Holding Out For A Hero, Part Three: Old Friends

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February

Roland Lamontagne stood next to the treadmill, his expression stern as he glared at his current client. The client, a slightly portly businessman, was sweating profusely as he jogged, his expression fixed on the wall ahead of him. “You’re doing good. Don’t slow down!” He barked, considering the man across from him. The contrast between the two was drastic. Roland was a young man just on the edge of thirty years old, tall, lean and muscular, his blonde hair cut military-short and his face clean-shaven; the businessman was short, a touch on the overweight side, at least fifteen years older and with a slim beard that he probably thought made him look debonair. He wasn’t that different from any of the people filling the gym; it was usually easy to tell the clients apart from the trainers.

“Hey, Tank, there’s someone here to see you.” Roland glanced over with a sigh as Judith spoke up from the side of the room. He wasn’t a fan of the nickname, but he knew why he’d gotten it. It wasn’t just that he was a big, muscular guy – he was, but not much more so than any of the other trainers, and while he was muscular he looked more like an athlete than a bodybuilder. No, it was a running joke from his brief stint teaching self-defense classes, before he got uncomfortable with the attention. On a whim, he’d let some of his students practice their punches by using himself as a punching bag. When he hadn’t staggering, bruised, or reacted, people started joking that nothing could take him down.

It was mostly good-natured, but the undercurrent bothered him.

“Just a moment, Carl.” Roland nodded the man working on the treadmill. Carl nodded, and slowed to a walk as Roland stepped away. Who would want to see him here? He ran through a quick list in his head, and came up blank. His only friends worked here already, and Judith knew them.

He rounded the corner of the gym’s entrance, and stopped dead at the man standing opposite him, just behind the gate keeping the public out. As Roland stared, he was hit with a rush of memories. A unbuttoned suit jacket, tousled hair. A face with an old man’s eyes and the smile of a teenager – half cocky, half apologetic. That damned walking stick. “Damn it.” He growled.

“Hello, Roland.” Oliver Henry nodded as he stepped forwards, pulling his coat off with a fluid motion and handing it to Judith, who instinctively stepped to one side and took it, letting him through the gate. “How are you doing?”

“Remind me what I said I would do the next time I saw you.” Roland said, stalking towards Oliver.

“I’d rather not. It was pretty vulgar.” Oliver replied. He looked around the gym, nodding appreciatively. “You seem to be doing well.”

“Why are you here?” Roland bit off each word, glaring daggers at his visitor.

“Can’t a man stop by to see how an old friend is doing?” Oliver asked innocently.

“We aren’t friends. We were never friends!”

“Granted.” Oliver nodded. “Associates, then?” When Roland didn’t immediately answer, he shrugged. “Would you mind joining me in the café downstairs? I have something I would like to discuss with you.”

Roland gritted his teeth, then sighed and nodded. “Fine.” He muttered. “Judith, I’m taking ten.”
Judith nodded, looking faintly stunned, and Oliver smiled and nodded to her as the two men walked past. After a few moments, she realized she was still holding his coat. She looked down at it, back at them, and then blinked and set it down on the counter.
Downstairs, Oliver ordered a cup of coffee and sat down. Roland sat across from him without ordering. “So.” He said. “What do you want?”

“To see how you were.” Oliver said between sips. “To talk with an old… an old acquaintance.” He paused for a fraction of a second, smiling, and then added, “To offer you a job.”

“No. Goodbye.” Roland stood up.

“Sit down.” Oliver said firmly, his smile vanishing. Roland hesitated, frowning, then did so. “I’d like you to listen before you walk away.” The two stared daggers at each other for a moment, then Oliver asked, “Do you know what your problem is, Roland?”

“You.” Roland said without missing a beat.
Oliver chuckled, leaning back and breaking eye contact. Roland could feel the tension in the room fade. “Do you know what your other problem is?” When Roland didn’t walk away, he went on. “You get frustrated too easily. You always have.”

“Why me?” Roland asked.

“On a professional level, your powers make you literally the best possible choice for the team.” Oliver said. He met his associate’s eyes. “On a personal level, I think you deserve another shot at your dreams.”

“And if I’m done with all of that magical bull?” Roland asked.

“Then walk away. I won’t stop you.” Oliver took a long sip of coffee, then nonchalantly added, “You aren’t, though.”

Roland glared at him. “You are insufferable when you’re smug.”

Oliver shrugged. “We all have our crosses to bear.”

Roland drummed his fingers on the table. “Who’s this supposed job with?”

“S.E.A.” Oliver said. “Section 13.”

Roland’s eyebrows rose. “They’re bringing back the God Squad?” He asked incredulously. When Oliver nodded, he rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “I can see why you’d want me.” He admitted.
“So, are you interested?” Oliver asked with a smiled.

Roland looked down at the table, and then up at Oliver. “You’re not setting me up as team leader, I hope.”

“Ah… no.” Oliver said. “At the risk of sounding rude, it’s not really your strongest area.”

“Good.” Roland nodded slowly. “I reserve the right to back out later, but I’m willing to look into it. I need to meet the team, see how things work. I have to give two weeks’ notice to my job here, of course.” He considered, then added, “And I’m not wearing a cape.”

“Perish the thought.” Oliver assured him.
“I mean it, Henry!” Roland said. “No capes!”

“Trust me.” Oliver beamed.

“I must be crazy.” Roland muttered. Oliver patted him on the shoulder.

“Who isn’t?” He said with a smile.


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