“You look like hell,” Blaine said flatly. The truth was, aside from his shackled appearance and somewhat dirty face, George looked pretty good for a man in maximum lockdown. He showed none of the usual distresses of someone who has lost all hope of ever seeing sunlight again. That was disturbing to Blaine, because the only explanation was that the current captive didn’t intend to stay that way. If it were someone else, Blaine might have suspected delusion, but if there was one thing one could say about George, it was that he was a realist.
“If that’s true, then hell never looked so good,” George snapped back. He didn’t bother following Blaine with his eyes as the bespectacled man walked around the room. If Blaine was the kind of man to attack someone who was helpless then it was going to happen and no amount of watching would stop it. Besides, he’d seen his former employer a few times since his incarceration and things had yet to get physical.
“Funny. The guards treating you well?”
“We’re up to beatings three times daily. If they keep working at it they might even leave a bruise on me by Christmas.”
“Oh, that legendary George Russell toughness. You always have been notorious for your durability. That’s part of what made you such a good teacher.”
“Cut the shit, Blaine. Of all things I know you might be here for, complimenting my teaching skills isn’t one of them.”
“Kidnapping and assaulting students does sort of mar your previous credentials,” Blaine admitted.
“Hey, I just kidnapped. They’re the ones who assaulted me.”
“Assaulted you in an effort to retrieve the friends you had stolen away from them.”
“I didn’t say they didn’t have good reason. I just said they threw the first punch,” George pointed out.
“They also threw the last one, seeing as they beat you.”
“How kind of you to remind me.”
“As if you’d ever forget a loss. Assuming you even count it as one.”
George showed no outward reaction to Blaine’s words. Nevertheless, Blaine felt something in the bound man shift.
“No sense in pretending otherwise. They got me, fair and square,” George said with an attempt at what might have been a shrug.
“You know, I’ve read through the reports about the incident dozens and dozens of times. Several things keep standing out to me. If you were really bent on taking Mary at all costs, why bother breaking Hershel’s arm until he let go? With your strength you could have just ripped it off of his body.”
“Damn, Blaine, what do you take me for?”
“A man who will do anything to accomplish his mission. Don’t forget, I know your full file from your Hero days as well. Something like that certainly wouldn’t have been beyond you. You could have done that, you could have incinerated Roy as he clung to you, and I feel fairly certain you could have taken down Vince with a single punch. All of which brings us back to you losing.”
“People get overconfident. I thought I could get away without doing permanent damage. I was wrong.”
Blaine completed his revolution about the room and stopped in front of George so the two could see one another’s eyes. It made sense; it was certainly logical to believe that even if a man like George was coerced into kidnapping, he would be reluctant to harm his own students beyond the necessary. It held together well, except if someone knew the real George Russell. If they knew how he changed in a battle, if they understood his tunnel vision on eliminating his enemies. His Hero moniker, Relentless Steel, hadn’t been chosen because of his easygoing ways.
“How many times does this make now, George? Five, six, something like that? I’m beginning to lose count, and I’m really getting tired of flying goddamn coach to spend my weekend chatting with you. Sooner or later you’ll break and tell us who gave you the orders. Things can get better when you do, so what are you holding out for?”
George smiled, not at Blaine, but at no one in particular. It was just a smile at having something other people didn’t have, at holding a secret you knew would be priceless if it were to be released. That smile told Blaine more than he really wanted to know.
“I suppose I’m just too stubborn for my own good,” George said without emphasis.
“No one is coming for you, George, and even if they were, it wouldn’t matter. You know how well fortified this place is. Breaking in and stopping ten Heroes is impossible, even by our standards of impossibility.”
“Could you do it?”
“Come on, Boss, oh legendary Hero,” George said with a touch of venom. “Could the great Zero break in here and set someone free?”
“No. Not even I could break in here,” Blaine said forcefully.
“Then as long as there isn’t anyone out there stronger than you, I guess you’re right,” George replied.
“What are you trying to say?”
“Nothing at all, Boss. Only mulling over an old adage. How did it go? ‘There’s always someone better than you’ or something like that. Just saying.”
Blaine had an uncomfortable feeling in his stomach. It was nothing more than a suspicion, but it was gnawing at him fiercely. The truth of the matter was that when he graduated the HCP, he hadn’t been top of the class. No, Blaine Jefferies had only been ranked third. Not that it mattered anymore. What he said was still true. No one could break into this place. No one who was left, anyway.
“I suppose you’ll cling to whatever delusion gets you through the days,” Blaine said. “I’m done playing these games. I thought you might respond more amiably to someone with whom you have a bit of trust, someone who could make things better for you. I see now I should have left you to the professionals from the beginning. I’ll let the guards know to send word if you ask for me. Other than that, I won’t be coming back anymore.”
“Finally. Now that I won’t be getting interrupted maybe I can finally make some progress on my pottery project,” George said.
Blaine paid the ribbing no attention. He merely turned around and began heading for the door.
“Hey, Blaine,” George called as his former boss was almost at the threshold. “I’m supposed to pass along a message. You still owe him fifteen dollars for getting those tea stains out.”
Blaine paused, only for a moment, and then exited with all the haste he could muster. It wasn’t the worst thing in the world - certainly not as horrible as his gut had been insisting - but George’s words still meant something bad. After all these years, another graduate from The Class of Legends had resurfaced.
The dean of the Lander HCP hustled down the hall. He was catching the next flight back and the board could go fuck itself if they had an issue with the price. There was too much to do, too many people to reach out to. George had confirmed something that Blaine had always known would happen eventually. Raze was back, and he was already moving behind the scenes.