Blades & Barriers: Chapter 64

                In the end, Angela didn’t have to play for a table. She scanned the room once, locked onto a group whose game was winding down, and made an approach. While there were other people hanging around the walls, clearly waiting for spots to open up, Angela clearly had no time for such passive approaches. She strolled right up to the people still playing and began to chat them up. True, it wasn’t the most sparkling conversation ever bantered, but it was more than enough to hold the attention of people a few pitchers into the night. By the time their game came to an end, she’d wormed her way in enough that handing over the cues seemed like a natural way for them to end their play-time.

                Brett couldn’t help noticing a few bitter stares from the people on the wall as he accepted the cues from Angela while she began to rack the balls. There wasn’t exactly a line system in place or anything so organized, however it was impossible to feel like she’d just leap-frogged over patrons waiting their turn. Looking up from the billiards, Angela noticed him glancing over to the wall of watchers.

                “Do you know why they are standing there, and we’re getting to play?” Angela asked.

                “Because you’re some kind of drunk-whisperer?”

                “No. Well, okay, yes, that’s actually true too,” Angela admitted. “But the main reason is even simpler than that: we’re here because we took action. Those people are waiting around for what they want to happen: a table to open up. We, on the other hand, took initiative and went after a table. Good things do happen in life, but there will never be as many as if you’d gone out and made them happen for yourself.” She took a brief break to finish arranging the balls. “Something my grandpa used to tell us a lot.”

                Under different circumstances, Brett might have been more dismissive of the token advice. That was slightly harder to do when he remember that her grandfather was Captain Starlight, however. It did explain a fair bit about Angela, if nothing else. They’d been working together for a few weeks now, and he wasn’t sure Angela had a passive bone in her body. She was always active, always doing, either going after something she wanted or laying the groundwork for it. Even the less fun stuff, like training, she threw herself into without hesitation. Brett imagined it would be an interesting, and exhausting, way to live, but it seemed to work for her.

                Justin arrived not long after with a round of drinks, and just as Angela predicted he proceeded to show off his pool skills by sinking three balls in rapid succession. This soon turned into good-natured bickering between the two about who had more experience handling a “cue and balls” until Brett thankfully realized that the drinks were pretty much gone, so he excused himself to grab another round just as Angela using the cue to pantomime an act that drew a lot of stares from other people.

                Since he didn’t have Justin’s knack for slipping through a crowd, Brett was forced to wait his turn at the bar. True, he could have muscled through, he was certainly bigger than nearly everyone else here, at least in terms of arms and shoulders, but he’d never been fully comfortable throwing his weight around like that. Fighting as a Hero was one thing, it was a job that required doing, and keeping innocent people meant stopping the guilty ones by whatever means were required. Shoving around normal folks felt more like just being a dick, so Brett contented himself with waiting patiently as customers were served in order.

                “Fucking bullshit, that’s what it is.”

                The voice coming from Brett’s left was louder than the ambient noise, and he turned without meaning to, as did several of the people around him. Two guys were standing near the bar, one in a suit and another dressed more normally, although the one in the suit had added the extra accessory of noticeable intoxication. He clearly believed his level of drunkenness to be inadequate, though, as the half-full beer in his hand was drained to a quarter in a single chug.

                “I didn’t do anything, I just went downtown to buy groceries, and because some fucking Super can’t be happy with having inhuman powers and tried to rob a store, my car gets caught up in the crossfire.” While slurring, the suited man was still coherent enough to keep loudly articulating his issues, which were probably the cause for this night’s drunkenness. “And now insurance says it’s going to be at least a week before I get a replacement. Fucking. Bullshit. The government should have to deal with all this crap, not me. Or make the fucking ‘Heroes’ do it, since they supposedly work for us.”

                Brett remembered hearing about a tussle outside a convenience store a few days back. Since the Wayward Wraiths were all dealing with guard duty and investigating the drug-dealer killings, someone else had been called on to deal with it. He couldn’t recall hearing anything about it being mishandled though, that would have stood out in his mind. It was just a normal engagement, a little collateral damage but no civilian injuries. As Heroes, those were pretty much the situations they hoped for, nothing lost that couldn’t be replaced.

                “Look man, this kind of thing happens. Just be glad you had insurance in the first place. My uncle once lost a trailer during a Super fight and he didn’t have a policy on it, so the thing was just gone.” The suited man’s friend, a more sober looking fellow in jeans, was trying to talk his buddy down, aware that they were drawing stares. He gave a half-hearted wave to the rest of the bar patrons. “Sorry, my friend didn’t get the news he was hoping for from the insurance company today.”

                “Don’t apologize for me.” Another chug, and now the beer glass was completely empty. “I’m right to be pissed. Why are we just taking this? Why do we let ourselves live in a world where shit can go totally sideways because one person feels like it? It’s the Supers who should be sorry, for fucking this all up, for breaking the-”

                A heavy thud cut off the drunken rant as a burly bartender slapped a clipboard with a check attached onto the counter in front of the pair. “You’re cut off. Both of you. Now pay and leave. You want to stir that kind of shit up, do it elsewhere. I’m not having my bar wrecked because you can’t keep your mouth shut.”

                Although Brett certainly agreed that the guy needed to be cut off, the reasoning for it seemed a touch odd. Did the bartender really think some Super in the crowd would make a giant scene because a drunk said mean things? Looking around the room, Brett realized that not only was that exactly what the bartender thought, but he wasn’t alone. People had drawn in on themselves and were glancing about constantly. He even caught whispers of things like “never know where one is” and “some look human.” It was strange; the angry drinker hadn’t really bothered Brett, he was just a drunk having a bad day and taking it out on an easy target. The fear, on the other hand, unsettled him. These people were genuinely scared that saying a few cross words about Supers was going to get them all hurt, if not worse. As a Hero, Brett worked hard to make people feel safe in the world, to reassure them that if something did go wrong, there would be Supers they could count on to come save the day. Heroes were supposed to reassure humans that they didn’t have to be afraid.

                Clearly, the message wasn’t getting through as well as he’d hoped.

                When the duo left, the bartender went back to business, quickly working through orders until Brett was finally up. As he waited for the next round to be crafted, he noticed that even though the pair had left, the tension hadn’t fully dissipated. Some were still waiting for the other shoe to drop, for a Super to take umbrage at the remarks and start tearing things up. It seemed unlikely, since if it was going to happen it would have already, but Brett kept an eye out too, just in case.

                It was beyond his power to change how the world saw Supers. However, it was still his duty to protect these humans, a duty that he took quite seriously. If any intoxicated Super started looking for trouble in his presence, they would find more than they bargained for. That was why Heroes existed, to remind the other Supers of the world that no matter how strong they might be, there were still consequences for their actions.

                But for tonight, Brett tried to remind himself that he was off-duty. He accepted his drinks, tipped the bartender, and headed back into the pool area. After that scene, watching Angela and Justin make lewd comments almost seemed like a welcome change of pace.