This should be the best time of my life. I'm alone with the boy I love at a romantic overlook in a sweet red convertible. There's a full moon out. Moon above, ocean below, beautiful boy sitting next to me just begging to be kissed, this is the sort of thing they score dramatic, welling music for, this is the sort of thing that should be perfect. But it's not. Something in Julian's mood is off. He's quieter for usual, more serious. He seems distracted. And I want to reach over and take his hand, and I want to pepper his face with kisses, I want to burrow my face in his hair and tell him how much I love him, but I'm afraid to until I know what's wrong. We've been seeing each other for over two years, but sometimes I still have trouble reading Julian. The meaning behind his moods and silences sometimes escape me until he tells me what's behind them. I, on the other hand, am an open book to him.

"You're glowing, Erik," he says, quietly. And it's true, when I'm nervous or uncomfortable or preoccupied, I don't have full control of my powers and I have a tendency to illuminate my surroundings. It's barely noticeable in the daylight, but on a dark night, on a lonely stretch of road overlooking the ocean my growing concern makes me into some sort of oversized Christmas decoration. I focus and tamp down, but not before taking a look into Julian's lovely hazel eyes, they seem like smoky gold in my light.

Julian sighs and takes a deep breath, maybe ready now to tell me what's on his mind, "I have something to tell you. You're not going to like this, but you need to know."

---

The last time someone told me something like that, I was eight-years-old. I was living with my grandmother, who'd raised me from before I can remember. I'd come home from Vacation Bible School and was singing, "this little light of mine" in the joyous, tuneless way that children have when I found my grandmother sitting in the front parlor with the light off, instead of the kitchen where I'd expected here. She smiled at me tiredly and said, "Come here, Erik". Obediently I came over and sat at my grandmother's knee. She settled into her overstuffed green armchair and sighed. She stroked my hair and she said, "I'm not as young as I used to be. And maybe one day won't be time to tell you all I should. And can't no one else do it. So I'm gon tell you the truth 'bout you. Wish you were older. But you need to know and I won't always be around."

My grandmother was my only living relative. It was inconceivable to me that she wouldn't always be in my life. I grabbed her strong, nut brown hand, toughened and scarred by years of washing and cooking and put it next to my cheek. My cheek was the exact same color as the coffee and milk my grandmother drank every morning, a fact I'd taken as proof that we'd always be together. So I protested, nearly crying as I pressed my face into my grandmother's hand, inhaling her odd scent of onions, garlic, dish-soap and bleach, "You'll always be around. As long as I am. Promise me!"

With her free hand, my grandmother stroked my hair and said, "Wish I could promise that. But the world isn't wishes, baby. Sometimes, it's cold and it's mean. And it can be dark, but sometimes there are folks who shine in that blackness. Your mama and your daddy shone."

I looked up at her, I'd never really known my parents, had only seen pictures of them. My grandmother leaned over and gently kissed the top of my head, "Ain't fair what happened to them. But you got a right to know who you are. I told you before that your mama was smart, graduated from college early and she met your daddy who was just as smart. I told you that your mama was beautiful and she was gifted. What I never told you was, what her gift was. Erik, baby, your mama was a Superhero."

I gasped, every child who has never met their parents has dreams of them being something glamorous and powerful, movie stars or fairy tale royalty or space warriors, but this revelation was both thrilling and terrible. My grandmother continued, "Girl could make water boil just by looking at it. She could call up and control heat. Called herself Sister Smolder. Your daddy was a Superhero too, could make the lights in the room go dim and make himself almost invisible. Called himself ShadowSeraph. They were good people. Angela was my only daughter and I was proud of the work she did," my grandmother leaned over and pulled a yellowed newspaper clipping out of her purse and handed it to me. Even in bad four-color, I could tell the woman in the picture was beautiful, she was standing arms akimbo before a wall of flame, she was masked and smiling close-lipped, two rumpled men cowered at her feet. She reminded me of Pam Grier in those late night movies I kept trying to sneak down and watch. The headline read, "Sister Smolder Burns Baddies!" I looked up at my grandmother for confirmation. She nodded, "That was your mama. Don't have any newspaper articles about your daddy, but he was one of the good guys. They loved each other, and they loved you," my grandmother paused, "but there's a lot of bad out there. Your mama and your daddy's finest moment was when they stopped a real bad man from doing something that would have hurt a lot of people."

"What was he going to do?"

"He made a machine. A machine that would made it hard to grow plants in some places. Without plants animals starve and die, and people starve and die."

"That's mean!"

"It is mean. But bad people don't care for nobody but theyselves. With those people hungry and in pain he stood to get himself a lot of money and a lot of power, and that's what he cared about."

"But mama and daddy stopped him?"

"They sure did. They snuck into his secret hideout and blew his machine right up. And they stopped a lot of bad men, but there was one bad man they couldn't stop," my grandmother inhaled sharply, as if in pain, "Your mama and daddy got a call to arrest another bad man and his wicked woman. It was the holidays, but they put their duty first. Fine as your parents were, weren't no match for that kind of meanness. That man and his woman, they hurt them. Hurt them real bad and then killed them. Easy as you would stomp on a bug."

I began to cry at this, outraged at the injustice. In the movies and afternoon cartoons, the good guys always win. I climbed into my grandmother's lap, knowing that I would soon be too big for such things and pressed up close against her massive, pillowy bosom, she rocked me in that overstuffed armchair and whispered, "Baby, I don't tell you this to make you sad. I love you. Loved your mama, too. I tell you this 'cause one day you may get powers like your mama or your daddy and you gotta decide how you're gonna use 'em. If you use 'em just for yourself, and don't help nobody, you could end up like that bad man, mean and selfish, hurtin' people for no other reason but 'cause you can. But you got a good heart, like your mama. If you spend your life tryin' to make things right, trying to help people, then you'll make your mama proud. Just like that song you were singing, you gotta let your light shine."

Clenching my tiny fists, I raised my tear-steaked, grubby face and with the sincere ferocity that only a child can muster, swore to be one of the good guys, like my parents. My grandmother chuckled, kissed me and said, "That's enough sorrow and carryin' on for one day. Get washed up. We'll have supper. We'll talk about your parents another day."

We never did. My grandmother died six months later and I was shuffled off to Foster Care. I was eventually adopted by good, bland, ordinary people who had no idea of my heritage. But more than anything, I remembered that moment in my grandmother's front room as the moment when my life changed.

---

And another such moment is upon me. I wonder, is Julian going to leave me? He's the only person I have left to love, and I try not to let him know how much I depend on him. It's always been new territory with him, even after two years and I never know if I'm too clingy or too distant. It takes all my concentration to keep me from turning into a human floodlight and I grunt a little with the effort. Julian, taking this to be a sort of verbal cue continues, "Erik, you've never held anything back from me. You told me about your parents. You've trusted me. But there are things I've never told you," Julian pauses, leans back and manages to look both lovely and tragic in the moonlight, "I've never told you about my parents. I mean, I've never lied to you. I told you I was ashamed of them, and that I changed my name. I told you that they were horrible people. But, oh. I don't know what I'd do if you hated me, Erik."

Without thinking, "I could never hate you."

"I've been an orphan since I was eleven, and in some ways longer than that, my parents were always busy with their work. But I've never really told you what their work was. At first it was because I was ashamed and didn't want you to think I was like them--"

"You're not responsible for who your parents were."

"But as I got to know you better, learn more about who you are, it was because I was afraid to lose you."

Julian put his head in his hands and began to weep bitterly, I slipped my arm around his waist and pulled him as close as the stick shift would allow. Silently, I willed him to understand my devotion to him. After a moment he stopped sobbing and continued, haltingly, "Erik, my mother and father were Dr. and Contessa Von Wicked."

I still held onto Julian, while my stomach roiled, while the sky above me seemed to turn and wheel about in crazy patterns, as my palms began to sweat and my eyeballs began to itch, I held onto Julian. When I was eleven, I learned from a microfiche newspaper account that Dr. Von Wicked and his then-wife Contessa Julia were the primary suspects in my parent's brutal murder. In my arms was the child of the only people I'd ever managed to truly hate. And he was as much a victim of their crimes as I was. I held onto Julian, despite the horror and the pent-up rage and all the leftover adolescent frustration. I found a calm place and responded evenly, "You are not your parents. You are a good person. I love you. Your parents are dead."

Julian pulled away from me a little and his eyes grew wide and guileless, "That's just it. The reason I had to tell you the truth even though I wasn't ready. I just learned that their death five years ago was a ruse. My parents are still alive."

I wasn't able to control myself, and Julian had to shield his eyes from me. In that moment, illuminated in a harsh white glow, he looked incredibly fragile and much younger than sixteen. My choice was made, "I won't let them hurt you. I won't let them get at you, I'll protect you." Julian's mouth formed a surprised O, "You don't hate me?"

I leaned forward and kissed him savagely, pulled him close to me. Love gives us few choices, and Julian made me shine.


The Von Wicked Chronicles
by Excalibre and Evil Catullus

I remember when it was me who made you want to take over the world and enslave humanity
Latex. High heels. Knives. (Excalibre's writeup)
It's not my fault that I'm so evil
I was a teenage Overlord
Lady Deathblast's Lover
This little light of mine
The Thanksgiving battle
My funny villaintine
Robots and comic books
This wicked life
The education of little overlords
All things truly wicked
Darkness lights its own way
no rest
How it all began
Sometimes I think you love that doomsday machine more than you love me.
They are mine. They are dead.
There is a crack in everything

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