Everyone turned at Sawyer’s outburst and followed his gaze. Gael had turned to the door, but he twisted around at Sawyer’s exclamation.
Vance barked out a laugh and grabbed his own jacket. “Did you know about this, boss?”
Finn stared at the lettering on the back of the jacket, and his face broke into a grin. “They’ve given us a cool name.”
Talon looked heavenward in exasperation. “Gregory mentioned it, but I thought he was yanking my chain.”
“H.E.R.O.” Finn spelled it out slowly. “What does it stand for?” he asked Talon in awe.
“Human Enhanced Rescue Organization.” Talon winced as he said it.
“That’s completely awesome,” breathed Vance.
Gael took off his jacket and stared at the letters. He glanced at Talon. “You have to admit, boss. It’s kind of cool.”
Talon looked around at all their faces and shook his head. “This could still go very wrong.” He looked at Finn and nodded to the jacket Finn was gripping. “You need to get that uniform on.”
Finn stood nervously. “I think I’ll eat first.”
Vance was just leaving the room, but he turned at Finn’s words. “Shit, that’s actually a good idea.” He slowly unbuttoned his shirt and glanced at Finn. “My whole family’s either cops or in law enforcement of some type. Dad and four brothers. I’ve wanted to put this uniform on since I was a kid, and I don’t dare risk mayo all down the front of it.” He laughed.
Talon made an exasperated sound. “I’ll see you in the cafeteria.” And he walked out.
Finn stared after Talon.
“Don’t mind him. His family is all in law enforcement too. They live in DC.”
Finn nodded. “Yeah, I know. Drew told me.”
“I bet you think we’re all complete dumbasses.” Vance sighed heavily.
Finn paused before he let out the immediate easy denial that had sprung to his lips. He sat on the bench opposite Vance and leaned back on his locker door. “You are stronger and faster than me. You outran me on the track yesterday, even though technically I should be able to sprint faster because of your bulk. You had much better endurance.” Vance looked up hesitantly. “Most people use the phrase ‘can kill with their bare hands.’ Vance, you could take me out with one tied behind your back.” Finn’s grin widened as Vance started to look uncomfortable at the praise. Seemed he was shy.
“All my life I wanted this,” Vance said slowly, as if he were picking through his own memories. “It was a given. I’m the youngest of five. Cops came around to our house all the time. My dad is a lieutenant, and all my brothers wanted to be just like him when we grew up.” He smiled. “Drove my mom nuts.”
Finn kept quiet. There was more. He knew there was more.
“It was my birthday. I was thirteen and felt on top of the world. A few of us had been laid up with a mild flu the week before, so when I woke up not feeling too great, I shook it off. We had a huge barbecue planned for the afternoon, and the house would be full. Full of cops and their families. Dad had promised to take me to the shooting range for my birthday. He made us all wait until we were official teenagers. He used to joke it was a good age. How old you were when you had to start becoming a man. I never even stopped to brush my teeth, or I’d have seen it in the mirror.” Vance touched his mark self-consciously. “We always had breakfast together. Whoever was in the house. Breakfast was our thing. I knew the presents would be laid on the table next to my plate, and I couldn’t wait.” Vance leaned his head back against the lockers and swallowed. “I ran into the kitchen. Mom was just frying the eggs, and she turned around with this huge smile on her face.”
Finn watched Vance struggle with the memories. The everyday noises from outside faded into the distance. Someone closed a door. Someone else was talking.
“I’ll never forget how she screamed. She dropped the pan, and my dad and eldest brother came running into the kitchen. They all looked at me like I had two heads. Then my dad kissed my mom’s head and opened his arms. To me. I nearly ran to my dad. I didn’t know what the matter was. Mom was scaring the crap out of me.
“Mom calmed down in seconds, and two of my other brothers had turned up by then. I knew something was wrong with how tight Dad was clutching me, like he was real scared.”
Vance sighed and opened his eyes. “They showed me in the mirror. Mom had a small one in her purse because Dad wouldn’t let go of me to even go to the bathroom.” Vance shrugged. “And just like that, my life was over.”
“Your dad sounds wonderful, though,” Finn said cautiously.
Vance grinned. “Yeah, he was. They all were. I stayed on and finished every bit of school. There was no way anyone would dare go against a Connelly. My brothers were all fiercely protective of me, and I was incredibly lucky. I even did college and got a job for a security company. That’s how I met Talon. Private security companies loved us because perps just took one look and ran, but it was the only way I ever thought I was gonna get the chance to put on a uniform.”
Vance smoothed out his jacket. “Talon had a similar background to mine, and we decided to train ourselves. We both wanted to be ready if this chance ever came up. To prove we can be more than the monsters the public seems to think we are. This is our chance, Finn, and I know you understand that.”
“You’ve seen my file.” Finn smiled.
Vance nodded. “Different set of circumstances, but I can respect that you want this as much as any of us.” Vance stood and pulled on his T-shirt. “Lunch?” He’d obviously finished sharing, and Finn took his cue from him.
Finn grimaced. “I don’t know how hungry I’m going to be.”
Vance grinned. “I’m always hungry.” He stuck his hand out. “Welcome to the team, partner.”