Brookacres, White Coast_
Wendy, Rori and the others had their own things to handle, leaving Rowan with a chance to deal with his. One thought had been stuck in his head when it came to that.Mom.
A visit to her was long overdue, he figured, but every time he gave thought to it, he put it off. Not now,
he'd thought, another time, maybe.
But there was only so long that he could delay before he had a nagging feeling from the pit of his stomach.
Last time he'd spoken to her had been about four months ago through a payphone and he hadn't actually seen
her since he'd left with the others in the RV and part of him was perhaps afraid of finding out what had happened to her in the last three years, since phone calls could only tell him so much. Another part of him perhaps felt just a little guilty for leaving her behind, but he'd had his reasons for leaving Baybridge and Mom had even encouraged him to go, lying to the DOVEs when they'd finally shown up at her doorstep to inform her that her son was supposedly 'missing'. She might have had her problems but she'd still cared about him, still done what she could to look out. That counted for something, didn't it? So what did he have to lose?Nothing,
Heading back to Brookacres was something of a ride down the history books. Not much had changed: a few of the older houses or other buildings that had been trashed in the riots had been torn down or left to rot, but otherwise the place was in the same worn down state as before, if not worse. The same kind of bars as those that the old man used to visit were still dotted around, attracting the same kind of people - it didn't make for a great picture. For good measure, he kept his hoodie thrown up, just to make it that little bit harder to catch a look at his face. It wouldn't have gone well if someone by chance recognised him and especially if it was one of those 'people', it was some bullshit he wasn't interested in dealing with.
Eventually, he was the end of his old street. Almost nothing had changed here at all, save maybe the cars parked here were different. 'Home' was the same. Perhaps the only thing he noticed that was different was a different car parked on the drive. At least she was getting out, it seemed.
Rowan hadn't planned on knocking on the front door, though, as going around the back was a safer bet since people were less likely to spot him. An example being the guy in a parked in a Ford at the end of their street, cigarette smoke billowing from an opened window.
Climbing over the fence was easy enough, though when it came to crossing the distance from the edge of the backyard to the door, it felt like a mile. Then, just before he could reach out, Rowan paused in hesitation. He took another deep breath, then rapped his knuckle against the door.
"You drop your ball in my backyard again?" A soft, albeit wearied voice eventually called out from within, a rattling sound coming from the handle, "It's polite to knock at the front, you know-" Patricia Campbell trailed off the moment she'd opened the door, having quickly recognised the stranger in the backyard.
"It's me, Mom." Rowan said, picking up on the awkward silence which had followed the opening of the door. "You uh... grew a beard." She said, with a nervous chuckle.
"Yeah, I guess." He answered, only to be pulled into a maternal embrace straight after with such a strength that he wondered whether she'd ever let go, maybe fearful of losing him again. Eventually she spoke up, her voice nearly cracking, "You're a man now, beard and all, but it's good to have you back home. I missed you."
Rowan had never been good at this kind of thing, but he found himself answering her with an equally nervous tone, "I... I uh, I missed you too, Mom."
After what felt like an hour (though in truth it had barely been half a minute) the woman released her son from the embrace, turning back towards the house and heading back inside. For a moment, Rowan paused, a little uncertain as to how he should've acted in the moment, only to get a voice calling him in. "What are you waitin' for?" She asked, "Place doesn't bite."
It was strange, in a way - he'd been able to tell that she spoke differently to before from hearing her on their phone calls, but it was a different thing seeing it in the flesh. Whatever bullshit that the old man had put her through in the past, it seemed to have melted away, revealing a woman with a confidence he'd never seen before.
Habitually wiping his feet, he stepped inside and could quickly tell that things had
The place was cleaner, for one and he noticed that any photos of the old man which had been hung up or on display before were gone, leaving just a few of Rowan from his childhood years or of Mom herself. Not to mention there had been a few other, more drastic redecorations since he'd left, including repairs to the damage caused by his last outburst against the old man. Guess Mom used some of the money,
he thought, recalling how he'd left her some of his share of the 'compensation' that had been given to them three years ago.
Moving into the kitchen, Rowan took a seat at one of the chairs and reclined whilst his Mom deigned to lean against the counter. "You hungry?"
"I was gonna do something anyway." His Mom started, "No seriously, what do you want?"
"I said I'm fine
," Rowan answered with a sharper tone than he'd intended, if the look on her face was anything to go by, "But... thanks, anyway."
She was persistent, though. "Please, you look like you haven't ate much anyway and this is the first I've seen you in a long time, I'm gonna get you something. No arguments.
" The look on her face said no more.
Eventually he chose to relent, "Alright, sure. Do whatever, I guess."
Nodding, Patricia Campbell pivoted on her heel and moved over to the fridge, fumbling around for whatever was inside, "I take it you haven't gotten too good for left overs?" She asked with a wry tone, arching an eyebrow.
"I look like it?" Rowan retorted with a smirk.
In the end, Rowan had been somewhat glad his Mom had been so insistent on his getting something to eat, especially since these leftovers she'd heated up were better than expected. After all, life on the road had given him even more of an appreciation for decent food, particularly when one might not have had the opportunity to get their hands on it otherwise.
"So, how'd your little 'road trip' go? Is everything alright? No trouble, nothin'?"
"No, it's all good." Rowan said between his last couple mouthfuls of food, deciding it was better not to go into the finer details of his time on the road and certainly not to his and Wendy's investigation of Sean Rosier's research. Before she had a chance to pick up on his dismissive answer, he quickly flipped the question on her. "What about you, Mom?"
"I'm doing good, you know? Cleaned up, even go to the local AA once a week. Had some... hard moments, but I got through 'em. Thought of you."
"That's good." A faint smile formed across his face at the thought, "Nobody bothers you?" But he continued to press, partially because he wanted to make sure they changed the subject and partially because he was genuinely concerned for her.
"No, no - well, some of his
'friends' are still around, but they don't bother me and even if they did, I can take care of myself." He knew who she'd meant by 'his' and for a moment his face somewhat darkened. She must've picked up on it though, because she quickly spoke up again. "But, Rowan - just avoid 'em, please. You don't want any trouble and I don't, either - don't go looking for it where there isn't any."
"Yeah." He shrugged at her remark. "Won't be trouble." Pressing a palm into the table to stand and pushing his chair back with his heel, Rowan picked up his now emptied plate and headed over towards the sink, then twisted the faucet to rinse it off. Only then, he noticed on the kitchen shelf was a new photo, one containing his Mom and a man of about her age. "Who's this?" He asked, shooting her a quizzical glance.
"Oh, that's Wyatt - didn't I tell you?"
"I uh, I met someone, Rowan. He's a good guy, not a deadbeat, I promise you - I met him at AA."
"Really?" He asked, raising an eyebrow. "How long?"
On that, she seemed to hesitate, though she soon gave an answer, "Almost a year."
"You never said anything on the phone about this Wyatt guy."
"Oh, Rowan... it was early days, then. And I thought I did but I guess I just didn't want you to worry, I thought it would be best to tell you properly when we... you know, met? Like now?"
"I guess." He shrugged.
"But I haven't told him everything about you. All he knows is that you're not living here, that we haven't seen each other in a long time. He doesn't know about before, that you're on a list, or that you're... y'know."
"One of them?
" Rowan set the plate done, having probably rinsed it more than a dozen times over at this point. "Just say the fucking word, Mom. Metahuman.
"Hey, calm down, alright? He's not like your d-.. like before, I promise. He isn't a bigot and neither am I so don't start acting like it." She said, almost apologetically, causing a pang of guilt to claw at him from the pit of his gut.
"Look, Mom - I'm sorry, I didn't mean to... yeah, I believe you. I know you wouldn't do that to me, or to yourself, okay? I'm just glad to see you doin alright and seeing this place again, it's a lot."
This time he headed over towards her and made up with an embrace of his own. "I know it is." She murmured.
Eventually they broke away from one another and after a few more minutes of idle chatter, they came to the next subject. "Where are you staying now, anyway?"
"Same as before? Uh, Wendy, right?"
"Yeah, she's good."
That wry look flashed across her face again, but before she was tempted to say anything, she seemed to keep quiet on it. "Well, you know you've always got a place here, right?"
"I know. Thanks, Mom."
On his way out, Rowan checked up side of his street for a good measure, a habit he'd picked up from the last few years, where he noticed something more than a little odd - the guy parked in his Ford at the end of the street was still there, still dragging on a cigarette. That's one long smoke.
Perhaps it was just coincidental, but he wanted to certain there wasn't something else going on. Having the reputation that he and Wendy had developed since they'd left Baybridge was enough reason to be suspicious.
For good measure he intentionally headed back up the side of the street towards the approach, then past the green car again in full view, then took a long detour away from the house, down a side alley. Once he was a reasonable distance away he checked over his shoulder and there it was again, slowly crawling up the road. Same car, same asshole.
It was subtle, he had to give it that, but anybody who'd been paying attention would've recognised that they were being tailed.
Briefly, he contemplated losing it by weaving in and out of a couple more side roads and alleyways, but then another plan came to mind. Instead, he took a route towards one of the bars he'd passed earlier - this was one that the old man had spent some of his time at - with the intent of leading his would-be tail along.
Outside were a couple patrons enjoying a smoke or some idle chatter, though they were all strangers. There wasn't much of a parking lot so to speak, so those patrons who had driven there were parked outside, which was where Rowan found his gaze drifting towards one particular ride, a '14 GMC Yukon which he was almost certain had belonged to one of the old man's 'friends'. He glanced over his shoulder yet again and saw the Ford crawling up, the driver actively sweeping their gaze across the street in an effort to find where he was, though this meant it would only work in his favour. Eyes on the road, asshole.
Rowan clenched his palm into a fist and gesticulated inwards with his elbow. The screech of rubber against asphalt came first as the Ford swerved off-course, then the sound of a crash. To anyone who had been observing, it would've looked as though the driver of the Ford had just veered off and rear-ended the parked Yukon. True to form, one of the patrons who'd been enjoying a smoke moments before was heard shouting to some of the others inside, before a group of about four more patrons (including the vehicle's owner) swarmed out to the scene of the accident.
It took all of Rowan's restraint not to burst into laughter at the sight of it. Enjoy.
Heading off again, he was at least glad to have shaken the tail, the bonus being that it had been at the expense of another asshole, too.
It did raise a problem, though - if someone was willing to leave a tail outside his Mom's place, what about Wendy? He had to give her some kind of warning at least. Once he was a few blocks down, Rowan retrieved his phone and hastily fired off a text towards her.
Watch your back, someone tried to follow me.
She probably was
watching her back already, but at least he could've breathed a little more easily knowing that he'd done what he could to let her know.
There were still a few hours for him to kill, though - but Rowan already had an idea in mind; there was a mall in Prince Ed-Field where he'd heard some of the store prices were lower than most, a consequence of being hit by those Founder assholes a few years back. Normally he'd have put that kind of thinking to the back of his head, but before he'd left the house, he'd checked on the stash of cash he'd left behind three years ago and took a small sum of it for himself.
This way, Rowan hoped he'd get a chance to grab something for Wendy without having some asshole mall cop pull him up, accusing him of shoplifting or some other crap like that.
Courtbridge, Prince Ed-Field_
A few days into this job and things had already taken a somewhat tumultous turn of events. Frank himself had seen a small measure of the threat that was ZODIAC and was one to realise why they were regarded as such a grave threat, if the infamous massacre that had occured three years ago wasn't an indicator of this fact. With this in mind, he could've have blamed these people for their anger at having taken such losses over the years. The same could have been said, however, for the sentiment that he felt had been directed towards him.
Granted, they had known him for barely more than a few days, but he'd picked up on the disdain and other disparaging remarks that would occasionally be overheard when one mentioned the 'MISW'. There was no animosity to speak of, but he had doubts when it came to the confidence that some agents had in his own abilities as an agent - he was after all an outsider. And one from a disgraced organisation, at that. It was grating, though he'd done as best as he could to avoid showing it.
In the case of Agent Taylor, who was one of the only senior field agents that he had been given a chance to work under, it seemed as though the man had acknowledged his capability, yet they had only known each other from a professional perspective, at arm's length. For what it was worth, Frank himself had figured out how the man had probably come to reside in a senior field position as he did. Taylor oozed determination after all, especially when in the range of an empath. Not that he would've said anything about that last note - picking up on other people's feelings was a bad habit.
Director Taylor on the other hand was another story, the way he'd heard - apparently the Director had been a cop at one point before the Verthaven disaster, but had then been recruited straight to DOVE and had enjoyed a successful career from then and onwards. That a man of his age could've risen so high in just shy of a decade was itself a remarkable achievement, though meeting him in person had given Frank an idea as to why the leadership had slated him for the job. It was a funny thought that his elder brother held a lesser role in the twin organisation, at least from a hierarchical perspective.
There was also Agent Zhao, whom he'd briefly encountered during their operation at the docks - she was more alike the Director's brother, though she had her own kind of drive. That one, he'd sensed some sort of disdain as he had with the others.
As for most of the others, he'd had little chance to meet or even gain an awareness of who they really were, or how they would really take to him. And it was a rather strange thought as to how the two organisations of DOVE and RAVEN operated without clashing, but it seemed that the two had some form of arrangement. Still, referring to them as 'DOVE-RAVEN' seemed a bit of a mouthful, but who was he to judge? 'Metahuman Intelligence and Social Welfare' was even more long-winded and perhaps the one thing he was certainly hopeful for with the reforms back home was that they'd come up with a more suitable name.
Time would tell, hopefully - Frank more than anyone realised that he would be working with these people and that it depended on him
to make good use of this experience.
In today's case, the Briton had been partnered up with a RAVEN by the name of Yeun on patrol duty, making rounds through Prince Ed-field in a cruiser. Hours had passed by without anything remarkable taking place, unless he'd counted the brief situation where they'd been called in to accompany the BPD in defusing a petty argument at some fancy restaurant, involving a few belligerant (but ultimately non-violent) metahumans.
Nothing had come of that
situation, but it was another cultural difference that Frank noticed - here, metahumans could be seen and noticed more often in the public eye, unlike back home. At least up until recently, anyway.
Otherwise, with the hours having passed by, Frank and his US counterpart had agreed on a break from roaming around the Courtbridge in favour of paying a visit to the local shopping center, the Orchestra Mall. Technically speaking, it fell under their assigned patrol district for the day and gave them the opportunity to grab something to eat, perhaps shop around for a few minutes before other matters called them back to actual work.
After Yeun had pulled up in the parking space outside the mall, Frank found himself dwelling on things yet again, enveloped in his own thoughts. Yet he found the sight of the place to be somewhat underwhelming and it didn't exactly strike him as one of the gargantuan shopping hubs he'd expected to find - in fact, he'd have argued that a trip to town back home would've held something more worthwhile.
"No offence, but it looks like it's seen better days." Frank remarked to his temporary partner.
"Doesn't surprise me," Yeun shook his head, "Those Family douchebags hit this place a couple of years ago, took some people hostage. I know a few guys who were there, it was screwed up."
"This was one of the places?" Frank asked, raising an eyebrow. "Right, explains a lot, I suppose."
"Yeah." Yeun grunted, dismissively.
Realising that he'd probably touched upon a raw nerve for the man, Frank quickly spoke up again. "Alright then, let's grab something to eat."
Besides, they were already at their stop. Who knew, maybe there was something worthwhile here.