Chapter 223

                “I guess the honest answer is that I haven’t. Thought about it, I mean.” Vince glanced to Titan, waiting for reassurance that this was some sort of joke they were about to let him in on, but the huge Hero simply returned his gaze with a confused look of his own. Whatever Jeremiah was up to, he apparently hadn’t brought Titan in on it.

                Jeremiah nodded, clearly unsurprised. “And who could blame you? After all, what strapping, ass-kicking, name-taking fighter like yourself would want to learn from one of us shifty types? The assumption is that you should go learn under a Hero who can teach you to punch that little bit harder, strike just a tad faster, and so on. It’s the default, the way things tend to work, and I certainly don’t begrudge you for thinking along those lines. I’m just pitching something a little different, if you’re interested enough to hear me out.”

                “Of course I’d be willing to-”

                “Hang on.” Jeremiah held up a finger to silence Vince before he could finish. “When I say hear me out, I mean that seriously. I know you’re in mingle-mode, so you’re being as polite as possible, plus I’m a friend of someone you respect. But this isn’t a ‘listen for the sake of it’ kind of situation. If you’re not interested, then that is completely fine. No offense, no hard feelings, none of the droll crap. Take a moment to consider if this is actually a proposal you want to listen to, then tell me to keep going or fuck off.”

                It was a strange reply to Vince’s acceptance, but Jeremiah was rapidly revealing himself to be an unusual guy. Still, he was a Hero, and one who hung out with the likes of Titan, which meant Vince had to assume the man knew what he was doing. So… would Vince ever learn under a Subtlety Hero? It was hard to imagine what he’d get from it. No one had to tell Vince he lacked the talent for the sorts of things Alice and Nick could do. Even being normally subtle was a trial for him; actually trying to do it at a professional level was a joke. He would be throwing away his internship, wasting years attempting to learn skills that would always be out of his depth. What upside was there?

                Just as he was about to decline, a memory flashed in Vince’s mind, one from the beginning of sophomore year. Nick’s scavenger hunt, specifically. Before they’d even known what Subtlety classes really were, he’d put together a lesson to teach them about thinking tactically instead of pushing ahead with brute force. Because of that, and a dozen other bits of advice and teachings through the year, they’d ended up a much stronger team. In fact, when he really looked back on it, Vince realized that he already had been trained by someone skilled in Subtlety. True, Nick never got Vince closer to being good at lies or trickery; however he did manage to make Vince think with strategy, and expand his understanding of what was possible. Nick educated Vince’s mind, even when most of his other instructors tended to drill him on speed, power, and reflexes.

                “I’d say my interest depends on what kind of teacher you wanted to be,” Vince replied at last. “If you wanted to try and teach me to be a Subtlety Hero, or a hybrid Hero with multiple disciplines, then I’d like to politely decline. On the other hand, if you want to try and teach me to use my head better than I do, then that’s something I’d listen to.”

                A fleeting look of surprise darted across Titan’s face, though Jeremiah seemed unfazed by the response. “There we go. I had a feeling you could put it together if I gave you a little shove. You’re an interesting man to watch fight, Vince. You’ve got power in spades, and clearly you haven’t shirked your training, but the way you think is just so linear… you’re predictable. Or at least, that’s what I thought until I saw you bluff the Sims. That was creative, unexpected, and most importantly of all: effective.”

                “I, um, I was just sort of trying to think of what one of my friends would do,” Vince admitted.

                “Nothing wrong with that. You took the tools of another and made them your own. But while you’re fighting toolbox is huge, I think you’re under-stocked in the mental equivalent.”

                Titan loomed a little closer into their conversation. “Jeremiah, you could stand to be less blunt.”

                “Why? Do you believe Vince doesn’t know that most of the others are better at strategy or quick-thinking than him?” Jeremiah asked. “Let me assure you, he probably knows that better than anyone else. If he didn’t, he wouldn’t have bothered hearing me out. Vince knows he’s got a weakness and wants to improve on it, pretending it’s not there doesn’t do him any favors.”

                Turning back to Vince, Jeremiah clapped him on the shoulders and looked him dead in the eyes. “The good news is that you do have potential, my boy. That stunt with the bluff was good. And in the past, you’ve pulled the occasional rabbit out of a hat when the pressure was really on.”

                “How do you-”

                “Titan, you know better than to ask a Subtlety Hero how they learned things,” Jeremiah said, cutting him off before the speech could be derailed. “My point is that there is a working brain in there Vince, and you’ve proven it a few times. The trouble is that you tend to lean on your wits only in moments of last resort, when your physical strength has failed or fallen short. I don’t blame you, if I had your ability I’d have relied heavily on raw power too. Now the question is whether you want to keep shoring up the place where you’re already strong, or try and build on the spots where you’re weak.”

                “So you think you can teach me to fight like a Subtlety Hero?” Vince asked. He wasn’t entirely sure why he was entertaining this idea so long; it should be ridiculous, shouldn’t it? Except that less than an hour ago he’d let an Armageddon Sim slip through his fingers, and then nearly gotten pinned down in front of an orphanage. Not because he lacked power, but because he had trouble figuring out how to best use it. This time he’d pulled things out in the last minute. Next time, when the stakes were real, he might not get lucky.

                “Depends on how you mean that.” Jeremiah let his grip go and resumed his casual stance. “I’ve seen your transcripts and assessments - don’t bother asking how, Titan, we’ll talk later - and you’re… well, you’re probably never going to be the smartest person in the room. You don’t have the makings for Subtlety in its classic sense, and no amount of teaching will change that. However, what I can do is make you a better version of you. Smarter, wilier, more dangerous. You have good instincts, Vince, and a natural intuition when you get out of your own way. I can refine that, teach you how to trust it, and expand your mental toolkit. Everyone else who offers you an internship will teach you to hit harder, I’ll teach you to hit smarter.”

                Had he… Jeremiah couldn’t possibly know that’s how Nick had phrased his type of education back in sophomore year, could he? Staring at him, so unassuming and easy-to-miss in this crowd of powerful people, Vince wasn’t sure he put anything past the man. That was a scary thought, but also an intriguing one.

                “I’d like to consider what you’ve said today,” Vince replied. “Or were you hoping for an answer?”

                “Nah, if you tried to give me one so soon I’d know you hadn’t really understood what I was offering anyway. Take your time; I’ll keep the spot open for you. There’s only one other student I wanted to offer to train anyway, and I do get two intern positions. Speaking of, Titan, let’s go refresh our drinks and then get in line. Looks like it’s going to take us a while to get our turn talking with Chad.”

                It took a few seconds for his words to click, but the instant they did Titan and Vince both felt their eyes bulge as they stared directly at Jeremiah. When they spoke it was in near perfect unison. “What?”

                Jeremiah chuckled softly and snapped his fingers. “Damnit! Why didn’t I think to have a video camera out for that?”