They created the League during their second year at university. Mostly it was the villainous equivalent of Anime Soc. A laugh. Everything is a laugh until you actually get superpowers – with great power comes great responsibility and all that.
Isaac slumped in the chair, sickly pale. Probably with the same splitting headache that Archangel had. He could have been in and out of Isaac’s mind already if he could just get a decent night’s sleep, he was sure of it, but he felt like he was trying to pick up needles with thick mittens on. Clumsy blunt force that was never quite where he wanted.
“Fuck.” Isaac closed his eyes. “Are you trying to give me permanent brain damage?”
No, no he wasn’t. But time was short – he couldn’t afford to do nothing, Isaac knew that. Surely, Isaac knew that? The need to sleep fogged Archangel’s thoughts and he rubbed his eyes. Coffee break. Maybe they both needed a coffee break, seeing as he couldn’t have Isaac falling asleep and escaping to her realm that way either.
“As I said,” he bit out. “You’re bringing this entirely on yourself. You could just help us.”
But he didn’t launch another attack. Couldn’t bear to, couldn’t stomach hurting him properly or further, even if it was necessary. Damn it. He watched Isaac for a moment, with his eyes closed, brow pinched with pain. He’d probably break him if he tried again.
He went to make coffee.
“Archangel!” Spring cornered him the second he stepped out of the basement – a brown skinned, earth eyed woman with the ability to control plant life. “The Dream Weaver knows we have him.” She handed Archangel a couple of photos of Morphina.
Archangel blinked and the photos slid into focus. Not that it did much good, they were grainy, fuzzy things. The Dream Weaver always had that effect on footage, mirage-like and never feeling quite distinct or real. She stood in the room they’d found Isaac in, eyes pitch black and fixed on the camera he had them hide. Around her, shadows streaked through the off-white walls and stretched hungrily up towards the ceiling.
He’d hoped they’d have more time than this.
“She’ll attack tonight, when the symptoms are at their worst. How are they?” He tucked the photos into his jacket pocket and made his way further into the kitchen.
“Still sleeping,” Spring said. “I don’t think – I don’t know how long they’ll last before they turn. We should move them out of base. Did you have any luck with the magnifier?”
“We’re not moving them.”
She said nothing, but with her mind still flittering around him, she didn’t really have to. She quite literally radiated her disapproval. It made Archangel twitch. “Can you use his powers to help them?” she asked instead. “You just need to touch him, right? If he doesn’t want to help us.”
Archangel pulled mugs out of the cupboard with a clink and popped the lid off the communal coffee tin, frowning at the thin layer of instant rattling around the bottom. His head throbbed.
“I think it’s difficult for him to have people use his powers.” To even touch him, definitely to have Archangel touch him. However, admittedly, satisfying the response was.
Spring’s mind spiked. “I imagine it’s difficult for my sister to be stuck in Morphina’s hellscape. You wanted him so bad, we got him for you, boss.”
So fucking use him.
She didn’t say that aloud either, but he still shot her a look.
She refused to look chastened, jutting her chin up in response. Dark circles bagged her eyes too, and he looked away.
What are you thinking, Isaac?
“Are you going to be okay?” Spring’s voice softened. Her concern prickled at him, and he caught a glimpse of himself through her eyes. Dark hair in disarray, bloodshot blue eyes, crinkled shirt. Twenty seven years and he just looked old. Pathetic. Weak.
“I’m always okay,” he said.
Morphina had never directly attacked base before, their powers were too strong. But now, with all of them crippled with sleeplessness and most of their number down for the count, they were exposed. If Isaac didn’t help him…
He resisted the urge to glance back at the door he’d locked behind them – and Isaac behind it in turn, with his secrets and his silence. Funny, he’d once thought Isaac didn’t have any secrets from him. They’d talked about everything. Once, Isaac’s mind had been as familiar to him as his own.
Except it couldn’t have been, could it? Because he never once expected that the man he loved would be cruel enough to fake his own death. That he would run and hide like a coward, and refuse to offer assistance now when he was most needed out of …out of what? Where had it gone wrong? How could Isaac possibly hate him so?
Gabriel’s throat lodged tight.
Spring’s mind writhed around Archangel, spewing her fear and doubt like toxic waste. Is it safe to keep him here? Was this a bad idea? What if it’s a trap? She knew better than to say it aloud but it still made Archangel’s shoulders tighten.
“This is good,” he said, flashing her a reassuring smile. “We know Morphina’s approximate location, and without Morton she cannot exert her influence too far. We’ll be ready tonight when she attacks and Isaac will help us, whether he wants to or not. So long as we keep a hold of him, the world is safe. Today’s been a win – you did good.”
She perked up at the praise.
The kettle pinged and he poured out three steaming cups, even as the thought of more caffeine on top of his headache crawled bile in his throat. Needs must. Oh god, once they won he was never drinking coffee again.
Still, the question remained, the problem remained. He needed to get in Isaac’s head, one way or another. Guarantee his loyalty in a fight where once he wouldn’t have questioned it. His own powers were immense, he could admit that candidly and without boast, but it had its limits. Without Isaac his telepathy was limited to people close by, to people who were awake. He was as powerless in a nightmare as the rest of them.
He didn’t quite know why his powers didn’t work on the sleeping, or the comatose, but something about both left his absolute control fuzzy. Crackling in and out like a bad connection. And death, or near death…
Isaac, beautiful and broken Isaac, dashed against the floor.
He slid a mug over to Spring and heaped sugar in Isaac’s.
“Do you want me to have a go at-”
“I could make him talk,” Spring said.
“You could make him lie.”
Spring sighed at that. “You’re doing the right thing. I know he’s an old friend of yours, but…” oh my god he’s creeps me out. Looks like he’s just going to snap one day.
Archangel scowled at the spoon clinking offensively loud against the sides of the mug as he stirred the sugar in.
You’re exhausted. Sleep deprivation makes you easy.
“Go and check on our dreamers, you don’t need to keep guard. I can handle him fine,” Archangel said. “And make sure Sana hasn’t fallen asleep.”
The first attack had come a little under six months ago, escalating with unnerving speed. Foolishly, he hadn’t even known to call it an attack then.
She had been a dream. A false sense of security, a warmth, an enticing promise of everything he’d ever imagined come true as he sank deeper into sleep and his own private mind. Before they turned to nightmares, to monsters that sprung alive straight out of his head, it had been some of the best sleep he’d had in years. He’d trusted her.
The deaths started with the sleeping. Endless sleeping, without food or water that killed a person without them even being aware of it. If they became aware of it, if they fought, then their nightmares finished them off instead if the sleep deprivation didn’t.
The only mercy was that she had no effect on the waking, and much like him needed to be close to be at her most powerful.
Six months, and the league of heroes had been cut off at the knees. Half dead, three left sleeping, three left conscious and halfway to dead if they couldn’t get some rest. Nobody could stay away from sleep forever any more than they could get away from their own head.
Six months, and everything he’d spent years building was in tatters.
Six months, and she knew his every secret fantasy, every fear, every wish.
It took only one night for her to find out about Isaac.
Archangel strode back down to the basement, taking a long swig of his coffee before holding Isaac’s out to his lips. “Sugar, no milk. Right?”
“Oh, for fuck’s sake. It’s coffee, just coffee. You know I haven’t drugged it.”
Isaac took a sip, then another.
Archangel pulled the mug away when Isaac’s fingers twitched against the chair, and set the drinks down on the floor. “Look,” he said. “I know you don’t want anything to do with me anymore, and I know you’d probably rather die than have me in your head, but this isn’t about you and me.” He pulled some photos out, a worn and gory reminder of his failures thus far, and held them up to Isaac’s face. “Connie Fullard, the invisible girl. She was eighteen. Luke Barden, our seer.”
“Is it supposed to impress me that you’re asking children to fight and die so you can play the hero?”
Archangel’s eyes flashed, bile in his throat, breathless rage that Isaac was really saying that. Accusing him of that. Refusing to see.
“She’s killing us, Isaac. She thinks people with abilities don’t deserve to live and whatever your problems with me and I cannot believe you would just sit there judging me and let her.”
“But it is about you.”
“And it’s dangerous, not deserving.”
“It’s not that she thinks people with powers inherently don’t deserve to live,” Isaac said slowly. “She thinks we’re too dangerous to live, she’s been in your head after all, hasn’t she? Your extermination is the greater good. Where do you think she got that idea from?”
For a clammy moment Gabriel imagined Isaac coolly ordering his execution, hissing poison in the Dream Weaver’s ear. The mastermind behind this all. “You think she’s right?” his fists clenched, nails digging into his palms.
“Shockingly, no, I don’t think killing people for having abilities is a great thing to do, no,” Isaac said. “I also don’t believe kidnapping people and holding them prisoner is right either.”
“You’re seriously comparing us?”
“You both have a nasty habit of inflicting your personal beliefs universally and believing yourself righteous and heroic for doing so.”
“Except, I’m not killing anyone!” Archangel snapped. “You have a nasty habit of acting like doing nothing means nothing is your fault or responsibility. Your conscience is clean. Just leave everyone to their personal beliefs! Who cares if there’s a body count?”
They both ended up glaring at each other again.
Focus. He looked away, swigged more coffee to buy himself time, fingers white knuckled on the mug.
“You need my help,” Isaac spoke first, like every word was being dragged painstakingly between his teeth. “And you’re running out of time. I can help you without you being in my head, you just have to trust me.”
“I don’t trust you.”
“But you expect me to just let you waltz around in my head as if mental and emotional manipulation isn’t entirely your speciality?”
“I wasn’t the one who ran, lied, and pretended I was fucking dead.”
“No,” Isaac spat. “You’re the one who could use my powers to make the whole world spin like your personal puppet show, just like she could if she got hold of me. Except with her I might have the mercy of being unconscious when she does it.”
Archangel paused. Some of the puzzle pieces clicked into place – because of course, of course it would be that. Their eyes met again, and that same exquisite agony crossed Isaac’s face, something in him giving.
“I don’t want you dead,” Isaac said. “I never wanted that, but I can’t have you in my head. Not again, not ever again. Not after-”
Gabriel wet his lips, and moved in. He cradled Isaac’s face so that he would stop feeling the press of Archangel’s mind and power flitting around the room. So he would feel silence and freedom and the possibility of it – even as Archangel felt his telepathy open up and his abilities deepen like a bottomless well of power. Everything that scared Isaac so.
“What if I promised to let you go?” Archangel asked softly. “No more chasing.”
Isaac had the expression of someone struck about the head, eyes wide and dazed. “What?”
“Help me defeat her,” Archangel said, caressing his thumb over the bruises on Isaac’s cheek. “Co-operate with me. And once she’s gone, yes. I won’t try and hold you. I’ll wipe all record of you from anyone’s head so no one will know what you can do, and then I’ll let you go. You’ll never see or hear from me again. I promise.”
Isaac wavered. Poor man, it made Gabriel’s chest ache – a power like Isaac’s, everyone wanted a piece. Isaac Morton was the key that could turn a super-hero into a god, just with a touch of his hand.
“I promise.” He held Isaac’s gaze. “You’d be free of me, if that’s what you really want. Free of heroes and villains, all of it. I wouldn’t try and save you. But I can’t do this on my own, I can’t save anyone, without you. Not against what she can do.”
Blood and Isaac, dashed on the floor.