Chapter 5

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Midnight Thursday came and Joey huddled at the edge of the street, keeping an eye out for Achilles. Today he'd brought a sweater with a deeper hood, and even wrapped his mom's scarf over the bottom half of his face. It looked ridiculous, but it was better than nothing. Now he'd have to worry less about Achilles seeing his face. 

He didn't have to wait long. Achilles himself came bounding down the street, cape fluttering behind him. The gold mask glinted in the dim light. 

"You came! Great. So first things first, I set it up so you can get a real suit made. You don't have to run around in that hoodie any - wait, is that a woman's scarf?" 

Joey pulled the hood lower over his face, wishing he'd fall through the bottom of the city. 

"Anyway, you won't have to wear stuff like that anymore. A real mask, a real suit, and then we can go about as the dynamic duo fighting crime! And I think it would be great if we put out an ad or something to find others like us. Y'know, form a whole squadron! Achilles' Legion I think I'd call it. It's a fantastic idea, right?" 

"No," Joey muttered. 

"Huh?" Achilles looked taken aback. 

"I don't mind that stuff about the other heroes, but I can't join you. I'm sorry." 

The words had been weighing him down all day. No, they'd been in his chest since the last time he met Achilles. Only now had he been able to say them. He thought the weight would have left his chest, but for some reason he just felt worse. Was it the way Achilles deflated like a toddler who'd just learned they couldn't have their favorite candy? 

But no. Joey could not do this hero thing. He had classes to attend, a degree to earn, a career to start...and way too much rehab. 

"Can I ask why not?" Achilles' voice sounded broken. Joey took a deep breath before answering. 

"I just can't. I'm not like you. I don't think I can give my time to fight crime without getting paid for it. I've faced down a raygun. It's terrifying. I never want to do that again. Besides, I have rehab I need to be doing. And school. I got time off, but - " 

"Rehab? You know substance abuse isn't good for anyone, right? It destroys families, empties pockets, drives you to the depths of despair...It's good you're in rehab. I'll support you however I can." 

Whoa whoa whoa. Achilles had the totally wrong idea. 

"No, physical rehab. I was in an accident a few months ago. My body's still recovering." 

"Oh. That kind of rehab. But you look fine to me." 

"Maybe. I feel totally fine. But I don't want to push things and end up bedridden again. The doctors said I'm lucky that I'm young and healthy for the most part, otherwise everything would take longer. Even now, they want me to take it easy as much as I can." 

Achilles fell into thought, pacing a five-step track for several moments. 

"Besides," Joey continued, "I'm not cut out for this. I've never fought anyone in my life, and I don't want to do anything that'll end with my mom getting another phone call that I'm on the brink of death. That was the first time I've seen her cry, and my brother took it really hard too. This whole thing would just mean I'd be more likely to scare them again. And...and it scares me too much." 

"Jumper." 

Joey straightened at the name. Strange how it wasn't even his, but he responded to it so readily. Maybe it was just the tone of voice? 

"I understand that your body might not be up to it yet, so I'll table the discussion for now. But you'll never overcome your fears if you don't face them, and would you really risk the lives of others to avoid upsetting your family? You've been given an incredible gift. It would be a waste to not use it to help others. Think about it. I'm sure you'll make the right choice. And when you feel ready to become a member of my Legion, take this to a shop on the second floor called Little Fancy Masques and Garments. You can search the location.

"The woman there made my suit and I've arranged for her to make you one as well. She'll take your measurements and discuss the design with you. You'll get a full suit, mask included. Then you can join me. I know you'll find it in yourself." 

Joey was speechless. Achilles had no intention of taking no for an answer, did he? Even if he may have had a point about the uniqueness of his position, was he really obligated to do this? Was becoming like Achilles inevitable? 

He didn't want to. That was what his entire gut screamed. That time on the bridge had been enough facing death for a lifetime. Two lifetimes even. 

Joey shrunk back, turning away from Achilles. 

"I can't." 

"Someday you will." A paper was pushed against his arm. Achilles was holding it out to him, as if insisting he take it. 

"I won't," Joey choked out. Thinking about facing down another raygun was hard. He'd just been doing some experiments. How had he ended up roped into this crime-fighting thing? 

"Take the ticket anyway. Just in case. It's already paid for anyway." 

With shaking hands, Joey took the paper. It looked like a receipt or something. With that, Achilles finally left, with one final nod in his direction. 

 

When Joey got back that night, he replaced his mom's scarf and locked himself in his room. He flopped on his bed and stared at the ceiling, occasionally lifting his hand so the paper Achilles had given him was in his vision. 

It looked so innocent, but that paper was proof that his life wasn't normal. Now that he thought about it, what would being a superhero even look like? Would it be like a full time job without pay? How much time did Achilles spend wandering around the city looking for troublemakers? 

Did the military even approve of him? He grabbed his phone and searched Achilles. Dozens of articles popped up, many with common people and journalists praising his exploits. But most interviews with the military showed that they didn't exactly approve of him. 

"A lawless troublemaker who has no cause to interfere in our affairs." 

"The military can handle all this. We don't need an amateur getting in our way." 

"I'd love to arrest the guy for all this. He may not have strictly violated any laws, but he has a habit of getting in our way." 

Not the best reviews. If Joey joined Achilles - if Jumper joined Achilles - they'd say the same sorts of things about him. And who needed to get in that sort of trouble? 

Why couldn't he just have a normal life? Become a psychologist, get set up at a clinic, help people with their mental health. That had been his dream since he graduated. There had been a classmate of his, one who'd attempted suicide in their final year of high school. They'd been friends. When Joey had spent his time listening and helping his friend, he'd been told he was good at it. That was why he'd considered psychology, and he was enjoying it so far. 

Could he throw that all away to play crime-stopper? Just because he could jump high and didn't seem to be impacted by falls? It really was comical how many times he'd fallen down stairs in recent months. 

More than anything else, he was scared of getting hurt again. Scared of dying. Most people his age thought death was distant, something they wouldn't have to worry about for decades. Yet now that he'd faced it, the thought of dying terrified Joey. 

A knock on his door interrupted his thoughts. 

"Come in," he croaked, hiding the paper between his bed and the wall. Ned crept in, a slight smile on his face. 

"I figured you were awake. I heard you come home not long ago." 

Crap. Ned was way too perceptive. 

"Sorry. Had to take a walk and think a bit. Plus exercise is good for me." Good thing Ned couldn't see the way Joey's insides quivered at the lie. If he joined Achilles, there would only be more lies, and he couldn't stand the thought of that. 

"No worries. You okay? You've seemed off for a while?" 

"Off? How so?" 

"You're spacing out, staring at the wall with a grumpy look on your face, and sneaking out in the middle of the night. It's not like you." Ned sat on the bed next to him. 

The kid really was too perceptive. 

"I know I'm younger than you, and I'm a year behind in school, but I'm here for you, y'know. When the accident happened, I lent you my computer because it was the only thing I could think to do, but if you tell me what you need I'll help you. As long as it's something I can do, I'll do anything." 

Joey looked at his younger brother, an adult by all rights, and smiled as warmth filled his heart. 

"I was a little lost for a bit," he confessed. "Tonight I thought I might have to change everything in my life, but hearing that has cleared my head actually. Thanks, kid." He tousled Ned's hair, while the brother in question playfully tried to bat his hand away. 

"You promise you're okay? I'm not reliable like you, but I'm here if you need me. I know you don't play games much, but there's a new RPG coming out and it supports local two-player if you wanna go through it with me." 

"I'm great, Ned. When's that game come out?" 

As the two talked into the night (not going to bed until almost four), Joey affirmed to himself that he'd made the right decision. Worrying Ned was the last thing he wanted. After Ned left, he took the slip from Achilles and shoved it to the bottom of his lowest desk drawer. Why he didn't just throw it out, he wasn't sure, but Jumper would never see the light of day. 

Besides, Achilles could just find someone else to do the job. 


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