“He looks so sad in photographs but I absolutely love him, when he smiles.”
He doesn’t smile, you know.
All right, he does. But not usually. Normally, he’s got this dark, mysterious air around him, like he’s angsting, or emo, or just... contemplating the lyrics to his latest rock song. Or that he’s a broody dark hero, caught up in culture and class, but withdrawn from a world ruled by them. Or maybe the tall dark stranger from all those stupid romance novels that my mother reads and I do not have a few copies of stuffed under my mattress.
But he doesn’t smile. Not really.
It all started with the yearbook. We get one every year, your school probably does the same thing - every year you get a book chock full of people you barely know and some odd ones of yourself and your friends, looking like idiots, to be laughed at by you in a few years time, and sighed over like a wistful mooncalf when you’re old, wishing you were young again.
I got our yearbook, end of junior year, and started flipping through it. I was in it. A lot. I mean that. I’m the son of the two most famous heros, like, ever. Of course I was in it a lot. It’s almost painful, and it really is embarrassing, to see myself every two pages, sometimes with my friends, sometimes with random people I’ve never really met, besides that picture. But I wasn’t the only one who was featured on a regular basis.
Warren Peace was everywhere.
Most times, he wasn’t looking at the camera. Once or twice he would be, glaring at the photographer like they were trying to steal his soul through its lens. But in every one, there was no smile. There was an adorable furrow of his dark brows, eyes dark and intense, mouth a thin firm line, sometimes turned down a little at the corners, frowning. His hair seemed to be always in front of his face, half obscuring his eyes, and he always looked intense and thoughtful.
He just didn’t smile.
I’d been best friends with Warren for three years now by this point, and despite our differences and despite the fact that he has never, to my remembrance, called me by my first name, I think he’s really kind of cool. He does remind me of the hero in those romances that I do not, under any circumstances, read.
But I think I could count the amount of times I’ve seen him smile on one hand.
It made me kind of listless, kind of sad. I mean, my friend should be happier. He should smile more often. Thor knows he deserves to smile more often.
With that in mind, Operation Make Warren Smile began.
It started with food. That didn’t work well. I mean, fortune cookies and chocolate covered strawberries always make me happy, but I’d forgotten that Warren quite frankly doesn’t eat. The last time I saw him eat, it was Chow Mein, and that’s because he adores Chinese. And that was... a year ago?
Next I tried books. Books are a good thing with Warren, because not only does he love to read, he devours any reading material he can get his hands on, from novels to biographies to comics to the classics. Especially the classics. He seemed to appreciate the books, and read them all, but he never smiled as a result.
I tried taking him to movies, then a carnival, once I even dragged him along to a Renaissance Faire with me, declaring that I was going to win him that stupid stuffed dragon.
Did I ever mention that even though my strength is good, my aim really sucks?
I managed to small that heavy marble ball through the back of the wooden booth, but the milk jug I was supposed to be breaking stayed firmly in one piece.
Warren just shook his head, and grabbed the ball from me, winding up.
While I suck, Warren has the aim of a major league pitcher. I think it’s all the throwing of flames he does. So in three very quick successive throws, three broken bottles sat on the shelf, and Warren handed me a dorky stuffed dragon.
“Thanks,” I grinned, looking up at him.
And Warren smiled.
And in that moment, I can pinpoint it. That was the exact moment that I fell in love with Warren Peace.
He’s gorgeous when he’s angsty, when he’s depressed, when he’s brooding. When he’s angry, his eyes spark in a way that make my knees melt.
But when he smiles, I’m reminded all over again why I love that man.
“Please die Ana, for as long as you’re here we’re not, you make the sound of laughter and sharpened nails seem softer”
“Warren, we need to talk.”
Warren didn’t even look up from his book. “What about?”
Will sighed, and sat heavily on the edge of the bed. “You don’t eat.”
Warren sighed, shoulders sagging a little, eyes closing. “So?”
“So you don’t eat.” Will crossed his arms. “Warren, I’m worried about you. Food is important, you know. Keeps you alive.”
“I’m alive,” the other pointed out, rolling over so that he faced the younger hero, eyes dark.
“Yeah.” Will nodded once. “For how long, Warren? I’m worried. I think I deserve to be.”
Warren rolled his eyes, flopping onto his back. “You’ve got to be kidding. We’ve been dating since High School, Stronghold. Why are you suddenly deciding that this is a big deal now? You know how I am. You’ve known since we were freshmen.”
“I know you didn’t eat lunch, yeah,” Will shook his head. “Warren, when we moved in together, I realized that you not only don’t eat lunch, you just don’t eat. An apple here or there, and bottles of water everywhere... that’s not a diet, Warren. Never mind a balanced one, that just isn’t a diet! You’re too skinny, you have continued to lose weight since we started going out, you... you barely sleep, yet you’re tired all the time. You’re always working out, but you don’t have calories to burn off! And I know this is crazy Warren, but I looked it up. Turns out that your ability to bruise on the drop of a hat, and freeze with the slightest drops in temperature?
That’s a symptom of anorexia, Warren. Anorexia.”
“I’m not anorexic,” Warren sneered. “I just don’t eat as much as you.”
“No kidding, because I eat,” Will snapped, then forced his anger down, heavily. “Sorry. That was uncalled for. I’m trying to be reasonable, Warren, I am. But I am really worried about you!”
“Don’t be,” Warren growled, and stood, moving to storm from the room.
Will ran after him, wrapping his arms tightly around Warren’s waist. “Warren, wait. Look... I can count your ribs. I couldn’t do that before. You were skinny, yeah, but... I’m scared, Warren.”
Warren crossed his arms, stubbornly looking away from the hero pressed to his back. “Of what?”
“Of losing you,” Will whispered, tightening his hold a little. “If you died on me, Peace... I’m going to make a truce with Necromancer, and get her to raise you from the dead so I can kill you for leaving me like that!”
“I’m not going to die,” Warren muttered mutinously.
“How do you know?” Will demanded. “You’re wasting away right in front of me, Warren! I freaking love you, and you’re dying a little everyday. What do I do then, huh? How do I pretend everything’s normal when my lover has just starved himself to death?!”
“I’m not starving,” Warren said coldly. “I’m just not hungry.”
“Why not?!” Will demanded, crying. He didn’t want to cry, he wanted to be strong and powerful, he wanted to live up to his hero name, but he couldn’t help it. The man he loved wasn’t listening, damn it! Burying his wet face in between Warren’s razor-sharp shoulder blades, he cried as he continued, voice rough, “Did I do something wrong? Was it me?”
Warren sighed, leaning his head back, Will being at just the right height that the back of Warren’s head rested lightly on the top of Will’s. “I just... I haven’t been able to eat. Not since...” he paused. “Not since that night.”
Warren, nine years old, shoveled his father’s famous shepherd’s pie in his mouth, grinning as he talked with his mouth full. “We really had fun at school today,
daddy! We were doing an assignment on volcanoes, and Mr. Roberts was really impressed with how much I knew about the effects of lava and fire on things!”
Baron Battle laughed, reaching over to ruffle his son’s hair. “That’s great, Warren. Tomorrow, if your teacher asks, tell her...”
He never finished what he had been about to say, because at that moment, there was a crash, and their door fell in as costumed heroes streamed in, headed by The Commander.
“Baron Battle!” Commander yelled. “On behalf of the Superhero’s Guild of America, you are under arrest!”
“No!” Warren screamed, trying to beat them off, trying to get to his dad. He flared up, flames going everywhere until his father stopped him with a hand to his forehead, gentle.
“No, Warren,” Baron said, slowly, smiling, sad. “No. Don’t fight. Finish your dinner, champ. I’ll see you soon.”
Warren never finished his dinner.
And he hasn’t seen his father since.
“My father was arrested, during dinner,” Warren said softly. “I just... food sticks now, chokes me, when I try to eat. I can’t. I just... I can’t.”
Will hugged tighter, sniffling, eyes red and face wet. “We can do something, Warren. There are doctors...”
“Yeah,” Warren said lightly, looking away. “Doctors.”
Warrick watched Nick very carefully over the following weeks. Being buried in a tiny little glass box couldn’t be good for a person, especially not when they got covered by fire ants and had only a gun to keep them company.
What kind of a sick bastard came up with that, then blew themselves up? Honestly?
So Warrick watched Nick very carefully.
Nick seemed... skittish, for lack of a better word. He remembered that one case, the Downs Syndrome boy found in the truck box, and he remembered the easy way Nick had handled himself around horses. He was a horse man, that Texan boy, and Warrick could remember that one moment when they’d been walking through the barn, curious, while Grissom had been talking to the boss with Brass. A horse in one of the stalls had backed away at their approach, whickering in panic, and Nick had soothed it with soft words and a gentle hand to the nose. He’d been like the horse whisperer, only with a gun and a badge.
Now Nick was like that skittish horse, backing away from strangers, side-stepping away from anything he didn’t know, being above all else, cautious.
Warren didn’t like scared Nick. He’d seen his friend go through hell and back again, more than once. Nearly shot in the face - twice, stalked and thrown from a window, people killed so that they matched his prom pictures. Nick had not had the best of luck. Ever. But this was different. Warrick knew what everyone else wasn’t saying - that Nick Stokes had almost died, and they had nearly lost him.
His first decision was a rash one - marrying Tina. It had seemed like the right thing to do at the time. Life was short, and boy, did he ever realize that after Nick almost died. Life was too short, and he had to seize every moment he could manage.
After that, he just watched Nick, warily, trying to decide what he could do - if he could do anything, to help him. Nick laughed like he used to, but it was often forced, and it never reached his eyes anymore. He tried changing his style a million times, from clothes to that hideous mustache to his hair. He started losing weight. Warrick was really worried about him, and started skipping out on other things, other commitments, to hang out with his old friend, trying hard to bring that old Nick back.
He should have realized that all his time spent with Nick was going to affect things, especially things at home. He realized it most when his wife met him at the door one early morning, after Warrick had been out drinking since shift was over with Nick, reminiscing about the good times and avoiding talk of the bad times. Arms crossed, dressed in her bathrobe, she said, “You’ve changed.”
Warrick tried to tell her that he hadn’t really. He was still the same guy she’d married a few months ago. Still the guy she dated. When that didn’t work, he tried to explain that he was trying to save his friend from himself. When even that didn’t satisfy her, he reminded her that they’d gotten married at a drive through chapel, and how long are those types of marriages supposed to last, anyways?
A week later, he’d been an unmarried man.
He devoted more time to Nick, working hard at helping him. He stopped playing cards all together, even though he hadn’t really gambled in years anyways. He stopped playing basketball, stopped spending so much time with the victim’s families, and started hanging out in the lab, or at the crime scenes, hanging over Nick’s shoulders as much as he could. He was worried, he told himself. It was worth it, he thought, when he opted to skip meals just so he could stay with Nick in the layout room, in silence.
Nick finally pulled him aside one day, and with a furrowed brow, whispered Warrick’s name, then: “You’ve changed.”
Warrick tried to defend himself, tried to explain, but he fell silent at Nick’s
Nick was worried about Warrick’s mental health. His emotional health. His physical health, even. He wasn’t eating right, avoiding everyone but himself, tailing him like a stalker, only one slightly less scary because he knew him well.
Nick was worried about him.
Warrick had broken down, sliding down the wall to sit there, face towards the ceiling, shoulders shaking, eyes turning red as he cried. He crushed Nick to his chest, and whispered that he had been worried about him, worried that Nick was the one in trouble. He’d been trying to save Nick, and now Nick was trying to save him.
Their roles were reversed.
Laughing a little, hiccuping as his tears subsided, Warrick had nuzzled his nose into Nick’s soft brown hair, and whispered, awed, “You’ve changed.”
And it was a good thing.
“The opposite of war isn’t peace. It’s creation.”
Once, they fought a war.
It was a war of epic proportions, at least for fifteen year olds.
But they weren’t at war anymore. They were at... something else.
Something more tenuous.
It wasn’t peace, because to be at peace would imply that the parties involved were tranquil, and didn’t fight. And that just wasn’t true. Will and Warren still fought all the time, yelling at each other over stupid things, getting into super-powered showdowns over the smallest problems. They were never at peace, not even when they weren’t fighting, they were always bickering, and teasing, and generally being teenaged best friends.
It was something else. Something infinitely more interesting, with infinitely more possibilities. Possibilities that manifested themselves in odd ways.
Will actually hugging Warren on a dare. Though he’d come away singed, he’d been laughing, and it was the start of something bigger.
Warren kissing Will at a party, when they were both just a little more than tipsy.
Will kissing Warren again when they were slightly more sober, at Magenta’s birthday party.
Warren kissing Will when utterly sober, at the school fair, when the Stronghold boy had been roped into running the stupid kissing booth for charity.
Will telling Layla that they were just too different, and her laughing and saying it was because she had all the wrong parts.
Will flushing, then admitting that she was right.
Will swooping down to kiss Warren in the cafeteria at lunch.
Warren not frying his best friend alive.
Warren actually letting Will hold his hand as they headed to class.
Will slipping his arm around Warren’s shoulder at the theatre with the tacky ‘fake yawn and stretch’ routine.
Warren letting him keep his arm there.
Sharing a bucket of popcorn.
Will waiting around for Warren to finish his shift at the Paper Lantern, then walking him home.
Dancing at Homecoming.
Competing every time as Heroes together in Save the Citizen.
Winning almost every time.
Winning awards for ‘best team’ and ‘most unexpected couple’ at graduation.
Warren being Valedictorian, and Will cheering and whistling for his speech.
Throwing their hats in the air, and Will grabbing Warren and spinning him around, kissing him in front of the school and everyone’s parents.
Getting an apartment together, and wrestling their tacky second hand orange plaid couch up the stairs into it before realizing that super-strong Will could have flown it in the window.
Fighting Necromancer together, as Hothead and General.
Celebrating with beers at the bar.
Waking up in the same bed, suspiciously devoid of clothing.
Will gathering up his things, and moving into Warren’s room.
Winning Hero of the Year, with both their names engraved on the plaque.
Winning it again.
Will crouching on the kitchen floor that hadn’t been swept in a good week, cheeks red as he held out a simple gold band, and asking “Will you at least think about it?”
Warren laughing, and putting the ring on.
Will leaping up to kiss Warren silly.
Tuxedos and red dresses for the bridesmaids, crying parents and a father out of jail.
Cutting of the cake, and Warren smushing a handful of it all over Will’s face.
Will flying them off into the sunset.
Coming back a week later, tanned, and happy.
Battling the newly returned Necromancer.
Warren falling to the ground during battle, clutching at his stomach, gagging up blood.
Will destroying the villain for the last time.
Will desperately flying Warren to a hospital, the best one he could.
Will sitting at a comatose Warren’s bedside for days, refusing to eat, sleep, or even move.
Warren squeezing Will’s hand gently.
Will nearly making the entire hospital scare themselves to death with a triumphant war whoop.
Serious discussions with Professor Medulla, then cloning labs and DNA samples.
A screaming baby from a surrogate mother, and two very, very proud parents smiling down at a black haired, blue eyed baby.
Bottles, teddy bears, and late nights.
Blocks, high chairs, and baby food in hair.
A bigger house, a back yard, a swing set.
A two wheeler, skinned knees, earthworms.
Girls and cooties, super strength and flight, lighting fire to houseplants.
Warren and Will, arms around each other’s waists, watching wistfully as a strong young man of fourteen waved, climbing onto a bright yellow school bus, for a first day of Sky High.
A young teenaged boy glaring down a Supervillain’s daughter, refusing to back down for hell or high water.
A perfect circle.
It wasn’t war.
It wasn’t peace.
It was something else entirely.
Something of their own creation.