Chapter 14: The beginning of the end
“Lying in the name of good is still lying.”
~ April Watson
Xander bit his lip as he tacked another picture on the wall. Pretty soon he was going to run out of space and tacks.
A mosaic of everything he knew since the last three months was above his bed. The PF-08-02 serum, Rossi Corp, MASKED, Ian Thompson, Wild Fire, Mischief, Artic Frost, Black Tiger gang, and just about everything he’d seen or learned was interconnected on his board. Xander was searching for a small patch of reason within it all, and it was getting hard to keep track of the good guys and the bad guys.
Mischief had only ever been seen twice out in public, once to rob a bank and once to steal jewels from Artic Frost. There was no rhyme or reason in those two attacks, and he’d been missing ever since. Xander hoped that meant he would disappear soon and give Xander room to figure out all of the PF-08-02 business without another villain to worry about.
Not to mention every time his mother wanted to walk in his room he had to hide his wall of theories with posters he’d tack up with super speed before she got in. There was just no privacy in his apartment to hide his theory wall any better. Xander was only glad he kept his Momentum outfit in his backpack, because otherwise he’d have to think of a place to hide it.
But Xander couldn’t spend too much time looking at his wall. He was planning on doing patrol tonight and maybe put more gangsters in jail. Xander was already dressed in his Momentum costume, ready to speed out.
Then the doorbell rang. In seconds Xander pulled off his costume, stuffed it in his bag, put on real clothes, and tacked up the posters that hid his Theory Wall. By the time he opened the door, barely any time had passed since it was rung, but Xander was out of breath.
“Hey, Xander,” he replied, standing awkwardly at the door.
“What do you want?” Xander fired back, still upset about what John had accused him of not too long ago. He didn’t matter how the evidence looked, his best friend shouldn’t think he would do something like cheat on Mera. Hell, John knew exactly how much he had been obsessed with her since she moved to Oakland. He more than anyone should be one Xander’s side.
But maybe Xander didn’t see how hypocritical he was being by projecting all of the blame on John instead of dividing it equally.
(After all, Xander was providing John with no better explanation for his behavior.)
John sighed, “I want to talk.”
Xander opened the door, wider, letting his best friend in the door. John immediately made for Xander’s room, where they always used to hang out. Xander had a short mental freak out, not remembering if he hid everything that needed to be hidden. But, when he walked in he could let out a breath of relief. The suit was in his bag and the wall was covered, he was good.
“You’ve done some redecorating since the last time I was here,” John commented, acknowledging the very messy room and its new posters.
Xander nodded, standing awkwardly by the door. “Look, about what happened at school the other day, I know it looked bad, and I know I’ve been acting weird, but you’re still my best friend, John.”
Though, John wasn’t listening to him. Xander thought he was only trying to be rude by not answering him, but then he noticed how John was staring intently at the poster that portrayed some band Xander had never even heard of. One corner wasn’t tacked up, folded down so that the Theory Wall was just visible under it. A picture of Momentum after one of his saves.
John reached his hand out and before Xander could even think about speeding over to stop his friend, the poster was torn off the wall. John put his hand up again and soon the entire wall was visible in all of its haphazard glory.
“What is all of this?”
Xander hesitated. There was really no way to explain it all.
John paused on the section he had devoted to the heroes of Kingdom City, reaching out for, but not touching, the clippings of newspaper articles and Xander’s own writing that displayed in plain sight the identities that he knew.
Xander could almost see it all processing in his friend’s head. He finally rested his fingers on the picture of Momentum, where Xander had stupidly written out in permanent marker, “Me!” John turned to him with an unreadable expression. Of course, Xander had only written that to amuse himself. He never thought anyone who wasn’t him would see the wall anyways.
“I can explain,” Xander offered, his voice already giving away his nervousness.
Then Xander noticed his super suit poking out from his bag. Of course he forgot to zip it up when he went to answer the door. John noticed only a second later and looked between it and Xander before reaching over and pulling it out.
There was no denying anything when Momentum’s suit was held in John’s hand.
“It is not what it looks like.”
John narrowed his eyes at Xander, who was nervously rubbing the back of his neck. “Then what is it? Because it looks like I found out why you’ve been acting so weird for the last few months.”
“I . . . uh . . . I’m into cosplay. Yep, that’s totally what’s going on.”
His friend looked like he believed absolutely none of it. “Then why do you have a serial killer wall?”
Xander frowned, “Woah, that is no serial killer wall. It is an intricately weaved wall of theories and facts with a lot of tacks.”
“You need a theory wall for cosplay?”
“Um . . .” Xander sighed and rubbed his chin. “I really like to get into character.”
John actually laughed out loud. “Are you trying to tell me you aren’t Momentum even with the evidence staring you right in the face?”
Xander hesitated and John turned back to the wall, curiosity overtaking him. “So Silver Streak is Taylor Hale? No wonder you’ve been hanging around her so often. That explains so much. And Mera is,” he looked closer at the notes he’d written under her picture, “working with Wild Fire? Wow, what are the chances? And what’s all of this stuff about Rossi Corp?” John turned back to Xander, unbelieving, “Wait, are you going to go after them?”
It was hard to forget the hatred John felt for Rossi Corp after they laid off his parents. Xander would usually try to defend the company in Trevor’s interest, but after Trevor started wanting blood, he was more wary to defend him in front of John.
“That’s a bit complicated.”
John shook his head. “No, it’s not. Why else would you have Rossi Corp up on this wall? Are they doing something illegal that you’re planning to catch them on?”
“No, it’s more like Trevor Rossi is out to kill me.”
Xander sighed, “Let me explain.”
For the next twenty minutes Xander filled his best friend in on what he should’ve told him from the beginning. All about how he got his powers and how he met most of the heroes of the city. About how Trevor thought he killed Paul Rossi and how they thought the Black Tiger gang was involved somehow in the Rossi Corp deal that gave Xander powers. Everything he could think of, Xander told his friend.
“I would’ve told you earlier about me, dude, but it just felt weird to first tell you when I got powers and it was sort of a habit after that to keep that life from you. I never meant for you to be hurt by this.”
John nodded. “Yeah, I understand. It’s just . . . you knew Silver Streak went to our school and you still let me fanboy all about her? What if Taylor had been there to hear? Oh, god. You didn’t tell her about my obsession, did you? She’s going to think I’m so weird.”
Xander laughed. “Of course I didn’t.”
“Good, that would’ve been very awkward.”
There was a comfortable silence that followed. They were no longer treading on thin ice when they talked to each other.
“So, who else knows? I’m assuming Silv- Taylor and Mera know, but what about everyone else?”
Xander sat down on his bed, much calmer than he had been before. “Wild Fire knows who I am, though he probably forgot my name by now. He’s Ross Gustin, goes to Kingdom Hills High.”
John nodded with a self-assured posture, “Yep, I knew I had a feeling that guy was no Oakland resident.”
“There’s also apparently this secret organization known as MASKED who has my information on file now. Mera says they keep track of all the supers in the country. I’m pretty sure her aunt works there.”
His friend took the information relatively well.
“What about your mom?”
Xander whistled and gave a nervous chuckle. John raised his eyebrows at the reaction to his question, “Wait, you’re telling me she doesn’t know?”
“You know she’d freak out if her kid was out risking his life every day.”
“And I also know she’ll beat your ass if she ever finds out that you’ve been hiding something as big as this from her.”
The hero ran his hand through his hair again. There was no real safe way to tell his mother about his nighttime activities and having her not freak out on him. He was banking on hiding this from her at least until he was done with high school. That way she wouldn’t have to feel as responsible for the kid living under her roof.
“Yeah, let’s not worry about that just now.”
There was a sudden reverberating crash from outside his room. In a second the posters in his room were tacked back up and Xander’s suit was securely zipped up in his backpack. John had no time to marvel at seeing his best friend use super powers, because the next second they were opening the door to see what made the noise.
If it was burglars, Xander would be able to beat them up hopefully before they saw his face. If his mother just dropped something as she came home, he could help her.
But it was much worse.
In the living room all Xander saw was his mother’s arm on the kitchen floor. He was next to her in a flash, not caring about potentially revealing his powers to his mother because she was injured on the floor and in need of help. In fact, the only visible sign of injury was a bump on her head where she had hit the floor. In her hand was an empty plastic bag.
“Oh my god what happened?” John asked, catching up to Xander.
Xander shook his head and cradled his mother’s head in his arms. Her eyes were closed, but she seemed to still be breathing. “I don’t know.”
“We need to call 911.”
Xander nodded in agreement, not really registering what his friend was doing. His mind was occupied by his mother’s pale exterior and pasty face. She was damp with sweat, her black hair in strings and clumps. For the first time, Xander noticed how thin his mother looked. Had she been stressed out from work and her only son hadn’t even noticed? Had she been sick and Xander was too busy being a hero to save the person closest to him?
When the ambulance got there, Xander insisted on riding in it on the way to the hospital. He may not have been an adult, but he was her only son. If they didn’t let him in, Xander was going to run to the hospital and beat them there anyways, but the EMT caved in and let him ride. John assured Xander that he’d meet him there.
The EMT asked Xander a series of questions about his mother’s past illnesses and he answered to the best of his ability, clutching her hand.
Xander could only hope that his mother was okay. He silently swore to himself that if – when she got better, he would stop keeping secrets from her.
He couldn’t bear to lose his mother.