The Long Goodnight




Well, I got good reviews from the beta boards, so I finally decided that I should repost and finish the origin story of Slipshod. Would appreciate any feedback or constructive criticisms you can offer.

aka Sebastian "Bastian" Stevens

Part I: Sleep Tight

"I don't understand.. what's this.. Murdic's Disease?" Jonathan Stevens questioned, unaware that he was nervously twisting the soft fabric of his son's baseball cap between either of his white-knuckled fists. A man who was normally the very image of strength was now reduced to a glassy-eyed wreck of a human being.

To his left was Jessica, his wife of three years, and mother to their only child. In stark contrast to her husband, who was visibly shaking from the day's events, she seemed almost docile. She slowly reached over and removed the ball-cap from her partner's grasp, ironing out the newly made creases with a soft touch. She marveled at the hat's size: small; too, too small. Just like her darling boy.

"Murdock's Disease, Mr. Stevens," the doctor corrected. The trio stood outside room 318 on the Pediatrics floor of Saint Joseph's of the Unwavering Hope. Within the sterile environment, just yards away, lay the Stevens' child, Sebastian, age 7. A nurse stood at his bedside, keeping the child company as his parents conversed with the doctor.

"And that is..?" Mr. Stevens asked.

"Your son is suffering from a severe sensory overload." Sebastian's parents looked to one another, then back to the doctor, a quizzical look on their face. "Ah, let me explain. You see, the brain is capable of remarkable things. Most of it is uncharted territory, with..."

"Please, Doctor, just get to the point."

"Yes, sorry.. Well, let me say it this way: when you're driving down the street in your car, your eyes take in a massive amount of data -- from the road, to your speedometer, to every passing car, tree and bush. Now, if you had to deal with all this information, you'd be unable to concentrate on the most important of these details. To counteract this, your brain has built-in filters that it runs all sensory information through before it's processed."

"So, what, you're saying our son is seeing too much?" Jessica inquired, still very lost in the conversation. "Why not just have him shut his eyes, and.."

"No, Mrs. Stevens, it's not just that. Murdock's Disease erodes away the filters of the brain. Not only of sight, but of all Sebastian's senses. The result is that everything around him is flooding in, and his brain's unable to make sense of it. So, much like a computer does when given too large a load to handle, his mind is locking up."

"Can't you just give him something to fix it? I mean, look at him, he looks fine, now!" Mr. Stevens was well into the bartering stage of grief.

"I'm sorry, but no," the good doctor answered, in that cool and collected way that all in his profession seemed to speak in. "The medication we have him on is only a temporary solution. I'm not even sure how long he has before he slips into a total catatonic state. How long did you say he was feeling ill, Mrs. Stevens?"

"I, ah.." Even though she had told the story a dozen times this morning alone, Jessica still found it hard to remember the events. It had all happened so fast. "He woke up, and said he was feeling nauseous.. Um, headache, ringing in the ears.. A few hours later, he was screaming, and I called for an ambulance, and.. Oh God, that sound, Jonathan! He was in so much pain!" She buried her face in her husband's chest, quietly sobbing as the unearthly howl of anguish that her son had vocalized now echoed in her memory once more.

"Please, doctor," Jonathan started, encircling his wife in his arms, "do whatever you can to help him. We just want our little boy back.."

"There's not much to be done, Mr. Stevens. You have to understand, this is an extremely rare disease. There is no cure, no treatment.. All we can do is make him comfortable."

"What.. what do you mean?"

"If the situation is as your wife has said, and the symptoms only cropped up this morning, then the disease is progressing swiftly. If we don't quell the brain activity soon, we're looking at serious damage in the near future. What we need to do is medicate him until he slips into a coma, to the point where his senses are dulled to practical nonexistence."

"And what, he just stays a vegetable?!"

"I won't lie, Mr. Stevens. The odds of him ever recovering are infinitesimal. But who knows, with future leaps in medical technology, anything is possible. But it's imperative that you make your decision as soon as possible."


Mr. and Mrs. Stevens stood at their son's bedside, fighting back tears. They had to put on a brave face for young Sebastian, who was already scared witless from everything that had already happened. Even if they were unsure of their decision, they had to make him believe that they believed completely in the success of this procedure.

"Will it hurt?" Sebastian asked groggily, the muscles in his face having grown lax due to the drugs being pumped into his arm. He was barely conscious of the world around him, now, but the presence of his parents was entirely vivid to him.

"No, baby," his mother said softly. "It'll be just like going to sleep.. And while you're asleep, the doctors will find the right medicine to give you to make you all better."

"Will it taste yucky..?" The innocent question brought a chuckle from Jessica, but had an entirely different effect on Jonathan. His eyes shut tightly, willing himself not to cry. His boy needed him to be strong. His son needed his father. Determined to be a source of comfort to both his child and his wife, Jonathan shook off the sudden burst of despair and instead adopted a healthy grin.

"I'll make sure it's cherry flavored, sport." Sebastian gave his father the weakest of smiles.

"And don't you worry, sweetie, we'll be right here as soon as you wake up. We'll always be right here."

"Okay.. but could you bring my nightlight? Just in case I wake up and it's dark.."

Jonathan and Jessica Stevens spent their last few minutes with their son, drinking in his every sound and scent. Soon, it was time for the procedure to begin, and they were forced to say their goodnights to Sebastian, knowing full well that he may never open his eyes again. But they refused to say good-bye. They had to hope for a happy ending. They had to dream for Sebastian, for where he was going, there were no dreams of his own to be had.



Part II: Broken

Before, there was nothing, and.. then there was the white. It was blinding in a way I've never known since that day. It drowned out not only sight, but sound, touch, taste.. I knew I was trying to scream. I knew it wasn't doing any good.

And then, the whitewash melted away. In its place were unfamiliar things. Things I would later find out I hadn't felt for over eight years...

Sebastian bolted upright in the hospital bed, edging frantically backward until his back was against the wall. It was impossibly dark, save for a muted, soft light that bled through the blinds drawn over the viewing window to his room. His first instinct was to run over and tear the coverings down; to flood the room with comforting halogen hues. But eerie silhouettes were cast from outside, and a child's fear of the unknown kept him from investigating.

Steeling his courage, Sebastian groggily positioned himself at the edge of the bed, letting his legs flop over the side. His bare feet smacked against the cold tile, sending a myriad of sensations through his numbed body. The more time that passed, the more vivid and distinct his perception became of the world around him. Had this been any normal awakening, and not one from an eight year sleep, the new clarity of his senses would have jumped out at him. But considering the last time he was awake these sensations were so strong that they physically pained him, they now seemed tame in comparison.

Those first few shaky steps away from the bed should have been impossible, but somehow he had the strength to overcome the atrophy. This medical marvel was lost on him, though, and he found himself drawn to the opposite side of the room where curtains covered a large, bay window. His hand rose, snagging the drawstring and, with a slow downward motion, forced them to part.

Sebastian took a sharp breath as an expansive cityscape was revealed, foreign to him in every way. Shapely spires jutted into the night sky, entirely different from the suburban sprawl of his childhood. Panic gripped him at the sudden realization that he was nowhere near home, tears welling up at the thought. Sebastian brought his forearm up to wipe them away. What he saw when he opened his eyes and allowed them to refocus on the reflective surface of the glass startled him.

A young man was standing before him, tall and lanky in appearance. His auburn hair was disheveled, standing up every which way. Tentatively, Sebastian brought his hand up to trail down the glass, remarking how the older boy in front of him seemed to mirror his every action. That was when it dawned on him: the boy he stared at was none other than himself.

Gone were the wide eyes and full, puffy lips. In their place were the almond-shaped eyes and thin lips of a teenager, the features of his youth having stretched lengthwise within the flow of time. Eight years had passed, and his body had changed. But his mind had been unable to grow, and trapped in the guise of this fifteen year old was a scared, seven year old boy.


A nurse making her rounds found me huddled in the corner, sobbing. Said I was inconsolable.. Makes sense, though. I went to sleep a child, and woke up a teenager. Sure, some parents would say that's how kids are... But this was a little extreme, don't you think? Speaking of parents, I kept asking for mine, but no one would acknowledge my request. Mom and dad promised to be by my side when I woke up.. Guess plans fell through.

As for my recovery, they said it was a miracle. Seems a couple years back, the disease had progressed so far that they had to up the medication. Most of my brain functions had ceased from the mixture of mental stress and drugs. Couldn’t even breathe under my own strength.. But then a year ago, I began to take an unexplained turn for the better. Pretty much brought back from the brink of death as my body started to rebuild itself.

My doctors were baffled, though some had their own crackpot theories that.. well, didn’t turn out to be so crazy, after all. The world was full of mysterious things, many of which now walked the streets. What would have once been a surprising medical anomaly was now written off as an everyday occurrence. See, I’m what they call a mutant. When I came of age, my latent abilities began to surface. The most apparent of which was a preternatural enhanced ability to heal.

But now that I was awake, the ability seemed to be gone. Experts wrote it off as my underdeveloped powers simply burning themselves out under the intense task of repairing my body.. Heh, guess brain damage isn’t easily reversed (though that doesn't stop me from the occassional smoke.) In fact, the disease was still working away at my mind. My powers had been too weak to totally repair the damage. Instead, I guess they kind of jury-rigged a solution: if they couldn’t heal my brain, they’d change how it worked.

They had altered my brain so that my tolerance for the massive amounts of data that assaulted my mind thanks to the Murdock's Disease had been greatly increased. In place of the filters of a normal brain, I could now understand everything presented to me all at once, be they multiple conversations or a dozen intricate images. There was no need for me to focus on a single subject -- I was just able to “understand” it all.

However, there were times when the tests my doctors gave me were too arduous. Even with my enhanced ability to understand and make sense of my surroundings, I still had a limit to how much information I could take in before I would begin to exhibit the symptoms of my disease. Too many sounds, and I would have to force myself to focus on a single one. Too much visual action, and I would have to restrict my vision to block out as much as I could. It was as much of a curse as it was a gift, but I took it in stride, for itt would become a useful tool in my search for the truth about my parents.

You see, my mental health was deemed just as important as my physical well-being, and no matter how many times I asked about my family, the subject always shifted to my studies. They told me “those things” could wait until I had caught up with the world. And at first, I naively believed their reasons. I was sure that once I had satisfied them, I would be reunited with my mom and dad.

So, I redoubled my efforts to please them. Lining two or three text books up until they reached from one extent of my peripheral vision to the other, I was able to study them simultaneously by utilizing my enhanced sense of surroundings. No matter whether they were a mixture of science, math or classic readings, they made sense to me as if I had studied each one individually. Sometimes I’d even listen to several books on tape concurrently, listening for words I didn’t understand and looking them up in the dictionary without missing an uttered phrase.

But as my intelligence grew, so too did my suspicions. There had to be a reason no one would tell me anything about my family, and I would find it out.. So in the time I had to myself, I would study relentlessly. When I spoke to the shrinks, I'd tell them what they wanted to hear. I'd do everything in my power to make them think I was ready for the truth. In reality, though, I'd never be ready for it. Guess I’m still not.

When I was deemed mature enough, I was told: they were gone. Dead, most likely. There had been an earthquake in my hometown four years ago, and afterward, they just.. never showed up again. Many had died in the disaster, and it was assumed that they had been caught in it, as well. Though no bodies were ever found, their deaths were eventually made official, and I became a ward of the state. My comatose body was then transferred to a hospital in Paragon City, where I could be more easily cared for.

I was devestated. You know that feeling you get when you're almost asleep, and then suddenly it feels as if you're falling? That doesn't even begin to compare to what I felt at that moment.. Everything I used to know -- that I had been looking forward to returning to -- was gone. No family, no home.. What would happen to me now?



Part III: Rubble

After his parents' fate had been made known to him, Sebastian no longer felt the need to play to the desires of the doctors that presided over his well-being. He blew off his studies and drew inward, becoming unresponsive to the psychiatrists' prodding. It didn't help that minute remnants of the Murdock's Disease still had an effect on his brain's filters. At night, he had trouble sleeping, kept up by dizzying amounts of information his senses afforded him. With little rest, Sebastian became even more reclusive and irritable, further damaging his relation with his doctors.

Realizing they had been manipulated into revealing information, the staff decided it would be in the boy's best interest if he were placed in foster care. Their hope was that the love of a family might go far in healing the emotional scars he had sustained. And, because his perceived mutant healing abilities had been burnt out while reviving him, they could claim him to be a normal young man, which always went a long way with prospective foster parents.

But his age proved to be a problem. Most couples had no desire to take on a full-grown child when there were more than enough infants to go around. After all, acclimating a newborn into its new family would be much easier than to do the same with a surly teenager. And, to be sure, Sebastian was as surly as they came. There was no desire on his part to join the ranks of a stranger's family, so even those interested in taking him in were repelled by his audacious behavior. It was easier to stay in the orphanage, where no one bothered him and he could retreat further into himself. Sure, the first few months were garnished with the occasional visit from a prior psychiatrist, but it wasn't long before they knew it was of no use. How could you help someone who had no wish to be aided?

Sebastian wasn't without his plans for the future, however. The most immediate of which was to return to his hometown and survey the surroundings that once composed the stage of his most cherished memories. And of course, the strange desire to see the place where his parents had been killed; the place where two empty coffins had been buried when no identifiable bodies could be found. He had lost eight years of his life, so it was only natural to seek out those things that once meant the most to him.

There was a catch, however. He would be a ward of the state until his eighteenth birthday, and only until that point. Before then, his life was not his own. He could not leave the orphanage grounds, save for the occasional daytrip they took as a group. He never went on those, anymore. Those first few instances were the setting for many an escape attempt, but security was always too tight. After all, this was Paragon City -- heroes on every street corner. And there always seemed to be some do-gooder at their side on these trips, spouting about being good, upstanding citizens and abiding by the laws and moral codes their peers had set. You could tell by the hollow tinge in their voice and the glossed over look in their eyes that it was all a put-on. Sebastian figured they were just getting in a few hours of community service to bolster their influence in the community. However, his feelings about these superhero types would change when one would become the inadvertent instrument of his escape.

Eight months after originally being brought to the orphanage, Sebastian was spending another restless night in bed when he caught something out the corner of his eye. A shadowy reflection had been seen in the mirror that hung on the back of his door. Any other person would have failed to register the movement, but thanks to the leftover side-effects of his disease, no detail went unnoticed to Sebastian. The other kids didn't like him for that fact. Any time a magician visited, he'd always be able to pick out the sleight of hand and explain away the so-called mystical forces behind the trick.

Now, though, this unique ability would become more than a distraction at night and a means for annoyance in the day. He had seen the movement, and was instantly interested in what it had been. Creeping out of bed, he moved to the window where he surmised the reflection had originated from. And as he looked out, he was met by the face of a humanoid. Sebastian leapt backward, startled -- not only because there was a strange man outside his window, but for the fact that they were on the fourth story of the building. The man was simply floating. He had seen it done on the nightly news by heroes; knew it was possible.. but still, Sebastian was weirded out by the defiance of natural law.

He watched in awe as the figure raised its hand, seemingly pointing a finger at him. In reality, it was placing the tip against the barred-up windows. In a split second, a mirrored image of the being appeared on the opposite side of the window, inside Sebastian's room! Afraid to move, the young man could only watch as the image outside the building faded, causing the clone within to solidify. It withdrew its finger from the pane of glass, and slowly turned to meet the gaze of the terrified teen.

"Boy," the -- he assumed -- man said in a hoarse whisper, "you don't scream. You just be nice and quiet, and maybe I don't hurt you none." The figure brought a finger to its mouth, sucking on the digit, covering it in spittle as it seemed to think about what it had just said. "Then again, I can't make promises." Before Sebastian even had the thought to run, the man had pinned him against the wall by the neck, face violating the boy's personal space. Sebastian struggled against the weight of the man, but it was no use. Some supernatural strength was behind the intruder's movements, making all attempts to escape futile. The young man had all but resigned himself to whatever this thing had in store for him when he noticed the moonlight from his window had suddenly been overcast by something. Something huge.

The window and the surrounding wall burst into the room as what Sebastian could only describe as a walking cinderblock broke through. The debris slammed heavily into both he and his captor, crushing them into the cheaply made inner walls with such force that an imprint of Sebastian was left in the plaster. He collapsed, breath knocked out of his lungs and in serious pain. Summoning what little strength he had left, the teen brought his gaze up to see just what in the hell had happened.

Before him stood a lumbering hulk of a man-thing, seemingly made of concrete. Broad-shouldered, square-jawed and barrel-chested, the weight of the thing made the floor bow. And then it spoke.

"Knew if I watched you long enough you'd be back to your same twisted doings, Nightshade!"

"Hey, Foundation! What's wrong, no faith in the system? I'm rehabilitated, I swear! Me and the boy were just gonna head out for some ice-cream.." Nightshade gave a sickeningly suggestive look to Sebastian, who was now scurrying away in fear.

"Can it, sicko! I'm taking you back to prison!" The super being thrust a fist through the wall, grabbing handful of metal support beams buried within. Upon contact, his hand shifted from that of rough concrete to smooth iron. The look spread as first his arm, then shoulder, then chest, then gradually his entire body began to emulate the properties of the iron he had just touched. Nightshade took a cautious step backward, well aware of Foundation's capabilities. Able to adapt the properties of any solid material to his own body, this particular hero was nigh indestructible under the proper circumstances.

Of course, certain other things came with the package as well. With the strength came the weight, and Nightshade was all too happy to watch as the floor buckled and gave way beneath the enormous hero. Too close to the sinkhole, Sebastian was brought down with Foundation as he fell through yet another floor beneath them before finally finding one that could support his girth. Sebastian landed nearby, screaming loudly. His shirt had caught on the jagged edge of the upper floor as he fell through, and the sudden twist of it as the sleeve was bound up was enough to snap his wrist. Ribs bruised, wrist broken, and bleeding from the nose, Sebastian looked pitiful as he cowered in a nearby corner.

Through the haze of pain, he was aware that Foundation had come to his side, scooping him up in his left arm. Sebastian was comforted by the chilly touch of the metal on his exposed flesh, which was hot and sweaty from the adrenaline rush.

"Let's get you out of here, kid," said the behemoth, busting the wall away and hopping down the last story to the street below. He was about to take the boy to safety when Nightshade surprised him from behind. With a roar of pain, Foundation dropped the young man, who once again found himself clambering to get away from the two unearthly beings. What he saw when he chanced a look back shocked him.

Down on his knees, face stuck in a mask of pain, Foundation feebly tried to swipe at the villainous Nightshade on his back. Sebastian was unsure why Foundation was hurt, until he noticed that Nightshade's arms looked translucent -- with his hands sunk deeply inside the superhero's head! The cad took great pleasure in [censored] the mind of the man who had once brought him to justice. He no longer cared about the broken teenager that lay in their wake.

Terrified by the scene unfolding before him, Sebastian pooled the remains of his strength and hobbled off into the night as the sounds of distant sirens drew closer. Unable to think of anything other than escape, the Stevens orphan focused on putting as much distance between he and the orphanage as possible. There was no time to stop and look back to see if Foundation had managed to turn the tables; no thought in his mind as to the superhero's fate. All he could bring himself to do was keep moving.

Eventually he collapsed in an alley a mile away from where he began. There was no mistake that, once more, he was on the brink of death. But there was a kind of peacefulness to it all. Gone were the disease-inspired distractions, instead replaced by the comforting, inky blackness of unconsciousness. His last thought that night was of his family, and how is was surely about to be reunited with them in the afterlife.



Part IV: Innocent

I came to, face down in a puddle.. It’s a wonder I didn’t drown, though I guess I could have -- I’m not exactly sure how strong my healing abilities are.. And I can’t say I’m all that tempted to go jump in the bay with cement blocks tied to my feet to find out, you know? Uh, what was I saying? Ah, right..

Spent the next few minutes trying to gather my thoughts; figure out where I was. But my memory of last night was murky, at best, and none of it seemed to add up.. I remembered excruciating pain, and the burning rasp in my lungs as I pushed my body to its limits as I tried to get away.. Now, though, all of that was gone. And in its place was strength.

My body had totally changed overnight. Remember my mutant healing ability I’d been told was burnt out? Turns out, it was working in full force.. The moment I’d woken up from the coma, it scaled back and only used just enough of itself to keep the Murdock’s Disease from spreading any further. All it took to get it to show itself again was getting my tail kicked. Thanks for nothing, DNA.

Instead of simply repairing my broken body, my healing factor decided it would make a preemptive strike against any damage I might take in the future. It mutated my body even further, giving me enhanced strength and endurance.. I guess it figured that if I could take more punishment, it wouldn’t have to work as hard to heal me next time. Geez, even my genes are lazy.

I walked around the city in a dream state, trying to make sense of the changes that had occurred over the course of a couple of hours.. How was this possible? Was I imagining it? Am I really dead, and if so, why does Heaven smell like urine? But even as these questions raced through my mind, the warm sun on my shoulders, the wind in my hair and the rumble in my stomach cemented the reality of the situation. This was just another weird turn my life was taking.

Before long, I was unable to deny my body’s needs.. I was deathly hungry, which was where my first big hurdle of being an independent person made itself known: I didn’t have any money. Sure, for those first few days, I had been able to peddle my various sob stories to get a sympathy stake of pancakes, a ham sandwich.. You know, just whatever they’d be willing to hand out. I guess I could have gone to one of those halfway houses, but after the orphanage, I felt like I’d just be trading one Hell for another.

Or I could have returned home. But what was left for me there? My family was dead, and for all I knew, my house had been trashed in the quake. There was just too much there that wasn’t there anymore, if you get what I mean.

Things got pretty bad, eventually. Spent my sixteenth birthday on the streets, and man, there’s only so much garbage you can eat before you’re ready to do something drastic. So, I got to thinking.. Paragon City was full of people with special gifts, who were so in demand due to the rising crime that the city was actually taking care of these guys. And even then, crime was still an ever-prevalent force. They were always looking for new heroes to stem the tide. And that’s when it hit me: I could totally be a crook.

I figured, hey, if things are so bad that a few thousand heroes can’t rid the city of crime, then obviously there’s a reason for it. I mean, they always seemed to be fighting some maniac trying to destroy the city tram or kill the mayor. You never saw front page news about how the Statesman foiled a robbery at the local Shop-N-Go. In all likelihood, I’d just fall through the cracks and never be enough of a threat for anyone to stop me.

So, inspired by my favorite hockey team as a kid, I took the name of The Rabid Weasel and started my low-profile career as a convenience store robber. Ah, what a glamorous life: decked out in muddy jeans, sweaty T-shirt emblazoned with the Weasel team logo, two socks tied around my face as a makeshift mask, and armed with a pistol I had managed to swipe from one of the numerous crime scenes around Paragon.

Yeah, it went pretty well for a while. But like all good things, it didn't last...

"Put the money in the bag, man!" Sebastian Stevens, in the guise of The Rabid Weasel, meant business. After two months of his crime spree, he'd gotten the process down pat: run in, flash the gun, shout your order, and wait for the money to roll in. The attendants all knew the drill, as well. Growing up in a city like Paragon meant you had to be prepared for these kinds of things.

Thankfully, this meant no one was ready to try anything stupid to stop Weasel. In all these times he'd held a place up, he'd never once had to resort to violence. Truthfully, if the situation escalated to that, he would have left. Sebastian may have had his moral compass tweaked a little too far south, but he was no psycho. Eight missing years or not, the first seven had been marked by the strong influences of his parents, and he knew better.

"Please, just take it and go! I won't stop you, I promise!"

"Dude, I know how this works, okay? I mean, I've done this before.. I'm sure you've heard of me."

"Uh.. a-, are you going to shoot me if I say no..?"

"Well," the Weasel said with a grin, "maybe in the foot or something." At that, the worker's face drained, obviously unsure whether or not he was kidding. Not one for needless fear, Sebastian decided to try and calm the middle-aged man. "Look, I'm not here to hurt you, okay? Once I get the money, I'm gone, and you can go back to rearranging the Twinkies in the junk food aisle."

The man gave a nervous laugh, which Sebastian was all too happy to return. But the jovial atmosphere was cut short when the would-be crook caught something out the corner of his eye. Startled, he swung quickly to his right, training his weapon on the dairy section. Nothing.

Sebastian returned his gaze to the worker, who was now slowly reaching beneath the counter. Now paranoid, The Rabid Weasel pulled the hammer back on his weapon, loading a round into the chamber.

"Hey, I thought we had a deal, here! Just.. chill, okay?" The attendant nodded slowly, withdrawing his hands from whatever he'd been reaching for. "Is, uh.. there something funny going on here? Something you're not telling me?" Weasel was sure he had seen something, but the man shook his head in the negative. "Okay, then, just hurry up with the cash."

Shaking under the pressure, the man fumbled awkwardly as he stuffed whatever was in the register into the bag he had been provided with by the all-too friendly kid robbing him. Pistol still aimed at the register worker, Sebastian was mumbling 'come on, come on' under his breath. He'd been in here far too long, and the eerie feeling he had continued to eat at his nerves. At last, the man offered the filled bag.

Just then, Sebastian felt something brush against his hand, applying pressure to his trigger finger. Before he could make sense of what was going on, it was already too late. The weapon had discharged, hitting the innocent clerk squarely in the chest. The man’s hand tightened around the paper bag of cash, crinkling it between his fingers as he sagged backwards behind the counter, out of sight.

The gun was let slip as Sebastian vaulted over the countertop, feet snagging on a display case of cigarettes, spilling the packages of smokes all around the clerk. A pool of blood had gathered beneath the twitching man, blossoming outward. The teen instinctively applied pressure to the wound, horrified as he watched the man's life slip away from him.

Once more, Sebastian caught what seemed to be a slight shimmer to his left. Without thinking, he planted a hand in the pool of blood and shot both his legs out in a mule kick. He felt resistance in the empty space, tied to a grunt of pain. But before he could venture a guess as to what he'd just struck, the sound of sirens drew his attentions away. When he looked back, both the shimmer and the money were nowhere to be found. Scared witless, the teen gathered himself and bolted out the door, rushing off into the night.

I fled, but it was already too late. This was something that would find me no matter where I hid, or how far I ran. This wasn't just some two-bit robbery.. A man was dead. And no matter how much I tried to rationalize that it wasn't my fault -- that I hadn't really pulled the trigger -- I knew that my being there was what started it all. Whatever had happened, it was because of me. I didn't pull the trigger intentionally, but I may as well had.

It didn't take long for the news to spread. My threat had gone from one of minimum care, to a bona fide top-of-the-list investigation. And lending a helping hand was a local group of heroes, Tempered Steel. They dispatched one of their members to track me down and bring me to justice. Using image enhancement software powered by Rikti technology, the heroes were able to get a composite of my face from the security camera tape at the store. Before you could say 'tragic death,' a local tipster had given them a heads up on where to find me.

I couldn't have fought back even if I wanted to. I may be a mutant, but my limited powers were no match for them. I only had the strength of a kid at their peak physical condition. How could I stand up to someone who could flick a car at my head? So, I willingly surrendered when they found me. But that didn't mean I was going to go quietly.

Demanding to be heard, I explained that I hadn't meant to fire the gun, and that someone or something had made me do it. They said they had me on tape, and that there was no denying what I had done. It was then that I told them about the invisible man.

Needless to say, they weren't impressed. But I was so adamant about it that they had no choice but to review the security footage once again. Now that they knew what to look for, it was simple to find the proof I needed. There, sneaking up beside me, was a barely noticeable warp in the surrounding area. Guess my heightened sense of my surroundings had a few more uses than I initially realized.

I left the rest up to them, marveling at the speed at which they were able to bring this criminal in. They had banded together, pooled their resources to uncover hidden clues and leads, and done the impossible. I was amazed.

Turned out the guy had done it before. In his late twenties, Marty Gabriel was able to blend his body in with his surroundings like a chameleon. Seems he would run around town stark naked, hidden by his powers, hanging around easy targets for robbery. And when someone would do just that, he'd waltz in, frame them for murder, and head out with the cash in hand.

Couldn't help but feel a certain sense of satisfaction, knowing I had played some small part in the apprehension of a murderer. But for me, that wasn't penance enough. Exonerated on the murder charges, I still had to answer for my string of robberies, considering I couldn't deny any of them. After all, it wasn't often you forget the image of a guy with socks wrapped around his head pointing a gun at you.

But as Fate would have it, one of the more respected members of Tempered Steel, an ethereal chick by the name of Silk Dove, said she saw potential in me. She'd seen me break down in tears the night of my capture; had watched as I took personal pleasure in seeing a killer brought before the law. I guess she saw something in me I hadn't..

Under the assumption that sending me to prison would only harden me and possibly send me even further down the wrong path, Silk Dove offered to train me. She would help me hone my limited abilities and put them to good use. What else could I say but yes?

But, I don't think she knew precisely what she was getting herself into...



I remember reading this on the beta boards and I'm still waiting for an ending. =p Good work, Slipshod. Keep it up.




Hehe. Thanks. Yeah, this is everything caught up from the beta boards. Now is when I actually have to start writing the rest. If possible, next part will be up tomorrow or the day after, depending on how this TF is going to work out.



Part V: Cut Loose (A)

“Oh, come on! It’s a Friday night!” Even though his parents were dead, Sebastian Stevens found himself, for all intents and purposes, grounded. His new mentor, Silk Dove, proved herself to be the strict, no-nonsense type, who wasn’t afraid to dole out punishments on a whim. At least, that’s how Bastian saw it. “I should be out there beating ***, not studying.”

“The only thing you’ll be hitting tonight are the books, Gossamer.”

“Oh, God! I told you, stop calling me that!” When Sebastian had joined Tempered Steel, Silk Dove took him under her wing as the replacement for her previous sidekick. Had he known he’d have to take not only the identity of the hero, but a similar suit, as well, he never would have joined. Especially after he found out the previous Gossamer was a teenage girl.

“Until you prove yourself as a member of this team, there are certain things you must endure.” Dove stood straight, looking down her nose at the young man. Sebastian looked her up and down, almost disbelieving how startlingly similar their costumes were. Both were pearly white in color, with tufts of feathers trailing their down the length of their arms. The only noticeable difference was that his suit had ditched the skirt in favor of really, really constrictive pants.

“Like utter humiliation?” he asked, thumbing over his shoulder to his own costume, which was messily slung over the back of a chair.

“Among other things.” There was no change in her voice; no alteration in her features to give away her emotions. Bastian couldn’t tell if she was joking or not.

“Man, come on! All the other heroes my age are off saving the world!”

“And if other heroes were jumping off a cliff, would you?”

“Well.. Yeah. ‘cause, like, I’d kind of survive it, you know?” He patted his muscular legs. Silk Dove had spent months training him to not only better control his enhanced sense of surroundings, but also instructed him in some basic self-defense. And it seemed that the harder she pushed him, the more his healing would kick in to further mutate his body, making him exponentially stronger. Compared to most other heroes, though, Sebastian was still relatively weak.

“Your body may be strong, but your mind is weak. It has been four months since you had arrived, and yet you are as careless in battle as ever.” She turned, heading for the door. “And that is why you are on probation, and will continue to be until you shape up.”

Silk Dove passed through the doorway, giving a polite smile to the previous Gossamer, Amy Howard, as she entered the room her mentor had just exited. The young girl, now going by Peregrine, decided it would be fun to come check on her replacement after hearing about his recent problems. That, and she thought he was kind of cute.

“Hey there, Bastian. What’cha reading?”

“Uh, nothing!” With a broad swipe of the arm, Sebastian had cleared the table before him of the textbooks he’d been studying before Silk Dove had come to check up on him. “Just, you know.. Tactical information on, ah, the Outcasts.”

“Looked like The Great Gatsby, to me. But I’m not the one that catches every little detail in a situation, so I could be wrong,” she grinned, taking a seat nearby. “How is it?”

“Finished it a little while ago. It was okay, I guess. Would be pretty sweet if I was Gatsby, though. Being rich and mysterious would rock.”

“You did read what happened to him at the end, right?” She blinked.

“I kind of skipped around,” he remarked, shrugging. “Did he get forced to stay inside on a Friday night, bored out of his mind, too?”

“Not quite,” she managed to choke out between snickers.

“Hey, you’re a senior member, now. Can’t you get me out of this?”

“Nooo, no. You’re not pulling me into this mess!” she smirked, rising from her chair. “Dove is a great person, and a wonderful teacher, but I wouldn’t cross her if my life depended on it. She can be a little rough.”

“Tell me something I don’t know.”

“Well,” she said coyly, reaching down to grab Bastian’s hand, “there is something I could show you.” With that, she pulled him up and lead him out the door and down the hall, toward the living quarters of the Tempered Steel headquarters.

“I, wh, uh,” he stammered, swallowing the lump in his throat. “What are we doing?”

“I’m going to show you that super strength isn’t the only useful ability you’ve got, Bastian.” Amy took a second to look back at him, offering a little wink. “That is, unless you don’t think you’re ready..”

“Oh, no! I’m.. I’m so ready! I mean, you’re like a year older than me, but,” he began, before Amy stopped in her tracks, turning to shush him with a finger to his lips.

“Close your eyes.” Sebastian did so, as the nervous tension in his stomach began to grow. After they’d taken a dozen more steps, he heard the distinct sound of a door opening. A soft push, and he was inside another room. “Okay, open them.”

What Bastian saw when he complied wasn’t exactly what he had been expecting. Behind the door had been a small, claustrophobic room filled with monitors and other technical gadgets. He turned to Amy, sporting a quizzical look.

“This is the information hub of Tempered Steel. We monitor the news and radio broadcasts for potential trouble, then direct field members of Steel to those areas.”

“And I’m interested in this because..?”

“Bastian, with your extra-sensory abilities, you could do a better job of monitoring all this than any other member could. I think it would be a good learning experience if you were to fill this role, tonight. It builds character.”

Sebastian gave her a look.

“Okay, okay, I’ve got a date tonight and Flashbang said I couldn’t go unless I found someone to take my shift. Please, Bastian, I can’t cancel on James again,” she pleaded, but saw his demeanor hadn’t changed. “And, hey, at least you get to order everyone where to go and stuff. I heard guys get off on that sort of thing, right?”

“That’s not all they get off on,” he mumbled breathlessly.



“So, will you do it? Pretty please?”

Sebastian shrugged.

“Thanks! You’re a doll!” She maneuvered around him, grabbing a few things she’d left in the room before she had originally gone to see him. As she moved, she gave a quick rundown of operations. “These are the television monitors, this bay over here has live feeds from around the base, and over there you can listen to the radio frequencies. That red button, you only push if something huge happens: nuclear threat, deathly plague, etc.. It’ll send a call to everyone and get them over here ASAP.”

“Nuclear threat? How often does that happen in this city, anyway?”

“You’d be surprised. Ciao!” And off she went to spend the night having fun, leaving Sebastian behind to do the dirty work. But things could have been worse, he reasoned. At least now he wouldn’t have his nose buried in a book for the rest of the evening. Besides, this position had its perks.

He focused all his attention on one screen in particular, which kept an eye on the headquarters’ entrance where Amy had just appeared on screen. Sebastian finger the controls, causing the camera to pan down and zoom in on her posterior.

“I could get used to this.”



Part V: Cut Loose (B)

As the night grew on, Sebastian found himself longing for the books he left behind. At least then he could watch television and listen to some music while he read. Instead, he was confined to the most uncomfortable chair he’d ever sat in, relegated to handing out the most inane tasks he’d ever heard. And half the time, one of the members of Tempered Steel would radio back minutes later that another group of heroes had beaten them to the punch. It wasn’t until quarter past midnight that things started looking up.

One of the scanners had picked up a cell phone call to the emergency 911 dispatch center, placed by a young man who claimed to have been chased into a nearby warehouse by thugs. Sebastian glanced up to a map of the city, where a multitude of flashing lights were littered around the city, each one signifying a member of Tempered Steel. Even Amy’s location was made known. Had he not been so preoccupied with the contents of the emergency call, he might have made a joke about her coordinates lying somewhere on Sherman’s Point, a favored make-out spot for teens.

“Damn, none of them are in range. By the time they get there, that guy could be dead…” He couldn’t tell if he was genuinely concerned, or just trying to justify what he was about to do. “Well, I can’t just abandon him.. I mean, the name of Tempered Steel would be forever tarnished!”

Before he had even finished the sentence, Bastian was halfway down the hall, turning a corner into the main study where he had left the upper half of his costume. The loose-fitting t-shirt he’d been wearing was discarded just as carelessly as the top of his uniform had been, which he was now busy squeezing into. However, try as he might, he couldn’t remember where he’d tossed his mask. With little time to spare, he rushed off to where the team stored their gadgets, forced to make due with a pair of slim night-vision goggles to conceal his identity.

Bolting for the door, he passed by the large wall mirror that graced the entrance to the Victorian-style house that Tempered Steel called home. Getting a good look at himself, Sebastian had to admit he looked absolutely ridiculous. That was when he noticed Flashbang’s favorite jacket hanging on the coat rack, long-sleeved with a collar lined with white fur. He couldn’t resist, snatching the stylish piece of clothing and slinging it on before giving one final glance to the mirror. “Niiiice.” Without wasting a further moment, Bastian burst out the door and vaulted down the street and over buildings, heading for the warehouse in question.

Using the unnatural strength that coursed through his body to power his tremendous leaps, Sebastian was able to reach his destination in no time flat. Opting for the most dramatic entrance, found himself crashing through one of the various skylights. And, in true heroic form, he landed in his most gallant pose -- surrounded on all sides by gun-toting brutes.

“Well, crap.”

“Who are you supposed to be?” asked the bearded one off to his right.

“Captain Tightpants.” He could almost hear the collective blinking of everyone around him. He gave a nonchalant shrug. “It’s a working title.” They chuckled a bit, momentarily distracting them from their task, which gave Sebastian just enough time to catch them off guard. With a short hop, he flung his arms and legs akimbo until he was spread eagle in midair, simultaneously hitting three of his would-be assailants. Hesitant to catch each other in the crossfire, the group converged on the flailing teen, each one taking a good licking as they got in range.

He would flip off one, striking another with the back of his fist, before delivering a shoulder check that bowled over anyone that got too close. But even after dropping a good deal of his foes, Sebastian found himself sorely outnumbered. And when he heard the telltale click behind his ear of a gun’s hammer being drawn back, he froze, knowing he had lost. However, the sharp crack in the back of his skull wasn’t a bullet shattering bone, but the sound of him being pistol-whipped into unconsciousness.

When reality flooded back in, Bastian had been clamped to a long, metal slab, with various apparatuses clinging to his body. After his first instinct to struggle against the harnesses proved futile, the teen resigned himself to surveying his surroundings. Although his head was tightly cemented into place, his enhanced peripheral vision gave him enough leeway to see just what was going on.

Three men were spread out on either side of him, discussing the present situation. All three wore finely-tailored suits, the kind he saw all the time on the bigwigs that worked for Crey Industries when they appeared on the nightly news. Another man, similar dressed, was further off behind his companions, speaking to a woman in a lab coat. And at the extent of his vision, he noticed a couple of the mooks that had attacked him earlier dragging a body over to the corner, where a large pile of colorfully-dressed figures had already been lumped together. He guessed they were other heroes.

“Doctor, he seems to be awake,” came a hoarse whisper from one of the Fancies at his side. The haze from the blow to his head was now completely lifted, releasing its hold on his other senses. Sound had now reintroduced itself to the boy.

“Odd, the drug shouldn’t have worn off yet. Perhaps his physiology is more advanced than we thought,” the lady replied.

“Will this effect the outcome of the tests?” asked another Fancy.

“It shouldn’t,” she mused, “but if it does, I’m sure another ‘willing’ subject will be along shortly.” This elicited a chuckle from the group. Bastian didn’t find it at all humorous.

“W, what are you, going to do to me..” he managed to strain out, but was ignored, the doctor turning to a tray behind her. A large needle was produced from its surface, filled with a metallic liquid that reflected the light in various prismatic colors. Sebastian’s eyes grew wide.

“Once the serum is administered, if successful, the results should be near instantaneous.” Unlike the movies, there was no slow trek forward as the doctor menacingly brandished his instrument. Her movements were quick and methodical, obviously trained from years of medical work. The needle had already punctured his skin when Sebastian heard a curious voice in his head that wasn’t his own.

Shut your eyes, it said. With the woman maneuvering her hand to thumb the needle’s plunger, Bastian felt he had little time to argue. Almost as quickly as his eyes had closed, a wave of pressure swept over his body, accompanied by a piercing light that seeped through his eyelids, tinted red by the blood that flowed in them.

The pressure was enough to shock his system, dizzying his senses. Even when he did dare to open his eyes, Bastian found the room was spinning out of control. But through the tilt-a-whirl of images, he noticed the familiar figures of the members of Tempered Steel, each on busying themselves with battling and arresting the thugs that had been sprung on them.

Sebastian felt the pinch of the needle leaving his arm, followed by a pair of cool hands resting on his temples. They belonged to Silk Dove, who was using her psychic abilities to help steady the young man’s senses, which had been thrown off kilter by Flashbang’s previous assault. It was then he realized that she had been the one telling him to close his eyes.

“Thanks,” he said, trying to show his appreciation for the act. But the rarely-seen hint of passion in her eyes signaled that she wasn’t too happy with him, so he felt it best just to shut his mouth. After freeing him from the restraints, Sebastian cautiously sat up, rubbing the back of his neck where he’d been struck as he surveyed the room.

Of the doctor and her four, fancily-clad cohorts, only one of the men was in sight, doubled over and dry heaving. Sebastian surmised it had something to do with the nauseous feeling that came with Flashbang’s sensory disruption attacks.

Hopping off the table, the teen realized the upper half of his costume was gone. As the rest of the team cleaned up the stragglers, he was looking for the missing articles of clothing. The night vision goggles and jacket were found none the worse for wear. He couldn’t say the same for the fruity top, which had thankfully been shredded, most likely by the doctor so that she could have easier access to his body.

Once again donning the jacket to cover his exposed skin, and the goggles to hide his identity, Sebastian rejoined the members of Tempered Steel, who had now gathered in the center of the warehouse to look for clues. But as Sebastian would find out the next morning at the team meeting, the doctor had escaped with all of her equipment, save for the lone dose of whatever she had planned to give to him.

“What about the man in the suit we captured?” asked Sebastian, who sat at the furthest end of the oak table where the meetings were held. Unlike the rest, who had all opted to wear their uniforms, he was clad in t-shirt and jeans, drying his wet hair from that morning’s shower.

“Clint Jeffries,” Flashbang, leader of Tempered Steel, recalled from memory the research he’d done prior to the meeting. “Ex-Crey worker. Got sacked for unethical practices, if you can imagine it.”

“Which basically means he got caught doing something Crey told him to, and to cover their [censored], they disavowed any knowledge of it and took swift action to make themselves look better,” Amy chimed in.

“Most likely,” Flashbang continued. “Anyway, the police say he’s not talking. And since most Crey associates undergo training to build mental barriers to protect from psychic searches, we can’t exactly take the easy route.”

“As for the hooligans they had guarding them, they were just hired from local gangs to do a job. They don’t know anything,” explained Ajax, second in command and trusted friend of Flashbang.

“I can’t believe they’d set a trap like that, though.” Sebastian coiled the towel around his neck. “I mean, why do something so high-profile and risky? Had to be a better way to get mutant subjects for their tests.”

“It’s possible they could have been forced into making a move. If Jeffries was canned by Crey because they didn’t back him up on his work, it stands to reason he holds a grudge. He may be working against them, in some way. And if that’s the case, Crey could be wise to his actions and be trying to put a stop to them.”

“So, basically, he got scared, made a rash move, and got screwed? Score one for the good guys, I guess,” Sebastian grinned. But once again, a look from Silk Dove had silenced him. She hadn’t said a word throughout the entire meeting, which was odd, since it seemed like she never shut up any other time. Bastian guessed she was saving it up just for him.

“We may have stopped them for now,” Flashbang offered, voice heavy, “but they still managed to do a lot of damage. You were the first on the scene, Sebastian, but there were others that arrived after you that weren’t so lucky. When the doctor discovered they weren’t mutants, she ordered them killed. Paragon lost several protectors last night.” A moment of silence was given, before Flashbang finally dismissed the meeting.

“’cept you, Sebastian. We need to talk.”

The boy curiously watched as the others left, filing out the door behind him until on he, Flashbang and Silk Dove remained. Looked like he was right about the lashing he was about to receive.

“Okay, look, I know last night was kind of a..”

“No, Gossamer” Dove interrupted, her usually calm voice now awash with annoyance. “For once, you will be silent. Do you honestly believe there is any excuse for your actions?” Even if she hadn’t forbade him to respond, Sebastian would have had no answer.

“Sebastian, even if you weren’t on probation, we wouldn’t have allowed you to go on this mission alone.” Flashbang was severely disappointed with their newest member. “You simply haven’t had the kind of training to deal with a situation competently, yet. Not without potentially putting yourself and others in danger.”

“Which you did,” Dove continued.

“This is totally unfair!” Sebastian fumed, his anger at their ganging up on him forcing the outburst. “I thought some guy was in trouble, so I went to help! If there had been someone, he could’ve been dead by the time you guys got there!”

“Fine, I’ll give you that. But if that was the case, why didn’t you radio one of us to tell us about the situation? Even if you had gone on ahead, we would have been able to send backup and arrived much sooner than we had. You were lucky Peregrine came home when she did, and that you had taken worn your costume. If it hadn’t been for its built-in tracking device, we’d never have found you. You’d be dead right now.”

“But I’m not,” Sebastian reasoned.

“Other are, however.” Silk Dove rose from her seat, to further impose a sense of authority on the boy. “In the hours after you arrived, while you lay unconscious, other heroes who had heard the distress call had ventured into the warehouse. Like you, they were unprepared and easily handled. But unlike you, they were deemed unnecessary for the doctor’s tests, and killed. Had we known of the situation, we would have arrived sooner and possibly altered their fates.”

“That’s bull! You can’t blame me for that!”

“Indeed, we can. Since the day we took you in, you have been nothing but a nuisance. You are careless with your actions, often doing more harm than good. You cannot simply run slipshod around the city!” It was the first time Bastian had heard the woman raise her voice, and as such, the line carried some weight with him.

“As of now,” Flashbang began, “we’re not sure whether or not your status as a member of Tempered Steel will be revoked or not. We’ll have to talk about it with the others, to see if…”

“To see if what? If I’m worth it?!” Sebastian flew from his seat, stalking towards the door. “How ‘bout I make the decision easy for you, huh? I quit!” The door was flung open.

“Sebastian! Remember, the only reason you’re here is to keep you out of jail for the crimes you’ve committed! If you leave..” The teen paused in the doorway.

“If you…” his voice was shaky, at first, but eventually he found the strength to continue. “I won’t come quietly.”

Silk Dove made a move to go after him as he slammed the door, but Flashbang stopped her.

“Let him cool off. If he does leave, we’ll keep tabs on him. We’re not really sure what it’s like for him. Maybe we’re just not equipped to give him the help he needs. He needs to find that on his own.”

Silk Dove stood silently. She didn’t agree with Flashbang, but would respect his decision. Down the hall in the living quarters area of the house, Sebastian was hastily packing what few possessions he owned, and even some he didn’t, namely Flashbang’s expensive jacket he had forgotten to give back last night. He was already heading out into the hallway again, duffel bag slung over his shoulder, when Amy had caught up with him.

“Bastian, what’s going on?”

“I’m leaving!” he shouted, stomping for the exit like a spoiled child.

“Wait! This doesn’t make any sense! Just, please, calm down! Come talk to me about it!”

“Screw talking! Been doing way too much of that, lately. Time for action!”

“I don’t get it! Where will you go! Slow down!” Peregrine snagged him by the arm, halting his escape. For a moment, his voice returned to normal.

“Anywhere but here, Amy. Maybe.. Even if there’s nothing there, but a pile of rubble… It’s the only place I know. I’m tired of the city; the people in it. At least there, I’ll have my memories. Maybe that doesn’t mean anything, but they’re all I’ve got!” And once again, he returned to that single-tracked mind, rushing to get away from this place. This time, Amy didn’t follow.

“What?!” she asked, completely lost.

“I’m going home!”



Part VI: Ties

You’d be amazed how little that town has changed, even after the disaster. I guess the rebuild effort was successful, because there weren’t any signs a quake had ever hit. Then again, I was only seven years old last time I was here, and my knowledge of the town wasn’t as extensive as someone else’s may have been. Back then, as far as I was concerned, the town consisted of the street I lived on and nothing else.

And on that street, where the house I grew up in was once located, a parking lot now stood in its place. The rubble must have been paved over in favor of trying to save the structure. They must have figured since no one lived there anymore, no one would miss it. Guess they didn’t count on my miraculous recovery.

Although seeing my childhood replaced by efficient parking solutions was sobering, I admit, there were other, more important things on my mind. In my recent years, where I floated from one home to the next, I had come to realize that it wasn’t the place that mattered, it was the people. That was why I was drawn to that place; that place where I would finally squash the hope that, somehow, this was all just a dream…

The wrought-iron gates leading into Jenkin’s Cemetary were open, lashed to the fences with chains to keep the intense winds from blowing them shut. Just beyond them lay the hilly landscape that housed the ancestors of this town, and somewhere among them, the hollow graves of Sebastian’s parents.

Rows of headstones dotted the face of the area, seemingly placed without rhyme or reason. Daunted by the thought of walking aimlessly around the resting place of the dead, Bastian headed for the cemetery attendant’s house down a narrow path by the entrance. He couldn’t fathom how anyone in their right mind could make a living presiding over this place, let alone sleeping there, too. But as with all dirty jobs, someone had to do it. And that someone was named Frank DeSoto.

Before Sebastian had even knocked, the door was quickly drawn open. The abruptness of it startled the teen, who stumbled backward in shock as an old man exited. He caught himself just as the man was apologizing.

“Sorry ‘bout that, son! Saw you coming up the walk, and, well..”

“Couldn’t help but scare the Hell out of me?”

“No, no! Just, not a lot of people that come here actually make it down this way. It’s not exactly a time when they want to talk to strangers, you know.”

“I get that. So, what, you’re lonely or something?”

“Not at all. I just figure, if someone comes here needing my help, I should give it to ‘em promptly. The less time they have to spend with me, the more time they get to be with their loved ones in their time of need.”

“Okay, I’ll buy that. Just, next time, might want to cut back on the jack-in-the-box routine.”

“Granted. So, what can I help you with, sonny?” The man took a leisurely pose in the doorway, shoulder leaning against the frame.

“I’m looking for a grave… Um, two, actually. Could you help me find them?”

Without a word, the attendant retreated back into his house, leaving the door ajar. Sebastian gave a curious peek inside, but could only make out a dimly-lit room with a stack of newspapers in the corner before the man had returned with a large book in his hand, closing the door behind him. Both headed back up the path at a slow gait, DeSoto probing for further information.

“Who is it you’re looking for?” he asked, cracking open the book of records.

“Jonathan and Jessica Stevens.”

“Oh?” he yipped, as if it were more than an exclamation than a question.

“Yeah.. Did you know them, or something?” Sebastian felt a sudden twinge of excitement, as if this person held the secret to some forgotten memory.

“I knew of them,” he said, shutting the book. He must have recalled where they had been buried from memory, as he gave a quick wave of the hand, beckoning Sebastian to follow him down an eastern path. As they walked, DeSoto elaborated. “This town was small enough back then where anything of interest got around the gossip circuits quickly. I swear, that family must have been cursed.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, if you knew the Stevens, you probably heard about their son and that terrible disease. And what with the earthquake all those years later killing the parents, you’d have to think bad luck ran in their blood. My heart goes out to the other.. Son?”

DeSoto had just noticed that the boy had stopped some feet back. That was when he realized he’d been so caught up in the conversation that he had passed up their destination. But Sebastian had noticed. He never missed a thing.

An indescribable weight had forced the breath from Bastian’s lungs at the sight of his parents’ gravesite. His heightened sense of surroundings were entirely overrun by his intense focus on those two slabs of rock, etched with the names of the two he held closest to his heart. It didn’t matter that no bodies inhabited the boxes beneath the earth. These two stone markers and the emptiness they watched over were all that was left of his family. And he broke down.

Sebastian couldn’t remember skirting the other headstones to reach his parents’. He didn’t remember collapsing at their base, desperately clawing at the mottled surfaces. When the initial flood of emotion had lifted, he became aware of his wet cheek pressed against the cold stone, and a warm hand squeezing his shoulder.

The boy rose, steadying himself on his father’s gravestone as a forearm was brought up to wipe the tears from his face.

“Steady, son,” DeSoto cautioned in that low, husky voice of his. “I didn’t think.. I mean, you were acting so calm before.”

“I, I’ll be okay…” he offered, trying to steady his breathing after the wracking sobs had subsided. “I honestly wasn’t expecting it to hit me like that… I should have known, though, right? They’re my family, after all.”

“Oh? I had heard they didn’t have any extended family left.”

“Heh, sorry ‘bout that. Probably should have told you in the first place,” he said, allowing himself to smile a bit. “I’m their son.”

“That’s impossible! Nicholas would only be five or so years old today!”

“No, I’m Seba--.. Wait, what?”

And that’s how I found out about you. At first, I was a little skeptical. But once he’d explained everything, it was kind of hard not to believe. It wasn’t like he had anything to gain from lying to me, and he seemed kind enough.

Evidently, a year after I, ah, went to sleep, my… I mean, our parents, had decided to have another kid. Don’t worry, I don’t blame them or anything. I’m actually glad they got to have some happiness before they died. So, that’s how you came to be.

I wonder if you ever visited me at the hospital? If we met today, would you recognize me? Do you know even know that I exist? Sorry, I’m getting ahead of myself. It’s just so weird, finding out I’ve got a little brother. It’s like there’s this whole other part of me out there…

But where were you? After our parents had died, you were thankfully spared from the quake and eventually adopted. But no one could tell me who it was that had taken you in. Even the adoption agency refused to give me any information.

I had all but given up on finding you when someone had left a package outside my door, which was weird, because I hadn’t told anyone the hotel I was staying at. But I didn’t argue, ‘cause inside the package, I found everything I was looking for: your address, the details of your adoption, even a few photos someone had taken of you. I wasn’t sure whether or not to be ticked that someone was spying on you, or overjoyed that they’d sent me all this crap.

I didn’t waste any time getting to you. But when I’d gotten on your street, I saw your house… And you were outside, playing with your adopted father. You just looked so happy. I remembered a time when I was that happy… How could I even begin to tell you what I had gone through to get to this point? You were still so young, and had your whole life ahead of you. And here I was, bringing all my baggage with me.

The only reason I’m telling you this now, is that I don’t want you to think I never cared enough to come see you. Wanted to; I really did. But I guess I didn’t feel.. Worthy enough? Like you deserved someone better. Because I’m not like mom and dad; I’m not good and caring. I didn’t want to be the guy to represent what our family stood for.

That’s why I decided I needed a major change in my life…



Part VII: Rise and Shine

Paragon at night was a familiar landscape to Sebastian, by now. Three months before his eighteenth birthday, he had committed himself to the protection of the city, and after only two weeks of patrolling, navigating the streets and rooftops had become second nature. The facades of King’s Row and Steel Canyon‘s buildings, painted in the moonlit hues of blue and gray, had quickly become the landmarks Bastian used to get his bearings, while the streetlamps became the stars by which he plotted his course.

But by day, the city’s face was foreign to him. The harsh lights stung his eyes from nights without sleep as he tried to lead as much of a normal life as he could. After a few days of this behavior, though, he’d given up on trying to balance both sides of his existence. In that short span of time between then and now, the night had swallowed him whole. He had grown all-too comfortable in the darkness, seeking shelter when the sun rose. Depression quickly sat in, with Sebastian wondering if he even made a difference.

In a city full of heroes, what use was there for just one more? And an amateur one, at that. Despite the fact that he put his life on the line every night, the teen wasn’t sure if this made up for any of the wrong turns he had taken in his life. He was no longer sure whether he even could redeem himself in his own eyes; make himself worthy of the love of the brother he had never met.

Those desperate thoughts swam around his mind as he sat on the edge of a tall building, staring off into space. In this dazed state, he didn’t notice the sound of the approaching footsteps from behind. The person they belonged to had been keeping tabs on young Sebastian Stevens for some time, now. They had watched him return home, saw his face as he allowed himself to grieve for his parents, and the awestruck elation he demonstrated after the discovery of his younger brother’s existence.

Even afterward, when he had gone to see the this long-lost family member, only to lose his nerve at the sight of his happiness. And now they were here, having followed behind for quite some time. Then they spoke, a familiar feminine voice ringing in the young man’s ears.

“You seem lost,” she said, looking down at the teen hero-to-be. She noted his costume, a hodgepodge amalgamation of parts he’d no-doubt scrounged from any place he could find: thick knee-high boots that had been folded down at the thigh, leading into the green and white tights that had been patched in a few places. The upper portion had the sleeves torn off midway down the arms, where bare skin continued on until it met fingerless leather gloves. An open, fur-lined jacket adorned his shoulders, concealing the exposed skin of his arms and giving an odd unity to the outfit. And to top it off, a pair of switched-off night vision goggles in lieu of a mask, complimented by disheveled auburn hair, drenched in sweat.

Sebastian craned his neck around, meeting Silk Dove’s gaze. There was a slight shrug in response, before he returned to watching the skyline.

“You don’t seem surprised at my presence.”

“You forgot, I kind of don’t miss too many details,” he said, slightly grinning. It was the closest he’d come to a smile in quite a long time. “Caught you following me a few nights ago, actually.” But the grin faded, replaced with the sorrowful expression of before. Sebastian drew his legs to his chest, resting his chin across his arms, which now rested on his knees. “I even know why you’re here.”


“Yeah. You didn’t trust me enough to let me out of your sights.. Thought I might do something stupid, again. You’re just waiting for me to screw up again,” he finished, before stretching his legs out and getting to his feet. “Don’t worry, you probably won’t have to wait long.”

“I must admit, I expected you to return to us. But after you found you still had living relatives, I knew you were gone for good.”

“How so?” he asked, turning to face his one-time mentor.

“For the first time, I saw you focused. You were determined to find him, and despite failing at every turn, you continued to look. I saw a spark of possibility in you, Gossamer.”

“It’s, um, Slipshod, now.”

“Fitting,” she concluded, offering a smile. Sebastian was floored, having never seen the facial gesture on her before. But the cold, unwavering face of hers seemed to melt into warmth, a slight pink flush rising to her cheeks. It was the first time he noticed how stunningly beautiful the woman was. But the revelation was quickly glossed over, as another came to mind.

“Wait, if.. If you had been keeping tabs on me since then, then were you the one that sent me those files?”

“Correct. Deductive reasoning, or wild guess?”

“Let’s pretend it’s the first,” he mumbled, still a little shocked. “Why? If you say you saw me focused on it, why just give me the answer like that? That’s not the Silk Dove I remember.”

“Slip--.. Sebastian,” she began, gazing off into the night sky as a sad smile crept onto her lips. “Do you know why I am the only member of Tempered Steel to always have an active protégé?” The boy was tempted to make a crack about her need to boss others around, but the serious nature of the conversation curbed the urge. Instead, he simply shook his head.

“Before you, before Amy, before the Rikti Invasion.. There was another Gossamer: my sister.” Sebastian’s eyes widened a bit, but he made no move to speak. “I am not a warrior. My powers are useful in only certain situations. When I joined Tempered Steel, my sister did, as well. We would work as a single unit. I would use my abilities to benefit the team, and her strength would protect me.”

“When the Rikti invaded, everyone took action. No matter the status of the hero, they would join the fight. For that moment in history, no one hero seemed greater than another. We were all falling victim to the Rikti’s technology without prejudice.”

“…when Tempered Steel joined the battle, most of us were destroyed, the rest scattered. There was so much confusion within our ranks…”

“You were separated?” Sebastian asked, hesitantly.

“Yes,” she nodded. “Once the invasion had been thwarted, heroes began the search for those that were missing in action, my sister among them. Three months had passed before the news came that she had died,” she sighed out. A moment of silence passed, before she continued. “And that is why I chose to help you.”

“I still don’t get it…”

“Sebastian, I know what it’s like.. The ‘not knowing.’ Those three months were more agonizing than the knowledge of her death was.” Silk Dove hugged herself, showing a vulnerable side Sebastian had never seen. But her resolve seemed to return before he could reach out to comfort her. Suddenly, the stone-faced woman he once knew had resurfaced, bringing with it a change in demeanor. “I imagined it was the same for you, Slipshod. I felt I should spare you that hardship.”

Sebastian was stunned into silence. What else could be said between them on the matter? Instead, he simply stood at her side, watching the skyline as a hint of red began to edge in between the buildings. Dawn approached, and the boy would soon retreat into hiding again. But before that happened, he had some business to attend to.

“I’ve got a favor to ask, Dove. I know you’ve done so much already, but…” He trailed off.


“Could you hold onto this for me?” he asked, reaching into his jacket to retrieve a white envelope.

“What is this?”

“Something I’ve been working on. A letter. In case, you know.. Something happens to me,” he began, toeing the rooftop with his boot. “If something happens to me, I want him to know what I went through.. Why I did the things I did. Maybe if he understood, he wouldn’t hate me.”

“Hate you? What reason has he to hate you?”

“Think about it, Dove. I’m not exactly a good role model. I try to be a hero, but it doesn’t feel like I’m doing anything of meaning. There are thousands of others just like me in this city alone, all of whom are better and more experienced at this than I am. All I’ve got to show for my life are these mutant genes, and I can’t even do anything of worth with them!”

“Perhaps you’re pursuing the wrong path, Slipshod.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“You’re trying to define your worth by your heroic deeds. But what most won’t tell you is that being a hero is the easy part. It’s everything else that’s tough; the time when we are our true selves. Simply living is the hardest part of life. The paths we take, the ties we make.. They are what define us. Without them, a hero is just an empty shell. And, in the end, ultimately without worth.”

“Then, who am I? What is my true self?”

“That is something we all must find on our own,” she replied casually, walking away from the teen. “But we cannot find it by running away. We must face the hardship, and accept it. Can you do that, Slipshod?”

Sebastian dropped his gaze, taking a deep breath. When he looked up, Silk Dove had vanished, leaving only questions behind. Questions he didn’t think he could answer. However, none of that mattered, at the moment. The sun was rising, and he wanted to get away from the light. But as he turned from the coming dawn, he thought about how he had ended the letter to his brother.

Ever since I woke up, I’ve felt so alone. I didn’t have anyone to confide in, or to turn to when I needed to talk. I wanted to be that person for you, though. The one that saves you when you’re falling. But right now, I’m the one that’s falling… And I’m not sure how to stop it. Yeah, a major change is needed in my life, but what? How can I save myself? I’m not even sure there’s a way to…

And that’s why I wrote this, Nicholas. To let you know that I tried.. Hopefully, to let you realize that, even before I knew you existed, everything I’ve done has been for you. To become someone you’d be proud to call a brother. But I’m still falling, and I may never recover. So, please, if someday this letter finds you, don’t judge me on the person I was. Judge me on the person I wanted to be. And remember that I love you, even without you knowing, even without a reason.. Because you’re family.

Your brother,

As his own words echoed in his mind, Sebastian stopped in his tracks. The growing warmth of day caused the hair on the back of his neck to stand at attention, and he closed his eyes in appreciation of the sun’s caress. He pulled away the goggles that had impeded his vision, and placed them inside his jacket pocket, turning to face the sunrise.

The heat invigorated him, whereas so many other times the light had drained him of his will to go on. Now, though, there was something different about it. It didn’t force him to run, it dared him to stay. It challenged him to live under its harsh gaze. And he would rise to meet that challenge.

Sebastian Stevens’ eyes fluttered open, taking in the glorious sunrise. The city was awash in the orange glow, now teeming with early-morning commuters on their way to work, each one pressing on in the face of adversity to make something of their short time on this planet. And even though he had been taught never to stare at the sun, he couldn’t tear his eyes away.

“Okay, Paragon… Catch me!” His legs pumped, and in act of defiance against gravity, he leapt off the edge of the building, heading for the horizon. He knew he may never reach it.

But that wasn’t going to stop him from trying.


And so ends my little tale. It wasn't always the best written, but I felt it offered some unique twists and genuine emotion that I hope everyone else caught on to, as well. And while you guys haven't been the most vocal of readers, I appreciate everyone that stopped by to take a look. It's always nice to believe there are people who find even just a little bit of interest in something you're doing.

Now that I'm done here, I'm not sure what I'll do next. But whatever it is, I'm sure it'll be fun, 'cause this game and these boards are awesome. So, thanks for all your support! And.. stuff.



*standing ovation*



*standing ovation*

[/ QUOTE ]

Wow, thanks! Glad you liked it.

I think I figured out what my next little project is gonna be.. Slipshod lives in an apartment complex for heroes, so I might start a roleplaying topic about the building. Would be a good way to meet other people, I guess. It would be like FRIENDS, but with eye-beams and stuff. And, really, who wouldn't want that?



Awsome... just Awsome... I will be awaiting your apartment story... I might join in



hmmm...that gives me an idea...



Very well done. You've left me almost speechless...



I saw this forum and I thought "who would take the time to do something like this?" Then the start of your story caught my eye. I read the first few lines and before I knew it I read the whole darn thing. I'm an avid reader of many genres and I would buy the book on this story if you had one.

Fantasic! I want more! What happens to him??? I need to know!

Thank you



Wow, I didn't think anyone would even read this thing, and then I get a great, overwhelming response.. I'm stunned! Makes me wish I had worked even harder on it.

As for what happens next, well, that all depends. You can check out some of the other posts in the roleplaying forum to see what he's up to.. And if I ever get the time again, I'm sure I can come up with a new story for him. Anyways, glad you enjoyed it!



Some people seem to have the knack of doing better, without trying, than others who do work harder. Kudos, much applause, and appreciations. Very well-written.

Incidentally, I feel I should mention that normally I'm opposed to bumping a thread, along the lines that if people aren't posting it should be canned. That said....




Wow, I knew your writing was good from reading the Whitemoore Apartments open RP (I spent two day reading it so I could join in) but I have only just read this story.

Its really good.

Good thing you bumped it Genius4Hire otherwise I would have missed it.



Oh, yeah! I read this story before I got the game. I meant to post here when I got my account straight but forgot all about it.

Well done Genius4Hire for reminding me.

And congratulations on an involving an well-written story, Slipshod. I really enjoyed it when I first read it, and I think I'll remind myself of it now.

The Elysienne; Magical controller
Silent Sickle; Natural scrapper
And many more.
Aenigma Rebis: "Actually, Ely's more like Jean Grey. Only... smart."



If I weren't so averse to using emoticons, I know which one I'd be using right now..! Oh, what the heck.


I came here to go check out Sly Fox's story for RP-purposes.. Didn't expect to see this thing at the top of the page. Pleasant surprise, at least! I've gotten so much feedback through this post and PMs that it's been pretty overwhelming. The places I'm used to posting things like this are usually very quiet, and you're lucky to get a few comments. I've been blessed to here back from such a diverse set of people!

But anyways, not to elevate my importance in the grand scheme of things, but I hope I've made some people's vision of the CoH world just a tiny bit larger with this story, and especially the Whitmoore Apartment thread, which has far exceeded my expectations.

I can't wait to see what people come up with in the future, so everyone remember to post, post, post! The more color we add to this world, the more interesting it will be. Which is never a bad thing, right?

Hah.. sorry for my rambling. I'm trying to get into the mood for an RP-post I've got to write, and this was a good warmup. So thanks!



Well! Excellent work, I don't have anything to add, this was quite outstanding.



This is awesome and I've been telling all my friends to read it to!



I did it all backward: I started with the Whitmoore Apt thread, then the Whitmoore origin, and finally this. What a backasswards way to find a story. It was worth it.

This was the best thing I've read in weeks, and that's including about a dozen published popular novels.

<bump> So someone else can enjoy!

Together we entered a city of strangers, we made it a city of friends, and we leave it a City of Heroes. - Sweet_Sarah
BOYCOTT NCSoft (on Facebook)
Governments have fallen to the power of social media. Gaming companies can too.



Wow,this really was an awesome and inspiring story,good job,no...GREAT job!
One question tho,is Tempered Steel the name of your real sg,or did you just make it up for the story? ,also are the members in the story real chars?
Trivial question I know,but I'm interested