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."
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.
"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.