Camille’s hand, dainty and graceful as a twirling blade, slipped through Vince’s guard and brushed lightly against his neck. He froze, then nodded to recognize her victory before backing away.
“You’re slower,” Camille said, also retreating to her side of the combat cell. Sparring with Vince was usually for her benefit more than his, as a lifetime of training had left him with reflexes and instincts she couldn’t match. Today, however, things were different, and the score reflected that. In the hour they’d been going at it, she’d managed to accumulate seven wins, while he’d only scraped out three.
“So I’m realizing.” Vince sat down on the cold concrete floor of their cell and began to adjust his body armor. Through Professor Fletcher, Vince had checked out protection for his torso, arms, legs, feet, and hands, all separated into sections that allowed for the maximum amount of flexibility. Unfortunately, the maximum amount was still a steep degradation from what he could manage on his own, and the extra weight was shaving time off his reactions, time that Camille was using to slip between the cracks of his defense. But that was why they were training, so Vince could understand what the addition of armor would cost him, and if it was a price he could lessen through effort.
Though the kinder side of Camille wanted to offer to help, to change the rules so that her victory demanded more than a touch, the pragmatic side of her squashed such notions instinctively. If she were fighting Vince for real, one touch really would mean his defeat, and there were more Supers than just her in the world who could win like that. Training, losing, made him more aware of his weaknesses, and built the foundation for him to overcome them. Caring for Vince meant that she couldn’t afford to be gentle with him in these moments. If anything, she had to press harder, fight with all she had, to forge them both into more powerful Supers.
Of course, she couldn’t actually say any of that. Even if they had cleared the major hurdle in their relationship, some things were best left silently understood. Instead, she turned the conversation to more relevant matters. “Are you going to wear armor for Friday’s exam?”
“To be honest, I’m still deciding,” Vince admitted, finally getting the guard over his shin pulled tighter. “We’ve got two under our belt, and so far things have been going smoothly, but knowing the professors it will probably get a lot harder soon. I don’t think even they would crank things up on our third trial, though. End of November seems more likely. So if I want to give the armor a test-run, now’s my best chance.”
“You could always try and use your abilities defensively instead. It might be a better strategy overall, especially since I’m pretty sure the armor you get as a Hero is better than the generic stuff the HCP keeps,” Camille pointed out. “Probably won’t hinder your movements as much.”
“Maybe so, but that’s not going to do me any good if I can’t make it to graduation using this equipment,” Vince replied. “Besides, I might not always have the best gear on hand. If I want to use my power for offense, I need to be able to make it work wearing anything, even stuff that barely fits. And I may try fighting defensively next time, depending on how this exam goes. But offense just seems like a better starting point. I’ve got all these energies and such a big capacity, I feel like that’s what I was made to do.”
Finished with his adjustments, Vince rose from the floor and took a fighting position. Though he had the advantage at a range, Vince’s abilities were off-the-table for this training. Camille won with a touch, but Vince had to land a solid blow to claim victory. In an odd way, Camille appreciated that. She knew it wasn’t easy for him to attack her; however, Vince understood as well as she did that any enemies they faced would have no such hesitations. Fighting seriously, showing their failings, that was the best way either had to help one another grow in skill. This was how they could protect each other, even when they weren’t around to do so in person.
Vince locked eyes with Camille, making sure she was prepared. “Ready when you are,” he said.
Camille gave a quick nod and got into a stance of her own. “Then bring it on.”
* * *
Mary sat, alone in her room, reveling in the quiet. Of all the things she’d learned since coming to Lander, all the tactics and strategies and techniques for using her power, none of them compared to the ability she’d been given before setting foot on campus. Being able to turn off her telepathy was still the greatest gift she had ever received, and even after years of having control sometimes she enjoyed the freedom to simply exist, alone with her thoughts and disconnected from the world.
Now was a good time for such a peaceful moment, as the thoughts around campus were more hectic than usual. Though she hadn’t been able to glean the exact details, she knew the professors were paying extra attention to their upcoming exam, which would no doubt prove to be troublesome in its own right. More concerning was the fact that the day after their trial, at a Halloween party no less, she was going to bring Nick into Alice’s head as they hoped to cajole Abridail the dream-walker into giving up the goods about Shelby Adair. That alone was enough to strain her nerves, but it was not the reason Mary had been driven to find a bit of solitude, an island of peace amidst the sea of minds.
No, the honor belonged to Eliza, or rather, Eliza’s inability to keep her own thoughts marshalled. The girl was good, no question about that, despite going to Nick’s every Wednesday and being only an apartment away from his criminal associate, Mary almost never got anything of interest from the brain under those dark curly locks. But this week, things had been different. Guilt had fractured the mental wall Eliza normally kept in place, inadvertently revealing a secret that Mary would have been far happier never knowing.
That was what had left Mary taking sessions like her current one, turning off her ability and searching her soul for what to do next. She had to get through this weekend, that much was clear. Too much was at stake on both fronts for her to risk sharing the information she’d accidently gleaned. But from there on, things grew murkier. As a rule Mary always held that what lived in the heads of others stayed secret, unless there was a dire need for the thoughts to be exposed. This was harder, though. More difficult, more delicate. By all accounts, she knew she should stick to her rule and let Eliza reveal the secret in her own time. But when it came out, if for one second Nick suspected that Mary had known, then he would probably never forgive her for hiding it.
And she wasn’t entirely sure she would blame him for that.