Vince thanked the Hero with lightning bolts on her costume, shook her hand, and turned to say hello to the next person walking up to him. He’d been so distracted that it wasn’t until Vince was looking the man in the eyes that he realized the face was familiar. It was Dean Blaine, who seemed oddly out of place in his usual suit amidst the sea of costumes.
“If this is about the busted wall, I’m so sorry. Professor Cole made it sound really tough, and I wanted to show we deserved that win, so I-”
“Vince, you’re not in trouble for breaking the wall.” Dean Blaine held up his hand, as though trying to push back the flood of words surging from Vince’s mouth. “You’re not in trouble for anything, actually. I want to make that clear up front. Today you put on an excellent showing and should be extremely proud of what you accomplished.”
“Oh. Um, thank you, sir.” Somehow, the praise from Dean Blaine seemed far more potent than any of the kind words the other Heroes had offered already.
“You never need to thank me for speaking the truth,” Dean Blaine told him. “However, there is a matter I’d like to discuss with you. Again, let me impress that you aren’t in trouble, this is just… an opportunity, is perhaps the best way to phrase it. When you’re done here, I’d like you to meet me in my office. The meeting shouldn’t take very long; I won’t keep you from your celebration.”
“Yes sir, I’ll be there as soon as the mixer ends.” Vince paused, thinking over the dean’s words. “Wait, how did you know we were celebrating tonight?”
Dean Blaine arched a single eyebrow and looked, only for a moment, deeply amused. “How did I know? Sometimes I feel as though none of you remember that I was once an HCP student as well. Take your time here, Vince. I’ll be waiting in my office when you’re ready.”
* * *
Mary slipped out of the gym with relative ease. Among the many standout performances that had been put on during the trial, her assist in a single professor battle and strange defeat at Alice’s hands had allowed her to fall below the radar. And that was exactly as it should be. If she was leaving the HCP, then at the very least she was glad to give her friends one final push. There wasn’t really any reason to stick around at the mixer anymore, just as there wasn’t really a need for her to be here at all.
They didn’t need her anymore. It had been a strange, scary, and wonderful realization when Mary had finally come upon it, but in the past few months each of her friends had driven the point home more with every passing day. Hershel and Roy were on the best of terms, working in tandem to become constantly more powerful. Alice was unrecognizable compared to the spoiled, lonely woman who’d walked into Melbrook on that first day. And Vince, scared-of-his-own-power-Vince, was training to release massive amounts of energy in single bursts. They were long past needing her direct intervention, and now even the occasional guiding nudge had become less and less necessary. For possibly the first time since Mary had arrived at the decision to leave, she felt at peace. They would be okay without her, she truly believed that. There was just one last matter of business to attend to.
Making her way down the halls, it was hard not to feel a touch nostalgic. Save, perhaps, for her meeting with the dean when they returned in January, this could very well be the final time she ever walked down them. These bleak, sturdy concrete walls that had been a huge part of her home and life for the last three-and-a-half years. The same walls that had housed countless students before her, and would no doubt shelter countless more after she was gone.
Mary kept walking through the halls, past the classrooms and the professors’ offices, until she arrived at a small door. This room, she had no particular attachment to, nor what lay behind it. But her work wasn’t done. Lifting her fist, Mary rapped on the door three times, and then pushed it open. Telepathy meant she knew the person inside was alone, busying himself with paperwork and reports now that the show was over. There was so much more she’d have liked to have gleaned from his mind, however the DVA clearly took mental-training seriously. If she wanted to get more information from him, she’d have to do it the old-fashioned way.
Ralph Chapmen looked up from his desk in surprise at Mary’s entrance. She stepped through the door, shut it behind her, and took a seat in one of the room’s open chairs.
“I think it’s time you and I had another chat.”
* * *
“You took a hell of a hit down there.” Roy looked up from his beer, having mercifully gotten a few seconds to relax and drink, only to find Titan standing several feet away. If he didn’t know better, if he had the capacity to imagine his father as genuinely fearful of anything, he’d have guessed that Titan was afraid to fully approach him.
“Tell me about it. Felt like my teeth were buzzing in my head for ten minutes, even after the healing. I swear, the more I train to take damage, the stronger everyone else seems to get.” Roy wasn’t entirely sure how he felt about Titan walking over, but to his own surprise he wasn’t immediately compelled to send the man away.
“It tends to go that way,” Titan agreed. “That’s if you’re lucky. A lot of strongman types, hell, a good chunk of the ones that I’ve known, wouldn’t have been able to talk after taking a final hit like the one Vince delivered. They’d have been laid out flat on their asses in a heartbeat. You’re a tough, determined young man, and don’t think for a second those who know what to look for couldn’t see the amazing display you put on. I just wanted to let you know that.”
Before Titan could begin to turn away, Roy picked up his beer and stepped closer to the giant Hero. To his surprise, he found looking in his father’s eyes to required less of a tilted neck than he recalled. Maybe Roy was still getting taller, still growing, and he hadn’t even noticed it.
“Thanks, Titan. From someone with your reputation, that means a lot. I can’t take all the credit, though. The professors here at Lander are top notch. And I did some summer training with a specialist coach as well. We don’t always get along, but the guy is a hardy old bastard. I wouldn’t have gotten this far without him.” Roy stuck out his hand, and after several seconds Titan accepted and shook it.
“Give yourself the proper due. You were always going to be great, Roy. The most anyone could do was make the journey go a little smoother and faster. Though I’m sure all of your teachers are immeasurably proud of you, and glad to have played even a small part in your education.”
In the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t much, little more than a few kind words and a handshake. But it was the first time Roy had willingly interacted with Titan without needing saving or training, and that fact wasn’t lost on either man.