Daisy groaned like a wounded mammoth as she slowly woke up. She desperately didn’t want to. She just wanted to stay unconscious under her covers for the next few years. Despite what she wanted, the memories of the previous day slowly returned.
The final was over, but that was just the beginning. John gave a rousing motivational speech to the freshmen about how well they’d performed and how great it was to see a class of their caliber. Then all the kids got to leave. <Assholes,> she really didn’t think that about most of her students, the key word being most; but she definitely felt that way after spending nine hours reviewing their ball data.
“I don’t think they listened to us at all,” she remembered the exasperation of reviewing Jacobsen and her final moments. “That was just plain stupid.”
The grumbling continued until nearly midnight, at which point she took the faculty lift to her home. It was times like that when Daisy missed a good stiff drink, but she controlled her addiction. Instead, she brewed some tea to soothe her mind and her temper. Then someone had knocked on her door.
At this point in her mental replay Daisy stiffened. She felt the weight draped over her. Her morning drowsiness had obscured it, but now that she was thinking about it she could definitely feel it. Topher’s arm was casually lying over her shoulder.
<Shit…no…no…no…> Daisy mentally groaned. She wasn’t ready for this, she wasn’t ready to have given everything to the handsome, caring, and humble police officer.
<Wait,> she took a deep breath and focused. <T-shirt and panties, both check, and no tenderness,> relief washed over her as she registered the clothes she was wearing and the lack of sensation in all the right places. It had been a while so she definitely would have felt getting nailed by her boyfriend.
She was glad she’d dodged that emotional bullet. She just wasn’t ready to deal with that just yet. There was too much happening in the next few weeks for Daisy to take her eye off the ball.
“Mornin’,” as if on cue Topher gave his own groan, and his arm tightened around her.
<Why is he here?> Daisy thought back to the previous night.
Topher had knocked on her door at midnight more than a little tipsy. He’d been upset, not at her, but at the shitty day he’d had. Daisy took that as both a good and bad sign. It was good that Topher was man enough to admit his emotions to her, and come to her when he had issues. Daisy was nothing if not a world class problem solver. The downside was that she had to nurse her drunken boyfriend back to health, and it was never fun to be the sober person in that situation. Daisy would much rather be on the opposite end, or enjoying the festivities. She didn’t like the added temptation.
She’d spent an hour force feeding the drunken man water, getting something in his stomach, and tucking him into bed beside her. Then she’d crashed, and she crashed hard.
Sometime during the night they cuddled; which made her heart do a little summersault, and put a smile back on her face. “You feeling better?” she turned over so she was facing him.
He blinked sleepiness from his eyes as his brown met her demonic red. “I am now.”
Daisy couldn’t stop the giggle for escaping her throat.
“What?” he tried to look hurt, but his smile ruined it.
“Really?” Daisy tilted her head and narrowed her eyes at the man she was beginning to love. She dropped her voice as low as it could go and added some huskiness to it. “I am now. Does that actually work?”
“I don’t know,” he shrugged still smiling. “Still waiting to see.” Then he kissed her.
They’d kissed before. Sometimes it was soft pecks as they met up, and other times it was the deep, long, mildly inappropriate tongue tango make out sessions that got her revved up. This kiss was different. She’d slept in his arms and they’d woken up warm and content. She’d cared for him when he needed it; after a day filled with shit and loss. There was something there that wasn’t there before, and Daisy felt it in that kiss.
Electricity coursed through her as their lips met. It was invigorating. Her weariness evaporated and she wanted more. She leaned into Topher, pressing her considerable curves against his naked chest. Daisy’s body was telling her to fuck his brains out, but her mind was telling her to pump the breaks.
<Keep it in your pants!> she screamed at herself. Topher was still a guy, and judging by the pressure against her leg, he was ready to go. He was just waiting for the go ahead.
<Sorry,> she felt bad when she pulled away from him. It was unfair to get him all riled up, and then shut him down.
The look on Topher’s face wasn’t upset, but Daisy knew she’d given him a set of blue balls that couldn’t be fun. “Shower?” she offered him the out, and he took it with a smile.
While Topher took what she presumed was a cold shower, Daisy went over her mental agenda. Last night all the professors had sucked it up and pounded out the analysis portion of the final. Everyone else’s portion was done unless Daisy or Craig decided to send one of the freshmen to another instructor for some pointers or a more detailed walk through of their performance. The two freshmen coaches still had their work cut out for them.
Over the next two days they would sit down and go over the students’ performances. Daisy already knew that some of the students wouldn’t like what they heard. The HCP had certain benchmarks of where students should be at this point in their training. Some of the kids she’d be talking to were well above that line, and a few were well below it. They still had another semester to bump up their scores, but West Private only allowed back twenty-eight students for sophomore year; which meant only sixty percent of the current freshmen would be invited back. It was Daisy and Craig’s job to pick those twenty-eight students, and that process really began today.
“Babe,” Topher called from the bathroom. Daisy couldn’t stop the smile from creeping onto be lips. She’d been called a lot of things by her former boyfriends, but babe was Topher’s chosen pet name. “Do you have any extra towels?”
“Yeah, sorry,” Daisy put aside the thought of crushing some kid’s dreams of being a Hero, and hurried to a closet in the hallway.
She only had one extra towel because she never foresaw having any houseguests. After last night, she might need to consider getting some extra supplies. “Here you go,” she opened the door without knocking.
“Daisy…Jesus,” Topher yelled as Daisy came face to face with his full frontal nudity.
“Oh…um…sorry,” Daisy knew she stared just a second too long. She turned away trying to hide her wide eyes and the growing blush on her face. “Um…here’s your towel. I’ll just be back out here,” she pointed out into the hallway like an idiot and beat a hasty retreat.
<Stupid…stupid,> Daisy mentally smashed her head against a wall. <You basically tease him, and then you stare at his junk. Way to send mixed signals.>
She heard the door open behind her and involuntarily shuddered. Topher must have seen it. “Are you ok?” he asked
“Yeah, sure, I’m fine,” she turned to face him and was glad he had the towel securely wrapped around his waist.
Her cheeks were nearly as red as her eyes as she failed to contain another blush. “Do you want to talk about it?” Topher asked, trying to make her feel at ease. “We’re both adults.”
“There’s nothing to talk about,” Daisy waved her hand in front of her in brushing aside motion. “You’ve got a big cock. Congratulations!” now Topher was the one blushing. “Like you said, we’re both adults. We don’t crack up like immature frat boys if one of us says penis or vagina.” Daisy felt her little speech getting away from her, but she couldn’t stop it. “In fact I owe you one.” Topher didn’t even have a chance to ask what she meant before she pulled up her baggy t-shirt.
Daisy didn’t wear a bra at night, so Topher got a good look at everything. She left it up for a few seconds, just as long as she’d gawked at his dick, and then covered herself back up. “There we go, now we’re even.”
“…thanks…” Topher was blushing fiercely, and the thanks sounded more like a question. “You have very nice breasts.”
“Thank you,” the situation felt more out of control than it had ten seconds ago, and she didn’t know how to retain control. “I’m going to hop in the shower now.” Topher wisely moved out of her way as she stormed into the bathroom and locked the door behind her.
<What did I just do!> Daisy screamed at herself. <What’s wrong with you? Who does that?>
She started the shower, set it to a nearly scorching setting, and stripped out of her clothes. She needed to knock some sense back into herself and quickly. She couldn’t hide in the shower forever.
She could do it until the hot water ran out, and that’s exactly what she did. Twenty minutes, and a body covered in pink, tender skin later; Daisy emerged from the shower her head level and ready for multiple contingencies.
“I’ve made some breakfast,” she was in there long enough for Topher to whip up some eggs and bacon.
Daisy felt the anxiety melt away as she smiled at her boyfriend. Awkward morning interaction aside, he was a great guy. Thankfully, they ate most of the meal in silence. Topher waited until they were draining the last of their coffee to speak.
“I just wanted to say thank you,” Daisy cocked an eye questioningly. “For helping me out last night,” Topher quickly finished; confirming his thanks for her generosity not the front seat ride to boob town. “With the power outage yesterday and all the crap afterwards it was tough, and I really appreciate you being there for me.”
Daisy smiled back at him. She’d been in a lot shittier positions than Topher, and she knew without people to lean on she’d have crumbled long ago. Half of her mental issues and addiction were due to not leaning on others more, and that lesson was a something she was taking very seriously now.
“Don’t mention it,” he smiled back at her. “I don’t mind taking care of you.” There was a double entendre there, but they both chose to go with the innocent, sweet interpretation.
They smiled at each other for a few more seconds before something passed across Topher face. Daisy wasn’t a telepath, so she couldn’t tell what it was, but there was definitely something there, and it made him anxious.
<Don’t push it,> he cautioned herself. <Breakfast has been great so far.> She tried to take her own advice, but after a few minutes of Topher’s furrowed brow she couldn’t take it anymore.
“What?” she blurted.
“What?” Topher repeated, but he looked guilty; and he knew that she knew it.
“Fine,” he sighed. “This isn’t how I wanted it to go, but you don’t always get to pick the moment.”
The statement sent a whirlwind of emotions through Daisy.
“I was wondering, since we’ve progressed to flashing one another in the hallway…” Daisy noticed the grin on Topher’s face, and felt a similar one forming on her own. “…if you were busy on Christmas Eve this year? My family kind of has a big tradition thing, and I wanted to know if you’d like to come and meet them.”
The whirlwind of emotions intensified in some areas and slackened in others. <Meet the parents,> was the thought at the center of all the internal turmoil.
Daisy didn’t have time to consider her feelings. A lifetime of Hero work made her a woman of action, and a lifetime of being a smartass made it all too easy for her mouth to get the best of her.
“Sure I’d love to meet them,” there was even enthusiasm in the response.
“Great!” Topher looked genuinely excited, and his smile was broad enough to split his face in half. “I’ll let everyone know you’re coming.”
Daisy basked in that smile for about five seconds before reality came crashing back down. <Shit! Now I have to buy everyone Christmas presents.>
Angela pulled at the waistline of her skirt, trying to get it to go a bit lower. <I’m never taking fashion advice from Becca again.> She promised herself.
The blue-haired speedster, and part-time fashionista, had helped her pick out this pencil skirt a month back. Angela bought the clothing with the primary motivation of getting Becca off her back, but now it seemed that it was coming back to bite her in the ass. With all her focus on school and HCP finals, little things like laundry had taken a lower priority.
Due to her lack of planning Angela now found herself entering the section of the HCP containing the coaches’ offices in the tight black garment. It ended right at her knees, which severally limited her movement. If she got attacked she’d have to rip the skirt or take it off entirely to improve her mobility. So instead of feeling sexy in the clingy, curve showing skirt, Angela felt vulnerable; especially going into her review with a coach who had kicked her through a wall before.
Angela stopped next to Coach Meyers’ door and stopped fidgeting with her skirt. There was nothing she could do, so she turned her attention to her white blouse. She smoothed the front over and over again to relieve the building tension in her gut. Everything she’d worked for this entire semester would be discussed in the next half an hour.
She waited patiently, and the start time of her review came and went. She checked her watch and her phone in her purse to make sure she had the right time, and was about to knock on one of the other office doors when Coach Meyers appeared at the end of the hall. Angela could read the anxiety all over the older woman’s face as she approached.
“Sorry I’m late, Martin,” the alternative instructor hastily apologized as she unlocked her door. “Something came up. Wait out here for a minute so I can get everything set up.” The older Super pushed open the door and shut it before Angela had a chance to respond.
Angela did as she was instructed. She waited patiently for Coach Meyers to call her in, and she felt a little better about the meeting. It helped Angela’s mood seeing that she wasn’t the only person stressed; although she wasn’t naïve enough to think it was this review that was bothering the seasoned Hero.
“Ok, come on in, Martin,” Coach Meyers called. Angela did as she was told, and headed for one of the two chairs opposite the instructor. “Cute skirt,” Angela couldn’t help but smile at the compliment as she got situated.
The angelic shifter had been in Coach Meyers’ office several times over the last few months, and she’d seen the space slowly evolve. At first it was bare except for all the paperwork that seemed to have a permanent place on the desk. Now, there was still paperwork, but there were some pictures present. One of Coach Meyers and a handsome young man caught Angela’s attention. She memorized the face, wondering if he held some clue as to the former Hero’s identity. Angela was still perusing the line of inquiry, even after her father berated her. She wasn’t actively investigating, but she didn’t turn down opportunities to learn more about her instructors’ distinguished pasts.
“This is the official end of semester review for Angela Martin,” Coach Meyers adopted the voice she had when she announced the ranking match rules. Angela now assumed that this conversation was being recorded, and the professor confirmed that with her next statement.
After reading a bunch of information from a sheet of paper, Coach placed her elbows on the table and looked Angela straight in the eye. “How do you think you did?”
Angela was ready for the question. “I performed adequately. I could have done better in certain areas, but I performed adequately overall.”
Coach Meyers red eyes blazed for a second before she sat back in her chair. “You always sell yourself short, Angela.” Angela noted the familiar name shift.
“Do you disagree with my assessment?”
“Fundamentally, no,” coach Meyers replied honestly. “It’s the way you look at yourself that bothers me. You’re grading yourself like you’re an instructor, and not taking any time to be a college student. You need to kick back a little and enjoy college life.”
“But what about constant vigilance?” Angela replied failing to see how this conversation had anything to do with her performance in the final.
“You can be vigilant and still have a life,” the alternative instructor emphasized the point. “Once you become a Hero you won’t get the peace you do in the HCP; so my advice is to enjoy your time here. I know your type, Angela. You’ll train and study hard no matter what I tell you. All I’m asking is that you don’t miss out on the opportunities these four special years of your life offer.”
“Yes, Ma’am,” Angela answered reflexively. Everyone was telling her to relax, and she wasn’t sure how to interpret that.
<That’s an issue to tackle another day,> she thought as Coach Meyers shifted gears.
“On to your final performance,” the coach hit a button and footage captured by Angela’s ball began to play on a flat screen set up on the wall of the office.
They watched for several minutes before stopping. They glossed over her defeat of Derrick Masters. That part was pretty straightforward. “What exactly were you thinking teaming up with Jacobsen. She’s a good kid, but she doesn’t have much to offer offensively or defensive for that matter.”
“She was the perfect bait,” Angela answered truthfully. “She’s well liked in the class, mostly because people don’t consider her a threat, and there was little to no chance of her turning down my offer. Anyone she was able to defeat would get her much needed points, and the point splitting between the two of us would get me more points than if I teamed up with anyone else.” Coach Meyers nodded along with the explanation.
“Makes sense tactically, but you miscalculated didn’t you,” the tape stopped at the encounter with her, Jacobsen, Perez, and Richardson.
“Stephanie knew the details of the plan and was unwilling to execute when it involved her friends,” Angela said the last word with an undercurrent of irony. “A lot of good that did her,” the tape continued to play and Stephanie got taken out by one of her so-called “friends”.
“Ms. Jacobsen is going to get an earful in her own evaluation. Moving on,” Coach Meyers continued playing the tape.
The next two people Angela took out were pretty standard fights, even if they were rather one-sided. Then they got to the final few minutes of tape; the few minutes she dreaded the most. She watched the ball footage as she opened the door and came face to face with Alex Webb’s hulking form.
“This was a pretty good fight, but you could have ended it sooner, and stood a better chance against Cook,” Coach Meyers observed. “Here, you hesitated,” she pointed at the moment when Angela and Webb came face to face and Angela took a powerful uppercut when she didn’t do anything.
“Yes, I was surprised,” Angela admitted.
“It’s a common mistake,” Coach Meyers continued. “People don’t know what to do sometimes when faced with an unexpected scenario. That’s why we train you guys, and that’s why we let you all run wild in the Battleball arena. We want you to experience as many of these “surprises” before you go out into the real world. You’ll be fine with more experience.”
Angela bristled at the comment, even though she knew it was true. She’d been training all her life; with talented Supers and Hero friends of her parents. If this semester had taught Angela anything it was the difference between training and reality. Her friends had been attacked at a coffee shop off campus, allegedly by a supervillain that was presumed dead; and they’d even had a gun pulled on them while shopping.
“…unnecessary damage,” Coach Meyers had continued her evaluation, and Angela snapped her attention back to where it should be. “You miscalculated here,” they watched the video as Webb’s bone darts tore into Angela’s exposed wings. “You’ve been hit by this attack before, and you even saw it coming,” Coach Meyers pointed at the shield she summoned. “Why didn’t you make it large enough to cover everything? I don’t think a larger shield would have blunted the force of your hit, or you could have possibly retracted it at the last second. Your miscalculation here cost you more unnecessary damage.”
Angela didn’t have a response, so she just nodded. <That was stupid,> Angela didn’t know why she didn’t fully protect herself. She’d have to look into it.
“And here’s the big one,” Coach Meyers paused the footage as Angela stood over the defeated form of Webb. “You quoted me on constant vigilance earlier, so why the hell did you let your guard down here. Sure, you’d just won the fight, but you’re at your most vulnerable.”
Again Angela didn’t have an answer, so she remained silent; but both of them knew that the angelic shifter’s overconfidence got the best of her, and she paid for it.
“Your feint was well executed,” Coach Meyers pointed out as the played through Angela’s act of trying to convince Jason Cook to come in close. “It almost worked.”
“He did the same thing to me back in the championship ranking match, and he remembered,” Angela explained, wincing at the point she remembered from Cook’s attacks.
“Still, it was a close one,” they both saw just how close Angela’s maul came to ending the fight before she got blasted away by Jason.
The footage stopped when Angela shifted back to her human form, and Coach McMillian picked her up. “So…adequate?” the alternative instructor asked.
“I stand by my assessment,” Angela thought the footage proved her point if nothing else.
“You really are stubborn as hell,” Coach Meyers let slip a rare smile. “You did well, Angela. A lot better than most.”
“But not the best,” the comment wasn’t spoken much louder than a whisper, but the older Super heard it.
“Not the best,” she confirmed. “But you’ve got great potential, and I’m looking forward to seeing what you can do next year. Our analysis recommends that you be in the close combat section next year, so if you wish to dispute that then put in the work and make your presentation after break.” The smile was gone, and they were back to business.
“Revised ranking scores are available outside my office,” Coach Meyers handed her a sheet. “Can you pin that up out there, thanks.” She made several notes in Angela’s final. It was clear Angela was being dismissed.
“Thank for the assessment, Coach Meyers,” Angela remained polite, not wanting to look at the rankings.
“Just doing my job, Martin,” the coach paused from perusing the folder. “You did well, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise; especially yourself.” With that last bit of advice Angela left the office.
She pinned up the rankings next to the office door, and glanced at them quickly before leaving. <Second,> her heart dropped into her stomach, and for all her professionalism, Angela had to hold back tears. <I need to train harder, I need to do better, I need to be better!> her footsteps picked up their pace as she felt the wetness in her eyes.
She took the long way back to the lift on the far side of the HCP, purposefully taking detours to pull herself together and to avoid anyone else. Thankfully, it was the day after all HCP finals so most of the HCP students were still asleep or already gone home for break. By the time Angela exited the lift back in the student center she’d progressed from sadness to self-loathing.
<How could you let Jason Cook beat you?> she’d switched spots with the formerly second ranked advanced mind. <I’ve seen him in physical training; he’s all power and no finesse. No tact whatsoever. How could you let him sneak up on you?> Angela was so distracted she wasn’t paying attention to what was going on around her.
“Hey Angela…Angela hi…hello?” Angela missed the greeting three times before she registered who was talking to her.
Alec had half risen out of his seat to get her attention. He waved once she saw him, and then his eyes, magnified by his large glasses, filled with concern. “Are you ok?”
Angela immediately took stock of her surroundings. There were a few students lingering around the student center. Ninety percent of the academic finals were complete, but a few unlucky students had to stick around until the end of the week. Alec seemed to be one of them considering the number of books strewn across the table he was occupying alone.
“Hey, Alec. Sorry,” Angela shook her head. “Just didn’t do too well on a test.”
“That’s hard to believe,” he shrugged in his overly baggy shirt. “I can’t imagine you’re not the best at something.”
Despite herself, Angela couldn’t stop the smile from forming on her face. Her study session with Alec had been productive. She’d received a hundred on her final examination, and she hadn’t seen him since. She was cautious since the background check she’d ordered through the HCP wasn’t complete yet; but now that he was standing here in front of her, Angela wished she’d at least followed up with him.
“What are you studying?” Angela changed the topic, suddenly feeling very self-conscious about her puffy, red eyes.
“Just Sociology,” Alec replied, waving aside the topic and focusing on her.
“I never found the topic very intriguing,” Angela replied. “I’ve always found you could learn a lot of the same material in psychology or political science and the knowledge is more applicable.”
“Exactly,” a smile lit up Alec’s face. “Those who can’t do, teach, and those who can’t teach, teach sociology.”
The laugh that came out of Angela surprised her. Alec’s face looked like he’d just won the lottery. Coach Meyers’ words from the review echoed in Angela’s mind, < All I’m asking is that you don’t miss out on the opportunities these four special years of your life offer.>
“You want to grab some coffee, Alec?” Angela took the older Super’s advice. “I could use some caffeine, and we can do some flashcard question and answer so you’re prepared for your next final.”
“Yes!” the answer came so quickly that Angela took a step back in surprise. “I’ll go grab all my stuff,” he rushed back over to his table and started haphazardly throwing books and notes into his backpack.
Angela waited patiently, watching the boy’s actions. He didn’t seem like a spy or villain, but you could never be positive. She’d just have to wait for the background check results, but coffee wouldn’t hurt.
<I hope he doesn’t try to kill me?> Angela found herself thinking, and smiling a little as Alec rushed back over to her ready for their study session.