Chapter 180

                “Do you want to talk about it?”

                Hershel looked up from his laptop to find Mary standing nearby. They were the only ones in the common area this morning, the rest of the group was off training, working, or filling their time with other distractions. For his part, Hershel had been meticulously researching the Heroes who’d offered he and Roy internships, seeing if any of them made a bigger impression with their public record than they had in person. He didn’t need to ask what she was talking about. Hershel was well aware of the nagging thought that had been eating at his brain since they opened their letters the day prior.

                “I thought you made a point not to listen to my mind.” Hershel closed the laptop, giving her his full attention. It was the polite thing to do, plus they’d been together long enough for him to tell when she wanted to have a serious discussion.

                Mary made her way over and took a seat next to Hershel on the couch. “I still try not to snoop, but Roy is another matter. And despite what you might believe, the two of you aren’t all that different. I’m not going to pry if you want to let it be; I just wanted to give you the chance to talk. In case you wanted to.” Her hand wrapped around his as best it could with her diminutive fingers.

                There was a split-second where Hershel almost declined the opportunity before chiding himself for such an impulse. He and Roy had come so far in the last four years; they’d grown both on their own and together in countless ways, but there were still some areas where they felt like confused children trying to untangle emotions that were too complex. He wouldn’t turn from them anymore though, it was the strategy both brothers had tried for years and it hadn’t made things better. Only the few occasions where they’d faced things head on had yielded improvement.

                “It’s… it’s not that I think it would be a good idea to intern under him. Even without all of our baggage, and that’s a huge thing to ignore, our relationship could cause him to go easy on me, or make bad choices in the heat of the moment to protect me. In my heart I know that it would have been a bad fit. Still, I thought Roy and I would have the chance to make that decision. I mean, he’s our dad, and Titan didn’t even offer to be our mentor? That feels a little messed up.”

                “Maybe he saw those same conflicts as you and didn’t want to take the chance that you two would make the wrong call,” Mary suggested. “Or maybe he’s scared.”

                Hershel snorted in reflex, then immediately turned sheepish. “Sorry, that was rude. I understand our dad is more than muscles and punching, he’s a real person with real feelings. It’s just hard to picture him being scared of anything, no matter how hard I try.”

                The room grew silent as Mary stared at him, her gaze deep and thorough. She was searching his eyes, perhaps his mind as well, for something. Hershel had no idea what, but he wasn’t concerned. They’d long ago passed the point of trust where he believed she’d do whatever she genuinely believed was right. For him, and for them as a couple.

                “I’m going to break a rule,” Mary said finally, her eyes unwavering from Hershel’s. “I don’t do this sort of thing lightly, you know. Don’t ask me to do it again unless there’s good reason. In this case, however, I think it might be necessary. Hershel, I’m going to tell you some of what I’ve gotten from Titan’s thoughts. And the first thing is that he is terrified where you and Roy are concerned.”

                “Terrified?” Hershel had a hard time swallowing that, even if it was coming from someone he trusted as much as Mary.

                “If anything, I’m understating it.” The grip of her hand tightened on his, her slender fingers much stronger than they appeared. “Titan loves you both very much. He’s deeply sorry for the choices he made way back when, and now that your relationship is finally starting to get the slightest bit better he is scared pantsless that he’s going to say or do the wrong thing to drive you both off again. Every time he sees you, it’s nearly all he can think about. He’s gotten a small piece of his sons back, and the idea of messing that up is more than he can handle. I don’t know exactly why he didn’t send you the invite to intern under him, but I’d bet my trailer it has something to do with him worrying about how you’d take the gesture.”

                “Those are very sweet things to hear, and I believe you,” Hershel told her. “But it doesn’t mean the same coming from your mouth. If Titan wanted me to know all this, he should tell me himself.”

                “I think he truly wants to. Again though, he’s scared. That doesn’t make it okay, it just means he’s not holding out because of something as stupid as pride.” Mary leaned in and kissed Hershel gently on the cheek. “Now it’s time to pay up. I want a secret, mister.”

                Hershel pulled back slightly, enough to see the mischievous grin on Mary’s face. It wasn’t an expression she’d have often let the others witness, generally she tried to keep her den mother aura of responsibility untarnished, but Hershel knew her better than they did. Better than anyone ever had, really. And, if he was honest with himself, she probably knew him better than anyone else too, telepathy or no.

                “What do you mean you want a secret?”

                “Did I not just tell you I was breaking a rule? That kind of thing isn’t free, not even for my boyfriend. I want you to tell me something honest, something deep, something on par with what I just revealed to you.” She paused for a moment, watching his face carefully. “I want you to tell me the truth: do you want to intern under Titan?”

                “We just went through all the reasons it’s a bad idea,” Hershel said.

                “Yes, we did, but that’s not what I asked. I asked if you wanted to be his intern. What you want doesn’t have to be what you do; it doesn’t even have to make logical sense. It simply is, and you don’t need to feel bad about that.”

                The truth of the matter was that Hershel and Roy had been asking themselves the same question since they failed to find an offer from their father. Why did its absence feel so potent? Was it because they’d taken the offer for granted, or did it represent one more way their father hadn’t been there for the two of them? The issue had seemed so complex before, yet with Mary sitting at his side asking him plainly, Hershel found that the truth was right there waiting for him to grasp it. It probably always had been, he’d just been too scared to face it. Oddly, he felt a small pang of empathy for his father.

                “Part of me wants to intern under Titan. The best memories Roy and I have of our dad are training together. Even when I went to see him during sophomore year and we reconnected that’s how we spent our time together. And no one has ever understood our power better than him. I guess I think that if there’s some way to try and repair our relationship, training would be the best place to start.”

                Mary pulled him in closer, turning their cozy seating into a full embrace. “That’s not nothing. It doesn’t mean you should intern under him, the points you made are still valid. But it sounds, to me anyway, like the reason you want the internship is because it would give you a chance to repair that relationship. And you don’t actually need the internship to do that, you know.”

                “I know. But it would have made things a lot easier,” Hershel admitted.

                “You’re an HCP senior and a former Powered. Since when do things ever get to be easy?”