Chapter 201

                “I’ll pass the word along.” Adam took his time getting out of the pew, making certain that none of his movements came off as aggressive. The meeting had gone better than expected, no sense in mucking it up at the end. “He’ll be glad to hear you’re on board. We were all sort of wondering who would make the initial approach.”

                “You knew we would approach… of course you did. Because Abridail has been feeding information in both directions, hasn’t he?” It was always a risk when working with an untested asset, especially one that was impossible to monitor, but Nick had still hoped they’d have a little more time before Globe and crew knew exactly how much they’d uncovered.

                “Can’t really blame the guy. He’s completely helpless in the physical space; it only makes sense for him to have a few contingency plans for his body in case there’s trouble. If it makes you feel any better, Globe warned me that you might hunt me down this year before we ever came back to Lander,” Adam said.

                Now that was news Nick hadn’t been expecting. “That so? What made him think that?”

                “Something to do with when you two met in May. He told me you had the look of a man who’d let himself be dragged into hell before he’d ever let go of something that mattered to him. Once you turned your sights on flushing me out, it was only a matter of time until you succeeded.” Adam paused, looking at the church’s doors for a moment. “There is one thing we need to set straight before either of us leaves here: are you planning to blow my cover? If so, I need to bolt until everything has settled down. If not, then I’ve got some homework to do.”

                It was a reasonable question, and also something of a test disguised as an olive branch. This was the first chance to show that there could be trust between them. Whatever Nick told Adam, the real question was whether he would stick to it or not. If he did, he was laying a foundation, otherwise he was proving himself not to be trusted. The moment wasn’t lost on Nick in the slightest, which was why he didn’t do anything as silly as offer an immediate answer.

                “Are you planning to try and graduate? Because no offense, but I think you’re a little too much like me to make a good Hero. Maybe if you were going the Subtlety route we could talk, however as things stand I don’t think you need to take up one of those ten spots.”

                There was a flash of a smirk on Adam’s face, so quick that if Nick had blinked he’d have missed it. “I was tempted a few times, if we’re being honest with each other. But no, me being a Hero was never part of the end game. I’ve stayed in the middle for a reason; the plan was always for me to drop out when I was discovered or let myself sink in the rankings if I made it to the end. I don’t know what kind of life I’ll have when this is all over, but I know Hero work won’t be part of it.”

                “Then I don’t mind keeping your secret for a while longer,” Nick said. “However, once I think Dean Blaine and the others are ready to hear the truth without over-reacting, I may need to bring them in on it. Is that going to be an issue?”

                “Not as long as you give me a little warning. Can’t risk being caught unaware; there’s a reputation to think of.” Adam started heading toward the church doors, and Nick followed. “Also, don’t be shocked if I don’t put you in touch with Globe right away. After we talked with Abridail, he had a hunch one of you might be reaching out to us, so he’s working on a little surprise. Something to show his goodwill.”

                “Dare I even ask?”

                “Feel free, although I don’t know what it is,” Adam admitted. “All Globe would tell me is that he’s getting Dean Blaine something from the very top of his wish list.”

*             *             *

                Dinner ended pleasantly enough. Vince ordered a basket of wings that were hotter than expected and had to hurriedly chug down a glass of milk, but that contributed to the spirit of the evening rather than pulling away from it. Eliza took a curious delight in watching a man who was now virtually immune to things like fire or punching be brought low by something as innocuous as too much spice. It reminded her that under all the muscle, determination, and power, Vince was still the same guy he’d always been. Kind, steadfast, and a little dopey at times. She took solace in that, even as the very thought pained her.

                The text that things were clear came before dessert arrived, however she still took her time enjoying the lava cake. It was nice, spending time with someone she cared so much about, even if the original foundation of their relationship had changed. More than anything, Eliza found herself looking back at the way things had played out, reflecting on the choice she’d made, and realizing that she had no regrets. Gerry had turned out to be a great mentor who was true to his word: he really had opened up a whole new world of opportunities for her. Hell, it was thanks to Gerry that she was going to have a college education. Even if things had gone badly, she felt like she would have still been at peace with her choice. Eliza didn’t have a lot of moments in life she could look back on proudly, knowing that she’d done the right thing. Vince, Tights, was one of those few, and seeing how he’d grown since she saved his life reminded Eliza that even people like her could do good in the world.

                When the meal came to an end Vince walked her to her car, giving her a hug with those strong arms to say goodbye. He didn’t linger suggestively in the embrace, because of course he didn’t. Vince lived by his commitments, it was part of what made him… him. Maybe things would be different, if he knew what she’d done for him. If he’d thought of her as more than the woman who’d abandoned him without explanation. But that was one revelation he would have to live without.

                Vince already carried enough baggage, this piece Eliza could handle on her own.