Gabriel Masters spit the blood out from behind his teeth, stuffing down his frustration with a bright, dishonest smile.
“I’ll get you next time,” he said, shoving a handful of sweaty blond hair out of his eyes between great mouthfuls of water. “You can’t keep this up forever, Dex. You’re getting old.”
His older brother, Dexter Masters, rolled his eyes. Dexter's forehead bone dry beneath a shock of spiky brown hair. He quirked a brow. “Gabe, I’m a professional superhero, I don’t know why you’re so hurt that you’re only on par with a pro. You don't even start at the academy until tomorrow.”
“I should’ve drilled that competitive streak out of you two when you were younger,” his dad sighed, taking the spot beside Gabe and slinging an arm around his sweaty shoulders.
Keegan Masters’ salt and pepper hair erred more on the side of salt these days. Great, white swooshes twisted through his dark curls like tendrils. No amount of salt would ever lose him his dad's spot as the most beloved Guardian of their age, though. “Now you boys break my gym and cost me a fortune in bad press.”
Gabe scowled. “What’s wrong with wanting to be the best, dad?” He heaved a great sigh, whipping his empty water bottle at Dex.
Dexter stepped neatly to the side, avoiding the bottle entirely. “Yeah, right. You’re like, 90 pounds soaking wet.”
“I can lift a car, Dexter, shut the hell up.”
“And I can make you lift a car against your will. You were saying?”
“Boys,” their mother warned from the doorway, her petite silhouette softened by a merlot-colored cardigan and fleece leggings. Liliana Masters was a stark contrast to her usual self tonight, round in all the places she was usually sharp. She rested a pale hand on her abdomen.
They looked away sheepishly from her stern expression. She continued, undeterred. “Gabriel, you have a long day tomorrow. I suggest you get some rest.”
“My apartment is only 15 minutes away. I don’t need to go yet,” he grumbled. But he began unwrapping his hands and packing away his equipment anyway.
“Lord knows why anyone bothers trying to,” Dex mumbled, and Gabe smacked the back of his head.
“Hey!” His brother screeched, the telltale stirrings of alien stiffness, a hallmark of Dexter's power, beginning at the tips of Gabriel’s fingers.
“Yes, Mom,” they chorused. Gabriel slung his duffle bag over one shoulder, sticking his tongue out at Dex while his parents weren’t looking. Dexter echoed him, his eyes narrowed in challenge.
His dad clapped his back. “Mom’s right, Gabriel. The first week at the academy is always an exhausting one. You could use a good night of rest.”
“Dad, I am functionally invincible. I’m not exactly sure what you think is going to happen to me, but I assure you, I can handle it.”
Dex scoffed. “Your brain’s not invincible, you sociopath.”
“Say that to my face, Dexter, I swear to —”
Gabriel felt his father’s fingers curl into the hood of his sweatshirt, its yellow fabric swallowing him whole as he was hauled across the threshold of the gym and back into the main house.
He flailed fruitlessly. His dad was the only one he knew who was stronger than he was, and as such, was the default culprit whenever he was detained by force. “Gabriel, if you continue stressing your mother out, I am going to manhandle you all the way back to your apartment myself.”
“Why aren’t you kicking Dexter out?” He whined, his duffle back dragging noisily behind him where it was looped through his fingers. The slick sound of nylon on hard wood echoed through the hall.
“Because Dexter and I have work to do on the case, if you’ll remember. You were the one who wanted to spar.”
“I am sharpening my skills to make a good first impression on the faculty.”
Gabe could practically hear his father roll his eyes. “No, you’re winding up your brother because you’re nervous and won’t talk through your feelings if you can punch through them instead.”
“I am not seeing the problem.”
His father set him gingerly down just in front of the door, picking up his duffle bag and shoving the strap over Gabe’s slender shoulder. “Gabriel, you are supremely talented. You are also too immature for the kind of power you’ve inherited. You know why it’s important that you get a handle on your attitude and prove to everyone that you can be trusted.”
Gabriel swallowed, his eyes pinned to the floor. It felt like the pit of his stomach had been hollowed out with a melon-baller. “Yes, Dad.”
“Be respectful, keep your head down, and prove yourself. That’s all I ask. The public thinks you’re volatile, and we need to paper over that if you’re going to become a proper Guardian.”
“I’m not volatile.”
“We know that, son. But they don’t. And when you could crush someone’s skull without blinking an eye, being mouthy is intimidating enough to cause speculation.”
His dad gave him a hug, pulling his hood up over his hair and resting his chin on the top of Gabe’s head. “We love you, Gabe. Let’s make sure everyone else gets the chance to, too.”
Gabriel has been famous since the day he was born. As the youngest son of a top global superhero, the spotlight is blinding. Especially when a series of prolific murders strike their closest friends and allies. The problem? Gabriel's functionally invincible, and only all too willing to take advantage of it if it means putting a stop to the violence.
August Wright's possibly the most powerful Guardian of his generation: he just needs to graduate before anyone else figures that out. He wanted a quiet, responsible life as a mid-ranked hero. Too bad he's been assigned to keep an eye on his polar opposite and the one person most likely to discover his true power: Gabriel Masters.
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Art (Cover/Thumbnails/End of Chapter Graphic) by Natjieo