The first issue of Enemies Like These is Good Guy #50. The closest you'll see to an origin story in the trilogy will be in Sidekicks, but even that isn't the true 'discover your powers' sort of story.
But... I did a lot of pre-writing while trying to establish character histories, including in a few cases, writing issue #1. One of my beta readers told me Alex was kind of a gloomy guy. I almost laughed at them, because well, check out Good Guy #1:
Good Guy #1
Fourteen stories should do it.
The roof’s limited access, but it’s easily the best view on campus. No heroes dotting the skyline tonight. No Psi streaking through the clouds, no X or Dodger lurking on the rooftops. No one up here but me.
It’s cold. It’s not supposed to be cold, not now. It’s verging on summer and the District’s built on a swamp. The leaves have busted out from dead tree trunks, signs of life everywhere.
It’s been almost a year since Brooks died bleeding. Since I got him killed.
I can’t remember most of it, the pieces of the last two semesters, of my freshman year at college, disjointed like I haven’t been living at all.
Up here, I feel alive. Feel like I can finally breathe.
That brings the hurt into sharp relief.
I’m failing half my classes, locked alone in a dorm room that was meant for two, Brooks’s empty bed the
bunk above mine. The lectures, the equations, the stories from the history texts, seem like fiction. I can’t focus, can’t convince myself that it matters.
This was easier when I had a few beers in me, but I’d stopped after the Brooks’s funeral. The night he died, I was shitfaced and I called my best friend for a ride home. He stepped between me and a gun. Stupid. I refuse to put anyone in that position again.
Too late. It’s not like I have any friends left to call.
There’s no one on the sidewalk. It’s a Wednesday night late in exam week. Anyone still awake is trapped in their own world, mainlining coffee to stay awake. I could stand here all night and none of the students stumbling out of the campus library will even glance up to see me.
My fingers scrape against the concrete as I scramble onto the ledge.
I’ve been on the roof before. I come here whenever the janitor forgets to lock up. It’s the only place on campus where the silence isn’t deafening. The only place where I can hear myself think.
I look up to the sky, the clouds that choke the light from the stars, the moon nothing but a dull glow against a blanket of mist.
It’s just a step.
I can feel a shadow over my shoulder. My breath come in ragged gasps. My cheeks are soaked with tears. How did I get here? I should remember how I got here. I look down, breathe out and whisper into the air, “I’m not sure how much longer I can do this, Brooksie.”
There’s a whistling against my ears. I started falling a long time ago. Since before Brooks died, but I’ve never felt so lost before.
The answer comes like a jolt, cutting through the dense fog of my mind, ringing out in what may as well be Brooks’s voice, Then I guess you better jump.
So I jump.
My life does not pass before my eyes. I just get a single thought bolting through the haze of my brain.
Fuck. I made a mistake.
I made a huge mistake.
Panic curls around my limbs as my heart triples its speed. I can see the blur of the sidewalk rushing up to meet me and I can’t let that happen. Fourteen stories is more than enough to make a dent. More than enough to crack the pavement, ruin someone’s exam week once and for all.
I don’t want this.
I twist in the air, reaching for the stars I can’t see, clawing like I can find friction in the sky. Something to slow the descent, make it easier to survive. Because I want to survive.
I’ll need a miracle to survive.
I close my eyes anticipating impact even as I grasp for the sky.
And then I don’t hit the ground.
The next day, I put on my best suit and go to a funeral.
It’s not my funeral. I should probably be clear on that. Funerals aren’t an uncommon occurrence here in the District. We pretty routinely get stomped by horrible monsters or supervillains with a vendetta, but this isn’t result of that either. This was a freak accident. Gas line explosion, the house next door to my childhood home. Mom’s okay, but Mr. Black, Brooks’s dad, isn’t. It’s been a year since the shooting, since Brooks died, and now his dad is in the same cemetery.
Everyone here knows the stories and they leave me and mom alone in our pew, glaring at the two of us for showing our faces. Mr. Black wasn’t my fault. If Brooks had survived, he could have been in that house. too. Maybe Brooks was always meant to die young.
That doesn’t make it easier.
The glares weigh heavy on my shoulders. Mom squeezes my hand. “You know he would have wanted you here, Alex. They both would have.”
Because Brooks was my brother in everything but blood.
I want to leave. I look up to the sky, my glasses sliding up onto my forehead. Wonder if I could flap my arms and fly away. Float up like one of those helium balloons and drift until I pop.
My fingers dig into my palm, something sticky and red under my nail bed. Mom pries my hand loose. “Alex, sweetie, relax. This isn’t helping.”
I can’t be here right now. I’m sweating through my only good suit, blood pooling on my palms from where I clenched my fist too tight. The sun’s too bright, my tie is becoming a noose.
The world goes blurry and I duck out the side of the pew to a dozen stares. To the inevitable rumors that I was somehow responsible for the gas line rupture. Mom makes an abortive move to follow me, but the pallbearers and the huge wooden box are pace mournfully down the aisle and moving right now is rude.
It’s an incongruously nice day to be in the cemetery, flowers winking cheerfully from everywhere I can see. The spinning doesn’t stop so I sit down hard, press my back up against a familiar grave and grasp at the dirt. “Hey, Brooksie,” I say to the tombstone behind me.
No answer. Maybe one day, I’ll stop expecting one.
“I think I’m really fucked up, Brooks. I’m still half sure I hallucinated the whole mess yesterday. The school shrink would have a field day.” Or she would if I ever remembered to keep an appointment.
“Tell you what, I’ll just sit here and try and levitate. Prove I haven’t gone completely crazy. You’ll keep me company, right?”
It’s not completely outside the realm of possibilities. Psi can fly. There was a teleporter a couple years ago. The Internet has viral footage of Indestructoman walking through a firefight. People do impossible things every day and there’s no reason to think that the superheroes are the only ones who can. There could be people who don’t realize they can’t be killed because no one’s ever tried to murder them. Who don’t fly because they’ve never been fucked up enough to jump.
I open my eyes.
I’m still on the ground, fingers lacing through grass, the damp from the morning dew seeping through the fabric of my suit. I lean my head back against the headstone. “Maybe I can’t fly after all. I should probably just go back to the funeral, huh Brooksie?”
There’s no answer from Brooks, but I hear his voice anyway. He tells me funerals are stupid, hollow rituals that can’t capture the essence of a person. The priest who eulogized Brooks hadn’t spoken to him once. I would have talked if I’d been asked, but that would have been inappropriate. Didn’t matter that I’d spent more time with him in the last decade than all my other acquaintances put together.
Mom comes to find me when the funeral is over, her heels sinking into the soft grass. “If you want to keep hiding, Alex, you’ll want to vacate this spot .”
I stand up, knees popping on my way. “I’m not running away.”
“I know sweetie, you’re hiding. That’s not much better.” She puts a hand on my shoulder. “You want to tell me what’s on your mind?”
“Finals week, you know. Equations and history.”
I reach under my glasses to rub at my eyes. “Fine, fine. I was thinking about superheroes. Me and Brooksie always used to talk about stuff like that. Stupid stuff. What kind of powers would be the best. Why so many heroes showed up all in a bunch. How many others were out there.”
“And what kind of superpower did you want?” Mom asks.
“At this point, perfect recall. It’ll take a miracle for me to pass my exams.”
Mom’s smile is watery. Mr. Black had been her friend. Hard to avoid it when your boys decide they’re family. She links her arm through mine and after a second I manage to relax. “And what did Brooks want?”
“Invulnerability,” I say. “Would have been useful.”
(The gun goes as I’m peeling myself off the pavement. Brooks looks down at the growing red splotch on his stomach. Then he falls.)
From Mr. Black’s grave, half a dozen people stare at us. I lick my lips. Mom glares in their direction as she steers us to the parking lot, but I can’t find it in myself to be mad.
It’s not their fault. I’d hate me too.
I’m on the roof again.
People with superpowers have a duty, right? Fight the good fight, save as many people as they can.
Try not to be such a complete and utter fuck up.
Except, I can’t get this to work when I’m standing on the ground. Can’t pinpoint the right feeling in my stomach.
The wind blows through my hair. This time, I can see indistinct shapes soaring over the city. I can hear the sound of a fight in the Capital District. Heroes and monsters and ways to make a difference.
But I’m just a kid on a rooftop.
I wasn’t imagining this last time. I wasn’t dreaming.
Only one real way to find out.
I take a step and I’m falling.
Then I’m flying.