It was a quiet night, but the echoes of conversation still drifted across the bar. Will wasn’t listening to any of them. Roy, the bartender, was drifting back and forth behind the long bar, as if he wasn’t quite sure where he should be standing.
The glossy oak bar seemed to glow in the golden light. Will felt his fingers tapping out a slow pattern on its surface, but couldn’t remember when it started. The sound joined the muffled noises of the other customers, blending into the meaningless rhythm that filled the air.
The drink in front of Will was almost completely untouched, and Roy’s eyes kept darting between the two. He kept almost saying something, but the words died in his throat. Over the years, there had been few customers he couldn’t start a conversation with; normally, Will was easy. He’d join into any conversation Roy wanted to start. But today there was a wall around him that Roy couldn’t seem to work his way through.
Will stared at the slowly melting ice in the glass. When he had come here, he’d wanted nothing more than to drink until his mind turned into a happy slippery puddle, but the bourbon was turning sour on his tongue and his mind was stuck in a constant loop.
He probably shouldn’t have let Unimportant walk off like that, but he couldn’t have stopped him either. The kid’s emotions were running wild; he’d been stuck without any human contact for around two months and now that he was back he was lashing out.
Will forced a sip of the drink down.
Or maybe he was completely right about Will and his reaction was perfectly natural. Will wasn’t so naïve that he didn’t realize he was a different person than he’d been a few years earlier. He didn’t regret being Rumor, not anymore, but whatever had driven him to become a hero was gone. Despite what a few of his old friends claimed, Rumor had died in that jail cell in the other world. The only thing left was an old man who liked to pretend he still did something important.
So why couldn’t he get rid of the pain in his chest? Why was there a lump spinning around in his stomach? Rumor was supposed to be gone.
And yet, Unimportant had figured it out. He wasn’t the first, but over the years, Will had given up more and more of the man he used to be. The few pieces he had left fit into a different puzzle. Unimportant had put it together anyway. It could be he had just gotten lucky, but Will had stopped believing in luck a long time ago. Unimportant was good at what he did, maybe even better than Will had been at his age.
The ice in is drink was almost completely melted now, and Roy’s mouth had been drawn down deeper with every passing minute. The bar hadn’t grown any emptier, but almost all of the customers had changed. They were just as loud as before, but somehow the ticking of the clock on the wall had started to drown out all of them.
A familiar voice was talking to Roy, but Will couldn’t be bothered to identify it. They seemed to have trouble believing whatever Roy was telling them, but the bartender insisted.
Will set some money on the counter and moved for the door. Apparently, drinking wasn’t going to help this time.
The nights had started getting cooler. Summer had long since turned to fall, but in most parts of the city the weather was the only way to tell.
It had started raining while he’d been in the bar; the soft pattering of the drops onto the concrete sidewalks and asphalt roads tried to fill Will’s head, but his mind pushed it to the side like it had all the rest. There wasn’t anything happening, there wasn’t anything to distract him from the weight in his chest. There wasn’t He didn’t have an umbrella, but the water that was soaking into his coat wasn’t as cold as he thought it should be and he didn’t want to deal with a cab.
He didn’t have a destination, but his feet carried him east. If he had kept track properly, then none of the kids should live on the path he was taking. That was good enough.
Someone was darting after him, their footsteps splashed through the layer of water on the ground.
It had been a long time since he’d seen him out of uniform, but even without it, the air around Slipstream seemed to dance unnaturally. His golden brown hair drifted lazily despite the rain.
Tim Beck took the chance to catch his breath.
Will slowly led him under the awning of a nearby store.
“What is it?”
“There was a disk dropped off at the Council Room last night. It’s a threat against every hero in the city. We don’t know who sent it, but you need to see what’s on it.”
“That’s your business. It has nothing to do with me.” Will started to walk away.
More quickly than he should have been able to move, Tim was standing in front of Will.
“Will, I can’t tell you why, and I can’t make you come with me, but a long time ago, you thought of me as a friend. Right now, you need to trust me, because I know that you need to see that disk.”
“Give me one good reason why.”
“Someone killed Stalker.”