Chapter 12

                “Nice job.” Mr. Greene was the first thing the team saw when they stepped through the door of their base; he stood between the living room and the kitchen with a neutral expression on his face.

                “Thank you, sir,” Galvanize responded immediately. “We were thankful to get everyone out with no injuries or deaths. It was a good day.”

                “Very good,” Mr. Greene amended. “The firefighters actually went on record thanking you for your help, the footage of Zone leaping into the building is being picked up by a station running the story, and the post-rescue photos came out looking quite striking.”

                Owen wondered how this man knew so much about pictures he hadn’t taken and stations he didn’t run, then let the curiosity slide away. This place had a lot of money, and Owen had been around more than long enough to know that with the right amount of cash there was almost nothing one couldn’t access.

                “Unfortunately, our newest team member wasn’t present in any of the group photos.” Mr. Greene’s face was still neutral, his tone still even, yet one could feel the disapproval radiating off of him. “Titan, you understand that as Hero Liaison to this team you're expected to appear alongside them, don’t you?”

                “I know what I signed up for, and I’ve got no issue with that; when time permits. My priority was taking care of a little girl who couldn’t stop herself from radiating fire. Once she was safe, I went to join in the photo-shoot, but it had already wrapped up.”

                “A girl radiating fire? Galvanize, please explain,” Mr. Greene said.

                “There was a Powered in the building. She seemed to be cloaked in flames and was unable to extinguish herself. Titan secured her, calmed her down, and arranged for her to be transported somewhere safe where she wouldn’t present a danger to herself for others. He prioritized it as higher importance than dealing with the media, and I agreed. Left unattended she could have injured someone or started a new blaze”

                Owen felt a spark of surprise at Galvanize’s words. That was only somewhat how it had happened; in truth he’d just taken the girl down and Galvanize hadn’t stopped him, but this made it sound like the actions of Titan had been done at Galvanize’s orders. The kid was putting himself on the chopping block instead of Owen.

                Mr. Greene stared at the two men for a long moment. “And why couldn’t Hexcellent have had one of her demons restrain the child? They are also fireproof, as well as less necessary on camera.”

                “The fire was coming from fear,” Owen said, not about to let Galvanize try and absorb anymore blame. “Powereds abilities often tie to their emotions. She was scared because she lost control and that fear fed her ability, causing a chain-reaction that almost torched a whole building. Hexcellent’s demons aren’t what we’d call child-friendly, so I seemed like a smarter pick for calming her down.”

                Mr. Greene remained silent for a few seconds, then seemed to relax.

                “Very well. Our first job is to provide emergency services, and it appears your choices were made with the public’s safety in mind, so missing a photo-op is an acceptable loss. Just make sure everyone, Titan included, writes up their standard post-response report. Every detail, every action, every name of every person encountered. There were no injuries today, however we all know that doesn’t preclude reports surfacing later. Good day.”

                Mr. Greene strolled out of the room, eyes staring straight ahead as he headed down the hall.

                “What’s this about reports now?” Owen looked around, finding that the rest of the team didn’t seem to share his confusion.

                “Post-response reports,” Galvanize told him. “PEERS are big targets for the occasional lawsuit. We’ll have people we pull out of cars claim we caused exacerbations to their injuries, or that our presence made things worse, stuff like that. The company can usually beat them with telepaths, but those can get muddy, legally-speaking, so one of the ways they combat it is to have us document everything we did. A lot of lawsuits have fallen apart when the person’s story didn’t match up at all to what we recorded.”

                “Sounds like a massive pain in the ass,” Owen said. “No one mentioned paperwork.”

                “Why don’t you blow it off then, like you did doing camera work?” Zone had been silent for most of the trip back, but it was immediately clear that it hadn’t been because he had nothing to say. “Just let Galvanize stand in for you again. God forbid the legendary Hero cops up to his own fuck-ups.”

                “Zone, that’s enough,” Galvanize snapped.

                “No, let him go.” Owen patted Galvanize’s shoulder, then turned to face Zone. Looking the younger man in eye required Owen to tilt his head and noticeable incline. “He’s been biting back his tongue since I got here; that shit isn’t healthy. Come on, kid, if you’ve got something to say then say it.”

                “Gladly! I think it was a mistake to bring you on. Mirror Fog was a Hero, but he wasn’t like you. He was a decent guy, humble, never looking down on us. But you? From the minute you stepped in here you’ve acted like Babe Ruth sitting at a tee-ball game. The photo-op was just one more example of the real problem: you think you’re better than us. You didn’t want to be seen with us. And while I’m used to that from Heroes, to see it from you just chaps my ass, because you are in no fucking way better than us. ”

                Zone’s face was red, a vein bulging near the top of his forehead. He looked half-ready to swing; likely the only thing holding him back was the knowledge that it would injure his hand if he struck Titan’s legendary body. Owen leaned closer, until he was less than a foot from the fuming man’s face.

                “And what, pray tell, makes me so much worse than the other Heroes?”

                “Because you’re a goddamned coward.” Zone spun around and stormed out of the living room, off toward the gym.

                Owen stood, frozen in place. He’d expected any number of things to come out of Zone’s mouth: bigotry, arrogance, outright hate, but he hadn’t been braced for that little bastard to cut to the quick of him. Coward. That was what he’d called himself countless times over his years in exile. He’d tormented himself with that word for so long, but it had been a private pain. It had genuinely never occurred to him that others would see his failings all on their own.

                “Ignore Zone, he’s got a short fuse and an ego bigger the he needs,” Galvanize said. “He’ll calm down once I explain that you skipping the photos wasn’t a personal slight.”

                “It’s fine,” Owen said at last. He looked over; noticing that while Galvanize was keeping the peace, Hexcellent and Bubble Bubble had both remained silent after Zone’s rant. One look at their faces told him why: they agreed with their teammate. Maybe not about him being worse than other Heroes, but certainly about him thinking he was too good for them. And they weren’t really wrong, were they? He had been thinking that way, ever since Lenny handed him their folder.

                “I promise, we’ll get things smoothed out-”

                “Just show me where to get one of those report things,” Owen said. “Please. I want to get it done with.” As much as he would have liked to sink into a funk over his lifetime of failings, Owen needed to knock the paperwork out as soon as possible.

                Little as he felt like going, he still had to meet with Gale.