Vince heard the door to the infirmary open softly then close quickly. He didn’t bother opening his eyes or getting up from the bed where he was laying. It was time for another round of questioning. They’d been coming at irregular intervals to ask what had happened, what he had seen, why he’d done the things he’d done. No one really seemed to like his answers. It wasn’t his fault that the details were fuzzy; it had been a hectic battle. Add in the natural strangeness of coming back from a Rich hallucination and it was a miracle he could remember anything besides the hellish fighting. He hadn’t even believed their accounts of his actions at first; they seemed well beyond the limits of what he could do. The videos they showed him silenced those objections immediately.
“Hey, Silver, how you feeling?”
Vince’s eyes shot open and he jerked upright. He’d been expecting a professor or the dean again, maybe even one of his teammates. The absolute last person he’d expected to step through the door was Nick, who was currently walking toward him at a careful pace. That was understandable; Nick probably didn’t know how Vince would react to what he’d done. For that matter, Vince wasn’t all that sure either.
“Healed, but shaken up,” Vince replied honestly. “They let you come see me?”
“I convinced them I wanted to come apologize,” Nick lied. “Sort of a last request, since there’s no time to cook me a meal.”
“They’re kicking you out.” For once Vince was quick on the uptake. Nick was thankful for that; he hadn’t been looking forward to walking him to the appropriate conclusion.
“Yeah. There are people at Melbrook packing my bags as we speak. I’ll be on the road before sunset.”
“That’s so quick. Isn’t there some sort of trial or investigation they have to go through?”
“There would be, if I hadn’t confessed,” Nick replied. “I admitted guilt on all charges and offered no excuse for mitigation. My expulsion was pretty much a lock anyway; I just saved people the time and energy they’d spend justifying it.”
“Oh.” Vince looked down at his sheets, idly wondering how many times he’d been in this infirmary during his second year at Lander. He seemed to have lost count. “So, are you going to do it?”
“Apologize.” Vince looked up, meeting his friend’s eyes without the tinted plastic divider. “You took over my brain. You made me hurt our classmates. Some of them were even our friends. And the things I saw... it was not a pretty vision.”
“I didn’t imagine it would be,” Nick admitted. “I made Rich give you a structure that would get rid of that pesky need to hold back you’re always plagued with. I had a feeling it was going to be something nasty. I’m sorry for the guilt you feel, Vince. That I can say with honesty. As for the rest, I wouldn’t recommend holding your breath.”
“You don’t feel bad about it?”
“I don’t feel bad about most things. Until I got here I could say I felt bad about almost nothing. For all the things I have begun to experience guilt over, this will never be one of them. Yes, I gave you the fuel for some nightmares, but you already have plenty of that. Yeah, I added some guilt to the burden you walk around with, but it’s a fraction of what was already there. That stuff sucks, but you know what doesn’t? Right now everyone is talking about how to deal with me, and whether the battle system needs reform to stop the kind of hijinks I used from being repeated. You know what not one person is talking about? Vince Reynolds being cut from the program. Because after what you did in that arena, no one is so fucking stupid to think that suggestion could get any traction.”
“What I did in the arena,” Vince repeated. “What I did in there was brutal. It was horrible. I didn’t even think about if the enemies I was attacking could withstand the attacks I was giving them.”
“Yet everyone survived just fine,” Nick pointed out. “I’ve been telling you, these people are stronger than you give them credit for. That said, when you finally went at it full force, you were unstoppable.”
“I was a monster,” Vince said, his voice somewhere between a whisper and a pained sigh.
“Vince, do you know what the difference between monsters and angels is? It’s whether they’re on your side or not.”
“That doesn’t make sense.”
“Sure it does. Let’s take you, for example. You say that you were a monster out there. I won’t deny that. The power you displayed, the things you accomplished, they were inhuman. So yes, when you stop holding back, you could most certainly be considered a monster. Now, let’s look down the line. One day, ten years from now when you’re a professional Hero, you get a call about a Super trying to rob a bank and taking hostages. You show up, pissed off, and you show him the same beast that everyone saw today. To that criminal, to that poor stupid bastard, you would certainly be a monster that haunts him for the rest of his life.”
“If you meant this to be comforting then you really missed the mark,” Vince interrupted.
“Let me finish,” Nick said. “The point is that to him, you are a monster. To the hostages in that bank, on the other hand, you would be an angel. The same things that make you so scary to the bad guys will make you comforting to the innocent people. When someone says you’re on the way, everyone in the right will know things are going to be okay, and everyone in the wrong will be getting on good terms with any god that will have them. Don’t be afraid of how dangerous your power makes you. That fear belongs to the people who have to reckon with you.”
“You have a knack for speeches,” Vince said, shifting his gaze slightly.
“One of my many talents. So, do you forgive me?”
“I thought you weren’t apologizing.”
“I’m not. But since when have you needed an act of contrition to forgive someone?”
Vince smiled at his friend. “I forgive you. And thank you for helping me. Not to mention showing me what I could do. For the life of me I can’t figure out how you knew I had all that in me. I didn’t even realize I could absorb sound or created energy.”
“Honestly, I didn’t know any of that either,” Nick admitted. “I just had faith in you.”
“That is some impressive faith.”
“I learned from the best.” Nick patted his best friend on the shoulder. He was going to miss this crazy bastard. Vince definitely made things less predictable. “You know that from now on things are going to get harder, right? I’ve worked in the background to try and keep you guys sheltered from a lot of crap, but I won’t be able to do that anymore.”
“Well, I’ll say this much,” Vince said. “After watching that video and seeing the way people are acting around me, I’m feeling strong enough to handle any challenges that come our way.”
Nick dearly hoped his friend was right.