“You heard about it, right? The hospitalization.” Hospitalization. Gordeau kind of liked that word, for some reason. Felt good in his mouth. It was an honest shame that it only got use in tragic contexts. Unless the context was “Mayor Liber has been hospitalized”, or something.
“Sure did,” replied Jill quietly, apparently behaving even more reserved than usual in the face of bad news that affected her friends. He watched her replace a few bottles on the shelf, as though she were taking inventory and keeping track of whatever would need replenishing. Hey—that’s my job, you know? That’s what he wanted to say. Maybe she was trying to take on more responsibilities, considering Gordeau’s friends had been dropping left and right, it seemed.
Well, what Gordeau needed was probably the opposite—more work to bang his head against; he didn’t think anything good would come from pondering things overmuch.
“Are you doing alright?” Jill asked eventually, perhaps concerned by his silence.
“Hm? Ah, yeah. Just thinking about how it seems like the attack is all I’m ever talking about lately.”
“You brought it up,” she reminded him, smiling gently.
He gave her a broad grin. “You’re right. Guess it’s just hard to forget it—maybe less because of what happened than just how bad it was. All this right after the detective ended up at Gotham General, too. Is it me, or has there just been too much going on lately in this city?”
“Not just you… one of Celty’s friends just got back from being kidnapped.”
He snorted in an effort to suppress his laughter, the tone of her voice making it sound as though she were just describing a visit to the pharmacy, or something. Gordeau knew she wasn’t joking, though. Were such events really becoming so commonplace in Gotham? Or had it always been this way? It’s not like the front page of the paper had ever been very encouraging regarding the state of affairs in the city, so… what, then? Gotham was just some kind of shit-hole, and Gordeau had been lucky enough that he hadn’t needed to worry about it—much—until now?
At this rate, it felt like he might catch a knife between the ribs any day now. And then the police would probably shrug their shoulders and move onto the next crime scene.
He couldn’t help letting his eyes drift to the scythe for a moment, letting it linger in view for a moment before looking back to Jill and following her gaze to the clock. Yep, another twenty minutes or so until opening.
“Your place isn’t in walking distance anymore, right?” he asked.
“I have to hop on the subway now, if that’s what you mean.” She looked back at him neutrally, as though waiting to hear why he asked.
“And the walk to the station? Is that worse than what you used to do?”
“No…” replied Jill uncertainly, one eyebrow going up. “Are you worried about me, Gordeau?”
He blinked, a little offended she sounded so surprised. He shot her a smile anyway. “Well, you’re my best employee—why wouldn’t I be? I just mean—well,” he paused, looking to the scythe one more time. “I don’t know. I was just thinking that, given current events, I was starting to feel a little unsafe, myself. And I own a scythe… and my quirk… and I’m not a young woman… so I was just wondering.”
“I think I get what you’re saying, but the city’s always been a little unsafe.” A wry little smile appeared on her face. “Plus, there’s Celty. Her new job often has her working hours similar to my shift anyway, so it’s not that rare to meet up when I’m done. She’s strong enough to take care of both of us—not that we’ve needed that yet.”
“Ah, yeah, because she can make her own weapons on the fly,” he conceded a little jealously, holding his chin between thumb and forefinger. “You know, I think you’ve gotten cuter ever since you started seeing her. Speaking as a platonic friend, of course.”
“Excuse me!?” she exclaimed, with a faintly nervous and irritated smile on her face.
Gordeau laughed. Too easy. She was usually so cool and unflappable, but teasing her in regards to the girlfriend could still earn a reaction with some reliability. That was always good for a mood boost, for some reason.
Am I a bad boss? he wondered.
Nah. He had to get the digs in while he could, since it would only be a matter of time until everyone knew about he and Bernadetta…
“Well, you know what they say about young women in love,” he began.
“I really don’t, boss,” she replied with some exasperation.
He grinned, heading out from behind the bar to go check something in the office. “Well, don’t worry about it. Probably applies to guys, too,” he added, as though it had anything at all to do with her situation.
“I’m surprised you even want to be here, professor,” said Gordeau, who had momentarily parked himself on the drum seat, watching as Geiger stood still just about where Jason usually spent his time practicing. The professor turned his head this way and that way, looking around the basement as though trying to memorize what it must have looked like from his missing boyfriend’s perspective. He had even nearly completed the look by borrowing Gordeau’s bass guitar, his fingers occasionally, quietly passing over the strings and infrequently eliciting tuneless little baritone whispers from the bass.
The old man let out a humorless chuckle. “Reminder of better times, I suppose. In any case, I imagine we shouldn’t be abandoning our practice altogether—even if we are on hiatus.”
“It doesn’t surprise me to hear that from you, Geiger. Alright, I’ll help make sure we don’t fall behind; Jason’s probably practicing in his sleep, anyway.” He struck the snare with a tentative little rap of the drumstick, surprising himself by how loud it was. The drums were always goddamn loud, of course, but for some reason he had just assumed Geiger really liked beating the shit out of them—like professorial stress relief.
The professor smiled thinly, plucking at the bass strings a little more deliberately, perhaps welcoming the change of pace from his drum set. “He just might be. And I suppose it would be rather mortifying if he played circles around us upon his return.”
“Yeah, I’d say so.”
There was another thoughtful pause, at the end of which Geiger turned to Gordeau with an inquisitive look in his eye. “When you first met Jason, was he just one of your customers?”
“That’s right. No real history before that, if that’s what you’re wondering about.”
Gordeau nodded, feeling the burden of social effort begin to weigh in on him as the silence started growing again—one which he still interrupted with an occasional beat from the bass drum or the toms.
“I’ve just realized something,” said Gordeau, plucking each bass string in turn.
“What’s that, professor?”
“I don’t think you’ve ever told us how you came to own Valhalla—not me, anyway.”
Gordeau shrugged his shoulders and put on a careful smile. “Yeah. Got it from one of my friends, but it’s sort of a long story.”
The elder man pulled his fingers from the strings of the bass and gave Gordeau a slightly reproachful look, as though sensing that he was trying very hard not to share the story. Geiger didn’t say a word, but somehow the bartender heard the message loud and clear: No one just receives an entire bar as a gift, and we’ve got time anyway, haven’t we?
Gordeau eventually answered his gaze with a guilty little chuckle, setting the drumsticks aside and rising to his feet. “Hey, Geiger—you’re welcome to stay as long as you like, but I’m going to get a drink. Join me?” he asked, affecting a tone of voice that very much suggested there was only one right answer.
When they’d retired to the kitchen, sans instruments, Gordeau popped the caps off of a couple of bottles from the fridge, handing one off for the professor to get acquainted with while he went to give his bottle opener a rinse, peeking out the window and being reminded by the light in the sky that it was unusual for Geiger to visit him, alone, at this hour. He dried his hands and took a sip from his beer as he considered this a bit longer, at the same time trying to figure out where to start with the professor, a little worried that the actual story wouldn’t be interesting enough to warrant all this preamble.
“Band’s been going for a couple of years now, huh?” asked Gordeau, still examining the street outside his window.
“By my estimation, yes it has,” agreed the professor.
“And it’s been fun. Kind of nostalgic.”
“Oh?” Gordeau turned in time to see the curious look on Geiger’s face. “I thought Gavrilo Princip was your first band, Gordeau.”
“Oh—it is.” He chuckled, switching his bottle to his left hand and reflexively flexing the fingers of the other, letting his gaze linger briefly on them before looking back up to meet Geiger’s eyes. “Let’s just say the band isn’t the first time I’ve had a group of misfits visiting my house on the regular, is all.”
Geiger leaned patiently against the kitchen island wearing only a mildly bemused look, ostensibly just waiting to hear more.
“There’s this guy I knew once—let’s call him ‘Roger’,” Gordeau began, giving his drummer a thin smile. “He was a good friend: pretty carefree guy, easy smile—remind you of anyone?—and he liked to travel. So when I was planning a trip of my own—Metropolis—I figured I’d invite him along, see if he had time to see the sights. Not a long trek, I know, but this was right after college… just needed a little break, you know? Or—I guess you practically live at one, so maybe you don’t know,” he added, chuckling.
“Oh, but…” Gordeau caught himself. “I guess I should start with how I knew him, which goes a little bit farther back.”
Gordeau couldn’t help but sigh. Might as well tell him the whole thing.
He was… dumb when he was younger. Hell, he was dumb even now.
What would have been the right word for it? The closest thing was something like “gang warfare”, but that just felt wrong. It was usually never something so serious, even if there was some fighting involved and an abundance of rough customers. What they did was something more like play-acting; a kind of urban LARPing with little factions running around in the night, sticking to parks and warehouses and other places that actual criminals, actual gangsters—or other groups worth fearing—wouldn’t actually bother themselves with.
Hell, Gordeau and his friends didn’t even go in on the playing around or the acting or making believe that they were vampires or werewolves or whatever was going on. But it was a fun little game and—most importantly—a good place to fight; a good place to flex the quirks that society wasn’t going to let them use.
Because how else would he get his exercise? Until then, he hadn’t really had an opportunity to learn and love the talent he’d been born with. After all, what was one to do with such a combat-oriented quirk?
Heroism, some of his relatives said. But Gordeau wasn’t made to be a hero, that was for certain. He could maybe picture himself throwing his body in harm’s way to protect innocent people, but only in times of true and unique desperation. In any case, Gordeau couldn’t help getting the feeling that—like traditional martial arts—his talents wouldn’t really be as safe or effective outside of a controlled environment for it—in situations where people knew, more or less, what they could expect from each other.
Plus, the jury was still out on how harmful his claws actually were, although he had no reason to believe they applied any injuries that couldn’t be recovered from. So instead of chasing any heroic aspirations, he (and the rest of them) awkwardly dodged homeless people (or invited them to join) and they played their games.
Roger, too. Remember him? The two of them had actually met long before they grew involved with these “games”, and—although he had introduced Gordeau to them—Roger himself didn’t tend to partake much. He enjoyed the atmosphere as much as anyone else, immersing himself in the fun of the games and the “stories” that they generated, in much the same way that arcs and legends and myths would form around any sort of sport. Roger wasn’t even the only one of these observers; there were recorders who dictated all developments to edgy forums on the internet, which boasted at least some readers, many of whom had never stumbled upon any of these fights in real life.
Gordeau always wondered what it all must read like to those people, like so much unexciting fiction, spiced up only by the variety of quirks that people brought to bear.
It was the perfect environment to get stuck with ridiculous nicknames like “Harvester” or “Devourer”.
It was also pretty obvious that someone was going to die eventually. Somehow, be it from the fights themselves or the silly factional grudges or the messing around in areas they didn’t quite belong… people were always going to get hurt.
Gordeau didn’t care too much about that, though. Being in the middle of earning a degree he was never going to use, earning grades that were completely average, and making little effort at campus memories, this after-school fight club (as it might generously be dubbed) was one of the few things that could get his adrenaline flowing with relative innocence, heart rushing with the excitement of battle and camaraderie, however low-level and and ultimately pathetic their funny little skirmishes may have been.
That, and… work, maybe. He’d met Roger on the job, did you know?
Of course, this sort of activity didn’t take place only in Gotham. Sure, it was a dense town, and you probably could find every opponent you might ever desire there… but there were plenty of other depressing cityscapes on the East coast—Bludhaven, Metropolis—which offered any number of violent types to choose from; hell, the crime rate of these areas probably correlated perfectly with the population of people who would also rather like to get into a “friendly” scrape. Only, some of these people were more friendly than others.
Heroes had their patrols, so they couldn’t be everywhere at once, and naturally weren’t even wanted at the sort of scenes these actors tended to gather… and that was likely the problem, in the end. What they did was a crime, and what they deserved was for a mask or a cape to come in and shut things down. A bunch of hot-blooded young adults gathering under night to swing their fists and show off their quirks was almost expected in a world where the great majority of humans had evolved to have powers (even if not all of them were “super”), but some of those things were truly dangerous, and it wasn’t as much of a game—or maybe more than a game—to some participants.
Eventually, it became evident that some of these people took part in illegal activities besides midnight rumbles, which Gordeau knew wasn’t something that shouldn’t surprise him. Those characters were criminals, full stop.
That didn’t mean they were all bad, though. One of his customers—a young man with striking white hair and sharp blue eyes, who had ascribed to himself a name so silly that Gordeau could not bring himself to repeat it even in narration—had taken an interest in these nightly activities and ended up asking about them. As far as Gordeau knew, this mysterious customer only visited a few of these nighttime tangles, electing instead to take to the internet and follow the results online, propagating results, rumors, stories…
Everyone needed a hobby; Gordeau’s had been so strange and silly that he found it hard to judge this one.
Wait—where was he? Oh, yes. Criminals. That customer was one, but that wasn’t actually pertinent to this story.
Anyway… anyone following the story thus far will have already guessed that Roger ended up dead. It wasn’t even a fight that the poor man had any business with—Roger was a spectator more often than not, and this continued to be the case on their little vacation to Metropolis. Perhaps participating in their “games” outside of their home city was what sealed Roger’s fate. Some of these kooks, after all, took the factional nonsense a little more seriously, and apparently those from outside of Gordeau’s neighborhood—from outside his city—had decided that Gordeau’s associates were due some punishment.
But maybe that wasn’t really the case. Some rumors made it sound something like an accident—a quirk out of control or a punch that just wasn’t pulled enough.
It didn’t really matter. The who, the how, or the why… those details were behind Gordeau—at least, they were now . Anyone who’s lost someone to senseless violence could likely guess as to how he felt directly afterward—how both futility and anger bubbled up inside him until it had transformed into a rash, embarrassing, immature desire for revenge, which had led him to aimlessly stalking the streets and trying to track down the guilty party. His criminal customer—the white-haired “chronicler”—wasn’t difficult to contact, and it turned out this acquaintance of his knew just how to get in touch with Roger’s murderer.
“But I gave up after that,” Gordeau admitted, taking their empty bottles and letting out a hollow sigh as he deposited them into the recycling.
He expected a look of surprise when he turned back to face Geiger, but saw something more akin to… pity, maybe?
“Gave up after learning who the perpetrator was? Or gave up after…?” Geiger trailed off, the implication clear.
“After killing him, professor?” Gordeau smiled, but hastened to clarify: “It’s the former. I never even met the guy again, in the end. Whoever it was, they’ll probably get what they deserve eventually, so… I dropped the manhunt. Don’t really feel the desire to resume it. I don’t really think I’d regret going through with the whole ‘vengeance’ thing, but… it’s also not really a priority anymore; make sense?”
“And what made you give up the chase?”
“Actually, it was Roger,” said Gordeau, following it up with a weak chuckle.
Geiger gave him a quizzical and expectant look, apparently having no interest in restating the obvious—that Roger was deceased .
“They executed his will at just the right time, I guess. He had a lot of friends, but not much family—and since I was his best employee at the time, he ended up leaving the place to me.” He looked out the window fondly, feeling the vague yearning to return there—though he would get his chance soon enough.
Geiger’s nod was wise and knowing. “Valhalla.”
“Right. You wouldn’t believe the amount of paperwork that comes with that kinda thing. Almost gave up on claiming it a few times.” He shook his head as he recalled the process, knowing he deserved every moment of irritation it brought him; had Roger planned for that, too? “Anyway, that’s more or less the whole story: Roger got killed by some criminal, but it was me who got to go to Valhalla. Funny, right?” He tried to laugh, as if to prove the assertion, but it sounded sad even to his ears; he couldn’t help wondering how pathetic it made him look.
“It makes me sorry to hear it, Gordeau. But you do seem happy there,” the professor observed, sounding every bit like the sympathetic pedagogue they all knew him to be.
He couldn’t help laughing a little more. “Yeah, you’re right. Plus, the business degree ended up being good for something . Convenient. Anyhow, that pretty much wraps up the story—that’s what you wanted to know, right? How I ended up with a bar. Like I said: kind of a long story.”
Geiger smiled. “And somehow I’m certain you left plenty out.”
This time Gordeau responded with a smirk. “Right as always, professor. Hey—if you plan on sticking around, how about getting some more practice in? If we don’t have enough material for an album by the time Jason gets back, I think he might kill us.”