It was late, and cold, and Frank turned the corner and—
"Gimme your wallet!"
"Whoa." Frank put his hands up and tried to stay calm, because there was a dude pointing a gun at him. "Easy, man."
The guy gestured with his gun, and Frank nodded. "Okay, okay," he soothed. He started lowering his hands. "I'm just gonna reach into my pocket and get it." He matched actions to words, keeping his movements slow and careful. His mugger looked a lot strung out, and Frank did not want to get shot over his last twenty bucks.
He held it out toward the dude by the corner, flinching a little when the guy grabbed it and rifled through it. He pulled out the twenty and shoved it into his pocket. "Where's the rest? C'mon, you gotta have more than that!"
Frank shrugged. "Payday's next week." Twenty dollars would have bought him enough potatoes and ramen and beans to last until he got paid again.
"What else you got?" The guy looked him over, eyes calculating. "Gimme your jacket."
Fuck. Frank really liked this jacket. He'd bought it for two bucks at a thrift shop, and it was falling apart in the best ways. It was held together with some big, ugly Frankenstein's monster stitches that he'd done himself with upholstery thread.
"And your watch! Now, c'mon, give it to me!"
"Dude, seriously? No one in their right mind is gonna give you money for these."
"Shut the fuck up."
The guy was starting to twitch a little, so Frank bit his lip, and undid the clasp on his watch, then slipped out of his jacket. He started shivering almost immediately, the wind cutting through his sweat shirt and hoodie.
Frank was glad he'd left his guitar at the studio. "That's it, buddy. I'm a musician; not exactly rolling in the bucks."
The thing was, Frank tended to believe that people were inherently good. That faith in humanity had come back to bite him on the ass more times than he could count, and he still hadn't learned his lesson.
The mugger grabbed Frank by the collar of his sweatshirt, pressing the barrel of the gun against his head. "Listen, fucker, I need a hit and—"
"¡Por la Justicia!" a voice bellowed, right before the mugger's gun went flying. There was a flutter of blue fabric as a half-naked man grappled with Frank's mugger, folding him up into improbable positions before zip-tying his hands behind his back. Someone was clearly a fan of professional wrestling.
The mugger started blubbering about police brutality and Miranda warnings.
"Hey, you okay?" Frank's rescuer asked, picking up the gun. He twisted his hands, grunting a little, until there was a loud pop. Pieces of the gun dropped to the ground with a clatter.
"I'm not sure, to be honest," Frank replied. He'd just gotten saved from a mugger by an actual, genuine motherfucking superhero. He'd also almost gotten fucking shot by a mugger.
"Fair enough," the dude said. He was wearing a costume: spandex tights under satin-y looking briefs, tall lace-up boots, a cape, and the requisite mask, all in blue with silver accents. He was bare-chested and heavy-set, and seemed to either not care or hadn't noticed how fucking cold it was. His belly protruded above the waistband of his tights and briefs, but underneath the flab, there was a solidity that spoke of strength.
He handed Frank his wallet and watch. "Don't lose these."
Frank looked at his masked face, but all he could make out was a set of warm brown eyes, a slightly wide nose and a— "Ah, hey, your—" Frank crooked his index finger over his mouth, trying to convey 'your mustache is falling off.'
"Oh, thanks!" The dude pressed his mustache back onto his upper lip and contorted his face into an exaggerated snarl, seeming satisfied when the mustache stayed put. "That should do it."
The absurdity of the situation finally hit Frank, and he giggled. "So, hey, what's your name, dude?"
The guy looked highly offended, and drew himself up to his full height, towering over Frank.
"No, not your secret identity. Your superhero name."
"Oh." He flung his cape over his shoulder and arched his back a little. "I am El Luchador," he said grandly, throwing out an arm for emphasis.
"You're in Prestan's Guide to the Superheroes of New York City!" Frank exclaimed, suddenly remembering. "Right between Leech Lass and Multiple Man." He regretting not having his copy on hand, because he could ask El Luchador for his autograph.
"Oh, the new edition? I haven't gotten a copy yet."
"It's got a great article on the Monolith, and that new group of villains that cropped up in Queens, uh—" The name escaped Frank, and he snapped his fingers trying to jog his memory.
"The Black Hat Society?"
"I'm gonna sue you for cruel and unusual punishment!" Frank's mugger interjected, apropos of nothing.
"You're not being punished," El Luchador muttered. "Not yet, anyway." He looked at his watch. "I should probably get him down to the police station."
"So, hey, listen," Frank started. He wasn't sure exactly where he was getting the balls to do this, but there was something about El Luchador that really interested him. "Maybe we could get together sometime for coffee, compare notes on superhero sightings or something." He made himself look into El Luchador's eyes and hold them. He could do this, he was an adult, for fuck's sake, he dated and went out—
"That'd be great," El Luchador said excitedly, and just as quickly, he deflated. "Except I can't. Code of Superhero Conduct advises superheros not to get involved with innocent bystanders. It puts both the superhero and bystander at risk, if the relationship were discovered by villains or archnemeses."
"Oh." Frank tried not to feel disappointed, and it was hard not take it personally. "Okay."
"No, really," El Luchador said earnestly, "uh—"
He paused, clearly searching for something, and it took Frank a minute before he finally picked up the cue. "Oh. Frank. Frank Iero."
"—Frank, I think it'd be a lot of fun to grab a coffee with you, tell you my origin story, talk shit about who would win a no-holds barred throwdown between Batman and Superman—" He ignored Frank's huff of indignation. "—but I don't think it's a good idea. It's for your own protection, to keep you safe."
Frank didn't agree at all. He was a grown man, he could take care of himself, armed muggers notwithstanding. "I think you're wrong, but you get to make your own decisions." He pulled a Sharpie out of his back pocket, scrawled his phone number across the back of El Luchador's hand. "Give me a call if you change your mind."
"I won't," El Luchador said, but he didn't sound very convincing.
"We'll see." Frank shrugged. "And thanks for saving me. Maybe next time you can impress me with your flying skills."
El Luchador waggled his eyebrows at Frank. "There won't be a next time, Frankie. But if there were, I would most definitely impress you with my skills."
The way El Luchador purred the word made a shiver of heat race down Frank's spine. "Fucker," he said softly, and turned away before he made a bigger fool of himself than he already had. There was a swish and a startled squawk, and El Luchador and Frank's mugger were flying off into the night.
"Frank, this is James, the keyboard dude I told you about," Ray said.
They were in the control room of SL Studios, getting ready to lay some guitar tracks down.
James the keyboard dude was tall and broad, dark-haired and wearing dorky nerd glasses. He was also very familiar, somehow. Frank wasn't good with names, but he never forgot a face, and this face wasn't one that he'd seen before. Maybe. "Hi. Ray tells me you’re motherfucking talented."
Ray and James laughed as their words ran together.
"He's also very modest," Ray pointed out.
"I noticed," Frank said dryly.
"Multi-instrumentalist," Ray said. He glanced at James. "Frank is also motherfucking talented."
"I am," Frank conceded with a grin. "That's why I get paid the big bucks." What he actually got paid in was studio time. Ray got a skilled and experienced guitar player, Frank got the use of the studio, the equipment, and the personnel. It was also why Frank worked two other part time jobs to make ends meet.
James pushed his glasses back up his nose and Frank was caught by James' eyes, magnified by the lenses. He couldn't look away. "Glad to have you on board," Frank said, holding out his hand.
James took it, and a frisson of heat ran through Frank's blood. James looked started for a moment, then smiled and winked at Frank, who blushed like a kid with his first crush, what the fuck?
"I'm glad to be here," James said. "I'm looking forward to working with you."
"Me, too," Frank said helplessly. He was so fucked it wasn't even funny.
The session was productive. James was a motherfucking musical genius, though he shrugged off Frank's praise. "No, seriously, dude, the way you came up with that chord change, and then the drop—"
"But Frank, you had the idea to cut that part out of the bridge," Ray said. "The song is really starting to sound great because of both of you."
Frank laughed and waved Ray off.
"He's right," James murmured. "We're both brilliant."
Ray snorted and slapped James on the back before heading toward the control panels. "Just want to fiddle with that one bit. . ."
"He'll be here all night," Frank said. "He gets so involved with the production side of things."
"Hmmm. You wanna go get a coffee? There's a Starbucks down the street."
Frank rolled his eyes, like he wouldn't know about every Starbucks within a ten block radius of the studio. He eyed James, still pondering why he seemed so damn familiar. "Sure," he said. James was like most of Frank's friends: geeky and nerdy with a twisted sense of humor. Even after such a short time knowing him, Frank liked him. "Why not?"