Chapter 6

Having finished speaking with his teachers, Thomas headed out into the hall, a half-formed idea of grabbing an early dinner bouncing about in his head. When he saw the familiar silhouette already lurking there, that idea quickly dissipated. He’d known this was coming; such things were as inevitable as the rising of the tide.

“Good day, Vince,” he greeted, preferring to get this conversation started so it could be over more quickly.

“Hey, Thomas,” Vince called back. His eyes kept glancing at the ground, his feet shuffling constantly. It was hard for Thomas to picture this man as the same powerful beast who’d forced him to retreat last year. It was what it was, though, and standing around wouldn’t change the fact that it had happened.

“Vince, I know why you are waiting for me, and we can skip it. I am not mad at you.”

Vince’s eyes leapt up from the ground to check the expression on what he hoped was still his friend’s face.

“You aren’t?”

“We know what we are here for. Our training, this process, they’ve never sugar-coated it. Forging friendships is great, but when we are told to fight, we must do so with every ounce of strength we possess. That is what you did, and had the tables been turned I would come at you just as hard.”

“Oh. That’s not what I came to apologize for. I just…what I did to you. Draining you. It feels incredibly wrong, like I crossed the line on a personal level,” Vince explained. “I tore something out of you. That can’t be right.”

Thomas felt a sliver of tension in his gut twist slightly. He’d worked very hard not to think about that part. In mere moments he’d been made powerless, the gift that had been with him since childhood suddenly absent.

“I won’t lie to you, I dearly hated that experience, but that isn’t the same thing as hating you for doing it. You were trying to win, and you used the skill set you had. Besides, even if I was upset, it wouldn’t make sense to hold the grudge against you. What you did that day weren’t truly your actions.”

“Yes, they were.” The shuffling stopped and the insecurity melted away. Social parameters were far from Vince’s forte, taking responsibility, on the other hand, was something he was far more comfortable with. “Nick might have set up the scenario, but I was still me. I own those actions, and if you’re mad about them I’m the one who needs to make things right.”

Sometimes Thomas found himself tempted to think he was the only one in the program besides Chad taking it seriously. Beach weekends, drinking, house parties, none of it seemed like the actions of people who comprehended the amount of responsibilities that would ultimately rest on a Hero’s shoulders. At that moment, however, it was abundantly clear that even if Vince didn’t appreciate all of what lay before him, he certainly took his time here seriously.

“Then they were,” Thomas agreed. “But there was still no lasting harm done. My energy replenished back to full in a day, and I learned a valuable lesson about underestimating my opponent. Actually, if memory serves, this is the second time you’ve given me such an education. Though I doubt anyone will make that mistake after last year’s final match.”

“Honestly, I’m just glad people are still talking to me. I saw a recording of myself and I wouldn’t have blamed any of you for staying away.”

“This is not a place where great power is feared just because it exists,” Thomas reminded him. “The scariest part of that entire event was your attitude and demeanor. You seemed to act as if you truly held no regard for the lives of those around you.”

“You aren’t wrong,” Vince admitted.

“I confess, I have wanted to ask you this for some time now. Knowing you for the past two years, I can’t even imagine what it would take to drive you to that point. What was the vision Nick had Rich place in your mind?”

“It is kind of fuzzy in some parts. I know that I saw all of you as monsters, though I think somehow I still recognized enough to know what your abilities were.”

“So you were trying stay alive amidst an attack from monsters? I suppose I can see how that would force you into a corner,” Thomas said.

Vince shook his head. “It was more than that. The depository box looked like someone I loved, someone who’d been beaten bloody to an inch from death, and who the monsters were coming back for. That’s why I wouldn’t let any of you get near it.”

Thomas briefly considered asking just who it was Vince had seen, then thought better of it. He’d been as candid as he could in the other parts. If the identity had been skipped, then it was likely on purpose, and now was hardly the time to go prying into Vince’s personal life. He’d have to make sure never to tell Violet though; if she knew he’d had the chance to do recon on Vince’s love life for Camille, and hadn’t taken it, she’d never let him live it down.

“That sounds like a terrifying ordeal,” Thomas said at last.

“I’ve had better days,” Vince agreed, daring to flash a small smile for the first time in their conversation.

“You know, despite your insistence that your actions were your own, the fact remains that your head was invaded, you were subjected to illusions of a frightening nature, and you were forced into a situation that could have easily led to your expulsion through no fault of your own. It would not be a stretch to say that you were the real victim in last year’s events.”

“I guess you could see it that way,” Vince admitted. “But it overlooks a very key fact.”

“Which is?”

“I’m still here. And without Nick and his crazy plan, I sincerely doubt I would be saying that. So no, I don’t think I’m a victim in what happened. I’m the guy who got handed the luckiest break of us all.”

“It is your choice how to see it,” Thomas said. “And I must say, in truth, I respect you for the one you have made. I was thinking of getting something to eat, would you care to join me?”

“There is nothing I’d rather do.”