“Well well well, look who it is, the conquering Hero come to pay us little people a visit?” Despite the seemingly harsh words, Hexcellent barreled through the room and wrapped Owen in a giant hug as he entered the penthouse. In the chaos and fallout of the last week, he and the PEERS team had barely gotten to see one another. Except, of course, for when he stopped by to make the big announcement. They’d taken it well, all things considered. Deep down, he had a feeling they knew as much as he did that it was inevitable.
“I’ll have to speak to Greene about updating security, we can’t have any Tom, Dick, and Harry just wandering in here when they please.” Topsy hauled himself up from a chair in the kitchen and walked over, giving Owen’s hand a good shake. “It’s only been three days; did you need to check up on me already?”
“Maybe I came by to see if you needed advice,” Owen replied. “Hero Liaison isn’t the world’s easiest job.”
“Oh, I’m aware of that. We’ve been working nonstop with clean-up and rescue efforts. It’s enough to have an old Hero feel like he’s making a difference again.” Topsy released his grip as Galvanize, Zone, and Bubble Bubble all made their way over to greet and talk with their former Hero Liaison. There was no ill-will in the separation; they’d understood that he needed to be in a place to do the most with his abilities. Plus, Owen had left them in the most capable hands he knew of.
“What brings you by?” Galvanize asked, getting to the root of the visit as only a team leader could. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad to see you, but I assumed you’d be crazy busy getting everything up and running.”
“You’re not wrong,” Owen agreed. “But in the rush of handing things over to Topsy, there were a few items I left unfinished. Can’t very well go starting a new chapter in my life without wrapping up the old, now can I?”
“Uh oh, is this where you demand a match against all of us to see how much we’ve grown or something?” Bubble Bubble asked.
“No,” Owen replied. “This is where I give you each a proper goodbye. And I think you’re the best one to start with.” Owen scooped the pale, copper-haired woman up in a big bear hug, eliciting a squeal of surprised joy from the once-always-stoic Super. “I’m going to miss you, kid. Don’t go back into that shell of yours cause I’m not on the team anymore either. I’ll be just down the road, and I can stop by anytime I want if needed. Also, try and keep away from dating directors.”
“See, now where was that advice when I needed it?” Bubble Bubble asked, still grinning as Owen set her on the floor. Her expression grew confused as he produced a white card from his pocket and held it out to her, however. “What’s this?”
“Parting gift, albeit a joint one. Lenny and I pulled some strings to set you up with a new image consultant. Given the ground work you laid during the director fiasco, and the eyes on the team after the attack, we thought it was time get you set up with someone who could help you sell the real you, not just whatever image some brand was pitching. Ludwig is among the best in the business.
Tenderly, she reached forward and plucked the card from his hand. “You’re sure I can trust him?”
“Lenny says the guy is solid, and I trust Lenny with my life. More than that, I’d trust him with my family’s lives. Nothing is guaranteed, but if it goes south then just let he or I know and we’ll handle it,” Owen assured her. That done, he turned to Zone, who was actually looking at him, rather than glaring, which was a marked improvement from when he’d first arrived.
“You still don’t really like me, do you?”
“I’m not a fan of a lot of the choices you’ve made,” Zone replied, his tone honest yet lacking any venom. “But it seems like you’re trying to do your best to make amends. I can respect that much, at least. Just don’t slack up. People are looking at you again. I hope you show them something worth seeing.” Slowly, Zone extended his hand, and Owen accepted it. They were never going to be as close as he was with the others, and both knew that. They’d reached a place of peace and mutual respect, though, and that counted for quite a bit in Owen’s book.
“Thank you, Zone. I genuinely appreciate that. And I have something for you, though it won’t arrive until later this week. I called in some old favors and there’s going to be a healer dropping by. I think you’ve got a few good years left in you, so I want to get those knees taken care of,” Owen said.
“That’s a nice gesture, but healers can’t fix the accumulated wear and tear I put on my body, they just treat immediate injuries. Trust me, I looked into it.”
“Actually, that’s only true of most healers,” Topsy interjected. “If Titan is talking about the man I’m guessing, then he’ll have no trouble patching you up. Your knees, all of you really, will be good as new.”
“And I want to give you this,” Owen added, pulling another card from his pocket before Zone could really wrap his head around what Topsy had said. When the reality of what Owen had given him truly sank in, it would likely be an emotional moment. Zone deserved the right to have that in private, if he so chose. “It’s a phone number where I can be reached, set to route through the DVA to me wherever I am. But it isn’t actually for you. It’s for your brother. Anytime he wants to talk, get some perspective, or even ask questions about what it takes to get into the Hero game, he can call me. If I can jump in this late in life, maybe he can too.”
Wordlessly, still reeling from the implication that his knees would be fixed, Zone accepted the card and held it between his fingers like it was made of glass. Owen turned to Galvanize, letting Zone have space to process everything, and also moving on to the leader of a team Owen had grown to respect immeasurably over the last few months.
“I really hope you didn’t get me anything,” Galvanize said, speaking before Owen had a chance. “It was gift enough having you on my team. Titan, you being around brought us all closer together, not to mention put us in the national spotlight more than once. You made my team better, and that’s all any PEERS leader could ask for.”
“Shit kid, you really know how to steal someone’s thunder,” Owen told him. “As it happens, I don’t have a parting gift for you, but the DVA does. After seeing how much you helped during the attack, they want to put you on retainer for work as a Temporarily Authorized Hero Asset when the occasion is needed. The pay rate is decent, but more importantly it should make sure you and your team keep getting the media exposure, even after the shitshow known as Titan is gone.”
Owen paused, taking in the younger man who’d shown such cool, smart judgement every step of the way along their time working together. Had he come onto another team, with a different leader, this journey could have taken some very different turns. In a lot of ways, Owen owed more to Galvanize than anyone else, perhaps even Lenny. It was a debt he’d never really be able to clear, not that he wouldn’t try. Working toward the impossible was becoming an oddly familiar goal in his new life.
“I also want to say thanks. You made room for an out-of-practice Hero that was a media pariah and walked in thinking he was better than the job. In my years, I worked with a lot of folks who do incredible things. Still, you may be one of the most impressive people I’ve ever known, and being a Super has nothing to do with it.”
Owen and Galvanize shook hands one last time before Owen turned again. Though Hexcellent was next in line, he moved past her, meeting eyes with Topsy and pulling a folded set of pages from his back pocket.
“Parting gift for you, something to help round out the team,” Owen told his old friend.
Topsy accepted the pages and flipped through them, a look of cautious skepticism slowly appearing on his face. “You want me to recruit a criminal?”
“Eli’s a decent kid with a very useful power,” Owen replied. “Given his willingness to help me on the bridge the night he was arrested and his cooperation during the robot attack, the DVA is considering letting him do community service as a PEERS to pay his debt to society. He’d need a Hero to take custody of him, though. Talk it over with Galvanize; see if you think he’s a good fit. I’ve got faith that whatever you two land on, it will be the right choice.”
That done, Owen finally faced Hexcellent once more. Though he’d bonded with the whole team to one extent or another, there was no denying that he and the tattooed young Super with dyed-black hair had forged an especially close connection. Looking at her now, Owen found himself a bit regretful that his life had fallen apart before he managed to bring a daughter into the world. Of all the things he regretted from his years living a lie, his children were absolutely not among them.
“I know I already got my present,” Hexcellent said, pre-empting the announcement. “Lenny helping me negotiate ownership of my own image and summons was more than enough.”
“Well, you’re right and you’re wrong,” Owen told her. “That was the goodbye present, but there’s also something else for you. If you’re willing, why don’t you and I go for a ride?”