“You came down on them hard.” Topsy pulled a beer from the small mini-fridge in his room, then grabbed a second and offered it to Owen.
“No one out there is going to be gentle with them. Better they face what’s ahead with one foot already in their ass, so they don’t forget what’s waiting for them.” Owen accepted the beer and sat in one of Topsy’s old chairs. He was pretty sure it was one that been around at the Gentle Hammers base so long ago, and now it had made the trip to Topsy's sparse quarters with the Wild Bucks. “Besides, they’ve got you for the kid gloves.”
“I think I may have used those too much.” Topsy fell into his own chair, a more recent acquisition that almost would have looked at home in the penthouse. “Maybe if I’d been a bit sterner things wouldn’t have gone the way they did.”
“None of that,” Owen said. “All we can do is guide the young ones. Set a good example; teach them what we learned through our own mistakes. How much they take from it is on them. You’re no more accountable for their fuck-ups than the older Heroes we got advice from were for ours.”
Topsy snorted and shook his head. “The one I remember the most was them telling us we shouldn’t try to form a group out of just physically gifted Supers. Said we needed a little variety if we wanted to be of any use at all.”
“Well that was different. They were dipshits.” Owen took a swig of his beer to punctuate the point. He keenly recalled all the older Heroes saying a team needed diverse skill sets to be of any use at all. Even back then, he knew they were wrong. There was something to be said for specialization, and a team full of coordinated heavy hitters would be useful in all kinds of situations. History had proven him right in the end, though the many teams that tried, and failed, to emulate their strategy also showed that conventional wisdom hadn’t been entirely off base. Specialty teams were doable, they just weren’t easy.
“Maybe so, but part of me wishes I’d given these kids the same advice instead of agreeing to coach them.”
“Topsy, if you hadn’t helped them then who knows how much worse things would be? They might all be stripped of their certification, or up on trial for gross negligence. I’m sure you helped, though I do wish you’d tell me why you were doing it. There’s no way this team can afford you.”
“That obvious, am I?” Topsy sighed, but it was clear he’d known from the beginning that Owen would figure it out. Unlike many idiotic criminals, Topsy knew better than to judge a man’s brains by the size of his muscles. “Deadlift is the nephew of a Hero who interned under me. He was a good man; we even teamed up on several occasions after his internship was over. Poor guy passed about two years back.”
“Died in the field?” Owen asked.
“Cancer. Still burns my ass that we’ve got people who can turn mushed bones whole, but we have to lose good people to diseases.”
“We’ve all got limits, Topsy. The healers are no different.”
“I don’t blame the ones who couldn’t fix it. I blame the ones who can and charge half a nation’s economy to do it.” Topsy took a long draw from his beer to calm down. “Anyway, Deadlift came to me after his internship was over, said he’d heard how highly his uncle spoke of me and wondered if I’d be willing to coach a team he was planning. Another group of heavy hitters, like the Gentle Hammers in their prime.”
“Makes sense.” Perhaps from someone else the words would have been patronizing, but Owen was completely sincere. He knew how deep the bond between Heroes in the field went, doubly so for the ones who shared an internship. His own mentor had been a huge part of his early career, and Owen had visited the man frequently long after his teacher’s cape was hung up. “All of that’s in the past now. Any ideas about what you’ll do with them in the future?”
“The ones who want to keep going, I’ll teach,” Topsy replied. “If anyone decides to bail out… well this life isn’t for everyone. Can’t say I’ll blame them. Those that remain are going to be drilled six ways to Sunday though. I’ll be damned if I’ll have another incident like this on my conscience.”
“I can’t speak on the ones that are gone, but I think those three have their hearts in the right places. And after what’s happened, they have a firm understanding of the consequences of their actions. With enough training and direction, they may just be able to pull themselves out of this hole, one day.”
“I truly hope so,” Topsy said. “Of course, you know what would help a lot? If an older, more experienced, still active Hero joined the team. Someone who knows how to deal with adversity from the media, and can watch out for them in the field.”
“Topsy, I’ve already got a team,” Owen said.
“A team of corpies, of which you’re the baby-sitter. I’ll admit this team might be bottom of the barrel right now, but they’re still Heroes. You could be back out in the field, stopping real criminals. I know you must miss it, that's why you came back.”
“I came back because I wanted to make the world just a little bit better,” Owen corrected. “And yes, I wanted to make sure I was around for the big threats that might get other Heroes killed. If you’d made me this offer a few months ago, I probably would have jumped at it, but that was before I got to see what it was like working with that team of corpies. You know what I discovered in that time? I like working with my team. We’re out there saving lives, helping people, and at the end of the day I have a lot less blood on my hands. I’m still around for when the big problems pop up, but I’d rather spend my days making a difference like this. At least, for now.”
Topsy nodded his head, then polished off his beer. “I won’t say I don’t get it, because I do. You don’t even realize how much weight you’re carrying around as a Hero until the day you finally get to set it down. Still, even if you’re around for the big fights it’s a waste of your potential to have you pulling kittens out of trees.”
“Maybe so,” Owen agreed. “But it’s my potential to waste, and I’m going to stick with my team. Who, speaking of, I need to get back to. Thanks for the beer.”
“Thanks for giving them the talk,” Topsy said, rising to escort his friend out. “And just keep the offer in mind. In case things change.”
“If they do, you’ll be the first to know.”