“Yes I think he’s gay, all right?” Charlotte said, running her hand through her hair to get it out of her eyes. She pulled down a bowl, and grabbed a box of cereal from where it stood on the counter, tipping the opened top into her bowl. She managed to grab the milk jug, a spoon and make it all the way to the table before Natalie could no longer contain herself.
“All right, I bite, why the hell do you think a guy like that is gay. I mean, I will give you the metrosexual vibe he give off, but not every good looking guy who dresses well is gay.” Charlotte chewed slowly and amusedly at her friend’s raised finger and wondered how long she could keep quiet before Natalie would burst. Deciding not to test how explodable her friend was, Charlotte swallowed and answered,
“It’s not just that, though you are right, he gives off an incredibly fashionable vibe,” Charlotte said. “Well, it’s also the thing that once he found out I was Atalanta, he became quickly disinterested in me.”
“So you think he might have wanted to date you to cover up,” Natalie said.
“Yes, but also, when we were on the mission to save you, he was trying to calm me down before I went in and killed everything in my path, and he said that there was something that he wasn’t admitting to the world about himself. I thought at first, that it was that he was smart, but he claims he’s not hiding it and that he doesn’t like to talk about the thing he is hiding. And so, I mean, I guess the more I thought about it, he’s gay.”
“He could be European,” Natalie said with a scoff. At Charlotte’s blank look, she added, “Remind me later, and I’ll explain it to you. I think I’ll need more information and evidence before I fully believe you…but did he really come off as gay when he said he was hiding something about himself? Usually closets vehemently deny that they are gay, not say that they are hiding it.”
“I think he knows, but like you said, he wants to cover it up for his career or whatever, you know, wait until he’s established as a rock star before he begins to rock the boat,” Charlotte explained. “And I don’t know what would convince you to see it from my perspective, but he just gives me the vibe, you know. I mean it wasn’t there at first, but he just makes me think he’s gay. Anyway, do you want to go running before or after we visit Strike at the Fortress?”
“Who said anything about running?” Natalie asked.
“Okay, now I’m not disrespecting you or anything, but I must have asked when you were too loopy to remember,” Charlotte said. “Let’s go after so that way we can see if Strike wants to come along.”
“Do we have to?” Natalie whined.
“Would you like to know how to run away?” Charlotte asked. “We’ll do other exercises when we get to the park to build up your muscles so that you can punch them if the whole running thing doesn’t work out.”
Once they had both changed into workout clothes, they strode off to the Fortress. Charlotte became very grateful she had not accepted Wormhole’s offer to teleport her home, because she would have had no idea where she was going, when she led Natalie to the rather secluded building in the less populated area of the business district. When they arrived, an intercom spoke to then almost immediately, telling them to stay put. A few minutes later they heard a large buzz and Strike opened the door only slightly to let them in.
“We only have a key paid to get in there,” Greer explained to them. “But I still haven’t given you guys your codes yet, so I figured I should come let you in. Not to mention up here there are some serious security protocols.”
The first couple of floors were unassuming studio spaces for recording and presumably other kinds of art as well.
“Are you actually going to rent these spaces out?” Natalie asked.
“Maybe, but then someone might start asking questions about why we have an eye scanner on floor four,” Greer said.
“Say you live on the top floors, and put bars in the stair wells,” Natalie retorted. “Then give us the keys.” He waved her away,
“Don’t bother me with your logic, and besides, then I would have to move.” On the fourth floor though, there was a long hall, with a large, metal door at the end, which had not only a keypad, but the eye scanner Greer had promised, a hand scanner, and a camera, for manual overrides, he explained. Greer punched in his code, did his scanned, then the door buzzed, and opened for them. “I need to input your handprints and eye scans into the system,” he said as they walked into the first floor of the Fortress. “Then I’ll make up codes for you. No birthdays.”
“What about socials?” Natalie asked.
“Now, you are just trying my patience,” he said, walking up to the main computer, where Einherjar and Samurai stood out of costume.
“What happened to not associating with each other out side of work?” Charlotte asked.
“I needed to put them into the system,” Greer said. “And I thought it would look strange if I let them into a rented space dressed up as superheroes. Natalie you first.”
“She is IT?” Einherjar asked. “She is smaller than I imagined.”
“No, you’re just really tall,” Natalie replied, putting her hand on the scanner.
“Every woman is perfect the way she is, Havard,” Samurai explained. “When start saying that a woman is too much this, or too little that, that is where insecurity begins and women begin throwing up in toilets.”
“Beautiful philosophy,” Charlotte said. “Though I can’t help but notice we are also on a first name basis now, Greer. I think something else just went down the toilet.”
“Yeah, well being a superhero is a fast business, Charlotte,” Greer said as Natalie scanned her eye in. “Things change.”
“Tanaka Mizuki,” Samurai said holding out her hand. Charlotte shook it firmly.
“Charlotte Oros, pleased to meet you. And that’s Natalie Carpenter who is unable to shake your hand at the moment.”
“Yo!” Natalie called, trying to raise a hand to wave.
“Havard Leifsson,” said Einherjar, reaching for Charlotte’s now unoccupied hand.
“Pleased to meet you as well Havard,” Charlotte said, shaking his hand firmly.
“And Charlotte, you’re up now,” Greer told her, as Natalie stepped away. “Which one do you want first, eye or hand?”
“Eye,” Charlotte replied, stepping in front of the scanner and using her finger to peel back the flesh around her eye wide.
“I cannot help but to notice, both of you are dressed to exercise,” Mizuki said.
“Charlotte insists that I get into shape and learn how to defend myself,” Natalie replied. “Though after getting kidnapped and imprisoned in an icy chamber, I can’t blame her for pushing me so hard. Not to mention, I’m not fighting her that hard on learning.”
“And what do you intend to teach her Charlotte?” Mizuki inquired, cocking her head to the side, not that Charlotte could see as she looked straight ahead into the scanner.
“Well, eventually I would like to work her up to doing parkour, for starters,” Charlotte replied.
“All right, you’re scanned,” Greer told her. Charlotte stood, and placed her hand on the second scanner.
“What is parkour?” Harvard asked.
“It’s like cross-country running, but in a city and jumping onto and off of things as well,” Charlotte explained. “I’ve found it very useful on patrols, especially if I need to be somewhere quickly.”
“And for self-defense?” Mizuki queried.
“I also practice Jujitsu, Tae-Kwon-Do and boxing, so I hoped to teach her something in there that might help her defend herself in a quick fix, until I can work her up from there as well.” Charlotte finished scanning her hand in time to see the remnants of a frown on Mizuki’s face. “I take it you practice different styles?”
“Aside from Kenjutsu, my father insisted I learn Karate,” Mizuki replied. “I also find it hard to…fight those who believe they accomplish so many styles.”
“You think that I don’t do each one justice,” Charlotte concluded. “Right now, I’ll agree with you, because my katas would be terrible. I let myself go over the past few years, but I’m working my way back up.” Mizuki nodded along with her speech, keeping her face blank.
“But I must request that when you feel you are ready, you demonstrate to me your abilities in these forms,” Mizuki said.
“Agreed,” Charlotte replied.
“Though, I admit, I am curious about this free running, and would as to practice it with you,” she said with a small smile.
“On the condition that you don’t use your super speed,” Charlotte said.
“That would be an unfair in-use of my ability,” Mizuki protested. “I would not expect you to lift the same weights I did.”
“Charlotte might actually have a point, Mizuki,” Greer said. “I mean what if someone comes along with a power zapping ray.”
“You read far too many comic books,” Mizuki retorted. “No such things exist.”
“Perhaps not yet,” Havard told her. “But there are many who would not see us continue to use our powers. Perhaps someone somewhere could create such a device, and then what would you do. Also, if we are to run through a city, would it not look odd for you to be in one place, and then the other so suddenly? In the middle of the day, without your costume?” Mizuki frowned but protested no further.
“Don’t worry Mizuki, I’m not even going to try free running yet,” Natalie said.
“Oh?” Charlotte asked.
“Hell no, you said I needed to train up for it, I’m sticking to the park track for this time,” Natalie firmly replied.
“Well then, what about you Greer?” Havard asked.
“Hmm?” Greer glanced over away from the computer screen, and blinked a few times, apparently waiting for his brain to catch up with what he had heard. “Oh, yeah, sure, I guess I could use some cardio.”
“Parkour is way more than cardio,” Charlotte told him. “If you go in there thinking that I think you might be horridly surprised.” Greer scoffed a little, and continued to type something into the computer.
Charlotte agreed to let Natalie alternately walk/run on a straight path to the park and then run around the track while she waited for the rest of them to arrive. Charlotte would then run a round-about path through the city marking off her path with flags, and the others would follow after her, the last to pass a flag taking it down as he or she went. So, Charlotte began running ahead of the group on a path to the park she thought would not be too difficult.
She marked each turn and long straight path with a flag, and kept running over bikes and people, jumping the occasional wall, until she made it to the park. Natalie had just begun to run the track, and so Charlotte ran (mostly jogged) it with her four times, before she let Natalie stop and helped her stretch. Then they began working through each muscle group of their bodies. Charlotte who had been exercising for some months did many more sets than Natalie, but it was right after she finished her third set that she saw Mizuki stumbling into the park looking.