There were no beeping monitors or tubes running to Jill’s veins, such technology was unneeded when their friendly damage absorber could completely remove all of the injuries with just a touch. The trauma, however, was another matter, and no sooner had they left the battlefield than Jill was taken to the infirmary to rest. Her body was trying to react to a slew of broken bones and other wounds that were no longer present, and it would take a little while for reality to catch up with her brain’s expectations. It was an aspect of healing every senior student knew quite well, having encountered the fatigue ample times in their tenure at Lander. Yet something about this still felt different as Will sat silently, resting on a plastic chair with a thin cushion and keeping watch over his sister.
Jill seemed to be awake, and that was a pity, because sleep would do her a world of good. Somewhere in the back of his mind, Will filed away the idea for some sort of device to induce immediate REM sleep on people. It would be helpful in situations like these, and, if he could make it work fast enough, have potential offensive capabilities as well. If today had made nothing else clear, it was the fact that he’d failed to give Jill’s suit enough tech, and already his brain was abuzz with ideas on how to better protect her.
The word was so soft that Will nearly missed it, he only realized it had been spoken because Jill rolled slightly over to better face him.
“Sorry? You jumped onto the back of a giant Sim to save me. If anyone here should be sorry, it’s me. I should have made your suit stronger, more adaptable.” Will leaned forward, eyes burning as the words continued to spew. “Don’t worry, as soon as you’re better I’m going to get started. I don’t care how much time it takes, by the time November’s test arrives you’ll be unstoppable. I’ll reinforce the armor, upgrade the muscle augmenters, add in external shielding generators coupled with-”
Jill reached out and bopped Will on the nose with her index and middle fingers. “Enough.”
“That’s not nearly enough, to compensate for today’s failing I’ll redouble-”
“I’m the one who failed, Will.” Jill pulled herself a little higher off the bed, meeting her brother’s eyes on equal level. “Not you, and not your tech. I made an impulsive call and didn’t pay enough attention to my opponent’s counter-attack. I’m the one who got myself hurt, I’m the one who slowed down the team, I’m the one that made a mistake. You and your tech were both great.”
Will shook his head. “That’s not true, if I’d just planned a little better, worked harder on your suit, you wouldn’t have gotten hurt.”
“Heroes get hurt. It’s part of the job,” Jill told him. “I know you want to keep protecting me like you did when we were kids. Hell, I have a hunch that you’ve stuck an interfering hand in my dating life a time or two as well. But Will, if I graduate from this program, you can’t constantly be there to look after me. Our jobs won’t always be together, and you can’t split your focus between worrying about me and your own tasks. You have to accept that if I become a Hero, I might get hurt, or worse, and you won’t be able to stop it.”
“There are many things I have had to accept in this life. Mom’s mental issues, having a power that no one thought counted, and my own physical frailty in a world of unstoppable Supers just to name a few. But, and hear me well Jill, I will never stop trying to look after and protect you.” Will lowered his head, not wanting her to see as his eyes grew moist. “Since the beginning, you were the only one who understood what it was like to be different. You were always there for me, forcing me to participate in the world, reminding me that we were as much human as we were Super. Without you, I’d be a half-crazed shut-in locked away in some basement, surrounded only by technology and inventions I saw no reason to share with the world. You’ve saved me at least as much as I have you, and I don’t intend to stop, ever. We watch over one another, that’s what family is supposed to do.”
“I guess you’re right.” Though Will couldn’t see her move, he felt his sister’s hand gently settle onto the top of his head, mussing his brown hair with an affectionate scratch. “But I don’t agree that our scorecards are even, Will. Not even with the stuff I know about, to say nothing of the things I suspect you’ve done. All this time, you’ve easily taken on the lion’s share of the burden. I think it’s about time I stole some of it from your shoulders.”
Will raised his eyes, inadvertently causing Jill to drop her hand. “What are you talking about?”
Jill said nothing at first, merely lowering herself back into a resting position on her cot. “Between the two of us, who do you think will make the better Hero?”
“Your martial capacity exceeds mine by quite a ways.”
“That’s just fighting,” Jill snapped. “And by this point we both know Hero work is about more than throwing punches. So be honest. You with your tech and trickery, me with a suit, who among us do you think is going to do more cumulative good in the world?”
“There’s no way to know.” Will had a firm idea of where she was leading the conversation, and he refused to play along.
“Bullshit. I’m middle of the pack in my fields, and that’s being pretty generous. Meanwhile, you’re kicking ass at Subtlety all day every day. Plus, having you on a team means your Heroes will get access to gear and tech that most people could only dream of. You’ll make the better Hero, between the two of us, Will. And it’s okay to admit that.”
“It’s possible,” Will said, words still hesitant. “But I suppose we’ll have to wait and see when we’re a few years into the job.”
“No, we won’t.” Jill didn’t turn away from him, but she also made no effort to re-establish eye contact. “I’m quitting the program.”
“Jill, I know today was traumatic, but after I improve the suit-”
Jill spun around, eyes filled with fiery determination that Will had rarely seen in her outside of a battlefield. “No, Will. There is no tech you can invent, no gear you can make, that will somehow keep me safe from everything. But if I keep going with this, you’ll never stop trying. You just said so yourself. And the world needs you as a dedicated, non-distracted, Hero. Way more than it needs someone like me, at least in the field. So I think it’s better for everyone if you don’t have to worry anymore.”
“I won’t… you can’t quit just for me,” Will stammered.
“You mean a lot to me, and this is the final nail in the coffin, but it’s about more than just you.” Jill’s ferocity ebbed and her body relaxed as sorrow appeared behind her eyes. “Ever since last May, since Sasha’s funeral, I’ve been wondering if this is really the life for me after all. I thought I knew what I was getting into, but shit, I was eighteen and had no real perspective of how dangerous the Hero world really was when we started. Then it was all about the competition, and momentum just kept carrying me through, making me skim past whatever doubts and fears were cropping up. Sasha’s death brought it all to the surface, though. My own mortality, that of my friends… I don’t want to spend my life burying the people I love. And I don’t want to die because some asshole with super-strength got in a lucky punch. And… and I don’t think I want to kill people, Will. Even if it’s for the greater good. Even if it’s in self-defense at the time. Those Sims today looked so real, that’s why I went for the stun rather than the drop. Maybe it’s something I can fight my way through and grow past, but I’m not sure I’d like who comes out the other side.”
Jill extended her hand from over the side of the cot, and Will carefully grasped it in his own.
“I love you, Will, but I’m not like you. I can’t go to the places you can in order to get things done. I’ll always have your back, I’ll always be in your life, and I’ll always be there for you. Just, maybe not in the same profession. So don’t feel guilty about this, or obligated to join me. Being a Hero is your dream, it has been since before you even knew it was possible. I want to see you realize it. I want you to be the best damn Subtlety Hero this world has ever seen.”
“But no pressure or anything, right?” Will wasn’t expecting to get a laugh from such a weak joke, but Jill’s chuckle still echoed through the room. They sat like that for a long while, neither quite sure what next step to take on this new path toward the future.
The one thing they did know, however, was that neither would have to walk it alone.