“Where does he work?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” Vaughn said. “Something medical.”
We started talking about the fight again for another thirty minutes or so. Somehow the conversation turned to Lee, and I reminded people that he wanted all of us there the next day and ideally every practice thereafter.
“And that’s why I need to go,” Jaclyn said. “If I want to have time for that, I can’t stay here all night.”
She left, and then Vaughn and Cassie left, leaving Daniel, Haley and me sitting together.
Daniel watched as the elevator doors shut behind them.
“You mentioned the Defenders,” I asked, “is your dad officially in now?”
Daniel nodded. “He’s going to resign as a prosecutor next month and then officially become one of the Midwest Defenders six months after that. In the meantime, he’s been appearing with them a lot. Hopefully no one will make a connection.”
“That’ll be a change,” I said.
“And not all a good one. He’ll have to commute to Chicago every morning unless we move.”
“Is that likely?”
Daniel shrugged. “I don’t know. He can fly there in thirty minutes. That’s probably a faster commute than if he were driving in Chicago. On the other hand, if he gets hurt Mom would have to drive for three hours to see him. And who would watch Grandpa while she’s gone?”
Haley nodded. “I heard your grandpa wasn’t doing well. Is it Alzheimer’s?”
Daniel hesitated before speaking. Then, “Probably. It’s a little hard to tell sometimes. For a while there he was ranting on and on about Red Lightning and his army and that we needed to tell the Rocket. We put that down to Alzheimers, but bearing in mind everything that’s happened since… I don’t know. It might be something unique to his ability to sense the future. Anyway, here we’ve got to keep him at home, but my mom can’t handle that forever. Chicago might have people around who can stop an Alzheimer’s patient capable of telekinetically lifting fifty tons.”
I felt weird thinking about it. Daniel and I had known each other practically since birth.
“It won’t be that bad,” Daniel said. “We don’t know if we’re going yet and we’ll both be in college anyway. If we both go to Grand Lake U., it really won’t matter.”
“Well,” Daniel said, “I really ought to go myself. I still have some homework tonight.”
Then he spoke directly into my mind.
Daniel: Also, Haley wants to talk to you alone.
Me: About what?
Daniel: None of my business, but it won’t be too bad — unless you really screw it up.
Aloud, he said, “See you.”
We said good-bye, and he turned and walked to the elevator.
Then we stood there quietly for a moment.
“Nick, can we talk?”
“Could you take off your helmet?”
Once Cassie had started with the debriefing, I lost my chance to shower and take off my armor.
I removed my helmet.
“You didn’t have to get between me and Payback. I knew what he was going to do.”
“I didn’t want you to get hurt.”
“Nick, I dodged him twice before you got there. I could have kept it up.”
I tried to think of what to say next.
“Travis does crap like that all the time. I don’t need protection any more than you do.”
“What if –” I began, but then, thinking better of it, I started again. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know it bothered you. I’ll stop.”
In my head, I made a special exception for situations she really couldn’t get out of herself.
For few moments, neither of us said anything.
She looked up at me. “Do you have any homework left? I’m done with mine. I could stay for a little while.”
“I’m free. What do you want to do?”
“We could just sit and talk.”
We got out of our costumes, waited while the other showered, and finally sat next to each other in chairs, talking and sometimes holding hands.
Not for the first time, I thought that HQ desperately needed a couch. Only by the most desperate stretch of the imagination could HQ be considered romantic. Between the dust, awards, cardboard boxes, failed inventions, and trophies snatched from supervillians’ headquarters, it still reminded me more of a storage room.
On the other hand, it was private.
We stayed there for two hours, the big wall screen flickering. Local, hourly news didn’t show more than the shortest clips of the fight — Jaclyn punching Spike into the building, and Sean bashing Spike and Skewer against each other in the air.
I’d set the sound low, and we didn’t pay much attention to it.
The two hour mark found Haley on my lap which wasn’t a bad thing, but she was heavier than she looked. Whatever substance her bones and muscles were made out of had to be remarkably light by comparison to its strength, but not by comparison to normal people.
My legs felt a little uncomfortable, but not painfully so, and it might have been the chair. It wasn’t made to hold two.
It felt good to have her near me anyway.
We were kissing when the words “Incoming Call” followed by the FBI symbol and “Superhuman Affairs Branch” floated across the screen.
I considered ignoring it, but she’d already gotten off my lap.
I reached out to the mouse, clicked, and accepted the call.
Isaac’s face appeared on the screen. He wasn’t in his office.
He stood in front of a concrete wall next to a pile of wooden crates, his face mostly in shadow. In the background, people shouted and I heard the annoying beep and diesel roar of something big backing up.
Over the noise he said, “Hey, I hear you just had some help. Tell me about it.”
Haley and I did, including where Sean had gotten the drugs.
“His grandfather was part of Red Lightning’s crew and his dad keeps power juice at home?” Isaac shook his head. “I shouldn’t have asked. This opens up a whole new can of worms.”
“Are you going to take him in?” Haley didn’t sound vengeful, just concerned.
“The most I can do right now is question him. The juice isn’t illegal yet. Yet. The way I understand it, it’s about to become a controlled substance.”
Isaac paused. “Unfortunately I can’t act under the law we will have, just the ones we’ve got. Why do you care?”
“Sean’s sister Sydney is nice. I was just wondering.”
Isaac nodded. “OK. Well, I’ve got to go. We’re wrapping up here.”
Someone shouted, and then the wall screen’s picture twisted, changing to a blurry view of a fork lift and more crates while Isaac said, “Give me a second!”
In a seasickness inducing move, the view changed back. Isaac’s face appeared again. “One more thing. Nick, you’ve got lipstick on your nose.”