Chapter 221

               Vince was staring at his book, pencil tapping lightly on the cover as he scoured his mind for something to put down about it. Literary Analysis wasn’t a hard class per se, since everything was interpretation there weren’t exactly “right” or “wrong” answers. Any idea was valid, so long as it could be backed up by examples from the text. Unfortunately, the professor adored symbolism and the deconstruction of it, which may as well have been advanced calculus as far a literal brain like Vince’s was concerned. He was still trying to be diligent, to do his work to the best of his ability, but as Melbrook’s door opened and he heard people coming down the hall, Vince’s mind immediately shoved all thought of classic literature out of his head in favor of whatever his dorm mates might be up to.

                Roy and Chad stepped into the common area first, with Camille right on their heels. Vince didn’t even need to ask about they’d been up to. Bad as he might be at understanding what the color of a rug meant in terms of a protagonist’s emotions, he was easily as adept at recognizing anything related to combat. Both young men had the drained expressions and slightly shuffled gait of having had the hell beaten out them, only to be healed back to normal. Camille could take away all the physical damage in the world, but she couldn’t undo the mental strain that came with it. Were Vince the betting sort, he’d have put down a heavy wager that within ten minutes both of his friends would be passed out.

                “Hey,” Roy mumbled. He didn’t break stride, continuing right on towards the boy’s side of the dorm and the bed contained therein. Chad only gave a small nod and kept right on following after Roy.

                “Afternoon,” Vince replied. He watched both of them walk through the steel door, then turned to Camille. “What the heck did those two do? Roy has stamina for days, and I’ve never seen Chad get that worn down before.”

                “Roy wanted to see whether he was better with his fists or a bat.” Camille headed the rest of the way in and took a seat in a chair near, but not next to, Vince. “The end of the year is coming up, after all. He has to make a decision about what he’ll try to major in.”

                Vince nodded, though it wasn’t a struggle he had to deal with. From the beginning he’d essentially known that he would be in Close Combat. It was where he excelled physically, and allowed a great amount of use for his abilities. “Did he get an answer?”

                “Oh yeah, I’d say he got a very definitive answer. I haven’t seen every match that’s ever taken place, but I think Roy just became the person in our class closest to actually scoring a win against Chad.”

                “That is… impressive.” Vince felt something inside him buck at that idea. Not that he doubted Roy was capable of such a feat, rather that he wished he had been there, testing how well he stacked up against them as well. Sadly, that was impossible as things stood. The sons of Titan and Intra could have a friendly match and it didn’t matter; the sons of Globe and Intra would be another matter altogether.

                “It really was. But you and I have more pressing matters to deal with,” Camille said.

                “We do?”

                “That’s right.” Camille resisted the urge to flee from the subject like she had so many times before. She could do this. It was just dating. “We’re both off work tonight, and I think it’s high time you quit dragging your feet and took me out to dinner. Doesn’t have to be nice or fancy, but I want it to be just us.”

                “I see.” Camille worked very hard to hide the amusement that bubbled in her as for once she got to be the one seeing Vince with a slight blush rising in his cheeks. She didn’t know why he was moving so slowly, being more careful with her than he had been dating Sasha, but she’d decided it was time to get things moving along. For a moment, Camille was afraid he was going to chicken out, or come up with an excuse. Instead, Vince swallowed hard and looked her in the eye.

                “What are your thoughts on Italian?”

*             *             *

                “Nick would understand.” Mary lay on Alice’s bed, watching her friend crimp, tease, and style her hair until it looked much the same as usual, only more accentuated. “That’s one of the perks of dating someone who is in on all this stuff with us. If you tell him you went on a dream adventure, discovered secrets about your family, and were informed there’s the potential for a nightmarish hell future on the horizon, I bet he’d let you reschedule.”

                “I’m sure he would,” Alice agreed. She laid down the hair straightener and turned her attention toward choosing a set of earrings. She’d expected to have to force all these actions after the ordeal she’d been through, but oddly the act of getting ready for her date was putting her more at ease. Perhaps she was just getting used to dealing with these sorts of events.

                “But that’s the thing, Mary. There’s always some hidden threat, or recent trauma, or mental wipe, or blah blah blah. We don’t have normal lives. That’s a choice we made, and I don’t regret it. Well, most of the time I don’t. It does mean that we have to accept the fact that our lives are rarely in peaceful, ideal situations though, and if we really want something we have to learn to go after it despite all the complications. So yes, Nick would let me reschedule because obviously this is a good reason, and I’d let him next time when he was attacked by mutant ducks or something, and we’d keep on going like that until it’s graduation and we’re going off to different places without ever getting so much as a single date squeezed in.”

                “I’m not sure if I’m more amazed at how determined you are about this, or depressed about the fact that you’re right,” Mary admitted. “Guess Hershel and I were lucky we started dating before things got quite so crazy.”

                “Right, you two began the courting when we were being pitted against each other in ranking matches, after being abandoned on a mountain by our two supposed guardians.”

                “Point made.” Mary slid off the bed and stretched, her back was sore from all the time spent incapacitated through the afternoon. “One thing I should say before I leave you to your primping though: I know you don’t want to talk about what we saw, your thoughts are crystal clear on that, but sooner or later we probably need to.”

                “There’s nothing to say. We were shown what might be, but without any guidance or idea of what causes what future there’s nothing we can do.”

                “We can be mindful of the impact our actions have,” Mary replied. “And we can make sure that we represent former Powereds in a positive light.”

                “Of the five people chosen for the test batch, one has been expelled for supposedly trying to kill other students and another is the son of one of the most wanted former Heroes in the nation,” Alice said. “We’re off to a great start.”