Blades & Barriers: Chapter 41

                “Don’t bother changing out of costume,” Bloodfyre cautioned. “Either of you.” They’d just arrived back at base, their DVA loaner vanished as soon as she’d dropped them off, and Brett had yet to take even a single step in any direction.

                “We doing a team patrol today? All four of us walking the street, smiling at babies and scowling at evil-doers?” Justin seemed more excited than the situation really called for, until Brett remembered that he didn’t do that many patrols. Bayou was more of a working behind the scenes kind of Hero, so his apprentice had to be the same.

                “Not quite. We don’t often get days like this, where we have a reasonable certainty the odds of being called into battle are low, so it’s important we use it well.” Bloodfyre paused, and Brett’s mind filled the silence with possibilities. Would they be training? Hunting down a ruthless crook who’d evaded capture? Some sort of team tournament to see who the current strongest was?

                “I know that look,” Hammerspace said. “You’re going to the hospital.”

                “Way to ruin the surprise. I was going to wait until we got there to explain.” As a devoted intern and student, Brett would never accuse his mentor of pouting. Were Bloodfyre anyone else, however, Brett might have described his expression as at least pout-adjacent. “But yeah, Hammerspace is right. We’ve got the time to do some good, and we’re going to use it. I already had our agents put together a truck full of merch so we’ll have stuff to pass out. There are even a few Charon and Barrier pieces in the collection.”

                Bayou patted Justin on the back. “There will be some Gunk stuff coming soon as well. We just have to get you to a certain demand threshold to justify the first run. It happens slower for Subtlety Heroes, but we get there.”

                “Believe it or not, I’m okay with not being too well known yet,” Justin replied. “The way I see it, the less people who know about me, the better I must be doing my job. If I could retire with a history of doing good and no one knowing my name, I’d be the best Subtlety Hero of them all.”

                For a moment, Bayou looked a bit taken aback, then he was smiling once more. “There are rumors of a Hero, or maybe a group, who works like that, but no one I’ve talked to seems to know for sure. You may change your tune after this though. We see a lot of bad in this job, you’ve both been on it long enough to know that damn well, but there’s also a good side to it. Once you get a look at the faces of those kids being surprised by their Heroes you may decide you want a little notoriety after all.”

                “Wait, surprised? Don’t they know we’re coming?” Brett asked. “It seems like you’d have to coordinate with the staff ahead of time for this kind of event.”

                “Trust me, it’s better if no one knows until we’re there. For safety, as a starter, since there are some pieces of shit out there that would take a swing at Heroes even when we’re surrounded by sick kids. Then there’s the press. By the time we leave they’ll be clumping up at the entrance, and its fine to give them a few soundbites, but if they know we’re coming in advance they’ll sneak into the hospital and disturb the children. We’ve made arrangements with most of the local facilities and they’re okay with us doing drop-ins as long as it’s not too early or late.” Bloodfyre was grinning, not an uncommon sight as the man was more cheerful than his name implied, yet this time it was bigger than normal. Brighter too. Brett realized that this might be the first time since joining the team that he’d seen his mentor genuinely excited about something.

                “When we get there, follow Bloodfyre’s lead,” Bayou suggested. “He’s done more of these than any of us, and that’s without even counting the kids he’s met with for Dream Granters.”

                “He’s in second place for most Dream Granter visits. Can’t seem to catch up to that wrestler guy no matter how hard he tries though.” From the wry tone of Hammerspace’s voice and the smirk she threw Bloodfyre, it seemed this was a common point of teasing.

                “I’d beat him if I had the free time.” Bloodfyre replied so quickly that there was no denying he’d known the joke was coming. “And anyway, nobody is really losing in a contest like that.”

                “Except you. Because, you know, second place is still losing,” Hammerspace shot back.

                A creeping wall of green suddenly sprang up between the two, thick vines cutting off all but the barest glimpses between one another. All eyes turned to Bayou, who somehow managed to look surprised at the sudden growth despite the fact that the vines were coming from his hand. “Much as I’m sure we’d all love to watch you both bicker all day, perhaps you need reminding that our time until the next shift change isn’t infinite. Let’s get it in gear and show these rookies one of the bright spots of our world while there’s enough time to do it properly.”

                There was some grumbling from both parties, but neither Hammerspace nor Bloodfyre looked back at each other as the wall of vines withered and rotted into mere dust on the floor. “Much better,” Bayou said. “Bloodfyre, have your truck start heading over, we’ll meet them at the hospital soon. Gunk and Barrier, come help me carry some pots from my lab. I keep a supply of seeds that sprout into plants that give off therapeutic smells and those always go over big with patients and staff, so we need to bring as many as possible. Hammerspace… I guess just don’t antagonize Bloodfyre until he’s finished handling the truck issue. Everyone has five minutes and then we head out. Objections?”

                No one raised their hand or voice, so Bayou motioned for the interns to follow and headed off down a hallway. Brett and Justin stayed close, not daring to stray too far behind. As they walked, Justin elbowed Brett in the arm to get his attention. “You nervous?”

                “Not really. We’ve seen real action in the field already, after fighting criminal Supers trying to kill me the idea of being around sick kids doesn’t rate too highly on my fear-scale,” Brett replied.

                “Yeah, but criminals are easy. They hit you, you hit them, and eventually one of you stops. This is different. People are going to be looking at you expecting to be wowed and inspired, you’re a representative of the entire Hero community and everything you do or say reflects on Heroes as a whole, at least in the mind of whatever kid you’re talking too. Maybe it’s just me, but that seems like a lot of pressure.”

                “Well it didn’t until you framed it that way.” Brett closed his eyes and tried very hard not to think about the points Justin had raised. “Shit, why did you have to say all that?”

                “Seemed only fair that we both be have the jitters,” Justin explained. “And watch your mouth. If you curse in costume in front of a bunch of kids… between the team and the press I just can’t see a way that ends well.”