Fifteen years ago.
The twins. Not supposed to be here.
“We’re strong together, but we’re stronger when we’re all of one mind.”
Parker and Natalie first heard this phrase when they were nine years old, listening at the kitchen door to their mom’s team argue over their latest mission.
Most of the details about this meeting grew foggy over the years. For example, if you asked the twins today about who said it, or what they looked like, you might get different answers. Parker would tell you that it was their mom’s teammate Kindred who said it, while Natalie might insist it was their mother.
What, exactly, the team was arguing about is also a matter of debate. They could have been going over failed battle tactics, or they could have been arguing over dinner options. The Watcher team worked as a cohesive unit when fighting supervillains, but they rarely agreed on anything off the battlefield.
This story isn’t about them.
It’s actually about the twins listening at the door.
“What do you think that means?” Natalie asked her brother, shrugging away from his wings as they crowded the small door space.
“What what means?” Parker said, shrugging his shoulders to give his twin more room.
“’One mind’?” Natalie quoted. She wasn’t interested in his answer; she asked it to make sure he was paying attention.
He wasn’t, really. Parker had followed his sister to the door of the living room out of curiosity, not interest. Their mom usually had her teammates over for strategy meetings, and the novelty was long gone. “I guess it means they have to agree on stuff,” he shrugged.
Natalie dreamed of being a Watcher like their mom. At nine years old she knew exactly what she wanted to be when she grew up, and that conviction never wavered. “Strong together, stronger as one,” she repeated, biting her lip.
Suddenly, a bright light illuminated the room. Sunlight streamed in around them as their father opened the curtains behind the eavesdropping children.
“You know you two aren’t supposed to listen at doors,” he said, glaring at the guilty-looking twins. He had just come from his workshop, and his face was streaked with black powder from his latest project.
Natalie and Parker’s parents seemed like polar opposites. Their mother worked as a Watcher, one of the superheroes that kept the city safe. Their father was a street magician – an illusionist – which was a difficult profession when there were people who could actually do miraculous feats.
Natalie was the first to recover from the surprise. “How else are we supposed to learn?” she asked. “That’s an actual Watcher team,” she added, in case he didn’t understand the significance. “They’re heroes!”
Parker shook his head and went back to his chair. The living room was comfortably furnished, but the only chair that Parker could comfortably lean back in was the low-backed cushioned seat at the far side of the room. He flopped down in it, stretching his wings behind him over the chair’s back as he listened to the exchange.
Their dad sat down in one of the matching recliners, pointing a clawed finger at the other one for Natalie to sit. Of the three of them, Natalie looked the most out of place: as bird-satyrs, Parker and their father both had avian traits alongside their human ones. Parker had feathery hair and wings, while their dad had a beak and talons in place of some of his fingers. Natalie, in contrast, was human: her thick blonde hair hung in curls around her face, and her softer features gave her an innocent appearance – or it would, if she didn’t insist on scowling at nearly everybody.
Their father sighed, settling into his chair. “Your mother works very hard to be a Watcher,” he told them, “but the job is dangerous. I’m not sure I want to see my children go into it. Especially you, Nat.”
“Why me?” she protested, crossing her arms to match her furrowed brow. “I’m just as good as Parker. As anybody.”
“Natalie,” their father said in a warning tone. She stopped glaring, and he nodded before answering. “It isn’t about your ability, Stinker,” he told her, using the childhood pet name that he rarely called her any more. “The doctors told us when you were little that you might never develop a third-gen ability. As twins, your brother got both the satyr and third-gen genes from your mom and me, and you were left as a regular human. Because of that, you can’t protect yourself the way he can.”
“Mom’s not a satyr either,” Natalie grumbled. “Most of her team aren’t.”
“Not many satyrs become Watchers these days,” their father conceded. “Parker, you’d do well to remember that; there are gangs out there that target satyrs, especially ones who get their Watcher license and work with a company like your mom’s.”
“I know, dad,” Parker said, shrugging again to loosen his shoulders. “Nat’s the one who wants to be a Watcher, not me.”
“So, what do you want to do?” their dad asked.
Parker tilted his head to the side. “I don’t really know,” he admitted. “I like the idea of helping people, but the Watchers look like too much work. Nat’s always been better at that.” It was true; Parker had better social skills and was good at making friends, but Natalie got better grades in school.
Natalie threw her hands up, drawing the attention back to herself. “Exactly,” she said. “So why can’t I do it?”
Their father sighed and put a hand to his forehead. “It’s not that you can’t,” he told her. “You could. I’m pretty sure you could do anything that you set your mind to, honey.” Looking directly at her, he added, “I just hope you won’t.”
The twins both gave him questioning gazes, so he continued, “Every night your mom leaves the house for patrol, it worries me. She’s on one of the best teams in the country, she had the best training and has a flawless record as a hero, and she can lift a tractor over her head. But all it takes is one villain who is more dangerous than her, and she won’t come home.” He smiled, and Parker could see his eyes glistening. “I don’t want to worry about my kids, too.”
Natalie bit her lip. Parker knew that look: her mind hadn’t changed one bit. But now she felt a bit guilty about it.
“But I don’t want anything else,” she muttered, just loud enough for them to hear.
Their father stood. “You know, as a human you’re going to have to work harder than anyone else at it. You’ll be compared to third-gens and satyrs who can use their powers or claws or wings. You’ll have to find some way to keep up with them.”
“I know,” Natalie said, her voice getting hard again. “I don’t care. I can do it.”
Their father stared at them for a second. While the details of this anecdote have been forgotten by the twins, both of them can agree that this was the moment it all started. Their father, doing his best to talk Natalie out of her dream, realized that he couldn’t. So he made a decision that would change their lives forever.
“Come with me,” he said, turning back to his workshop. “I’ve got a lot to show you.”
* * * * * * * *