“That’s not funny, Nick,” Alice chided him.
“I’m not joking,” Nick told her. Gone was his usual smirk and taunting tone. Instead his face was pinched and serious, coated with more gravity than any of the dorm’s residents could remember seeing before. “I’ll stay until we get the all clear, and then I’m going back to Vegas.”
“But our friends are in trouble,” Vince said.
“Your friends, Vince,” Nick corrected. “In case you missed the big reveal downstairs, our cover just got blown. Now, while you and Mary and probably Roy can all still get by after being outed, my only shot was to fly under the radar. The blowing of the whistle on us signaled the end of my career at Lander.”
“That doesn’t change the fact that Mary and Hershel need us, though,” Alice jumped in.
Nick laughed, a hard and bitter sound instead of usual robust chuckles.
“What part of this aren’t you getting? I’m leaving. That means I’m done with this whole facade. I’m not risking my neck to save those two because it’s not my problem. They mean nothing to me, and I no longer have to pretend otherwise.”
“I don’t understand,” Vince said slowly. “You’re our friend, a fellow former Powered. You’re one of us.”
“No, Vince, I’m just a great liar who wanted to learn as much about his abilities as he could,” Nick told him, something that might have been gentleness leaking into his voice. “Nothing personal; the day our secret came out was always going to be my exit. I just needed a group of allies to use during my time here.”
“I don’t believe you,” Vince said simply.
“I didn’t expect you to,” Nick said, half a smile twitching across his face.
“You’ll come help us. I know you will,” Vince told him, patting him on the shoulder. “I have to go get ready for the fight, but I have faith you’ll reach the right decision. There’s more to you than you think.”
Without another word Vince walked away, past Mr. Numbers and Mr. Transport who were furtively whispering in their own corner, content to let the students resolve their own problems while the duo tackled logistics of the rescue effort.
“Same old Vince,” Nick said, shaking his head. He turned to Alice. “Are you going to give you a cute little speech too?”
“No,” Alice said softly. “I just want to know something. You’re saying you were lying this entire time? About everything?”
“Sorry, Alice, but yes. I guess on the plus side I can finally admit your suspicions of my duplicitous nature were right. Kudos; you’re the only non-telepath one who caught on.”
“I guess I was,” Alice said. Nick expected a lot of things to follow. He was braced for tears, accusations, pleas, or even yelling. Unfortunately he was not braced for the right hook Alice deftly slammed into his face. There was an audible CRACK and a muffled thudding as Nick fell to the floor, his hands racing up to cover the eyes Alice had punched. Nearby his sunglasses tumbled to the ground as well, cleaved neatly in two by the blow with the left eye’s lens spinning to a stop some feet away.
“What the fuck?” Nick demanded from his prone position on the floor.
“You lied to us, you manipulated us, you want to abandon us, and you’re surprised I hit you? I thought you were supposed to be smart!” Alice shook her hand in pain with as much subtlety as she could muster, trying not to let her eyes tear up from a potent mixture of injury, outrage, and betrayal.
“I did what I had to in order to get by,” Nick spat at her.
“Bullshit. You could have gotten by on your own if you were so determined to stay alone. You didn’t have to be the bastard who makes people trust him only to bail when things get hard. You didn’t have to let us think we could... care.” Alice stared down at the boy she had spent so much of the year fighting with, pining after, verbally sparring with, and finding comfort in. And much as she hated herself for it, a part of her still wanted to offer him a hand up from the ground.
“You what really turns my stomach, though? That night I kissed you, I did it hoping that under the slick veneer there was actually this decent guy with good reasons for hiding himself. I thought that the man behind the mask had to be better. And now I find out that the real you is nothing but a selfish coward who won’t risk anything for people who would put it on all the line for him if things were reversed.”
“Are you done yet?” Nick asked, glaring up at her unabashedly.
“Only with you,” Alice said, spinning on her heel and walking away.
* * *
Hershel’s eyes began to flutter as he came around. His first thought was wondering who had stuffed his head full of cotton. His second was to realize that probably wasn’t the case, but he was working through one hell of a groggy headache.
“I still wish we could have used the teleporter,” said a female voice, thought it sounded vaguely muffled, like it was coming through a wall.
“Wish in one hand, shit in the other,” barked back a harsh male voice. This one Hershel took only seconds to place; he’d heard far more of it, after all.
Hershel opened his eyes to see what was going on. He didn’t remember anything since kissing Mary, so he had no idea why his head hurt so bad. Or why he was apparently riding in the back of a moving truck. Or while he was handcuffed and shackled to the floor. What had been mere curiosity was quickly transitioning to apprehension.
“Looks like Sleeping Beauty is coming around,” Coach George said, giving him a smile. Hershel noticed that Mary was sitting next to him, not handcuffed but also not conscious. She had a silver mechanism wrapped around her head that he was certain hadn’t been there previously.
“Was goin ahn?” Hershel asked, his tongue feeling thick and slow in his mouth.
“Whew, seems like that slumber Persephone induced did a doozy on you, Daniels,” Coach George said. “I think she might have used too much. Sorry about that.”
Hershel wasn’t sure how well he could communicate verbally, so instead of trying again he looked around then raised his metal ensnared hands with a questioning look on his face.
“Ah, you want me to explain I take it?”
Hershel nodded emphatically.
“Well, Daniels, the short answer is actually pretty simple,” Coach George said with a reassuring smile. “You’re being kidnapped.”