Becca vibrated with excitement, her foot tapping against the floor faster than a drumline. Across from her Coach McMillian grinned broadly. Together the two speedsters’ excitement created an electrically charged atmosphere of positive energy. Becca took this as a good sign.
The blue-haired speedster was done with all her finals. Her first semester of college and the HCP was complete. She’d averaged mostly A’s and high B’s in all of her regular classes, so even if she bombed one of her finals she wasn’t going to flunk out of the Hero program for not meeting the minimum GPA standard; but she really didn’t care about that right now. Becca really wanted to know how she’d fared against her classmates.
“I’m proud of you Whitfield,” Coach McMillian smiled broadly, coaxing Becca’s nervous grin into a full-fledged smile.
“I felt like I really kicked butt out there, Coach,” she replied.
“Literally in a few cases,” the close combat coach added with a chuckle. “I want to go over a few aspects of your final, and then you’ll be free to go.”
Becca just nodded. She didn’t want to think of what was going to come after this talk just yet. She just wanted to bask in her accomplishments for a little while longer. “Sounds good, Coach.”
“Let’s start with your fights. You took out Gibson, Evans, and Hanover first. There really isn’t much to say on your fighting. You knew Hanover’s weaknesses from earlier in the year and you exploited them. Evans never really stood a chance, and you were able to get in on Gibson early and take him down. You were calculated, quick, and merciless; that let you end that fight cleanly.”
“I don’t know if I’d call it merciless,” Becca felt uncomfortable being characterized that way when beating up a friend.
“Efficient and without hesitation,” the Coach revised his assessment. Becca nodded her agreement.
“As far as rankings go, Gibson was the only one ranked ahead of you, so the wins didn’t get you a ton of points. However, the fact that your partner sat back and let you get those points allowed you to collect them in full.” Becca sensed something unsaid there, but Coach McMillian moved on before she could ask a question.
“The predicament with Flynn kept you and Kemps out of action for a while, but you more than made up for it when you took down Fletcher. Can you walk me through what you were thinking there?”
Becca had trouble thinking back to those adrenaline-filled moments. A lot had been going through her mind, including the fact that Ani had been blasted by sustained lightening for way longer than anyone other than a strongman could survive for. The speedster did her best to remember exactly the reasoning behind her attacks.
“Well…” she started off slow. “I wasn’t just going to leave my teammate there to get taken out, so I used my enhanced perception to make a plan. Once Natasha’s paralysis wore off I immediate found cover and started to throw debris at Anna. I’d seen that she had some minor injuries, so I aimed for those spots,” Coach McMillian was leaning back in his chair with a thoughtful look on his face, so Becca continued. “She used her electricity as a defense when I started hitting her, but she I saw that the dust still got through I decided to try and take her out while she couldn’t see.”
“And then you tried to run on the side of the building,” Coach McMillian grinned. “And that didn’t work out so well.”
“I had to change my plan mid-run when I slipped,” Becca nodded.
“Don’t take it too hard, you’re hardly the first speedster who thought they could run up walls,” the Coach’s face became thoughtful as he remembered one of his own attempts. “Truth is, only a few speedsters are fast enough to generate enough friction to not slip off those walls. You might get there some day, but I’d stay clear of that move for now.”
“Can you run up walls?” Becca asked the question and only got a smile in return.
“What happened next?”
“Um…” Becca tried to remember where she’d left off. “I slipped and had to change my plan. I wanted to hit Anna, and take her out, but I didn’t have a good angle. I was able to snatch her ball though,” Becca couldn’t stop the grin from forming. “But after that it all went to poop,” her grin turned into a frown. “I was going to grab Anika and make a clean get away, but Anna blasted us with that wave move I’d never seen before. It didn’t get me bad, but it still lost me the time I needed to escape; so I did the only thing I could think of.”
Before she could finish, Coach McMillian burst out laughing. “I’m sorry,” he apologized, but still struggled to contain his amusement. “But the way you pitched Fletcher’s own ball back into her face was brilliant.”
“Brilliant?” Becca thought it was more desperate, but she wasn’t going to turn down a compliment. The Coach saw right through that.
“Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t the best solution; especially when you couldn’t have known you were going to retain the points you got from stealing the ball in the first place. Still, it was quick thinking in a tough situation, and it all worked out,” he was smiling again by the time he finished. “It’s clear that you paid attention and really took the advice myself and Coach Meyers gave to heart.”
“Yes, Sir. I’ve worked really hard to get better the past few months.” It was good to hear all of her hard work recognized.
“You stepped up,” he slid a piece of paper across the desk to her. “You did well.”
It was a current ranking list for the class, and Becca didn’t have to go down nearly as far to see her name. <Number 18!> It took everything in her power to not squeal like a hungry piggy. <Ani is going to be so happy.>
Coach McMillian’s expression changed like he’d heard the thought in her head. “I’m proud that you moved up and earned that new ranking, but we also need to discuss what happened in that diner, and the conversations with your partner.”
<Poopy,> Becca had hoped they wouldn’t have to go over this, but the HCP was always thorough.
“It’s obvious to everyone that your partner helped facilitate a lot of the points you were able to achieve, while selflessly abstaining from collecting a lot of those points. But,” Coach McMillian continued quickly when he saw the disappointed looked spreading on Becca’s face. “That’s part of the challenge. Leveraging relationships and good teamwork is just as much a part of Battleball as kicking the crap out of eachother. What two members of a team decide to do is up to them, and from watching all of the ball’s footage it is clear that you and Kemps were one of the better teams out there.”
“Anika had a plan from the start,” Becca could hear the guilt in her own voice.
<To make sure that I did well.>
“Did you accomplish that plan,” the question was straight and to that point, but it looked at the issue from a perspective that Becca hadn’t considered.
“Yeah, we accomplished what we set out to do.”
<And maybe the balls realized that and scored us with that in mind.> Becca knew she might have been reaching when no one else really knew how the scoring system worked, but it helped to think that Ani might have gotten some extra points because she accomplished her mission to get Becca points.
“Good,” there was a twinkle behind the close combat coach’s eyes that helped put Becca at ease. “But remember that Kemps might not be there for you in the future. Not all of the tests we give you are going to have a friend there to help you out.”
“I understand,” Becca nodded. “And thanks for that.” The old Hero just smiled and nodded.
“We’re all done here unless you have any other questions,” Becca shook her head. “Good. From my family to yours Merry Christmas and Happy New Year,” the older speedster pulled a big gift basket from underneath his desk and handed it to Becca.
“Coach!” Becca exclaimed as the scent of freshly baked pastries assaulted her senses. “You didn’t have to.”
“I didn’t, but I like to,” he replied with an expression that would have looked at home on Santa. “Make sure to share that with Kemps though. She’s getting her review from Coach Meyers, and I doubt that women thought ahead to bake people Christmas cookies.”
The thought of Coach Meyers baking anything was too alien to think about.
“Merry Christmas, Coach.”
“Merry Christmas, Becca.”
Daisy watched Anika as she walked into the review. The older Hero knew the look on the younger woman’s face, even if she was trying her best to hide it. It was always in the eyes. You might get your face to tell your lie, but the eyes were the windows into the soul. Anika looked like something heavy was weighing her down.
<Shit,> Daisy didn’t say a word as the young Super made her way to the chair in front of Daisy’s desk. <How do I handle this?>
Luckily, Daisy had dealt with Anika before, and had a decent feel for the girl. Anika didn’t say a word either. She sat their expectantly ready to start her analysis.
“What’s on your mind?” the question was simple, but it took the younger woman off guard.
“Um…just wondering how I did on the final,” she gave a standard answer.
“Fuck the final,” Daisy grunted, leaning forward to put her elbows on the desk. “Something’s eating you up; so talk.”
Anika frowned at Daisy, but then let out a long sigh. She rubbed her hands across her eyes and Daisy saw just how tired the girl was. “I didn’t sleep last night. I’ve been thinking about it ever since the final…” she trailed off there, but Daisy knew what she was talking about.
“Let me see if I’m on the right track,” Daisy knew it helped to get an outside perspective. “You’re hung up on that incident in the diner with Whitfield, Jackson, and Schultz. You’re wondering if there was a better way you could have handled the whole situation. That’s a very good question. Let’s talk about it.” Daisy casually leaned back in her chair and waited for the girl to open up.
“I pushed her,” Anika spoke several seconds later. “I pushed her into doing something I knew she wouldn’t like, and even worse, she really didn’t want to do.”
“Ah,” Daisy nodded her head to acknowledge the admission, but didn’t say anything.
“I wanted her to do well in the final; no, I needed her to do well in the final, Coach Meyers. I need Becca to do well in the HCP.”
“Why?” Daisy interrupted.
“Why?” Anika looked surprised at the question, but Daisy noticed the flicker of anger behind the other woman’s eyes. “Becca is a talented and powerful Super, she deserves a chance.”
“Do you think we aren’t giving her a chance?”
“No of course you are, but…”
“But,” Daisy repeated the word. “Am I not doing my job?”
“No,” Anika was struggling for words, so Daisy kept her off balance.
“Then what is it Kemps?” Daisy knew where this was going so she kept pushing the younger Super. “What!”
“What, Kemps, what!”
“She deserves to be the Hero!” Anika finally blurted out, but it didn’t stop there. “She’s the best person I’ve ever met. She’s kind, generous, and genuinely believes in the best of humanity.” Anika’s eyes pleaded for acceptance, but Daisy knew there was more to be said; so she didn’t give it to her.
That made Anika angry. “Do you honestly believe there aren’t more than a few people here who actually deserve the title of Hero,” Anika got defensive with a snort, and waved her hand around the room. “Half of this class is kids who don’t know the meaning of sacrifice, who haven’t seen the harsh shit that life is capable of craping all over you. For fucks sake Natalia, Lorelei, and Emilia belong at some blue bloods gala. Those stuck up bitches wouldn’t know adversity if it punched them in their nose job faces.”
Daisy knew Anika had a point, but she kept her face unreadable and her eyes trained on the younger woman.
“Becca is one of the people who deserve to be a Hero, and I want to help. It makes me a better person when I’m around her. Everyone will be better if she’s around,” Anika finished the last sentence with a little sniff. Her eyes were wet, but she didn’t cry.
Now that the student was done it was time for the teacher to set the record straight. “You’re right.” Anika’s eyes widened at Daisy’s admission. “In a perfect world Rebecca Whitfield would be a Hero. People like her are few and far between. She’s a pure soul ready to put her life on the line for a complete stranger. The only other one who comes close in this class is Mason. If I could fast track them both to Hero status then I would.” Daisy was surprised at the truthfulness of her own words, but it was time for the other shoe to drop.
“Becca and Mason have the hearts of Heroes, but they’re also naïve,” Anika’s hopeful expression turned sour. “I truly believe that in a perfect world Becca and Mason would be great Heroes, but this isn’t a perfect world. You said it yourself, Anika. This world is shit, and it will shit all over you. That’s where people like you come in.” Anika’s eyes widened in surprise. “Yeah you heard me. You’ve been neck deep in shit, pulled yourself out of it, and are committed to making sure that shit doesn’t happen to anyone else. You’re the type of Hero this imperfect world needs, so don’t sell yourself short.”
“I don’t understand,” Daisy knew the younger woman was confused, and her emotions were running rampant.
“What I’m saying, Anika, is that the people who run the HCP have already thought what you’re thinking. We know there are truly great potential Heroes who come through here, but we also know there are truly great potential Heroes who’ve never reached graduation. We train for the world as it is, and we hope that the next generation can make it just a little bit better.” Daisy smiled. “People like Becca do make it through the program, and her journey will test her more than most.”
“Ok,” Daisy’s words were sinking in, and Anika was thinking them over.
Daisy gave her a few moments to let them stew before starting up again. “We’ve talked a lot about Becca, but this meeting is about you; and your performance on the final.”
“I don’t think I did too well on the final,” Anika admitted.
“That’s true,” Daisy handed over the latest rankings to show Anika had dropped to number nine. “Why do you think you didn’t do well?”
Anika knew the answer to the question, but she hesitated to answer.
“I’ll tell you why,” Daisy didn’t have all day to wait. “You spent more energy trying to make sure that Becca did well than ensuring that you did well. You didn’t take this exam seriously, Anika.” Daisy could tell the bite in her words cut deep, so she softened her tone. “If Becca is going to make it through this program she is going to do it on her own merits. Is that understood?”
Anika nodded, but that wasn’t good enough. “Is that understood, Ms. Kemps?”
“Good,” Daisy huffed. “Because the world needs Heroes like both of you, but you both need to earn it.”
There really wasn’t much to talk about other than what Daisy had covered. In all of the final engagements Anika had played a support role while Becca took down the opponent. What saved Anika from dropping out of the top ten was that she was the last person left standing; although standing wasn’t the best way to describe the roasted freshman.
“In terms of points you did poorly,” Daisy informed her. “But since you did last the longest you are technically the Battleball champion.”
“That doesn’t make sense,” Anika scratched her head.
“I know it doesn’t, and it’s probably going to bite you in the ass next time you play.”
“Because there are special bonus points for whoever takes out the former champion,” from the cringe on Anika’s face Daisy knew she had one of her famous instructor smiles on her face.
“Well that’s great,” Daisy chuckled at the younger woman’s muttered comment.
“That’s all I’ve got if you don’t have anything else you want to ask me?” Daisy waited expectantly for the question she knew was coming.
Anika took a deep breath, and Daisy saw all the fire from their earlier discussion leave her body. She was back to being the tired, overworked freshman HCP student who needed a long winter break. “How is he?”
Daisy specifically didn’t bring up Nathan Flynn in their review. Anika had sat in a long meeting with the Dean after the final, and although it was determined that the other student’s condition wasn’t her fault; Anika wasn’t the type of person to shrug something like that off.
“He’s stable,” Daisy replied with a small, knowing smile. “They’re going to transport him home for the break. Dr. Sanderson and his colleague will work on him in a local hospital.”
“Ok…good,” Anika nodded her head, her face determined. “Thanks for your help, Coach Meyers,” she got up to leave.
“Hey, Kemps,” Daisy stopped her halfway to the door. The younger Super turned around just in time to catch the wrapped up cookie.
Daisy couldn’t help but laugh when Anika looked at it like it was a live grenade. “Merry Christmas.”
“Merry Christmas…” there was a long pause. “…you bake?”
Daisy laughed again. “No. I stole it from Coach McMillian.”
Seth felt Liz’s giggle of contentment against his chest, and quickly tried to move out of the way. He knew what was coming a split second before Liz’s nimble fingers darted in to tickle the sweet spot in his lower gut. He’d never told another woman about how ticklish he was in that one spot. Even a light brushing could send his whole body spasming.
“Damnit,” he grunted, rolling off the side of the bed to avoid the attack.
Liz’s giggle turned into a laugh and she peered over the bed at him. “So what ya doing today?”
“I’ve got one last school thing to do and then I’m done for the semester,” his review was the only thing he had left, but he couldn’t tell Liz that. “Are you finished yet?”
“I’ve just got one last thing to wrap up and then I’m free too.” Her smile turned into a conspiratorial Cheshire grin. “What are we doing for break?”
If Seth was any other guy it would have set off warning bells if a girl asked how they were going to spend several weeks together after only dating for a few months. Seth still panicked, but it was more along the lines of the “I hope I can survive those weeks with her” category of fear.
<I’m going to need a lot of Gatorade.>
“Well since you already met my family I thought we could do something with yours this for Christmas. The Abney family Christmas is a pretty dull affair.”
“I doubt that,” Liz rolled her eyes.
The cockgobbler comment Liz made during the Thanksgiving party had been overheard by several people, and proceeded to run rampant through North Carolina’s high society. Not even a few days after the word was spoken, half a dozen men had come forward to say they were on the receiving end of the felacio. Seth was sure they all were telling the truth.
“My dad’s traveling on business during the holidays, so that would just leave us with an empty house. And before you say how awesome it would be to have a house all to ourselves; I think we should be a little more adventurous with our free time.” Liz knew Seth’s mind before he could get halfway through a daydream of them doing it in every room of the house. “I’m talking coconut bra type of adventurous.”
“So warm, sand beaches, open bar, and a bunch of unsuspecting people we can mess with,” each word out of his mouth made Liz’s grin grow wider.
“That’s a good boy,” Liz reached down at patted him on the head. “That’s why I love you.”
Both of the Super’s froze after the word left her mouth. Liz’s grin vanished, and she looked the most vulnerable Seth had ever seen her. For just a second he thought she was going to bolt for the door, but then her face hardened into determined resolve. It was clear the ball was in his court now.
The four letter word was out there floating in the air between them, and Seth knew that every second counted. Every heartbeat that passed would only cause more confusion and hurt for Liz, and that was the last thing in the world he wanted.
Surprisingly, the response came quick and easy. Seth knew he had feelings for the gorgeous, bombshell, sex machine in his bed. He just wasn’t good at voicing those emotions, and her saying it first had helped dissolve that barrier of potential rejection. In fact, with each passing heartbeat Seth felt his chest bursting with pride.
<How the fuck do I deserve this?> he didn’t give the thought a lot of attention because it would just ruin the moment. The short answer was that he didn’t.
Seth’s green eyes looked up from the floor and locked onto Liz’s chocolate brown ones. Slowly he reached up with one hand to caress the side of her face before planting his lips firmly on hers. “I fucking love you too.”
It sounded better in his head, but she got the message; because she grabbed him by the hair, pulled him into bed, and fucked his brains out.
Half an hour later, Seth glanced over at his clock and cursed. “Shit I’m late,” he threw the sheets off himself and rushed to get some clothes on.
Liz grumbled at the sudden blast of cold air that raked her naked body, but she slipped out of bed and started to get dressed. “Yeah, we’ve spent too much time grindin’ privates this morning.”
Seth stopped what he was doing to give her a look. Their admission of love for each other had been followed by some hot and heavy action, but now Liz seemed off for some reason. Seth really wanted to stop and talk with her to find out what was up, but if he didn’t leave in the next sixty seconds he was going to be late for his meeting with Coach Meyers. Tardiness would just lead to more pain in the future, and he wanted to avoid that.
“Well whatever you’re up to make sure to do some searching online. We need to find a nice place to go away to,” he tried to cheer her up with his smile, and it worked. “I know a lot of resorts in the Caribbean do packages around this time of year. But make sure to go platinum or above. We’re not doing anything half-assed.”
“You never do anything half-assed,” she replied with a playful slap of her own ass and a wink.
He tossed her his credit card with an unlimited balance. “Surprise me,” he gave her his own wink and then he was out the door and running for the student center.
The HCP was busier than Seth expected, and he got to Coach Meyer’s office with just a second to spare. The review was quick. It was obvious that neither one of them wanted to be in each other’s presence for too long. The gist of it was that Seth’s performance was average. He’d scored a few victories, put together a versatile two person team, fought well, and been able to scrounge together enough points to retain his number ten ranking.
“Armoring yourself in the asphalt was a good move, but after seeing what Goodman’s blast did to Williams did you really think you were going to fare any better?” Seth grudgingly admitted that she had a point.
It would have been smarter to disengage at that point in the final, but he’d been so caught up in the fight against Erin’s animated furniture that the thought hadn’t crossed his mind.
Despite the quickness of the whole meeting it was very enlightening; and although he thought the alternative coach was a raging bitch eighty percent of the time, she still had good feedback.
“Have a Merry Christmas, Abney. Don’t get into trouble.” Those were her parting words.
Seth wanted to reply with some witty comment, but he had better things to do. “Merry Christmas, Coach,” he shut the door behind him and raced back toward his apartment.
He knew that Liz didn’t dawdle when it came to having fun, so he expected to get home and have to immediately pack for a plane leaving in the next few hours. He was thinking about the variety of bikinis his girlfriend would be wearing when he almost ran right over Emilia Scarborough in the corridor.
“Abney,” her voice was as cold as her cryokinetic powers.
“Scarborough,” he replied.
“Are we going to talk or what?” the question took him off guard.
“What?” his expression drew a prolonged sigh from the girl.
“Your dad called my mom and said we should get together for the betterment of our families,” her tone was exasperated, and clearly indicated that she didn’t want to do it any more than he did. “So are we going to go on a date or something?”
Seth knew for a fact that Emilia was crushing on Webb, but she was running into the same problem he was. Webb came from a boring middle class family with no connections or clout. Both of their parents were trying to pull strings to better themselves at their children’s expense.
“This,” Seth moved a finger back and forth between them. “Is never going to happen.”
“Obviously,” she rolled her eyes in response.
“So here’s what I propose,” Seth scratched his chin as he devised the plan. “Let’s plan for a “date”…” he added air quotes for good measure. “…after we get back from break. We’ll go someplace fancy, get a photographer there to snap some shots, and those will conveniently make it back to our families.” She nodded noncommittally. “Then we’ll say we tried but it didn’t work out, blah blah blah, hopefully it’ll get them off our backs.”
“Will they expect anything more from you?” she hesitated.
“I don’t think they expect us to fuck, but we can always give it a shot,” Seth smiled charmingly even as the temperature in the hallway dropped about thirty degrees. “Or not,” he shrugged. “Sound good?”
“Fine,” she grunted, spinning on her heel and walking away. “Call me after break.”
With that out of the way Seth was free to return to the townhouse unmolested. When he walked back into his room Liz was on the phone casually spinning his credit card in her palm. “Why thank you, darling,” Liz drawled like a Manhattan socialite. “I’ll contact you soon, ta ta.”
“Everything go ok, my dear?” Seth adopted a similar tone, but he couldn’t quite pull it off with his southern accent.
“Fabulous,” she replied. “Plane leaves tomorrow morning for the Caymans. I’ve got us an an exquisite suite, with a great view, and the full service package.”
“That’s my girl,” he smiled back.
“How was your thing?”
“Fine,” he replied with a shrug. “I’ve got to go on this date with a girl my family knows in January.” There was no reason to lie to Liz; Seth knew how she’d react.
“You should ask if she wants to get some of this,” Liz waved her finger back and forth between them.
“Already did. She said no.”
“Oh well, a threesome would have been fun,” the fact that Liz was down for a threesome still blew Seth’s mind. “Are you losing your touch? Do I need to be talking other women into bed for us?”
“I’m not losing my touch,” Seth reached out and grabbed her, smiling as she squealed in delight.
“No, we can’t,” she muttered when their lips finally came apart. “I’ve still got shit to do, bags to pack, and you’ve got to take me bikini shopping. You can tap this ass once it’s had a day to get tan in the sun.”
Seth found it hard to argue with that; so they both started to get things ready for their impromptu vacation.