Chapter 139

                There were precious few things Alice valued about her time before Lander. Looking back, it was a blur of memories centering mostly around an empty mansion punctuated by the brief outings into high society where she was expected to uphold the image of a proper young woman. Pointless as so much of those years had been, they had instilled Alice with the ability to remain smiling and buoyant even as she was miserable inside. Between the revelation about Mary, the weariness from having her injuries healed, and the overall mental exhaustion of the battle they’d just indulged in, Alice was deeply thankful for the gift of false cheer as she shook hands with another Hero who congratulated her on the victory.

                If not for all the training with Professor Pendleton, the names and faces would have begun bleeding together. Good a front as Alice might be able to put up, she was still worn and weary, which was why she felt a sense of genuine relief at the tall shadow that fell across her. While she’d need to keep smiling for the benefit of anyone glancing over, here, at last, was a person she didn’t have to pretend with.

                “Hell of a win,” Titan said, carefully shaking her hand in congratulations. “And it certainly went over well in the viewing room. You probably feel like your father, with so many people kissing your ass.”

                A cough of a laugh escaped Alice’s mouth, the first genuine reaction she’d had since entering the gym. “Well, I’m also pretty sure they aren’t secretly plotting to attempt hostile takeovers or screw me in contracts, so it’s not a perfect comparison.”

                “Maybe not, but I’d advise you to keep in mind that even Heroes are people, and sometimes they let their own best interests cloud the well-meaning intentions.” Titan stayed near, even as he let her hand go. “Just some advice from an old-timer: always ask yourself why a possible mentor is interested.”

                “If this is you making a pitch, I’m flattered, but it’s a little unorthodox. Also, I don’t think we’d be a great fit,” Alice said.

                It was Titan’s turn to laugh. “Nothing like that. I’ve just grown fond of you kids, I want to see you all end up in the best possible situations; learning under a Hero with a lot to teach, not someone who wants to scoop up your prestige and connections.”

                “Ah yes, the Adair name, always so much fun to lug around.” Titan had a point, although not one she hadn’t already considered. Being connected to one of the most wealthy, influential men on the planet had made people take an interest in her for most of her life. Those truly in the know understood how little Charles Adair cared for any living person, but there were always some inept schemers who thought they’d gain influence with him by winning his daughter’s favor. “Alright, Titan. I think you’re about as impartial an opinion as I’ll get today, who would you recommend focusing on?”

                “I can’t say I know nearly enough about the people courting you to answer that. I may be back in the swing of things, but a lot of Heroes sprang up while I was gone. Besides…” Titan paused, looking over his shoulder to a cluster of costumed people on the other side of the gym. “I’m not quite impartial in the first place. I’m sure you know Gale is interested in you, and we’re… friends. I think. Amiable colleagues, at the very least.”

                Following Titan’s gaze, Alice found herself looking at the leader of Elemental Fury. She was talking to Roy at the moment, one of many people who’d been doing so after he shrugged off an attack from the guy who’d just punched through a wall. Gale hadn’t been especially coy in her interest; however Alice rather liked that fact. It was nice to meet someone who was upfront with what they wanted.

                “Then would you recommend I pick Gale?” Alice was less interested in whether Titan would say yes or no, and a lot more curious about whatever reason he’d give for the selection.

                “I would recommend you think carefully and choose the mentor best for you,” Titan replied. “And I will add that Gale is headstrong, stubborn, prone to being overly defensive, and sometimes a little too concerned with how the public views her team.”

                “Wow, is that the friend endorsement or the amiable colleague one?”

                “It’s just the truth, as I see it, and I think you deserve to know that truth,” Titan said. “Just like you deserve to know that she is selfless, dedicated, honest, loyal, and has always put the good of the people we serve above her own. I respect her, as a person and a Hero. That doesn’t make her perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but if you’re holding out for someone flawless you’re in for a hell of a wait.”

                “Thanks, Titan. I’ll keep that in mind.” Alice threw one last glance over to Gale’s area. “Are you going to congratulate Roy for his showing too? From what they told me in the recovery area, it sounds like he gave a good demonstration of what a tough bastard he is.”

                Titan looked over for a brief moment, then shook his head. “Roy doesn’t want to talk to me during these things. Especially not after a loss, no matter how impressive it was.”

                “Do you think so? I’d say that’s exactly the time he’d like to talk to you. Just my opinion though, feel free to ignore it.”

                The large man’s eyes rested on her for several seconds before the side of his mouth turned upward into a smirk. “Truth for truth, huh? I’ll keep that in mind. Now I’d better clear out so you can keep being wooed.”

                Titan stepped away, and moments later another Hero in a bright yellow costume took his place. Her smile firmly affixed, Alice greeted the new potential mentor with a cheerful voice and excited eyes. After all, if she couldn’t fake her way through something like this, what kind of Subtlety Hero could she really hope to be?

                It didn’t escape her notice, however, that Titan was edging his way through the room, moving a little closer to Roy with every awkward step. There was no telling if he’d actually find the courage to keep going or would turn away and pretend to be enthralled by the finger foods. Anything was possible, and she dearly hoped Titan found the courage to finish his journey.

                It was a thought that made her smile genuine, even if only for a brief moment.