Nighttime had always been Iain’s domain.
Even as a boy, when left to set his own schedule, his body would naturally keep him asleep for the majority of the daylight hours, waking him at twilight and growing weary in the hours after dawn. It was an irony, then, that his powers should be so closely tied to the light. Or perhaps that was the point – bringing light to the darkness, as Felix had always said, and then Iain put that thought firmly aside before his mind could wander any farther down that dangerous path.
He let himself into his house as the sun was edging over the horizon, flooding the foyer with golden light. He rolled his shoulders experimentally, feeling the pull of muscles that promised he would be sore by the evening, and cast a weary glance at the clock. Just after eight. Time enough for a hot bath and a glass of scotch, he thought. He deserved it, after tonight’s success.
Iain had only mounted the first two steps when a commotion off to his left drew his attention. He turned and, as the doors leading to the main room burst open, snatched his gun out of its holster.
“Dad!” Caroline surged forward, grabbing Jason by the arm and hauling the boy bodily behind her. Iain shoved the gun back in its holster, his heart slamming against his ribcage.
“It must be Thursday,” he said faintly, and Caroline nodded, her eyes still wide with shock. Jason, completely unfazed by what had just transpired, gave him an enthusiastic wave from behind his mother.
“Hey, kiddo.” Iain blew out a harsh breath between his teeth and mustered a smile. “I’m so sorry, the days got completely away from me this week. I forgot all about your visit. Come on, come here.”
Jason moved first, darting over and wrapping his arms around Iain’s waist, and then Caroline joined them as well. Iain held them both tightly for a moment, and then drew back slightly.
“Well,” he said brightly, “who’s hungry for breakfast?”
His assistant, at least, had not been nearly as forgetful as Iain. A full breakfast had already been laid out for them in the dining room – pancakes in the shape of cartoon characters for Jason, eggs and toast for Caroline, coffee for Iain.
“Out all night again, Pops?” Caroline asked as Jason poured more syrup than Iain thought strictly necessary over his pancakes and set to work devouring them.
Iain flashed her a quick smile. “Keeps me busy.”
“Were you out fighting Viper, Grandpa?” Jason asked excitedly.
“Not this time, kiddo.”
“No, no,” Iain said with a laugh. “Not fighting anyone, as it happens. Some thieves have been targeting art galleries in the city. I’ve been tracking down the pieces of stolen art. Hopefully it’ll also lead me to the thieves themselves one of these nights, but until then, I’ve been returning art pieces to their rightful owners and gathering clues.”
Jason wrinkled his nose. “That’s boring, Grandpa.”
“You’ll appreciate art one of these days,” Iain said. “Say, in twenty years or so.”
Jason finished off his food and took Iain’s two Mastiffs, Baxter and Layla, out to explore the grounds. Caroline helped Iain carry the remnants of the meal into the kitchen, where he washed the dishes while she packed up the leftovers and put them in the fridge.
“Same as always,” she said, flashing him a quick smile. “They’ve got me traveling more now, but his dad’s been great about it. He takes Jason whenever I have to go out of town, and I do the same for him. It works out well.”
She lifted the sleeve of his t-shirt and cocked an eyebrow at him. Iain glanced down and saw the white of a bandage, stark against his tan.
“It’s only a cut,” he said, tugging the sleeve back down and plunging his hands back into the soapy water. “It’s fine. It probably won’t even scar.”
“You’re getting too old for this, Pops.”
“Nah,” Iain said, waving away her concern. “Keeps me young.”
“You haven’t been in the papers much lately. I’m not sure if I should be worried about that or not.”
“I try to keep a low profile these days.” Fame didn’t have the appeal at fifty-five that it had held for him at thirty. Besides, there were others now, younger and more powerful and much more glamorous. The media preferred to focus on them, and he was happy to see the spotlight shift away from him.
Caroline leaned against the counter and sighed, crossing her arms. “I wish you weren’t in this house.”
“What’s wrong with this house?”
“It’s so big, Dad.”
“It’s been in the family -”
“For generations, I know. But wouldn’t you want somewhere smaller, more manageable? Closer to us?”
“So you can keep an eye on me?” Iain snagged a towel and dried his hands. “I’m fine, sweetheart. I don’t mind knocking about in this old house. It’s where we raised you, after all. There are good memories here.”
“Are you sure?”
“What’s brought this on?”
“I worry about you, that’s all. I don’t want you living here out of – I don’t know, some sense of duty to me. It’s my childhood home, yes, but – Daddy Felix died here. You shouldn’t have to live somewhere that has such – such horrible memories.”
Iain took her gently by the upper arms, and waited until she met his gaze.
“The good outweighs the bad for me,” he said quietly. “It always has. Daddy died more than twenty years ago. Don’t you think I would have moved us out of here straight away, if I truly couldn’t stand to be here any longer? I like being in this house, and I’m far too young for you to be fussing over me like this.”
That got him a faint smile. “You think this is bad? Just wait until Jason’s in college, and I have nowhere else to focus my worry.”
Were it any other evening, Iain would be preparing for his nighttime excursions right now. Instead, he sent the house’s staff home at eight, and then tucked Jason into bed while Caroline relaxed in her room. Then, he went downstairs on the pretense of grabbing a book from the study, and stepped into the windowless pantry to wait.
The only thing that alerted Iain was the slight whisper of a breeze, followed by an inexplicable sense of wrongness. The air was thick with it, and his stomach knotted with unease. His heart stuttered painfully in his chest, and his breathing hitched. Steeling himself, hoping that he had managed to school his expression into one of nonchalance, he turned.
It was profoundly unfair that Felix didn’t look a day older than when they last had seen each other a year ago. It was profoundly unfair that he would never look older, that the man Iain gazed upon now was little different from the one he had married almost thirty years ago, except for the scar that split his left eyebrow and the shadows under his eyes.
“Tempor,” Iain greeted.
“Iain,” Felix said pointedly, refusing to use Iain’s more well-known persona.
Felix took his hands out of his pockets and unfastened his coat, peeling it open for Iain to inspect. After several moments of poking and prodding, Iain had to concede that Felix was unarmed. Satisfied, he led Felix into the main hall, pausing at the foot of the stairs.
Iain put a hand on the banister. Felix closed his eyes and raised his hands, palms up, as though in benediction.
It slammed into Iain like an ocean wave. He swayed back against the banister. Pressure built in his ears, as though he had been submerged, and he forced himself to draw a deep breath. His breathing was loud, echoing in his skull, and everything else sounded remote and far away.
When it was over, he opened his eyes and glanced at the grandfather clock. Its pendulum was frozen mid-swing. He then looked at his own watch, as unaffected as the rest of him. It ticked along steadily.
“Caroline’s in her usual room. Jason’s in his. You have an hour.”
He led Felix up the narrow stairs to the second story. Felix cast an accusing glance over his shoulder; Iain shrugged.
“I’ll be out here,” he said, folding his arms and settling his shoulders against the wall outside Caroline’s room. Felix heaved a theatrical sigh.
“I’m not here to steal your secrets, Iain.” He flashed a grin. “Not that you have many. Not from me.”
“If that were true,” Iain said mildly, “you would have defeated me long ago. Clock’s ticking, Felix. Best not waste what little time you have.”
Felix looked as though he sorely wanted to say something more, but instead he inclined his head, conceding the point. He put a hand on the doorknob and, after a moment’s hesitation, swung open the door.
Caroline was curled in an overstuffed chair, her long hair plaited and draped over one shoulder, a book open in her lap. One page, in the midst of being turned, rippled in the thin breeze from the window. She didn’t react to Felix, of course. She remained completely frozen in time as her other father padded across the room to her.
“Hey, baby girl.” Felix’s voice was abruptly warm and tender, and a small ache took root behind Iain’s breastbone. He pushed it away, like he had with every other visit over the past twenty years.
Felix pulled over a chair so that he could sit at Caroline’s side. He kept his hands laced together. No matter how much he likely wanted to, he wouldn’t touch her, not even to brush the loose strand of hair out of her eyes. He wouldn’t do that, not without permission, and Iain had stipulated the condition of these visits long ago. Caroline would never know they happened.
“How’ve you been?” Felix asked softly. “It’s been a busy year for me, baby girl, a real busy year…”
Iain listened with half an ear as Felix recounted the past year – an abridged version, of course, because he couldn’t say anything about his clandestine activities with Iain listening in. They might have declared a moratorium on both their jobs for this one night, but there were still some lines they could not cross in each other’s presence.
He spent almost half an hour with Caroline. Eventually, he pulled himself from her side and placed the chair back where he had found it, fitting its legs neatly into the impression left behind on the carpet.
Jason had been asleep for at least an hour. A book lay abandoned on the floor by his bed, facedown, as though it had fallen from his fingers as he drifted off. Iain watched Felix reach for it, remember himself, and purse his lips. He perched on the mattress instead, folding his hands together. He stayed silent for a while, watching Jason sleep.
“He’s grown,” Felix said at last.
“Children do that.” Iain leaned against the doorframe– and realized, with a sudden pang, that Jason was now as old as Caroline had been when Felix left.
When Iain threw him out.
“How is he?”
Iain lifted one shoulder in a shrug. “Fine, I suppose.”
Felix gave him a withering look. “Fine? Is that the best you can do? I’m his grandfather, he’s never even met me, and all you can tell me is fine?”
“And whose fault is that?” Iain snapped.
“You’re the one who removed me from their lives!”
Iain felt a muscle pulse in his jaw. “And you’re the one who decided that a life of crime was more important than your family.”
“A life of crime,” Felix sneered quietly, but they had had this argument countless times over the years, and it no longer held any heat.
Iain shook his head. “He’s got excellent grades in school. Got a good group of friends. Caroline’s signed him up for soccer; seems to like it so far. They’ve got a dog now. Well, a puppy. Jason’s over the moon about it. He sees his dad every other week; more often if Caroline is traveling for work.”
Felix nodded absently, eyes fixed entirely on Jason. After a moment, Iain moved away, taking up a position farther down the hall so that he felt less like an intruder.
At eleven-thirty, Felix emerged from Jason’s room, shutting the door softly behind him. Iain followed him down the stairs. In the study, Felix took a seat in his customary armchair by the window while Iain went over to the drinks cart.
“Scotch?” he asked, and Felix nodded. He poured wine for himself and brought the glasses over.
Felix took a long swallow of his drink, then balanced his glass on his knee. He tipped his head back against the chair, casting his eyes to the ceiling.
“Getting too damn old for this,” he said abruptly. Iain snorted, and Felix looked at him. “What?”
“Nothing.” Iain took a sip of his whiskey. “You’re the second person to say that to me today, that’s all.”
“She’s quite something.” Felix shook his head. “Sometimes I can’t believe that she’s mine.”
She isn’t. Iain bit back his automatic response at the last second. What good would it do, except to inflict more pain? Not only on Felix, but on himself as well. Caroline was their child, Jason was their grandson, and Felix couldn’t be there for any of them because committing atrocities was more important.
And because Iain refused to compromise his values for the man he loved.
As though Felix could read his mind – and Iain wouldn’t be surprised if he counted telepathy among his abilities – he said, "Sometimes I wonder where we went wrong."
"Around the time you sent a train full of people into the Hudson, I expect," Iain said mildly.
"Yes, I suppose that must be it," Felix said absently. “Does he even know me?”
“Jason? Of course he does. Caroline tells him about her Daddy Felix all the time.”
Felix tilted his glass, watching the dark liquid slosh and catch the light. “And you?”
Iain suddenly found his own drink very interesting.
“And I tell him that Grandpa Felix would have loved to take him fishing,” he said quietly. “You would have gone to the library, and to the museums to see the dinosaurs. You’d have taken him on the subway. You love this city. You would have taken him to explore every inch of it.”
Felix’s eyes were wet in the lamplight. “Yes. I would have.”
“You still could.”
Felix didn’t even pause to consider it. “No.”
It shouldn’t have come as a surprise. Every year, Iain made the same offer. Every year, Felix turned him down. As twisted as his life was, Felix couldn’t compromise it any more than Iain could his. Still, it felt as though someone had twisted a knife between his ribs. Iain rubbed absently at the sharp pain.
“The offer will always be there.”
Felix snorted. “Walk away from everything I believe in? Give in to you?”
“You turned your back on something you loved once already. I’m not sure why it would be difficult for you to do it again.”
“I walked away because you gave me no choice. I never wanted to leave Caroline behind.” Felix blew out a harsh breath between his teeth. “I never wanted to leave you.”
“If it was truly so difficult for you to walk away, then you wouldn’t have.” His words came out flat. They had had this argument too many times to count over the years, and the words were hollow now, without any true meaning.
“Why didn’t you kill me, that night you found out?”
Felix asked it so casually, as though they were discussing the weather or something equally mundane. Iain stared at him.
“Because I love you,” he said blankly. “Did you want me to kill you?”
“I was only curious.” Felix sipped his drink. “Loved, you mean.”
“No. I still love you. I always have, and I’ll never stop.” At Felix’s shocked look, he added, “But love isn’t enough.”
“All this time –”
“Yes, all this time!” Iain burst out. Suddenly, he was on his feet, and Felix was staring up at him with poorly-concealed astonishment. “All this time! I fell in love with you at the academy when we were eighteen. Eighteen! And that hasn’t stopped, not for one moment, not even after I see you in the news day in and day out, blamed for the slaughter of innocent civilians who are only trying to live their lives. Like we were, before –”
He waved a hand vaguely through the air.
“And despite it all,” he said softly, turning abruptly from Felix so he wouldn’t have to see his expression. “Despite it all, I can only see you. You, the way you looked the day we married. The day that you held Caroline for the first time. Our nights together. The life we built. Despite everything, all the destruction and the chaos, I can only see that, and I hate myself for it. And now it’s time for you to go.”
Silence reigned for several long, painful seconds. Iain swallowed hard—or tried to, but his throat was too dry. Finally, Felix got to his feet. Iain tucked his hands in his pockets and quelled the automatic urge to reach for him. Twenty years since he had last held Felix with any kind of affection, and still muscle memory kept wanting to reach out to him.
“Until next year, then?” Felix tried for a wry tone with a small smile, but it fell flat. His smile flickered and quickly faded.
Iain started so badly that what remained of his drink sloshed over the edge of his glass and soaked his fingers. He turned and, to his utter shock, found Jason standing in the doorway to the study, rubbing sleep out of his eyes. Iain glanced at the clock on the wall; it remained frozen in time.
“Jason?” he asked dumbly. Belatedly, he looked around and saw that Felix had vanished. He turned back to his grandson. “I thought you were asleep.”
“I heard voices.” Jason rubbed his eyes again and then squinted at Iain, almost accusingly. “Were you talking to someone?”
“I was on the phone, yes,” Iain said, thinking quickly. “I’m sorry if I was too loud. Come on, let’s get you back to bed.”
He expected Felix to have fled. He was surprised, then, when he returned to the study to collect their glasses and found Felix standing by the window, downing the remains of a second glass of scotch. He turned, and they stared at each other for a beat.
“Caroline doesn’t have powers,” Felix said finally.
“Jason’s father never exhibited any. His parents aren’t powered, either.”
“It had to have come from us, then.” Felix stared at him. “Iain -”
“I’ve never seen anyone able to shake off your powers like they were nothing,” Iain said dully. “Outsmart you, yes. Outmaneuver you. But never confront your powers outright like that.”
“He’s got to be more powerful than the two of us combined.” Felix gaped for a moment, and then gained a modicum of control over himself. “What do we do?”
“We?” Iain couldn’t help it; he laughed. It was a cold, hollow sound. “There’s no we in this.”
“He’s my grandson –”
“He’s no longer any of your concern.” Iain’s hand twitched, and a ball of light—of pure energy—manifested itself. “Leave.”
Felix stared at him. His mouth open and closed several times. It would have been comical under other circumstances.
“Iain,” he managed finally, “you can’t be serious. We have an arrangement. Caroline –”
“Never had any powers,” Iain interrupted. “Jason does.”
“What does that matter –”
“You know why it matters.”
Felix fell silent.
“That’s it, then,” he said quietly. “You’re ending it, just like that?”
“As if I had any choice –”
“There’s always a choice, Iain!” Felix roared.
“If Caroline and Jason mean anything to you,” Iain said in a low voice, “you will leave this house. If –”
He stopped, drawing breath.
“If our marriage meant anything to you, if I meant anything to you, you will leave. And you will never come back. Our arrangement is over.”
Years ago, he had dreamed of – hoped for – peace with Felix. But he had imagined, in the days and weeks after Felix left, that it might have come in the form of Caroline suddenly manifesting powers. It seemed cruel that his fantasies should play out now, twenty years too late, when reconciliation was no longer an option for them.
“I could rewind time,” Felix said quietly. “I could let him see me. He’ll wonder who I am, and Caroline will know what you hid from her all these years.”
“And what you hid from her, Tempor.” Iain drew the name out derisively. “What will hurt her more—knowing that I lied about your death, or that you’ve committed more murders than I can count?”
“She’ll hate you for it –”
“Are you willing to take that chance?” Iain’s lip curled. “No, I thought not. Get out of here, Felix, and don’t – and don’t let me catch you near this house or my family ever again, do you understand?”
Felix drew himself up to his full height. “He’ll know of me eventually.”
“Yes,” Iain said. “Someday, when he’s facing you across a battlefield. He will know of you, and he will be the end of you, Felix.”
If I don’t end you first, he almost added, but it was a lie neither of them would believe. Iain had held Felix at bay all these years, but had never defeated him outright, and never would. It was almost an unbearable relief, knowing Jason possessed powers that surpassed Iain’s own. He could be the one to end Tempor, and Iain would never have caused his husband’s death. Not directly, at least.
The moment stretched, and then broke. Felix looked away first, silently acquiescing. He set his empty glass on the table with a clink that echoed loudly in the still room and turned to leave. Cold flooded Iain. He would never see Felix’s face again, not like this—in his own home, on their terms.
He paused in the doorway, but didn’t turn. “Yes?”
Felix flicked a hand, and Iain swayed under the power of an unseen force, like the tide rushing back out to sea. The clocks adjusted themselves, pendulums resuming their methodical arcs through the air, and the world resumed.
Alexis Ames first picked up a pen when she was eleven years old and hasn't put it down since. She is a science fiction writer currently living in Colorado, and her work has previously appeared in publications such as The New Accelerator and The Corvus Review. Find links to her other stories on her website, and connect with her on Twitter.