Chapter 323

                It was some hours later, yet they were still stuck in the clearing. There was no more fighting, thankfully. Instead, the entire area was filled with Heroes and DVA agents as they worked tirelessly to excavate the remains of Charles’ bunker. While Vince had roused himself from the unexpected nap largely through sheer will, he was still firmly ordered to undertake nothing strenuous until he’d had time to properly recover. That was easier said than done, however, as he watched the Heroes hurrying about to the countless tasks before them. There were arrests to make, Heroes to debrief, students to talk with, and all manner of other issues that would likely take into the evening. Globe was gone already, spirited away by some DVA officials once his story was told, no doubt to say the same things dozens of times more under the scrutiny of telepaths and other Supers. He was safe though, and that was all Vince could ask for.

                In fact, Vince was shocked at how well the people he knew had come out of this. Despite the corpses of Heroes being hauled from the battlefield, not many thanks to Mary yet still more than enough, none of the students had been killed. Some were calling it a miracle, and Vince was inclined to agree to the extent that much of what Nick did often seemed miraculous. He was still waiting for his friend, patiently, while the rest of the world moved around him.

                Alice was in the hands of the DVA, they’d gotten word an hour or so ago that she and her mom were safe. While Vince wasn’t sure if they’d told Alice about her father, he hoped they would wait until her friends could be there. Much as she denied the connection between them, it would be a loss all the same. Roy was with Titan helping dig through the bunker, since they were among the least likely to get hurt by any lingering traps, and Mary was helping the DVA hunt down the few guards who had broken ranks and run. Camille was healing those in need, of course, because that was what she did. Everyone had a task, and Vince, in spite of his weakened state, was no exception.

                He was waiting.

                Finally, after too long, Vince’s vigil came to an end. From across the clearing, he could see DVA agents walking next to a sandy-haired man wearing sunglasses. Off like a shot, Vince bolted across the grass and nearly tackled his best friend in a hug.

                “I wasn’t sure you were coming back through that portal.”

                “I caught a lucky break, who would have guessed?”

                It might have been Vince’s imagination, but he thought he saw the DVA agents wince slightly. Knowing Nick, he’d probably spent the last few hours running them around, giving them just enough information to put the basics of what happened together without truly answering any of their questions. The luck puns were part of that experience.

                “Are you in trouble?” Vince finally released his embrace, though he didn’t move too far from Nick’s side.

                “I’m a person of interest, which means I would be in trouble if they could find a way to spin it. The only provable things I’ve done today are tackle a man threatening to nuke everyone through a portal and kill one of the most wanted criminals in the world, ostensibly before he could trick and murder my friend. That’s a murky situation even if they liked the guy, for someone like Crispin I think they’re afraid the other Heroes will throw me a parade if they find out. But enough about me and my antics, how did everything shake out here?”

                Nick began pointedly walking them both away from the DVA agents. Out here, among so many, it was folly to assume any words wouldn’t go overheard, but that was no reason to make it easy on them.

                “Everyone we know is alive,” Vince replied, tackling what he considered to be the biggest issue first. “Most were injured to some extent, but between Camille and Hallow we’re all mended. There was one issue though: Amber is currently getting a judicial review by the DVA. Apparently during the fight she got fast and loose with her explosions, hitting some Heroes in the process. Dean Blaine assured us that no one expects a temporarily authorized Hero asset to be perfect, so she won’t be charged with anything for hurting people.”

                “But it doesn’t bode well for her chances at graduation.” Nick was hardly surprised, he’d clocked Amber as the type to skate by on raw power years ago. No doubt the HCP had hoped to educate her on discipline and control, however not every Super wanted to learn those lessons.

                There was a sadness in Vince’s eyes as he nodded agreement. “Probably not. Anyway, everyone who came to the fight is alive, and that’s what matters. Globe is off getting interrogated, Shelby is safely in DVA custody, and the rest of Globe’s team have been showing up one by one to turn themselves in, except George. No one has seen him since the battle ended.”

                Nick had almost forgotten that Vince didn’t know about Adam. It would come out in time, he was certain. As for George, assuming Adam kept his word, they’d likely find the body soon enough. Part of Nick held out hope that the guy had found a better way though. Obviously Nick was no stranger to killing, yet he believed it should always happen with a purpose. That kind of death would do neither of George nor Adam any favors.

                “So, everyone, or at least everyone we know, is safe. Globe and Shelby are no longer lost. Charles Adair and Crispin are off the game board. Hell of a day. Tell me, what comes next for the mighty Shuffle, champion of Intramurals from a generation that I guarantee goes down in the history books?”

                Vince’s nose wrinkled slightly. “Shuffle?”

                “I just assumed that was the name you’d take after what you said in Intramurals.” With a single glance, Nick realized the idea had never entered Vince’s mind. “You’re a great guy, but not always the most creative.”

                “Yeah, but give me a little credit. Geez.” The footsteps halted as Vince stopped to look over at the bunker where so very much of the truth had been buried. “I was actually thinking of something a little longer. Something to remind me of what I realized in that fight with Conrad, of where I started this journey. Jack of All. Like a play on jack of all trades, master of none. Because, you know, I was a Jack when we started, and I kind of have some control over a bunch of energies instead of a single mastery of one…” Vince trailed off, his confidence wavering as he tried to read Nick’s inscrutable expression.

                “Jack of All, huh? Bit of a mouthful, and you’re going to get a lot crude jokes from criminals. But it’s very… you. Earnest, comes from a humble place yet still manages to remind people what you can do. I like it.”

                “Thanks. Let’s just hope nobody claimed it yet. Been kind of a busy day and I haven’t had time to check the databases.”

                Under his breath, Nick suppressed a chuckle. “I think you’ll be okay.”

                They stood in silence for a moment after that, and although neither knew it, they were both thinking back to that first day on Lander when they’d met. When it was just the two of them, looking out onto four years of untold possibility. It was Vince who spoke at last, he would never be as comfortable with silence as Nick was.

                “What now? I feel like we’ve been on this trail for so long, trying to find our parents and set right what they destroyed. I’m not totally sure where to go from here. What comes next?”

                Nick threw an arm around Vince’s shoulders and tilted both their heads up to the setting sun on the horizon. “Now? Now comes graduation, internships, field work, families, secret identities, and so much more. School is over, Vince. You’re about to become a true-blue certified Hero.” Slowly, Nick’s hand rose, turning into a finger pointing out to that burning horizon.

                “Now, Vince, starts the true adventure called life. And I don’t know about you, but I can barely wait.”