Chapter 178

Vince lost consciousness for a few minutes after Shane left. It might have been the blood loss, though Shane had been careful not to leave wounds that risked bleeding out. It might have been the sizable branch weighing on his torso, but it was not so heavy as to leave him unable to breathe. It might have even been shame. After all that training, all that discussion and planning and bravado, he’d still been trounced like he was nothing. He was supposed to be a force that his team could rely on. Instead it seemed like he spent most of time lying on the ground, defeated.

“Are you all right?” Camille asked, raising her voice slightly to be heard. It risked them being discovered, but that didn’t matter much at the moment. It didn’t make any student look more skilled to beat up defeated opponents. No, the worst they could suffer upon discovery was humiliation, and that was low on her list of current concerns.

“I’m stuck, but I think I’ve stopped bleeding,” Vince answered. There was no more sensation of warm, sticky blood tickling down his appendages. The muscles were still cut; nothing short of Camille was going to fix that.

“Don’t move too much, you don’t want to reopen your cuts. I’ll heal you as soon as this is over and we get free.”

And there it was. They had to sit and wait; they were out of the match. Camille was too weak to lift her branch, and even if Vince had been at full strength, he doubted he could have budged his. He tested his appendages and found them largely unresponsive. He could move them, but with the severed tendons it was painful and hard to direct them. Lifting was out of the question; the only thing he could get to move in even a semblance of control was his left arm. He flopped it against the branch and felt the rough bark press against his palm.

“Damn it, what did I just tell you?”

“Sorry, I... I think I have an idea.” He couldn’t push it away, and using a kinetic blast was too dangerous. Aiming was impossible, so the branch might easily land on Camille. He did have another option. One that would be uncomfortable, one that was risky, one that was certain to hurt. Still, it would get him a chance to get back in the game. He’d promised Nick the team could count on him. And... to be perfectly honest, he knew that if he failed here, it was over. No third year, no hopes of being a Hero. Once he was ousted, they would never let the son of Globe back in. He either got back up, or he may as well go back to sleep and accept these two years for the dream they were.

“Camille, you might want to look away.”

“What are you going to do?”

But Vince had already done it. Fire burst forth from his left hand, a surge of flame cascading across the branch’s surface. His own flame didn’t hurt him as it exited, but as the branch began to burn in earnest, he noticed the temperature rising. Immediately he began to sweat, the heat so close and so forceful that it was all he could do not to pull it back. Not yet.


He could hear the panic in Camille’s voice; he wished she’d listened to him and looked away. His uniform was on fire, the flames were beginning to lick against his skin. Vince had imagined all the severed muscles would restrict his ability to feel pain. Either he was wrong, or the pain was so great it didn’t matter. He set his jaw and resisted the urge to scream. This had to be hard enough for his teammate to watch; he wouldn’t let her know how badly he was hurting. He’d been burned before; he knew what was still in store for him.

The smoke was getting overpowering; it was growing steadily harder to breath. Good. Only a little bit longer. He needed to be certain the tree was burning on its own. He couldn’t hear Camille’s words anymore, but he could definitely hear her yelling at him. The fire was too loud, or he was too close. God he wished she’d looked away. Vince glanced down and realized that his left hand was turning charred and black; the proximity to the fire had burned away all the nerves before he’d noticed it. His vision was getting blurry. Time was up, now or never. He could only pray it had been long enough.

Vince absorbed the fire in an instant, the branch dissolving into ash as he took both its current energy and all the energy it would have generated as it burned. His jacket was taken too. Mercifully his pants hadn’t caught fire in time to be absorbed. He saw that his torso was sooty and black. At least he hoped that was soot.

“What is wrong with you? Why would you do that?” Camille wasn’t yelling anymore; from the rasp in her voice it sounded like she’d screamed herself horse. Her cheeks were wet, glistening with tears that still flowed freely from her eyes. Poor girl. Vince would apologize afterward. He couldn’t respond yet; he needed all his focus for the last part.

Carefully he rolled onto his side, aiming as best he could. He pressed his ruined hand onto the charred ground that had once been grass. He owed a thank you to Nick for forcing him to gain some semblance of control of this new aspect to his powers, and to Roy for charging him up. With a grunt of effort he blasted the solid ground with kinetic energy, sending him hurtling across the grass and leaving a trail of partially cooked flesh where it scraped against him. He nearly passed out again, this time unquestionably from pain, but he fought back the sensation of slumber and rolled himself over. He was close to Camille now, almost in arm’s reach. With one last burst of effort, Vince rolled over once, twice, three more times. The third was the last he had in him: as his vision turned skyward the screaming pain finally overwhelmed his willpower and he fell into the blissful darkness.

“You fucking idiot.” A pair of dainty hands fell on his forehead, the only part of him she could reach. Camille choked back a sob as she looked at him. He was a wreck; he was destroyed. He’d gotten to her at the cost of god only knew how much pain. She began healing the burns first, watching his skin turn back to its normal pink hue. Then she healed the muscles  and finally the cuts Shane had left on his body.

It took only a moment and his eyes fluttered open. He pulled himself upright and gave his body a quick once over. Satisfied he was healthy, he turned to Camille.

“Thank you, yet again,” he said with a smile.

He pushed his restored hand under her branch then blasted it away with a kinetic burst. Since he was able to aim, there was no fear it would come down on her like his branch might have. It crashed into a tree and shattered into little more than splinters. Camille pulled herself up, ignoring his outstretched hand. She took a brief moment to heal her own injuries and wipe her face, then she turned to face him.

Had he known it was coming, Vince probably could have dodged her punch. As it was, it struck him squarely in the jaw, leaving him with watering eyes of his own.

“Fuck you! Fuck you for doing that! Fuck you taking that risk! Fuck you for... FUCK YOU!” Camille was shaking and her face was red, but for once it had nothing to do with embarrassment. “You could have died, you idiot. If you’d passed out from pain or smoke inhalation you could have burned to death under that branch. Did you even think of that? I can’t heal the dead, you goddamned pigheaded moron. We’d have been fine, we’d have survived.”

“I would have been eliminated,” Vince said softly, avoiding her eyes. “If I don’t give them some reason to keep me, if I go down again, I won’t come back next year.”

This time Vince did see it coming, but he purposely didn’t avoid it. Camille slapped him on the cheek with all her might, adding to the already noticeable pain in his jaw.

“So what! You’d have moved on. There is life after Lander. But you can’t help anyone if you die. You can’t be there for the people you care about in any capacity, Hero or otherwise. Did you think about that? Did you really consider the consequences for everyone else while selfishly risking your life for some stupid job? Life doesn’t end if you get kicked out. Life definitely ends if you burn yourself to death in some dumbass escape attempt. The next time you do anything like that, I’m not going to heal you. I’ll pull you back from death, but then I’ll leave you to suffer.”

Her shaking was getting worse. Vince reached his arms around her and pulled her in close. It wasn't a conscious decision: in that moment it was merely what he knew she needed him to do. She struggled briefly then allowed him to hold her until the shivering subsided.

“I won’t help you kill yourself,” she whispered into his chest.

“I’ll be more careful,” Vince told her. “I promise.”

She stayed in his arms for a few moments more then pulled away. “What’s done is done. We should get moving. We made a lot of noise.”

Vince nodded wordlessly and they set off back into the battle. Camille made no offer to heal the blows she’d dealt, and he didn’t dream of asking for it.