Neopolitan

Path of the Renegade(Language, Violence)

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Prologue

A young adult male stood at the gates of a graveyard, rain pouring down all around him, but he didn't mind at all. He walked into the graveyard and as he walked along the road, he started to notice things around him. There were families gathering for the losses of recently deceased loved ones. Widows and Widowers weeping over the loss of their significant other, but he too had lost someone that was close to him. The pain in his heart felt like a dull ache as his footsteps were the only noise he could focus on through the rain. As a cold wind blew through, the rain hit him in the face and he stopped briefly to look at the gravestone next to him. "Here lies Ronnie "Rain" Andrews. 2000-2017. You were a true hero and inspiration to us all.", it read. He noticed writing below it and inspected it. "You were a true friend to us all.", the lower inscription read.

The man scoffed and continued walking until another gravestone caught his eye, this one was different. "Here lies Sarah "Snow" Wilson. 2000-2017. You were a hero and a friend.", it read. He looked underneath the inscription to see another inscription. "Your loss has affected us all. We miss your sarcastic wit.", the lower inscription read. The man looked down and saw another inscription. He examined it carefully, as it was written rather small. "I'm sorry that I took your life.", the small writing said. The man knew that he had found another victim of the man that took his own father's life. Anger welled up inside of him and his hand balled up into a fist as a woman walked up to him. "It's a bit cold and rainy for you to be out here without a jacket, or an umbrella.", she told him. "I'm fine. The cold never bothered me to begin with.", the man replied, without hiding his anger. 

"By the way, my name is Tamara, what's yours?", the woman asked him, her voice not changing at all. "Joannes. My name is Joannes.", the man quickly replied, recognizing the name Tamara from his father's old documents. He knew for a fact that he was in the presence of Tornado of the old Weather Squad, now renamed the Weather Force and one of the people that were there when their leader killed his father. Tamara smiled at him and then motioned towards the road. Joannes didn't want her to follow him, but he didn't exactly have a convenient excuse to ditch her. "After you.", Tamara said with a slight smirk. "I don't see what you want with me, I'm just here to mourn the loss of my father.", Joannes said as he shook his head. "You don't have anything to hide, do you? I mean what other reason would there be to not accept an escort by a woman as beautiful as I am. Who knows, your father might be proud of you if he sees you from up high with someone like me.", Tamara said in a teasing manner. Joannes didn't find that at all amusing, but nonetheless, relented.

The two of them continued along the road until they reached a path that branched off from it. His father's grave was way in the back, because no one wanted a "villain"'s grave to be near the other graves. "We sure are going an awfully long distance for just your father. Are you sure you're going the right way?", Tamara asked as she looked around. He nodded slightly, without saying anything. He wasn't sure of what to tell her about who his father really was. Though he figured that she probably forgotten, as it had been 10 years since Lightning brutally beat his father to death. He still remembered that day, vividly. The news outlets had all treated the man as a hero, when in reality, he was nothing more than a murderer. He tensed up enough for Tamara to take notice of this. "You alright there?", she asked him, a hint of worry in her voice. "I'm fine, just a bit... angry at things is all.", he replied, hiding the full truth from her and hoping she'd let go of it. "Ah, well, if you want to talk abou...", she said, trailing off as they reached their destination. 

He knelt before the grave, and he could feel the wind whip up behind him. "This is hardly the place for a fight, especially against a mere civilian.", he stated, coldly. As he turned around, he saw Tamara standing there in a full costume. He had hoped to never run into Tornado in his lifetime. "So I guess you're going to do to me what Lightning did to my father now?", he asked, a hint of annoyance in his tone. "Well, go ahead. Do it, prove that like him, you're nothing more than a cold blooded murderer.", he continued. Tornado looked at him and pointed at his right hand. "So you're looking for an excuse to off the son of Inverse. I'm registered in your little program for having augmentations.", he said as he raised his mechanical hand. "If you want, I can show you just how much of my arm is mechanical, after all, your kind took my real arm from me.", he continued as he rolled up his sleeve. Tornado turned around without a word, leaving Joannes confused. Seconds turned into minutes as the two of them stood there. Finally, the silence broke, "This is Tornado. Sir, the son of Inverse is here, we could capture him right now if you wanted.", Tornado said as she glanced back at him. Joannes stood and assume a defensive stance. He knew for a fact that he couldn't contend with her powers, but his mechanical augmentations went further than his arm. He was a Transhuman, and he would be able to hold his own. "Dammit, alright, sir.", Tornado said, before turning around, "You seem to be lucky. The boss told me to let you go and to harass you no further." Joannes didn't want to count his chickens before they hatched, so he didn't take his eye off of Tornado til she started walking away.

Once Tornado was out of sight, he turned back to his father's grave... the stone had nothing on it, but he knew that this was where his father was buried. He knelt before the gravestone and sighed slightly. He wasn't exactly proud of what had happened there, but it was better than a fight breaking out. "Father, I know that you were wrongly claimed to be a villain. That these people, in their quest to find someone to tear down, chose you, someone who wouldn't do what they wanted to. Someone who had regrets. You were a true hero, and yet you were brutally murdered by that bastard, Lightning. I hate him. I know that you and Mom wouldn't have wanted me to go out and avenge you... and wherever you are, you wish that you could tell me not to do this. But I promise you, Father... that I will not rest until your murderer is brought to justice. This much, I will assure you of.", he said as tears flowed through his eyes. He placed his hand on the gravestone and sighed slightly, before turning around. He was going to find the villain who had killed his father, and bring him to justice.

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Chapter 1

Several hundred miles to the north, a man woke up in a cold sweat. "Another nightmare...", he lamented as he looked at his clock. It was only six AM, he had a few hours before he really had to wake up in order to get ready for work. These nightmares had been going on for the last ten years of his life. As he laid his head back down on the pillow, ignoring his racing heart, his phone rang. Annoyed, he grabbed the phone and looked at who was calling. It was his boss. He answered the phone and placed it up to his ear. "Hello, Joseph.", said the female voice on the other side. "Hello, Boss.", replied Joseph, trying to hide his annoyance at being called at six in the morning. "Do you have the keys to the museum?" Joseph shook his head, trying to wake himself enough to remember where he left the keys. "Hold on, Boss.", he muttered as he searched through his dresser drawer to try to find the keys. When he couldn't find them, he sighed in annoyance. "Everything alright, Joseph?", asked his boss. "Yes. Everything is fine.", he replied, trying desperately to hide his annoyance, but failing. Joseph turned on a light and immediately saw the keys on the table at the other end of the room. "I got them, boss. You're going to be late today?", Joseph asked the woman on the other end. "Yeah, my dog needs to go to the vet, can you open the museum today?", replied his boss. "Sure thing, I'll reset my alarm and get some more shuteye.", he said with a hint of annoyance as he set his alarm to 8:30 rather than the usual 9:00. "Alright then, thank you, Joseph.", his boss replied before hanging up the phone. Joseph placed his phone back onto the table and turned off the light. With a sigh, he slammed his head back onto the pillow and went back to sleep.

He was awoken by the alarm going off and he looked at his clock, it was 8:32 AM. Groggy, he slammed his hand on the off button and climbed out of bed. He wasn't exactly thrilled with having to be at his job at 9:30 in the morning, but it was either that or risk getting fired. As he walked into the bathroom he hit a light and disrobed, climbing into the shower, before turning it on. Though he disliked cold showers, he felt that the burst of cold water jolted him awake. The water hit him and he was jolted awake as per usual, before he started cleaning himself. As he cleaned himself, his thoughts turned to his nightmare, the same one that happened for the last ten years of his life. In it, he watched helplessly as someone beat another person to death. He recognized the costume in the nightmare, it belonged to Lightning and he felt that he cared somewhat about the person Lightning was beating to death. Grabbing the shampoo, he felt a shock from the metal bar near it and withdrew his hand. "Ah! Damn static.", he called out as he grabbed the shampoo. After he was done shampooing his hair, he climbed out of the shower and dried himself off, before looking at the clock. It was 8:43. 

Joseph walked over to his mirror and pulled out a razor and some shaving cream and started shaving. He figured that one of these days, he was going to take a vacation, considering he hasn't had one in the last six years of his life. Taking a moment to stroke his clean shaven face, he smiled in the mirror. "Lookin good, maybe today is the day I meet the one.", he muttered to himself. He turned and finally exited the bathroom to go continue with his morning routine. Looking in his closet, he found a uniform for the museum he worked at and a jacket as it was chilly outside according to the weather on his phone. Throwing on his clothes and putting on his shoes, he grabbed the museum keys as well as his house keys, his wallet and his phone, and looked at the clock. It was 9 AM, just enough time to stop somewhere and get breakfast, he thought.

He put on the jacket and headed out the door, locking it behind him. A cold wind whipped across his face, usual weather for October. He walked down the stairs of his apartment complex and waved to one of his neighbors. "Hello, Joseph. You're up early today.", the elderly man said as he passed by. "Yeah, I'm opening the museum today. If you want, you could visit today, Caleb.", Joseph said has he turned around, walking backwards. "That's nice of you to offer, but you know that I have no interest in that kind of stuff. By the way, did you hear about the book signing on the seventh?", Caleb responded to him with a polite smile. Joseph nodded, he had heard about the book signing, he had a few of the books of the author's including some of his older works. "Do you plan on going, Joseph?", Caleb asked. Joseph paused, he hadn't quite decided on if he was going to go to the book signing in two days or not. His mind went back to the last time he went to a book signing, all of 19 years ago. He felt his heart start to race and the color started to drain from his face as he started to remember everything that had happened on that day. "Are you alright, son?", Caleb said with a worried tone, snapping Joseph out of his thoughts. "Yeah, I'm fine. I'll think about it, Caleb.", Joseph said in response as he wheeled about and started walking along the sidewalk.

A few minutes passed and he walked into his favorite bagel shop. He checked his wallet and saw that he had enough money to spare for breakfast and he felt his stomach growl. As he walked up to the counter, he took notice of a dark skinned woman that he happened to have a crush on. She looked at him and chuckled, walking over to him. "Let me guess, lemon poppyseed bagel, with extra blueberry cream cheese, and a medium coffee with a shot of espresso.", the woman said with a laugh. "You know me so well, Erica.", Joseph laughed as he walked over to the register, pulling out his wallet. "That'll be twelve dollars and thirty-five cents.", Erica responded. Joseph pulled out a twenty and handed it to her. She put it into the register and handed him his change but he shook his head. "Keep it, consider it your tip.", he said with a smile. Erica chuckled and handed him his bagel and his coffee. Joseph looked at the clock and noticed that he was running a bit late. 

He quickly walked out of the bagel shop and started running down the sidewalk. He was faster than most and was thankful for that. As he ran, he pulled his bagel out and took a bite of it, then took a sip of his coffee. Before he could swallow, he wound up in front of the stairs to the museum. He hurried up the stairs, swallowing his bite of bagel and he noticed one of his co-workers there. "Mornin, Keith.", Joseph said while trying to hold a bagel and his coffee in one hand, while fumbling for the keys to the museum with his other. Keith grabbed the coffee and Joseph nodded at him, there was always something a little off about Keith, like how he joined shortly after he got hired and how he always seemed to keep an eye on him, but Joseph didn't care much. He put the key into the keyhole and turned it, unlocking the door to the museum. Pulling the key out, he motioned towards the interior of the building and noticed Keith standing there looking at the coffee. "Got a problem with my coffee?", Joseph asked him. "No, just wondering why you always get a shot of espresso, it seems like overkill to me.", Keith responded, finally breaking his silence this morning. "It helps me wake up in the morning.", Joseph replied with a sardonic smile. 

As the two of them walked into the museum, Keith handed Joseph back his coffee and Joseph turned on the lights before walking towards the back room. "Want me to put your coat in your locker?", Joseph said as he walked. "No thank you.", Keith said, shaking his head. Joseph shrugged and walked over to his locker. He polished off the rest of the bagel and drank the rest of his coffee, taking sure to throw the trash away. He entered the combination on his locker and opened the door. His locker was clean as per usual so he just threw his jacket in there, as he wouldn't need it until he went back home. He grabbed the gloves off a shelf and put them onto his hands with a sigh. He didn't understand why his boss was so insistent on him wearing gloves all the time as part of his uniform. 

Joseph walked out of the back room and into the main lobby of the museum, where the security guard took his position. Joseph nodded at him slightly before going off to turn back on all of the lights. His boss always made it seem so easy, she and Keith would have the Museum all turned on by 10 AM, but he had to do it on his own for the first time as Keith was with the security guard making sure that all of the exhibits were still in place. It was always a bit odd that there was a museum dedicated to those born with powers that normal people didn't have. They had gone under many names in their time, Demi-gods, Mages, Wizards, Sorcerors, Demons, Witches, now the name they had settled on was Metahuman. Joseph brushed the thoughts aside as he turned on the last of the lights. "Well, that should just about do it.", Joseph said as he looked at the clock. "And with ten minutes to spare til opening time, no less.", he continued with a smile on his face.

As Joseph walked back out to the main lobby, the security guard came back in. He was a well built man, one that reminded him of someone he once knew back in high school. But what always amazed him is that the guard was of a friendly demeanor. Joseph could only guess that this was because he could afford to be nice. "Good morning, Charles.", Joseph said as he waved to the guard. "Good morning, Joseph. It's strange seeing you here this early, you usually don't come in before the place opens up to the public.", Charles responded with a smile on his face. Joseph felt slightly uneasy about the smile and how he said strange without ever losing the smile. "Well, the boss wanted me to help Keith open up the museum today, I kind of owe her since she was the only one who would hire me after I went to prison.", Joseph said with a casual shrug. Charles' eyes narrowed slightly, filling Joseph with a bit of dread. He didn't want to get fired, but he also didn't want to have to try to fight Charles to keep his job. "So what'd you go to prison for?", Charles said, his voice losing the friendly tone, which served only to scare Joseph. "I'll tell you after my shift ends, Charles." Joseph replied, hoping to get out of the situation. Joseph watched Charles carefully, trying to see any change in movement or facial expression. "Alright then, Joseph. I'll look forward to hearing your tale, but if the boss hired you, it can't be too bad.", Charles said, his demeanor going back to the usual friendliness. Joseph breathed a silent sigh of relief as the clock finally struck 10 AM, today was going to be an eventful day at work for him, alright.

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Chapter 2

A couple of quiet hours had passed, the mornings were always a bit quiet at the museum, a few people coming in to look at the exhibits, some mild talking, but nothing else. Joseph stifled a yawn as the boredom was getting to him, but he didn't quite want to seem unprofessional, even if he hadn't at all slept well the night before. "Joseph, you look a bit tired, did you sleep well last night?", Keith asked him, startling him. "No, I didn't. I'm going to go take my lunch break. Apparently, we're supposed to get a class that's on a field trip today.", Joseph said, his tone changing ever so slightly when he mentioned a field trip. "Alright, if the boss gets back and asks, I'll tell her that you're on lunch break.", Keith said with a slight nod. Joseph smiled and walked back into the back room where he grabbed his jacket and put it back on. As he walked towards the front door, he noticed Charles sitting at his desk, drinking a cup of coffee. "Taking your lunch break, Joseph?", Charles said as he passed by. "Yeah, it's lunch time for Caleb and Meredith. I'll be back in an hour.", Joseph said as he walked out the front door.

It was still rather chilly that afternoon, but he didn't particularly mind it too much. He walked back towards his home, it was a quiet walk, even if all the cars were heading out of their work for their lunch rush. As Joseph crossed a road, not thinking, he noticed a car zoom towards him. Instinctively, he dove out of the way and hit the ground in a roll to carry him back onto his feet. "You damn fool! Watch where you're going!", screamed the driver out of the window. Joseph turned back from the sidewalk and looked the driver in the eyes. "I apologize, I didn't notice that the sign said don't walk.", Joseph said politely, trying to avoid some sort of altercation that might send him to prison again. "Yeah, whatever.", the driver said before zooming off in his car, the engine roaring loud enough to hurt Joseph's ears. "Fucking jackass.", Joseph muttered to himself as he continued walking down the sidewalk towards his apartment building. A cold wind whipped up near him and he zipped the jacket up as he noticed clouds were moving in the air. Though some rain was forecast, he didn't quite expect it to be this early, but he also knew that meteorologists weren't perfect.

As he turned the corner into his apartment complex, he reached into his pocket and bumped into a young woman. Instinctively, his arm reached out and grabbed her before she fell too the ground. "Are you alright?" He asked her, a hint of concern in his voice. "I'm fine, I'm sorry, I didn't watch where I was going.", she replied to him. "No, it is I who am sorry, I've kinda been spacing out all day, haven't gotten a whole lot of sleep last night.", he responded with a slight smile as he let go of her arm. He felt the woman's gaze upon him and started walking off. "You're the first man that didn't try to sneak a peek in my shirt.", she called out. "You're meeting the wrong kind of men, then.", Joseph replied, his free hand making a dismissive gesture as he walked towards the stairs. 

As he reached the stairs, he pulled out his keys, which had the key to Caleb's apartment on it. Ascending the stairs, he thought about how long ago he started eating lunch each day with his neighbors. Sometimes he'd bring something with him, but today was pay day for him, so he didn't exactly have a lot of money. As he reached the top of the steps, he walked over to Caleb's door and knocked. It took a couple of minutes, but the door opened. "Joseph, come on in! Meredith was just baking cookies for you.", Caleb said with a smile. Joseph nodded, wondering how a 92 year old man remained so spry, but he kept that to himself as he walked into the apartment. It was a lot cleaner than his own, something that he enjoyed seeing. No sooner did Joseph walk into the living room, did an elderly woman walked out of the kitchen and over to him. "Oh, Joseph. You're still so thin, have you been eating well?", the woman called out to him. "Meredith, you know that I have a rapid metabolism." Joseph said as he embraced her in a hug. Caleb patted him on the back and gestured to the table where there was some wonderful looking food on the table.

Joseph let go of Meredith and walked over to the chair he normally sat in and hung his jacket on the back. "All that walking has done you wonders, Joseph.", Caleb said with a slight smile on his face. Joseph never thought about his musculature all that much, it was just something he developed while in prison and he managed to maintain with his current job. "Staying out of trouble, Joseph?", Meredith asked, a bit slyly. "You know that I've been staying out of trouble. I've not been in trouble for the last six years, Meredith.", Joseph said, chuckling a little bit. Caleb and Meredith sat down and Joseph nodded, finally sitting down as well. The three of them bowed their heads as was the custom and Caleb said a prayer to the spirits that governed the world. When the prayer was over, the three of them raised their heads and Joseph placed a helping of food on Caleb and Meredith's plate before his own, something that he always did. "It has been six years since you moved into the apartment complex.", Caleb said as Joseph placed a helping of food on his own plate.

Joseph remembered that day... it was six years ago to this day. He had just gotten out of prison and he was alone, with only a little bit of money in the bank. He had nowhere to go as he had moved from his hometown and lost contact with his parents. He didn't even have a high school diploma, just a general education degree that he got in prison. He was stuck walking the streets of the city, living under bridges from time to time, eating what little he could eat. He was hungry, he was cold, he hadn't bathed in a week, and he was tired. So he walked up to an apartment complex, he didn't have a whole lot of money, but he'd probably at least be able to be someone's roommate while he looked for a job. However, he was turned down as he didn't have the money to pay for the rent. As he stood at the desk, Caleb had walked into the building to pay his own rent. The two of them spoke for a bit and Caleb left. When he returned, he had enough money to pay for the first and last month's rent for Joseph and his own rent. Though Joseph was annoyed, it did give him a place to live so that he wouldn't go to prison after his parole officer got wind of him still being homeless.

"You haven't touched your food, are you feeling alright, dear?", Meredith asked, snapping him out of his thoughts. "Yes, ma'am. I'm fine. I was just thinking about how Caleb helped me out, six years ago.", Joseph responded with a reassuring nod. Caleb looked at him with a knowing nod as Joseph started eating his food. It was as delicious as it had looked and smelled. "You know, you and the other tenants of this apartment are the only ones who decide to come around and visit us.", Caleb said, a hint of sadness in his voice. Joseph knew that none of their family ever came to visit them, he could only imagine how much it hurt, feeling like you were considered a burden to your family. Joseph placed his hand on Caleb's shoulder with a slight smile. "The two of you are like family to me. And I know that I've been like family to the two of you. Y'all helped me when I was struggling, and I tried my best to repay you guys.", Joseph said as he looked at Caleb.

Caleb nodded slightly and then pointed at the clock. Joseph looked at the clock and sighed a little bit, he didn't want to leave, but he also had to go back to work. "Meredith, mind if I take some cookies up to the museum, I'm sure my co-workers would like to try one of them.", Joseph said, trying to hide the fact that a bus full of children would also be coming later because he didn't want her to bake more cookies. "Sure thing, young man. You tell that nice Keith fellow that Caleb and I liked the cake he brought us.", Meredith said as she walked into the kitchen. Within a minute, she came out with a bag of cookies and Joseph placed them into his jacket pocket, before he hugged both of them gently. "Thank you both for helping me out back then.", Joseph said as he hugged Caleb. "It's no problem, Joseph. I'm sure you would've done the same for us.", Caleb said with a smile. As Joseph put on his jacket, those words dug deeper and deeper into his heart. He wouldn't have done so back then, he would've looked out for himself and no one else. Hiding this, he waved to them and left the apartment. 

As he walked down the stairs, he came to realize, it was Caleb and Meredith and all the other people in his apartment building that changed him for the better. Without them, perhaps he would've continued to be a criminal. Prison changed him, but it wasn't for the better. As he reached the bottom of the stairs, he looked back up towards the door to Caleb's apartment with a slight smile before starting to run as he wanted to hurry back to work before the field trip bus got there. He ran down the sidewalk towards his job, when he saw the yellow bus come up behind him. "Well, crap. Guess I won't make it in time." Suddenly the bus stopped and opened the door. "Hey, you're wearing a uniform of the museum I'm taking this class to, you want a ride?", the driver called out to him. Joseph stopped in his tracks and looked at the bus driver. "Are you sure?", he asked the bus driver. The driver motioned him in and Joseph climbed into the bus. "I sure hope you don't mind if I don't sit down.", he said as the door closed. 

The driver shrugged and kept on driving as Joseph looked down the bus, he saw two teachers amongst the students, but also saw thirty students. None of them could've been older than he was on that particular day. As memories started to surface, Joseph looked away and shook his head, seeing that they were parking in front of the museum. He turned around and looked at the class, "Mrs. Shaffer's class?" One of the teachers, a blond nodded, "Yes, that's us. Why?" Joseph nodded and stood straight up. "I happen to be your tour guide for this field trip, but I was getting back from my lunch break. If you and your class would be willing to assemble in the lobby, I'll hang up my jacket and we'll start the tour.", Joseph said as he tried to look as professional as possible. "Well, we have to be back at the bus by 2:30 PM. So hopefully, it won't take too long for you to hang up your jacket.", the teacher said flatly. Joseph nodded and as the door opened, he walked off the bus, but no sooner did he take a single step did something tug on his jacket. Joseph turned his head to look at what was tugging on his jacket to see a little girl. "Mister...", she said as looked at him, unsure of what to call him. Joseph chuckled, "If you want to be formal, it's Mr. Adams. But if you don't want to be formal, you can just call me Joseph.", he said with a gentle smile on his face, being reminded of a friend from a long time ago. "I just hear so many scary things about metalhumans. Will we really be safe?", she said, a little fear in her voice. "You don't have anything to worry about. Why don't you go back to Mrs. Shaffer, and I'll go put my jacket up and walk around the museum to make sure nothing scary is in there, alright?", Joseph said with a gentle voice. The little girl nodded and walked to her teacher, allowing Joseph to walk inside.

"They seem to be already here and one of them seems to have taken a liking to you, Joseph.", Charles said with a smirk as Joseph walked through the door. "I'm going to go hang up my jacket, check the security cameras for me to make sure that nothing dangerous is in here.", Joseph said as he passed by the front desk. "Woah, you don't think anything is really in here, do you, Joseph?", Charles said, nearly getting out of his chair to stop Joseph. "Nah, but I promised one of the kids that I'd make sure that nothing scary was going to be in here.", Joseph said, dismissively as he walked towards the back room, pulling a cookie out and tossing it to Charles behind his back as he did. "By the way, that cookie is for you. Meredith baked em.", he said as he tossed it. Passing by Keith, Joseph handed him a cookie. "That's for you, and both Caleb and Meredith liked your cake, Keith.", Joseph said as he passed by. Keith nodded and Joseph entered the back room and took off his jacket with a slight sigh. He wasn't quite ready to be a tour guide, but he was being paid to be one. So he hung up his jacket and closed his locker with a slight frown and walked out the back room.

As Joseph walked into the lobby, he saw the teachers there with the students and he forced a smile. "Hello everyone and welcome to the only museum dedicated to the history of metahumans. According to my boss, most museums focused on boring things like dinosaurs or astronomy. She figured that she was going to open up the first museum dedicated to the history of those who have been born with strange powers that most people do not have. Before we begin, does anyone have any questions.", Joseph said with a cheerful voice. Every child's hand went up. "Any questions that don't have to pertain to if you can touch the exhibits.", Joseph said in response. None of the hands went down. "Any questions that also don't have anything to do with meeting a metahuman in person.", Joseph said in response to that. Still none of the hands went down. He wasn't going to be able to answer all of their questions so he chose one of the children. "Um, can metahumans give their powers to normal people?", the child asked. "No, they cannot. What you're thinking of is the spiritborn, which are different.", Joseph responded before pointing to another child. "Um, is there any way that I can get superpowers.", that child asked him. "Augments are limited to adults, I'm afraid. If you didn't get born with a spirit or won the genetic lottery, you'd have to get those. There is one other way though, but it hasn't been seen on a large scale yet.", Joseph replied, shaking his head at first and then looking at the class. "I got enough time for one more question.", he said as he continued to look at the class and then pointed to a child that was all the way in the back. "Come on to the front and ask your question.", Joseph said to that child. The child moved up to the front and Joseph looked at her. He felt something was off about this child. "Your heart hurts.", she said, pointing at his chest. Joseph didn't want to reveal the whole truth to the class, but he also didn't want to completely lie. "I lost someone that I loved, ten years ago. The ache still lies with me. Anyhow, that's all for the questions before the tour, if you all would get in a line, we'll head off to the first exhibit.", Joseph said with a hint of sadness in his voice at first, then forced his voice to be cheerful. 

Joseph led the group into another room, where there was a piece of pottery on a pedestal. Joseph recognized this piece immediately from the countless other tours he had given. "This piece of pottery is dated back to the year 3000 BC, it was created by an ancient civilization, we don't exactly know their name or their culture, but this became part of our collection when my boss realized that the design on it clearly shows people worshiping a metahuman as if he were some sort of god. We've long since found out that the metahumans are not gods, that those we call spiritborn are more akin to the gods.", Joseph said, instructing the class. A hand went up and Joseph nodded. "What's it made of?", the child asked. "Clay.", Joseph responded. Joseph scanned the room for any more questions and then nodded. "If you will follow me, we can see the next exhibit." 

Joseph walked and led the group into the next room, this one with several paintings. Some of which he had an odd sense of familiarity with, despite having only ever seen them in the museum. He had always wondered why, but solving that mystery wasn't his priority here, it was giving a tour to this class. "In here, you have a collection of paintings that were done by or about metahumans.", he said as he walked over to the painting that felt the most familiar. "This one in particular though, it was painted by a skilled artist, a spiritborn for his lover, who happened to be a metahuman. Her name was Elise, from what we can gather from this painting, the woman happened to have a strange ability to generate fire from her hands. During the Renaissance period that this was painted, she would've been considered a demon of some sort or possessed by a demon. However, what we know about the metahumans today proved that she was just different from most ordinary humans.", he said as he looked towards the class. A hand shot up. "Yes?", he asked. "Um, what happened to Elise?", the child asked. "She was drowned in a river.", Joseph responded. "You sound so sure of that, are you sure that's what happened?", another child asked. "Now now, don't ask too many questions of Mr. Adams.", the teacher said, chiding her students. "It's fine. I've heard and recounted this tale so many times that it's easy for me to say that she drowned as if I knew that for sure. But really, this happened hundreds of years ago and there are no surviving accounts of her fate other than a journal written by the spiritborn, which so happens to be in the next room.", Joseph said with a slight smile on his face.

Joseph led the group into the next room, where a journal sat on a pedestal. "This journal is the only surviving possession of a spiritborn. The reason why it is in this museum is that it talks in detail about the metahumans and how the spiritborn could sense them and how he fell in love with one who was considered a demonic entity. He tried to protect the metahuman, but one day he was called on business by the king in order to play a keyboard instrument in front of him. While he was away, the metahuman was killed. When he returned... he was distraught, seeing his lover had been murdered. He was filled with rage and decided to take on a new persona to get back at the people who killed his wife. However, he was quickly found and hung according to surviving records. His crime was murder.", Joseph said, noticing the stunned faces on all of the children. "I apologize, but it is my job to tell the truth about these kinds of things. Hmm... I have an idea. I know I have said that you guys can't meet a real life metahuman, but I know something you can see.", Joseph said, piquing the interest of the class in front of him.

Joseph led the group into yet another room, this one had an exceptionally powerful artifact that every time he walked into the room made the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end. The entire class looked at the sword on the pedestal and all of them were amazed. "This sword is an exceptionally powerful artifact, given to a metahuman by a powerful magician. Though mistakenly called Excalibur, that was a magical sword given to a regular human by a spirit. This however, is a very different sword. It lacks a name, but the metahuman had regenerative properties and because of this was mostly immortal. I don't know if he still walks the land today, but I do know that records of this metahuman began in antiquity and stopped around 1800. Who knows where he is or who he is. However, this particular sword was enchanted to be able to channel the elements themselves, You know, fire, wind, earth, and water. Not the elements as we know them today. The sword is currently the most powerful artifact in the museum. But that concludes the usual tour. Most of the exhibits here have plaques that tell you the history of them. If you want to come here when you're not at school and not on a deadline, you can get the full, grand tour of the place. But for now, I think you kids should find exhibits you find interesting and learn on your own.", Joseph said as he had his hands behind his back.

Joseph watched as the children dispersed into different areas of the museum and the teacher looked at him. "You did that just so that you wouldn't have to give us a full tour of the place.", the teacher said with a frown. "Full tour is actually twenty dollars per person. You paid the standard fare. Because you were with a class, I decided to give a tour to get the children interested in learning about metahumans. You forget, Mrs. Shaffer, we were children once.", Joseph said as he folded his arms. The teacher looked at him, "Yes, and you were in my mother's class back in third grade, weren't you?", she said with a smirk. Joseph laughed, he hadn't expected her to figure it out so soon. "Yes, I was that Joseph. Your mother taught me a lot.", Joseph said with a smile on his face. "My mom spoke highly about you, said that when you applied yourself, your test scores were very high.", the teacher said, her hand on her chin. "By the way, you never gave me your name, Elizabeth.", Joseph said with a smirk, noticing the school nametag she had on her chest. Elizabeth shrugged and Joseph figured that she didn't tell him because he could've found it on her nametag anyhow. "Anyway, if you need me before you go, I'm going to head into the back room real quick. We're having another artifact being shipped here that will be put on display.", Joseph said as he walked back to the back room.

As he arrived at the back room, he headed for the back door of the museum and exited, where a delivery truck was waiting, right on schedule. "I got a delivery of one ring for you... wait, you're not Celeste.", the delivery truck driver said, looking quite annoyed when he realized it wasn't his boss. "She's the founder of the museum, I'm her assistant. I'm more than qualified to sign for this.", Joseph said, calmly, trying to hide his annoyance with this particular guy. He didn't know why, but this person rubbed him the wrong way and he'd be happy if he were to just leave the premises, but he had a job to do. "Fine, whatever. Sign here.", the delivery truck driver said as he shoved a clipboard and a pen into Joseph's hands. Joseph signed for the delivery and handed it back to the driver. The driver reviewed the signature and opened up the truck, handing him a box. Joseph, not being an idiot, opened up the box to see if he was being ripped off. In the box was a silver ring that had an amethyst affixed to it. He wanted to make sure it was real, so he opened the back door. "Hey Keith, I got a ring for you to check!", Joseph yelled out, keeping his eye on the delivery truck driver. Keith walked up to him and took the ring. Joseph turned his full attention to the driver. "I hope you don't mind, we have to make sure it's authentic and all. Standard procedure. I'd usually do it myself, but since the boss isn't here.", Joseph said, not wanting to do this any more than the delivery driver wanted to. "Yeah, whatever.", the delivery driver grunted to him.

Joseph looked closer at the face of the delivery driver and immediately his heart sank as his mind was filled with rage. "You!", he called out. The driver looked at him and analyzed him right back, "Wait a minute, I recognize you!", he laughed. It had been eight years since the day he met this person. Joseph's entire body tensed up, ready for a fight. "You have a lot of nerve showing your face around here. Then again, I didn't recognize it, the last time I saw it, I was punching it, repeatedly.", Joseph said with a sneer, ready to fight this man. "Ha, you only won because you got the jump on me! If we were to go right now, you'd most certainly lose.", the delivery truck driver said as he entered a fighting pose. Joseph could tell that this guy wasn't trained, he was just a mindless brawler. However, Joseph stood up straight and just smiled slightly. The delivery truck driver ran towards him and Joseph let him punch him in the mouth, busting his lip. "That... felt good.", the delivery truck driver said as Keith walked out. "I was going to tell you that the ring is authentic, but it seems that you're currently being assaulted. I'll go call the police while you go and take care of that lip.", Keith said as he walked back in. Joseph smirked as he spat out the blood that was in his mouth before walking back into the museum.

Joseph locked the door behind him and placed a napkin on his mouth, putting pressure on the wound in order to staunch the bleeding. His mouth hurt, significantly, but he felt immense satisfaction with putting the person he had brutally beaten 8 years ago into the prison that he deserved to be in. After he finally got the bleeding to stop, he walked out of the back room to see the class had assembled into the lobby, "I apologize, I didn't expect to take so long. So did everyone enjoy the museum.", Joseph said with a smile. "Yeah!", said all of the children in unison. "That's good, remember, don't come here without your parents, it does cost money to get into the museum, but I'm sure each one of you would absolutely enjoy visiting again.", Joseph said with a smile. Elizabeth looked at him and then looked at his lip. She then chuckled. "Mother said you were always one to find trouble.", she said as she chuckled." Joseph shrugged, the busted lip didn't bother him, neither did her teasing. "Hopefully we'll meet again under better circumstances, I would like to see how your mother is doing.", Joseph said, wondering how his old teacher was doing. Elizabeth turned around to lead the class back out of the museum. "How about tomorrow at lunch.", she said with a hint of a smile. "Alright then, see you tomorrow.", Joseph said before getting back to his work of making sure that no one touched any of the exhibits in the museum.

Keith walked out of the back room, "I just got off the phone with the police. They're going to find the culprit.", he said as he walked towards Joseph. Joseph nodded and Keith pulled out the ring. "I think you know where you have to put this, Joseph. After all, our boss considers you her assistant, not me.", Keith said with a smile. Joseph nodded and took the ring. He walked down a hallway full of artifacts, paintings, and weapons before coming to a pedestal that had a single inscription on it. "Ring of Detection.", it read. Joseph had no idea what it detected, but considering it was in this museum, he reasoned that it had something to do with metahumans. He opened up the protective casing and placed the ring on the pillow inside. Closing it, he sighed slightly, wondering how his boss would feel about him being punched in the face. After the case was closed, he locked it and walked back out of the room, heading back out to return to his work. There were still several hours left in the work day and his boss had yet to arrive. Though he didn't want to admit it, he was slightly worried about his boss' well being.

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Chapter 3

The work day was finally over and there was no sign of his boss, causing Joseph to sigh. He knew that he was her assistant, but he didn't have any idea that he was going to have to be the manager of the museum for a day. Joseph headed to the back room and saw his boss standing there. "Sorry I didn't come in all day today, just had to deal with vet after vet and it was problem after problem. How did you hold up, Joseph?", his boss said with a ragged look on her face. "Things went smoothly, except for the fact that I was assaulted by a delivery driver. He had it coming though. I'm surprised a delivery company would hire someone that is a known mugger.", Joseph said with a shrug. His boss nodded and rubbed her finger against his split lip, it was still sore and stung a bit when she rubbed it, but he didn't flinch or anything. "Hmm... I wanted to talk to you.", his boss said as she folded her arms. "Where? Your office?", Joseph said, looking around as he grabbed his jacket. "My place. And we're not on the clock, so you don't have to be so formal.", his boss said turning around to the back door. Joseph nodded slightly and followed his boss out of the museum. 

Joseph turned around and locked the back door as his boss walked to the car. Putting the keys back in his pocket, Joseph walked over to the car as well. "Get in.", his boss said. Joseph's heart was thumping as he opened the door of his boss' car. He always found her to be an attractive woman, she was in her mid-40s, not of childbearing age, but that didn't concern him. She had taught him everything he knew about the field of study that he had taken up in order to work at the museum. She even helped pay for his college. The one thing that put Joseph off from ever asking her out though, other than the fact that she's his boss, was that she was more like a mother figure to him than his mother ever was. Joseph got into the car and sat down, he closed the door and buckled up. His boss sat down in the car and she turned it on. Joseph didn't particularly like to drive, so he didn't really own a car, he instead hitched a ride with one of his neighbors if he ever needed to go grocery shopping.

They backed out of the parking lot and without a word, drove onto the road. Joseph looked out the window as they traveled down the road, paying attention to the stores. Eventually, they stopped next to a costume store and Joseph saw something in the window, it was a poster for a costume that Joseph recognized. Ten years later and they were still worshiping Lightning as if he were this great hero instead of the killer he really was. Anger welled up inside of him and he started to grit his teeth, suddenly the radio turned on and Joseph's attention was snapped away from the poster. "Did you turn on the radio?", he asked his boss. "No, I thought you did.", his boss replied. Joseph shook his head, he didn't know who or what turned on the radio, for all he knew, it could've been an electrically powered metahuman or a psion.

The car continued forward and neither of them talked much for about ten minutes. "Joseph, I think you're a bit lonely.", his boss said as she finally spoke up. "Woah, boss! I find you an attractive woman by conventional standards, but isn't it kinda against work ethic to date your boss. Especially a woman that's..." Joseph said, absolutely surprised and wide-eyed from the question. "Joseph, I'm not asking you to date me. Where did you get that idea from?", his boss replied as she interrupted him. "Uh, Charles might have suggested a thing like that, but honestly, I've always seen you more as a mother figure. Heck, you've been there more than my actual mother has been.", Joseph said as he looked back out the window. "Hmm, I've always seen you as the son I never had as well, Joseph. If you want to call me Mom, I wouldn't exactly have a problem with that.", she responded, a smirk on her face. "Your name is Dr. Celeste Delacruz. Not Mom.", Joseph said flatly to her. She reached over and ruffled his hair with a smile while they were at a red light. "So how's your work on your Master's Thesis coming along?", Celeste said as she ruffled his hair. Joseph had completely forgotten about his Master's Thesis, and he needed to get it done by November. It was mostly finished though, all he needed to do was proofread it and write down a final work. "I'd like you to check out my first draft. I'll bring it in next week when I come to work.", Joseph said with a nod. "About that, you're not coming to work next week, Joseph. You're getting the week off.", Celeste said as she turned left into a parking lot. "Wait, why!?", Joseph said, startled. He wasn't used to taking weeks off. "You need time to work on your Master's Thesis, if you want to graduate in December.", replied his boss as they wound up parking.

Joseph climbed out of the car and saw where they parked. "You're really bringing me to a pet store, not only that, but one that's fifteen miles away from my house.", Joseph said, not hiding the fact that he was annoyed at this. "You're going to get an animal companion for once in your life, Joseph.", Celeste said as she climbed out of the car, locking it as she did. "I had a dog when I was younger. His name was Donnie, and he was the friendliest and most loyal dog you could imagine.", Joseph said with a hint of sadness in his voice. "I understand what it's like to lose a companion like that, but crying over it isn't going to get you a new one.", Celeste said as she led him into the store. "Come on, you pick whatever animal you want and I'll buy everything you need.", she continued as she grabbed a buggy. He realized he wasn't going to be able to get away from this entire idea so instead he relented.

He walked down the aisles of the pet shop looking at the different animals. He looked towards the small animals first. He used to be repulsed by these creatures, but as he grew up, they sort of grown on him. He bent down in front of the case with the mice in it and watched the little creatures scurry about. They were nocturnal, this was something he knew for sure. They were adorable, but not what he would call a companion as they didn't have long lifespans. He briefly considered rats, but knew instantly that Celeste would have an issue with him getting a rat, much less bringing it into her car. He sighed and walked over to the birds section. He always found the colorful tropical birds to be amazing, but they were also somewhat loud, at least conures were. The parakeets that they had there though, the lovebirds they were called, were adorable and quiet. But a bird wasn't his style honestly. He took a look at the reptiles and noticed that they didn't have many of them. He thought that they must be a popular pet, so he didn't bother with them. He wanted something he could interact with, so fish were definitely off the table.

He turned around and walked over to the adoption center, he looked at the different dogs, but couldn't find a breed that he liked. Especially not within his price range. As he walked over to the cats though, he noticed the kittens playing with each other. He knew that he'd have to get more than one as cats tended to prefer the company of each other over that of humans. A couple of kittens escaped their crate as one of the people opened it up in order to feed them and give them water and they tried to run for the door. Joseph knew that they were trying to play a game, but he didn't seem to mind much. He leaned over with a smile and grabbed them both as they tried to run past him. "Wow, I never saw anyone move like that and catch kittens that decided they were going to explore their surroundings. Usually we have to keep someone at the door.", the person that was taking care of the animals said to him. Joseph felt the little teeth biting into his hands, but he ignored it. "To be fair, I had to pick a few tricks up while I was in prison.", he said as he stood back up, holding the kittens firmly, yet at the same time, being gentle with their tiny bodies. "You went to prison, you don't seem like the violent type. Was it a felony?", the person working at the store replied, a hint of uncertainty in his voice. "Assault, it was a misdemeanor. Walked down the wrong alley at the wrong time to take a shortcut back home, wound up walking upon a mugging. I grabbed the guy and started punching him in order to get the victim a chance to flee. Wound up getting two years for that.", Joseph said as he walked over to hand the kittens over to the guy. "You don't seem fazed at all that they're biting you.", the person said as he looked at the kittens biting Joseph's hands. "I dealt with worse as a child and at work. It doesn't really bother me. Say, if these two are an issue, why not let me buy em.", Joseph said with a smile.

"Hey there, I see you found something that you seemed to have liked.", Celeste said, scaring the everloving shit out of Joseph. "Holy shit!", Joseph exclaimed, using all of his mental control he could muster to not tense his hands up. The kittens stopped biting, curious about this new person and Joseph pointed towards a crate, "Look, I ain't about to bring two kittens to my apartment in a cardboard box, mind if we purchase a crate in order to take these two home?", Joseph asked. "No, it's not a problem at all.", the store worker said in response. Celeste left and after about five minutes, returned with a crate. Joseph smiled and placed the kittens into the crate and was given the paperwork. He filled it out, giving the kittens names and Celeste paid for them. "Thank you, Celeste.", Joseph said as he walked out of the adoption center with the two kittens. "We still need to get them food, a litter box, litter, toys, and things to scratch and climb.", Celeste responded. He knew this already, but he was just thankful to have kittens. He could hear them mew at him from inside their crate. "So you're going to help me get all of this into my apartment, right?", he asked with a smirk on his face. "I was thinking since you're a strong gentleman, you could do it yourself.", she responded with a similar smirk.

The two of them walked through the store, gathering everything that the kittens would need, including a big bag of kitten food. Celeste purchased everything and then they took it all to the car. "Should've probably gotten a truck.", Joseph said as he noticed that they had gathered a whole bunch of stuff. "My backseats fold down, Joseph. You'd know about that if you ever bothered to drive a car.", Celeste said with a sigh. "Hey! I can't neglect my calves you know.", Joseph said, pointing at his legs with his free hand. "If you got a car, you could go wherever you wanted, you know.", she said with a smirk. He knew she was right as they put the stuff in her trunk, Celeste folding the seats down. He looked at the two kittens in the crate. They were crawling over each other, rolling around and playing, but he noticed something about what was going on here. They also didn't seem to know where they were going. He looked at the crate and then at Celeste. "I think I'm going to carry this in my lap on the way to your place.", he said with a soft smile. "I'll pick you up to carry you to my place in the morning. I wasn't entirely honest with you. I'm giving you the next week off, but I need your help with something tomorrow. It shouldn't take long, so you'll have plenty of time to spend with your kittens.", Celeste said as she packed the rest of the stuff. Joseph climbed into the car with his new kittens and turned the door towards him. "Hey there, little guys. You'll get to live with me from now on.", he said in a soft voice.

Celeste climbed into the car and closed the door. She started the car and as they pulled out of the parking lot, she glanced over at Joseph. "So, you hear about that famous author that's coming over here on sunday?", she asked him, a hint of curiosity in her voice. "Yeah, I've read some of his books. Seen a couple of movies that were based off his works. Why do you ask?", he replied, curious that it was strange that she asked him about him. "Well, I was wondering if you wanted to go to the book signing. I had an invitation and well, I'm going to be busy on Sunday. Would you like to go in my stead. I'm sure you like the guy's books.", she said as she focused on the road. "Well, sure. I never really liked the books that focused on Yoshiro, though. A noble becoming a paladin after isolation wasn't something that I could particularly enjoy. That's nothing new, that's just history. His books about Kauko on the other hand were amazing. Kauko was from a noble family that the father disowned him, so he lived with his grandparents and after a while his grandparents passed away and eventually his mother did, while his father sat in his manor and watched all of this happen, forcing the young Kauko to become a thief to survive. Eventually though, he winds up getting caught and is inducted into the paladins, becoming a noble himself.", Joseph said as he recounted the knowledge of the books about Kauko. "So does Kauko's father ever get what he deserved?", she asked. "Yeah, in one of the movies, Kauko straight up admits that no matter the crimes his father committed towards himself or others, he can't bring himself to spill the blood of one of his parents. Kauko's father, the original Count Vene decides to attack his own son, but Hannu steps in and blocks it, grumbling about how ironic it is for a Judicator to be protecting a thief. After a brief fight, Hannu slays Kauko's father.", he said as he looked up at the ceiling of the car. "Hmm, you do seem like you're a fan of this series. Well, I'll call up the author and tell him that I'm sending my assistant over.", she said as they stopped at a red light.

The rest of the ride to the apartment complex was uneventful and quiet. Once there, Joseph climbed out of the car with the crate that his kittens were in. He climbed up the stairs and fished his keys out of his pocket. He could hear the mewing of the kittens as he put his key in the lock and opened up the door. The first thing he noticed when he walked in was that he wasn't the only one that had been in his apartment today. There was a bag of cookies on the table in the living room. He walked over to the dining room table and put the crate onto it. "Now the two of you be good and stay here.", he said with a smile as he walked out the door and saw Celeste carry the bag of toys and a scratching post past him and into his apartment. As much as he wanted to crack a joke about how he finally had a woman over, he knew that the fact that she entered the apartment meant that some gossip was going to go around the building. He climbed back down the stairs and walked over to the car, closing the door that he had left open and walked back to the trunk. He grabbed the bag of cat litter and threw it onto his shoulder and then did the same with the Kitten food. As he walked back up the stairs, Celeste looked up at him like he was crazy. "What would happen if you were to lose your footing, both of your hands are occupied.", she said in a huff. "I had to do things like this back in prison, ya know.", Joseph retorted. Celeste sighed and Joseph reached the top of the stairs. "You want to get the rest or should I?", he said to her as he walked into his apartment. "I'll get the rest.", she said as she walked back down the stairs. Joseph placed the litter and catfood in his laundry room which doubled as his pantry. He closed the door to the room and walked back into his kitchen to open the fridge. He pulled out a beer and placed it on the counter as Celeste walked into the living room with the rest of the stuff. "So, I'll see you tomorrow morning?", she said as he looked towards her. "Yeah, I'll spend some time getting stuff ready for the kittens and make sure that Caleb and Meredith are alright before going to bed tonight. See ya tomorrow, boss.", he replied.

Celeste walked out of the house after placing the stuff in the living room. Upon hearing the door close, Joseph cracked open the beer and placed the mouth of the bottle to his lips. It was a bitter taste, but, he was off for the weekend and the next week, so he figured that there wouldn't be anything wrong with getting a single beer in him. He looked back in his fridge and remembered that his pantry was empty. "Guess I need to go grocery shopping soon.", he muttered to himself as he walked out into the living room to take a look at the kittens. "I'm going to get everything set up for you guys and then I'm going to head next door to make sure the elderly neighbors are alright. I want the both of you to behave while I'm gone, Bubba and Marylin. I'll let the two of you out when I get back home so that you can explore your new home and play with all the stuff my boss got for you.", Joseph said as he went to organizing the place for his new kittens. As he did so, he silently thanked this boss for getting him those kittens, as she was right, he was indeed lonely, despite living in a building with other people. But this was a lifestyle that he chose for himself, one that he didn't have any regrets choosing, at least for now. 

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Chapter 4

Joseph was finished with tending to setting everything up for the kittens, the time was 9 PM. No sooner did he finish, was there a knock at his door, startling him. He turned to the door and walked over, grabbing the doorknob. With a twist of his hand, he pulled open the door to see Caleb standing out there in the cold. "Meredith threw you out of the house?", Joseph said in a joking manner. "We were worried about you, Joseph. You didn't come over and... well, we saw you with a woman here.", Caleb responded, as Meredith walked up behind him. Joseph heard the wind whip up, he knew that it was going to get much colder that night and the rain was moving in. "It'll be too cold for the two of you to go back over there soon, that and too rainy. The wind is supposed to blow the rain into the hall between our apartments. I don't really have an extra guest bed, but I could always sleep on the couch. Would you like to stay over for the night?", Joseph said, thumbing towards the inside of his apartment. "You're quite considerate, but how cold do you think it will get tonight?", Caleb said with a slight smile. "I know, back when you were younger, you could easily walk up hill, in the snow, both ways to school. However, right now, you're both in your nineties. The two of you wouldn't last long tonight, it's supposed to get into the low twenties, if not as low as nineteen degrees. With the windchill, it'll be around twelve degrees.", Joseph said sternly. Meredith walked over to Joseph and hugged him slightly. "Are you eating alright?", she asked as she looked into his eyes. "I haven't exactly had time to grab a bite to eat. If the two of you will promise to stay here in my apartment, I could go get the three of us something to eat. Or at least get me something to eat.", Joseph said as he thumbed once again towards the interior of his apartment. Caleb nodded and walked into the apartment, as Meredith let go. "We'll stay here, Joseph. You won't have to worry about us, but won't you be cold?", Caleb said as he looked around the living room. "Yeah, but I can tolerate the cold a lot better than the two of you can. The heat is set to seventy-six degrees. If that isn't hot enough for you, you can always turn it up slightly.", Joseph said as he grabbed a jacket from the closet next to his door. "Take care of yourself, Joseph.", Meredith called out as he walked out of the apartment and closed the door behind him. 

The wind quickly whipped across Joseph's face as the rain started to hit him. He pulled the hood up on his jacket and walked down the stairs with one hand on the railing. He worried about his kittens, but trusted both Caleb and Meredith not to let them loose prematurely. He walked out into the parking lot and started walking down the road, it was a very cold night and the rain wasn't helping. A car pulled up to him. "Hey man, you want a ride. Tonight isn't a night that you should be out here in the cold. I'll take you back to your place.", the driver said to him. "I'm actually heading out to get something to eat. I've not had dinner and tomorrow was the day I go grocery shopping.", he responded. "Hop in, I'll take you to a nice place to eat.", the driver responded. Joseph thought about it for a second and then took a look at the driver. "Alex?", Joseph said as he recognized the man. "Yeah, apartment twelve twenty-four. You're in twelve thirty-five, right?", Alex said as he popped his head out the window. Joseph nodded and then walked around the car. Alex unlocked the door for him and he opened it and climbed in. As he closed the door behind him, he buckled his seat belt. "So, where do you want to go, Joseph?", Alex asked him as he turned the car around. "The bar would be nice, honestly.", Joseph responded.

As the car pulled out of the apartment complex, Alex turned onto another road. "It's not like you to start drinking after a week of work, Joseph. Something bothering you?", Alex asked as he drove towards the bar. "Not really, just think that right now, sitting down with some bar food and maybe a couple of beers wouldn't hurt. I need to get to sleep early so that I can go over to my boss' place tomorrow and help her out.", he responded flatly. "Ah, so you're just trying to do something quick, so you can get back home and get to sleep. I see how it is, Joseph.", Alex said with a smirk. Joseph shot Alex a look and Alex laughed at him. "Don't worry, Joseph, I understand what it's like. You still unmarried?", Alex said as he chuckled slightly. "Are you suggesting that I go off and marry my boss, a woman might I remind you, who is old enough to be my mother, and has been more of a mother to me than my own mom, who abandoned me the moment I went to prison.", Joseph said, annoyed. 

Alex nodded as they pulled into the parking lot of the bar and once the car came to a stop, Joseph climbed out of the car and closed the door behind him. He walked into the bar and the bartender looked at him. A gruff bald man, with a handlebar mustache, built in such a way that suggested he could solve any problem customer problem that ever came into his bar. "I don't see you around here often. You got a problem or something?", the bartender asked him. "I ain't lookin for any trouble, just some food and a couple of drinks is all.", Joseph responded. "I know you're not lookin for trouble, you just got a bit of a troubled look on your face there. Sit down and tell me your problems. It's what I'm here for.", the bartender said to him as he motioned towards a stool. Joseph walked over to the stool and sat down. "I'd like to order a burger, rare. With a side order of fries, and of course if you have chicken tenders, I'll take an order of those as well. And a pint of beer, please.", Joseph said as he reached into his pocket and pulled out his wallet. Joseph showed the bartender his ID and the bartender nodded as Alex sat next to him. "I'd like a double shot of whiskey, please.", Alex said as he sat down. 

The Bartender turned around and Alex looked at Joseph. "The game's on, want to watch it?", Joseph shook his head, he used to be a sports guy, but was never much for sports nowadays. The bartender placed his glass on the table. "Enjoy, kiddo.", the bartender said as he turned around. Joseph looked at the beer in front of him and started sipping at it. The taste was just as bad as he remembered beer being, but for some reason when he finally made it to the weekend, he felt it was nice to have a beer. Alex downed an entire double shot of whiskey right next to him, which confused him. Alex patted him on the shoulder and placed a ten dollar bill on the counter before walking out. The Bartender walked over to Joseph. "Like I said, you look like a man who needs to talk about his problems.", the Bartender said with a gruff voice. "Eh, I don't really want to talk about it in detail. I just happen to miss my old friends.", Joseph responded as he took another sip of beer. "You know, advice is free, right?", the Bartender said with a smile as he leaned forward. Joseph closed his eyes, his mind focused on someone who he was once in love with, the friends that the two of them had. This was back when he was still a teenager no less. 

Joseph sighed as the plate with his food was placed on the table. The Bartender gave him his ID back and Joseph placed a twenty dollar bill on the table as he put his ID back into his wallet. "Ten years ago, I parted ways from my friends. I've not seen them in the last ten years, nor have I seen my girlfriend since then. Well, I guess she'd be my ex-girlfriend now. When I woke up the morning after I had left them, I noticed that I was still covered in blood, I had never showered and all I remember was getting into a fight with Lightning over him killing someone. All I could surmise is that I was able to drive him off, he hasn't shown his face in the last ten years.", Joseph said as he picked up one of the chicken fingers. "Not very many people are open with the information that they had gotten into a fight with a hero, especially not one as famous as Lightning is. Are you a Villain by some chance?", the Bartender asked with an arched brow and reaching under the counter. "Not anymore. I never wanted to fight him, just he... killed my friend and my body acted on its own. I was surprised when it happened.", Joseph responded. "So why'd you come all the way up here then?", the bartender asked him. "I couldn't stand the pressure of everything, so I left my home town and moved up here.", Joseph said in response as he started to eat his food. He had no idea why the reason was, but for the past 19 years, he's had a rapid metabolism.

As Joseph ate, the Bartender poured him another beer. Joseph didn't even notice that he had finished the first one. Then he looked at his beer, he didn't. "What's up with the second beer?", Joseph asked, suspicious. "It's on the house. I figured someone like yourself would be wanting a second drink. Not a whole lot of reformed villains out there, especially not ones who got into a fight with the leader of the Weather Force.", the Bartender said as he cleaned a glass. Joseph nodded and finished his first beer. The Weather Force didn't sound right to him though, the last time he saw them, they were the Weather Team. As Joseph finished up his food and drank the second beer, he thought that things had changed in the last ten years he was gone. When he was done with everything, Joseph walked out of the bar, where he saw Alex sitting in the car, waiting for him. He opened the door and climbed in. "Would you like to crash at my place, Joseph. Stairs will be a bit slick when we get home.", Alex said, concerned. "Nah, I need to get to my place. Gotta let the kittens out of the crate, and both Caleb and Meredith are at my place. Have to make sure that everything is alright.", Joseph responded.

Alex nodded and drove out of the parking lot, Joseph could tell that Alex was intoxicated, but still under the legal limit. The two of them didn't say a word on the way back home and when the car was parked, Joseph looked at the time. It was 10 PM. Joseph climbed out of the car and closed the door, waving to Alex as he walked towards the steps. "Thanks for the ride to the bar, Alex.", he said as he reached the steps. "No problem, Joseph.", Alex called out from the car. The rain was hitting Joseph's jacket and he could see it starting to come back down the steps. He grabbed the railing of the stairs and slowly climbed up, taking care to ensure that he wasn't slipping on each step. Within a few minutes, he reached the top of the stairs with a sigh, the wall in from of him was covered in water and the floor was wet too. The wind whipped up, a powerful wind that forced the rain to move sideways happened. "Damn storms...", Joseph grumbled as he was rained on. He walked over to the door and opened it to see that the lights weren't on. He turned on a light and walked into the apartment, closing and locking the door behind him.

He threw his jacket on the chair in his living room and walked over to the dining room table, where the kittens were pawing at the bars of the door in the crate. He opened up the crate's door and grabbed the two kittens gently. "You two behave yourself, alright. I'm going to go to sleep soon.", he said as he placed them on the floor. The kittens immediately went to go to explore their surroundings as Joseph walked over to his closet to pull a blanket and a spare pillow from his linen closet. He threw the pillow on his couch and laid down on the couch with blanket over him as he reached for the light switch to turn the light off. As he closed his eyes, he started wondering exactly what tomorrow would bring to him, he knew that he had to help his boss with something, but one thing still bothered him though. What had happened to the Weather Team to be renamed the Weather Force, was Lightning still out there somewhere? So many questions buzzed through Joseph's mind as he laid there on the couch. He pushed the questions into the back of his mind and soon enough, he fell asleep, hoping he'd not wake up to the same nightmare as the night before. 

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Chapter 5

Joseph awoke on the couch to silence, not even the mewing of kittens. As he looked out the window, he saw that it was light outside, so he could guess that it was seven AM. The apartment was still cold, despite the fact that the heater was on. He looked down at himself as he moved the blanket. He had fallen asleep in his work uniform and since both Caleb and Meredith were in his bedroom, he wouldn't be able to change out of his work clothes. He was glad that aside from the blood that came from his lip, his work uniform was mostly clean, if it was a little wet from the rain when he went to bed. Suddenly a mewing caught his attention. The male kitten was sitting there at the foot of the couch. He picked up the kitten and placed him on his chest. "Hey there, little guy. You explored the house, got to see where everything was?", he asked the kitten, which responded with a mewing sound. He scratched behind the kitten's ears and then placed him on the ground. "I got to find something to eat in here that isn't cat food.", he muttered as he moved the blanket off himself.

He stood up and walked over to the kitchen. He opened the fridge and saw that it was empty, except for one last bottle of root beer, he didn't even have any coffee and his only drink had no caffeine. He took out the bottle of root beer, because it was at least something, and then realized he had just used his last bit of money at the bar. "Aw fuck... I didn't even get paid yesterday.", he said as he opened the bottle, drinking the soda within. "I got bills to pay later this week and I got a thesis to rewrite and... ugh, this day sucks already...", he said, obviously annoyed at the sequence of events that was the end of the week for him. Finishing the bottle, he tossed it in the trash and walked over to his closet. "Well, I have an hour or two before the boss gets here... what to do...", he muttered to himself. He opened up the closet and grabbed a pair of gloves, putting them on as he grabbed his jacket from the back of the chair. He grabbed a tube of balls and a tennis racket from the floor of his closet and closed the door. He zipped up his jacket and walked over to the front door of his apartment. He took a sheet of paper from the desk and a pen and wrote a message for Caleb and Meredith, telling them that he's heading out and if they were to head back to their apartment, to make sure that the kittens don't get out. He then opened the door to his apartment and left, closing it behind him.

Everything had a glaze of ice covering it, icicles were hanging down from the overhang of the roof. This was going to be exceptionally annoying for not only himself, but for anyone who wanted to drive. He walked down the hall and then turned onto the steps. No sooner did he place his foot on the first step, did it fly out from under him. He hit the ground, hard and slid down every step before tumbling onto the ground with a pained grunt. When he stood up, he felt pain in the entire right side of his body, not unexpected, but quite inconvenient. As he looked around, he noticed that the ice wasn't thick and would melt under the midday sun. He walked along the grass, walking all the way up to the tennis court where there was a pool behind it, behind the pool, there was a gym and a racquetball court. Joseph knew that he couldn't practice tennis outside on the court as they would naturally be iced over on the day that he'd want to use them. He sighed slightly, knowing that he'd be unable to use the gym as his boss would be at his place later to pick him up for whatever she had planned for the day. Without leaving the grass, he walked around the tennis court and around the building to come to a fence. He opened up the fence and walked in, closing it behind him. 

Joseph heard a noise coming from the pool and saw someone swimming in it. "Are you fucking crazy? It's below freezing and you're swimming in a goddamn pool!", Joseph yelled at the person. The person turned around to reveal that she was a woman around his age. "Huh, I never thought you lived here. I'm Anna, a metahuman.", she replied to him yelling at her. Joseph never expected her to be forthcoming with that information, he knew that the metahumans existed, he's seen the evidence and worked at a museum about them. "If your power doesn't pertain to the cold, I would suggest you climb out of the pool before you develop hypothermia.", Joseph said as he squatted near the side of the pool. "Blizzard is the name I go by, I'm one of the local heroes.", she responded calmly. "Never thought a hero would be using the pool of an apartment complex, aren't all you people rich or somethin'?", Joseph said, not even bothering to hide the fact that he wasn't originally from the region with his accent. "You sound like you're from the south, you wouldn't happen to know what happened to Lightning, would you?", Anna said, looking at him with narrowed eyes. That name infuriated Joseph, soon his hand tensed around his tennis racket. "Ah, I see you do know about him. You do... nevermind, it's not important.", she said, trailing off.

"Blizzard, you're late for the meeting.", said a male voice, one that Joseph faintly recognized as someone who took the tour for the museum. "Aw, do I really have to, Spectrum?", Anna said with a frown. Joseph started to walk towards the racquetball court. "You there, civilian. You're not to tell anyone what you heard here, got it?", Spectrum called out to him. "Fuck off, you piece of murderer-worshiping shit.", Joseph responded as he turned around, he didn't really want to fight here and now, but with it being so cold that it was chilling him to the bone, a fight would warm him up. "So who is this murderer that I happen to worship?", Spectrum said, his eyes narrowing behind his mask. "Lightning, that piece of shit that murdered Inverse in cold blood. Maybe if he wasn't brutally murdered in the street of that city, he could've been redeemed, like I was!", Joseph said defiantly. Spectrum looked at Joseph and then started to laugh somewhat. Joseph was confused, but ultimately, he watched Anna climb out of the pool and walk over to Spectrum's side. "I've never seen someone call themselves an ex-villain before. Tell me, are you registered?", Spectrum asked him condescendingly. "No, according to the law, so long as I have actively chosen to neither be a hero nor a villain and abandoned anything that made me some form of either, I do not have to register. I chose to live my life as a normal human.", Joseph responded, smugly. Spectrum narrowed his eyes, Joseph knew he was right, he had read the full text of the law and knew the ins and outs of it. "Very well then, make sure if you ever do choose to no longer live a normal life, to register.", Spectrum said before he and Blizzard took their leave.

Joseph smiled as they left and walked into the building. He took a tennis ball out of the tube and placed the tube on the ground near the door. He walked up to the line and tossed the ball down a couple of times before tossing it into the air with his off hand. He hit the ball as hard as he can at the point in front of the wall that he knew would allow the ball to remain in bounds. As the ball bounced up and hit the wall, it flew back in his direction. He ran over and hit the ball again, this time with a back hand, sending the ball flying to the opposite corner of the room. Hitting two walls made the ball lose enough momentum to not be able to fly back to him, so he walked over and picked the ball back up. He walked back to the line he stood behind before and tossed the ball up again. He swung the racket as hard as he could again, hitting the ball on the floor again and it bounced up at the wall a second time, it hit the wall, this time though, it started flying towards the door. Joseph heard the door open and glanced to see who it was. The moment he saw that it was his boss, he moved to hit the ball on his racket. He overshot the ball and it hit him square in the arm. "I believe they call that a return ace.", Celeste said smugly. "Not many tennis players have to worry about their boss interrupting their games. I guess you knew where to find me.", Joseph said as he went to retrieve the ball. "I've seen some of your tennis matches, you're quite good, so I figured you'd want a place where you can practice.", Celeste responded, a hint of pride in her voice. 

Joseph motioned towards the inside of the building, "If you'd like, we could practice in here or out there. I know that you want my help with something today, but...", Joseph said as he pointed inside. "Joseph, you're going to have to do more than one thing for me. Today you're helping me around the house, but tomorrow, you're going to meet with a patron that is willing to sponsor our museum.", Celeste said, cutting Joseph off. "But I thought you wanted me to go to the book signing, Boss.", Joseph said in protest. "The patron will be there, Joseph.", she said, folding her arms. "Do you want to grab a bite to eat before we arrive at my place, I'll buy for you. Plus once you're done for the day, I'll give you your paycheck, so you can cash it in.", she continued. "Boss, I also need to do some grocery shopping, I don't have any food at my house.", Joseph said a bit sadly. "Well, I wouldn't want my assistant to go hungry. However, I do have some good news. Since you are getting your masters degree in this very field, you're getting a raise, and a promotion. No longer will you just be my assistant.", Celeste said with a smile. "Wait, what? But I've always been your research assistant, I've... I've been happy working under you!", Joseph protested again. "Relax, Joseph, I'm not firing you. I'm promoting you in the museum. You're going to stop getting paid weekly and get paid a salary. You've done so much for the museum and you've shown dedication and hard work to get where you are, I think it's time for me to stop having you as an assistant and instead help you become your own independent scholar. From the moment you get your masters degree in the science of metahumans, you'll be able to go for your Doctorate degree. Once you get that, the scientific community will recognize you as an independent scholar, but you'll have to get there on your own, Joseph. You'll always have a job, so long as the museum remains open, but I honestly would like for you to succeed me one day.", Celeste said, reassuringly. Joseph nodded, he knew that he had dreamed of becoming a doctor when he was younger, but he thought that it'd be a medical doctor, to be the successor of the woman who treated him as if he were her own son, there was no greater honor for him than that. "So, what will you call me once I graduate with my masters in sciences?", Joseph asked with a smirk. "Simple, a scholar of the study of metahumans. You'll earn that, at least.", Celeste said in response. It sounded good to him, he wanted to be a scholar ever since he got out of prison. "Alright then, let's go to your place, shall we, Celeste?", Joseph said with a smile. "Remember, I'm still your boss, Joseph.", Celeste said, teasingly. Joseph laughed, he knew that she was his boss, but the two of them left the building to head to her car, laughing the entire way.

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Chapter 6

Keith awoke in the bedroom of his small home to the alarm ringing. It was already 10 AM? He looked out the window and noticed ice starting to melt. He stretched and yawned as he looked at the door, wondering if he should bother to get up or go back to sleep, it was a long night last night. He climbed out of bed and threw a pair of pants on as well as a shirt and walked out of his room to the kitchen. As he looked into the fridge, he saw that he had some cream cheese and some bagels, as well as some iced coffee. Despite the fact that he preferred his coffee warm, he was a bit lazy in the mornings and didn't want to brew up some coffee. So he took everything he needed from the fridge to make breakfast. He reached into a drawer and pulled out a butter knife as he pulled out a bagel and cut it in half, throwing it in his toaster and turning it on. He opened up the carton of iced coffee and drank it straight from the carton. He didn't care as he was living on his own anyhow. His father had paid for this house for him and had paid all of the bills for him, just so that he could live on his own. The toaster popped up, breaking Keith out of his thoughts. He quickly grabbed the bagels and spread the cream cheese on it, forming a sandwich and he started eating it in the kitchen. 

He sat there in the kitchen for a few minutes, eating and thinking to himself about his assignment. He had no idea why his father had sent him here and gave him this job, but he looked at the dossier on the counter. It was covered in crumbs, so he wiped it off. He opened it up, it had all the information that he ever needed about the person he was keeping an eye own. His very own co-worker, Joseph. He felt terrible for lying to him and felt like his involvement in this entire mission was coming to an end soon. He wanted to get out of this whole spying game, as he was completely sick of spying on people, especially people he found himself calling friends. He finished up the bagel and took another gulp of coffee, putting that down and closing it. As he looked at the dossier, he noted that Joseph was considered a high level threat. He couldn't believe that, it wasn't that way a week before, but was that way now? He thought it was ludicrous, how could someone as kind as Joseph was capable of being, be a legitimate threat to the people. Keith knew of his past, but he also knew that Joseph had chosen to live the life of a normal civilian.

Keith put the dossier away and walked over to his couch and turned on the television. The news was on and they were talking about how it had been ten years since Lightning had vanished. No one had been able to track him down for the last ten years, not for a lack of trying though. "You aren't ever gonna find him. Costumed heroes and villains can go off the grid just by removing their costume permanently or changing it. Why do you gotta talk about him every single damn year. We get it, you miss him.", Keith said to no one in particular, half grumbling about this entire thing. Then he noticed someone on the television, someone familiar that he happened to dislike. That's when he turned up the volume. "You said that Lightning was your long time friend, do you have any idea what could've happened to him or where he had went?", the newscaster asked the other figure. "Lightning and I were good friends back in our childhood. The death of Rain and Snow had affected him greatly, and after he had beat Inverse to death, he just sort of left without a single word. He didn't come to any of the meetings after that, and the next thing I know, the word was he had just vanished.", the other figure said. "So, Cloud, was it?", the newscaster asked. "Yes, my hero name is Cloud. I'd tell you my real name, but as you know, we have to keep that a secret.", Cloud responded. "I understand, but Cloud, you were Lightning's best friend. Do you have any words for him if he's out there watching this right now?", the newscaster asked the hero. Cloud looked at the camera and sighed, Keith could tell that Cloud was hurt by all this. "Lightning, I ain't gotta clue where you're at right now, man. But you were always there for me when I was a kid and I'm always going to be there for you. If you ever want to return, I know you're feeling guilty over what happened ten years ago, but all of us are willing to welcome you back with open arms. We don't blame you for what happened, instead we understand why you did what you did. Please, man. Come back to us, we all miss you, even if Tornado won't admit to the fact that she does miss you. We're your friends, we'll always be your friends, no matter what.", Cloud said as an impassioned plea to Lightning. "Thank you for doing this interview, Cloud. We have to go to commercial though.", the newscaster said, just before the TV went to commercials. 

Keith turned off the television, disgusted at this. Was this his father's idea of a PR stunt? Was this supposed to win over the hearts and minds of the people? He wondered how Joseph would react to that segment, as he knew that Joseph always had a strong reaction of anger towards the mere mention of Lightning. Not a surprise, Keith thought to himself, Joseph did watch helplessly as Lightning brutally murdered Inverse. Keith had read the reports. There were not autopsies, no tribunals, nothing. Just a report done by the organization that Lightning had been hired by. Keith knew exactly what the original mission was supposed to be, Lightning was originally supposed to publicly capture, Inverse, but on the way back, have an "accident" where he executed him. The original organization that governed the metahumans and the like were corrupt and evil as they came. He wondered if the organization that his father had founded was much better, as they took over for the previous one when it was dismantled after being found guilty of corruption.

The phone rang, startling Keith out of his thoughts and he picked up the phone to see who it was. It was unfortunately the man he didn't particularly want to speak to, but he answered the phone anyway. "Hello, Father.", Keith said, not bothering to hide the fact that he felt a lot of disdain for his father. "Hello, Keith. You're showing me the usual lack of respect you show me. You forget that not only am I your father, I am your boss.", the voice on the other side said, curtly. "You know for a fact that I want out of this lifestyle. You know that I never wanted to be a fucking spy, that I never wanted to do any of this! But I guess if I never was a spy, I never would've found my true calling!", Keith responded sharply. "Ah, but you see, son. You became a spy the moment I founded the Metahuman Registration Organization. If it wasn't for me there would be a lot of anarchy on the stre—", his father said, flatly. "You only believe that there would be anarchy because someone you cared about was hurt by a metahuman! You always believed that the only way to ensure peace between humans and those that were more than human was to force those that were more than human to obey us humans! Do you not believe that this will backfire on you!?", Keith yelled as he interrupted his own father. "You are an insolent child who knows nothing of the ways of the world and nothing of what you speak! You will not take that disrespectful tone with me!", his father responded. "Fuck you! I am twenty-nine years old, I've been a grown man for the last eleven, and yet, here you are... thinking that just because you're my father, that means that I belong to you and that every action that I do has to be to your approval! Surprise, Dad, I've been making my own decisions! The only reason why I chose to do this fucking assignment in the first place was because I saw things your way, because that's all I knew how to believe! You kept me brainwashed for my entire life! When I finally got away from your arrogant ass, I finally got to see the truth about metahumans and the like! It's time to let go of your hatred, it's been forty years since you lost the person you cared about and it's been nineteen since Mom died! Do you think Mom would've wanted you to be like this, Dad!?", Keith snapped back at his father. "You know what, you're right, I should treat you like a grown man, Keith. Once you start acting like it!", his father responded to him. "The only metric of me being a grown man in your small little world is that I obey you at every turn! Once this whole mission is over, I'm quitting your organization!", Keith responded harshly. "Very well then, you signed a non-disclosure agreement and you know what will happen if you violate it, right?", his father said with a smug tone. "Yes, I am aware, but I want to follow my own dreams in life after this is over, I'm not taking over as your heir, you've already groomed Tamara for that, after all, she is your perfect operative according to you.", Keith sneered into the phone. The words hit home, there was silence on the other side of the phone for a full minute. "Very well, Keith. I hope you still understand your mission.", his father said on the other side of the phone. "To monitor Joseph for any suspicious activity and if he ever returns to his previous life, to get him to register according to the Metahuman Registration Act and if he refuses to kill him. Is that right, Father?" Keith said gritting his teeth into his phone. He had considered Joseph a friend and didn't want to have to pull a gun on him, but he would if he was given no choice but to do so. "So you understand, you insolent whelp. Good. Once this mission is over, I'll let you free. But if you fail me, you'll work for me still." his father said, immediately hanging up the phone afterwards to keep Keith from responding.

Furious, Keith threw the phone at the opposite wall. He heard it break, but he didn't care. He had written Joseph's number and the number of his boss down, those were the only two numbers he had cared about. As far as he was concerned, the man who called him wasn't his father, he was someone that his mother would be ashamed of. He remembered nineteen years ago, watching the news about a massacre at a mall. He had known back then that his mother was there, but he had hoped that she wasn't. It had devastated him to lose his mother at the age of ten, but many other women in his life tried to fill the gap. None of them were particularly successful at that. He wondered silently what his mother would think of him, then and there. He had no idea what she would've thought of him now, but he knew that she wouldn't have been too proud of him. He stood up and got dressed, realizing that he would need a new phone, so he'd have to go to the phone store to pick one up.

He threw on a jacket, put on some socks then put on his boots. He was from the south, but he had moved up here six years ago. He grumbled as he grabbed his keys and left the house, locking the door behind him. He walked over to the car and looked up and down at it, then looked under it to make sure that it hadn't been tampered with, then he unlocked the door, satisfied when he heard the lock make a noise when he did. He opened the door and climbed into the car, slamming the door behind him and buckling up. He stuck the key into the ignition and started the car. Before he even thought about changing gears, he turned the heater and the defrost on, followed by the radio. Classical music sounded over the radio, which was pleasing to his ears. Six years, he had played the role of a spy, and all six of them, he hated them. He had no idea why his father had such a desire to kill Joseph if he returned to being a villain of some sort. He knew that Joseph wouldn't do such a thing, he had been working with the man for the last six years of his life, the man was the only person aside from Celeste to ever truly treat him as if he were a friend and not just as some operative. He dearly wanted to tell Joseph the truth, he even wanted to tell him his actual name... not just the undercover name he gave him. A tear ran down his face and he adjusted his mirrors as he put his foot on the brake pedal, looking behind him and into the road. No cars were coming, which made him wonder why. Immediately he stopped the car, remembering that the roads had iced over. "Guess I'll walk, need the fresh air and exercise anyhow." He climbed out of the car, locked it and set the alarm. After doing all of this, he walked down the driveway and walked along the street to leave his neighborhood, it'd take him an hour to get to the phone store, but he didn't care. He needed the fresh air and the time to think after the fight he had with his father.

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Chapter 7

After arriving at Celeste's house, Joseph stepped out of the car, closing the door behind him. "It's not everyday that you invite me to your house, boss.", Joseph said calmly. "I have a good reason for it, I need help with some furniture.", Celeste responded as she climbed out of the car. "Just because I do some heavy lifting at work doesn't mean that I'm fit for the job on the weekends, boss.", Joseph responded. "Relax, Joseph, it's not going to be as heavy or as taxing as you might think. I'm not talking about moving a cupboard or anything like that. It's mostly light stuff, but there are some things that require two people to lift, which is why I said I need your help, not you to come move furniture for me. The sooner we get this done, the sooner we can get you groceries.", she responded with a smirk. He knew she was right and instead gave up on the whole argument. His mouth was still sore after having his lip busted the day before and the cold was making it sting somewhat, but he didn't particularly care. Celeste walked up to her house and opened the door. "The door wasn't supposed to be unlocked!?", Celeste exclaimed.

Joseph pushed her out of the way. "I'll go inside and see what's missing and if anything is wrong.", he said as he walked into the house. She nodded and no sooner did he enter did the door close behind him on it's own and Joseph heard the door lock behind him. He turned back and grabbed the lock to try to unlock the door, but it was to no avail. "A tormented mind. Forgive me for locking your boss out there in the cold, she'll be fine.", a voice called out. "Show yourself, you piece of shit!", Joseph exclaimed. "You wouldn't like for me to show myself, you see, I don't exactly have a face that people see, I am a strange hybrid, a metahuman and a psion. I cannot control what people see, so they usually see something from their memories. You can call me... Memory.", the voice responded. Joseph watched as a figure wearing a gray hooded robe walked out of a room and walked over to him. He tried to look at the face, but couldn't. "Remove your hood.", Joseph told him sternly. "Or what? You'll punch me? You'll try to do unspeakable things to me? I am neither villain nor am I a hero. I just am.", the figure responded. Joseph reached for the hood, but the figure drew back. "I am warning you, you will not like the face that you see underneath the hood.", the figure said coldly. "Take it off or get the fuck out of my boss' house." Joseph said, putting his foot down, tired of all of these games. "Very well then." The figure said in response, coldly.

The figure reached gloved hands up, the gloves were an electric blue, which Joseph remembered from his memories. As the figure drew back its hood, Joseph saw a mask that he remembered vividly from his memories, it was a dark blue, patterned with electric blue lightning bolts. He was overcome with anger, and was stunned at this at the same time. Why would the person become Lightning, was that one of his strongest memories? "You have a particular anger towards this person. Your memories of Lightning aren't all bad though, but they're all...", the figure spoke, trailing off at the end, the look on the figure's face turned to uncertainty. "They're all strong, yet distant at the same exact time... how could this be, it's usually one or the other.", the figure continued. Joseph was more confused, he had no idea what the figure was talking about, but was also still too stunned to fight any of this. "I see... I understand now.", the figure said before taking off the mask. The face that Joseph saw made the blood drain from his face, it was as if he had seen a ghost. His heart started racing as his body tensed up. "Inverse, you have such a strong reaction to him. Hmm... it seems there is so much about him that you do not know.", the figure continued. "Tell me then.", Joseph was able to finally say. "Right now, you are not ready to hear about him. You torment yourself too much for your failure to save him from Lightning. Or more accurately, the rage of the man within the costume of Lightning.", the figure said coldly. "Wait, the rage of the man in the costume of Lightning, what does that mean?", Joseph asked, fear still in his voice, a cold sweat coming over him. "Every costumed hero or villain are just people inside of a costume. They have names and lives too. You watched helplessly as Lightning beat Inverse to death, he was overcome with grief and rage after watching two of his best friends die. But you stood there, helplessly watching, not even bothering to interfere. Or did you... there is the faint memory of a struggle between you and Lightning. The struggle hurt, as if you were fighting someone you once looked up to... your own personal hero. Your feelings of betrayal might be the cause of your incredible anger towards him.", the figure said, raising the hood over his head one more time. "Wait, what do you mean by I don't know everything about Inverse!?", Joseph exclaimed.

The figure walked away, Joseph tried to follow, but his legs wouldn't work. As the figure was out of sight, a voice sounded in Joseph's head. "I cannot tell you now. But the wheels of fate are in motion, Joseph. None of us can stop them, I cannot tell you what will happen, nor can I tell you when or where it will occur, as I am forbidden from doing so, but something is fated to happen soon. I can tell you this, it has something to do with Inverse.", the voice said before the locks unlocked. The door opened and Celeste walked in to the house, waving her hand in front of Joseph's face. "Are you alright, what did you see?", she asked him, worried. Joseph didn't move, everything that he had been told, it was so much to take in. Not only was something about to happen that involved Inverse, but he didn't know everything there was to know about the man... but he was Inverse's friend, what secrets would he hide? "Joseph, I want you to sit down in the living room, you look like you've seen a ghost.", she told him, guiding him to a chair and then sitting him down. "I'm going to go get some tea, it'll help you relax, Joseph.", she said, leaving the room.

Joseph just sat in the room, in a catatonic state, nothing made sense about everything that had just happened. Was he a mutual friend between Lightning and Inverse, was what Memory said correct? Thoughts raced through his mind faster than he could process them, the only thing that made sense was that he had beat himself up. As Celeste walked back into the living room, he stood up. "I'm sorry, but I need to get some fresh air.", he said. "It's alright, we can move the furniture later today, just so long as it's done. I've already deposited the check into your account, Joseph, so if you feel you need to get something, you can go ahead and get it.", she responded. Joseph nodded, and he walked out of the house, the cool air hit him in the face, hard. He looked down at his hands, they balled up into fists and he walked towards the road. From there, he walked down the street of the neighborhood, he didn't have any clear goal of where he wanted to go, he just wanted to get out. The wind whipped up in his face, chilling him to the very bone. That's when snow started to fall. Snow wasn't forecast to fall though, which made Joseph turn around to see someone there. "Hello?", he called out. 

The blond woman looked up at him and reached her hand out to him, she seemed almost familiar to him. She opened her mouth but no noise came out, which confused Joseph. He walked over to the person and reached out to touch her, only to find that his hand went right through her body. The woman vanished before his very eyes as the snow picked up in intensity. He shook his head, he knew exactly who he saw, but he had no idea why she was there. Maybe his mind was playing tricks on him, he didn't know if that was the case or perhaps someone was creating illusions to trick him. "Joseph, it's snowing, man. You need a ride somewhere or something.", a voice called out to him. Joseph snapped his attention to the person, it was Keith. "You're real, aren't you?", Joseph asked him, a hint of confusion in his voice. "As real as I had ever been, why?", Keith responded. "I've been seeing things, I came in contact with a metahuman that's also a...", Joseph said as Keith raised his hand. "I know who you're talking about, Joseph. I do research on metahumans that aren't registered in my spare time. He's an illusionist. I don't know what he told you, but considering he's a renegade, he's probably trying to mess with you.", Keith responded. "Come on, I need to go to the phone store as I've broken my phone, you want to get a ride or something, cause I could use a cab.", Keith continued. Joseph shook his head, "I don't think we should get a cab. Keith, we're friends, right?", Joseph asked. "Yeah...", Keith said, a bit sadly. This alerted Joseph as to something was wrong. "Keith, you can tell me what's going on, man.", he said, placing his hand on Keith's shoulder. "Joseph, I... I had a fight with my father. He said some things about you and told me to do something that I don't want to do.", Keith responded. "What's that?", Joseph asked. "He wants me to kill you if you ever choose to become a villain again.", Keith responded. It wasn't common knowledge, but he most certainly never told Keith about that detail. "How do you know that?", Joseph asked, a bit worried. "Like I said, I've done a lot of research into it.", Keith responded. Joseph closed his eyes and laughed, he never once thought about dying, but for some reason the thought wasn't as frightening if it was Keith doing it. "You're laughing, this is serious, man!", Keith responded. "I know, just, when I was younger, the thought of dying frightened me. But if I became a villain and tried to take over or destroy the world. I'd rather you be there to try to talk me down... and if that failed? Be the one to pull the trigger, you're my best friend, Keith and there is no one I trust with stopping me more than you.", Joseph responded calmly. Keith nodded silently as the snow started to get harder. 

"There wasn't any snow forecast for today.", Joseph said flatly. "You didn't check the weather last night, did you? It's supposed to snow today and tonight, they're de-icing the roads right now so that we can drive tomorrow. After all, a celebrity is coming tomorrow.", Keith responded. "So where are you heading?", Joseph asked. "Phone store. Would you like a...", Joseph said before a car horn scared him. "Both of you, if you keep standing out in the cold, I'm going to have to make you take sick days.", Celeste called out. Joseph laughed and hugged Keith. "Don't worry, we'll share our warmth!", he said in jest. Keith looked somewhat unamused by this gesture, but returned the hug. "Thanks for having so much faith in me, Joseph.", he whispered with a slight smile. "No problem, man.", Joseph whispered back. "Both of you, break it up and get into the car. Joseph, you don't have to worry about moving furniture today. I didn't know it was going to snow, either. I apologize. You still have to do grocery shopping today, would you still like to go despite the snow?", Celeste said with a smile. Suddenly Joseph's phone beeped and he pulled it out to see that he had a text message. He opened his messenger app and saw a simple message. "The kittens are alright and Alex brought in a weeks worth of groceries for you. By the way, he also saw Caleb and Meredith back home safely and is spending time with them in your absence.", the message said. He knew who it was from and smiled. Laura was a wonderful person and his neighbor Alex was lucky to have married her. "No, Boss. I won't need to. I'll have to pay my neighbor back though.", he said in response to his boss. "Well then, the two of you get into my car. We'll head back to my place until the snow lets up for a little bit and then I'll drive you home, Joseph and then on the way back, take Keith up to the phone store and then drive him home.", Celeste said to the two of them. "Boss, no offense, but I think I can walk back home from your place. I don't live too far up the road from you. Just about a mile and a half.", Keith said in protest. "Just get in the car, you two, no more arguing.", Celeste said in a huff.

The two of them looked at each other, let go of their hug and shrugged as they walked over to the car and both of them climbed into the back seat. The two of them buckled up and Celeste pulled away from the side walk, doing a U-turn as she did so. The trip back to her place was silent, Joseph honestly didn't want to return, but with the snow being as thick as it was, he had no choice. He closed his eyes and almost drifted to sleep. Keith shook him awake though. "Joseph, stay up, buddy. I know it can all seem relaxing, but you can't fall asleep on us now.", he said with a smirk. The car was parked in Celeste's driveway and Joseph nodded, sheepishly climbing out of the car. The bitter cold stung him and immediately woke back up. He walked into the house and felt a bit exhausted still. "The mental drain of having a psion enter your mind is great, Joseph. Not to mention the cold didn't help matters and you're dealing with a lot. Boss, mind if he crashes for a few hours?", Keith said, asking Celeste if Joseph could sleep there. Celeste nodded and led Joseph to a guest room. "Take off your shoes and climb into the bed.", she said as she closed the door behind her. Joseph took off his shoes and laid down in the bed, he was tired, more so than he should be, but instead of going to sleep immediately, his mind turned towards everything he was told. What was going to happen soon that involved something that had to do with Inverse, he wondered as he closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep.

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Chapter 8

Keith sat within Celeste's living room with a cup of hot chocolate in his hands. "I never got to play in the snow when I was little.", he murmured as he watched the snow come down. "I was always required to stay in the house...", he continued absentmindedly. "Why's that, Keith?", Celeste responded. Keith looked at her, he didn't expect her to pick up what he had said and he looked at the brown liquid in his cup, a few marshmallows still floating within. "My father was always afraid of metahumans, but... it got worse after that massacre, way back in two thousand and eight, I believe.", Keith said as he swirled the liquid around. He took a sip of his drink and placed the mug down. "Ironically enough, there was a book signing on that day. Joshua had just started writing books, he was a local enough author. Wasn't from the same city, but he was from the same region. For some reason his publisher wanted to get him out there as soon as possible.", Keith continued. The name Joshua was familiar to Celeste as that was the name of the person who was going to be doing a book signing tomorrow. "So Joshua was there that day... I wonder if he'd be willing to talk about it to Joseph...", Celeste muttered absentmindedly. "Doubtful, from what I heard, he had gotten violently ill the day before and wasn't able to make it. My Mom died in that attack, there was a metahuman there in the attack. According to the report, he specifically went after my Mom and the children that were there. In only ten minutes, there were over two hundred dead, including the hero that had arrived on the scene, Thunderbolt.", Keith responded, continuing with the story. "So what happened after that?", Celeste asked, curious about the rest of Keith's story. "For me, snow is a tragic event, it was snowing on the day my mother died. But my father overreacted. You know about the Superioris Registration Act?", Keith responded with a question. "Yes, any metahumans, transhumans, magicians, spiritborn, and psions have to register or else live as a normal human.", Celeste responded with a nod, as she took a sip of her hot chocolate. "That was my father's work. What most people don't know is what really goes on. But I digress, I'm going to go get some more marshmallows.", Keith said as he stood up.

He walked into the kitchen, he had no idea why he was being so honest with Celeste. She was his boss, but he never particularly had any sort of attachment to her. He looked at his hand, it looked a bit red. "Hmm, the hot chocolate slightly burned my hand.", he muttered as he grabbed a few marshmallows and put them into his drink. He grabbed a spoon and stirred them in, watching them melt. He sipped his drink when a knock on the window startled the everloving daylights out of him. He was barely able to catch the mug before it slammed into the ground. Catching his breath, he walked over to the window and opened it up. "What is it that my father sent you to bother me for?", Keith asked, obviously angry. "Your father didn't send me, I came of my own accord.", the woman responded. "You and I work for the same organization, you know. I wasn't born yesterday, what does that deadbeat want?", Keith responded harshly. The woman handed him a new phone and Keith immediately broke it in his free hand. "You can send this back to my father, I don't want to see nor speak to him again.", Keith replied, before closing the window and locking it. The woman's voice called out to him, but as Keith walked away from it, he flipped her the bird. 

"What was that about, Keith. I heard noises coming from the kitchen.", Celeste said as she watched Keith sit down. "Nothing much, just someone who wanted to talk to me.", he replied. "Are you going to tell me what your father really does?", Celeste folded her arms with a smirk. "What most people don't know is that if you don't register and use your powers, you are marked for death. They're called renegades. Both registered heroes and villains will be sent after you until you either register or die. I've never seen any confirmation of his existence in our organization, but the leader of the Renegade Hunters is rumored to be none other than Lightning himself. He was a hero loved by many people, but I guess killing Inverse in cold blood as he did and the loss of his two friends made him hide himself from the public eye. My father has mentioned that he has spoken to him and gave him orders, but there is a man who calls himself Plasma who looked and sounded like Lightning did. Maybe that's who he became... I don't know.", Joseph said, recounting the entire thing. "So you're telling me that a beloved hero, such as Lightning would become a horrible monster like that!?", Celeste said in shock and some disbelief. "Killing a man changes you.", Keith said with an unnerving certainty. "You've done it before, haven't you?", Celeste asked, picking up on the tone of Keith's voice. Keith closed his eyes, it was true. He had blood on his hands, blood that was spilled in the name of the law... but it didn't mean that it had felt right to him. His father was proud when he pulled the trigger, but back then, he just wanted to throw up. "I still have nightmares about every single one.", Keith said coldly. Celeste was in absolute shock, she didn't know what to say. She never knew that she had hired someone who had killed before. "If you wish to fire me, I wouldn't blame you. I might have been upholding the law, but the fact remains the same... I've killed several people.", Keith said very bluntly and flatly. "You regret doing it, you want to get away from that lifestyle, don't you?", Celeste said with a frown. "I'm stuck for one last job, has to do with someone who happened to retire here. He has a connection with Inverse. If he ever uses his powers again, I'm supposed to kill him.", Keith responded quietly. "Who is it? Is it a former hero or is it a former villain?", Celeste asked with curiosity in her voice. "I am forbidden from saying that part, sorry, boss.", Keith said, turning his head to look away from her.

Celeste looked down the hall. "Think he'll be asleep for long?", she asked Keith. "He had a psion look into his head and read all of his memories. No telling what said psion found, but if the participant isn't willing, the process can be exhausting. He might be out for another few hours. Who knows what kind of information was found in his head.", Keith said calmly, as he sipped his drink. He knew the truth about Joseph, about his connection to Inverse, but he wasn't allowed to depart that information to someone else. "I mean we could do something in the meantime while waiting for him to finally wake up.", Keith continued. "We could watch TV or something.", Celeste said with a shrug as she sipped her hot chocolate. "They had a news special earlier where Cloud was trying to get Lightning to return.", Keith muttered. "I thought you said that it was rumored that Lightning was the leader of the Renegade Hunters.", Celeste said with an arched brow. "Like I said, it's only a rumor. I don't know if it's true or not. There are only two people who would know, Tornado who never speaks about it and my father, who is all around a general asshole.", Keith said with obvious disdain for his father. "You really must hate your father.", Celeste said, worried. "I already know his intentions for me, he wants me to take over the organization he founded. I want nothing to do with it. I never wanted anything to do with it.", Keith replied turning away from her. "If you don't mind, I'd rather not speak much more about it. Too many bad memories.", he continued. Celeste nodded and turned on the Television, which sparked Keith's attention. A movie was on and Keith decided to watch it.

A couple of hours passed and the movie finally ended. "Man, I've not slept that well in the last few weeks.", Joseph said as he walked out of the bedroom. "That's good to hear, Joseph.", Celeste responded. "Pull up a chair and take a seat, it's supposed to keep snowing for another couple of hours. We got another movie to watch.", Keith said with a smile. "I got a better idea. Why don't we have a snowball fight.", Joseph responded, putting on his boots. "Unless you're a bit chicken.", he teased. Keith didn't even know how to play in the snow, but he smiled, "Alright then, you're on." He threw on his coat and the two of them walked outside. Joseph immediately ran behind a tree and Keith had no idea where he went. He placed his hands into the snow and grabbed some of it, unsure of what to do with it, when suddenly a snowball hit him in the head. "Got you!", Joseph called out as Keith looked up with the snow in his hand. Keith threw the snow at Joseph, but it didn't go very far. "No, you got to roll it up, Keith.", he said as he walked over. He put his hands into the snow with a smile and grabbed some of it, rolling it into a ball. "See, it's not exactly a difficult process. My older brother taught me how to do this.", he said with a smile. Keith nodded and did as he was shown. "Excellent, you're a fast learner.", Joseph said with a thumbs up. The two of them got the same idea and threw the snowballs at the same exact time, hitting each other in the face. Keith felt cold, but Joseph started laughing. "I wasn't expecting that.", he said as he ran off.

Keith grabbed some more snow and rolled it up, looking for Joseph. Suddenly a snowball whizzed past his head. He threw his snowball in the general direction that the snowball had come from. "You're out in the open, Keith.", Joseph said with a laugh, peeking out to throw another snowball at Keith who started to run towards a tree. Celeste sat back and watched the two from the back door. Keith ran out from the tree and threw a snowball at where Joseph was standing. Joseph caught the snowball in his hand and revealed his snowball. It was massive, leading Keith to stop in his tracks out of disbelief. Joseph threw the snowball at Keith jumped out of the way. The moment it hit the ground, it broke apart into snow. "You could've hurt me with that!", Keith exclaimed. "Relax, buddy, I wouldn't have thrown a basketball sized snowball at you if I thought it was going to hurt you.", Joseph responded with a laugh. Joseph walked over and lightly tapped Keith's shoulder with his fist, while still laughing. "You want to see something cool? I'll write my name in the snow.", Joseph said with a smile. Celeste knew what that usually meant, but was surprised when Joseph stuck his index finger in the snow and started writing his name with his finger, in cursive no less. "That was a pretty neat trick. How'd you learn about that?", Keith said as the snow fell around the two of them. "My brothers and I used to play in the snow, where I used to live, it was rare that it ever did snow, but... it was nice.", Joseph replied. "What happened to your brothers?", Keith asked out of curiosity. Joseph leaned against a tree and folded his arms. "Two of them died, nineteen years ago. The last one doesn't even consider me family anymore.", Joseph responded. "So your brothers were at the mall?", Keith asked him. "No, they died as a result of a car crash. Drunk driver was doing a hundred and twenty, hit them head on. None of the people in my brothers' car survived.", Joseph responded. 

There was silence between the two and Keith looked around. "Look, Joseph, I'm sorry for bringing up old wounds... just...", Keith said, trailing off as he tried to find the right words. "It's fine, neither of us has spoken much about our pasts. I guess we're people that don't wish to dwell on such things, nor do we like to talk about them that much.", Joseph replied, waving dismissively. "I guess you're right, anyhow, I think we should go back inside. The snow seems to be slowing down.", Keith said as he held his hand out to catch the snow. "You're right, I need to get back home, I have to go to the book signing tomorrow to meet Joshua.", Joseph said with a chuckle. The two of them brushed themselves off and walked inside, wiping their feet on the rug outside on the patio. "Alright, I'm going to take Joseph back home real quick. If you would like to come with, you can, Keith.", Celeste said looking at the clock. "No, thanks. It seems light enough that I think I'll just go on foot to get all my errands done.", Keith responded. "I guess I'll see you on Monday, Joseph.", he continued. "I actually got all of next week off, Keith.", Joseph replied. "Lucky you, some of us still have to work next week.", Keith said with a smirk. "Anyhow, the two of you have a good afternoon.", he continued as he left.

Keith walked along the sidewalk and the light dusting of snow hit him. Celeste's car drove by him minutes later and he waved with a smile. He wished he had some music or anything to keep his mind busy, but he also wanted a phone that his father couldn't call him on, as impossible as that seemed. He walked across the road and finally into the phone store. The clerk perked her head up. "Hello there, how can we help you today?", she asked. "I'm here to get a new phone.", Keith said, a hint of annoyance in his voice. "Well okay, we'll be willing to help. Though if I could ask, could you not be rude to us?", she responded. Keith snapped out of his thoughts. "Oh, sorry about that. I didn't mean to sound annoyed, just been a long week and today hasn't been all that great either. I didn't mean to take it out on you.", Keith said, quite apologetically. "It's alright. So what kind of phone are you looking for today.", she said with a smile. He looked around the store and then found one. "I'd like to have this one, do you have it in black?", he said as he pointed at the phone. "We sure do, just come over to the counter and we'll get you all set up.", she replied. He walked over to the counter and waited for the woman to return with his new phone. She did after a few moments. "Let me just put in the sim card and you'll be good to go once I set this thing up.", she said with a smile. "Might I trouble you with changing the number on that phone, please?", he said gently as he could. "Sure thing!", the woman said. Keith looked at the nametag on her chest. "Candice, I'm going to have to write a review for you saying that you've been most helpful today.", he said with a smile. Candice chuckled slightly. "As far as attempts at hitting on me go, that one was pretty lame.", she replied to Keith's compliment. "I wasn't hitting on you, honestly.", Keith replied. "Oh, so you're calling me ugly now?", she said in a huff. "No. I'm just not into women.", Keith said flatly. "Oh, so you're into men, not that there's anything wrong with that.", she said, nervous. "I'm asexual. I have no interest in men or women. Sorry.", he responded with a shrug. "Well that will come to one hundred and thirty five dollars.", she replied, flustered as she handed him the phone. Keith handed her seven twenty dollar bills. "Keep the change.", he said as he turned around and walked out of the store. "Thank you, Keith!", she replied. Keith looked at the road ahead of him, it'd be some time before he got home, but now that he had a new phone, he could play some music to help pass the time on his walk. He started walking and turned on the phone's radio, holding it near his ear as he did so. For the first time today, he was happy, and he couldn't wait to get back home.

Edited by Neopolitan

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Chapter 9

Back down south, Joannes walked down the street of his hometown, he raised a gloved hand to his face and clenched his fist as he did so. He was very angry about what had happened only days earlier. "Fucking Tornado and the fucking Weather Force. I'm so sick of their shit.", he muttered to himself when all the sudden a large man stepped in his way with a baseball bat. "Yo, guys. I found the man we were told about, it's the son of that Villain. What was his name?", the brute said, taunting him. Joannes gritted his teeth and opened up his coat. "Are you sure this is what you want to do?", he asked the brutish man. "Yeah, if we kill you, we'll get rewarded!", the brutish large man said. The man swung his baseball bat and Joannes' arm quickly reacted, grabbing the bat in mid swing. He crushed it, easily in his mechanical hand. "Woah, what are you. You some kind of freak!?", the thug cried out as Joannes discarded the broken remains of the bat. He bent his knees slightly and charged at the man, running faster than a normal human could, slamming into him with incredible force with his fist in the man's jaw. There was a cracking sound and the man fell over. Joannes caught the man and gently placed him down before looking up at the other two thugs. "I will not be as kind to you two as I was to him if you wish to fight me.", he said coldly, glaring at the two thugs. They looked at each other and fled. Joannes placed his fingers against the neck of the larger thug and found a strong pulse. "Good.", he muttered to himself.

Suddenly his phone rang. He was startled out of his thoughts and reached into his pocket and pulled it out. He didn't see a number on it, so he declined. The phone rang again and he looked at his phone a second time, same thing. He again declined the call. His phone rang a third time, and this time, annoyed, he answered the phone. "Who the fuck are you and what the fuck do you want!?", he demanded. An obviously masked voice sounded on the other side. "I know of a way that you can get to who you want.", the voice said. "That doesn't answer the first two questions, asshole!", Joannes yelled into his phone. "Who I am is not important, but I wish to help you. You are looking for revenge against the man who killed your father, is that correct?", the voice said. Joannes' face went pale, no one was around when he mentioned that in front of his father's grave. "Where did you hear about that?", Joannes said with a false confidence. "You're scared. It's natural to be scared in your position. You haven't exactly seen one of our operatives have you?", the voice said to him. "I guess you're going to have me meet up with one of them, is that about right?", he asked. "Bingo, kid! You see, your father worked for us and we want you to work for you.", the voice said as emotionless as ever. "So what's the catch, you're calling me on my own phone with an unlisted number in the middle of a city. You obviously don't value secrecy.", he replied to the voice, not hiding any hint of annoyance. "Come to the bar and whisper to the bartender that you would like for the bartender to polish your glass with his spit.", the voice replied. "That is disgusting and you fucking know it, asshole. Tell me what's really going on!", Joannes called out. The phone hung up.

He put his phone back into his pocket and walked towards the bar, he didn't really seem like he had much of a choice but to do so. As he walked down the street, an ambulance drove past and he flexed his mechanical hand. He stepped in front of the bar and walked in, bending the doorknob with his hand as he did so. He looked at the bartender and placed a couple of dollars on the bar before leaning in. "I'd like you to polish my glass with your spit.", he whispered to the bartender. The bartender nodded and smiled, "Right this way, sir.", he said as he walked from behind the bar. Joannes followed him into the back of the bar, where they came to a stairway. The bartender walked down the stairs and entered a room. It was a couple of minutes before he walked back out. "They're ready for you, Joannes.", the bartender called out to him. He walked down the stairs and looked through the door. He was not prepared for what he saw. Computers everywhere, people working, this was an entire underground base and no one had noticed, or more accurately... this was probably just one location of whoever these people are, he thought to himself. A woman looked over at him, she had graying red hair, and dull green eyes. "Ah, Stephan, you can go back and man the bar, customers are waiting. As for you...", she said as she motioned towards Joannes. He walked into the room as the bartender closed it. "As you can see, this is a base of our operations. Do you know who we are?", the woman asked him. "No and to be honest, I don't fucking care.", Joannes responded.

"You wish to get back at your father's killer, right? Daniel was a good man and a friend of mine. You wish to find out where he is, right? Where Lightning is?", she said with a slight smile. Joannes turned around. "What did you just say to me?", he said to the woman. "I know where you can find a man who has information about where Lightning is. I'm sure you've figured it out by now.", the woman said to him with a sly smile. "I refuse to be part of your little rebellion. That's how my father got killed by Lightning.", he responded, turning around to walk towards the door. "You know nothing of how your father got killed, do you?", the woman responded. Joannes stopped, those words cut deep, deeper than he thought they would. He was angry and he turned around to look the woman in the face, taking off his glove to reveal his cybernetic hand. "I know of your abilities, Joannes.", the woman said as several guards pointed weapons at him. "You don't think I know what was installed in you? You went to someone your father trusted after your accident. You were set up to be a Transhuman from the moment you had that car wreck.", the woman continued. "Tell them to lower their weapons.", Joannes said flatly. "You lower yours first.", the woman said coldly. Joannes lowered his hand and the woman nodded. The guards lowered their weaponry. The woman turned around and grabbed a file. "Your father died in battle against what was called the Weather Team at the time. Your father wasn't acting under orders from us and wasn't even acting in our interests. He chose to meet up with the Weather Team, to try to talk to their leader, the seventeen year old Lightning. They attacked him, one of our operatives watched this happen, being friends with your father. He was around the same age as Lightning. After a brief battle, Lightning went to finish your father in combat. Stop him from being able to attack, your father used his ability to redirect it. His intention was to return it to sender, but... unlike Lightning, he isn't able to control it with incredible accuracy. The lightning bolt forked into two and killed Rain and Snow. Overcome with grief at the death of his friends, Lightning was in no position to listen to your father, and thus jumped him and beat him to death with his bare hands.", the woman recounted. "And where is your operative?", Joannes asked, wanting to get to the point. "We sent him to follow the man who has intel on the location of Lightning. The last time I heard, he was working for a museum that dealt with metahumans. I'm sure the curator of that museum might have a few things that belong to your father.", the woman said.

Joannes closed his eyes, this was the closest he's ever been to Lightning. The closest he's ever been to the man that killed his father, especially since seventeen years ago, he received news of his father's death. He had no idea what Lightning looked like, but he knew that the man had withdrew to the shadows. "Tell me what I have to do.", Joannes said, sternly. The woman walked over to him and smiled. "Simple, we want you to gain information about Lightning. Lightning is a symbol of the people who keep the law on their side so that no other organizations for metahumans, psions, transhumans, magicians, or even the spiritborn can be founded. If we can capture Lightning and expose him for what he really is, then that organization will finally fall and we'll be able to get multiple organizations. No more worrying about what innocent man is going to get branded as a villain, just because they don't want to register with a certain group. No more of people who disagree with the methods of the group being branded as renegades. No more of any of that kind of thing.", the woman said, folding her arms across her chest. "Just what I wanted to do, create a better world in my quest for revenge.", Joannes said, sarcastically. "Don't kill Lightning when you find him, Joannes. Dead men cannot go on trial!", the woman said sharply. "I wasn't planning on it, I want to bring my father's killer to justice, not be a murderer like he is.", Joannes said flatly. "Good, I'll arrange for a plane to take you...", the woman said, trailing off as she noticed the disgust on Joannes' face. "Ah, right, you have a fear of flying. Well, I will arrange for a train to take you. The train station is a few blocks down the road, it's the seven forty-two train. Your ticket will have been paid for so you can just walk up to the counter and give your ID to get it.", she continued. Joannes nodded and left the room without a word.

As he left the bar, he walked down the street and stopped in front of the train station. He could finally get out of this place, out of this city, out of this entire region. He was happy somewhat, this area had too many memories for him, most of them bad. He walked into the building and walked over to a counter, slipping the man his ID. The man looked at it and handed him it back along with a ticket. "Platform three.", the man said. Joannes nodded and walked through the terminal. It wasn't long before he arrived at platform three, where he sat down on a bench to await his train. A woman looked at him. "It's not often someone leaves the state without any luggage.", she said smirking. "I don't need luggage. It'd only take up space, I've got the money to buy what I need up there while I'm staying with a friend of mine.", Joannes responded. "Oh, look at you, you're a rich man. Let me guess, you're living on your father's money, young man.", the woman responded. "I'm not rich and my father died poor. The only reason I have enough money to pay for groceries and clothing up there is the lawsuit I won years ago.", Joannes responded, annoyed. "Ah, I see. So you're...", the woman continued. "If you insist on doing this the entire way up there, I would like to spare you the effort and tell you to kindly, shut the fuck up!", Joannes snapped at her. Everyone on the platform looked at him, but he didn't care. "Huh, you do have a bite, kid. Good to know.", the woman said as their train arrived. 

Joannes climbed aboard the train and moved to his car where he took a seat. He was surprised when no one took the seat next to him, but honestly, he didn't exactly care. He enjoyed the quiet. He closed his eyes as the train started moving. It wasn't more than five minutes after the train started moving that a woman came up to him. "Hello, sir. Would you like something to eat?", she asked. Joannes nodded slightly, he was indeed a bit hungry as his cybernetics did cause him to use more calories than most people. "Would you like to eat here on a tray or in a dining car?", she asked. "Here would be fine, ma'am.", Joannes responded. The woman nodded and left, soon she came back with a tray of food that smelled delicious. She placed it in front of Joannes and smiled. "It's not often people as young as you ride the trains anymore.", she said with a slight smirk. "I'm afraid of flying.", Joannes mentioned. "Well, if you need anything else, don't be afraid to ask.", she said, leaving Joannes to his meal. Joannes started eating and looking out the window. He had never gotten any intel on the person he was supposed to be looking for, but he was sure he'd get a call at the train station when he arrived. Once he was finished with his meal, he closed his eyes. It was barely after eight PM, but the train ride was going to last a few days, so the more of it he could sleep away, the better. It wasn't long before he drifted off to sleep...

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Chapter 10

As Joseph arrived at his apartment, he looked back at Celeste. "Thank you for bringing me here.", he said. "It's nothing, really. Would you like to go in?", she responded. "Nah, I have to go over to Caleb's place, I promised that I'd see them for dinner yesterday.", Joseph replied. Celeste nodded slightly and turned around to leave. "Don't forget to work on your thesis, Joseph.", she mentioned as she walked down the stairs. "I won't.", Joseph called out to her. She gave him a gesture of acknowledgement and he nodded slightly. He walked over to Caleb's door and knocked on it, gently. He waited for a moment and then knocked on it harder. Still nothing. Worried, he reached for his keys, but couldn't find them in his pocket, so he tried the door knob. It was unlocked. He walked back to apartment and tried the doorknob. It too was unlocked. This was very concerning to him. He opened the door and heard the mewing of Bubba and Marylin. He placed his finger to his lips and opened his closet, grabbing a baseball bat that he kept for defense. 

There was a knock on his door and it startled him, he quickly whipped around and held the baseball bat in a ready position to crack someone upside the head. His heart stopped racing and he felt a sense of relief when he saw that it was a police officer. "You're the tenant that lives here?", the officer asked, flatly. Joseph put the bat in the closet and pulled out his ID. "Yeah, here you go, you can call down to the office and confirm that, sir.", he said as he handed the officer his ID. The other officer, a large dark skinned man looked at him. "Mind if we have a look around?", the man said. "Joseph stepped to the side. "Not at all, officers.", he replied. The two police officers entered the apartment and he stood in the entrance, waiting for them to finish their search. The first officer looked at him. "We'll call this into the office, to see if you really are the one whose name is on the lease. If not, we're going to take you downtown.", the officer said. Joseph nodded and watched as the officer pulled out a phone. After a short conversation, the officer hung up his phone and handed him his ID. "Everything here checks out, Mr. Adams. The apartments on the top floor were broken into. You seem to have nothing stolen. At least nothing is reported stolen.", the officer said. "I've not had time to check around my apartment, my kittens are here and that's great. Mind if I have a look around?", Joseph replied. "Not at all, sir. If you find anything missing, be sure to tell us.", the officer responded. 

Joseph walked into every room of his apartment, looking to see if anything was in order. Everything was strewn about, drawers had been left open. His closet had been ransacked, but nothing was missing. Which bothered him to no end, why would someone come into his apartment to try to steal something if... there wasn't anything that they wanted. Why would they do this? Bubba walked over to him and mewed. He knelt down and picked up the kitten, holding the tiny creature in his hand with a smile, "At least you and your sister are alright. I hope that the two of you weren't too scared.", he said to the kitten who mewed at him again. He walked out of the bedroom and placed Bubba on the couch. "Nothing's stolen, officer. Just my apartment has been ransacked. I only have one question.", he said trying to stay calm. The officer looked at him, his partner looking out the door. "What's that?", the officer said. "Are the two elderly people next door alright?", he asked. "An ambulance had to arrive three hours ago to take an elderly man to the hospital. We got reports of a break in only an hour ago.", the officer replied. "Ah. Thanks for informing me.", Joseph responded. The dark skinned man looked at him, "Why don't we take you downtown to the hospital. You seem to be close to them.", the man said with a smile. "I would be grateful.", Joseph responded. The first officer nodded, "It wouldn't be too far from the station, we have to clock out for the night soon anyhow. Night shift will be starting soon.", the man said. 

The three of them walked out of the apartment, Joseph locked the door behind him so that no one else could get in. He frowned slightly when he saw Celeste standing there. "Joseph, what's going on?", she said, slightly annoyed. "My apartment got broken into as did my neighbors, these two kind officers are giving me a ride to the hospital.", he responded. "Oh, I'm sorry that... I didn't mean to assume. You left your keys in my car.", she said as she handed him his keys. One of the officers looked at Celeste. "What's your affiliation with this man?", he asked. "I'm his boss, if you want, I can take him to the hospital, myself. It would give him a ride back here if he needed." The two officers looked at him. "Both of you go ahead and go on without me, I'll head down to the hospital with my boss here. You've got families to get back to, don't you?", he said with a slight smile. The two officers nodded and walked down the stairs. Celeste looked at him and Joseph followed her to her car, not speaking a single word. When he got back into her car, he placed his head against the window. 

The car pulled out of the parking lot and neither of them said a single word on the way over there. Neither of them honestly could say anything. Nor did Joseph want to say anything. He just wanted to remain silent. After about half an hour, they arrived at the hospital and Joseph climbed out of the car. He walked into the building and walked over to the front desk. "Hi, I'm here to see Caleb Rhodes.", he said as calmly as he could. The woman at the front desk looked at him and then typed it into her computer. "Seventh floor. Room 752.", she said to him. Joseph walked over to the elevator and pressed the button, an elevator dinged near him and he turned around to see people getting out of it. He walked into the elevator and pressed the button for the seventh floor, then the close door button. Just before the door closed, an arm entered the doorway, causing the elevator doors to open. Celeste walked into the elevator and looked over at Joseph. "You're really not going to go alone, are you?", she said. "You don't have to be here, this is my neighbor.", he replied. "You're my employee, I do care about your wellbeing, you know.", she responded. "I know." he said sadly, as the door to the elevator closed. The elevator ride was also quiet, neither of them saying anything, and fortunately the elevator didn't stop. When the door opened, they walked out of the elevator and Celeste followed Joseph down the winding hallways of the hospital. Soon they arrived at the room and Joseph lightly knocked on the door. 

Meredith looked over and motioned for him to come in. Joseph stepped into the room and looked at Caleb in the hospital bed. His eyes were closed and he was breathing through a tube with an Electrocardiogram machine hooked up to him. He felt his heart sink into the pit of his stomach. "Meredith, is he...", he brought himself to say. She looked at him, "The doctors say that if he doesn't make a recovery in the next couple of days, he's going to be taken off life support.", she said, sadly. Joseph was crushed at this news. "Give me a moment. Boss, can you come in here and keep Meredith company?", he said as he turned towards the door. Celeste nodded and walked into the room as Joseph walked out. He walked over to the help desk of the floor and when a man looked up at him, he finally spoke. "Excuse me, but can I get details on what happened to Caleb Rhodes, he's been my neighbor and my friend for the last six years. Kinda been like a grandfather to me.", he said trying to hold back tears. The man nodded and looked on his computer. "He had a major stroke, sir. We're doing all we can to help him, but modern science can only do so much, I'm sure you understand.", the man said to him. "Yeah, I do. Doesn't make it hurt any less though.", Joseph responded.

He walked away from the help desk and slowly walked towards the hospital room. He felt terrible that all of this was happening. He walked into the room and placed his hand on Meredith's shoulder. "Are you going to stay here with him overnight?", he asked. "I believe so, don't worry.", she responded. Joseph closed his eyes, it was for the best, he didn't want her to see that her apartment had been broken into, nothing had been stolen from either apartment, but, he was going to have to clean up after that mess happened. But he'd have to do it after he went to the book signing tomorrow. "Why don't you stay with him for a few days, stay by his bedside. I'm sure he'll be happier knowing that you're with him, Meredith. Don't worry, I'll take care of things while you're away.", Joseph said with a slight smile. "You're such a sweet boy, Joseph. If there's any way that I can repay you, just tell me what it is.", she replied. "Just stay strong and never give up hope, that's all I ask of you.", he responded to her reply. "Don't worry, ma'am, I'll take good care of Joseph while you're away.", Celeste chimed in. Meredith turned around. "Oh, deary. You must be the boss that he speaks of so highly. I'm sorry that we couldn't meet in better circumstances.", she said. "Oh, it's nothing really. Joseph here is my assistant and will become a full fledge scholar in his own right someday. I can't wait for that to happen either, he's like a son to me.", Celeste responded, wrapping her arm around Joseph's shoulder. "That's very nice of you, you two go on ahead and head back, we'll be fine here.", Meredith said with a smile as she turned away. 

"Come on, Joseph, let's go to a buffet. I know that you like to eat a lot.", Celeste said with a worried tone in her voice. Joseph nodded and walked out of the room with Celeste, he took one look back and a tear ran down his face, but he closed his eyes. He couldn't explain why, but he got this feeling that he was never going to see Caleb again, at least not alive, anyway. "Come on, Joseph. There's no use staying here and moping. You've got work to do and a big day ahead of you.", Celeste said, pulling Joseph towards the elevator. The elevator ride down was just as quiet as the ride back up, but Joseph finally said something when he was out of the hospital. "I wasn't ready for this, boss. I wasn't ready to see my neighbor like this, I wasn't ready to have my apartment broken into and I sure enough wasn't ready to be mentally assaulted by a psion.", he said his hands balling into fists. "I know you weren't, Joseph. None of us would be.", she responded. He climbed into the car and she followed suit. "So, international buffet?", Celeste asked. "Sure, something with a far eastern flair to it. Kind of in that kind of mood right now.", Joseph responded.

The car pulled out of the parking lot and Joseph watched as the buildings zoomed past. Soon they arrived at an international buffet. Joseph climbed out of the car and Celeste did the same. "Joseph, I'll pay for the meal, don't worry about it.", she said as the two of them walked in. They were seated and ordered their drinks when suddenly, the waitress walked over. Joseph's heart started beating uncontrollably. He stood up without even thinking and bowed in a respectful manner. "Hello there, my name is Joseph Adams. I am pleased to have met you.", he said, causing Celeste to roll her eyes. The woman looked at him, "You are very polite. My name is Mitsuki. You seem to have been smitten with me.", she responded. Joseph nodded slightly. "Well, I have to say, you don't look too bad yourself, but. I'm going to a book signing tomorrow while I have the day off, you wanna come?", she responded. "Yes, milady.", Joseph responded. Mitsuki giggled slightly. "I see what kind of gentleman you are here, but we'll see how you really act out there.", she responded. "He's more blunt, but the boy's quite the gentleman, ma'am.", Celeste called out. Mitsuki walked off and Joseph smiled widely. "I can tell that look in your eye, I hope it works out well for you, kid. But for now, let's get our food.", Celeste said.

The two of them stood up and got their food, they were mostly silent during dinner, but then Celeste spoke up. "So, you're a fan of the author that you're meeting tomorrow, you say?", she said. "Yeah, why?", he responded as he took a sip of his diet soda. "Well, what do you know of the book he most recently released, because that's the one he's giving away free copies of.", she replied. Joseph didn't know much, but he pulled out his phone and looked it up. "According to this, it says that, it's a steampunk book that follows two characters. A man called Augustus and a woman called Clair. Clair is a Sorceress who if she is discovered can bring ruin to Augustus.", he said as he looked at the article on the book. "Ah, sounds nice. I didn't know that he did steampunk.", Celeste responded. "Well, it's a brand new book, maybe he's branching out.", Joseph replied. "Your bill.", Mitsuki responded, then took a notice of the article Joseph was reading. "That book is really good, have you read it?", she asked. "No, I haven't, but now that you've recommended it, I'll be sure to see if I can't find a copy.", he replied with a smile. "Well, I'm sure Joshua will give you a copy of the book if you ask nicely.", she replied with a smile. "Well, about that. I'm not just seeing him for a book signing, I have business with him. You know the Metahuman Museum?", he said with confidence. "Yeah, I know about that place, I've never been as I've never had the time. My nephew said that the tour you gave was a lot of fun and it was great to see all the artifacts you guys had to offer.", she said with a slight giggle. "Well, I'm the assistant researcher there, I'm currently working on my Master's degree. My boss here has been helping me through college and she says that when I get my Master's, it'll finally be time for me to spread my scholar wings and take flight. I'll be an independent scholar.", he said. Mitsuki looked over at Celeste. "It's true.", she said calmly as she handed her the credit card. Mitsuki left and Joseph stood up. "Where are you going?", Celeste asked. "I'm going to go tip our waitress.", he replied. Joseph walked over to Mitsuki and pulled out his wallet, pulling out a twenty and handing it to here. "Here, thanks for the service.", he said. She looked at the twenty dollar bill and then at Joseph. "That's very sweet of you.", she said as she walked back towards the table. Joseph saw Celeste get up and walk towards them. "So, I guess I'll see you tomorrow at the book signing?", he asked slightly unsure. "Of course.", Mitsuki said with a smile. 

Joseph and Celeste walked out of the buffet and over to the car. "You seem to be in a chipper mood. You know that girl went to the same university as you.", Celeste chimed in. "I didn't know that, boss. But I guess we'll get more time to talk tomorrow. Hopefully, we could become friends. After that? Who knows.", he responded as he climbed into the car. "Glad that you have realistic expectations, Joseph.", she responded as she climbed into the car. The two of them closed their doors and buckled up. Celeste turned the car on and the two of them silently drove back to the apartment.  As Celeste pulled into the apartment parking lot, Joseph climbed out of the car. "Thank you for dinner and the rides, boss.", he said as he walked towards the stairs. "If you need any help on cleaning the apartment...", Celeste said before Joseph cut her off. "Don't worry, I got it.", he said waving. 

He climbed up the stairs and opened the door to his apartment, closing it behind him. The kittens mewed at him and he knew why. They were hungry. He walked over to the kitchen and got out a saucer and grabbed a can of cat food. He popped open the top and inverted the can over the saucer and then lifted it. He placed the saucer of catfood on the ground and smiled as he watched them chew on it. "It's going to be quiet here without Caleb, but you know. I'm very glad that the two of you are alright.", he said as he squatted next to them. Both of the kittens just chowed down on the food and Joseph smiled slightly. "Don't worry little guys, I have the rest of the week off after tomorrow, so I shouldn't be gone as long as I usually am. Now I'm going to turn in for the night, so I want the two of you to behave yourselves.", he said as he walked out of the kitchen and locked his front door. He then walked over to his bedroom, which was still a mess and organized up a bit. He then undressed down to his underwear and climbed into the bed, closing his eyes. 

Sleep didn't come to him. His mind kept turning back to seeing Caleb in that hospital bed. He tossed and turned in his bed, trying to get comfortable, but he couldn't just find himself getting comfortable. He was probably going to lose his friend and that was haunting his every thought. He opened his eyes again and instead focused on something else. Unfortunately what he focused on was the nightmare he often had for the last several years. He decided to finally turn the TV on and watch something on it until he went to sleep. Eventually, after watching the television for a couple of hours, he finally felt tired. He turned it off and placed his head against the pillow. He swiftly fell into sleep, but that sleep would not be very restful.

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Chapter 11

Joseph woke up the next morning, his face in the pillow, he felt like he hadn't slept much, if at all, despite sleeping all night. He looked at the clock, it was ten AM, later than he usually slept in. He groaned as he got up and walked into the shower, slamming the door behind him. He yawned slightly and threw off his underwear before jumping into the shower again. He turned on the water, making it cold so he'd wake up. The cold water hit him, shocking him straight awake. He proceeded to clean himself, but he couldn't bring himself to move at all very fast. He still remembered seeing Caleb in that hospital bed. He climbed out of the shower when he was done and dried himself with a towel, he walked out of the bathroom, threw the towel into the hamper and then proceeded to put on some clean clothes. These clothes were more formal than what he was used to, but they weren't exactly the most expensive thing in the world. He went back to the bathroom and combed his hair and made sure to shave any stubble off his face. He had to look somewhat presentable for his meeting today. 

Suddenly there was a pounding at his door and he put down the razor. He walked through the hallway and saw the two kittens sleeping next to each other, curled up under a table. He smiled softly at the two of them as he passed by. He reached the door and looked through the little peep hole and saw that it was one of his neighbors. He unlocked the door and opened it. "Hello Joseph, I noticed that Caleb's door was unlocked, is everything alright over there?", she asked. "No, Alexis, they're downtown at the hospital. Caleb had a stroke.", he responded. Alexis was shocked, she placed her hand in front of her mouth. "Will he be alright? I know that the two of you have been close friends for the last several years!", she asked said in a panicked voice. "I don't know.", Joseph said. "Will you be alright!?", she asked. "I don't know.", he said. "Do you know if the hospital will contact you!?", she asked. Joseph grabbed her by the shoulders. "Alexis, look, I don't have any more information about what's going on than you do. I don't even know if they're going to call me if things take a turn for the worse or not. But right now, I kind of need to get a jacket on and head down to the mall. I've got a meeting to attend to.", he said as he looked her in the eye. "Alright, will you inform me if something comes up?", she asked. "Yes.", he said.

He walked back into his apartment and grabbed one of the books he had been reading, the book was about a Kani, but wasn't about Kauko or Hannu, rather it was about one who didn't make it into the paladins. One who had to settle for being a shopkeeper. He had gotten most of the way through it, even past the part where he was attacked by bandits and the Paladins had come to help him. He then grabbed his coat and put it on, zipping it up. He walked out of the door and closed it, locking it behind him. Alexis was still standing there, but so was Mitsuki. "Hi, I wasn't expecting you to show up at my place, I thought we'd meet at the mall.", he said. Mitsuki looked at Joseph and then at Alexis. "Hi, I'm Alexis, I live on the first floor of the apartment building. I guess you're person he's meeting for business later.", Alexis said politely. "Oh, no. I'm here to see if he wanted to ride with me to the mall. We're both going to see the same Author.", Mitsuki said. She then looked at the book in Joseph's hand. "Oh that is a good book! Have you read it all the way?", she asked him. "No, I haven't, unfortunately. But I will admit that what I have read is pretty good.", he confessed. "Oh, I recommend you read the entire thing when you get the chance.", she said. Alexis looked at Joseph. "You don't want to be late for whatever business you have today, do you?", she said. "Oh, you're right, I have to be there by eleven!", he said, in an obvious hurry. He whipped out his phone from his jacket pocket and saw that it was 10:14. "Oh, thank goodness.", he said. 

Mitsuki started to walk down the stairs and Joseph followed her. "So you don't have your own car, Joseph?", she asked him. "No, I never particularly liked driving, especially after the accident all those years ago. I was diving and a car ran a red light, slamming into my side. I woke up at the hospital, they said that I was lucky to be alive and that the other driver had walked away fine from that crash. My leg was broken in nine different places, all of my ribs on my left side were broken. My left arm was just... they had to later open me up and repair all that damage. It was horrible.", he said recounting the memories and feeling the residual pain from that old injury. He didn't exactly like recalling that memory but Mitsuki suddenly turned around and hugged him. "I'm sorry.", she said with a frown as she hugged him. Joseph instinctively hugged back. "It's alright.", he said. The two of them broke the hug and walked up to Mitsuki's car. It wasn't anything spectacular, Joseph thought, but it was a car and that's all he cared about. He climbed into the passenger's seat and she climbed into the driver's seat. "So I guess you walk everywhere?", she asked as they buckled up and she started the car. "If I can help it. When the weather's nicer, I try to jog or run places.", he replied. She nodded and backed out of the parking lot. "It's quite healthy for you, and I can tell. Your legs are very muscular.", she mentioned. As she pulled out into the road, she smiled. "You know, I have to admit to something. I was told by a Magician that I'd meet the love of my life at this book signing. So I was extra excited to go.", she said. "Ah, I just was more or less forced to go by my employer. A wealthy patron of our work would allow us to expand the building and have more exhibits.", he replied as they drove down the road. "Ah, so you're going to talk to the author about money, are you?", she said with a smirk. "Yeah, but it's for a good cause.", he said as his stomach grumbled. "You should get a pretzel at the mall, there's this place that makes these amazing soft pretzels. The cinnamon and almond one is just... so good.", she said with a laugh. "I would've had breakfast, but I woke up early.", he replied. She laughed as she pulled into the mall parking lot and found them a parking space. "Don't worry about me, I'll go look at some stores to pass the time until the book signing.", she said with a smile.

He climbed out of the car and walked up towards the mall. Suddenly something flashed in his head. Memories of a past tragedy, one that he was present for. He suddenly found himself in 2008 again, there was screaming and gunfire. He found himself under the rubble, screaming for others, crying. He kept hearing boots walk across the ground and voices call out. "Don't harm any of the children, we must awaken the spiritborn. Everyone else is fair game!", the voice said. "Halt! I will not let you harm these people!", another voice called out. "Exterminate him, Inverse.", said the first voice. "I have my orders.", a third voice called out. There was fighting outside of his hiding spot, but suddenly a scream of pain came from the second voice and that's when he felt something enter his body and he hit the ground. His reality came back, he was in front of the mall on his hands and knees, breathing heavily, sweating despite the fact that it was still rather chilly, his eyes were wide open. There was a crowd around him and he could feel his heart pounding in his chest. Someone touched him on the shoulder. "Hey man, are you alright?", the man said. Joseph stood up and shook the thoughts and memories from his head. "Yeah, I'll... I'll be fine. Just a flash back is all.", he said. "You look like you were having a pretty intense episode of PTSD there, man.", the man said to him. "Like I said, I'm fine, don't worry.", he said as he walked into the mall. 

Mitsuki ran up to him. "What was that all about, Joseph? Is everything alright?", she asked, worried. "I'm fine, just a flashback to two-thousand eight is all.", he responded. "Wait... you are a survivor of that massacre!?", she asked, shocked at this. "Yes, I am. I was only eight years old when it happened, something about me changed then, and I can't remember what it was...", he replied. "So, you're one of the people who survived that day, were you one of the Weather Team?", she asked. "No, I fought against the Weather Team. I was saved by Inverse, so I felt indebted to him, so I helped him with his endeavors.", he responded, but... something in him felt that it wasn't entirely true. He remembered vividly, Inverse pulling him out of the rubble, but the rest of that was hazy. Did he really do that, he asked himself. Was he really the friend of Inverse? He wasn't so sure of everything he had thought up til now. A voice spoke in his head. "The memories you have are true... yet are untrue.", it said. He thought to himself. "Huh, what are you talking about?", he replied internally. "You will know soon enough. But it is not for me to tell you, but for you to figure out.", the voice said. Mitsuki snapped her fingers in front of his face. "Hello, are you alright?", she asked. "Sorry, I was sort of distracted by something.", he said, not wanting to tell her the full truth. "Well, if you need anything, I'll be searching the various stores.", she replied. "Alright.", he said as she walked off.

A voice spoke up from behind him. "You look like you haven't been to a mall in nineteen years.", the voice said. Joseph turned around to see a bald man wearing glasses and sporting a full beard. "I'm Joshua Evans. Though you weren't who I was expecting, I was expecting a woman in her forties.", he said with a smile. "I'm her assistant, I'm Joseph Adams.", Joseph said, extending his hand for a handshake. Joshua grabbed his hand and shook it firmly. "It's nice to meet you, glad that Celeste wasn't standing me up. But the middle of the mall's entrance is no place to talk about business. What say you that we get a bite to eat?", he said. "That sounds great to me!", Joseph replied. The two of them started walking along one of the walkways of the mall. "So, you're one of the survivors of the two-thousand and eight massacre?", Joshua asked. "How did you know that?", Joseph asked, surprised. "Well, judging from the freakout that you had back there at the entrance, but your name showed up in a list of names from a newspaper I read back during that year. I was... nineteen years old when it happened. But I avoided that situation because of food poisoning.", Joshua confessed. "I heard it was extremely awful. I actually didn't want to do any book signings for years after that event. I just silently wrote my books.", he continued as they arrived at the food court. "Pick whatever you want to eat and at whatever store, I'll buy it.", he said with a smile.

Joseph nodded and walked around the food court, he was most certainly hungry. His rapid metabolism didn't help. He walked over to a chicken place and the cashier looked at him, "Hi. What would you like to eat?", the cashier asked. "Uh, I'd like two chicken breasts, a large order of fries, two biscuits and a side large green beans.", he responded. "Will that be all, sir?", the cashier asked. "I had... are you ordering for both of us?", Joshua asked, stunned at this order size. "No, I'm ordering for me, I have a rapid metabolism and I don't know why.", Joseph replied. "Well, in that case. I'll have a spicy chicken breast, an order of mashed potatoes and gravy, a biscuit with some gravy on top. Can I have some barbecue sauce to go with that please?", Joshua asked. "Wait, you're a southerner?", Joseph asked, surprised. The cashier nodded, "That'll be twenty-two thirty-five, sir.", he said. Joshua pulled out a credit card and paid for the food, signing the receipt as he did so. He turned towards Joseph with a knowing smile. "Now I ain't gonna split hairs or nothin', but I reckon that yer from the same area of the south that I am, ain't ya?", he asked. "It's very odd hearing you say that, but what area are you from?", Joseph replied. The two of them were handed their food and they walked over to a table. "I'm from a small town, or it used to be a small town, it was called Oxford. Not many people lived there, really. Wasn't exactly famous til a few years ago.", Joshua said. "Oxford, that's three hours from where I used to live. I used to live in Duluth.", Joseph replied. "Duluth, that's a large city. Did you live downtown or on the outskirts?", Joshua asked. "I lived in the suburbs. It was too expensive for my family to live in the city.", Joseph responded to the question. "So why is Oxford famous now?", he asked. "Haha, some people think that I put Oxford on the map, but in reality, I'm just an author. One of the people I grew up with, they were part of the winning team in the last baseball championship.", Joshua said with a smirk. "Ah, I see.", Joseph said.

The two of them started eating and Joseph got halfway through his meal when Joshua sprung the question on him. "So tell me, what could me investing my money into your museum do for me?", he asked. Joseph looked up and tried to look professional and Joshua frowned. "Don't do that. You came here looking like you were coming to a business meeting, like you were meeting this grand CEO. Notice that I'm in jeans and a T-shirt. Be casual.", Joshua said. Joseph relaxed a bit. "To put it simply, not many people have gotten into the study of metahumans and their history. For you to invest money into our museum would honestly be a risk, but one that could have a major payoff. Imagine more and more museums being opened up across the country, all because of you.", Joseph said as a pitch. "I already have fame and I already have fortune. Tell me, do you allow anyone to walk into your museum and see the exhibits?", Joshua responded with folded arms. "No, there's an entry fee.", Joseph responded, it wasn't his idea, but rather Celeste's, they had to pay for fees and exhibits somehow. "I want you to drop the fee. Museums are for people to find further education. At least that's what my ma and pa taught me.", Joshua said sternly. "Alright, I'll talk to my boss about that, but I'm sure she'll agree.", Joseph replied. "As for naming the museum after me, don't do it. I guess that's about it for my stipulations. I'll go in more detail with your boss later this week, but... damn, there's my agent. I'll have to go. You got a copy of my book, I'll sign it and hand you a copy of my newest book, if that's alright.", Joshua said as a woman walked over to him. He got up and waved to Joseph. "You can talk to me after the signing and we'll talk more about business if you want. But you don't have to worry much, I've already made up my mind.", he said. Joseph watched as Joshua walked away, he finished up his meal and as he took his tray to the trash, he wondered... exactly what did Joshua mean by that. The only way he'd find out is to talk to him after the book signing, which is where he was going to head to next.

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