To say that Hershel was coated in sweat would give the impression that his perspiration had settled across his skin like a coating, merely encompassing him then ceasing its advancement. This image would do a great disservice to the amount of moisture being churned out by his body. To say he was dripping, that his coating was continually being shed and replaced, that would be far more accurate.
Hershel dripped along a track in the bar’s backyard as the early sun moved upward through the sky. Track was a generous term; really it was more a semi-circular rut that had been worn in the soft dirt by countless traversals. A metal fence hid his shame, as well as a vast array of workout equipment, from the view of the world. The only witness to his exhausted stumbling was Owen Daniels, standing near the bar’s entrance with an unreadable expression on his face. Hershel had no idea why he was being made to run in laps; he’d shown up as instructed, been handed some exercise clothing, and been told to run until he was told to stop. By this point he was less “running” than he was “plodding” but he continued moving forward nonetheless.
After thirty minutes, Hershel was sure his legs would give out, yet it turned out he was able to conjure another five minutes of effort from his body before it fell to the ground and began to dry-heave. At least he understood why Owen had told him to skip breakfast.
“That’s enough running,” Owen instructed. “Take a ten minute break and we’ll move on to weights.”
“Why?” Hershel asked once his mouth was no longer occupied with responding to his stomach’s futile evacuation attempts. “Why am I training instead of Roy?”
In response, Owen plucked a water bottle from his side and brought it over to Hershel. Hershel took it in small sips; he knew enough about working out to know that guzzling it would just result in his body reactivating its attempts at purging.
“What do you think your power is?” Owen asked once Hershel had eventually managed to drain the bottle.
“I’m a shifter,” Hershel replied. “They classified me when I was five.”
“Oh? You know any other shifters whose personalities are totally altered when they change? I’m not talking an influx of animal instinct or an increase in aggression, but a total change in who they are and how they act. The way you and Roy are.”
Hershel thought back carefully. “Not that I can recall. Dean Blaine once told us that the classifications were just general terms, that every Super and Powered was their own entity with their own unique traits. Maybe the mental change is just part of mine.”
Owen nodded. “You’re not wrong, but you’re not right either.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Clearly,” Owen said, his gaze unwavering as he looked at his son with some mixture of worry and determination. “Every Super is different, even if it’s in very small ways. That part was right.”
“So what was wrong?”
“You’re not a shifter.” Owen took the empty water bottle from his son’s hands. “That’s ten minutes. We’re moving on to weights.”
“Weights.” Owen walked toward the cluster of reinforced benches without casting so much as a glance to see if his son was following. Hershel struggled to his feet and followed along. It seemed that whatever Owen knew, he would only tell when he was ready. Until that time came, all Hershel could do was keep his promise and do as he was told. He just hoped his body would hold out as long as his determination.
* * *
Vince came in from a morning run to find the house still largely silent, though Stella’s intermittent snores could be heard from the billiards room. She had found the floor exceptionally comfortable the night before and shifted to steel so no one could easily carry her back to bed. Like the rest of the house, she was still asleep. Even those who’d stayed sober were taking the opportunity to sleep in a bit, with the obvious exception of Vince. He’d been an early riser for as long as he could remember; it was an important aspect of being a homeless wanderer. The last thing you wanted was for someone to come upon you unconscious and defenseless. The need was so deeply ingrained that even in a place like this he couldn’t shake it.
A shower sounded good to Vince, but breakfast sounded better. He decided to whip up a quick meal of eggs before washing off. Surveying the fridge, he found them in no short supply, so he cracked six in a bowl, added seasoning, and tossed them in a pan. The smells might wake some of the others, and he wanted to have enough to share if they came down. If they didn’t then he would stick the leftovers in the fridge and the first risers could help themselves. Vince was so intent on scraping his culinary task around the pan that he didn’t notice the presence behind him until it spoke up.
“Morning.” It was a familiar voice, one Vince probably could have picked out of an audible lineup. The tone and inflection it was sporting, those were of a variety he hadn’t heard in a long while.
“Good morning, Sasha,” Vince said. He turned around briefly and flashed her a small smile. She seemed unusually awkward, standing there in PJ pants and t-shirt, trying not to show how uncomfortable she felt. “I’m making extra eggs if you want any.”
“No, thank you. I’m not really hungry.” Both of them fell silent as the sound of sizzling filled the room, punctuated occasionally by a noise contribution from Stella.
“I wanted to talk about what happened in the match,” Sasha blurted out.
“Shouldn’t that be something you talk to Camille about?” Vince worked hard to keep his voice controlled. He reminded himself for the umpteenth time that it had been a fight, and sometimes people lost control in those types of situations. That was a lesson he’d acquired firsthand. She clearly felt bad; she didn’t need him to add more guilt.
“I will,” Sasha promised. “I wanted to talk to you first. Come on, you know I don’t normally get up this early.”
“That’s true. I usually had to rouse you with promises of food.” Later in the relationship he’d had other methods of waking her; however, that wasn’t a healthy thought to deal with at the moment.
“Exactly. I woke up early so I could tell you something while it was just us. The reason I lost it on Camille. It’s because I’m jealous of her.”
Vince turned from the eggs and gazed at his ex-girlfriend with a confused look. “Jealous?”
“Yeah, jealous,” Sasha replied. “It’s obvious you two have grown closer over the year, and even if it isn’t romantic in nature, every time I see you together I just... I’m jealous, okay? I wish I was the one getting to spend all the time with you, and all of that built up emotion just got out of control.”
“Sasha, you broke up with me,” Vince said slowly. “You made it clear you didn’t want anything to do with me.”
“Which is why I came down here to make it clear that I was wrong. I know how you are, so I’m not going to beat around the bush. I want to be together again. Boyfriend and girlfriend, all that stuff. This is probably a surprise to you, so I’m not asking for an answer right away. Take some time and think about it. I’ll be around whenever you figure out how you feel about the idea.”
Vince heard a slight gust of air and knew if he turned around Sasha would be gone. She’d no doubt dashed back to her room to hide after such a display of vulnerability. For his part, Vince wasn’t sure how to feel. He hadn’t been prepared for that, and had no idea what he should say back to her. There was no question he missed her; however, as time had worn on, he couldn’t help but wonder if their breakup might not have been for the best. Sasha was right, he needed to think about it.
The eggs went into a Tupperware container and were thrust into the fridge. Vince’s appetite had suddenly receded.