Ralph Chapman shut his briefcase and headed out of the small conference room. The DVA was running meetings so frequently, he was actually contemplating requesting an office in Lander’s underground. As it was, he kept having to hole up in spare rooms to get work done between scheduled discussions. Today’s run had kept him later than expected, and as he exited the room, he found that the halls were largely deserted. Only one other figure was there, clearly waiting on Ralph to emerge.
“Dean Blaine,” Ralph greeted. “To what do I owe this pleasure?”
“Just keeping watch,” Dean Blaine replied. “After everything that’s happened, I only feel secure in my school’s safety when I’m seeing it with my own two eyes.”
“I can scarcely imagine,” Ralph said. As he passed Dean Blaine, the taller man turned and fell into pace with him.
“You know, Ralph, I don’t think I ever got to thank you for what you did that night. Letting our kids go out there probably saved more lives than we’ll ever know.”
“Perhaps, but my decision also cost one that should have never been put in danger.” Ralph wasn’t sure if this was meant to be a heart to heart, a throwing of blame, or a surprise murder. Upfront was still probably the best way to play it, regardless.
“Those kids were going up unless we beat them into staying. What you did protected the ones who made it back. Sasha’s death isn’t your fault in the slightest.” Dean Blaine’s shoes made a methodical click with every step as they moved down the concrete halls. “There is one thing I’ve been wondering about, though. The forms you produced—requisitioned, signed, and ready to go; they must have been prepared in advance. Forgive the curiosity, but I keep finding myself faced with the same question the longer I think about it: why on earth would you have those forms already prepped and on your person?”
Ralph carefully weighed his options. Blaine owed him a little goodwill, but it probably wouldn’t be enough if he knew Ralph had been aware of Nathaniel Evers’s insane grudge. Still, how could he be blamed for that? Ralph considered himself the most paranoid DVA worker out there, and it had never occurred to him as a possibility that Nathaniel would help create the first successful attack on an HCP’s campus. He’d prepped those forms expecting the kids to be needed in saving some piece of the town . . . not their home.
“Believe it or not, Blaine, but in my time at this job, I’ve learned that not every situation can be planned for. Since I was coming to a school where students had been kidnapped and there was a known connection to Globe, it seemed prudent to prepare for an emergency scenario.” Ralph arrived at the lifts and turned around, waiting to see if Dean Blaine would take the answer or begin beating some truth out of him.
“I see. That seems a bit extreme, but given how things played out, I can hardly say it wasn’t smart. Good thinking, Ralph. And thank you, again. Despite the fact that we rarely see eye to eye, I’m glad to know we both put the welfare of the students above all else.” Dean Blaine offered his hand, and Ralph Chapman accepted it.
“And make no mistake, there is nothing I prize more than those kids,” Dean Blaine continued. “Not my job, not my legacy, not even my freedom.” His grip on the handshake tightened slightly, only a fraction of the powerful strength a life of training had imparted. “I am going to find the people responsible for what happened to my school, and I will punish each and every one of them. Thoroughly.”
Ralph said nothing. He merely let the threat hang in the air as his hand was finally released and he got on the lift. As it rose, he could still see Dean Blaine staring up at him. Ralph had heard a lot of tough talk in his time at the DVA, empty threats and curses bandied about like they were verbal confetti. There was nothing flippant in Dean Blaine’s words.
That man was coming like the inevitable specter of death. Ralph could do little more than hope that his name wasn’t on the list when Blaine Jeffries began collecting souls.
* * *
Angela dropped her bag on the bed and surveyed her room. It was a mighty big step down from having a house to herself, but compared to the dorms, it wasn’t that bad. Angela had a sneaking suspicion that the reason dorms even existed was to create a low bar for the rest of one’s life. No matter how shitty a hovel they might find themselves in, they could still think back to a shared shoebox with two beds and say, “maybe this isn’t so bad.”
She had her own bathroom, at least. That would be nice, especially when it came to the sort of showers necessary for washing blood out of her hair. Bed was a twin-sized, and there was a shelving unit built into the corner. No television or computer, but she had her own laptop, so that took care of both needs simultaneously. And that was pretty much it, aside from a large rug that covered the center of the cold concrete floor.
At the end of the day, it was a modest, kind of shitty room. She didn’t care though; she hadn’t signed up with Unseelie for luxurious accommodations. Angela was interning under the leader of the Wayward Wraiths, a Hero team renowned for their battle acumen. They weren’t the first ones called in when people needed saving, but if blood had to be spilt quickly and efficiently, this team was at the top of the list. It was a great starting place for Charon’s career. One day, she planned to have a team of her own, one recognized worldwide as the most powerful in existence.
Still, this would do for now.
* * *
Nick stood outside the doors of the massive office, waiting patiently to be called in. Ms. Pips was busy, putting out fires and smoothing egos as best she could. So far, war had been averted, but nothing was set in stone. After what Nathaniel had done, no one could claim it had been out of line for Nick to kill him, especially since he’d brought the issue before the Evers family first. Of course, technically, no one knew for certain that Nick had killed Nathaniel, which added another layer of protection for Nick and his people. If the Evers tried to start a war at this point, they’d split the family to do so, and it was folly to go against Ms. Pips without everything they could bring to bear.
Vegas politics aside, everyone had other concerns on their mind as well. Nathaniel’s presence hadn’t been linked to his involvement in Lander’s attack, yet, but everyone was scrambling in preparation for if it did. Right now, the Heroes were on a warpath, and anyone connected to that attack, no matter how vaguely, was going to find themselves hip-deep in pissed off capes. That wrath might only fall upon the Evers family, or it could spill across Vegas like a tidal wave of furious lava. However things played out, everyone was determined to not be caught without at least a few contingencies in place.
“Hey, Campbell.” Nick turned to find Gerry walking toward him and broke into a grin.
“I thought you were busy downstairs,” Nick said, wrapping his mentor in a hug. Gerry felt lighter than he remembered; usually, the lean man still felt like a rock beneath his tailored suits. Time and age, it seemed, were unwilling to stay away from even the most connected of men.
“Never too busy for you. What’s this I hear about you not coming back for summer?”
“Wish I could, Gerry. Too much work to do. I’m not heading out for another couple of days, though; Ms. Pips is going to want to grill me from every angle on what went down. How about we spend the time catching up?”
Gerry nodded, and for a moment, Nick thought he caught something else in the man’s face as well. Then it was gone, too fleeting for even Nick’s mind to work out what it might have been. Gerry knew how to play things close to the vest. He was the one who’d taught Nick in the first place, after all.
“That sounds great. I’ll even see if I can get a few days off. After what happened at your school, I think I’d like to get in as much time with you as I can.”
“Don’t worry about me, Gerry. I didn’t make it through eighteen years of unpredictable luck to let something as mundane as a bullet bring me down. The Grim Reaper is going to have a try a lot harder if he wants to collect this prize.”
“That’s the kind of attitude I like to hear,” Gerry said. “How much do you actually have to report, anyway? We know about the attack, and that Nathaniel died, but no one’s sure about your involvement. Hell, outside of Jerome and Eliza, no one even knows if you were on the campus.”
“Oh, I was there, and my involvement level was probably higher than I would have liked,” Nick replied. “Things have taken a few more interesting turns than I expected, and I’m actually curious to get Ms. Pips’ take on things.”
“Campbell, that almost sounded like you admitting there might be people in the world with thoughts you couldn’t come up with. I don’t know if I should be impressed, or terrified.”
“Personally, I’d recommend a healthy balance of both.” Nick chuckled, and Gerry saw a single pulse of golden light ripple through his irises, moving so quickly that it almost seemed to be an optical illusion. Gerry wasn’t sure Nick even knew it had happened; if so, it certainly didn’t show in his body language or tone.
He kept right on smiling at the young man brimming with confidence, so sure that the world would find a way to tilt itself in his favor. Gerry didn’t know a whole lot about Supers or how their powers worked. All he knew was Nick, and Gerry had faith that no matter what was going on in his boy’s life, Nick would twist it to his advantage.
In Gerry’s eyes, that had always been his real superpower.