Owen’s punch sent Roy three feet in the air and twenty feet back. The younger man crashed to the ground in a rolling heap, his movement continuing until he wound up back on his feet. If not for his own levels of endurance to physical damage, that blow would likely have broken his sternum. Instead it just felt like it had.
“You managed to deflect most of the power from that one,” Owen complimented. “Most people with our ability fight like they don’t understand the concept of injury. It’s nice to see that school of yours has at least been teaching you the basics of intelligent fighting.”
Roy patted himself down while his father talked, double checking for any serious wounds. Even with a step back and a strike against Owen’s forearm, that punch still had enough force to warrant concern. If Roy had taken it full force, well, he was reasonably sure it wouldn’t have killed him, but that probably would have been the end of their last day’s training. Hershel was slated to drive back to Lander tomorrow morning, so this was the final iteration of Owen’s Intense Battle Camp. It hadn’t been an easy week, but the results were already showing themselves.
“They teach us a lot,” Roy said after he was sure his bones were still in the correct number of pieces. “Plus I had a hell of a sparring partner last year. He showed me the value in not getting hit.”
“Not getting hit is a damned fine skill to master,” Owen said with a nod. “But, for us, it comes second to being able to take one.”
“Isn’t that the exact opposite of learning not to get hit?”
“No; knowing how to avoid attacks is fine, when you have that option. Let me ask you something about this sparring partner of yours: what is his power?”
“Complete control of his body, down to a molecular level.”
“Damn, that’s a pretty fine one. So I’m guessing he can do some interesting things with it.”
“He can speed up his perception of time, perfect memory, and I once saw him heal a cut on his head in a couple of seconds. All of that on top of the fact that he’s strong as shit.” Roy might have spoken higher of Chad’s impressive punching power if not for the offhanded blow his father had dealt him. The man was redefining Roy’s very concept of strength.
“Ten to twenty he also has a bunch of tricks you haven’t even seen yet,” Owen commented. “Things he can do that will help in a variety of situations. Probably even ways to subdue other Supers without injuring them. That’s why he knows how to avoid being hit; for him that will always be priority one. You and I don’t have variety. We do two things well. Hit, and get hit. That’s our bread and butter. That’s where we live.”
“I don’t get it, why the hell can’t I counter or dodge?”
“You can, when it’s appropriate. But what are you going to do when your team is staring down a fully-charged energy beam that fires directly at your group? You going to dodge? Because you might get away, or at least get by uninjured. Not all of your teammates will be able to do the same.”
“What would you do in that situation?”
“Same thing I’ve always done in that situation. I’d charge the fucking thing and take the full brunt of it. Because that’s my job, just like the healer would fix whatever it broke on me and the ranged guys would tear it up before it could fire again.”
“What if it destroyed you?”
“That’s why we train like this. Not just to push our limits, but to be aware of them. A strongman who doesn’t know how much he can take won’t last very long, not unless his endurance is so top-class it might as well be invulnerability. Every Super who makes it to Hero is intimately familiar with what they can and can’t do. It’s why different teams get different assignments. It’s why strategies are altered depending on the threat. Your sparring partner will have a myriad of options for how he handles his shit. You have two.”
“Hit and get hit,” Roy echoed, nodding his head with understanding at last.
“Exactly; so you better train like hell to make sure you can do both better than everyone else you know.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” Roy said. He glanced at the sun’s position in the sky. He could probably push it a while longer, but the day was definitely beginning to lose ground in the fight against evening. From the discussion they’d just had, Owen would likely come at him hard: hard enough to put him down for a while. That might mean being here during business hours, which was not a particularly desirable outcome.
“Well, thanks for the training.” Roy’s posture changed as he purposely took himself out of a ready stance. “Day is almost over, so I’m going to call it. Have a good one.” He turned and headed toward the exit, not really expecting to get out this easy, but still hoping for it.
“Wait, you’re leaving?” Roy couldn’t see Owen’s face, but the poorly-suppressed sadness in his voice made it far too easy to picture.
“Of course. Have to get up early to drive back, and we’re getting close to business hours. I believe it was one of your rules that I be gone by the time the doors open, right?”
“Yeah, I suppose it was.” Owen’s voice broke off near the end; for once the unstoppable man was unsure about how to go forward. “Look, I know you’ve got a life to get home to, one that hasn’t involved me for a long time, but I was thinking that we could try to stay in touch-”
“Pass,” Roy said, giving in at last and turning around. Owen’s face was more controlled than he’d expected, but his eyes told the story of a man barely holding it together. “Don’t get me wrong, Hershel and I both appreciate what you’ve done for us here. It’s not an exaggeration to say that if I make it as a Hero, it will be at least partly due to you. You taught me the truth about what I am.”
Roy walked back toward his father until he was only a few steps away. It was probably less than five feet of separation, but miles stretched in between each one of those feet.
“I’m truly grateful. So grateful I’ve kept civil this whole week. That’s it. That’s the end of it.”
“I understand,” Owen said with a heavy sigh. “I didn’t really expect you to understand any of this.” He gestured a massive hand back at Tartarus to illustrate the point.
“You think I don’t want to get reacquainted with you because of the gay thing?”
“Fuck you,” Roy spat. “Mom raised me better than that. Look, let me ask you a question. You know the Hero, Globe?”
Owen nodded. “I met him once or twice. We never worked on the same team or anything.”
“One of the other people in my program, Vince, was raised by a guy who some people are speculating might be him. They think Globe faked his death, lived as a hobo wanderer, took in some street urchin Powered, and took care of him until his early teens. Honestly, I think it’s bullshit, but even if Vince really was raised by a psychopath murderer in hiding, I’m still jealous of him. Want to guess why?”
“Because his father was fucking there. He taught him how to fight, how to survive, how to be a man. You should see the way Vince lights up when he talks about him. Might secretly be one of the greatest villains of our age, had no blood relation to the kid, and he was still a better dad than you. Even if he’d done a shitty job, at least he was punching the clock. You just fucking quit. That’s why I don’t want you in my life. You already made the choice to cut me out of yours.”
“Roy, you don’t understand how difficult things were. Even if the world didn’t know I was Titan, our community did. We hung out with other Heroes, every person in my world was suddenly looking at me like... I don’t even have words. And that’s to say nothing of the pain I saw in your mother’s eyes. I’m not proud of the choice I made but I thought it was best for the family to take me out of it.”
“Bullshit. It was just easier. You had a kid who would uncontrollably turn into someone else with strength, endurance, and shitty impulse control, and somehow you looked at that situation and decided he’d be better without anyone to teach him what it meant to be different. Better yet, to take away the person he looked up to and had wanted to be like. I’m not saying staying wouldn’t have been hard, but don’t you dare look me in the eye and tell me that you ran away for the family.”
Owen’s eyes tightened as he looked back at his son. “I guess this is it then.”
“I guess so,” Roy agreed. “Thanks for the training, and for the mantra. Hit and get hit. Protect the people around you. I think that’s a solid philosophy for people like us.” Roy turned and walked to the door, this time unhalted by any outcry from Owen.
“Hit and get hit,” Owen said softly as he watched his son walk out of his life.