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Alea Iacta Est - a Worm AU Fanfic

Discussion in 'Creative Writing' started by Ack, Jul 11, 2015.

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  1. edale

    edale Versed in the lewd.

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    Thinking on the scene I was remembering, yea, I was thinking of how Theo Triggered in Security!... Though I could swear that protecting Aster was a major component of his Trigger...
    I've never seen this MaquisXAnnette=Taylor fics before... Care to post a link to one of these fics? I'm intrigued.
     
    Ack likes this.
  2. alethiophile

    alethiophile Shadowed Philosopher Administrator

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    I can't recall any fics that used it. It was more a crack theory that came up in connection with some "Marquis harem anime" speculation a while back.
     
  3. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Then there's the "MarquisXBrandish=Amelia" that I posited in MtH :p
     
    ShadowStepper1300 likes this.
  4. Starfox5

    Starfox5 Versed in the lewd.

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    There's a story where Marquis is actually Annette (crossdressing), and Taylor is her and Danny's daughter.
     
  5. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Oh wow.
     
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  6. RoninSword

    RoninSword Sky God

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    Can someone link that MarquisxBrandish story? Sounds interesting.
     
  7. Twilight666

    Twilight666 Know what you're doing yet?

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    Yeah it's "Like Mother Like Skitter".
    It's very crack, mind you.

    On the first chapter you have Brandish showing up to threaten "Marquis", tell him they are onto him and will stop him etc.
    Only she tells that to Danny. He also hams it up goes like "My dear Brandish I have no idea what you are talking about, I am a law abiding citizen and totally not Marquis".

    Danny and Annete laugh about it afterwards on their way to home at which point they see Taylor and Emma waiting for them waiting to have a talk.
    Annete thinks: Ohhh is Taylor gay?
    Taylor says: Mom I have powers and want to be a Ward.
    Annete thinks (in this order):
    1) Some dead man made my baby trigger:mad:
    2) OMG we can be villains together squueeeeee:D:D:D:D
    3) wait did she just say she want to be a ward :eek:
    So she responds: are you sure you are not gay?:confused:

    Also during an omake a reader made Jack Slash Taylor's godfather and the author made it canon :):):).

    It's (Meet the Heberts) by Ack. It's NSFW and it is not MarquisxBrandish. It's just that in the latest chapter Marquis shows up and reveals that his daughter Amelia was conceived when he had lots of hatesex with Brandish in one of the orgies the Heberts did before they settled down after Taylor was born
     
  8. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Oh god, I just went and read Like Mother Like Skitter all in one go.

    Laughed all the way through.

    Sooo crack.
     
  9. godzillahomer

    godzillahomer Know what you're doing yet?

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    THE TECHNO QUEEN *KRAKATHOOM* strikes!
     
    Ack, Chase92, Alayne and 3 others like this.
  10. Threadmarks: Part Nine: Luck is in the Eye of the Beholder
    Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Alea Iacta Est


    Part Nine: Luck is in the Eye of the Beholder


    [A/N: This chapter beta-read by Lady Columbine of Mystal. Certain descriptive passages are entirely thanks to her.]


    June 16, 2010
    Off the Florida Keys


    “Janet!”

    She clung to the safety rail with both hands, hauling her way along it toward the stern. The Avalon pitched deeply into the oncoming waves, blue-green walls of water riding over the deck to smash into her, doing their best to wrench her free and send her flailing into the water. Given that she had neglected to don her lifejacket before venturing out on deck, this would almost certainly result in her death.

    “Janet, come back! It's not safe!”

    Harvey's voice was barely audible over the roar of the sea and the howl of the wind through the halyards. Of course it's not safe. None of this is safe. But she knew what she had to do. The mainsail had come free during the storm and was now fouling the rudder, making it hard to keep the bow into the wind. Worse, if it tangled the prop, their only means of making headway in these heavy seas would be gone. They would broach-to in moments, and capsize shortly after that.

    On her belt was the heavy clasp-knife that her father had given to her when she first began going to sea; she knew that she could cut loose the errant sail, if only she could reach it. All she had to do was reach it.

    Slitting her eyes against the howling wind and the abrasive spray, she reached the point where the twisted sail ran over the rail and into the heaving ocean below. Pausing to secure her safety line properly, she pulled the knife from its pouch and opened it with her teeth. The blade, more than four inches long and kept razor-sharp, would do the job. She began cutting, more and more of the tough fabric parting with each stroke.

    When the mainstay gave way, she felt it more than heard it. Looking up, she saw the mast tilt and begin to fall. But it fell sideways, not backward. Even as it splashed into the chaotic swells, she felt the change in the yacht's movement.

    The loss of the mast spelled the loss of the boat; she knew that in her bones. No matter what she did with the sail, the mast would act as a sea anchor, dragging Avalon around until she was beam-on to the driving rollers. The yacht wouldn't last long after that.

    “Harvey!” she screamed. “Abandon ship! We're going down!”

    Already, the boat was coming around. She couldn't wait to see what Harvey did, and she couldn't haul her way back to the cockpit in time. All she could do was save herself, and trust that he would do the same. A life-belt was attached to the rail; she grabbed it and slashed through the safety line that held her to the boat. In another moment, she was overboard, smashed into the ocean by the waves.

    Salt water slapped her in the face, and she held her breath. Dragged under, into a cool world of green with bright bubbles, the waves a distant thunder overhead, she felt the pressure on her ears. The life-belt, tugging her toward the surface, began to slip from her grip. She had no choice; dropping the knife, she wound the line from the life-belt around her left forearm as tightly as she could.

    But the surface seemed to be getting farther away, not closer. Pressure built in her ears. She kicked desperately, to no avail. Precious bubbles escaped her lips. She opened her mouth, desperate to breathe …

    <><>​

    Present Day
    Brockton Bay, NH


    Water filled her lungs and pressure surrounded her arms. No! Fight! Fight, dammit! Janet surged upright, her hands and feet striking out against the danger. She was up on her knees then her feet, whirling in tight circles with her hands flailing, until her knuckles crunched against the wall and the pain broke through her panic.

    Alive. The word took a few seconds to sink in, and when it did, she fell to her knees with her head pressed into the mattress edge. Holy shit. Her heavy breathing against the sheets bounced back into her face, reminding her that she was on dry land. It wasn’t real any more. She was alive. She was safe.

    She finally reached a shaking hand out to the right and miraculously found the touch lamp she had bought a week earlier. Blessed light filled the room, confirming her safety. Somehow, she found enough strength to crawl back on to the bed and flop face first on to the pillow.

    Long minutes later, she rolled over to check the display on the cheap digital clock residing on the motel nightstand. Her left forearm jolted against the edge of the stand, making her hiss with pain. Lifting it, she examined the end of the stump, just short of where the wrist would have been. She had made it to the surface, but the boat was gone, as was Harvey. With no life-jacket, no food, no water, she should have died.

    For seven days and six nights she had drifted, at the mercy of the wind and the water. The life-belt which had saved her life had taken her hand; so tightly had she wound the rope around her forearm, she had cut off blood circulation, and by the time the Coast Guard cutter had picked her up, the hand was a dead loss. Six months on, and the stump was still tender.

    “Christ,” she muttered, still eyeing the clock. “This early?”

    The numbers mocked her; it got dark early, this far north. She had thought that it was later than that. But already, despite the cool breeze sweeping through the window, she was covered in sweat. This wasn't due to the non-existent heat of the night, but to her own fears. The odour of incipient rain came to her nostrils. Fuck off, she told it silently.

    For a long moment, she considered getting the bottle out of her duffel bag and using the contents to lull her to sleep. It would not be the first time she'd done that, nor would it be the last. But she had no desire to wake up in a strange town with a hangover, so instead she decided on a shower. I stink, anyway.

    Rolling off the bed, she skinned out of the brief top and mid-length pants which served her as pyjamas. It only took a few steps for her to reach the motel bathroom, where she turned on the light and surveyed herself with disdain.

    Her short-cut auburn hair was messier than it had any right to be and her face was still flushed with the aftermath of adrenaline. There were bags under her blue-green eyes, which she did her best to ignore. I need more sleep. I really do. An image of the bottle in the bag came to her once more; she gritted her teeth and shook her head.

    Shorter than most, she stood five foot three on the cold tiles of the bathroom. Broad shoulders and a certain amount of muscular development robbed her of the 'petite' descriptor, although thanks to the lack of a hand, her left arm was losing its condition.

    But that was only the beginning of her problems.

    <><>​

    Janet let the hot water wash over her back and shoulders, flushing away the stink of her terror. A shower she could handle, but not a tub. She didn't like any situation where she could be submerged and drown. Swimming pools gave Janet cold shivers, and she never went near large bodies of water if she could possibly help it. But even in a shower, she didn't like having water running over her face. Wetting a washcloth, Janet wiped it over her face and scalp, shuddering at the feeling of water trickling down her cheek.

    Those cold, uncaring waters had swallowed the man she loved as well as the Avalon, and she could not help but feel that they wanted her as well; that she was living on borrowed time. And it was even worse when the water reached for her.

    She clenched her eyes shut, trying to rein in her swirling emotions. Overhead, there was the mutter of thunder. Rain sounded on the roof, over the noise of her own shower. Stop it, she told it silently. No rain. No thunder. No lightning. No storm. Not today. Please.

    By the time she finished the shower, the rain had passed. She was feeling calmer. With luck, it will settle down again. I have a good feeling about this city.

    Briskly, she towelled herself dry – her left arm couldn't do much except pin the towel to her body, but at least it could do that much – then put on clean underwear. I think I'll watch some TV then go back to bed.

    When she stepped out of the bathroom into the main area of the motel room, there was a stranger sitting in the room's only chair.

    <><>​

    “Who are you?” Janet retreated a step, fear burning in her guts. They found me. Oh god, they found me. “What do you want?”

    The woman, whose fedora and belted trench-coat gave her a slightly dated appearance, looked up from her book. Janet registered it as The Lonely Sea; once one of her favourites, it was now a book she couldn't even pick up without shuddering. “Oh, there you are,” the woman said. “Just in time.”

    “Just in time for what?” demanded Janet. “What are you doing in my motel room?”

    “So that you could come with me and help save the world, of course,” the woman explained. She stood up from the chair without a single wasted motion – a feat deserving of respect, Janet knew, after having nearly been permanently trapped by the thing – and slipped the book into her coat pocket.

    Janet shook her head. “No. No way. Nope. You want me to use my powers. I'm not going there.”

    The woman raised one perfect eyebrow. “Are you so worried about losing control?”

    Clenching her fist so strongly that her short-trimmed nails almost cut into her palm, Janet shook her head. “I've never had control,” she snapped. “I get worried about something, it starts to drizzle. I wake up after a nightmare and it's raining. I walk past a swimming-pool and the water reaches for me.” She took a deep breath. “I hate water!”

    “Are you aware that your powers won't let you drown?” The woman's voice was quiet. “Or that they saved your life after the yacht went down? Did you honestly think the fact that you survived for a week drinking seawater with so few ill effects was a coincidence?”

    Janet blinked. “My powers saved me?”

    The woman smiled. “Yes. They saved you.”

    “Oh. Uh …” Janet frowned. “But I'm not going to use them. I know what'll happen to me as soon as people realise I've got the same powers as … as him.”

    “You could use your powers to mitigate the damage he does.” Her tone was softly persuasive.

    “No way. Uh-uh.” Janet shook her head violently. “I'm not looking to fight anyone or anything with my powers. Least of all, Leviathan.” Fear boiled up in her guts at the mere thought. “So you can go away. Now. Please.” She was all the way back into the bathroom now, her butt pressed up against the washbasin.

    The woman didn't move forward. “Nobody is chasing you. There's nothing to be worried about. They're not going to lock you up just for having water powers.”

    “Tell that to Canary!”

    A grimace. “Canary is … a special case. Unfortunate, but necessary. You, on the other hand, haven't hurt anyone. Nobody really knows you even have these powers.”

    Janet took a deep breath, forcing down her fear. “And yet, you're here. Talking to me about them.”

    “Well, yes.” The woman's smile was warm, conspiratorial. “I'm a special case, too.”

    “Why are you here?” Janet demanded again.

    “I told you.” The woman tilted her head slightly. “To help save the world. Or rather, to take one small step on the path toward saving the world. In this case, to help save a teenage girl from an emotionally abusive father.” She paused. “And of course, there is the matter of money. You're short on it. I can pay you ten thousand dollars to do this, right here, right now.”

    Janet frowned. She could feel the initiative slipping away from her. “So … I don't have to fight Leviathan.”

    The woman chuckled. “Well, no. I would hardly ask you to do that, when you've barely got a grasp on your powers. All you have to do in this situation is make it rain.” She reached into one of her trench-coat pockets and pulled out a thick wad of notes. “Ten thousand dollars, going once …”

    <><>​

    “I'm still not saying I'll do this.” Janet awkwardly pulled the top over her head, slid her arms through the sleeves.

    “I understand.” The woman stepped out of the bathroom with Janet's toiletries in her hands. “You might need these.”

    Janet frowned. “I'm not coming back?”

    The woman snorted. “Hardly. You can afford much better accommodation now.”

    There was no arguing with that. The ten thousand dollars – a hundred hundred-dollar bills – now rested securely inside her duffel bag. “So where are we going?” She tucked her top into her jeans, a little awkwardly.

    “Not far, actually.” The woman waited until she had hoisted the duffel on to her shoulder, then murmured something that sounded like 'doorway'.

    That was when Janet knew for a fact that things would never be the same again, as a rectangular portal opened in midair. On the other side was … a rooftop. A very mundane rooftop, but still a rooftop where no such thing should be.

    The woman gestured toward the impossible opening in space. “Shall we?”

    Numbly, Janet stepped forward.

    <><>​

    Gravel crunched beneath her sneakers. She looked around; as far as she could tell, she was standing on the roof of an inner-city building, maybe five or ten storeys high. Shrugging her shoulder, she shifted the weight of the duffel slightly. “So what are we doing here?”

    She wasn't quite sure where the woman had acquired the golf umbrella from, but there it was. The woman opened it expertly and held it up over the two of them. “You're making it rain. As hard as you can.”

    Janet blinked. “But … what if I can't make it stop?”

    Her companion smiled. “Trust me on this. You can make it stop.”

    Ten thousand dollars. I can do this.

    She took a deep breath and began to concentrate. Overhead, thunder rolled. The sky was already overcast; the clouds thickened as if by magic. Or by my power. She was already more than a little agitated; it wasn't hard to push it just a little more.

    One by one, then harder and faster, the raindrops began to fall. They drummed on the umbrella. Thunder rolled again. The rain became a downpour.

    <><>​

    “How long do I keep it raining for?” She had to raise her voice to be heard over the tumult of rain on the roof access, much less the real thunder overhead. “And is it safe for us to be out like this?”

    “It's safe.” The woman's voice held absolute conviction. “Your power won't let the storm hurt us. And just a bit longer. How are you holding up?”

    “I – I'm not sure.” Janet felt that she should be repulsed by the water surrounding her on all sides. But at the same time as it made her skin crawl, it whispered to her. Let the power flow, it told her without words. Embrace it. Reach your full strength.

    It was tempting. Oh, so tempting. But she couldn't. A stray droplet splashed on to her face and she shuddered, hastily wiping it off.

    Then she heard a sound from the direction of the fire escape. The rain was hammering on it already, but this was different, as though someone was climbing up – or down – the metal steps. Up, she decided. It was getting louder.

    She knew when whoever it was reached the top of the fire escape because the clanging noise stopped and a splashing began; the person was running across the rooftop. Toward the roof access. Toward her.

    She stepped back; the woman holding the umbrella did the same thing. I don't want to be seen. Don't want to have to explain what I'm doing here. The rain was still very heavy, but if someone came close enough, she would be visible to them.

    And then the roof access door opened. Whoever had been running across the roof stopped. Janet heard a man's voice, barely audible over the rain.

    “You didn't think you could get away that easily, did you?”

    “Maybe not,” a girl's voice retorted defiantly. “But you can't keep me locked up. And soon as I'm gone, Mom's gone too. You know it and I know it. So why don't you just go take a long walk off a short pier and save us all a lot of trouble?”

    <><>​

    For one heart-stopping moment, when the curtains of water had parted to show her the man and the red-headed girl, she thought that the rain had stopped and that she was in full view. But the water continued to pound on the umbrella and neither one turned to look at her. The conversation, which she had been straining to hear, was now easily audible.

    “Annette, you misunderstand the situation,” the man said smoothly. Janet didn't trust him for a moment; at first, she thought he had blood on his shirt, but then she realised that he had been splattered with pasta, and it was just the sauce she was seeing. “I want to take care of you and your mother. You're my daughter; I wish to show you just where that can take you. All of your needs will be met.”

    “All the ones you think need to be met, anyway,” she said, still backing away from him. “What about what I want to do? What if I want to go out with a boy? I can just tell you'd be the overbearing father type.”

    In the next moment, a bright light flashed past, the source indistinct through the pouring rain. It circled around, then came in for a landing on the roof; the light went out again, leaving Janet unsure as to what had just happened. She concentrated on seeing in that direction; as before, the concealing rain seemed to fade away, and she could see a woman standing there.

    The newcomer was petite, with mousy brown hair that was even now plastered to her scalp by the downpour. She stepped forward, obviously coming within view of the man and the girl, to differing reactions.

    “Kayden.” The man's voice was not pleased. “What are you doing here?”

    “Ms Russel? You're a cape? Wow! I never even guessed!” The girl's voice held more than a little fangirl-squee in it.

    “What's going on?” murmured Janet to the woman who still held the umbrella. “What am I even doing here?”

    The woman's voice was just as quiet. “You'll see, in just a moment.”

    Janet looked back at the standoff. The newcomer – Kayden – had put herself between the man and the girl. “Max. This stops now.”

    The man shook his head. “No. This is none of your concern. Step aside.”

    “No. I'm not going to let you do this.”

    “Kayden, you don't know what's going on here. This is my daughter.”

    “I know exactly what's going on here,” she retorted. The roof access door opened again, but Janet couldn't see who was there.

    Kayden was still talking. “You want to ruin that girl's life, just like you ruined Theo's. You want to get into her mother's head, just like you did mine.” She paused. “What I don't understand is why you're being so bull-headed about this. This is remarkably clumsy, Max, especially for you.”

    The man might have chuckled. “Blame Andrea for that. Unlike you, she doesn't think things through and come to a reasoned, logical answer. All too often, she acts far too much on impulse. I can't reason with her. I've never been able to.”

    “So let her go.” Kayden's voice was matter of fact. “Let them both go.”

    He shook his head. “Andrea is my one great love. Annette is my daughter. I can't let them go. Surely you can see that.”

    A pudgy boy and a petite redheaded woman, shorter even than Janet herself, moved away from the roof access and around to the side. The girl went to meet them; Janet presumed that she was the woman's daughter. Is this the 'Annette' and 'Andrea' that he just mentioned?

    “You're going to have to, Max,” said Kayden. “If you keep forcing them to accept this, you'll break them. They don't deserve this. I'm not going to let you do it.”

    Slowly, Max shook his head. “Kayden. Kayden, Kayden, Kayden. When are you going to learn? You can't stop me from doing anything. Nobody can, but most especially you. Or would you like a reminder of why this is?”

    Janet didn't know what he meant, but Kayden obviously did. “No. You can't hold that over my head any more. I'll fight -”

    “And lose.” He cut her off. “Like Annette, she's my daughter by blood. Financially, I'm far more capable of caring for her than you are. It might prove a little more tricky to show you up as an unfit mother, but -”

    Even after seeing Kayden fly in using powers – which had been a shock – it was still a surprise when she lit up once more, the glare lighting up the raindrops for yards around. “No!” shouted the glowing woman.

    Holy crap, she's gonna -

    But she did nothing. It was Max who stepped forward when she hesitated, Max who grew a steel blade from his hand in an instant. Oh shit, he's a cape too!

    Janet, frozen to the spot, watched the blade flicker forth, ending its stroke in Kayden's stomach. The petite woman collapsed to her knees, holding the wound. It was a bad one; blood was already staining her dress.

    “Max …” whispered Kayden. Only Janet heard it; for anyone else, it would have been too quiet to hear through the storm.

    Numbly, she watched as he stepped to the side of the stricken woman. “I can stand initiative.” His voice was harsh. “I can stand defiance, at least for a while.” He raised the blade as her head slumped forward. “But the one thing I cannot countenance is betrayal.”

    The woman's voice was just a murmur in Janet's ear. “Are you going to just let him murder her?”

    The horror Janet felt at the scene being played out before her crystallised in an instant, catalysed by those words. She took a deep breath. No.

    The blade had just reached the limit of its upward arc when the streamer from the clouds above stretched down, seeking a conductor of electricity. It touched the tip of the sword that Max held; this was a very good conductor indeed. Over the next few fractions of a second, faster than Janet could perceive, the link strengthened.

    Then the lightning surged upward from the ground, through the building, through Max and ultimately through the sword. With an ear-splitting crack and a blinding flash, it leaped skyward along the path that had been opened, discharging itself into the clouds above. In the process, it directed an infeasible amount of electricity through the body of the man holding what had turned out to be an excellent lightning-rod.

    Max fell, the sword clattering from his hand to lie a short distance away; the tip of the blade, still glowing red, hissed as it lay in a puddle. Half-blinded by the flash, ears still ringing from the close-range thunderclap, Janet turned to ask the woman what do I do now? But somehow, it turned out that she was holding the umbrella. The woman was gone.

    Without her conscious will behind it, the rain began to ease off. Oh shit, they're gonna see me! There was no way she was going to be climbing down any ladders one-handed, so her best bet was to hide. Turning to look for someplace to conceal herself, she felt her foot push something across the gravel; it was heavy and unyielding. She looked down, and saw a medical kit, the type that paramedics took into the field. Or the type that she'd taken on board the Avalon, once upon a time.

    Where the hell did that come from?

    A moment later, she realised just how stupid the question was; the woman in the trench-coat had procured it, in the same way that she had produced the golf umbrella. Probably using that damn doorway, or whatever she called it.

    On a whim, she muttered 'doorway' herself, just to see what would happen.

    Nothing did, of course. And I have no idea what I would've done if something had happened.

    The rain had stopped altogether now; overhead, the clouds were melting away like snow in the sun. And kneeling on the roof was the woman. She had her hands pressed to her stomach, but blood was pumping out between her fingers. The red-headed woman knelt down beside her, talking urgently to her, her voice too low for Janet to hear what was being said.

    Shit. I killed that guy to save her, but she'll die if I don't do something.

    If I step forward now, they'll know that something's up. It's not like people just hang out on rooftops in rainstorms with medical kits, waiting for someone to get stabbed.

    But if I don't, she'll die.

    She took a deep breath and steeled herself. Time to own this shit and stop being a pussy about it. I've been running too long anyway.

    Discarding the umbrella, she took up the case – it was heavy, but she could carry it one-handed – and stepped forward. Her feet crunched on the wet gravel, and the two teenagers looked around.

    Before they could say or do anything, the roof access door opened again, and two more teenagers spilled out. One, a tall brunette, held a squalling baby; the other one looked about twelve.

    “Theo, the thunder woke her up, and she won't -” began the older girl, before she took in the scene before her. “Holy shit! Ms Russel!”

    “Who are you?” asked the pudgy boy, looking at Janet and ignoring the girl's exclamation. “What are you doing up here?”

    The younger girl looked around and her expression just lit up. A smile spread across her face. “She's here to help,” the girl chirped. “Taylor, give Aster to Theo and help this lady with her medical kit. Theo, take Aster downstairs and get her settled. Annette, go down and bring one of Kaiser's men up here. They need to know he's dead. Ms Campbell, call nine-one-one and tell them we've got a woman with a traumatic penetrating wound to the abdomen. They'll respond faster if it's an adult calling.” She pulled a phone from her pocket and tossed it to Andrea. The red-headed woman stared at it as if she had no idea what it was.

    Looking around at everyone, the girl stopped talking. Then she clapped her hands twice. “Well, come on! Ms Russel's not gonna save her own life, here!”

    People started moving again; the tall brunette handed the baby to the pudgy boy, who hurried inside with her. Then she came over to Janet. “Uh, hi, I'm Taylor. What can I do?”

    “I can always do with an extra hand or two,” Janet said briefly. “Do what I tell you and she might just make it through this alive.” She pointedly ignored the corpse of Kaiser lying not two yards from the woman he'd tried to murder. Not only could she not help him, but even if she could have, she would not.

    The red-headed woman got out of her way, tapping numbers into the phone that the girl had given her. As Janet knelt beside Kayden, she heard Andrea say, “Ambulance, please. And police. And, uh, PRT, I guess.”

    Janet's nerve nearly failed her right then. The very last people she wanted to talk to were the PRT. I'm pretty sure that killing a cape, even defending someone else, is something they won't be happy about. It didn't help that her brain was just starting to make the connection; while she wasn't exactly clued-in to the cape scene in Brockton Bay, Kaiser was a name that she'd heard before. And I killed him. There's a lot of ways that this could go badly wrong.

    But if I do nothing, she'll die anyway. “Taylor,” she said urgently. “Help her lie down, on her back. We have to get pressure on the wound.” But even if she did, she knew that Kayden could still die from lack of blood. I got my advanced first aid certificate before we went out on Avalon, but that was months ago.

    Unfastening the lid on the kit, she opened it, and blinked. Who leaves bags of blood expander in a medical kit? But there they were, right where she needed them. Okay, we might just win this.

    <><>​

    Annette took the stairs two at a time, one hand on the rail to steady herself. Her head was buzzing with the events of the night, the adrenaline still pumping from the confrontation with … well, with Kaiser. Holy shit, my dad was a supervillain. And holy shit, he got struck by lightning, right in front of me. She wasn't sure how she felt about that; he was a dick, and a murderer, but she wasn't totally sure that he needed to die because of that. Okay, so he was gonna kill Ms Russel. She decided to shelve the ethical dilemma for later.

    Pushing the doors open, she stepped out on to the front stairs of the building. Kaiser's car was there, with two men waiting next to it. Or if it wasn't Kaiser's car, then some other pretentious rich bastard had chosen to take up two car spaces with a stretch limo.

    Both men looked around as she trotted down the steps, then stepped forward. “That's her,” she heard one of them mutter to the other.

    “Hey, which of you is Scooby Doo and which one's Shaggy?” she asked.

    The one on the left, slightly taller and more muscle-bound, stared at her. “Fuckin' say what?”

    “Thanks, Scoob,” she retorted cheekily. “Just so you know, your boss is dead.”

    The two goons stared at each other, then back at Annette. “What the fuck are you talking about?” demanded the one that she'd christened 'Scooby'.

    She rolled her eyes. “Well, apparently, he decided it was a good idea to wave a big metal spike around in a thunderstorm. One order of crispy fried Max Anders, to go.”

    “Fuck.” That was Scooby.

    “Think she's fucking with us?” Shaggy looked at her suspiciously.

    “Well, there was that fucking great lightning strike.”

    “Wow, Scoob, you found the clue!” Annette clapped ironically. “You see how my hair's a bit frizzled? You hear me talking a bit loud? I was about as far away from him as you are from me when he got fuckin' struck by lightning. I mean, he coulda got more dead if he went and nutsacked Behemoth, but not much more, know what I mean?”

    <><>​

    Joseph Kellerman had never considered himself to be an overly intelligent man. But the way this kid – who, if he understood things right, was the boss's daughter – was talking, the boss was dead. He wasn't quite sure what the 'waving a metal spike' thing was all about, but there had been a big fuck-off lightning strike just before the rain stopped, so …

    “What do we do?” asked Lars. He was the dumber of the two. They were both tough enough and ruthless enough to do what the boss said without worrying too much about who got hurt in the process. Unfortunately, smarts hadn't been on the criteria when they were being picked for the job, and with Lars it showed. Which meant that, with the boss not there and possibly dead, Joe was in charge. So he had to decide what to do next. What would Mr Anders do?

    Joe made his decision. “Stay here,” he ordered Lars. “If the kid or the woman comes out without me, stop 'em.” He paused, then decided to make things absolutely clear. With Lars, you had to do this. A stupid, violent man, he tended to do things in stupid, violent ways unless he was given careful instructions. “Don't. Hurt. Them. Got me?”

    Lars nodded. “If the kid or the woman come out, stop 'em. Don't hurt 'em. Got it.”

    “Good.” Joe turned to the kid. “Okay, kid. Show me. But don't try anything funny. 'Cause the boss already told us that a few bruises were forgiveable if you tried to make a break for it.”

    “Wow, Scoob, it's almost like you don't believe me,” she snarked. “Come on then.”

    He followed her into the building. “And don't call me Scooby.”

    “Fiiiine.” Somehow, he just knew she was rolling her eyes. “You're Fred, he's Barney. Better?”

    It was like she was trying to push his buttons. “Listen, you little shit -”

    She stopped and whirled on him. Halfway up the first flight of stairs as they were, she was on the same eye-level as he was. The chirpiness had gone from her voice, replaced by a cold, deadly tone. “No, you fucking listen. Max Anders is my fucking father. If I know his type, he's already registered the paperwork to make it official. So I'm legally his daughter. Which means that as his oldest child, I'm in line for every fucking thing he owns and runs. Which includes the Empire fucking Eighty-Eight.” She leaned closer. “So if and when I end up giving you your orders, how do you really want me to remember this conversation?”

    Before he could answer, she turned and kept climbing the stairs. It was only because of his longer legs and because he spent so much time in the gym that he managed to keep up with her. Not that he had anything to say; in his mind, he was churning over the information that she'd given him. If she ends up as the boss …

    Politeness, he decided, was the best course of action for now.

    <><>​

    He followed her out of the roof access, which had been propped open by a brick. It was amazingly dry up here, he decided. There was no water pooling anywhere, especially near where - “Fuck! Is that Mrs Anders?”

    “Yeah, that's her,” the kid said flatly. “Your boss stabbed her just before he got made into a Tater Tot. There he is, over there.”

    Joe didn't look where she was pointing, at first. It was Kayden Anders, sure enough. The boss's wife. She was lying on her back, covered in blood. A woman he didn't know was applying a bandage to her stomach, while a teenager with glasses taped it into place. Another kid, this one maybe ten years old, held an IV bag that fed into Mrs Anders' arm. Andrea Campbell, the one person in this group that he actually knew, was standing by, talking on the phone.

    “Who are they?” he asked, pointing at the people working on his boss's wife.

    The kid gave him an impatient look. “Do you want me to introduce them all to you, or do you want me to show you where your damn boss is?”

    Oh, shit. Yeah. Joe looked around, and saw him. He was lying on his back, sightless eyes staring up at the sky. There was a red stain on his shirt that made him reach under his jacket. “I thought you said he got struck by lightning.”

    “He did.” The scorn in her voice was evident even to him. “That's pasta sauce. I hit him in the face with a plate of lasagna.”

    It was evident to him that she was leaving a lot out, but then, he wasn't the cops. Why did you do that? and Why did he stab Mrs Anders? and What was he even doing on the rooftop? all paled before one important question. Is he really dead?

    Max Anders' normally immaculate hair was all standing on end, but that didn't prove anything. Joe bent down and felt for a pulse; it was one of the few medical things he knew how to do. There was nothing, but as he got closer, he could smell a persistent odour of cooked meat. Oh, shit. I think that's him. Fighting down the urge to turn aside and throw up, he kept looking.

    Near Mr Anders' outflung hand was indeed a long metal spike, though on closer inspection it seemed to be more like a blade. Where he'd gotten it from, Joe had no idea; he certainly hadn't been carrying it in the car. He must have found it up here.

    There was a burn on the palm of Anders' hand, continuing around on to his fingers. About what someone would get if they were holding a metal rod that got struck by lightning, Joe figured. He took another look at the tip of the spike, where the first six inches were charred and blackened. “Is that where -”

    “The lightning struck, yeah.” She was looking away, breathing shallowly. “He was dead before he knew it.”

    Yeah, I can believe it. Straightening up, he looked down at his boss's body. Well, shit. What the fuck do I do now?

    Taking a deep breath, he tried to steady his whirling thoughts. Okay, first things first. Pulling out his phone, he dialled Lars' number.

    Hello?”

    “It's Joe.”

    Oh. What's happening? Nobody's come out.”

    “No, they're both up here. So's Mr Anders.”

    Oh. What's he say to do?”

    “He's not … he's dead. Mr Anders is dead.” He felt a hollow space in his chest at those words.

    “ … what.”

    “The kid was telling the truth. Mr Anders got struck by lightning. He's dead. I'm looking at his body right now.”

    What the fuck do we do now?”

    He wanted to answer Fucked if I know, but he knew that he couldn't. Lars was depending on him to know what to do. Taking a deep breath, he cast around for inspiration. “Uh, right, okay. We'll, uh, withdraw for the moment. Pull back. Call the other higher-ups, let them know about this. They'll have plans for this sort of thing.” At least, I fuckin' hope they do.

    Do we grab the woman and the kid?”

    Joe eyed the people on the rooftop. “No, not a good idea. Too many witnesses.” And if the kid's gonna be my boss someday, I don't want to piss her off now.

    What about the boss? We just gonna leave him?”

    He considered that. “Yeah, I think we're gonna have to. Pretty sure the cops have been told about this, so if the body just disappears, they'll be looking for us.”

    So we're just going, then?”

    “Yeah. I'll be down in a second. Call the other guys. Tell 'em we're pulling back.” Truth be told, he wasn't a hundred percent sure that leaving the woman and the girl was the best idea, but the boss was dead now, and whatever plans he had for them would have to wait. Shutting down his phone, he knelt beside the boss's body and gently patted him down.

    “What the hell are you doing?” That was the kid, almost standing over him. “He's dead, you freak!”

    “Getting his phone,” he said shortly, lifting up one side of Max Anders' jacket to reach inside.

    “Hey, if I'm gonna be the boss, then that's my phone, so leave it.”

    Still kneeling, he looked up at her. “If you're gonna be the boss, then I'm taking it so the cops don't get their hands on it. You'll get it back. If you're not … then I'm taking it so the next boss gets it. Either way, I'm not leaving it here, kid.”

    “But …” She trailed off, probably trying to figure out a counter-argument. In the meantime, he felt his fingers close over the thing that he sought. Pulling it out of Anders' jacket, he slid it into his pants pocket.

    “But nothing. Maybe you'll be my boss someday and maybe you won't.” He stood up and brushed his knees off. “Either way, I'm protecting the Empire. See you around, kid.”

    He headed for the roof exit, leaving her staring at his back. The phone in his pocket seemed to burn a hole in his very skin; he couldn't wait to pass it on to someone higher up the line. I hope Mr Fleischer is answering his phone.

    <><>​

    Andrea looked down at Kayden's pale face, partially obscured by the breathing mask. “So, is she going to make it?”

    The paramedic finished hooking the IV bag on to the tree in the ambulance. “Well, I don't like to make snap judgements, but her vitals are pretty good for someone who's just been stabbed. If you and your friends hadn't been here to patch her up and put fluids into her, she'd likely be dead by now.”

    “Yeah.” She nodded, smiling wanly at the man. “I didn't do much helping. I just called you guys.”

    He chuckled as he double-checked the clamps holding the gurney in place. “Trust me, calling nine-one-one is one of the best things you can do in an emergency. Sometimes it's the only thing. And it's never a bad thing. You did all right.”

    “Thanks.” She watched as he pulled the doors shut. A moment later, the ambulance started up and moved off down the street.

    “She going to be okay, Mom?” That was Annette, beside her.

    “I hope so, honey.” Andrea put her arm around her daughter's shoulders, then pulled her into a full hug. Annette responded in kind; they shared a moment of closeness, reaffirming their strong bond. “You did good tonight. Just saying.”

    “I hope Taylor's dad's gonna be okay.” Danny had shown up around the same time as the police, a bruise already forming on his jaw.

    “He should be all right.” She looked across at where Danny stood close to his daughter, talking quietly to her. “They should be all right.”

    “You like him a lot, don't you, Mom?” As always, Annette was very direct.

    “Yeah, honey, I like him a lot.” She sighed softly. “He tried to fight Max to help me. Even if Max put him down, he still tried. That means a lot to me.”

    “Me too.” Annette looked around, first at where the police were still interviewing everyone they could find, then up at the apartment building itself. “So what's gonna happen now?”

    Andrea smiled. “I don't know, but I think we're gonna have fun finding out.”

    <><>​

    Emily Piggot gripped the phone a little more tightly. “Repeat that, please.”

    We believe that Kaiser is dead, ma'am. We were called to an apartment complex with a dead man and a wounded woman on the roof. Witnesses at the scene positively identified the dead man, Max Anders, as Kaiser. There was a metal blade nearby, essentially identical to Kaiser's usual creations. The lab is currently testing it. Every indication shows that he died from being struck by lightning. Our current supposition is that the wounded woman is Purity. She has the right body type.”

    “ … right. So were they fighting a lightning-generating cape? Do we even have one of those in Brockton Bay?” As far as Emily knew, there wasn't one, but that sort of thing could change at any moment.

    The officer on the other end sounded positively apologetic. “Uh, no, ma'am. It seems like a legitimate lightning strike. From the thunderstorm we had earlier this evening.”

    “So how was Purity wounded? Was she struck by lightning as well?”

    No, ma'am. She's been stabbed. We're reasonably certain that Kaiser is the perpetrator, considering that there are traces of blood on the blade. This is also being tested for a match.”

    Piggot blinked for a long moment, then leaned back in her chair. “So what you're telling me is that Kaiser and Purity clashed on top of an apartment building. He stabbed her, then got struck by lightning.”

    That's essentially it, yes, ma'am.”

    She sat forward again. “Well, I'm not buying it. Keep digging. Something like this just doesn't fall into our laps. There's more to it, and I want to know what it is.”

    His voice was resigned. She didn't care. “Yes, ma'am.”

    Piggot hung up the phone, and turned her chair to look out over Brockton Bay's nightscape. However it happened, Kaiser's dead. This is going to cause a lot of problems.

    It might solve a few, she knew, especially now that the PRT was aware of Medhall's Empire ties, but more would crop up than be solved.

    Such was the way of the world.

    <><>​

    Janet sat nervously on the sofa with her duffel on her lap, the medical kit on the floor in front of her. Danny Hebert sat in an armchair opposite her; Andrea perched on the arm of the chair.

    “Okay, so we covered for you with the cops,” Andrea said simply. “You didn't want to talk to them, which I can kind of understand. But we need to understand now. What's going on? What were you even doing on the roof?”

    I've gotta trust someone, sometime. Taking a deep breath, Janet made a leap of faith. “I've got powers,” she began.


    End of Part Nine

    Part Ten
     
    Last edited: Jul 30, 2017
  11. abyssmal_kismet

    abyssmal_kismet Experienced.

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    I love Ack updates. They're always so spread out and unexpected that they make such a great treat.
     
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  12. hamof

    hamof I trust you know where the happy button is?

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    One of the very few good things about the updates being so spread out is that it means I have something to read so as to remind myself what happened, I typically forget the story even exists between updates.
     
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  13. sesbio

    sesbio Know what you're doing yet?

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    So yeah, Contessa showed up....

    Not sure about bringing the deus-ex machina into this fic this early. Still well written PtV tho.
     
  14. Prince Charon

    Prince Charon Just zis guy, you know?

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    She contributed to my enjoyment, and wasn't toxic to the story the way she is in many fics (and, indeed, canon), so I'd say it's good.
     
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  15. edale

    edale Versed in the lewd.

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    Nice update, but one wierd thing...

    Everything before this line....
    I swear to god I've read it before. I can clearly remember reading the bit with Contessa leading the hydrokinetic to the rooftop and the hydrokinetic causing the lightning to kill Max months ago.
     
  16. SwiftRosenthal

    SwiftRosenthal Well worn.

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    The first half of this chapter was initially posted as part of the previous chapter. I and a few others convinced Ack that it would read better without any of the Contessa or meteorokinetic bits, both to preserve dramatic tension and to make the lightning strike much more... shocking. (not sorry)

    But the new girl's backstory couldn't just be cut out, so it was moved to its own chapter (the new one) and extended far enough to conclude the scene.
     
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  17. edale

    edale Versed in the lewd.

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    So in other words... we only got 1/2 an update's worth of new material this time...
     
  18. RoninSword

    RoninSword Sky God

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    That is indeed the case, but most of us (can't speak for everyone), feels that this works a lot better in terms of the story.
    It's just how things are.
     
  19. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    As it happens, I took the time to upgrade and expand the back story of the character. The passage with the panic attack was actually supplied by my beta (because she's had them and I haven't) to replace what I already had.

    The second half is all new, of course.
     
  20. edale

    edale Versed in the lewd.

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    I say to make up for it Ack gives us a bonus chapter of Slippery Slope. :p
     
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  21. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Written up. Just needs to be beta'd.
     
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  22. edale

    edale Versed in the lewd.

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    :D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D
    :D:):D:D:D:D:D:):D:D:):):):):):):D:D:D:):):):):D:D:):D:):D:):D
    :D:D:):D:D:D:):D:D:D:):D:D:D:D:D:D:D:):D:D:D:D:):D:):D:):D:):D
    :D:D:D:):D:):D:D:D:D:):D:D:D:D:D:D:D:):D:D:D:D:D:D:):D:):D:):D
    :D:D:D:D:):D:D:D:D:D:):):):):):):D:D:D:):):):):D:D:):D:):D:):D
    :D:D:D:D:):D:D:D:D:D:):D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D:):D:):D:):D:):D
    :D:D:D:D:):D:D:D:D:D:):D:D:D:D:D:D:D:):D:D:D:D:):D:D:D:D:D:D:D
    :D:D:D:D:):D:D:D:D:D:):):):):):):D:D:D:):):):):D:D:):D:):D:):D
    :D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D:D
     
    Last edited: Mar 14, 2017
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  23. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    I'm sorry, I'm not quite sure if you approve of this or not. Could you perhaps be a little more clear? :p
     
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  24. ayleid

    ayleid Making the rounds.

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    I'm also very glad for that update. Already dropped a review on ff.net but I think the best part of the update was Kaiser's minion. He had the right blend of professionalism and pig-headedness that I would expect from someone dumb enough to join a neonazi gang yet competent enough that Kaiser would choose him as his backup for that outing. Excellent characterization of the side characters is something of a hallmark of Ack's writing, I have found.
     
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  25. Prince Charon

    Prince Charon Just zis guy, you know?

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    I really don't, but I'm just one person. To me, the best thing about a new chapter of SS is that it's that much closer to ending, leaving you more time to focus on stuff I do really like.
     
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  26. edale

    edale Versed in the lewd.

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    I'm emphatically against it, I don't know why you'd think I'd be for it.:p
     
  27. Starfox5

    Starfox5 Versed in the lewd.

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    I prefer the other stories as well. Like this one.
     
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  28. Threadmarks: Part Ten: New Pieces on the Board
    Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Alea Iacta Est

    Part Ten: New Pieces on the Board



    [A/N: This chapter beta-read by Lady Columbine of Mystal.]



    “ … and when I looked around, she was gone,” Janet concluded. “But then I saw the first-aid kit, so I brought it over.” She paused to sip at the cup of tea that Andrea had made for her. “The rest, you know.”

    Silence fell, broken only by the ticking of the clock on the wall. Danny glanced up at Andrea, the movement making the bruise on his jaw more obvious. A silent communication passed between them, before Danny looked at Janet again. “Normally, I'd call bullshit on everything you've said,” he said evenly. “But that approach falls down in the face of the overwhelming evidence. You showed up at exactly the right time, with exactly the right power to deal with Anders once and for all. In addition, you had a fully stocked first-aid kit, which is all that stood between Ms Russel living or dying.”

    “Which would've been impossible to carry up the fire-escape one-handed, I might add,” Andrea added cheerfully. “So there's that too. Which leads us to the next problem.”

    “Next problem?” Janet asked, becoming suddenly wary. She didn't think that Danny and Andrea meant her actual harm, but the word 'problem' wasn't one she liked.

    “Yeah.” Danny didn't seem to have consulted with Andrea, but he picked right up on her train of thought. “The bit about saving the world by getting Annette loose from Max Anders. That's kind of … ominous.”

    “She did say 'one small step on the path',” Janet reminded him. “It's not the whole of the thing. From the sound of it, there's more that needs to be done.”

    “It's not that,” Andrea said, sounding somewhat aggrieved. “I made a deal with Annette years ago. No destroying or saving the world before she's twenty-one, and to give me adequate warning before she does so. And there goes your mysterious woman in a fedora, just coming in from left field and ruining my entire schedule.”

    Janet stared at the petite redhead, then looked at Danny. “Is she serious?”

    Danny shrugged and spread his hands helplessly. “This is the most I've seen of her in sixteen years, but from what I recall of her, it's something she'd do.”

    “What, you mean you haven't made a deal like that with Taylor?” Andrea gave Danny an extremely concerned look. “Seriously, you have to be kidding. You know how teenagers can get. If you don't get a promise like that out of them, the next thing you know they're beating the Simurgh at six-dimensional chess or inviting the Queen of Air and Darkness over for afternoon tea. And you know how she is about her light snacks.” She glanced over at Janet, who was wondering just what the hell was going on. “If you offer her anything low-fat or gluten-free, she goes totally off the deep end. It's just not worth it.”

    Danny raised his eyebrows. “So, has Annette actually done any of that?” He sounded as though he wouldn't be surprised if she had.

    “Well, not yet,” conceded Andrea. “Like I said, I made a deal with her. Mind you, I forgot to ask her to warn me before introducing old not-quite-boyfriends back into my life, which was entirely my fault.” She gave Janet a cheerful grin. “As for rain goddesses, well, that's not something I can really blame Annette for, so she's off the hook for that one.”

    “I'm not a rain goddess.” It was about the one thing Janet was sure of in all of this. “I'm just a cape that controls water and weather.” As uncomfortable as she was with doing either.

    And you're wound about as tight as the mainspring on Rip Van Winkle's alarm clock,” Andrea decided. “When was the last time you had a good night's sleep? I mean, slept all the way through the night with no bad dreams?” The redhead was now looking at her intently.

    Janet wondered if Andrea was a Thinker who could see into her head. “Uh, not recently.”

    “Translation: not since I got my powers.” Andrea's voice was utterly certain. She slid off the arm of Danny's chair and strolled over to where Janet sat. “So, have you had sex since then?”

    Janet blinked, her brain refusing to process the last question. “ … what?” Is she coming on to me, or just asking a really intrusive question?

    “Sex.” Andrea's voice was patient. “Love. Lust. Screwing. Fucking. The beast with two backs. The horizontal mambo. Or, you know, standing, if that's your thing. Or are you into women?” Her wink was perhaps the single most salacious facial gesture that Janet had ever seen. “I mean, I'm more that way inclined myself, but I'm gonna be making an exception for Danny when we get the chance. Just saying.”

    “Uh. no.” Janet managed to coax her brain into forming words, where it just wanted to run away and gibber in the corner. Well, I got my answer. Both. “Not into women.”

    “Oh, well. Pity.” Andrea sighed. “Anyway, you haven't gotten laid once since you got your powers? Geez, no wonder you're all messed up in the head. That's what you need, I bet. Sex, and lots of it. Relaxes anyone.”

    “Andrea.” Danny's voice was mild, but it held a note of censure. “Ease off on her. She's not used to you. Hasn't been immunised yet.”

    Andrea blew a raspberry at him. “No fair. You know how I get around women with muscles.”

    That got her an eye-roll. “Yeah. The same way you get around everyone else.”

    “Hey! I resemble that remark!” Andrea almost sounded angry, until Janet actually thought about what she'd just said. “Just because I'm open about what I like …”

    “No.” Danny's voice was patient. “Normal people are 'open'. You run a street fair with dancing girls, carrying placards that spell out your preferences in detail.”

    “Dancing girls in bikinis,” Andrea said patiently. “Get it right.”

    Janet rubbed at her right temple with her fingertips. Her life had been getting more and more surreal since she walked out of the bathroom to see the woman in the trenchcoat and fedora, but since meeting the redhead, she felt as though it'd taken a sharp right into the Twilight Zone. I'm not sure who's worse, the mysteriously appearing and disappearing woman, or the red-headed sex maniac. On second thought, she deleted the word 'sex'. Andrea seemed to be intent on making Janet question her sanity in general; while the redhead's preoccupation with sex was a little unsettling, it wasn't the weirdest thing about her.

    Danny sighed. “Andrea, come here, please.” His voice was firm, but Janet was still somewhat surprised when the redhead obediently returned to her seat on the chair arm. His arm slid around her waist, but whether it was for closer contact or to make sure that Andrea didn't get up again, it wasn't entirely clear.

    Either way, Andrea wasn't protesting; instead, she grinned and slid part-way off the chair arm so that she was half-sitting on Danny's lap, one arm behind his neck. “About damn time,” she said, just loud enough for Janet to hear.

    “I'm sorry about that,” Danny said to Janet. “Andrea tends to act out when she's been having a shitty day. Are you okay?”

    “I'll be fine.” Janet felt that this was almost true, for a given definition of 'fine'. “Things are just moving really fast right now. Uh, thanks for not telling the cops about me.”

    “We wanted to keep the situation as simple as possible,” Danny pointed out. “Bringing you into the mix, especially before we knew exactly what was going on with you, would have potentially made things very complicated.” He paused. “Also, my daughter and her friend advised me strongly against it.”

    “Uh, I'm sorry,” confessed Janet. “I don't know who was who up there. There was one girl who was ordering everyone around. Is that your daughter?”

    “No, that was Dinah. My daughter's Taylor. The one who helped you save Ms Russel's life.” Danny gave Janet an approving look. “She said you knew exactly what to do. You've done this sort of thing before?”

    “No.” Janet shook her head. “But I'm certified in advanced first aid. Your daughter was extremely helpful. I couldn't have done it alone.” She tried to imagine applying the appropriate first aid without the assistance that Taylor had given her, and knew it couldn't be done.

    Danny nodded in agreement. “I'll be sure to tell her. But in the meantime, we have other issues to deal with. First off, what are your plans right now? Are you looking to leave Brockton Bay, or are you going to hang around for a while?”

    Janet examined the carpet as she considered the question. She didn't really have anywhere to go and, while being in a seaport wasn't exactly her first choice for where she wanted to be, this was the first place she'd encountered people who were willing to see past her powers to the person beneath. Not that she'd really given anyone else a chance to even do that much, but Canary's arrest and impending trial had a way of realising her worst fears. And then there was the bizarre woman who had dumped her into this situation without so much as a fare-thee-well. Janet could think of half a dozen ways that the Kaiser situation could have been resolved without her assistance, which meant that her part in this situation wasn't over yet. And I am so very tired of running …

    She raised her eyes to meet Danny's. “Suppose I decided to hang around. What's the next step? Because I have a strong feeling that the 'other issues' which you just mentioned also involve me.” Which, in its own way, was even more ominous than Andrea's daughter being essential to saving the world. She had to wonder what he wanted from her.

    He tilted his head. “You're not wrong. The other issues I was talking about involve the formation of a new superhero team in Brockton Bay. And you joining it, if you're interested.”

    Janet's speculations came to an abrupt, screeching halt. Whatever she'd thought he wanted from her – admittedly, the list was extremely short – joining a superhero team was not exactly at the top of her expectations. In fact, it was hanging somewhere off the bottom. She shook her head, staring at him. “... Come again?”

    Andrea's face creased with impish glee. “That's what he said!”

    Danny rolled his eyes. “Okay, that joke is getting old. Janet, I've spoken to Taylor and Dinah about this, and they're good with you knowing it. They're both capes, and they want to form a team. With you as a member, if you're interested.”

    And the surprises just keep coming. “Wait.” Janet made a masterful effort to keep up with current events. “Your daughter's a cape. And so is Dinah. The bossy one. And they want to form a team. With me.”

    “Not just you,” Andrea interjected. “There are others, but that's the basic situation, yeah.” The ditzy attitude wasn't gone, Janet noted. Just … in abeyance. “They're good kids. Smart.”

    “Hold on a second.” Janet held up her hand, as if to prevent any more unwanted revelations from reaching her ears. “How can you be sure it's even safe telling me about this? I could be a total asshole, or worse. Sure, I've got powers. But that means jack.” It wasn't that she had the slightest intention of unmasking either of the kids, but she needed to know that Danny wasn't prone to doing things half-assed. And just blurting all this out to her felt really half-assed.

    Danny chuckled and shook his head in good humour. “You didn't ask what powers they had.”

    This didn't seem to be any sort of answer to the question she had just posed, but she bit anyway. “Okay, what are their powers?”

    Andrea grinned. “Dinah's insanely good at figuring out the right people for any sort of job. Including people she's never met before.”

    Janet thought back to the confusion on the roof, and how the young girl had sliced through the chaos with a few well-chosen orders. They had gone from a disorganised mob to a functioning team within seconds. “Okay,” she ventured. “I can kinda see that. And Taylor?”

    “Taylor's a Thinker too,” Danny replied. “More specifically, she's a precog. With an accuracy measurable in the fractions of a percentile. So when she predicted that you wouldn't betray our trust if we told you about them, we believed her. Were we wrong?” His eyes, enlarged by the glasses he wore, bored into hers.

    Janet sighed. “No. You weren't wrong. I'd never out them.” She paused for a moment to collect her thoughts. “And Dinah's sure that I'd make the perfect addition to your brand-new superhero team?”

    “Yup,” Andrea said at once. “But if you're worried about being the only adult on the team, don't be.” Her ever-present grin came to the surface again. “Because like the man said; 'but wait, there's more'.”

    “Please tell me you're not on it.” Janet didn't dislike Andrea – the woman's heart seemed to be in the right place – but she wasn't sure if she could take the redhead in concentrated doses. At least she's stopped hitting on me.

    Andrea blew a raspberry. “Me? Hah! Nope, I'm normal. Or as normal as this fabulous bod ever gets.” She stretched as much as she could in the confined space, kicking her legs out in front of her. “But we've got other prospects. Prospects who kind of required a heavy hitter already on the team as a prerequisite for joining themselves.”

    Janet could connect the dots as well as anyone. “And I'm that heavy hitter.” Oh, great. So if I say no, the whole team's gonna fall apart. Way to guilt trip me.

    “Actually, no.” Danny shifted Andrea so that she was fully on his lap. “Dinah was already talking to Purity. We're pretty sure that she was strongly considering joining. It's just that while she's in the hospital, she's unable to come out and be a hero.”

    Janet frowned. “Purity's the glowing one, that Kaiser stabbed, right? I thought she was a villain too.” At least, that was her understanding from half-recalled TV spots.

    “Well, yes and no.” Danny tilted his head. “She was a member of the Empire Eighty-Eight for about ten years, but Dinah says she's been trying to break away from them in the last year or so. Maybe because of her baby.”

    “Baby?” Janet was startled. “What baby?” But then she recalled; when the teenagers had spilled on to the roof, one of them had been carrying a crying baby. Taylor, give Aster to Theo and help this lady with her medical kit. Theo, take Aster downstairs and get her settled. “Aster. Aster's her baby?”

    “Ding!” Andrea held up her finger victoriously. “And the lady wins a prize. I can kind of understand her wanting to be a hero, too. Before I had Annette, I was all kinds of wild and crazy. Now, I've settled right down.”

    Janet blinked a few times. She tried to imagine Andrea being even more 'wild and crazy' than she'd been just a few minutes before. Good God. How is Brockton Bay still standing?

    “That remains to be seen.” Danny's voice was exceedingly dry. Oh, good. I'm not the only one who thinks that. “But be that as it may, it's still your choice whether or not to join the team, even if it's only until Purity's on her feet. If you wanted to move on tomorrow, I honestly wouldn't blame you; even by Brockton Bay's standards, tonight's been traumatic as hell. But if you wanted to stay, you'd be welcome.”

    Janet had to take a few moments to get her head around that. These people know what I can do. They accept it, and they want me to stay. They even kept my name away from the police. They don't know me from Adam, but they're putting themselves out for me.

    Cynicism took that opportunity to rear its ugly head. Yeah, they just want me for what I can do for them. I'm just a set of powers for their new team.

    For a long, frozen moment, she was on the verge of getting up and walking out. But something held her back. At first she wasn't sure what it was, but then she registered the expression in Danny Hebert's eyes. It wasn't calculation, or any sort of self-satisfaction. It took a second or so for her to recognise it, but her task was made easier by the fact that Andrea had the same look in her eyes. They were looking at her with hope and expectation.

    “Suppose I joined,” she began hesitantly, then stopped and thought about what she was saying. “I mean, I could leave at any time, right?”

    “Well, duh,” Andrea began, only to be shushed by Danny. “What?” she protested.

    “We need to be serious about this,” he told her, then switched his attention to Janet. “I'm hoping you'll join. I mean, Taylor's only fifteen. Dinah's only twelve. Every time I think about them out there going up against the worst that Brockton Bay has to offer, I get the cold shivers. But ultimately it'll be your decision, to join and to stay. Nothing less is fair to you.”

    She thought about his words, then nodded. “Not saying I'll join,” she said. “But I'll think it over and give you my answer in the morning. You know a place I can get a room at this time of night? I mean, morning?”

    “Sure,” said Andrea promptly. “You can sleep here tonight. I'll be staying over at Kayden's, keeping an eye on Annette, Theo and Aster.” She flicked a glance up at Danny, along with a gamine grin. “You can stay over too if you want.”

    Danny shook his head with what seemed more than a little reluctance. “No, I've got to get Taylor home and … damn it. My car.” His face creased in annoyance, and Janet recalled that his tires had been slashed.

    “Take my car,” Andrea offered. “Bring it back in the morning.” She fished out a set of keys and dangled them in front of his eyes.

    “I can't take your car,” he protested. “I mean … it's your car.”

    “Hey, I'm gonna be sleeping with you,” she pointed out. “That means I already trust you. Take the damn keys.”

    The logic was weird, but Janet couldn't fault it. Though she had to be sure. “Uh, and you're willing to leave me overnight in your apartment because you already trust me?”

    Andrea gave her a brilliant smile. “Got it in one. Plus, you got stuff you need to work through, without anyone waiting around for an answer. I'll show up tomorrow sometime, but I'll call the landline first so you can get dressed.” She gave Janet that wink again. “Or undressed. Your choice.”

    Janet felt her cheeks heating. “Dressed. It'll definitely be dressed.”

    “Oh, well. Your loss.” Andrea shrugged, then scrambled off of Danny's lap. “Lock up when we leave.” She paused to give Janet an unusually serious look. “Also, if you're interested, I'm not bad at back and shoulder massages. Which don't always lead to sex!” She stuck her tongue out at Danny, even though he hadn't said a word.

    He raised an eyebrow. “To hear Anne-Rose talk, that was the main reason you gave them.” Danny stood up. “Though, to be fair, you were pretty good at them, from what I remember.” He turned to Janet. “I'd actually recommend it. Just whack her on the nose with a rolled-up newspaper if she tries to hit on you again.”

    “Hey!” Andrea managed to put on an outraged tone. “She said no. I know what 'no' means.”

    “She had to say it twice.” Danny's tone was mildly censorious.

    “Sometimes people don't realise I'm making a move the first time,” she pointed out. “Like you, for instance.” She grinned at Janet. “I hit on him on a weekly basis while he was dating Taylor's mom, and he only just realised it now. Sixteen years later.”

    Janet stared at Danny. “You didn't realise? Okay, I get that guys can miss the signs when we're being subtle, but she's about as subtle as a brick through the windshield.”

    “Hey!” protested Andrea.

    “Well, yeah, but when you've been exposed to her for a while, you kind of filter out the flirting,” Danny explained, ignoring the outburst. “Sometimes I think she only does it to make sure we're paying attention.”

    “Which you weren't,” Andrea said severely. “You didn't even get it the time I offered to give you a lap dance.”

    “When the hell did that happen?” demanded Danny. Janet was also curious; it took a certain amount of obliviousness to miss something like that.

    “Oh, wait, no, that was Anne-Rose,” Andrea recalled. “She took me up on it, too.” Her face took on a beatific expression. “That was a fun night.”

    “I have no doubt,” Danny said dryly. “But anyway, I really need to get home. Janet, you'll be okay here on your own?”

    Janet nodded. While she still wasn't a hundred percent on board with crashing in Andrea's apartment, it was the best of a limited series of options. “I'll manage.”

    “Feel free to snack out of the fridge,” Andrea said as she headed for the door. “Also, Annette's bed might be a little cosy, so you can use the master bedroom, through there.” She pointed at one of the doors.

    “Andrea, she's an adult,” Danny chided the redhead, nudging her toward the door. “Let her be. We have to go.”

    The door closed behind them, leaving Janet alone in the apartment. Carefully, she put the duffel to one side, then got up. The first thing she did was lock the door and set the deadbolt; powers or no, she didn't want to tempt fate. Then she went in search of the bathroom. Despite her dislike of water, a long hot shower seemed ideal right at that moment.

    As she readied for the shower, she mulled over the conversation. Danny seemed … reliable. Solid. Someone she would like to have on her side. Andrea, on the other hand was ditzy as hell, and seemed to thrive on saying whatever weird thing came to mind. The fact that the woman had hit on her twice was … she wasn't quite sure whether to class it as 'irritating' or 'flattering'. On the one hand, Janet was not into women. On the other, it was obviously something Andrea only did with people she considered to be completely trustworthy. So, kind of a weird back-handed compliment? Raising the stump of her left wrist, she contemplated it. She never mentioned this, except to mention how hard it would have been to carry the kit up the fire escape. No jokes about it. And she still found me attractive, even with it. Which was a weird thing to be pleased about, but there it was.

    As she stepped under the torrent of water – this shower had about three times the power of the motel room ones she was used to – Janet nodded to herself. I think I'll stick around. Just to see what happens.

    <><>​

    The Next Day

    Kayden lay in silent darkness. She wasn't quite sure what was going on. Her throat was dry, bringing back memories of the accident. Was she still trapped in the car? Were all those hazy memories just products of delirium? Had she only hallucinated getting powers? Am I going to die here? The fear that thought produced was overshadowed by a more visceral terror; Did I dream Aster? Am I going to wake up and find out that she never existed? If that was the case, she would welcome death.

    I think she's waking up. All her readings just jumped.”

    Kayden? Kayden? Can you hear me?”

    The voices were vague. She wasn't quite sure if she was imagining them or not.

    Kayden, can you open your eyes for us?”

    Oh, that's right. She'd closed her eyes to keep out the burning sun. She didn't want to open them, not if it meant losing the dream where she'd had the most beautiful baby in the world. She scrunched her eyes more tightly shut, and turned over in bed to escape from the voice. There was a stab of pain from her midsection.

    Wait a minute. I'm in a bed. I'm not in the car any more. And my stomach hurts. Why does my stomach hurt?

    Did you see that? She moved.” The voice was closer now.

    I have to find out where I am. Carefully, gradually, she opened her eyes. There was no dazzling; she hadn't had to blink her eyes to adjust to the light since … since I got my powers. I'm me. Everything I remember is real. So why can't I remember where I am? Why does my stomach hurt?

    Slowly, she raised her eyes. She was indeed in a bed; unless she was badly mistaken, this was a hospital. A nurse stood next to the bed, looking down at her with a combination of personal concern and professional interest.

    “How do you feel, Kayden?” asked the nurse. Even as she spoke, she took up Kayden's wrist and checked the watch hanging from the front of her uniform.

    “Where am I? Where's Aster?” Kayden tried to ask, but all that came out was a husky rasp.

    “Wait a moment,” the nurse said briskly, then a water bottle came into view. The nurse fitted the nozzle between her lips and squirted a little lukewarm liquid into her mouth.

    Kayden swallowed greedily, feeling it soaking into her parched throat. “Where am I?” she asked again. “Where's Aster?”

    “You're in Brockton Bay General Hospital,” the nurse said with a warm smile. “I was given a message to give to you. Andrea is taking care of Theo and Aster. Does that help?”

    It did, somewhat. While Kayden wasn't quite sure of Andrea's maternal capabilities, Theo had already proven himself capable of caring for his sister. However, the last thing she could remember was trying to get home in the pouring rain, against heavy traffic. “Yes, thank you. What happened? Why does my stomach hurt?”

    At that, the nurse's expression became a little guarded. “What do you remember?”

    Kayden grabbed the nurse by the wrist. The sudden moment jolted her whole body, eliciting a jolt of pain from her stomach, but she didn't care. “Tell me. Now.”

    “You – you were stabbed,” the nurse blurted, a little fear shading her voice. “By Kaiser, they said.”

    Kayden blinked, her grip going slack. She didn't have much strength as it was. “What … what happened then?” She thought she could recall the event, but it was hazy in the extreme. She said that Andrea was taking care of the children. I can't see Max leaving me alive or leaving Aster in someone else's hands. What happened?

    “Let me answer that one.” The curtain behind the nurse parted and Miss Militia stepped through. Kayden tensed up, even though this elicited another warning message from her stomach. She'd thought there was another voice in the room.

    “What's this?” she demanded. “What's going on?” But she knew. It couldn't be anything else. The PRT knew exactly who she was. She was just surprised that she wasn't waking up in a PRT cell with containment foam covering her from head to toe.

    “Take it easy, Ms Russel.” Miss Militia stood there, hands curled loosely at her sides. Her famous weapon was currently in the shape of a cavalry sabre in a scabbard at her waist, but Kayden knew just how fast the PRT second in command could change it to something else, or just draw it and use it. As it was, crippled by her wound, she was essentially helpless. “I'm just here to make sure nothing … untoward … happens.”

    “What the hell does 'untoward' mean?” Kayden's eyes flickered from point to point, looking for anything that could give her an advantage if a fight started. “What are you talking about?”

    Instead of answering immediately, Miss Militia gave her a long, speculative look. When she did speak, her question was nonsensical. “Do you know of anyone with lightning powers in Brockton Bay?”

    “What?” Kayden stared at the hero. “Lightning powers?”

    “I'll take that as a no, then.” Without looking, Miss Militia hooked a chair over with her foot, and sat down in it. Her eyes never shifted from Kayden's, even as she made the entire action look casual. “I'm asking because Kaiser's dead. Just as he was about to finish you off, his blade was struck by lightning. From every indication, he died instantly.”

    Kayden blinked. It had been raining, but … “Yes, I see what you mean. Just a little coincidental. Still, waving a metal blade around in a storm is kind of asking for it.” Behind her eyes, she was exulting. Max is dead! He can't take Aster away from me any more! Later, she knew, she would regret the passing of the man she had once loved, but for now all she could think of was her baby.

    “That's one way to put it, yes.” Miss Militia's tone was remarkably dry, though Kayden really couldn't see if she was smiling or not.

    “Okay, so we've cleared the air.” Kayden met the hero's gaze directly. “Why are you here, exactly? What does 'untoward' mean in this situation?”

    “It means that we're in a difficult situation,” the hero said, her tone candid. “Why did Kaiser stab you? Why were you even on that roof for him to stab you?”

    “I'm sorry, but I can't recall exactly what happened,” Kayden said, suddenly glad that this was the exact truth. “Except that I do happen to live there, so I've got any number of reasons to be on my roof. As for why … well, I can also think of several reasons, none of them really valid to anyone but Max Anders.”

    “So you knew that Kaiser was Max Anders?” Miss Militia sounded less than surprised.

    “Well, duh,” Kayden forced her tone to remain casual. “I was married to the man for eleven months. I also divorced him, just as soon as I discovered the side of him that I didn't like.” Which is even kind of true. She spread her hands on the covers. “You'll find that's a matter of public record as well.” She had a sinking feeling that her act wasn't fooling Miss Militia in the slightest, but the hero never showed a hint either way.

    “Granted.” Miss Militia leaned back in her chair. She knew all along. “So, back to possible reasons that Kaiser might have had for stabbing you?”

    Kayden, thankful for the respite, responded promptly. “One: I knew his secret identity. I suspect I only survived the divorce because I never even hinted at a willingness to tell anyone.”

    “Given Kaiser's crimes, keeping quiet about his real identity and whereabouts could be seen as being an accessory,” Miss Militia observed quietly. “By some people. Just so you know.” Her manner made it clear that she wasn't one of 'those people'. In fact, she seemed to be uninterested in being aggressive or accusatory. Her attitude was more along the lines of a chat between old friends … or old enemies.

    “I married the man, so those people can take their 'accessory' and shove it up their ass,” Kayden retorted. “He fathered my daughter. I wasn't going to help him stay out of prison, but he'd earned that much from me, at least.”

    Miss Militia tilted her head thoughtfully, but she didn't argue. “And the other reasons?”

    “The second reason would be that he wanted Aster to be raised in his image,” Kayden said. “I wasn't going to allow that. He has an older boy, who's … flat. No real personality. Max ground him down. He tried to do the same to me, but I got out.”

    “Hm.” Miss Militia straightened the scarf over her face minutely. “And the third?”

    “Oh, the third?” Kayden rolled her eyes. “I'm just spitballing here, but if the Empire Eighty-Eight as a whole decided that I was a danger, they might've pressured Kaiser into killing me. Just to tie up loose ends. He'd have taken Aster, of course, because Max Anders always gets what he wants.” She tried and failed to keep the bitterness out of her voice.

    “Whoever called down that lightning bolt would disagree,” Miss Militia said, with a crease of the eyes that may have signalled a grin. “He'll never threaten you or your child again. He's in the PRT morgue, downtown.”

    Kayden didn't want to ask the next question, but she knew that if she didn't, it would look decidedly odd. Not to mention that she was curious about the answer herself. “So why are you here, anyway? I'm pretty sure that the PRT doesn't normally send capes to sit at the bedside of the exes of dead villains. And you never did explain what you meant by 'untoward'.”

    While the scarf hid a great deal of Miss Militia's expression, the woman still managed to look somewhat uncomfortable. “We're rarely in the position of having someone fall into our laps who's been indirectly implicated in the death of a major villain, and who are themselves suspected of being a parahuman. If you are who we think you are, then this would be an ideal time to take you into custody. However, if you're just a semi-innocent bystander, then there's a good chance that your life's in danger from the rest of the Empire.” She held up her left hand and waggled it from side to side. “Two different potential outcomes, both of them fitting the definition of 'untoward'. You see our conundrum.” Her tone never varied from the conversational. It was almost as though she didn't really mean what she was saying, and was reading from a script.

    “Wait, what now?” Kayden knew she was reacting slowly to Miss Militia's casual statement, but she wasn't reacting quickly to anything at the moment. She wondered if that was due to the painkillers, and then she wondered how much of it was due to the painkillers. “Suspected of being a parahuman? Me? Since when?” Okay, they only suspect so far. Play the wounded innocent.

    Miss Militia had the unmitigated gall to tilt her head slightly in appreciation of Kayden's acting skills before her eyes narrowed slightly over the flag-printed bandanna. “Well, you see, while no good photos have ever been taken of Kaiser's associate Purity due to her ability to glare out lenses with her power, we have managed to determine that she's got the same body type as you. There are also rumours that Purity was elevated to second-in-command of the Empire Eighty-Eight within days of your marriage to Max Anders. A little coincidental, don't you think?” Her tone said loud and clear coincidental, my flag-covered ass.

    “What do I think?” Kayden glared at the hero with all the venom at her command. “I think that whatever I say here is inadmissible in court, because I'm under the influence of painkillers. I think that you're just fishing, because you'd love to slap the cuffs on me but you can't quite make your case add up. I think that if you had a real case, I would've woken up behind bars. I think that anyone can make up a good story by adding up any two coincidental dates and slapping on a healthy dose of conspiracy theory. And I think that Max Anders may well have had a type, and that type was petite women. Anything else you want to add?” She fell back against the pillow, panting a little; as slight an effort as her tirade had been, it still left her feeling as though she'd just run a marathon.

    “Not at the moment,” Miss Militia said, sounding entirely unsurprised by what Kayden had just said. She was probably expecting that. “Though we can offer you official PRT protection if you believe that your life is in danger from the Empire Eighty-Eight.” She let the moment draw out, raising her eyebrows interrogatively. And, Kayden realised, this was the first time that she had put emphasis behind her words.

    She knew from the start that I was lying through my teeth, but didn't want to push it, probably because they've got no actual proof. Probably trying to edge me into accepting a plea deal for informing on the rest of the Empire. Well, screw her.

    Kayden looked her straight in the eye. “Even if I was, I wouldn't accept it from you.” There. Let her wonder if I'm referring to her personally or the PRT. “Get out.”

    Miss Militia sighed and stood up. “If that's what you want. In case you change your mind, this is my card.” She produced a rectangle of white pasteboard from her belt and placed it on the rolling tray table. “Have a good day … Ms Russel.”

    “Fuck you.” Kayden clawed the card off the tray and threw it at the trash can. She wasn't even sure if the hero heard the words as the curtains closed behind her. Once she was gone, Kayden was left to ponder over exactly what the visit meant. They're on to us. All of us. Max's death has outed more than me. Every one of his associates is now under suspicion. All the PRT has to do is find one piece of proof, and they'll be watching us like hawks to slip and give them that proof. The conclusion was sobering. This could spell the end of the Empire.

    The nurse slipped back in through the curtains. With her came a doctor, who eyed Kayden with concern. “Ms Russel,” he said at once. “I'm sorry about that intrusion. I wasn't informed of it until just now. Are you feeling all right?”

    For a moment, Kayden considered telling the doctor that she wanted to sue the Protectorate for harassment, but decided that it probably wouldn't be the best idea in the world. “I've been better,” she said cautiously. “How bad was it?”

    “It could have been much worse than it was,” he said, his professional smile obviously intended to allay her fears. “While the injury was quite serious, the surgery to repair the damage went very smoothly and I expect you to make a full recovery.”

    She raised her chin, fully aware of what a snow job sounded like. “Define 'quite serious'.” A broken leg was quite serious; she was reasonably sure that what Max had done to her surpassed that particular bar.

    He cleared his throat, looking uncomfortable. “The weapon pierced a blood vessel. You were bleeding quite badly. Fortunately, you were given excellent first aid on site, and the paramedics were able to keep you stable until we got you into theatre.” He didn't so far as to say you could have died, but he didn't have to. She could connect the dots for herself.

    “So how long till I get out of here?” Kayden didn't really believe that she was in danger from the Empire Eighty-Eight – they would be too busy scrambling to save their own skins to bother with her – but she knew that she'd feel much more secure standing on her own two feet and able to use her powers without knocking herself out.

    “Well, that's not something I can make a firm estimate on,” he said, and rubbed his chin. As he did so, the nurse stepped around him. She withdrew an electronic thermometer from her pocket and switched it on. With gestures, she indicated that Kayden was to open her mouth. The thermometer was cold at first, but the metal and plastic warmed almost immediately; a moment later, the device beeped and the nurse retrieved it.

    “A simple stab wound would take about a week and a half to two weeks to heal,” he pronounced, accepting the thermometer from the nurse and inspecting the readout. “Oh, that's good. Your temperature's down again. You did have us a little worried for a while there.”

    “A week and a half to two weeks to heal,” Kayden prompted him.

    “Oh, yes.” He handed the thermometer back to the nurse. “With a wound of this severity, I would consider releasing you as an outpatient in about a month, plus or minus a week or so, depending on how well you respond to treatment. This would not mean that you are fully healed, of course. Just that you're able to go home and finish your recuperation there. With frequent checkups to make sure that nothing's going wrong.”

    In other words, forever and a day. Kayden hadn't known until now exactly how dependent she'd been on Othala to get her back to health after a battle had gone wrong. She didn't even know if the Trump and her husband would stay in Brockton Bay, much less the Empire; while they weren't publicly known to be close associates of Max Anders, the organisation itself was likely to undergo a considerable shakeup now that he was dead. I wonder if I can get a message to them for old times' sake …

    “Mind you, it could be much worse,” the doctor assured her. “There have been minimal signs of infection, and you're a healthy woman. I've seen patients in worse shape than you pull through with no trouble whatsoever.” He gave her a professional smile. “Trust me, you're in good hands here.” The nurse leaned over to him and murmured something, and he brightened. “Oh, and before I forget, you have visitors. Do you want to see them?”

    Kayden frowned. More visitors, you mean. “That depends. Are they wearing masks or suits?” Protectorate or PRT, in other words.

    He shook his head. “No, I believe not.”

    She allowed a tiny thread of hope to spring to life in her heart. “Sure, let them in.” If it was someone else here to bother her, she could always send them away again.

    The doctor and nurse both left; a moment later, the curtains parted, and Theo stood there, holding … “Aster!” she gasped, her eyes opening wide and her hands going up instinctively, reaching out for the most precious thing in her existence.

    “Hi, Mom,” Theo offered, apparently unoffended by her focus on his sister. He placed her baby in her arms, careful not to let the infant rest on her abdomen. The baby's eyes opened and she smiled; Kayden's heart melted on the spot. Inhaling her child's fresh scent, she listened to Aster's happy gurglings and felt at peace.

    “How are you feeling?” Theo asked, watching her face.

    “Better, now,” she said with a matching smile. Then what he'd said registered on her. “'Mom'? Really?” Up until now, he'd called her 'Kayden'.

    He shuffled his feet awkwardly. That's Theo, all right. “I, uh, got to thinking after you got hurt. If I lost you, I've got no parents at all. And I don't want that. So I'm just gonna call you 'Mom', if that's okay?”

    She smiled again, this time at him. He was socially unadapted, a little on the chubby side, and had little to nothing of Max's good looks. But he was devoted to Aster, and had always shown her unfailing respect. I could do worse for a son. “That's okay, Theo. Family needs to stick together.”

    “So, that mean me too?” The new voice came from behind Theo, but Kayden recognised it immediately. Annette moved all the way around the bed to come up on Kayden's other side. “I mean, I've already got a mom, but I'm down with having two moms. Even if you aren't a couple.”

    Kayden choked a little on that one. “Uh, I hardly think that's going to happen.” While she didn't think she was about to start looking for another man in her life – Max had poisoned that well for good and all – nor was she even remotely considering the concept of starting a relationship with a woman instead. While Kayden had never held strong views on the subject, apart from a general feeling of ewww, she knew that others in the Empire did.

    “Wow, did I just get rejected before I even walked into the room? That's a first.” Andrea slipped into the enclosure and grinned at her past Theo's shoulder. “Oh, well, your loss. Leaves more time for me and Danny.”

    Kayden blinked at her. “What? You and Danny? But you … didn't you just move back into town?” She was sure she'd heard something of that sort.

    “Sure.” Andrea beamed at her. “But hey, catching up on lost time and all that. He's a good guy, and Taylor's just a sweetie.”

    “They said to say hi, by the way,” Annette chimed in. “Taylor said they'd be along a little later. Something about her dad getting the tires replaced on his car. And Dinah said to say she hopes you get well soon.”

    But they barely know me. Kayden felt her eyes start to prickle with the emotion she was feeling. She rested her cheek against Aster's head. “Tell them all … tell them, thank you,” she managed.

    The way ahead would be anything but smooth, she knew. Between the Protectorate and PRT prying into her affairs and the Empire fragmenting and possibly lashing out at Brockton Bay, there was a strong chance of trouble in the future. But she had … friends? Friends who didn't seem to care about her past, who were willing to give her a second chance. Even if some of them were a little on the weird side, like Andrea and her daughter. Who was also Max's daughter, which made her family, in the same way that Theo was family. Kayden was still coming to terms with that bombshell. When did life get so complicated?

    She wasn't sure about the answer to that one, but she was certain about one thing.

    She couldn't wait to see what happened next.



    End of Part Ten

    Part Eleven
     
    Last edited: Aug 5, 2017
  29. Starfox5

    Starfox5 Versed in the lewd.

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    Aw! A good wrap for the Kaiser battle. Quite the feels too. And some nice prospects for the future. I'm looking forward to see Dinah and Taylor's reaction, and next recruitment.
     
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  30. Necrovore

    Necrovore Getting sticky.

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    Hands plural?
     
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