When Sasha found Vince he was already on the losing end of a game of quarters with Gilbert. He didn’t seem too down about it, smiling and accepting his drinks with a curiously cheerful demeanor. It didn’t take a detective to piece things together, especially when he looked up and noticed her arrival.
“Sasha!” He leapt up from his metal folding chair and enveloped her in a wide-armed hug. She stiffened with surprise initially, but then relaxed as familiarity and nostalgia swept through her heart. She’d missed his hugs, and even drunken, they still held the same reassuring quality. It was like he was trying to squeeze all the sentiments he was too awkward to articulate into a single loving gesture. Sasha let the embrace go for just a few instants longer than she might have if he were sober - they weren’t on that good of terms yet - then carefully disengaged herself and flashed him a warm smile.
“I see someone is enjoying himself.”
“Yeah, sorry about that,” Nick interjected, walking over from his vantage point of observing a beer pong game. “Alice and I left him unattended to play some darts earlier in the evening, and before you know it he’d gone through two cups of the punch.”
“Is it that strong?”
“It ain’t jet fuel but I wouldn’t feed it to an infant, either. It’s decent, but you’ve got to remember who we’re talking about here.”
“Right.” Sasha had been with Vince the entirety of last year and in that time she could only remember him occasionally taking sips of other people’s drinks, never indulging in one of his own. That meant despite his well-trained physique he had virtually no tolerance for alcohol. “What actually got him drinking anyway?”
“I found something that tastes good,” Vince replied, punctuating his sentence with a sloppy gulp of pink liquid.
“That, and he has been worrying his ass off about one of his tests. He’s scared he won’t do well enough to stay in the program.”
“Killjoy.” Vince stuck his tongue out at Nick.
Sasha chuckled, not just at the idiocy of her former boyfriend but at the idea of him worrying about a test. She’d seen Vince shrug off nearly everything that came his way with that same unwavering determination. He would get through any challenge because he had to: that was just his way. To hear that a regular class had gotten under his skin was frankly, well, adorable. It was nice to see even the seemingly unstoppable had fears.
“We should probably slow him down,” Sasha recommended.
“Tried that; he just poaches more drinks when my back is turned.”
“You’re not all that smart, are you?” Sasha turned to Vince and gently took his cup. “Hey, Vince, you want a drink that tastes really good?”
“Better than the punch?” Even intoxicated his tone was skeptical.
“So good you’ll swear there’s no alcohol in it at all. It’s as smooth and refreshing as water, I promise.”
“Wow. Okay.” Vince yielded his cup and Sasha flashed Nick a “told you so” look before heading toward the kitchen. Drunk or not, Vince was incredibly trusting and kind of an idiot. It made him into the sort of person who could maintain such staunch ideals in the face of a world that didn’t share them, and it also made him incredibly easy to manage if one was willing to put in a little effort.
Back in the garage, Vince looked at Nick and put a hand on his friend’s shoulder. “She looked really pretty.”
Nick laughed freely, not bothering to disguise his mirth. “Oh man, I am going to get you drunk more often.”
“Sounds good!” Vince meandered off, not waiting for a reply. Nick turned to check on the status of the beer pong game and when he looked back, Vince had procured yet another cup of the colorful punch. It was actually impressive how easily he produced them, like some bizarre booze magic trick. Nick considered snatching away the new acquisition, then shrugged it off. Sasha seemed to want to take care of him, so he’d leave it to her. Besides, if ever there was a place for Vince to cut loose a little, it was in a room full of Supers who could handle any problems he might create.
* * *
Mary and Camille sat on a dilapidated couch that had been set alongside threadbare chairs in the hopes of creating a makeshift lounge area. It provided an excellent view of the garage as well as a vantage point to see out the garage door, allowing one to observe various comings and goings as they occurred. Neither of the small–framed girls sipped on anything stronger than soda, but after watching the way Vince and Sasha had embraced, Camille was beginning to find herself sorely tempted.
“I wouldn’t recommend it,” Mary said, loud enough to be heard yet soft enough not to be overheard.
“Sorry?” Neither girl had said much beyond the usual friendly chit-chat upon taking a seat. They were both more comfortable as silent observers than as active participants, at least when it came to situations like these.
“I wouldn’t recommend getting a drink. I don’t think it will help the situation.”
“Oh, you heard that?”
“I did, and even if I didn’t I could have guessed it. You sort of wear your feelings on your face,” Mary explained.
“I know.” Lying to a telepath was a waste of both of their time. She tried anyway. “It doesn’t bother me that much.”
“Or at least you feel like it shouldn’t. Like you don’t have the right to be hurt by it. He isn’t anything more than your friend, after all.”
“Did you know Roy and Hershel share memories?” Mary didn’t look at Camille as she spoke; both girls kept their eyes trained on the active people bustling through the party.
“Thoughts, emotions, memories, everything one experiences the other can recall. It’s the closest thing to communication they have,” Mary explained. “That means even though Hershel has never cheated on me, he regularly wakes up with crisp, genuine memories of sleeping with other women. My boyfriend is a virgin, but he has literally hundreds of woman as a standard of comparison.”
“Roy can be charming when he wants to be,” Mary said. “The point is, Hershel can’t help that any more than I can help hearing what people think. It’s a part of his ability and the only way to stop it would be to deny an entire part of who he is. That’s something I don’t have the right to be mad about, if only because I knew it going in.”
“So it doesn’t bother you?” Camille looked at her team captain with a new measure of awe.
“Of course it bothers me. It bothers me all the damn time.”
“That seems awful.”
“It is, but that’s not why I brought it up. See, it’s an example of something that can’t be helped. If I want to be with Hershel then I can’t really complain about it. You, on the other hand, have feelings for a single man who is well within your reach. You have every right to be bothered when he squeezes his ex-girlfriend like she’s going to spurt candy. You don’t have to feel bad about feeling bad. And you don’t have to do nothing about it either.”
“Yes, I do.” Camille could have tried harder to keep the sadness off her face, but she couldn’t really see the point.
“You can take care of him. Friends do that, and the way he’s plowing through the punch, he’ll probably need it.”
“Sasha has that in hand.”
“Sasha’s first recourse was trickery. That’s not the only way to guide Vince to a conclusion. Besides, can she heal the damage his liver is taking?”
“Probably not,” Camille ceded.
“So go be his friend. Keep him safe, whatever that entails.”
Camille looked at Mary for a long minute, then set down her water and got up from the couch. She couldn’t get too close to him; she couldn’t risk losing the relationship they shared. She could, as a friend, still protect him. That was why she’d worked this hard, why she’d come this far. She could take care of him, no matter who else was around. That much was within Camille Belden’s power.