Chapter 185

                Roy should have been feeling on top of the world. Not only had he managed to fend off the attacks of four Sims while the others got civilians to safety, he’d only killed one of them in the submission process. Given that the Sim in question was taking aim at a lot of innocent targets, he felt like it was probably a forgivable kill even at that. Part of him worried about how he’d feel when it was a real person’s life he had to take, but that wasn’t the issue nagging at him as he walked with the others into the post-trial mixer. No, today the issue was a seven-foot tall muscular beast of a man who was standing on the other side of the room.

                It seemed like Titan was always at these things, which was a little surprising when Roy thought about it. He was working as a Hero again, free time should be a precious commodity, yet without fail he kept showing up at these. Mostly he stood around, occasionally talking to a student though by this point he’d more or less shaken hands with all of them. If Gale was around, the two would group up and chat, but otherwise Titan was a solitary figure at these functions. Although Roy wasn’t as smart as his brother, even he could guess that the reason Titan was coming was to watch him fight. It didn’t come close to making up for all the moment’s he’d missed throughout childhood, but it wasn’t nothing either.

                Taking a deep breath, Roy steeled his determination and started walking forward. It was funny, half an hour ago he’d been in a simulated combat situation where injury was a very real possibility, yet the mere act of approaching his father was far more terrifying than anything he’d felt in the last bout. Even as the idea crossed his mind, he knew why this was scarier. The HCP had trained healers on staff to patch up nearly any non-lethal wound he might receive. The kind of injury this could lead to, however, they didn’t make a healer for.

                “Titan,” Roy greeted, shaking the man’s hand on autopilot. Titan was visibly surprised by the sudden approach, but he quickly recovered himself.

                “Great job out there, Roy. It seems like in every trial I see you’ve upped your game. Pretty soon the HCP is going to run out of Sims that can still hurt you.”

                “If that ever happens, I’m sure they’ll just ask Will for some new ideas. He’s got a ray that causes itching, and as silly as that sounds trust me when I tell you that you do not want to get hit by it.” Roy shuddered involuntarily at the memories of his Weapons matches with Will. Even more than a year later, he could still recall the way his skin felt like it was on fire. “Gale ain’t here today?”

                “No real point for her to be,” Titan replied. “Alice accepted the internship offer, so assuming she graduates Gale already has her student.”

                That was interesting, Roy was pretty sure Alice hadn’t mentioned accepting the offer to anyone yet. Then again, Gale had been the only potential teacher she seemed excited about, so maybe it had been implied. Either way, that made things a bit harder, Roy had planned to use Gale as an entry point into the real topic he wanted to tackle. Thoughts from Hershel bubbled up, new ideas on how to redirect the discussion, and Roy jumped on them.

                “Too bad, I wanted to talk to her. But since you’re so close, maybe you can help me. Have you ever worked with Granite?”

                There was a long pause before Titan nodded, and Roy had no idea what to make of it. “A few times, since we’re in the same city and fill the same role. Strongman-type with one hell of a defense. A good man, too. He’s always got the right parts of the job at the forefront of his mind.”

                “Glad to hear it,” Roy said. “He made me an internship offer, you know.”

                “Gale mentioned that he might. Congratulations, getting to work with a team like Elemental Fury is no small feat. With their resources and collective experience they make a great learning opportunity, and I know Granite will do right by you.” Titan turned to his drink, almost, but not quite, concealing the flicker of sadness that darted through his eyes.

                It wasn’t much, and if not for Hershel’s presence reassuring him Roy might have thought he imagined it. But it had been there, and that was enough to convince Roy to keep pushing forward. “I haven’t decided if I’m accepting yet, actually. I’d like to meet the guy first, for one thing. And beyond that… well he seems like he’d be a good fit for a teacher, no question there. But I have to ask myself if he’d be the best fit for me. The one who can truly help me reach levels I’d never make it to on my own. What do you think, Titan? He’s a strongman like you, so you’ve got to have some insight. Is Granite the best possible teacher for me?”

                “Given his own experience and the team behind him, I don’t think you’re going to get an offer from anyone who can match what he’s bringing to the table,” Titan said.

                “That ain’t the question I asked.” Roy heard the edge in his voice and hated himself for it. He didn’t mean to default to antagonistic like that, it was just… why did everything with Titan always have to be so hard? He was trying here, he really was, but the more he pushed his father on the issue the more Titan seemed to retreat from it. Maybe he should have let Hershel handle this. “Sorry, I… I don’t know. I don’t know what I wanted from this. An explanation, I guess?”

                He started to turn, but Titan reached out and put a hand on his forearm. “Roy, do you really want me to train you? I don’t have to tell you all the ways that’s a bad idea.”

                “Trust me, I know.” Despite the instinct to knock Titan’s hand away, Roy let it remain. He had to try to make something happen, even if parts of him were screaming that this man couldn’t be trusted. Because there were other bits of him now, ones that remembered the night an amped-up Super had Roy dead-to-rights until Titan appeared to save him, or pieces that had noticed Titan showing up for every single trial. He was trying, even though he was scared. Roy could at least match that effort.

                “I know it’s a bad idea, and I’m not saying I want it to happen. I guess I was just hurt that you didn’t even offer. I thought things with us were getting a little better. When I didn’t see any offer from you, I started wondering if maybe you were done reaching out. Damn, that sounds silly when I say it out loud.”

                “No, it doesn’t,” Titan told him. “I bailed on you, on the whole family, so being afraid that I might suddenly quit again is a perfectly rational fear to have. But I’m not going to, I promise. I know those words don’t mean much from me right now, and they shouldn’t. All I can do is keep showing up and proving that I mean it. If that means you want to train under me I’ll have the offer out before the day’s end. If it means you want to get a beer and just talk, I’ll make the time for that too. I know I can’t fix what’s broken between us, but I’ll do everything I can to build something new.”

                It was the most open conversation Roy could remember having with his father since childhood, and suddenly he found himself wishing they weren’t having it in a room stuffed full of other people. “Let’s start with the beer. Right now, since you’re already off. I know a few nearby bars that are never full.”

                “You don’t want to stay here?” Titan asked.

                Roy scanned the room, seeing the same function he’d been at since the school year started only with a few new masks around. “What for? I’ve already got some solid offers, there’s no need for me to mingle. I think this is a far better use of my time.”