around paperwork.”

It takes ages to get out of there.

When I finally do, I head back to look up what the hell the gun does, if it’s so important. At least my desk is a high priority workstation, now, so that’s worth something. I log in, and browse through the various researchers’ notes. Obviously there isn’t an official report, yet.

It’s meant to send the victims into shock. I may have nightmares about this, after all.

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Hostage Situation

I’m still looking over the paperwork when Hunch steps out of the elevator.

“Hey,” he says, “congrats on the new post, ‘Teke’.”

Considering that he’s in full costume, I don’t imagine he’s here to take me out to lunch.

He adjusts his mask. “Yeah, nice to see you’re getting used to yours. Um. Are you up for dealing with a hostage situation?”

“Oh.” I manage to knock over the stack of folders and spill papers everywhere as I go to pull my earpiece out of the desk drawer. “Are the others busy?”

“All the masked unit, yeah, and the guy has hell of powers, so we’d like to have an all costumed team,” Hunch says in a single breath, “but I can call PsychoBitch if you’re not up to it.”

“No,” I say, “that’s fine. Do we have a costume ready for me, or am I taking a generic?”

He nods his head towards the locker room. “Waiting for you.”

I get back in the elevator with him. It’s cramped, and our breathing echoes awkwardly against the shiny metal walls.

“It’s not a school, you know, it’s just a bank robbery gone a little megalomaniacal,” he says.

Fucking precogs, is it a point of pride or something to interrupt before you complain? I shake my head. “Why is that always the first crime they go for?”

“I don’t know if it’s the first,” Hunch tells me, “it doesn’t look like he’s a teenager, and it may actually be more of a publicity stunt than anything.”

“Great,” I say, “a supervillain with a plan. What could go wrong? Who’s on our team?”

“Arsenal and Vector Analysis are the snipers, Stranglehold and Paragon for backup.” Hunch shakes his head. “Not our Paragon, I mean. MiniCity-St. Claire Paragon.”

My eyebrows make my mask twitch when they move. “What’s he doing here? Isn’t he basically leaving Minnesota undefended?”

“Visiting family, it sounded like,” Hunch says, “and it’s not like he’s advertising, I mean, he grabbed one of the basic costumes. He’s just on call while he’s here.”

“Right, well, I can’t say he’s not entitled to some vacation time, but I wouldn’t have done it if I were him.” I shake my head, pulling on my costume. “Not that I would live in Minnesota, though.”

Hunch snorts. “His life in a nutshell.”

“Wait,” I say, “shit. It’s because it’s summer break, isn’t it?”

“I wouldn’t be surprised.” Hunch picks up his binoculars. “I doubt he’s more than a junior.”

“Great,” I tell him, “so we’ve got two kids on our team, then.”

Hunch rolls his eyes at me. “You’re not old enough to talk about them that way, kid.”

“You can maybe make that comparison with Paragon,” I say, swapping out my mask for the one that matches my outfit, and double checking my gear, “he’s done a lot.”

“Arsenal’s done a lot. Don’t tell him he hasn’t,” Hunch chides.

“He’s gotten mixed up in things he shouldn’t have and had to deal with them,” I retort, “don’t tell me that means he’s mature enough to handle where the loopholes put him.”

Hunch runs a hand through his hair. “He’s SWAT certified.”

“Right. Like I said. Loopholes.” I shrug and walk over to the bored agent leaning against the wall.

He glances at me, looking my new uniform up and down. It’s the swirly blue and purple you expect for psychic abilities, long coat trailing out behind me – I guess because it looks more impressive than a cape. I glance down at where it hangs loosely by my sides, and sigh. The various folds and ribbons and other annoying parts start floating around me. They’re slightly hypnotic – not in the sense of looking at them, although I’m sure that could be worse, but in the sense that once I set them, it doesn’t take much thought to keep the effect going.

The agent raises one eyebrow, snorts, and flicks his hand at the wall, opening up a window for me to walk through. Hunch follows me across. The rest of the team is on the rooftop already, looking through their binoculars; I grab mine out of the folds of my coat.

Robe? This sucked so much less when I could just wear the uniform. The flex armor is much tighter (to the point where they had to leave me with a change of briefs – matching, even – and I want to know why they keep my underwear on file) and itchy, all for the purpose of not looking bulky under the filigree.

The bank robber is wearing the normal mask. Not the normal ski mask, I mean, the normal domino mask. And some sort of spiky armor looking thing, although he moves too easily for it to be real armor, unless he has, “superstrength?”

Paragon – looking far less striking (but more professional) than he usually does on the news – nods at me. “Looks like my powerset. There’s irony for you.”

I flex my power, and a little purple target centers over the bank robber. Interesting. Not useful in the least, but interesting. I reach out, not grabbing him yet. I don’t want to spook him, especially while his pacing seems reasonably slow and relaxed. He’s not even pointing his gun – which has to be something he made himself – at anyone right now. I lean over the edge of the roof and, yeah, Amos is there, handing off his loudspeaker to someone else as he presses the phone to his ear.

Vector Analysis re-angles her rifle slightly, then turns to me. “Hey, Trav.”

Arsenal glances over at her rifle, flushing slightly, and an identical one coalesces in front of him. Well, probably not identical, actually. Probably whichever one he trained on.

“Hey, Vector,” I say.

She grins, watching the decorations at the hem of my coat swirl. “Nice costume.”

“Well, at least it doesn’t look like the old Teke’s,” I say.

She shrugs, looking back down. “Fair enough. Never was that into disco.”

I feel the bank robber shifting out of my field and wonder if he’s felt it, but he’s still moving slowly, so I just adjust it back around him. I have much better fine control, these days. There’s no reason he should be able to tell I’m here, other than guessing. Or unless he’s got some mirror powers, but at that point – WHC, techie, and mirror? – it seems a little excessive, even for a Villain With A Plan.

Then the gun goes up, and I wonder if I scared him at the same time I yank it out of his hand, pulling him closer towards the window. He struggles out of my grip as I try to keep the giant gun from hitting any of the hostages.

The target reaches for something on his belt and Arsenal pulls the trigger.

I drop my TK hard enough that even my coat stops swaying, take a deep breath, and bring it back up again, letting the decorations flare around me.

The bank robber’s on the ground, skin barely showing under the blood pouring out between his helmet and the armor over his shoulders. Someone’s inside, directing the hostages out, barely managing to keep them from breaking into a run.

“You okay?” I ask Arsenal.

“Relax,” he says, “guy’s a regenerator. He’ll be up and answering questions in no time.”

I wonder if I should say anything else about it, but Arsenal’s hands are steady against his rifle, still pointed at his target, just in case he gets back up before anyone can secure him, Vector’s gun pointed at a spot just higher.

He doesn’t fight when he wakes up again, though, holding his hands in the air while a medic pronounces him healthy enough to cuff. The nearest officer slaps them on, and the bank robber’s armor falls to the floor in chunks. He smirks as he’s led to the squad car.

Then we all go home.

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The Office

To be fair, though, the job does come with a really nice office – downside being, it’s shared with all the desks for the other instructors. Which makes it especially awkward to paradigm shift which one is my desk. It’s big, next to a giant window overlooking the gym. In case of training accidents, I guess. I mean, my powers do work just fine through glass, but I can’t imagine it’d be that useful for everyone; even if they didn’t, though, there’s the elevator down to the gym in the corner. Cramped if you’re taking more than one person, although I managed to squeeze in with three others that time.

Actually, if I remember right, that was for a training accident. Well, more like a fight, and, anyway, more property damage than anything. Fights between a regenerator and a shielder never go that well for anyone else involved. At least Arsenal only ended up with a mild concussion – although, come to think of it, the gym might have been worse off if he hadn’t been knocked out. And we really have a lot more healers than construction workers on staff.

I flip through my documents, seeing which one is Arsenal’s file – but he’s graduated, I guess, because it isn’t there, but I’ve definitely seen him in the building the last few days. I wonder why they didn’t just put him in charge of the team. Maybe they didn’t think it would play well to put him in charge of his former teammates. Or maybe someone’s finally put the 21 rule into effect, although I think I would’ve heard about that. Maybe.

Maybe they did offer him the job, and he just wanted to play in the big leagues. I mean, the boss did say they asked everyone.

Damn, now I kind of wish I hadn’t been so ambivalent about working with the kids. I bet enough complaints would’ve gotten me dropped from the list.

Small group this year. Not that I’m complaining (about that part) – it’s a lot less likely I can fuck up team dynamics between six kids than twenty. Good year for Coach Domino to retire, I guess.

I kind of wonder if he didn’t just decide last week or something, right after they got the names in. I also kind of wonder if they’re switching off names just so people will know I’m not the same person as him, as if we’re at all likely to be confused on appearance. Not that we haven’t been missing a Teke, I guess, but it’s not like every single city needs one all the time. We’ve already got Sideswipe and Prime Mover, and PsychoBitch if you want to count the freelance heroes. (I know I’m not supposed to, but it’s not like they won’t help out in a crisis.) But I guess I needed some name or other.

The files are neat, not very thick. I guess none of these kids have gotten in trouble yet, although there’s only one first year new member. I read over the summary. She seems to have the standard White Hat Complex – although some kind of shielding, rather than true invulnerability. But the name, though! I’m going to see if I can talk her out of FiendPuncher. Why is it always the ones with superstrength that want to pick the ridiculous names? Not to mention the robot suits – I really hope Enigma Machine (has that really been his name all along?) is not going for all the connotations he might be going for. Flyers pick bad names, let’s say, for the sake of brevity.

Not that Jailbait is much better, but at least she’s going to have to change her name next year. Although you do really have to wonder about what sort of event gives a twelve year old an emotional manipulation field and a nausea-inducing shriek. (The attraction power is probably self-explanatory.)

With a runner, and two ranged fighters, we’ve actually got a pretty good mix of powers this year. No telepath (they always say it so disappointed, like they really thought it might happen), but Caffeine is potentially a low-level precog, and seems to have some sort of ESP. Of course, it’d be nice to train another telekine, but it’s a little redundant if I’m going to have to lead the team, anyway. I wonder if they’ve designed a suit for me, and whether it looks like the last Teke’s. I wonder if I should put on my mask now, for a little while, just to get used to it.

Of course, they itch, and look ridiculous, which was the entire point of joining the armored division in the first place, but, hey, what can you do? It’s not like there doesn’t need to be someone in charge of the minors.

Oh, shit. That means I’m going to be in loco parentis.

It’s not even getting them injured that worries me – although I’m sure as hell going to do my best to avoid them getting injured – it’s that I have to give them bedtimes and make sure they eat and all, even during crises. Will they even listen to me?

Or worse, what if they decide that I’m actually a proper mentor and start coming to me with all kinds of ridiculous questions? I think I’m fairly limited in the topics I can give good advice on. Hell, my parents aren’t even divorced.  Of course, they don’t like me fighting in powered battles, so there is that to commiserate on, at least – assuming their secret identities aren’t meant to keep their parents in the dark, too, because that I can’t help with.

Shit, they probably are. I’ve read that only about one in ten kids tells their parents about their powers while they still live at home. I mean, some estimates put it lower (or, at least, they estimate the number of people with powers higher), and some put it higher (because there’s got to be a lot of parents helping protect their kids’ secret identities, right?), so I have no idea how true that actually is or how they got that number in the first place. I’d always recommend telling someone, because it’s not like it’s a fun thing not being able to talk about it.

Oh, shit, I’m going to really have to recommend that for real, aren’t I? I’m going to have to give them all sorts of advice on who to tell and who not to tell. And how to keep everything secret. Damn.

Given that I’ve never had a secret identity myself, this may be problematic.

I put on that mask after all. It’s more comfortable than I expected – some sort of smart material that conforms to my face. I wonder if they come in colors other than black. Something to ask about. Or, at least, wonder about and not waste other people’s time with. I’m sure they’ll have my costume to me soon enough, so I can start having my oh-so-important secret identity.

Oh, fuck, that’s right, that means they think people will be trying to kill or kidnap me, or my family and friends. Nice. Note to self: ask Coach Domino whether he got shot at a lot.

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Promotion

Breakfast. I roll over, groan, and manage to pry my eyes open. Partway, because it’s already bright and sunny out, and why I agreed to arrange the bed this way, I’ll never know. I hold my hand up, trying to swat at the window, but that never works out nearly as well as with alarm clocks. Oh, god, waffles, though. I can smell maple syrup in the microwave.

I root around for my jeans for a couple of minutes before remembering that it’s a work day, and pull open a drawer. Ha. Success. There are my khakis and my lovingly mass-produced logo polo, available in a wide variety of colors, based on whether you prefer to wear gray, black, or navy slacks. Not that it’s reasonable to expect people to wear power armor over slacks, because it chafes like a bitch, but at least the shirts come in white, too. I do remember to put boxers on first.

I run a hand through my hair, trying to get out the sleep rumples, but it looks fine enough.

I stumble out the door, turning towards the coffee and waffles. I turn a little bit too far, and find myself facing the other bedroom door, complete with Darren’s schedule posted carefully on the front. Oh, that’s a nice touch. I roll my eyes.

Darren’s getting coffee to go with his waffle, so I take a bite while he’s distracted.

“Get your own, assface,” he says.

I take another bite of his delicious, delicious waffle. “Yours is already here, though.”

“You’re not getting any coffee,” he tells me, standing protectively in front of the coffeepot, shielding it with his very life and limb.

“You know, if you don’t want me eating the rest of yours, you can make me my own.”

“Blow me,” Darren says.

“Sold,” I say, gesturing at the waffle iron.

Darren rolls his eyes and, muttering, pours more batter on.

“And coffee, too,” I remind him, finishing his waffle.

“You’re not getting the last of the maple syrup,” he mutters, “you can have the cheap fake crap and stop wasting my hard earned tree sugar in your shitty coffee.”

“It’s awesome coffee,” I say, “not my fault you can’t stand dark roast.”

“Don’t know why I even drink it,” he grumbles.

I laugh. “Because you’d like to be awake if someone’s going to shoot lasers at you during work hours, and there’s really only the one way to be awake.”

Darren flips me off, and chugs a cup of coffee before refilling it and handing it to me.

“Isn’t that hot?” I ask.

He waves a hand airily. “Oh, you know, burning your tongue wakes you up, too, and all that.”

I take a sip. It’s not as hot as it ought to be, but hotter than I expected from his ability to drink it in one gulp. “How long have you been up?”

“Had to finish the reports.” He shakes his head. “You’ll see soon enough, won’t you?”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” I ask.

He grins at me.

What it means, it turns out, is that I’m up for promotion. I get to be summoned by my boss the minute I walk in the door. He has a nice imposing desk in front of intimidatingly uncomfortable chairs and he hands me a stack of files when I sit down in the one closer to the door.

I open them up. They’re dossiers on the kids’ group.

“Welcome aboard, Teke,” my boss says.

I look up at him. “Is that what we’re going with?”

“You’re welcome to change it if you don’t like it,” my boss says, “you have until close of business today, so make it snappy.”

“Teke it is,” I say. “I didn’t think you usually promoted across teams like that.”

My boss shrugs. “None of the masks wanted the job. The kids seem to like you okay, and you’ve been better filling in during training than anything else you do, so.”

I try not to frown at that.

“Relax, Travis,” my boss says. “It’s a compliment. You’re fine at the day to day. You’re good at teaching. Grab one of the domino masks and go get better.”

“Um,” I say, smartly. “So, how is the secret ident–”

“Just keep coming to work in uniform like you always do,” my boss says, “suddenly we have a new mask who isn’t connected to any of our employees changing jobs. Whoop-de-do.”

“It’s not going to be much of a secret,” I say, “I mean, everyone will recognize me.”

“Do you care?” my boss says, “it’s not like you’ve made much of an effort to hide your abilities.”

I frown at that one. Partly because he’s right, and mostly because he’s wrong.

“You don’t exactly have a rare powerset, Teke,” the boss says.

I guess we are going with that, then.

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