Ronnie ended the phone call and jumped up too excited to stay in bed any longer, but the movement was too quick for his sore ribs. He cradled his side and cracked a smile which soon turned into a quiet laugh. He had just called the Syndicate and told them he wanted to be a superhero… but now what? Was there some sort of procedure moving forward? There were so many things he needed to figure out, and fast.
But until that time, Ronnie supposed he had to just go on with life. He padded to the kitchen, muscles still aching from the night before. He was starving again, and began pulling things out of the fridge to make dinner. As he turned on the griddle and started lining up the beginnings of a grilled cheese sandwich, Ronnie found himself once again distracted by thoughts of the Syndicate. He saw so many incredible things last night: flying cars, stealth jets, floating medical robots. The public didn’t have access to any of that, and he couldn’t imagine what else he would see once he started training.
And then there was Silver Cyclone. Ronnie felt like he hadn’t been able to get the hero out of his head all day. There was just something about him, other than the fact that he came to Ronnie’s rescue. Silver Cyclone had seemed truly invested in how Ronnie was doing, and it was nice to think that he might be able to help on this weird new journey.
“Of course, he was also crazy tall and handsome,” Ronnie thought to himself. “Those dark eyes! And that smile?” He thought back to how it felt being supported by the hero’s strong arms. Safe and Protected. Not an ideal scenario, obviously, but Ronnie decided wouldn’t mind finding himself there again. The thought of it made him blush.
He sighed, feeling like a total idiot, but the idea was intoxicating. No wonder so many damsels found themselves falling for their protectors. Ronnie shook the image away from his mind. “Ugh, I don’t even know who he is!”
Ronnie was throwing more sandwiches on the griddle when his father shuffled into the kitchen. “Smells good,” he said. Ronnie handed him a plate with a grilled cheese and a bowl of tomato soup. It was simple, but exactly the sort of comfort food they needed. “You’re the best, kiddo.”
They had both started in on their food when the doorbell rang. Ronnie and his father looked at each other, puzzled. Who could be visiting at dinner time on a Sunday night?
“You expecting company, kiddo?”
“Not me, I figured you had a hot date or something.”
“Heh,” The doorbell rang again. “Go see who it is.”
Ronnie got up and ran for the door. He opened it to find a young man in a dark suit standing on the front porch. The stranger had dark swept back hair that matched his eyes. Ronnie thought they were the deepest he had ever seen. His skin was smooth and brown, and his cheeks darkened slightly when he met Ronnie’s gaze.
“Good Evening, Mr. Nolan,” the man said warmly. “I understand you’ve accepted our offer.”There was something about the man’s tone of voice that seemed familiar. Ronnie’s eyes were drawn to a pin on his lapel. It was an insignia that he immediately recognized. Syndicate!
“Sorry, do I know you?”
“Only my alter-ego, I’m afraid.” The man held out his hand. “Taran Weber. It’s nice to ‘officially’ meet you.” He winked at Ronnie and then whispered. “How are you feeling? Better I hope?”
Ronnie took his hand and smiled. He wasn’t expecting to see Silver Cyclone again so soon, much less learn his secret identity. “Oh shit, he’s even cuter without the mask,” he thought to himself, “And that suit goes nice with his eyes.”
Ronnie willed himself to not be awkward. “Hey, come on in! We’re just having dinner, do you want anything?” He led Taran into the house. “Dad, visitor!”
“What’s that?” Greg called from the table.
Ronnie pulled up an extra chair for Taran and sat back down. He was still confused as to why the other man was here, and why did he look so official?
“Good evening, Mr. Nolan. My name is Taran Weber, and I’m a representative of the Syndicate of Heroes, based at the Liberty City headquarters.”
“Well it’s good to meet you!” Greg’s eyes lit up as he shook Taran’s hand, “Big fans of the Syndicate, aren’t we Ronnie? Had a chance to work with a couple of your boys back in the day. Always were professional when working with the PD,” he settled back in his chair, “What can we do for you, Mr. Weber?”
“I’m here to respond to your son Ronnie’s application for Syndicate Support, and formally offer him a placement in our internship program.”
Ronnie choked on a spoonful of soup. Coughing, he scrambled to clean up the mess.
Taran continued. “Your son completed an application a while back, and we were impressed with his background. We’d like him to join the team.”
Greg looked at Ronnie from across the table. “You never told me you applied for any Syndicate internship. Don’tcha have to be in school for one of these?”
Ronnie tried to hide a look of panic. He had no idea what to say.
Taran shook his head with a smile. “Our program looks for the best candidates regardless of education status. But I would like to stress that this would look very good on a college application when the time comes.” He glanced over at Ronnie with a look that said, “I got this,”.
Greg stared into his soup bowl and thought a while. He looked up at his son. “What about your job? I know you were planning on using that money to pay for tuition next year.” He shifted uncomfortably in his chair. He hated talking about money, especially with strangers.
“This is a paid internship, Mr. Nolan.” Taran said kindly. “The Syndicate isn’t a supervillain organization,” Greg snorted. “In addition, upon completion of the internship Ronnie would be eligible for academic scholarships or a full time position. We do what we can to reward hard work.”
Ronnie was impressed, it seemed that Taran had thought of everything.
Greg leaned back in his chair and whistled. He looked at Ronnie as if he were trying to figure out the catch. “Well son, what do you think?”
“I think it sounds like a great opportunity, Dad. And it would really help us out.”
“When would he start?”
Taran looked at Ronnie. “You’d be able to start as soon as possible. The hours are long and the work is challenging, But there’s no better job in the world.”
Ronnie started down at his plate. His heart was pounding in his chest. “This is actually happening,” he thought.
“What about the diner?”
“Shit,” Ronnie hadn’t thought about that. He was supposed to be filling in for Brad while he was away this summer. Rita and her family were depending on him. “I’ll have to explain it to them, I’m sure they will understand.”
“What’s this about a diner?” Taran asked, looking around the room.
“My job. I work at Rita’s diner on Westfield.”
“Oh really? I know that place. Run by the García family, correct? Their daughter Mari is actually an alumna of the program.” Taran glanced at Ronnie knowingly. “I’m sure she’ll be more than happy to hear about your placement.”
Ronnie’s eyes widened. Mari was Syndicate?! That would explain why she wasn’t afraid to work the late shift by herself. “Well it seems like everything's falling into place then.” He looked at his father. “Dad, I really want to do this.”
Greg nodded. “This sounds like a wonderful opportunity. Ronnie’d be honored to accept.”
“Wonderful! You can start tomorrow if you’d like, just be at headquarters at 10am for orientation,”
Ronnie smiled in agreement.
Taran stood up to make his leave, but Greg stopped him.
“You need to have a seat, Mr. Webber. This calls for a sundae!” Greg got out of his chair and headed behind the kitchen counter. “Ronnie, get me some bowls, would ya?”
Taran looked at Ronnie and cocked his head. Ronnie could only shrug and do what he was told.
“When you’ve got something to celebrate, you have a sundae.” It was one of his father’s quirks, and everyone would just have to go along with it. The man loved ice cream. Soon, large bowls heaped with all the toppings were placed on the table.
The three sat in the kitchen for quite a while, puddles of melted ice cream in their bowls as they listened to Greg tell stories of when Syndicate heroes worked with the LCPD. Some of the stories were quite old, and Ronnie had heard them countless times. He watched Taran during all of this and found him completely enthralled. Taran would sometimes look over and catch Ronnie’s eye, which made him look away with a blush. The air felt electric and they laughed as Greg recounted the glory days.
After some time, Taran looked at his watch. “This has been a great evening, but I really need to head back.” He stood up from his chair, and shook Greg’s hand. “It was a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Nolan.”
“Likewise, Mr. Weber.”
Taran looked at Ronnie, “I’ll be seeing you first thing tomorrow.”
“Hey, let me walk you to your car,” Ronnie led Taran out the front door and the screen slammed shut behind them. The metallic slap echoed in the quiet evening air. It had started to cool down, and a cricket chirped from somewhere in the yard. Taran stretched as he walked down the sidewalk toward the curb. He turned to face Ronnie, looking happy and relaxed.
“That was by far the best home visit ever!”
“I can’t believe how formal you were! I barely recognized you in there!”
Taran laughed, “Ah, perhaps now you’ve seen my real mask!” He gasped with dramatic horror, and then cracked up again. “Your dad’s a delight, by the way.”
“Yeah, he’s a cool guy”
“Normally parents take a lot more convincing! I barely had to even do the spiel.”
Ronnie smiled. “He was a cop, remember? He’s used to the idea of duty for the greater good. I think part of him wishes he could have joined the Syndicate when he was younger.”
They arrived at the familiar black town car parked a little ways down from the house. Both of them fell silent, and Ronnie suddenly found himself not wanting to say goodbye. It was the most at ease he had felt since the incident, and he wasn’t ready for the night to be over quite yet.
Taran seemed to be holding on to the moment as well, and lingered on the sidewalk. “Welcome aboard, Ronnie. I’m really happy to have you on the team.” He looked over at him and smiled.
Ronnie didn’t think he’d ever be able to get over how bright that smile was. “It’s nice to see you without the mask. I like it.”
“Well, you’re official now. You get to know my secret identity!” He made a mock serious face. “If you tell anyone, I’ll have you imprisoned in the vault!”
Ronnie laughed. “I’m sure you’re full of secrets. But no worries, they’re safe with me.” His easy demeanor surprised him. He wasn’t sure exactly what it meant, but he liked it.
Taran bit his lip and looked down at his feet, which Ronnie couldn’t help but find adorable. “Listen, things are going to be changing really quickly for you. Training is going to hit you hard and fast, and there are going to be times when you’re super frustrated. I just wanted you to know that you can count on me if you ever need someone to talk to.”
“Thanks, Taran. That means a lot.”
“You’re going to be great, I just know it.”
“I’m glad that you have so much faith in me.”
“Don’t mention it,” he smiled again. Ronnie felt like they had both been smiling all night. “Now, for tomorrow. It’s important that you—” Taran stopped mid-sentence like he heard something that alarmed him. He held up a finger to Ronnie and with the other hand tapped at his ear. “Silver Cyclone. What?!” His eyes lit up with surprise, and then quickly turned to worry. “I’m on my way now.” He touched his ear again and looked at Ronnie. “I’m really sorry. I need to go.”
“Is everything ok?”
“I don’t really have to time explain right now. I’ll see you tomorrow, ok?” Taran reached into the inside pocket of his jacket and pulled something out. It was his silver domino mask. He placed it over his eyes and gave Ronnie another apologetic look. “Sorry again.”
There was a gust of wind as Taran took off into the sky. Ronnie covered his eyes as it blew against his face. He tracked tried to track Taran’s flight, but his dark suit made him difficult to see against the night sky. The wind died down and Ronnie knew he was alon