Chapter 167

There is a common discussion topic posed by philosophers who fancy themselves scientifically capable and scientists who have gotten thoroughly drunk: What would happen if an unstoppable force were to meet an immovable object? The folly in this discussion lies in the inescapable fact that neither of these things can exist. Both imply a limitless amount of mass or energy, and even in a world where certain humans can occasionally bend the laws of physics, all things have their limits. That said, there are objects that, while not immovable, possess sufficient staying power as to make the act of attempting to move them a highly likely exercise in absolute futility.

Camille Belden, sitting in a plastic chair at the side of Vince’s infirmary bed, was currently such an object. She’d rebuffed the attempts by the healers to get her to leave by pointing out that, as a healer herself, she was not bound by things like visiting hours. She’d politely declined invitations from Stella or Violet to go grab a quick bite while Vince slept, though she had accepted the food they eventually brought her. Dean Blaine had popped back in at one point, and while he’d given her a curious glance or two, he’d made no efforts to convince her to give up her seat. Such was the benefit of experience: he knew a hopeless battle when he saw one.

Vince had been predominantly resting since the departure of the crowd of friends checking on him. Evidently whatever Rich did was different from sleep, because Vince had quickly realized how exhausted he was. The others noticed the yawns and left. Camille pulled up her chair and sat. She’d offered a weak excuse of staying in case he had any unexpected side effects and needed healing. She doubted even Vince was naïve enough to buy it. Camille knew she wasn’t doing a good job at hiding how she felt. Eventually, she would care about that.

There was no gentle holding of his hand as she watched him, nor any carefully placed touches against his forehead. Camille’s dainty hands lay in her lap, their tremendous potential to heal or hurt restrained with the lack of physical contact. Those sweet gestures were things a lover would do. That was not her. She had no illusions about her role in his life. Camille had gone to great lengths to cast herself this way, a pillar of support in his trying times, a friend he could always lean on. It meant she could always be near him, and the cost was that she could never close the final bit of space and touch him. Not the way a lover would. Not the way she wanted to.

Vince didn’t need a lover; there would always be women drawn to his strong character and simple, honest manner. What he needed was someone to watch over him, because despite all his good traits, the boy didn’t have more than a thin flicker of self-preservation. He would always charge headlong into situations where people were in need, not paying more than passing heed to whether or not he could actually survive. It was the thing that Camille loved the most about him. It was the thing she knew would ultimately kill him. There was no hope of changing him, of making him more cautious. Even if she could, that would just be a crueler way of killing off Vince Reynolds. No, all she could do was stay close and push back that inevitable day for as long as possible. What she might have wanted to be, to him, with him, in a perfect world, was irrelevant. Not when it was weighed against the risk of seeing him leave this world even one instant sooner than was avoidable.

He stirred, rolling over and blinking the groggy remainders of sleep from his eyes.

“Hey,” he said, his voice rougher than normal. “How long was I out?”

“You’ve been sleeping for around five hours,” Camille replied.

“Feels like I just nodded off.” He sat up in bed and took a long stretch. “You weren’t here the whole time, were you?”

“Of course not,” she lied. “All the healers have been taking turns keeping an eye on you. It looks like we weren’t needed.”

“Doesn’t seem so,” Vince agreed. “Sorry you guys wasted the time watching me.”

She gave him a small smile. “Vince, people with my kind of ability are always happier when we don’t have to use it. It means no one had to suffer in the first place.”

“Never thought about it like that.” He finished his stretching and pulled off the covers. The uniform he’d been wearing was wrinkled nearly beyond recognition. Thankfully they’d taken the jacket off him before putting his body in bed. That was, by far, the hardest part to iron.

“How are you feeling?”

“Still a little tired, but overall I think I’m fine,” Vince informed her.

“I didn’t mean physically.”

“I know.” He looked away from her, his eyes wandering to a clock slowly ticking and tocking from its perch on the wall. “I think I’m going to need some time to really make peace with everything. I mean, Rich’s dream thing helped me get past the worst of it, but it’s still a lot to deal with. At least it’s not all bad.”

“It’s not?”

“My father is alive,” he said, turning back and giving her a wide grin. Vince had no talent in hiding his feelings, or perhaps his talent was simply that he felt no compulsion to do so. Although the worry and uncertainty were still evident on his face, so was the unequivocal joy he was feeling at that realization. “I might get to see him again, to talk to him. I admit, it’s not exactly a perfect situation, but it’s still more than I ever really could have hoped for.”

“You know this is going to make things harder on you, right? The fact that you were raised by him would have been a big deal even if he were still dead. Him being alive compounds that times ten.”

“I know. Dean Blaine and I had a chat about it earlier,” he said. “Still, if my choices were this situation or my father turning out to not have been Globe but still being dead, I’d be sitting in this infirmary bed after a literal meltdown every time. Just knowing he’s alive makes it worth it, no matter how much trouble or pain is going to come along with it. Think that’s crazy?”

“Not at all,” Camille said. She understood exactly how he felt.