Jonathan's frown grew deeper as he tried to puzzle through the gibberish lain out before him. Really? This was a thing? That really people enjoyed and made their lives work? He couldn't believe it. There was nothing to comprehend or learn from this. It was all a bunch of nonsense.
"It looks good to me," he finally said, laying Keith's physics homework back down on the table.
"And it's just the introductory level," O'Conner said. "For middle schoolers who are ahead in their science curriculum. He had to take extra classes and tests to get into this because he wasn't at this level before you people got your hooks in him."
"Not me people," Jonathan said.
"You keep telling yourself that," O'Conner grumbled. "But what I'm wondering is how the hell I'm supposed to help him with his homework when I don't understand a damn word of it."
"Wasn't your dad a high school physics teacher before he retired?" Jonathan asked. "Couldn't he help you?"
"Do not interrupt my ineffectual-parent moping with logic," O'Conner said.
"My bad," Jonathan said. "Mope away."
"Thank you," O'Conner said, picking up the homework so he could puzzle over it some more.
"Would you like some pancakes with your moping?" Jonathan asked.
"Pancakes?" Keith asked. Both men looked up from their place at the kitchen table to see the boy at the top of the steps looking over the railing.
"Go back to Gregory's bedroom," O'Conner ordered.
"Come on, dad!" Keith whined. "Can't I just come down and have breakfast?"
"No! It's too dangerous!" O'Conner insisted. "And what are you doing up so early anyways?"
"I couldn't sleep, like you guys," Keith said.
"Go back to bed," O'Conner ordered.
"What about you?" Keith asked. "None of you even set foot on the stairs last night, let alone slept!"
"You stay up there! I mean it!"
"This is so unfair!" Keith said. "I'm stronger than everyone here! I should be down there protecting you instead of hiding up here!"
"He's got a point," Jonathan said, getting up from the table as O'Conner's leg lashed out to where his foot used to be. He turned and frowned at the police captain. With a growling sigh, O'Conner leaned back in his chair and ran his hands through his hair.
"Keith, get down here if you want pancakes!" O'Conner yelled.
"And bacon?" Keith asked as he ran down the stairs.
"Don't push your luck," O'Conner snapped.
"What about you, Merrick?" Jonathan asked, leaning over so he could see the living room where the attorney was working- had been working all night. Right in front of the really large window. O'Conner and Jonathan had tried to talk him out of sitting there, but Merrick had refused to budge. "You want pancakes."
"Might be a good idea to take a break," O'Conner said. "You've been going over those briefs all night."
With a small shake of his head, Merrick sighed and closed the file folder he had been looking through. He tossed it on the coffee table, between the large stacks of files he had brought home from the DA's office last night and got to his feet.
"Do these pancakes come with coffee?" Merrick asked as he crossed the apartment.
"Shouldn't you try sleeping?" Keith asked.
"Don't be smart," O'Conner said.
"I'm a little busy with the pancake batter," Jonathan said. "So if you want coffee, someone else is going to have to make it."
"I've got it," O'Conner said, getting to his feet.
"Have you heard anything," Keith asked. Out of the corner of his eye, Jonathan saw Merrick motion to the table and Keith started to clean off his homework. Merrick slid into the kitchen to gather up plates, cups and cutlery.
"We haven't heard from anyone, kiddo," O'Conner said.
"So how do you know that T, Midge and Jaz are okay?"
"I'm sure they're fine, Keith," Jonathan said.
"No news is good news," Merrick added.
"Besides, we'll probably need to go back to the office today so we'll call T soon to walk us over," Jonathan said. "Soon you'll get to see for yourself that everything is alright."
"And Gregory?" Keith asked.
"He's tough, kiddo," O'Conner said. "I wouldn't worry about him."
"Tell me again why none of you slept last night?" Keith asked dryly.
"Again with the sass," O'Conner grumbled. "Care to rein it in until coffee?"
"We're just on edge, Keith," Jonathan said. "It's making it hard for us to practice what we preach."
"But if you don't sleep, how can you-" Keith stopped as there was a knock on the door and all three older men froze. Eyes were on the door, waiting for a friendly voice to call out a greeting.
"Think that's T?" Jonathan asked.
"It's too early to be anyone else," O'Conner muttered.
"But he'd call or something first," Jonathan said. "Or at least shout out while knocking."
O'Conner looked around the apartment and Jonathan followed his gaze. He was most disheartened by the determined look on Keith's face. There was no way they were going to get the boy to run upstairs without tipping whoever was at the door off that they knew about the potential trouble. The Merrick put the dishes on the table, catching their attention. The attorney nodded to O'Conner and started towards the door. Jonathan let out a sharp hiss as O'Conner left the kitchen to go stand by the table. As Merrick reached the door, O'Conner pulled his gun from its holster and aimed it at the door. Realizing what was going on, Jonathan pushed himself up against the wall hoping he could stay out of the way and that the pancakes wouldn't get burnt.
Merrick pulled the door open and time seemed to hang still for a moment as Jonathan waited for the gunshot.
"Lorrie?" Merrick asked.
"Merrick?" Jonathan heard his girlfriend practically yell.
"Lorrie," Jonathan said, darting out of his hiding spot in the kitchen and taking Merrick's spot in the doorway. "What are you doing here? It's quarter to seven in the morning." He reached out- to take Lorrie's hand or give her a hug or something- and she drew away from him.
"You never called," Lorrie said. "You said you would call two days ago when I was suspended from my job. And you never called and now I see why. You're having... what? A sleepover with the men who ruined my life? One of whom felt it was okay to aim a gun at me for what, Captain? Knocking on someone's door before seven in the morning?"
"Lorrie, I'm sorry I didn't call and I'm sorry about this," Jonathan said. "But something bad is happening in the superhero world and I would really feel more comfortable if you were to come inside."
"Are you joking?" Lorrie said. "I'm not going in there."
"Then you need to leave," O'Conner said firmly. "Because it's not safe for us to have that door open and I'm not risking my son's life for whatever lover's spat you two are having."
Without a word, Jonathan stepped out into the hallway with Lorrie and, ignoring the calls from O'Conner and Merrick to stay in the room, pulled the door shut behind him. Lorrie stepped away from him, arms crossed tightly against her chest. Jonathan leaned against the door, not really sure what he intended to do about this.
"Why didn't you call," Lorrie asked. "And don't give me some bullshit about the latest superhero emergency. Because that's all it ever is with you and I'm sick of hearing it."
"I don't know why I didn't call," Jonathan said. "Look, Lorrie. I just found out that you manipulated evidence-"
"Those are unsubstantiated allegations made by-"
"Made by my co-worker and my boss's boyfriend," Jonathan said.
"Against your girlfriend," Lorrie said.
"Did you manipulate evidence to make that guy look guilty?" Jonathan asked.
"Of course not!" Lorrie said.
"So... how did you get so screwed up?" Jonathan asked. "The Smasher raped and killed those people. The evidence is clear. How the hell do you get on what's his name... Harlan or something. He's just a guy. How can he melt people?"
"I can't discuss an open case-"
"What open?" Jonathan asked. "I saw the news. Harlan has been released and Merrick is going after the Smasher. Your case is closed and you're suspended pending an investigation into misconduct. What could you possibly be blocked from speaking about at this point?"
"I can't believe you're taking the word of Merrick over me!"
"Merrick hasn't spoken about this. He understands discretion and ethics and isn't going to go off on a defense attorney's investigator," Jonathan snapped. "You, on the other hand, have your face plastered all over the news along with the words 'suspension' and 'under investigation' and 'misconduct.' The hell am I supposed to take away from that?"
"Look, I know it looks bad and I know you're getting a lot of conflicting information," Lorrie said. "But you have to believe me, Jonathan. Oscar Harlan is guilty. I have the evidence to prove it."
"Why wasn't that taken into consideration before your suspension," Jonathan asked. "Thomas Sumrall is a fair man. He wouldn't just-"
"Why won't anyone believe me?" Lorrie yelled. "I thought for sure you-"
She didn't get a chance to finish as the apartment door opened, causing Jonathan to stumble. When he regained his balance and looked back, he found O'Conner pocking his head out into the hallway. "Sorry to interrupt your lovers spat, kids, but we've got bigger problems."
With only a quick glance back at Lorrie, Jonathan followed O'Conner back into the apartment. To his relief, he heard Lorrie follow him. He slowed and turned back, intending to offer her his hand. He didn't know why, beyond a need to reach out to someone right now and the feeling that Lorrie needed him to offer a hand again. If only so she could swat it away.
She didn't get a chance. Lorrie jerked to a stop just within the doorway and her jaw dropped. Jonathan almost looked away from her, because there was only one reason she would stop and gape like that. And since O'Conner, Keith and Merrick hadn't come running out of the apartment in a panic and Jonathan hadn't seen Torque come up through the hallway, there could only be one hero Lorrie was gaping at. Jonathan dearly wanted to greet his friend and make sure the Remnant was okay, but it was more important right now to get Lorrie completely into the apartment.
"Lorrie," Jonathan said, taking a step towards her. "You're either in or out right now."
Lorrie nodded and took a step into the apartment. O'Conner closed and locked the door behind her. His shoulder's slumping in relief, Jonathan turned to face the Remnant.
"You okay?" Jonathan asked, looking over the dark outline of a person standing in the shadows of the kitchen.
"We don't know," O'Conner said. "He won't come out of the shadows."
"I have reason to believe the Persian is on her way here," Remnant said. Jonathan frowned. Something was wrong. The hero sounded weird. Not necessarily weak or in pain... just... like he was trying to speak with a southern accent or...
Oh. He was. Because of course Lorrie would put an English investigator together with an English superhero.
"Why?" O'Conner asked.
"I showed her my plan in trying to catch her," Remnant said. "From the way... she's studied this team, I think it's enough for her to realize where we would hide the boost serum."
"Boost serum?" Lorrie asked.
"We don't really have time for this right now," Remnant said.
"The hell you don't," Lorrie said. "What's this about a serum and who's this Persian. I haven't heard anything in the news about a new about a new villain. Certainly not one who would have had time to study your team or send you into this sort of panic. That kind of villain would have been all over the headlines."
"Instead of your misconduct scandal?" O'Conner asked.
"Stop," Merrick ordered. The cop shrugged and looked away.
"Stay focused, guys," Jonathan said over his shoulder. "What do we need to do?"
"We need to get that serum out of here and someplace safe," Remnant said. "Along with all of you."
"Could we trust you with that?" Merrick asked Lorrie. Startled, Jonathan turned around. He honestly hadn't expected that and he certainly hadn't expected the offer to come from Merrick.
"I don't think-" Remnant started to say.
"I'm not taking anything when I don't know what it is," Lorrie said firmly. "Or who might be coming after me."
Helpless, Jonathan looked back at Remnant. For a moment, he thought Merrick would start explaining, but no one spoke. If he looked back again, Jonathan didn't doubt he would see everyone waiting for the Remnant to decide what the answer was.
"The boost serum," Remnant said. "Is an experimental drug Dr. Margaret Cratty created last year when we our team was in desperate need for more power. The Bengal took it, and the way the drug bonded with adrenaline caused increased aggression and hostility and she turned on our team. We were able to create and administer an antidote, but it appears there were residual effects that are just now making themselves known. But it's weaker, and Bengal needs to take more of the serum in order turn fully against us again. Until then, she's trapped in a battle against herself."
"A battle we need her to keep fighting," O'Conner said. "We can't let her get her hands on that serum."
"Why do you keep this stuff around if it's so dangerous?" Lorrie asked. "Why not just destroy it?"
"We have other uses for the serum that necessitate our keeping it," Remnant said. "We can't risk the Bengal getting to it, but unfortunately we also can't risk its destruction. Not yet."
"Will you do this?" Merrick asked. "Please?"
"I doubt Bengal will think to connect you to the serum if you leave now," Remnant said.
"Alright," Lorrie said. "Alright, I'll take the serum."
Jonathan went to the refrigerator and removed the vials of the boost serum. "Be careful with these. And they need to be kept cold."
"Don't worry," Lorrie said with a halfhearted smile as she took the vials. "I'll look after them."
"Thank you," Jonathan said. "I..."
"Don't," Lorrie said. "It's not about you."
"Right," Jonathan said as Lorrie turned away from him. O'Conner opened the door for her and then Lorrie was gone. Jonathan sighed, wondering if he was ever going to manage to get this right with her. Wondering if he really wanted to and wondering what that meant.
Footsteps on the stairs caused Jonathan to tense up. Looking around, Jonathan saw the same panic on O'Conner and Merrick's faces as well. Keith, who had stayed at the kitchen table during their discussion with Lorrie, jumped up and ran to stand by his dad.
"It's alright," Remnant said as Lye finished descending the steps and came around the corner.
"What the hell?" O'Conner yelled, pushing Keith behind him and reaching for his gun.
"Wait!" Remnant snapped, stepping between them and Lye. His shadowy outline dropped away as he stepped into the light. "She's on our side." He'd gone back to his on English accent, Jonathan realized. Another reminder that Lorrie was gone and he didn't know what that meant.
"Our side?" O'Conner asked.
"She's the one I went to for help," Remnant said. "And she has so far proven herself invaluable. We're not going to be able to defeat Cat without her."
"My sensors have picked up the Bengal," Lye said. "She is within a quarter of a mile of our location and closing in fast."
"We need to go," Jonathan said.
"No, we can't," Merrick said. "Cat will see us leave and she might connect us to Lorrie."
"He's right," O'Conner said. "It would be better if we pretend nothing is wrong when she gets here. Pretend that you weren't here and hope we can trick Cat into believing that the serum was never here."
"What if we have to fight Cat, dad?" Keith asked.
"You're not staying," O'Conner said firmly. He looked up at Remnant. "Can you take him up to the roof so he can fly out of here?" Remnant nodded. O'Conner put both hands on Keith's shoulders and leaned down to look his son in the eye. "Look, Kiddo. I need you to fly back to the office and tell Midge and T what's going on. Can you do that?"
"Dad, what about you?" Keith asked.
"If we play this right, Cat won't hurt us," O'Conner said, running a hand through Keith's hair. "Now go. Go with Gregory."
Keith sidled up next to the shadow walker and Remnant rested a hand on his shoulder.
"I can't stay here," Remnant said. "Cat will be able to feel my powers and that will give the game away."
"I can hide upstairs and call you if she turns on them," Lye said.
"Good," Remnant said. "That will work."
"Oh, and we're just supposed to trust her?" O'Conner asked.
"Yes," Remnant said firmly. "You are."
"Guys, we don't have a lot of time," Jonathan said. "If we're going to stay and do this, we do it their way. If not, we need to leave now."
"Alright, fine," O'Conner said, nodding to Remnant. "Get him out of here."
Remnant nodded and led Keith over to the shadowed corner of the kitchen, where they both disappeared into the darkness. Lye turned without a word and started upstairs. Merrick followed a few paces behind her, returning to the living room and the coffee table full of his briefs.
"Merrick," Jonathan said as O'Conner shook his head in disbelief.
"It's fine," Merrick said. "If we're pretending, I wouldn't be anywhere else."
"To hell with this," O'Conner said, turning back to the kitchen. "I need coffee."
Looking over at the stove, Jonathan was grateful to see that someone had taken the pan with pancake batter off the stove and turned it off. A half cooked pancake certainly bested a pancake on fire. And, cooking a new pancake would certainly give him something to do while they waited for Cat to arrive.
He was just bummed that Keith wouldn't be able to have any.