Chapter 86

“Yeesh, this guy took one hell of a pounding,” said the healer, a female junior. Roy could make out the words dimly over the ringing in his ears.

“That’s what she said,” snickered a male voice next to her.

“Damn it, Ed, that doesn’t even make sense. Try to show a little respect,” the girl snapped at him. “Just because he’s passed out doesn’t mean you can act like a jackass.”

She was wrong; Roy was still awake. He could hear them after all. It wasn’t worth the effort to correct her, though. Not right now.

“Sorry, sorry,” Ed apologized. “I just get kind of weirded out being too somber around people this messed up. I don’t want to treat them like they’re already dead or something.”

“No worries on that for this one. He’s already healing up on his own. To be this hearty and still be so pummeled... it must have been one hell of a beating,” the girl commented.

“Maybe he wasn’t fighting back,” Ed suggested.

“No way,” the girl told him. “Didn’t you notice all the impact wounds? This guy kept getting up over and over and getting put right back down. He was obviously outclassed, but I’ll give him one thing. He did not want to lose.”

Roy’s head swam and he finally lost the tenuous grip to consciousness he had been clutching so adamantly.

*          *          *

“Thank you for coming, Mrs. Daniels,” the principal said, raising from his desk and shaking her hand. “Will Mr. Daniels be joining us?”

“I’m afraid he’s out of town at the moment,” Mrs. Daniels said. “His construction company got a job down in Florida that he’s overseeing.”

“Ah, I understand,” the principal said. “In that case I suppose we can begin. Please, have a seat.”

“Not that I’m not eager to find out why you called me down here so urgently, but shouldn’t you excuse the student already here before we talk?” Mrs. Daniels asked. She glanced at the small plastic chair he was sitting in, reclined back and feet swinging freely.

“I’m afraid that boy is actually part of the reason you were called down,” the principal said hesitantly.

“Was he in a fight with my son? I know Hershel has been getting bullied since we moved here.”

“Not exactly. You see, that boy sitting in that chair is your son. Sort of. I’m afraid it’s somewhat complicated, Mrs. Daniels. Are you sure you wouldn’t rather have a seat?”

Mrs. Daniels didn’t take the open chair. Instead she walked over to the small boy and got on her knees. She looked him in the eye for a long time, long enough that the boy began to squirm uncomfortably.

“What’s your name?”

“Dunno,” the boy replied.

“Do you know I am?”

“Mommy,” the boy replied.

“Are you Hershel?” she asked.

The boy shook his head. “Hershel was crying cause they kept making fun of him. He couldn’t make them stop, so I did.”

“For the record, ‘stopping them’ consisted of several children with extensive bruising and an overturned jungle gym,” the principal interjected.

“Is that true? Did you hurt the other children?”

The boy looked down at the floor. “It was an accident. They wouldn’t stop making Hershel cry. I just wanted to stop them.”

“I understand. Well, we’ll have to get you some help in learning to stop people without hurting them,” Mrs. Daniels said, giving the boy a reassuring squeeze of his hand, then standing up to her full height.

“I must say, Mrs. Daniels, you’re taking this all very well,” the principal commented.

“My aunt was a Super, so I’ve always known it might run in our blood,” Mrs. Daniels lied.

“I’m afraid you must know that until Hershel can control his powers more effectively, he won’t be able to attend our facility anymore,” the principal said hesitantly.

“Of course,” Mrs. Daniels agreed. “I fully intend to get my son, or perhaps I should say sons, the education they need to become happy, integrated Supers.”

“Sons? Mrs. Daniels, that boy is still Hershel. It’s just him utilizing his abilities,” the principal told her.

This time it was Mrs. Daniels who shook her head. “That boy isn’t Hershel,” she said matter-of-factly. “But he is definitely my son.” She looked back at the boy and smiled at him. “On that note, I suppose we should find a good name for you.”

“Mrs. Daniels, I don’t think you-”

*          *          *

Roy was jerked awake by a coughing fit. He hacked and thundered for several minutes before lying back down on the table.

“Sorry about that, big guy,” said the girl in a soft, comforting voice. “It’s a side effect of when we heal around the lungs.”

Roy heard her and understood. He didn’t care, though; now that he’d tasted sleep he wasn’t ready to stop gorging on it just yet.

*          *          *

He could hear her crying again through the walls. She would only do it when she thought he was outside, and even then only into a pillow to muffle the sound. It wasn’t muffled quite enough. She was crying so often these days. Because she missed him.

Roy’s fists clenched involuntarily. He got so mad whenever he thought about his dad. Mad at him for leaving and mad at himself for missing him. Last week Roy had finally managed to lift a pickup truck in the junkyard where he and his dad used to work out. His first instinct had been to run and proudly tell his father of the accomplishment. Then Roy had remembered.

“He has some things to work out,” his mother had told him, choking back her own sadness. “Things he needs space for.”

Roy forced himself to let his hands loosen. It didn’t make any sense. His dad had always said a man lived up to responsibilities, he took care of those in need, he helped the weak. But he could walk out on his own family like it was nothing?

Roy steadied himself. She needed him to be strong right now. Besides, Roy already had a plan. He’d find that son-of-a-bitch one day and ask him in person why he’d walked out. And if he didn’t have the world’s best answer, Roy was going to beat him mercilessly. That was later, though; his dad was still the better fighter between them. For now.

He knocked gently on the door. “Mom,” he called. “Are you okay?”

*          *          *

“-looks like he’ll be fine,” the girl said.

“Glad to hear it,” Coach George’s gruff voice said, echoing through the room.

“Good thing he’s hearty,” Ed said. “I can’t imagine what he did to deserve a beating like he got.”

“He’s tenacious,” Coach George said. “More so than I was expecting, to be honest. When I paired him with Taylor I figured it would be his last day in program.”

“Looks like he surprised you,” the girl said.

“That he did,” Coach George admitted. “But there’s always tomorrow.”

*          *          *

Roy wasn’t sure what to feel. Rage? Betrayal? Mostly it was just confusion, but the other two were percolating there as well. He sat silently in his bus seat, staring out the window and trying hard not to think. He could feel the stares of some of the other passengers. A thirteen-year-old boy traveling alone tended to attract attention, after all. On the way out here he’d felt self-conscious about that fact. Now he didn’t give two shits what people were thinking about him.

All these years he’d dreamed of the day he confronted his father. All these years he’d trained and worked and sweat for the sake of being better than him. He’d spent days tracking him down, and then when he finally found him...

Roy shook his head. He couldn’t deal with it, couldn’t see his dad that way. But the image was there, festering in the back of his mind, unwilling to purge itself despite all his efforts.

Roy felt Hershel stirring within him. They’d been switching even more erratically than normal lately. It was possible stress was a factor in their condition. Roy didn’t care at the moment. Right now he just wanted to be alone. Truly alone, not just one half of a whole. He was barely holding it together as it was, and now he realized he had his little brother to worry about, too. It was just too much.

“Simmer down, Fatso,” Roy whispered hotly under his breath. “Nobody fucking wants you here right now.”