Sweat dripped from Vince like it believed some sort of perspiration paradise awaited all droplets brave enough to journey to the floor. He was shirtless, having only taken the time to change from his costume into a pair of sweatpants, and every bit of his visible body was coated in a shiny layer of moisture. He paid no heed to this as he drove his fists into the punching bag over and over, just as he ignored the stiffness in his arms and the sound of footsteps slowly approaching. Vince had no concept of time; he didn’t know if he’d been down in the gym for hours or days. All he knew is that he wasn’t ready to sleep yet. If he closed his eyes, it would all come bubbling up. He needed to be further gone, more exhausted, so he continued punching.
“By my estimates, you’ve done enough damage to your arms that you’ll require healing or find them almost unusable for the next three to four days.”
Vince glanced away from the bag to find Roy and Chad standing at the gym’s entrance, both having taken the time to change into proper training clothing.
“I can live with that,” Vince replied. He continued his striking session.
“Figured you’d say something like that,” Roy noted. “Mary told us you had quite a surprise from your past at the bar. Gotta wonder, how many more of those you think you’ve got waiting for you?” In the case of at least one more, Nick’s return, everyone had been firmly instructed by the tiny telepath to remain silent. They’d agreed it seemed unwise to mentally dog pile Vince in his current state.
“Unless my birth parents turn out to be international criminals or gods or Heroes, I think this should be the last one,” Vince said. He finally paused his hitting longer enough to step away from the bag. “But what the hell do I know? I never expected to see her again. Maybe that’s my real superpower, being blind to everything about the people around me.”
“Nah Vince, I think you’ve got it backwards,” Roy said. He walked over to the gym section that housed hyper-dense free-weights and grabbed a literal ton in each hand. “You have a real knack for seeing to the core of people. The problem is, not many people can see the truth in themselves so easily. If anything, you see people too well.”
“I’m inclined to agree,” Chad said. “Would you like to talk about what happened tonight?”
“Please, no. I just want to wear myself out enough so that I can fall asleep.”
“Well, if you need anything, like a spot or a weight re-rack, we’ll be here,” Roy said. He let the implication stand on its own. Vince might be slow with subtlety, but even he could catch a softball like that.
“Thank you.” Vince wished he could have said more, but already his mind was simmering with thoughts about the evening, and he needed to keep those at bay. He handled them the best way he knew how, by narrowing his focus onto a single task: knocking the hell out of the punching bag.
It would be several more hours before he finally exhausted himself successfully.
* * *
Despite what one might have expected from her timid nature and soft-spoken countenance, Camille was not a crier. She had been, once upon a time in her childhood, but she’d left that habit behind when she set her sights on the goal of being a Hero. So as she sat in the Melbrook girl’s lounge with Alice and Mary, Camille was not tearfully losing herself in a box of tissues. Instead she was working on a fourth slice of Meatsplosion pizza with double bacon. Greasy food was a rare vice she indulged in, but tonight felt justified.
“I can’t believe I actually liked that bitch,” Alice muttered. All three girls were resting on a couch, a mindless late-night comedy on the television screen that they weren’t really watching. Everyone was in some form of pajamas; Alice’s being a coordinated silk set, while Mary and Camille wore shorts and t-shirts. Thankfully Mary and Camille were of similar size, because Camille had neither wanted to be alone nor spend the entire night in her costume.
“She’s not a bitch,” Camille sighed. “She’s just a girl from Vince’s past. Who obviously means a lot to him. And who he totally recognized as soon as he saw, not taking two years to piece together her identity. Then who he immediately kissed, and you know what she might be just a little bit of a bitch I mean I don’t know her or anything.” She sank her teeth into the meat laden pizza as a way of stopping her endless sentence.
“All we really know is she’s a girl Vince knew a long time ago, and that she works for the same organization as Nicholas. Beyond that, we’ll have to wait and see,” Mary said.
“Oh come on, surely you can snoop through their thoughts a bit. With your range no one would even have to know you were doing it,” Alice said.
“Forget it. People need to talk their way through these things. Vince and Eliza will talk, Vince and Camille will talk, and you and I will stay out of the way unless we’re requested,” Mary replied.
“I’m very glad for that policy, because I definitely needed you both tonight,” Camille said.
“Of course. You’re one of us, and never forget that.” Alice wrapped her long arms around Camille and pulled the small girl in close for a hug. It was a sweet, tender gesture that nearly allowed the emotions welling inside Camille to break forth. Almost, but not quite.
Camille Belden wasn’t a crier anymore. She was a doer. All that remained was to figure out exactly it was that she wanted to do.
* * *
“How is this possible!” Nicholas paced up and down the floor, wearing a rut into the tasteful carpeting. “How did we never know you two had a past?”
“I didn’t know his name, so you saying ‘Vince’ didn’t exactly ring any bells. Besides, how was I supposed to know he was at this school? When we met he was a homeless Powered, and I didn’t even find out about your status change until this year. I thought you were just off at college, not the sort of place he’d be hanging around.” Eliza’s tone was even but forceful. After pulling Nicholas and Jerome out of the club, she’d given them the break-down of what happened on the trip home. That had only entailed the basics, however. She had no intention of telling them the story of how she and Tights, Vince, had met.
“What about the fake I.D.’s I had commissioned?”
“I was just the delivery girl, you know that’s not the type of forging I do. Now calm the hell down, this isn’t that big of a deal.”
“Not that big of a deal?” Nicholas turned to her and glared. “Not that big of a deal? We are in a very delicate situation here. I am trying to investigate these people, reconstruct lost knowledge, fend off attacks from Nathaniel, all while courting them as allies, and you don’t think discovering one of my people has a pre-existing relationship with one of the strongest among them is a big deal? Forget it Eliza, I’m neutralizing this now. You’re going back to Vegas.”
“Ms. Pips can talk to me about her objections. I will bear her wrath and make my case,” Nicholas replied. “Besides, Jerome can remain behind until a suitable replacement is found. You’re leaving, first thing in the morning.”
“I won’t.” Eliza stood from the soft chair and strode across the room. “I promised Vince I’d talk with him, that I wouldn’t disappear. I’m not breaking that promise.”
“You’d defy the chain of command?”
“My orders came from Ms. Pips directly, so if you want me gone then you go get them rescinded from her. Until she gives the nod, I don’t have to leave, and I won’t.”
“This is very unlike you, Eliza,” Nicholas noted. “You’re one to play with the rules, but this smacks of true insubordination. What did Vince do that left such an impression?”
“None of your goddamned business. Besides, it’s not what he did that’s keeping me here; it’s what I did to him. So run it up the chain or let it lie, because there is no version of this where I just meekly tuck my tail between my legs and run home.”
Eliza walked out of the apartment, slamming the door behind her. Nicholas stared at it for a few seconds, then walked over to his couch and flopped into a half-laying position.
“Damn you, Vince. You always make everything more complicated.” Nicholas had no idea why, but the overpowering urge to smile struck him as he spoke.