They were laughing. They were all together for the first time since Frankenstein’s attack, and they were taking the chance to celebrate. It was the kind of thing that most heroes never took the time to do.
Will watched them from a roof across from the hospital. Two of them were in hospital beds, and a third would probably be confined as soon as the nurses realized he’d left his room again. But they were alive; they were safe. They’d taken out a villain who should have killed them all.
And he’d been gone. For nearly two weeks.
It had taken days for the news of Jaeger’s escape to reach the people who needed to know the most. Rachel and Mitchell should have been moved out of the city where Jaeger couldn’t find them. There were at least three heroes near the city with powers that could neutralize Jaeger in the right circumstances. But the information had died before it reached who it needed to.
He hadn’t made his rounds. He’d spent years making sure news made it through the city, but he never realized that he made himself essential. He was supposed to disappear, and instead he’d become just as important as Will Writer as he’d been as Rumor.
Those kids were his responsibility. They never should have been fighting somebody like Jaeger, not when there was another option. He should have been there to stop them, to keep them safe.
“And how far would you have gone?” The voice was loud and clear, but it never touched his ears.
“Stay out of my head, Meister.”
A figure appeared on the roof next to him. Today, he was a walking shadow wearing a green hood held on by a red brooch, but when you weren’t really there, you could look like anything you wanted to.
“Trust me, I’m more than happy to stay out of the mosh-pit you call a brain, but when you think that loudly, you can’t blame people for listening in.”
Will shoved his thoughts beneath a layer of noise, and Meister flickered for a moment.
“That…was rude. And you’re trying to change the subject. When Jaeger came after his son, what would you have done?”
“It wouldn’t have gotten that far.”
Meister snorted. “Even you aren’t that conceited. Jaeger wouldn’t have fallen for any trap you set. He had already taken out the only Council member still in the city, the only runner we thought had a chance with keeping up with him. He couldn’t be tracked. He couldn’t be trapped. He would have found his son. What would you have done?”
Will stared into the hospital room. The nurses had shown up and were trying to get Mitchell to go back to his room. The others were starting to wrap up too. Soon, Burnout and Allspades would be the only ones left in the room.
“It’s my job to keep them safe. I would have done whatever I needed to.”
“Even if it meant revealing yourself to them? To anyone watching? You couldn’t fight subtly against Jaeger. You’d have destroyed everything between you two just to have a chance. And suddenly, Rumor’s back in town. Your name would be on every news reel and headline in the country. So tell me, what would Will Writer do if Rumor couldn’t hide anymore.”
The nurses had finally corralled Mitchell, and the rest of the team was following them out the door.
“Do you see them? Every one of them is still alive. Not because of anything I did, but in spite of what I did. Every choice I’ve made for them has turned out worse than the one before it. And they’ve been hurt, one of them will probably never be further than a few feet form a wheelchair. It’s only a matter of time before one of them dies. And you know what? None of them are even thinking about quitting; not seriously. The trials they’ve faced in the last few months, have made them strong enough to take on Jaeger and come out on top. If I had been there, I would have used my powers, because they will do more good in their lives than I ever will again.
“And then, I would do what Rumor does best. I would disappear. I would go somewhere I could vanish and never look back. Because I couldn’t do anything worse for those kids than staying close to them.”
“You tried that once. You couldn’t stay away.”
The light in the hospital room turned off, and Will finally looked away.
“I didn’t have a good enough reason to.”
Meister’s projection never moved, but it stayed next to Will as he walked for the edge of the roof.
“And what will you do now? Those kids are waiting for you. They spent the days before Jaeger’s attack trying to track you down. They’ll find out you came back, and they’ll be waiting for you.”
Will flooded his mind with noise and Meister vanished. Will didn’t have long; he’d probably be sending Lux over soon.
Will took the stairs anyway. Lux was good at finding him, but Will was better at knowing when he’d be coming.
Meister’s question still lingered in the air. He could go back to his old life. This group didn’t need him anymore; they were heroes, and all of them had realized it by now. But there was always another group; there were kids out there who really did need to quit the job to keep themselves alive. He could wipe the slate; go back to being the person he was before that first meeting.
But those kids had gotten to him. There were heroes out there who needed to quit, and he didn’t think he could convince them anymore.
He couldn’t be that guy again. He couldn’t be Rumor again. He didn’t know who he was going to be tomorrow.
Will Writer walked out of the empty building and climbed into the fist cab.
He never called another meeting.