Chapter 228

               “Come on, you have to be picking up something,” Hershel said. “With your range, there’s no way you aren’t getting a few random thoughts here and there.”

            “Perhaps you’ve forgotten, but the dean of this school, who the guests are no doubt sitting with, is Dean ‘I cancel out people’s powers’ Blaine,” Mary replied. She set her book down, giving up on trying to read while her dorm mates encircled her in the common room.

            “What about the contestants?” Vince pried. “Maybe they’re thinking strategy or something?”

            “Part of me is beginning to see why so many telepaths hide what they’re capable of,” Mary groaned. “Look, the combat is being held deep down, and Dean Blaine is around most of the people. Maybe I could pick out a few random thoughts or two from the people fighting, but it’s not going to make any sense out of context. Sorry, I think we’re just going to have to be in the dark like everyone else.”

            “I wonder if we can trade this telepath in for one with more interest in brawls,” Alice said, giving Mary a sly wink to let her know she didn’t mind that much. It would have been cool, sure, but at the same time part of her wanted to experience whatever Intermurals was the way the seniors were: by being in them.

            “Funny you should mention that,” Mary replied. She tilted her head toward the foyer’s entrance where Chad and Alex were walking in.

            “Hey guys,” Alex said. Even without telepathy they could pick up on his evident nervousness. Alex was usually about as carefree as they came, but today he was so hunched in on himself it was almost painful to look at.

            “Hey bud, what’s up?” Hershel said.

            “Actually… I was wondering if I could talk to Vince.”

            A wave of confusion washed through the room, passing over only Mary who seemed if anything relieved by the strange request. Vince hesitated for a moment, then walked over and unlocked the boy’s lounge door and motioned for Alex to enter. “Sure, I’ve got some time.”

            Once the door shut behind them, Alex faced Vince with a look of strangely pinched determination. He took several deep breathes, opened his mouth, then closed it again. Finally he managed to squeeze out the words: “I don’t really know how to start on this.”

            “Alex, we’re friends. You can talk to me about whatever you need to.”

            “I’m… Sasha and I have started seeing each other.” Alex paused for a reply, and none came he barreled forward. “It happened after we started hanging out for the Star Puncher and we just sort of hit it off. I know it’s bad form to go after your friend’s ex without talking to him first and making sure it won’t hurt him, and I really didn’t mean to. Things just sort of kept happening and before I knew it we were pretty much dating. I’m sorry.”

            “It’s okay,” Vince said. He grabbed Alex by the arm and forced his friend to meet his eyes. “Seriously, it’s okay. Yeah it probably would have been better form to talk to me about this so I had some heads up, but I’m truly not bothered by you two being together. I care about you and Sasha. If you two make each other happy then more power to you.”

            Alex let out a breath that some part of him had been holding since the first morning he woke up with the pink-streak hair on the pillow next to him. His body language relaxed a bit, and he even allowed himself to smile. “Thank you. I didn’t think you’d be that put off by it, what with you and Camille finally getting together-”

            “Well, it’s only been one date so far. I don’t want to count any chickens before they hatch,” Vince said.

            “Hey now, Mary may be the better telepath between the two of us, but I’m the undisputed champ of sensing emotion in our class. I can tell how much you two care about each other. And honestly, I’m glad. You could both use some fun in your lives.”

            “Seems like things are good all-around then,” Vince said, clapping his friend on the shoulder. “Now let’s get back to the common room before people think we’ve started slugging it out.”

            “At this point you’d probably beat me senseless,” Alex admitted.

            “It’s possible, but there’s still a year of training left. No telling who is going to pull ahead by the time graduation comes.”

*          *          *

            Nick sat quietly as he watched the older man walk through the coffee shop. Unlike Eliza’s meetings with Vince, for this occasion the place had been cleared out and the sign was flipped to “Closed”. The shades were also drawn, though this was to prevent sniper fire as much as being seen together. The man moved with a careful confidence, as though he knew he was capable of handling much but still saw no need to deal with more than was necessary. As he slid into the unoccupied seat across from Nick, his neutral expression lifted by a few degrees and Nick could see the curiosity simmering underneath.

            “When I first heard the Nicholas Campbell wanted to meet with me, I must say I assumed it was a trap. A very foolish, poorly thought out trap, but a trap nonetheless. There has never been any love lost between our families, after all.”

            “When I first heard that Wilson Evers had accepted my meeting, I also assumed it was a trap,” Nick replied. “But I trusted that you had reached the same conclusion that I did; this is beyond a mere matter of either family’s well-being. Your cousin is making some bold, dangerous moves, dealing with people who go far beyond our criminal enterprises. Whatever he has planned, it could very well bring the wrath of the entire Hero community down on both our houses.”

            “We’ve distanced ourselves from Nathaniel since the start of this year. He was cut off from both money and resources. Whatever he’s putting together is not affiliated with the Evers family.”

            “And I’m sure that will just mean so much if he goes off and manages to kill a Hero or two. We have survived in this world specifically be avoiding doing things that drawn their ire, and now Nathaniel is out recruiting criminal Supers. Even he can’t be dumb enough to think of attacking Lander, but I’m sure his plans aren’t that far off.”

            “What would you like me to do, exactly?” Wilson asked. “We’ve taken his resources and affiliation; he is currently working as his own man. Do you think he’ll listen if I go in and tell him to knock off whatever it is he’s planning? If so, then you don’t know my cousin that well.”

            “I know Nathaniel Evers incredibly well,” Nick replied. “Which is why I know that no matter what other moves he’s making on the board, I’m the king he wants to capture. No, I’m not asking you to try and stop him. I’d actually prefer he never knew you were in town, let alone that we met. I can handle Nathaniel; all I want is the freedom to do it.”

            Wilson’s eyes narrowed. “Nathaniel is blood. Even if he’s on the outs right now, he’s still one of us.”

            “Which is why I’m asking for permission before I kill him.” Nick met Wilson’s narrowed gaze with a steely one of his own. “I don’t want to start a war, but it damned sure looks like Nathaniel is gearing up for one. Even if you don’t like it, you can’t deny I gave you more than enough evidence to make a case. Run it up the chain and see what Giles decides. For the good of everyone in Vegas.”

            There was a brief pause as Wilson mulled the proposal over. “I’ll send it up. You deserve that much. But I don’t have to tell you what happens if you make a move before a decision is made, right?”

            “If I didn’t know that, your cousin would have been dead a long time ago,” Nick replied. “And no doubt I would be too.”

            “You’re a smart kid,” Wilson said as he rose to leave the shop. “Just be sure you don’t go off and make any dumb choices.”