I tuck Darren into bed carefully, so as not to wake him, not that I really need to bother; he was out almost before he even took anything. If I thought there was any chance he’d manage to get a full night’s sleep on the couch and not hurt himself, I wouldn’t even have moved him. (That’s probably not true. He’s very precisely in the middle of the bed, as far from every side as possible, right now, recovery position, just in case.)
And I finally go to the office. I figure I better, if I’m not even going to be in until late tomorrow night, either. I can pull a double, and someone else can have the day off.
Except that there’s actually nothing to do, and Stranglehold is the only one in anyway.
He grins at me. “Hi, Teke, you know there’s already four fics about you?”
I stare at him. “What the hell. They don’t even have a photo, yet.”
Stranglehold rolls his eyes. “A lot of pressure on the agency, and yes, they do, they have an official press-ready portrait and two dozen action shots.”
“Action shots,” I repeat.
He brings them up on the projector. “There’s no reason to train in costume, there really isn’t.”
“It helps you, move, the,” I say, “fuck. There isn’t. I have no idea how you guys got me to do that in the first place.”
Stranglehold laughs at me. “You get used to it. They’ve also tracked down the SWAT photos.”
I accidentally knock the projector over trying to get it to slideshow through the shots, and it takes me a minute to get it set up again.
“Shit,” says Stranglehold, “sorry.”
I shake my head, and manage to get the projector working again on the second try.
“Only three of them are porn, too,” he continues, excitedly.
I glance over at his laptop. “What kind?”
“Two with Hunch, one with Sassy,” Stranglehold clarifies, “and that one’s actually the best punctuated of the three of them.”
“Huh,” I say.
Stranglehold shrugs. “They’re going to release a statement about our team sooner or later, so we can expect good results from that one.”
I watch him for a minute, as he scrolls through his various feeds. “You are just way too into the idea of team orgies.”
He laughs. “No, you have no idea, it always generates the funniest stuff. I think my very favorites have always been about whatever team I was on.”
I sigh. “Have they made up a name for me, yet?”
“Not ‘officially’,” Stranglehold says. “The other one, the gen one, did, though.”
“Oh, great, what’s that one about?” I look over his shoulder.
He obligingly pulls it up for me. “Something about how you’re tracking down a whole long list of people For Vengeance. Looks like it’s shaping up to be an epic, already got almost 20,000 words.”
“Great,” I say, “what name did I get?”
“Uh, it’s in first person, hang on a sec,” Stranglehold says, checking again. “Oh, that’s right, Ta-nehisi Malcolm.”
“Malcolm?” I say, staring at the text, right there, plain as day. “Wasn’t that Switchblade’s?”
“Yeah,” Stranglehold agrees, “apparently, you’re his son.”
“Wow.” I scroll back up to the beginning of the story. “That seems a little….”
“Yeah,” he says, “I kind of thought that, too.”
I shake my head.
He grins at me. “You want to see the fanart? A lot of it is from before they released your picture and blurb, but after they released your name, so you’re dressed like old Teke.”
“Great,” I say. “Just how many of these are there?”
“Only a couple dozen.” Stranglehold shrugs. “Mostly alone. None of you and me, yet, but a couple of you and Hunch, in various stages of undress.”
“Nothing really explicit, not that I’ve seen,” he reassures me.
I cover my face with my hands. “There’s nothing going on between me and Hunch.”
He snorts. “You don’t have to convince me. Hunch is a good commander; he would never do something like that. You know it’s just because he’s the only one you’ve been on patrol with, right?”
“And Sass?” I say.
Stranglehold lifts one shoulder. “I really don’t know what’s up with that. She’s the first one you see with every new hero, basically, and at least half the villains.”
That’s sort of stomach-churning.
“Yeah, well, you can see why she gets in fights with people so often,” he adds. “We’ve come to an agreement where we always watch each other’s feeds. Doesn’t necessarily work out, though.”
“Yeah,” I say, “right. What with all the people shipping you.”
Stranglehold laughs. “That OTP’s always good for a couple of drinks and a dramatic reading.”
I laugh too. “You sell tickets?”
“Oh, right, you only just put on the mask,” Stranglehold says. “Yeah, someone does one of those every Wednesday, up in the old auditorium. I mean, no tickets.”
“Dramatic readings,” I clarify.
He shrugs. “Generally, yeah, sometimes we get together and write things as a group.”
“You know,” I say, “I’m just going to pretend all the really bad stuff out there is you guys, just fucking with people.”
He nods sagely. “That’s what we all like to pretend, too. Got to be pretty careful you don’t post it from your agency account, though. They do not like that upstairs.”
“How many times have you guys actually posed naked together and then claimed it’s just a really good manip?” I ask, leaning over his shoulder again.
He shoots me a Look. “Yeah, um, no, that is going to violate all kinds of policies. I get where you’re coming from, but it’s not funny, and it wouldn’t be funny. Don’t.”
I take a step back (literally, but also metaphorically). “Sorry. What’s the funniest thing you’ve ever written?”
“Have to be back to a team orgy,” Stranglehold says, snickering, “We went on about Flagship for, I think, close to an entire novel.”
I can feel my eyelids trying to crawl into the back of my head.
“No, none of the big guns ever hang out with us,” Stranglehold apologizes, shrugging, “but we did have Sideswipe for that one, and Apogee pretty much constantly, and Smoke every now and then.”
“Smoke and Apogee aren’t big guns?” I say.
Stranglehold rolls his eyes. “Fine, none of the brass, then, I don’t know what you want me to say. I can show you the story, if you want, we publish under KoolaidMasquerade.”
I shake my head at him. “Fuck, you’re the guys who run Stalking JCitySkies.”
Stranglehold grins. “You a fan of the blog? Believe me, shit takes a lot of work.”
“No, actually, I’m best friends with her, and she hates you,” I explain.
Stranglehold’s mouth drops open. “Okay, um, sorry about that, that’s actually really awkward. She really hates us? What sort of trouble are we causing her?”
“None, that I know of,” I reassure him, “she just likes having someone to rant over.”
Stranglehold grimaces. “You’ve explained to her the extranormal vulnerability in writing about you, right, because I’d hate to have to write you up over it. I have shit to do.”
“Yeah.” I shake my head. “Yeah, I know, you can go back to it. What do you want me to do?”
He waves a hand at a chair. “Be my guest. There’s never a shortage, and it’s not like we’ve got a lot else going on right at the moment. You can look over yours if you want. Like comment wars?”