Chapter 64

"Stella?"

"Nope," Nick replied.

"Will?"

"Totally," Nick said.

"Alice?"

"No doubt," Nick told her.

"Really?" Mary said uncertainly. "She's so pretty, and I've heard her thoughts wander in that direction several times before. You sure?"

"Daddy issues with an overprotective emotionally distant father. Not saying she won't be busting wild in days to come, but as of now I'm positive she's a virgin," Nick said.

"I really have trouble believing you can deduce whether someone has had sex just by briefly meeting them," Mary said.

"You can see in my head. Am I lying?"

"I said I have trouble believing, not that I didn't believe," Mary pointed out.

The two were trekking through the darkness of the halls, still in search of their fellow companions. Mary's mental eavesdropping had steered them away from more potential fights, but they'd been forced to take some twists and turns that took them farther from their goal. The tension had culminated in boredom, which had led to conversation and had ultimately found them having the current conversation. Adrenaline and fear are powerful silencers; however, even sneaking through a pitch black labyrinth can grow tedious after enough time.

"So, what about Hershel?" Mary asked.

"Oh, come on, as much as he moons over you there is no way his brain hasn't given that one away," Nick said.

"I try not to listen. It didn't seem polite," Mary explained.

"Not polite? You dig through my head like a hobo scrounging for food outside a restaurant dumpster, but he's a no-fly zone?" Nick said, his voice rising octaves in mock-outrage.

"He doesn't have anything to hide, nor does he need the advanced levels of therapy you do. Besides, he's romantically interested in me. It seemed like a poor idea to listen to the thoughts of someone I might end up dating," Mary said.

"Hrumph," Nick hrumphed. "Yes, by the way. Still pure as the driven snow."

"That's nice," Mary said, grateful that Nick couldn't see her smile in the darkness.

"Advanced therapy, huh?"

"You've got some issues."

"National Geographic has issues," Nick said. "I have personality."

"You have a complete inability to trust anyone," Mary pointed out. "I mean, you don't even trust Vince, and that kid thinks of you as his best friend."

"Friends stab you in the front," Nick mumbled.

"Real cute. On that note, Vince?"

"Surprisingly, no. And before you ask, not with Sasha. She's not either, but the two of them haven't knocked boots. Not with each other, I mean," Nick said.

"Wow. They've been dating for months now. Wonder what's holding them back," Mary speculated.

"He's a gentlemen and she thinks he's a virgin and doesn't want him to think she's a slut," Nick answered.

"I thought I was the telepath," Mary said.

"Please," Nick scoffed. "Nothing new in that story. Admittedly, usually the guy is only pretending to be a gentleman, but the context is the same."

"Shut up," Mary said quickly. Had Nick been a bit dumber or a touch more sensitive he might have thought she was silencing him after his last comment. Instead he merely shut his yapper. Moments later he heard footsteps echoing toward them. The intruder came close, then turned away a few rooms later. The steps faded away quickly, but he stayed quiet until Mary signaled the all clear.

"We're okay now," she told him finally. "Also, that is terribly jaded view of the courting process."

"Funny how 'reality' and 'jaded' seem to mean the same thing at the end of the day," Nick shot back.

"Whatever, Mr. Sad Sack. You know what I find to be 'reality'? That you've been here as long as we have, experienced this new environment, and started acting like a real Super just like we four. But you haven't grown or changed one bit. Hershel's popping out of his shell, Roy's calming down and getting focused, Alice is letting herself make connections to people, and Vince is getting used to having structure. Not Nick, though; you've the same guy today as you were when we first met," Mary said.

"I grew up a long time ago," Nick said, a few strands of bitterness snaking into his voice. "Besides, I notice you weren't on that list either, Miss High and Mighty."

"Of course I'm growing. I'm learning to play chess," Mary corrected him.

"Oh, well then, my mistake," Nick said.

"Apology accepted," Mary said. "Alex?"

"Nope," Nick told her. "But then no surprise there. Super in a small town is bound to have some fans."

"I suppose you have a point," Mary admitted. "We're almost there, by the way."

"About time," Nick complained as they loped carefully through the darkness. "Who is it?"

"Why? Hoping for someone in particular?"

"Yes: Roy. We need another heavy hitter. Too bad he’s out of the game."

"You're lying," Mary informed him. "Why don't you want to admit that you'd prefer we find Vince? You and he hang out plenty of the time. There's nothing wrong with wanting your friend to help during a stressful situation."

"I don't have friends. Just assets," Nick told her.

"I ought to knock you on your asset," Mary snapped. "Anyway, you'll see who it is in a minute or two anyway."

"Fine," Nick snapped. He needed to get his game face back on. Soon they'd have company and that meant Nick the quip-filled chatterbox, not Nick the conniver. He couldn't hide things from Mary; however, that was no excuse to let himself get sloppy in front of others.

"You're really pathetic sometimes," Mary scolded. Nick blinked, then realizing she was rebuking him for his thoughts rather than any recent words.

"I gotta be me," Nick told her. He hesitated for a minute as a question popped into his head. He was about to stifle it, then he realized Mary had heard it already now so he might as well ask. "Does Vince really think of me as his best friend?"

"And trusts you without hesitation," Mary assured him. "Kind of sad, knowing the man you really are."

"Yeah yeah yeah, be careful you don't fall off that soapbox."

The two stepped through a series of arches rapidly and stopped in a dark room like any of the others they'd been in over the last hour.

"Speaking of being elevated, ahoy up there!" Mary called, her voice echoing off the ceiling.

"Mary?" Alice's tentative voice drifted down.

"And Nick," Nick tossed in.

"Oh great," Alice groaned from her vantage point on the ceiling. "You had to be tagging along."

"You know me, Princess, one for all and all for one. We're passing this test as a team," Nick lied.

"Well, to be technical, we're the last of the team," Mary said. "Vince and Alex went down about fifteen minutes ago."

Nick whistled. "Who took those two out?"

"Let's just say if you hear someone singing, run like hell," Mary told him.

"Um, guys, not that I'm not thankful to have company, but I'm guessing you two have some sort of plan?" Alice asked.

"My plan was to round up as many of us as I could," Mary said. "As of now I'm officially open to suggestions.”

"Might I recommend surrender," said a new voice in the room, one that didn't immediately register to its other inhabitants. Nick wasn't the only one with decent deductive skills, though; it only took Mary a moment to confirm her fears and the mystery voice's owner.

"Hi, Chad," she said weakly.