Chapter 209

               Chad could hear Roy coming before the young man ever entered the Melbrook lobby. Despite the fact that there was a television on, tuned to the news, Chad made it a point to always stay as aware of his surroundings as his abilities allowed. It was a trait that some would have called paranoid, while others, mostly experienced Heroes, would have deemed smart. Still, Chad thought nothing of Roy’s entrance, he did live here too after all, until the tall Super’s shadow fell across the couch where Chad was sitting.

                “Do you have a minute?” Roy’s tone was subdued from what Chad was accustomed to. Bravado was Roy’s default, and the deviations from it were quite rare. That probably meant this was something serious. Chad clicked mute on the news, then turned to face his dormmate.

                “Is something wrong?” Chad asked. He worked hard on picking up social cues, and was hoping to confirm his hypothesis about Roy’s altered mood.

                “On the scale we general use to measure crazy shit? Nah, this ain’t even a blip. But I do have a problem, and you might be the only one who can help me solve it.” Roy sat down in the chair that was catty-corner to the couch, his eyes never breaking contact with Chad’s. “I need to have a match with you.”

                Chad tilted his head slightly, trying to signal his confusion non-verbally. “We spar frequently in class, and occasionally at the gym. I have no issue accommodating more of that.”

                “No, not sparring. A match match. Like the ones we did freshman year, when there was shit on the line. I need you to fight me like it matters, and I’m going to come at you the same way.”

                “Roy…” Chad paused, wavering on how to put his next words. Ultimately he realized that he had no gift for diplomacy, so the only options on the table was to come out and say the truth. “…you’ve gotten much better over the last few years, you truly have, however I’ve been improving as well. At this point, you are certainly much stronger than me, and would be superior against certain opponents. That said, I’m afraid I still don’t anticipate you being able to defeat me.”

                Roy blinked several times then shook his head and let out a laugh. “Damn, guess I had that coming for how I acted freshman year. Sorry, I should have explained this better. I know I’m not going to beat you, but I need to fight you seriously, twice actually, so I can test something about myself."

                “A new technique?” Chad asked.

                “Sort of. You know how I’ve been in Weapons and Close Combat? Well, I’ve decided to stick with whichever one makes me the strongest. Thing is, I have no idea how to test that except to fight someone really strong: once with my bat and once without.”

                “A control,” Chad said. Roy’s forehead scrunched up, so Chad continued. “A control is where you test varying factors against one that is standardized. You want to measure your relative fighting strength against something constant, me in this case, so I would be the control in the experiment.”

                “Stuff like that is more Hershel’s department, but it sounds right to me,” Roy agreed. “I want to see which version of me is really the strongest: bare fists or bat wielding. Whichever it is, that’s the major I’m going to apply for.”

                “I commend you on the dedication to power, but there are some flaws on your plan.” Chad shifted in his seat, mentally calculating all the errors, then deciding to boil it down to the big ones. Hershel could follow the minutia better, and there was always time to talk with him later. “The biggest one is that I’ve fought you unarmed dozens of times. I know your style and techniques perfectly, whereas the bat would be a total mystery to me. It would give your armed trial a slight advantage in terms of ability over me, which you would need to factor in to your decision.”

                “If they’re so close that something like that can make the difference, I’ll just stick with Close Combat,” Roy said. “Saves on having to buy heavier bats in the long run.  I’m looking for a visible difference, or at least one I can feel as we fight.”

                “Practical, if a bit ill-defined,” Chad replied. “Our second issue is that, while we can both heal quickly, the first bout will inherently be a more powerful one as we’ll be uninjured and full of vigor.”

                “That one, I was actually ahead of you on.” Roy grinned, clearly happy to finally have anticipated something in the conversation. “I already talked to Camille, and she’s willing to heal us between rounds. We’ve both got enough stamina that I doubt one fight is really going to wear us out beyond some bruises.”

                “I suppose that’s true,” Chad conceded. “My last key concern is that we will need one of the professors to oversee our match. If this is indeed a fight where you want us to come at one another seriously, it’s a necessary safety precaution. We’ve gotten much more powerful since freshman year, and for transparency as much as protection it would be irresponsible to spar without an experienced eye monitoring us.”

                “Damn. You’re right, and I should have thought of that.” Roy leaned back in his chair slightly, eyes drifting toward the ceiling as he mulled Chad’s last demand over. “I feel like there’s a pretty good chance Professor Cole will do it, if she knows the stakes. She’s been trying to talk me into going with Weapons since the year started, so if I tell her I’m on the edge I bet she’d be willing to take the gig.”

                “Should she refuse, we can both approach Professor Fletcher and ask him to undertake the role,” Chad said. “And if even that proves fruitless, I feel certain that Dean Blaine would be willing to do it, although he would be more difficult to schedule.”

                Roy snorted and shook his head. “I doubt the dean has nothing better to do than come watch two juniors kick the shit out of each other.”

                Chad smiled, and for once pointedly didn’t say what he was actually thinking. He and Blaine’s relationship wasn’t exactly a secret, but neither was it a thing he saw any point in broadcasting to the world. “Dean Blaine is committed to helping his students choose the best paths for their abilities. If this will truly help you with your decision, then I have no doubt he would consent to oversee the match.”

                “Guess we’ll find out if Cole and Fletcher both say no.” Roy stood from his chair, and stuck out a hand to Chad. “Thanks for agreeing to do this. I know a lot of things have been cutting into your training time lately, and you damn sure don’t owe it to me.”

                Chad took as well, and accepted the handshake. “You’re mistaken, Roy. I’m not doing this just for you. Fighting a high-level combatant, especially with two different arrays of techniques, is the best training I can ask for. I expect I’ll gain as much insight from our bout as you will, even if it is in different areas.”

                The two men shook, and with that, the battle was on.