Chapter 26

               “Yes but… that isn’t how I wanted… of course I trust you… now you listen here… fine, just do whatever you want.”

                Owen gripped the phone tightly as he pressed the button to end the call, only its hardy construction keeping it from flying into pieces. As soon as he’d gotten back to the penthouse from the cleanup he’d called Lenny, who had unapologetically confirmed his worst fears. Not only did he not get the assessment with Elemental Fury canceled, he managed to make the situation into a bigger shitshow than it already was. Lenny could run his mouth all day about how Gale might back down now that odds weren’t stacked in her favor; they both knew it was bullshit. Gale was young, powerful, and just successful enough to be insecure about her position. She wasn’t going to back down from a damned volcano, let alone some washed up Hero and his bald agent.

                With more care than he felt like using, Owen set the phone down. The last thing he needed to add to his frustration was the mountain of paperwork Greene would surely make him fill-out to replace any of the room’s furnishings. No, he needed to wind down a little, to take his mind off the growing mountain of crap he had to deal with. For a fleeting moment, he considered hitting up Brin’s Gate, the Hero bar Gale had shown him. It was tempting, but the risk of running into her was more than he was willing to undertake. If she’d been around Lenny today then she was likely to tear into Owen the moment they laid eyes on one another.

                Instead, Owen changed into sweats and headed off toward the gym. While they didn’t have anything that would challenge his lifting abilities, it still calmed him to do basic aerobics and calisthenics. The focused monotony cleared his head, and if he kept at it for enough hours he occasionally worked up enough of a sweat to release some endorphins.

                No sooner had he opened the gym’s door than Owen regretted his decision. Leaping around the rescue simulation part of the gym was Zone; normally spikey hair matted to his scalp thanks the abundance of sweat pouring from his body. Briefly, Owen considered backing away from the door and hoping his teammate didn’t notice. He decided against it though, walking in with just enough noise to be sure Zone knew he was no longer alone. If the kid wanted to hate him, that was fine, but Owen would be damned if he let that effect his choices. Besides, if he really wanted to help Galvanize pull his team together, dealing with this issue would need to be done sooner or later.

                “Evening,” Owen said, keeping his greeting as neutral as possible.

                Zone did a flip off a fake roof, landing lightly several feet away. When he came down, there was an incredibly short wince of pain that shot across his face. Most people wouldn’t have noticed it, or recognized it for what it was, but Owen knew in an instant. He’d spent too many years around other Heroes, people whose jobs demanded a physical level that was impossible for most to manage for long. The kid had worn something in his body down and he was trying to keep it hidden.

                “What are you doing here? None of the shit we have could train you.”

                “Maybe I came for the pleasant atmosphere,” Owen shot back. He regretted it as soon as he’d spoken; he needed to try and mend this bridge, not torch it further.

                “That got wrecked the minute you walked in here,” Zone replied. He grabbed a towel and started to head for the door.

                “Alright kid, enough of this crap. You got something you want to say? We’re right here, just you and me. No one to tell you to calm down, no one to hold you back. Either say your piece or quit all the sniping shit.”

                Zone froze, midway to the door, and looked back over his shoulder. “Go eat shit. I don’t have to do this your way. If I want to keep calling you out every chance I get and never tell you the reason why, I damn sure will.”

                “That would be a great point, except that you’ve been trying to lay into me since I got here. Only circumstance has stopped you. I’m not telling you to do it my way; I’m trying to give you the chance to do it yours.” Owen crossed his arms and met Zone’s withering glare. “But if you want to keep up the snide ridiculousness, go ahead. I somehow doubt you’ll get any harder to ignore.”

                “You just think you know everything, don’t you?”

                “I know you’re pissed off at me, sorry, at Titan, and clearly have been long before I was ever on your team. What’s the deal? You think I’m a shithead for walking away? That’s fair. Dislike that I lied to the public? Tough shit, I was lying to people that I cared about way more, myself included. Hell, maybe you just don’t like gay people.”

                “Fuck you!” Zone yelled, all composure breaking as he stormed across the small gap between he and Owen. “You really want to do this? Fine! I hate you, not Titan, you Owen, because of what you could have done. Look at you! You’re tough, strong, and manly. If you’d come out of the gates as gay, you could have given an icon to all the Supers out there who wanted to be Heroes but were scared they didn’t fit the masculine ideals. You could have been the symbol they held up to show that their orientation didn’t mean they couldn’t kick ass. You could have given people hope and encouragement, and instead you did the exact fucking opposite! After your scandal, every openly gay Hero has had to live in the shadow of the bullshit you pulled.”

                “Yeah, that’s a damn good reason to be pissed.” Owen’s voice was calm as he stared at the red-faced young man in front of him. Zone had gotten so worked up during his speech that a few flecks of spittle had struck Owen on the chest. Owen was expecting to get pissed himself when this finally came to a head, but instead he was oddly serene. Zone hadn’t said anything Owen hadn’t told himself countless times over the past decade. He already knew he’d fucked things up. Being called out on it didn’t change things.

                “Is that it? Is that your apology?”

                “No, Zone. I was raised that we don’t sincerely apologize with words, we do it with actions. Words are washed away by time and memory, they’re easy to create and easier to forget. I owe an apology to a lot of folks, the ones I lied to and the ones I let down by leaving. I’m saying I’m sorry to everyone, you included, by going back out there and trying to do good. You may never accept my apology; I know plenty of people won’t. That’s damned sure your right, but I’ll be out there making it regardless. That is literally all I can do.”

                “I don’t think it will ever be enough,” Zone said, the fire and energy gone from him.

                “Probably not. Doesn’t mean I don’t have to try.”

                Zone turned to walk out of the gym, not even bothering to storm away this time, but Owen called to him.

                “Who was it? Friend, family-”

                “Big brother. Strongman, like you. His powers are worlds above mine, easily could have been a Hero and helped a lot of people. Instead he does construction in Ohio.”

                With that, Zone exited the gym, leaving Owen along with his thoughts and his guilt.