“Vince, can we talk?”
Vince was surprised to see Thomas waiting for him, the caramel-skinned fellow student patiently positioned outside of the gym. Despite his claims that he held no ill-will toward Vince from their earlier encounters, the two hadn’t spoken as much during the semester’s first weeks. It could have been time constraints, with training and a new job Vince certainly had less time available, but something told him there was more to it.
“Sure,” Vince said.
Thomas nodded, then motioned for Vince to follow him. They began walking down the hallway, two gray-uniform-clad young men traversing the concrete tunnels woven beneath the school. It wasn’t until no other students could be seen that Thomas finally spoke.
“I have a problem,” he said, his usually stoic voice coming out several shades softer.
“Can I help?” Vince asked immediately.
“If anyone can, then I believe it would be you,” Thomas replied. “The issue I am facing is one that I’m deeply ashamed to admit, even to myself. That is why it has taken me so long to come to terms with its existence. Yet, even now, when I’m trying to find a way to solve it, I find myself hesitant to say the words aloud.”
“Thomas, we’re friends. You can tell me anything. You know that.”
Thomas did know that. Vince wasn’t a perfect person, but his loyalty was an aspect that no one could call into question. No, the problem was not saying the words to Vince, it was saying them at all. To speak them aloud would make them real, would mean there was no path but forward. If Thomas admitted to his problem, then he had to face it or be consumed by it. With only a small quiver of hesitation, Thomas made his choice.
“I’m afraid of you,” he said, words barely stronger than a whisper. “I’m afraid of you stealing my power again. What it felt like, last year, was just… I’ve been injured many times. Pain is not a thing I’m scared of. But that sensation of having a piece of me torn away… it haunts me. I lost in our combat trial because I was too scared to attack you, too afraid of you draining me again.”
“Thomas, I… I’m sorry. I wish I could undo what happened.”
“I know, but you cannot. You cannot make it so that I will forget what happened, and even if it were in your power, I would refuse. That is not the way a Hero should defeat such a problem. But, I must ask you to make recompense for your actions. I need your help, if I am going to break through this barrier of fear.”
“Anything,” Vince said. “Name it and I’ll do it.”
“I’d hoped you would say as much.” Thomas ceased walking, stopping in front of one of the many combat cells that dotted the Lander underground. He hefted open the door with a mighty wrench of strength, and gestured for Vince to enter. Vince complied, and Thomas pulled the door shut behind them.
“There is only one way I can see for me to overcome this fear,” Thomas announced, his body beginning to glow orange as he summoned his energy. “I need you to drain me again.”
“I understand.” Vince was not the smartest person on campus, and in many standard social educations he was lacking, but this was something well within his wheelhouse. It made perfect sense, at least perfect sense to the kinds of irregular minds that could endure HCP training and still yearn for Hero careers. If Thomas was afraid of being drained, then he needed to experience the pain of it over and over, until it no longer held any power over him.
“One thing,” Vince said. “I don’t know how I did a lot of the stuff on the tape. When I’m amped up it’s like when I was a Powered; everything just seems to happen. I run on pure instinct. Replicating those actions requires me to develop control and understanding of how it all works. It’s basically like training myself to release adrenaline on command, instead of when it comes as a reaction.”
“You’re saying you don’t know how to drain my energy?”
“I’m saying it might take me a while to get the hang of it,” Vince corrected. “Energy that flows outward is easiest, that’s the stuff that is already trying to get in, I just open the door. It’s why fire was always my easiest. Other times, it’s harder. Kinetic energy took me a lot of practice to nail down, since I had to pull it in the brief moment I was getting hit. I’m not sure where yours will be on the hard-to-absorb scale. All I can say is that I promise I’ll keep at it, no matter how long it takes.”
“I greatly appreciate the sentiment,” Thomas said. He took a deep breath, trying to steady the shaking feeling his body was already trying to give into. Just the idea of manifesting energy in front of Vince was enough to induce quivering. Strangely, Thomas didn’t feel the expected wave of shame at this realization.
The room seemed brighter as Thomas conjured a large, orange hand made from his energy. He directed it across the room, connecting it to his body by means of a long, thick tendril. With great care, Thomas wrapped Vince in the energy hand’s fingers. The goal was to be drained, not to accidentally crush Vince.
“I’m going to start trying,” Vince announced.
Thomas nodded his understanding, but deep down he wished Vince hadn’t told him that. Knowing it was coming made the fear all the worse. Still, Thomas persevered, keeping his energy grip on Vince despite the part of his mind screaming for him to run.
At first, nothing happened. Thomas held his grip, while Vince’s face grew still as his concentration deepened. After a few minutes, Thomas began to wonder if he should have made the energy hand a bit smaller. He was nowhere near his breaking point, but holding a conjuration like this would eventually wear him out. He was just about to start shrinking the hand, when he felt it start. Unlike before, his power wasn’t ripped away in a single rush; this time was more like someone had put a hole in a water balloon. The energy was slowly trickling out, but the longer it went on, the faster it started to flow. The hand that had held Vince was now a shapeless blob, a series of orange rivers rushing into him with increasing speed.
Then, just when it started to get unbearable, the whole thing stopped.
“I’m sorry, I should have asked this earlier,” Vince said, skin glowing a faint orange. “Did you want me to take all of it, or only some? I don’t know how much training you have left today.”
“Take… take it all,” Thomas said, gritting his teeth in an effort to hold onto his mental control. “Do what you did to me last time. It’s the only way.”
This time, there was no gentle increase or subtle beginning. It was like last year’s fight all over again. Thomas felt his energy flowing out of him, his precious power being ripped away, until every drop of it was gone and he collapsed on the floor, utterly indistinguishable from a human.
“Are you alright?” Vince asked.
“I’m alive,” Thomas replied, slowly dragging himself to his feet. The world felt different when he didn’t have his energy inside him. Colder, scarier, more dangerous. It was a feeling he didn’t like, but would have to get used to. “This isn’t a one-time thing, you know.”
“I know,” Vince assured him.
“Every day that we can swing it, I want to do this,” Thomas said. “Can you handle that much energy?”
Vince didn’t genuinely know the answer to that question. True, they’d yet to find his limit for how much he could hold, but it had to be out there. No one in the absorber category had an infinite capacity. Between the forest fire, his sizable amount of electricity, and the kinetic stockpile he’d started, he already had quite a bit. Thomas’s energy was abundant; draining him completely meant absorbing a whole lot of power. Still, Vince felt like he was responsible for the problem his friend was facing, so it was up to him to help fix it. He would drain as much power as Thomas needed. If he hit his limit, Vince would just find another way.
“I’ll be fine,” Vince assured him.