Chapter 15

               When Hexcellent walked into the living room the next morning, she was struck with a smell that was foreign and familiar all at once. She’d been with Morent Holdings as a PEERS for over two years, subject to their rules, restrictions, and endless examinations. One aspect of that included a carefully controlled and monitored diet, to ensure everyone on the team looked camera-ready at all times. This meant that in her time doing the job she'd somehow managed to forget this heavenly aroma’s source; a memory which came flooding back as she witnessed Titan adding his latest batch of flapjacks to an already sizable stack.

                “Morning,” he greeted. “I made pancakes.” He was dressed in sweats again, though this time they were topped with a cream-colored apron what was far too small for him. It was no surprise, Hexcellent recognized it from their linen closet. It was a communal apron they used when cooking, and no one else on the team had the same proportions as Titan.

                “Galvanize is going to fucking shit when he sees those,” Hexcellent said, walking over to examine Titan’s culinary efforts. She was clad in a black tank-top and silk pajama pants with silver spider-webs stitched across, intent on lazing about for as long as she was able.

                “Why am I going to shit?” Galvanize stepped in from the hallway. Unlike the other two, he was fully dressed for the day. “And what’s that smell?”

                “Pancakes,” Zone told him. He and Bubble Bubble were directly behind Galvanize; clearly the trio had just finished something and was coming toward the kitchen together.

                Galvanize frowned, a strange expression on his perpetually positive face. “Titan, we can’t have pancakes. They aren’t on the approved dietary restriction list.”

                “These are. They’re some sort of hippie-whole-grain-low-gluten-low-taste-clusterfuck, but they pass the bar for acceptable breakfast. I even checked it out with Greene first.”

                “That was… quite kind of you,” Galvanize headed over, with Bubble Bubble trailing close behind. Zone took his own time in crossing the room.

                “It wouldn’t have been much of an apology if I made you something you couldn’t eat. And that’s what these are, apology pancakes. Last night I went for a walk and did a lot of thinking. What I ended up with was the realization that Zone was right: I have been thinking that I’m better than you four, which is stupid. You kids, sorry, you four do a damn respectable job and I’ve got no right putting myself above you just because we have different career histories.”

                “Nice words,” Zone said, finally making his way to the kitchen. “But they don’t mean shit without action.”

                “Zone, control your tongue,” Galvanize chided. “Our teammate just gave an honest apology and is trying to make amends. That is not the sort of thing we stomp down, regardless of our personal feelings.”

                “Let it go, I think Zone and I are going to have to square on some different issues sooner or later.” The last of the pancakes were pulled from the griddle and slid onto a waiting plate already piled high. “But he’s dead-right about words meaning nothing without action. Which is why I'f you all to know something: my real name is Owen Daniels.”

                Zone’s mouth had already been open to snap something at him, but the words rotted on his tongue. Revealing one’s name was far more personal than a face. Faces were changeable and concealable; names were far more dangerous. Names opened the door to research, to history, to learning everything there was to know about a person. It was widely regarded as fact that the only people Heroes shared their real names with were their families and their teams.

                “Tit- Owen, that gesture means the world to us,” Galvanize said. “Truly, it does.”

                “It’s just a name,” Owen replied. “The pancakes are the good gesture, or as good as this healthy stuff can be. I already stuck some of those juices you stock, berries, and fruit on the table. I thought we could all have a team breakfast, then move onto the next part of my efforts to stop acting like a prick.”

                “More than healthy pancakes and name-dropping? Sir, you do us too much honor,” Hexcellent said. Despite her words, she did come over and help him with two of the pancakes-bearing plates.

                “What can I say? I’m a giver by nature.” Foul-mouth and strange way of dress aside, Owen sort of enjoyed his gothic-styled teammate. She had the sort of spit-fire nature he’d always been fond of. Hell, he’d liked one woman with it so much he’d managed to convince himself he loved her enough to marry.

                “So what’s the plan then?” Bubble Bubble took her seat at the table, piling her plate with mostly fruits and veggies alongside a single pancake.

                “That’s up to you four,” Owen said, putting far more than one pancake on his plate. Health-assurances aside, he suspected the bulk of the eating would fall on his ample shoulders. “I want to learn about each of you, understand how everyone works on their own as well as in a team. I don’t even know what your jobs entail outside of actual response work, and that’s something that needs rectifying.”

                “Sounds like setting you up for a shadow day is the best option,” Galvanize said. “Unfortunately, today I’ve got a debrief meeting about yesterday’s fire. Even if I thought it would be educating, only the team’s leader is allowed to attend. Bubble Bubble, how about you?”

                “Photoshoot. He’s welcome to tag along, but it’s just going to be posing for five or six hours.”

                “Let’s call that our last resort,” Galvanize said. He looked over at Zone, who was silently stuffing food into his mouth while purposely avoiding any eye-contact with Owen. Had he been only a tenth of the leader he was, Galvanize would still have seen that situation for the trainwreck it represented. Instead, he turned his gaze to the girl with ink-bottle black hair. “Hexcellent, what have you got today?”

                “Decent assortment,” she replied, mouth half-full of berries and pancake. “Doing a store promo, then a mini-photo-shoot with Spyda, plus a small branding meeting. All that paired with the usual shit, of course.”

                “Of course. Well, Owen, if you really want to learn more about what we do when not saving people, I think Hexcellent is your best shot today. That work for you?”

                “If she doesn’t mind, I’d love to tag along,” Owen said.

                “Fine by me,” Hexcellent replied. “It’ll be nice to finally have someone to carry my bags other than Big Henry. He scratches up damn near everything he touches.”