Chapter 73

              Owen was faced with a problem; one he wasn’t quite sure how to deal with. Despite having come up against this dilemma several times before, he still found himself semi-flummoxed each time it reared its head, which occurred with such regularity that it was amazing he managed to continue being surprised by it.

                Sunday had arrived once more, and with it came the team’s mandatory day off. Even after several weeks with them, Own had still never found a way to feel comfortable just dicking away an entire day. Sometimes he went active, pitching in as best he could as a Hero, but that was off the table this time. After the previous day’s robot battle, he had exactly one lone Titan costume remaining. Delivery for his next batch was scheduled for Monday morning. Until then, he couldn’t risk losing his last outfit in case he needed to suit up for a real emergency.

                Most of his team was busy, with Bubble Bubble off to see Lenny, Galvanize catching up on paperwork, and Hexcellent having a date day with Spyda. She’d offered to let him join, but a picnic in the park seemed a touch too romantic for him to intrude on. Still, Owen had to give her man points; despite the tattoos and rock atmosphere he seemed to be a real softy. Given how protective Owen was starting to feel about his team, Spyda’s dutifulness as a boyfriend was as good for him as it was for Hexcellent.

                The only one who didn’t seem to have plans was Zone, who had settled into a semi-peaceful silence where Owen was concerned. Old grudges were slow to die, even when one realized the foundation might not be as solid as once believed. Owen understood, the kid was lugging around years of confusion, resentment, and anger that had ended up aimed toward people like Titan. Given the circumstances, Owen was actually very happy they’d managed to get things this far. He didn’t intend to push it by intruding on the spiky-haired young man’s personal time.

                Owen briefly considered calling up Jeremiah to see how things were going with the robot hunt, but thought better of it. Pestering him wouldn’t make the information come any faster, and at worst it might give Jeremiah unintentional encouragement. Owen still wasn’t quite sure where he fell on his fellow Hero’s romantic advances. The man was confident, skilled, and capable; all traits Owen found desirable. However, he was also young, brash, and cocky. Maybe in the Subtlety world things were different, but Owen had seen too many Heroes with those traits end up in the ground to dismiss the possibility that Jeremiah might get himself killed. All of which ignored the larger issue, of if he was ready to actually date again.

                In those years at the bar, when he’d just been Owen, things were simpler. He was just himself, a muscular entrepreneur who was maybe a bit too strong for what even his large frame implied. Now, things were different. If he started dating again, especially with another Hero, he’d be doing it as Titan. Maybe that would be a good thing; owning who he was and moving on with his life publicly could be the catalyst that finally took the sting out of the Titan Scandal. Then again, maybe it would undo everything he’d been working hard to fix since he returned. It was a thorny, complicated issue and Owen was determined to take his time in choosing the proper course. Rash decisions had taken too much from him in the past. Whatever he chose, whether it was for the better or worse, it would be deliberate. He would own his decisions.

                Unfortunately, the decision of what to do with his day off still loomed overhead, and that one was proving to be quite a toughie. He could try vegging out in the living room, maybe pick up a few of Hexcellent’s games, but he knew himself well enough to guess that doing so would just lead to boredom and the sense of a wasted day. After five more minutes of thought, Owen decided to give it a go anyway, as he was unable to come up with anything else that might prove better.

                Stepping into the living room, Owen was surprised to find not just Zone lingering about, but also two men in lab coats. Edgar and Kirk, or “the docs” as everyone collectively called them, were standing watchfully over Zone while he skimmed, signed, and initialed a large stack of thick papers.

                “Trying to requisition extra carbs?” Owen almost regretted going with a bad joke to announce himself, but as soon as they heard his voice Edgar looked up and smiled.

                “Ah, Titan! What a pleasant treat. We so rarely get to see you about, but I suspect that’s to be expected with your indomitable physique. You don’t require our check-ups or assistance.”

                “Or advice, that you can then ignore,” Kirk added. That barb wasn’t directed at Owen, though. The shorter man’s gaze was fixed firmly on Zone, who scratched his name in the stack of documents even faster.

                “Ahem, yes, that either,” Edgar agreed, shuffling awkwardly. “Though if you’d be willing, we’d love to do some basic calibration tests on you. Technically Heroes are exempt from having to fulfill that requirement for the event, but it would still be fascinating to administer.”

                “I’m sorry, event?”

                “The charity show, remember?” Zone’s sneer was half-assed as his attention was still on the myriad of paper set before him. “Contests, sports, meet-and-greets; Supers from every public occupation coming together to raise money for those in need. We signed up for it last month, and it starts next week.”

                “Must have slipped my mind,” Owen muttered. Between Gale and her team, hordes of robots, and Topsy’s students, the charity event had dropped off the backburner of his mind and fallen below the stove.

                “Quite all right, it’s not as though you need any additional training to be able to perform well,” Edgar noted.

                “And you aren’t likely to blow your damn knees out, either.” Kirk grabbed the stack of papers from Zone as the last signature was put in place, yanking it away angrily. “But I guess that’s no one’s problem but the participant’s.”

                “It’s my body; I’ll decide what risks I take. Mordent has its waivers, so leave me alone.” Zone clicked the pen shut and twirled it through the air, tossing it to Edgar before getting up from the coffee table and walking briskly past Owen.

                “Kirk, you could have been a bit nicer about everything,” Edgar chastised. “But I do wish he’d have listened to reason.”

                Owen didn’t have to ask what they were talking about; he’d seen the winces on Zone’s face for himself. The kid was tearing his body apart with all the sports and rescue work, and unfortunately he didn’t have one that fixed itself. Owen had half-suspected he was the only one who knew about Zone’s condition, but it seemed the docs had caught on too. Galvanize did once say they were brilliant, after all. Mentally gifted beings who were well-versed in all manners of… science. The realization came crashing down on Owen as the docs were gathering their things and beginning to leave.

                “Those calibrations you wanted to do, got time for them today?”

                Edgar perked up so visibly that Owen feared the wiry man might have tweaked his back. “For you? Certainly we do! Kirk, push everything back. This will be a rare and fascinating opportunity.”

                “I’m surprised you’re willing to do this at all,” Kirk said, eyeing Owen suspiciously.

                “It’s not totally altruistic. There’s an interesting work problem I’m dealing with, and I’d love to get your perspectives one it.”

                “Ah, quid pro quo.” Kirk nodded, clearly this fit better into his world view than simple generosity. “In that case, please follow us downstairs.”