Blades & Barriers: Chapter 14

                Brett had come in to his first day as a Hero intern expecting it to be long, arduous, and tiring. All of those expectations were met too, just not in any of the ways he’d expected. Instead of a hectic day out in the field, fighting tooth and nail to keep the city safe, Brett had barely used his power at all. Most of the day was spent in meetings and filling out forms. He understood the necessity of it, but that didn’t make the process any more enjoyable. By the time Danny’s final slideshow was wrapped up, Brett felt like he’d gone through ten rounds of aggressive sparring without being able to use his shield. He and Justin exited the conference room, bundles of packets in their hands, expecting to grab a quick bite and then sleep away the fugue that had descended upon them.

                Angela’s presence in the hallway was the first tip that they probably weren’t going straight to bed. In spite of himself, Brett perked up a little. Maybe they’d be seeing some action on their first day after all. Everyone knew criminals were more active at night and the sun had certainly set over Port Valins.

                “Something up? Are we needed?” Brett failed to keep the excitement from his voice and he didn’t care. After hours of being in meetings with Danny, Brett would have leapt out the window for a chance to stop a jaywalker.

                “If by ‘something’ you mean dinner then yes, something is definitely up.” Angela motioned for them to follow, and both fell in line behind her. “You guys noticed Unseelie’s whole emphasis on trust and communication today I assume. Well, she takes that stuff beyond just the battlefield. As teammates, we’re all expected to have a high-level of constant interaction to make sure everyone is always connected and talking. Thus, dinner is a team event, save for those with special circumstances. Unless you’ve got work or something personal, expect to eat with the rest of us every night.”

                “In my family, we generally just ate off TV trays in the living room,” Justin said. “This should make for an interesting new experience.”

                Brett was going to reply, but before he had a chance they rounded a corner back into the kitchen area. Only now, a large table that definitely hadn’t been there before was stacked high with takeout food containers, and around the table sat the entire team of the Wayward Wraiths. Bloodfyre and Bayou were both seated with empty chairs next to them, an obvious cue made unmissable when Angela took her own place next to Unseelie. There were two more women present at the table as well: one wearing sweats and a tank top with her short chocolate-colored hair pulled into a small ponytail and another whose styled blonde locks and tasteful blouse/skirt pairing made her look like she’d just come from a PR event.

                “Brett, Justin, you already know your mentors,” Unseelie greeted. “Allow me to introduce the last two members of the Wayward Wraiths: Juliet and Millicent. Of course, you’d know them both better as Hammerspace and Panic.”

                Both women rose from their chairs, walking over and giving the new interns handshakes. “Pleasure to meet you,” Juliet said. Since she was wearing a tank-top, it was easy to see the well-defined muscles running along her arm as she squeezed Brett’s hand. No real surprise, everyone who graduated from the HCP did so in top-shape, although she looked rather impressive even by those standards. Millicent wasn’t quite so overtly imposing, but anyone who had seen what happened when Panic used her ability knew better than to dismiss her for lack of a hulking form.

                “Glad to meet you both,” Millicent said as she made her rounds. “And please, call me Milly. I’ve never understood why my parents gave me such a formal first name.”

                “Yes ma’am,” Brett agreed, and to his surprise Milly seemed to stifle a laugh.

                “Save the ma’ams for Unseelie. I’m still a little young for them.”

                “You trying to imply that I’m old?” Unseelie called from across the table.

                “Old is such a negative term. Let’s say you have a great deal more wisdom and experience than the rest of us and leave it at that.” Milly released Brett’s hand, which he was extremely grateful for as getting clear of the woman taunting Unseelie seemed a wise strategic move.

                “Y’all do remember that I’m the oldest one here, right?” Bayou asked. “So whatever you say for her goes double for me.”

                “Then you must truly have wisdom for the ages.” Milly paused, read the room, and apparently decided it was wise to cut herself off there rather than really push things as she headed back to her chair.

                Brett followed, taking the open seat next to Bloodfyre, or rather, Cecil (Brett was not getting used to that anytime soon) and gave his mentor a quick nod. Cecil flashed him a smile and thumbs up, as if to say he’d made the right choice by not getting drawn into Milly’s shenanigans. Unseelie didn’t appear bothered by them, instead she was rising from her chair, glass of water in hand. It was only then, seeing everyone seated together as a team, that Brett realized he’d learned the civilian name of everyone except Unseelie. There was the chance it was a coincidence or oversight, but that felt unlikely. She didn’t seem the type to do anything by accident.

                “Welcome everyone, and a special hello to our two newest team members,” Unseelie said. “I know the first day dealing with Danny and the DVA forms is a tough one, and we commend you both for making it all the way through. That’s no small feat, Elmer fell asleep during his DVA orientation meeting, although the speaker he dealt with wasn’t nearly as engaging as Danny.”

                Elmer shook his head while the rest of the table laughed gently, and Brett got the feeling this wasn’t the first time he’d been teased for taking an impromptu nap during orientation. It felt curiously good-natured though, he was surprised by how much warmth radiated from all around the table. Seeing Hero teams on the news, Brett had always imagined them as grim and stalwart, only speaking to deal with impending threats or talk tactics. But this one acted like a group of friends hanging out, which made a certain amount of sense when Brett imagined how much they must have all been through.

                “Now, and interns listen closely because this is for your benefit, while we eat I like to have everyone go through their independent activities for the day and report anything the team needs to know about. Can anyone guess why we do that?”

                While Brett had a hunch it was about sharing in a communal setting, Justin beat him to the punch by speaking up immediately.

                “Because from what Danny outlined on the section regarding expenses, if we talk business then you can charge the cost of the meal back to the DVA.”

                There was a slight pause around the table, before Juliet muttered, “Holy shit, that’s the first time anyone has guessed right.”

                “I think that’s the first time anyone actually listened well enough during orientation to catch those details.” There was a trace of pride in Elmer’s voice, and he patted his apprentice on the back several times.

                “Well-reasoned, Justin. That’s right; we rarely have the time to cook, so by treating this as our nightly group meeting we get to order in without racking up huge bills. It’s also a useful way to keep up with what everyone is doing. People may skip meetings, but not even Heroes tend to turn down free food.” Unseelie sat back down, then motioned to Milly. “On that note, Millicent, would you like to start things off while we fill our plates?”

                “I’ll be glad to, but you might not have such great appetites by the time I’m done,” Milly warned. “Today’s meeting was a bust. Like it or not, the diplomats from United Avalon are coming to visit Port Valins.”