Descendants 106 – The Away Team – Chapter 02

This entry is part of 24 in the series Current

Kareem raised an eyebrow as Warrick fidgeted on the barstool at the kitchen counter of the apartment they shared with JC. Warrick had come a long way with his usual social awkwardness over the years, so it was never a good thing when he started behaving oddly with his friends—and that took zero mind reading.

Warrick caught the raised brow and its meaning just as easily and looked away, scratching his head with the hand that wasn’t fiddling with a bottle of soda. He’d been caught out and was trying to formulate what he’d been carrying around in his head. After a beat, he took a drink in a last ditch effort to buy time.

Letting him stall as long as he needed, Kareem closed the door to the apartment and made his way to the loveseat in their living/dining area.

“So Lily talked you into coming with us,” Warrick eventually said, trying hard to sound conversational.

“Indeed,” Kareem replied lightly. “She took me to brunch and everything to convince me. She was quite adamant.”

The soda bottle clinked on the counter top. “Yeah, about that… dude Lily’s kind of got ulterior motives for wanting you to come with us.”

It was at this point that it clicked. Kareem opened his mouth to spare him the embarrassment, but as it turned out, his friend was too quick on the draw for his own good.

“You’re the sexiest superhero in the world,” he blurted out, choosing to rip off the bandaid, but not picking his words carefully. There was no telling what he made of the sound Kareem made, but it evidently wasn’t the chuckle it actually was. More words came out in a torrent.

“I mean, that’s what the internet says. Like… a lot of the internet. PrelateWatch, Folk Magazine, CelebriPop… like a lot. There are twice the number of fics about you as any superhero that’s real—I mean you can’t expect to surpass The Bat in only a few years. I try to avoid us-fics, but Cyn and Jun say they’re good.”

Finally, as he ran out of breath to talk, Kareem was able to step in to put him out of his mister. “Warrick, I knew that.”

The other man did a double take. It was lucky he hadn’t gone for more soda or it might have been a real life spit take. “Wait. What?”

Waving off the unspoken questions, Kareem got up and came to sit in one of the high chairs on the other side of the counter. “Granted, I only found out today from Lily. It was… surprising.” He might have left it at that, but curiosity got the best of him. “Also, she only mentioned PrelateWatch. Am I really that popular?”

“Number three most popular overall, most popular confirmed dude by a mile. I’m… number nineteen.”

Resting his arms on the counter, Kareem shrugged in a noncommittal fashion. “Does that bother you?”

At this, Warrick snorted. “Hell no. I don’t need the crap that comes with it. As a proud geek, I’ve seen how the geeks I’m not proud of treat famous folks. As long as Tink thinks I’m… uh… popular… I’m good.” He picked up the bottle and swirled it a bit. “Which is why I wanted to talk to you about it.”

“Oh?”

Warrick nodded sagely. “Yeah. See we’ve had it easy the last month or so since being outted. The whole Tome attack thing helped; showed people what happens to people who screw with heroes. But… well some parts of fandom is dumbasses. And a lot of media people pander to those dumbasses. This tour? It’s the first time they’re going to get their shot; in interviews, at the events. I wanted to warn you that people are going to get real improper and real weird with you.”

“Improper how?”

Again, Warrick shrugged. “Like… well the most tame stuff is like asking about what kind of underwear you wear or about your sex life.”

Kareem almost asked why they would want to know but figured it out quickly. People liked to fantasize; he knew that first hand. So instead, he gave another shrug. “That doesn’t bother me. I wear normal underclothes and I have no sex life.”

“Do not tell them that,” Warrick said quickly. “A lot of folks will immediately be offering to change that.” He took another swig of his drink and sighed. “They’re going to be really getting into your business is the thing. And saying all kinds of creepy things. At a con a few years back, I actually heard some dude ask Mai Kuprow if he could lick her armpit.”

“I’m starting to understand what you meant by inappropriate,” Kareem said flatly.

Warrick nodded emphatically. “And let’s not forget the shippers. Just because we’re now known as real people doesn’t stop them. There are people mad at me on forums for not being with the person they want me to be with.”

“Cynthia?” Kareem guessed, earning him an aside glance.

“Some. Mostly? Mr. Smythe. Which is like one degree of separation from being shipped with my own dad.”

After some hesitation, Kareem’s curiosity won out again, “Who do I get paired with?”

Giving him a wary look, Warrick slowly smirked. “You know what a little black dress is?”

“I would bet that I don’t know it the way you’re about to use it.”

Warrick nodded. “Let’s just say… it goes with everything.”

“And I’m a ‘little black dress’?”

“There’s even at least one fic with you and Armigal.”

“The dragon?!” It was rare for Kareem to raise his voice. He didn’t here, but he came very close. “How would we even…”

Warrick shook his head. “Lucky for you the writer went the more classy route and had it be a psychic thing. A lot of stories with you have that as a hook. Cyn says the shapeshifter thing is the biggest fantasy, but mental affairs are a thing too. I’m kind of lucky that metal control is low on the kink list.”

For a moment, Kareem stared at his hands. Most people didn’t know the real responsibilities and moral quandaries psychic powers came with. It wasn’t their fault, or Warrick’s to reference it. “They’re going to want to talk about my powers, won’t they?”

The smirk Warrick had grown faded. “Yeah, buddy. Again, part of why you needed to be warned. They’re going to want to know how it works, what it feels like… and they’re not going to be thinking of morality. They’re going to be talking maximum power perversion potential here. Just… be prepared.”

Kareem slowly nodded. After a bit, Warrick once again broke and amiable silence. “Come to think of it, this is kind of Lily’s job; being the PR lady and all.”

“She has no formal training,” Kareem pointed out, “And we’ve done very little to delineate her role between being agent and public relations. They are two different things. Laurel has given her a budget to hire staff; perhaps with proper support, she will come into her own.”

He sat up fully. “I know that you are not exactly on friendly terms with Lily…”

“Hey, she’s the one that hates me. I very much actually don’t care now that she’s not harassing Tink all the time.”

“I did not mean to imply otherwise. Only… I feel that she is trying. With all of us. What other reason would there be for her to reach out to me and spend time with me?”

Warrick gave him a long look, then glanced t his near-empty soda. He needed something stronger for this conversation. “You think it has nothing to do with the whole ‘sexiest superhero’ deal?”

This made Kareem laugh. “No offense to her, but Lily is a stranger to subtlety. If she had such thoughts for me, I believe she would have made them known in an… improper manner by now.” He sobered a bit at an additional thought, “For anyone else, I could be convinced that she held back in respect to my recent relationship… situation.”

“You know… aside from stepping back from heroing… you haven’t really talked about it. Do you…”

“I do talk about it,” Kareem cut him off gently. “In therapy with Dr. Masters.” He averted his gaze, “She has suggested I talk to my friends about it, but it’s… embarrassing.”

Now it was Warrick’s turn to raise his eyebrow. “Dude. I just explained your ecchi fandom to you. We are so far beyond embarrassing, the light from it won’t reach us for ten billion years. If you don’t want to, cool, but I’m here for you, man.”

Kareem heaved an uncharacteristic sigh and slid off the chair. He circled around the counter to the refrigerator. Rarely a drinker, his eye paused a moment over the beers there. JC was the only one that really bought booze for the trio and he liked local craft beer with strange flavors and themes. This week’s offering was Twin Timbers Plum. The soda’s weren’t any more pedestrian. Kareem settled on Mad Doctor brand Blackberry Bushel.

“I know. There’s just so much to unpack. Being tricked by a villain is one thing. But the fact that she was manipulating me with pheromones, that her last message implies her side of it was not entirely false… the age difference… I honestly don’t know how to feel. Or if how I feel is legitimate in a very literal sense.”

Warrick made a face. “Yeah, that’s a lot. But let’s look at all the pieces instead of the whole, huh? One: she has pheromone powers, kind of like Melissa can do but directly from her instead of messing with your brain chemistry and only the one emotion. Is it possible for that to still be in your system all this time?”

“Unlikely,” Kareem admitted, “But my memories from that time are tainted, so my understanding will be as well. Chemically, I was in love. Does that mean I would view or time together the same without that effect?”

“Point is, you’ve got a clear mind now.” He hesitated before continuing, “So… if you could get in contact with her, and could be sure she wouldn’t hit you with her pheromones… would you want to be with her again?”

Kareem pop the top on his soda and resumed his seat, taking his time to collect his thoughts on the matter. “I was very happy when we were dating. I can’t lie about that. But… I could never trust her. So no.”

“So not so much like the Bat as I might have thought,” quipped Warrick, earning an odd look. “I need to get you into comics. Anyway—and feel free to tell me to go to hell for suggesting—maybe it’s time for another girl. I mean it’s a good time for it. We’re going on a world tour. It’s a pretty decent time to try to meet women… if you want to.”

He hadn’t given the thought any due consideration if he were being honest with himself. Hadn’t even taken to time to. Life was complicated right now, what with being outed as Ephemeral, working with his parents on their experiments with the astral plane…

A lot of excuses, really. But that’s all they were: excuses. The real questions was whether or not he was ready to try again romantically. Or possibly try a first time. Desiree had been the first person he’d ever dated and he wasn’t even sure how he should catalogue that. In any event, she pursued him. He never had the opportunity; having been a shy middle schooler and spending most most of his high school years prior to being freed by Laurel, Alexis and Ian in stasis.

With that, plus Desiree’s manipulation, he’d been robbed of the opportunity to date during his high school years. This was something he deserved. Probably something he needed. But did he want it? That was another question entirely.

I’ll consider it,” he said at length, “though I honestly no nothing about approaching women. Or telling the ones I would like to get to know from the ones that aspire to seeing me mentally fornicate with a dragon.”

It wasn’t a joke. Warrick tried not to laugh. Tried. “Man, technically, I’m an expert—asked literally every girl in school to a Valentine’s Day dance. My record? Not so good numbers-wise.”

Quality-wise however,” Kareem interjected. “I don’t think any shipper on the internet could have made a better match than you and Christina.”

Thanks man. I mean, if you want my awkward help, I’m here.”

I appreciate that. Really I do.”

***

Warrick Kaine – Alloy. Cynthia Brant – Facsimile. Juniper Taylor – Zero. Mesissa Forrester – Hope. Kareem Utt – Ephemeral. Callisto Kreiger – Vamanos. This is the group going on tour?” A man, the same one who had received the intel on the team planning to go on tour now sat on a faux leather couch in front of a laptop perched upon a coffee table.

Right. I can’t see much rhyme or reason for the choices. Kaine and McAllister-Brant were known to be best friends in school, but he’s in a relationship with Carlyle—who isn’t on the trip. She and Laurel Brant seem to be the technical experts. No magical support too-no Ortega or her sidekicks from Fredericksburg.” A female voice spoke through the laptop’s speakers.

Hope’s there. We could finish what he started.”

The voice from the laptop sighed. “Kill your heroes. That’s his whole thing. He went down because despite everything he said, he couldn’t resist emotion and theatrics. We’re supposed to be our own people. That’s what you promised. I didn’t spend a year with this book that makes my skin crawl just to fall go down as some monologuing villain.”

You brought this to my attention. What do you want out of this?”

So many things. To test ourselves. To do some damage. Real damage, not just broken bones. Renaissance isn’t with them, for instance. That could be something.”

A psychological assault?” The man ran his think fingers through dark hair that rested on his shoulders.

A multi-pronged assault. I have notes. For you. For the others. We’ll talk once things get under way. First stop: Detroit.”

To Be Continued…

Series NavigationDescendants #105 – Gal Gallium – Chapter 10 >>

About Vaal

Landon Porter is the author of The Descendants and Rune Breaker. Follow him on Twitter @ParadoxOmni or sign up for his newsletter. You can also purchase his books from all major platforms from the bookstore
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2 Comments

  1. Typos

    out of his mister.
    out of his misery.

    broke and amiable silence.
    broke an amiable silence.

    glanced t his
    glanced at his

    The soda’s weren’t
    The sodas weren’t

    view or time
    view our time

    I honestly no
    I honestly know

    just to fall go down
    just to go down

    his think fingers
    his thick fingers

  2. What a Fine Fool

    Then whose the 1st most popular in the world?

    Also, theory time. These are either Tome again or Darkstar goons.

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