Dean Blaine forced himself not to look at the clock on his desk, slowly counting away the minutes. He was also unwilling to give attention to the phone, which he thought he heard ring at least twice every half hour. It would be fine. Nothing would go wrong. The proper permits had been filed, the proper response teams were on standby, and the parameters of the exam had been clearly outlined. This was Sean Pendleton he was talking about; there was a time when Blaine would have trusted that man with his life in the span of a heartbeat.
Of course, things had changed a great deal since then. Others he would have laid down his own life for were now barely willing to speak with him. Sean was far from the idealistic young man he’d been at their graduation. Blaine himself had done things he’d never expected when donning that white cape and looking out at his family, eyes brimming with pride. So much had changed since then, and that was without even counting the most unexpected curveball of them all.
* * *
Blaine stopped fiddling with the clasp on his cape to look up from his chair and find Phil’s smiling face beaming back down at him. His own cape was fastened perfectly, of course, the rest of his outfit crisp and stylish enough for a job interview. Phil never had to deal with things like stains or cleaning. Everything he wore was always perfect. It was just one of the hundreds of real world applications his ability came with, ones that people like Blaine and Gerard didn’t have.
“We’re all nervous. Sort of funny when you think about it. We had to get through four years of training, torture, and testing to make it to this moment, and now the idea of being up on stage is causing more fear than most of us felt during our final trial.”
“Public speaking is the number one fear in the world. Comes in ahead of death. No reason why we should be immune, I guess.”
“A very valid point. Would you like some help with that?” Phil gestured to the clasp, still hanging crooked and only partially fastened. Blaine looked around the room to find the other eight graduates all had theirs on already, though he hadn’t paid enough attention to know if that was because of Phil or their own skills. Either way, the time to start was drawing up fast, and Blaine would like to get at least one thing right today.
“My pleasure.” A moment passed and nothing happened. “Um, if you wouldn’t mind easing back your field a bit, I can’t seem to help as it is.”
“Sorry,” Blaine said. A brief moment of focus reigned in the aura emanating from his body until it ran across the surface of his skin. He could neutralize it entirely if he wanted - if he couldn’t control it he would have been a Powered, after all - but he usually only did that when he needed healing. Blaine was accustomed to a world where he was the exception to every rule regarding Supers, and he didn’t let that go without very good reason.
“There we are,” Phil remarked as Blaine’s clasp unhooked in the air and then reattached in the correct manner. “If you want, I can make you feel a little more relaxed too. Joshua and I have been practicing with the chemical balance in brains.”
“Wouldn’t that only work while I was near you?”
“No more than your cape will come undone if I walk away. Sure, your brain will start to go back to its normal levels, but it isn’t an instant process. You’d at least feel good through the ceremony.”
“I appreciate the offer, but I think I’ll pass,” Blaine replied.
“Understandable. So who all is coming to see you today?”
“My parents and my grandmother,” Blaine replied. “You?”
“From outside the program? Just my mother. My dad died when I was very small.”
“I’m sorry,” Blaine said on reflex.
“No big deal. He was... let’s just say I don’t miss him. I might have been tempted to invite a few friends, if not for the family only rule.”
“Yeah. It’s a pain, but I see where they are coming from. We’re getting our Hero names without wearing any masks. That could be dangerous down the line.”
“No, no, I wasn’t saying I disagreed, just talking about what I’d do in a perfect world,” Phil corrected. “On the subject of names, thanks again for letting me have the one you came up with. You sure it’s okay that I use Globe?”
“Positive. It fits you better anyway. Besides, Zero has grown on me.”
“I always liked that one for you. It’s smart, and it makes it easy to underestimate what you can do,” Phil said. “There will be a lot of criminal Supers who regret making a snap judgment about the Hero named Zero.”
“I’ll do all right. I’m good, but I’m not in the same class as people like you or Joshua or Clarissa.”
“That’s where you’re dead wrong, Blaine. I admit our abilities are a bit more flashy, and they do come with more fringe benefits, but those are just perks. What’s the main purpose of Heroes?”
“To neutralize criminal Supers with as little collateral damage as possible,” Blaine recited automatically. It had been the mantra of their senior year, a credo that was a question on every exam, be it verbal or written. This was not a mission statement to be ignored: this was a binding contract each Hero swore their lives upon.
“There you go. The rest us can stop Supers, sure. But you do exactly what we’re all aspiring for. You neutralize them.”
“You can do that, too,” Blaine pointed out.
“Ah, but only if they are close enough, and stay in range, and don’t possess an ability like yours or Joshua’s that overpowers my own. I’m good, but as far as genuine stopping power, you’re better. You take away the very thing that makes them such exceptional threats. All of us are just working to get a little bit closer to what you can do naturally. You are the ideal Hero.”
“You were doing good, then you pushed it too far,” Blaine told him. In spite of his serious face, there was an undeniable hint of humor in his voice.
“Ah well. Can’t blame a guy for trying. Need help with anything else?”
“I’m set. Thanks, Phil.”
“Anytime.” With one last smile he moved on, walking over to a stuttering Victor who was fumbling with a set of cue cards. They had to make a speech at the ceremony, each new Hero giving thanks and stating what they hoped to accomplish in the coming years. This was more troubling for some of them than others. And for one of them, it didn’t appear to be a concern at all.
Blaine didn’t buy that; he’d known Phil for too long. The guy hated being the center of attention. Giving a speech would be something he dreaded far more than fighting villains. He worked his way amidst the others, giving encouragement or help as needed, always focused on taking care of everyone else’s concerns. It didn’t mean he wasn’t scared, in fact it meant the opposite: helping others was how Phil dealt with negative feelings. His natural reaction to something bad was to reach out and make the world better.
To Blaine, that made Phil the ideal Hero. Not that he would ever say such a thing out loud.