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Faraday [Worm AU]

Discussion in 'Creative Writing' started by JMHthe3rd, May 27, 2015.

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  1. Threadmarks: Table of Contents
    JMHthe3rd

    JMHthe3rd Not too sore, are you?

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    Last edited: Aug 11, 2015
  2. Threadmarks: Ideation 1.x (Prologue: Taylor)
    JMHthe3rd

    JMHthe3rd Not too sore, are you?

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    1.x (Prologue: Taylor)

    She was in the locker again.

    The rancid cotton clung like a cocoon, sticky and swarming with vermin which assaulted her with their little crawls, their little bites. Her fingers were slick and ragged, but she kept clawing like the terrified creature she had become. The moist darkness consumed her screams until she gagged and threw up for a third time. The bile burned her throat. She choked, sputtered, fighting for air amid the rotting blood and the mildew and the papaya reek of vomit. The flies and gnats were in her mouth now, in her nose and in her eyes. They flittered along her gums and tongue. They polluted her tears.

    There was no escape, from neither this coffin nor the festering proof that this was how much they hated her, this was how alone she was in the world.

    She awoke with her head on her desk, her heart racing, her hooded sweatshirt clammy against her skin. Trembling, she heard snickers behind her.

    "Aww, did Hebert have a bad dream?"

    "Another one? She's such a baby."

    "I hear she wets the bed."

    At the front of the classroom Mr. Gladly lectured about the Boston Tea Party, and it was clear from his bored monotone that he didn't care about the subject any more than his students did. Had he even noticed she'd been sleeping? Did he hear what they were saying?

    Taylor didn't sit up. She wrapped her arms around herself and pretended it was a hug. She couldn't remember the last time it'd been for real.

    She began to nod off. She was always weak and tired these days. Sleep came too easily, and her tormentors had not failed to take advantage of this. Ironically, sleep was also her only escape.

    She held her breath and concentrated, her mind tiptoeing through the peculiar gymnastics that her power demanded. She felt the familiar rush in her ears, the lightness in her limbs. As she slipped under, she took a step that wasn't a step, and suddenly she was standing outside her body.

    She didn't know if this state was a projection or a 'spirit' or whatever, but her smoky white, vaguely feminine form looked surprisingly like a traditional ghost. It was invisible to everyone else, though. Mostly everyone. None of the students saw her as she floated over the desks and swept through the closed door into the hallway.

    A month ago, when her powers had first manifested, she thought she had died. She hadn't been able to shed tears as a ghost, but she had wailed as she watched students laugh and hold their noses as they passed the locker which held her corpse. It was only after her foot intersected a wall's electrical line and she later awoke in a hospital bed did she realize she was a parahuman.

    At first the projections were only random reprieves from her nightmares, and most of those times her mind had been in a confused dream state. But over the last few weeks she'd learned better control, and now could project almost at will. As powers go, she'd assumed hers was useful only for spying or scouting, but last night she managed to shift a few papers off her kitchen counter. Today, she wanted to practice.

    The hallway was empty during class. She levitated across its linoleum floor with arms outstretched to either side like a spectral crucifixion on the prowl. Eventually, she found what she was looking for: a dropped ballpoint pen.

    For a minute she prodded it with a translucent finger. Nothing. She changed tactics. Instead of trying, she willed. The pen will move. Her finger passed it through a few times. Still nothing. In frustration, she swiped at it. The pen rolled nearly a foot.

    Her laugh was silent. She tried to take hold and lift it.

    A hand shook her shoulder.

    "Taylor . . . Taylor . . ."

    She sat up, blinking and rubbing her eyes. The classroom was empty except for Mr. Gladly standing by her desk. She felt wetness in her hair, and her fingers brushed something sticky. Madison's work.

    "Taylor, you need to stay awake during class. You're being disruptive."

    "Disruptive," she repeated. That's me. I'm fucking disruptive.

    He asked her if everything was all right at home. Was she getting enough sleep? Did she eat nutritiously? His efforts were a perfunctory annoyance, a half-assed ass-covering for dealing with the friendless gloomy girl. And all through the short talk he never mentioned the locker or how that little 'prank' put her in a psych ward for two weeks. Did he really not see the glue in her hair? Did he just not care? She nodded until he shut up.

    After she left his class and headed down the hall, she saw the pen was right where she left it, right where she moved it.

    She wondered what else she could do.

    ***
    The three boys chased Taylor down the street. Sophia's distant laugh was a hyena's howl.

    Taylor's legs burned. Her breaths came short. Her guts roiled and throbbed. The afternoon sun beat down on her. Her running faltered to a limp jog and then to an exhausted trot. She was too tired to resist as they grabbed her and carried her to the nearby side alley of a gas station.

    They duct taped her to the telephone pole until she looked like a haphazard mummy. The long strips bound her arms, chest and legs; even through her sweatshirt, the rough wood grated against her back. It wasn't as bad as the locker, but that she was trapped was enough. Her heart pounded. She trembled. A fly from a dumpster buzzed by her head, and she whimpered.

    The boys were jocks; she didn't know their names. One of them chuckled, but the other two looked somewhat embarrassed, as if they hadn't really wanted to catch her. The trio stepped forward.

    Sophia folded her arms and smirked. "That locker really must have fucked you up, Hebert. You're a bigger wimp than ever. All you do now is cry and sleep."

    "I bet she's cried herself to sleep for a straight week," Emma said.

    The words sank in and descended on that most intimate memory. Even treasures in the past could be taken from her. The shining moment died like a snuffed flame, extinguishing a part of Taylor with it. Emma smiled.

    Taylor couldn't hold back the tears. Her throat grew hoarse and tight. "Em . . . Emma . . . please let me go. Please . . ."

    "Not until you admit you're a loser."

    "I'm . . . I'm a loser . . . I'm a loser . . . I'm pathetic . . . I'm worthless . . . I'm trash . . ."

    Madison shrieked with laughter. "Oh, my god! She's saying it! She's actually saying it!"

    "You win, Emma . . . You win. I have no friends. I'm miserable. I'm scared. I wish I was dead. Is this what you want? We used to be friends, Emma. Why do you hate me? Why do you hate me? Why do you hate me? Why do you hate me? WHY DO YOU HATE ME? WHY DO YOU HATE ME? WHY DO YOU WANT ME DEAD?"

    Her speech broke down into sobs and blubbering and wailing screams. She thrashed weakly against the duct tape until her body gave in, and she slumped, whimpering like a beaten animal. Sophia grinned while Madison managed a nervous laugh. The three boys looked vaguely ashamed. Taylor's gaze rolled to Emma. She almost missed it.

    In Emma's blue eyes there was a brittleness that could have been grief or maybe pity. But that second passed. The mask slipped back into place.

    "You're pathetic, Taylor. Go kill yourself."

    And they left. And Taylor cried herself to sleep.

    ***​

    As a ghost, she felt little sorrow or fear. If only she could stay this way forever.

    As she floated above the neighborhood surrounding Winslow High, she wondered--not for the first time--whether she could survive death in this form. She doubted it: if it was a projection, something she controlled remotely, her mind would still be running off her brain. But in a world of physics-breaking parahumans, anything was possible.

    If it did work, it'd be nice to fly around, never crying, never hurting--as long as she avoided electricity. She would have no one to talk to and no one to hug her, but how was that different from her life right now? At least ghosts didn't get shoved in lockers or tied to telephone poles.

    It had been an hour or so, and still no one had found her sleeping body. But then, no one was looking.

    A dog barked at her as she soared over a backyard. On the far side of the picket fence she spotted Greg. He was walking away from the school and had already passed the gas station. He must have stayed late. She thought he was in some gaming club or something.

    She wasn't sure how she'd get his attention, but as obnoxious as he was, she'd feel safer if he found her than some strange gas station attendant. A little safer, anyway.

    She tried speaking to him. As a ghost, she couldn't hear her own voice, but she could feel the words in a way that wasn't quite sound but rather a tactile prickle in the air. What she said seemed to seep into the world and mist around her.

    But evidently Greg couldn't hear it either. Obliviously, he poked at his smartphone as he walked, and as she hovered closer she saw he was playing some Earth Aleph anime game involving ridiculously over-sized swords and scantly clad catgirls. She tried swatting it out of his hands, and felt the faint sting as the weak electric charge interfered with her smoky form.

    Greg noticed nothing.

    She slapped his face. That stung too, a little, but he paused in mid-step and looked around as if searching for a fly. She punched him in the nose.

    Whoa.

    With her spectral fist embedded in his skull, she . . . tasted things: confusion, uneasiness, excitement, insecurity . . .

    She withdrew her hand. The sensations evaporated.

    Once more, she reached into his brain, touched his mind. She thought: *nervous*.

    Never one for subtlety, Greg's brown eyes positively rolled with anxiety.

    ~There's a spider on your finger, she 'said.'

    He looked down and waved his hand as if in a spasm.

    I'm a master, Taylor thought with some exultation. An idea was already forming, one that might solve everything, but she set it aside for now. How would this help her current predicament? All she needed was for Greg to turn around and pass the gas station, but she couldn't say, Taylor's tied to a telephone pole. Go rescue her! The last thing she wanted was for Greg to think he was a parahuman. Or worse yet, figure out she was one.

    She floated behind him and thrust her face through his backpack. Her ghostly eyes saw perfectly through the interior darkness, and among his textbooks she spotted a Game of Thrones RPG.

    ~You left your role-playing book at school.

    He reached for his backpack to check.

    ~No, it's not in there. Remember the table you were playing on? Picture it. The book is there. Hurry back before the they lock the doors.

    He retraced his steps in a run. Taylor dropped her ghost and woke up.

    ***​

    "Help . . . Help!"

    At first she was afraid he'd prioritize his book over her cries, but on the other side of the fence, she heard Greg's steps falter and then cautiously backtrack. Despite his faults, he was a nice guy. Probably the closest person she had to a friend, which was very sad.

    His head peeked around the corner down the alley. He crept towards her slowly, as if fearing a trap.

    "Taylor . . . is that you?"

    "Yes! It's me! Please untie me!"

    Greg stopped and looked at the overlapping duct tape binding her to the pole.

    "Taylor, what happened? Did someone do this to you?"

    Taylor groaned.

    ***​

    ~Go to sleep, Dad. Go to sleep.

    He took off his glasses and rubbed the bridge of his nose. It was only nine in the evening, but her dad rarely stayed up late anyway. Her ghost followed behind as he stood from his desk chair, climbed the stairs and ambled into bed. She waited until he was snoring before reaching again into his brain.

    ~Remember that Christmas when me and mom and you were on the couch watching that old Rudolf claymation movie, and we all agreed Santa Claus was being a dick, and you said he reminded you of your dad? And then Kurt and Lacey and Alexander came over and I learned how to play canasta? That was fun. Dream about that.

    She watched his pupils jitter behind his eyelids. After savoring the taste of his happiness and contentment, she decided it had worked, and she woke up.

    So she could influence dreams. That was good. Of course, she had other options. She could practice moving objects and slit the trio's throats while they slept. Or she could plant in them suggestions like, your eyeballs are live hand grenades--pluck them out! But even if those ideas were feasible and she could avoid getting caught, revenge wasn't what she wanted. It wouldn't make her happy. She'd still be alone.

    She needed a friend, and the only friend she ever had was Emma.

    In the upsetting first months after her betrayal, Taylor had held out hope that they would reconcile. She'd imagined tearful apologizes and hugs and maybe thoughtful gifts to ease over the hurt feelings. But as the pranks got crueler and Emma convinced more of the students to join in on the bullying, those hopes dwindled, extinguishing almost entirely after they'd stolen her mother's flute. The lull before Christmas break had made her think that maybe they would at least leave her alone, but then the locker happened. And then she got her powers, which with their narcoleptic side-effects, just made her life more hopeless than ever.

    Until today.

    She didn't know why Emma turned on her or what Sophia had to do with it, but Emma wasn't a born sociopath. The Emma who had been her best friend was still in there, buried under whatever had turned her into a monster.

    She could easily imagine a future where a mature, adult Emma calls her up to tell how bad she feels about how she treated her in high school and maybe they could meet over a cup of coffee . . . But Taylor knew she wouldn't make it that long. That Emma would be apologizing to a gravestone.

    But with her master powers, Taylor could reach her now. She could fix her now. Not brainwash her like what Heartbreaker would do, but go in and rekindle her conscience, bring back the good Emma. Taylor could be her ghost of friendship past.

    There were risks. If Emma figured out what she was up to, she would call the PRT. The public feared masters and strangers, and Taylor was both. The bullying wouldn't matter then. No one would care to hear Taylor's side of the story. She could picture the headline now: Loser supervillain masters innocent teenage model, sentenced to Birdcage.

    No, that wasn't going to happen. She wasn't going to let her tormentors snicker while she's dragged off to a hell even worse than Winslow. She needed an exit strategy.

    She had about twenty diazepams left from her stay at the psych ward. In one of the kitchen cabinets she found a half bottle of scotch. Hopefully they'd be enough.

    She didn't want it to come to that, but they'd escalated too far. Today's telephone pole prank felt like a dress rehearsal for a greater torture, and she couldn't go through another locker. The doctor had said the infections could have killed her, and she would always bear the scars on her hands from her panicked clawing as the darkness closed in and the vile smell choked her and the unending swarms of bugs . . .

    Her heart raced. She couldn't breathe. They were on her, nibbling. Curling into a ball on her bed, she hugged her knees and wept for a long time.

    Part of her wanted to wake up her dad and talk to him, tell him about her powers and Emma and everything--and she really needed a hug. But she was a burden enough for him as it was. And she knew her plan probably wasn't going to work, so trying to reconnect to him now seemed pointless if she wasn't going to be around long anyway. He'd be upset after she was gone, but he'd move on. And he wasn't that old. Maybe he'd get remarried and start a new, happier family. In ten years time, she might just be an unpleasant memory in the back of his mind.

    The attack subsided, and she dried her eyes, lay down and soon fell asleep. Her ghost floated out her bedroom window and soared towards the south side of Brockton Bay. Crescent moonlight shined through her. A cool, nighttime breeze caressed her smoky form.

    It'd been a year and a half since she'd been to Emma's house, but she still knew the way.
     
    Last edited: May 28, 2015
  3. Threadmarks: Ideation 1.1
    JMHthe3rd

    JMHthe3rd Not too sore, are you?

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    1.1
    I awoke again to the putrid stench. Swarms of tiny bugs crawled under my clothes, in my hair, my nose, my mouth. I squirmed frantically and tried to brush them off, but of course they weren't there.

    The nausea hit like a wave. I rolled out of bed, ran out of my room and down the hall and made it to the bathroom in time to throw up those useless energy drinks all over the tile floor. My head spinned. My throat burned. I slumped down and cried, not caring what I sat in. This was the third night. I couldn't take this anymore. Something was wrong with me. I was losing my mind.

    It had been another Taylor dream. I'd dreamed I was Taylor. I'd suffered the usual shoves from behind and the taunts about how I'm worthless, ugly, flat-chested and whatever. Sophia tripped me in the hallway; Madison poured milk in my backpack. And of course, I ran into myself. Her blue eyes glinting with malice, she smiled cruelly as she told me no one wanted me here. I should have stayed in the mental institution.

    I'd said that to Taylor last week, just after she had come back. I remember savoring her little flinch before she shuffled away. Tonight, I felt the cut of my words just as I feel everything else in the dreams: her loneliness, her hopelessness, the fear whenever she sees us, the misery that follows her like a cloud, the desperate need for affection she never gets . . . and every nightmare ends with her--with me--shoved into the locker.

    I was there when Sophia used her powers to cram it full. The tampons and maxi-pads smelled gross then, but those two weeks over Christmas break turned them rancid. While Taylor was trapped in there, Sophia and I made a point to pass by between classes to listen to her muffled screams. Even through the locker door, the stink was pungent enough to make me gag and think of bloated corpses wrapped in the moldiest blankets in the world. We were there when the janitor let her out. She had been covered in bugs and black filth and was whimpering like a scared dog.

    Just thinking about that now churned my stomach. I vomited in the toilet until I saw purple dots. My bile fizzed in the water as if electric.

    The other day, when Taylor had been wrapped in duct tape and raving about how she wished she was dead, I knew I'd won. I'd fought dirty, poisoning the most sacred memory we shared, and I should have felt vindicated. I should have felt strong. Instead, there had been only a hollowness inside me, and I realized I'd felt that way for a very long time.

    And now I was having these nightmares. I was losing my mind.

    I knew I shouldn't; I knew it'd hurt. But I had to see it. I opened the cabinet doors beneath the sink and dug through the cleaning supplies and stacks of toilet paper until I found it in the back, wrapped in a trash bag. I reached inside the plastic and carefully pulled free the ruined flute.

    The bathroom seemed to darken somehow, as if my grief had saturated the air. I looked at the flute through tears. Taylor had begged for it back, and I'd told Sophia to destroy it.

    The silver instrument had been beaten with a brick; crusted dog shit clung to the gouges and creases. We had planned to wait until Taylor's birthday and then wrap it up and leave it on her doorstep. The idea of her being alone and crying on her sweet sixteen, that soiled memento of her dead mom in her hands, had seemed like the most hilarious thing in the world to us.

    I hugged the flute close and sobbed until my face ached. Deep down, I'd always known, but now I could no longer deny the truth: I wasn't strong. I wasn't a survivor. I was a pathetic monster who ruined my best friend's life because I was too scared to hurt anyone else.

    Sophia should never have been in that alley. I should have been cut up and killed. Taylor would have fallen into another depression, but she'd have recovered by now. I could see her as a melancholy bookworm with her close circle of nerdy friends. She'd get teary-eyed whenever she talked of her murdered BFF, never knowing how I would have betrayed her if I'd lived.

    I couldn't go back and change things. I was too much of a coward to face her now. I felt so trapped. I could barely breathe.

    I'm sorry, Taylor. I'm so sorry . . .

    I might have passed out. Something had slipped my mind.

    When I opened my eyes, I saw a glowing purple mist flowing from my hands to envelop the flute. Sparks twinkled in the gas, and I thought of pictures I'd seen of stars shining through faraway nebulae. The cloud spread along the floor and rose to fill the air. It had that sharp ozone smell that sometimes hangs outside before a storm, and I could hear the faint hiss of white noise. I pushed myself up from the vomit-stained rug and stood. I saw the figure floating in the fog beside me.

    At first I thought it was Sophia, but the smoky, translucent form was a lighter shade than her shadow state and blurrier around the edges. Its face was a featureless cloud. It twitched in the mist, like a staticky image from an old TV. One of its slender, inhumanly stretched arms was touching the top of my head.

    I was terrified, but somewhere in the back of my mind I felt I wasn't the only one. It was scared of me, but more than that I sensed its dread, its frustration and its crushing despair.

    And then just like that, I knew. My dreams had been more than just a guilty conscience. Across the mist, I looked where its eyes would be.

    "Taylor," I said.

    Its--Taylor's--panic rippled through me. She yanked back her ghostly arm as if I were a hot stove. She wavered for a moment and melted away, vanishing like steam.

    I couldn't think. My mind reeled. I leaned forward on the bathroom counter and stared at myself in the mirror. Vomit streaked my flannel pajama shirt. Bereft of both sleep and makeup, my face was sickly pale, my usually faint freckles standing out in the purple haze that filled the bathroom, tinting my red hair blue. Tiny sparks tickled my tears. I met my wild eyes and tried to parse what had just happened.

    So, I'd triggered. I was a parahuman. I had no idea what my powers were, but I could figure that out later. And Taylor was a parahuman? When did that happen? The telephone pole? No, that hideous locker had loomed so prominently in the dreams, that it had to have been it. Was she still here, invisible somewhere in the house? I couldn't know for sure, but somehow I doubted it. She'd carried a presence with her I hadn't noticed before, but now that was gone. Had that smoky figure been some sort of projection?

    But wherever she was and whatever her powers, she'd clearly been attacking me. Didn't that change everything? She put me through three nights of hell! I could get her in so much trouble. The way the public freaked out over masters, she might even get sent to the Birdcage. I could be there to gloat at the trial. I could already see Sophia and me laughing about it at the Wards headquarters.

    "I can't believe Hebert thought that Christmas Carol shit would work on you. You're way too evil for that."

    "Yeah, yeah. The dreams weren't even that bad. But at least I got powers out of it. I can't wait to kick ass!"


    These thoughts came so readily they frightened me. I stood at a fork in the road, and that path was open. It'd be easy.

    But I couldn't do that to Taylor. She'd only held up a mirror to me, and I had no right to be mad if I didn't like what I saw. I'd been a monster. I wasn't going to be a monster anymore.

    But Taylor probably assumed I was already calling the PRT. And I'd felt what she felt. She was broken. She had nothing to lose.

    I ran out of the bathroom and back into my bedroom. In the darkness I fumbled for my phone. I had no idea if her physical body was at her house or in my backyard or hiding in my closet, but I had to try. Even after all this time, I still had her number.

    My hands shook as I listened to the ring. I gibbered softly to myself. I couldn't think of what to say. The line picked up.

    "You're a cape," Taylor slurred on the other end.

    "I . . . I wasn't, Taylor. I just triggered. I . . ."

    She didn't seem to hear me. "They're not going to get me, Emma. I'm not going to let them."

    "Tay-Taylor, I'm not . . . I'm not going to . . . Oh, god, Taylor, I'm so . . . I'm so . . ."

    "Wrong number, dad!" Taylor called out drunkenly. Then, quieter, "I'm sorry, Emma. I . . . I wanted to help you. I wanted you to be my friend again."

    "I will be your friend, Taylor! I'm sorry for everything. Everything I've done. I'm sorry! Please! Please don't . . . don't do this."

    "I already have." There was the ghost of a chuckle. When she spoke again, her voice croaked. "I'm sick of hurting, Emma. I'm sick of being scared. I just want it to end."

    "Taylor! I'm going to get you help. Stay--"

    "Fuck you, Emma! You should be happy. I'm giving you what you fucking want!" Her phone clattered against something and fell.

    "TAYLOR! TAYLOR! I DIDN'T MEAN IT! I'M SORRY! I'M SORRY!"

    I screamed into the phone until I was curled on the floor sobbing. The lights turned on.

    "Emma, what's wrong?" my dad asked.

    They stood together in the doorway, my dad in his boxers, my mom in her nightgown. With horror, my mom looked at my face and the vomit down my shirt.

    "Sweetie, are you all right? I knew you haven't been feeling well, but--"

    "Taylor's killing herself!" I blurted as I stood and dialed 911, remembering as I did so the last time I called that number, the night when everything in my life went wrong.

    Neither of my parents were awake enough to deal with this, so while they stumbled over what should be done, I kept the phone to my ear, pushed between them and sprinted down the stairs. Sniffling and crying, I frantically told the operator what I knew--leaving out the parahuman part--giving them their phone number and street name, since even though I'd been to their house a thousand times, I didn't know their address.

    But I knew how to get there. A ten minute drive, maybe.

    I ran outside and crossed the front lawn in my bare feet. I was wearing shorts, and my legs grew goosebumps in the night air. When I stopped at the diver's side of our SUV, it occurred to me I didn't have keys.

    As if in reply, a small funnel of mist unfurled from my palm and drifted along the door. I could see the mechanisms within, like an echo in my brain. After an electric snap, the lock released. I climbed into the seat and held my hand over the ignition switch. The engine roared to life.

    My parents called to me from the front door, but I was already backing out of the driveway. I shifted gears and tore down the road.

    She had been my best friend. She had been like a sister to me. I'd buried and betrayed those feelings, but they'd always been there. Taylor's dreams had only dug them up for me, reminded me of who I was. And now she was either dead or dying.

    I wiped my tears as I drove and tried to stay at least mostly in my lane. I only had a learning permit, but I knew enough. It was nearly three in the morning, so fortunately there wasn't enough traffic to matter when I ran the red lights. I wasn't sure what I was going to do when I got there, but I couldn't wait at home. And if I got my parents to drive, I'd have to explain things I'd rather not.

    I nearly missed her street; the tires squealed as I pulled a sharp turn. Her house was halfway down and looked somehow ominous in the night. I slammed on the brakes, bouncing up on the curb and knocking over their mailbox.

    I ran up the walkway and tripped on the wooden steps. I pounded my fists on the front door, screaming Taylor's name. Stupidly, I tried opening it, twisting and pushing with all my strength. The purple mist sprayed out around my hand, tingling my skin. Blue lightning crackled through the basketball-sized cloud, and the door swung in, the doorknob and bits of the surrounding wood smoking on the front hall's floor.

    I pushed in. The last time I was inside Taylor's house we'd been friends, and seeing it now in so much darkness felt eerie, as if I intruded on the tomb of a memory. But I couldn't reflect on that now. I raced up the stairs.

    Mr. Hebert stepped out of a doorway, a baseball bat in hand. Without thinking, I raised a purple pillar between us, flooding the hall with a magenta glow. Mr. Hebert backed away and squinted at me blearily. His thick glasses sat crooked on his nose.

    "Emma? What . . . what are you doing?" He poked at the mist with his bat; sparks danced along the wooden tip. "You're a cape?"

    I ran past him. Taylor's door wasn't locked, but it wouldn't budge. My mist gushed out, and with another lightning flash the door crashed inwards, knocking the chair that had been braced against the doorknob across the room. As I entered, the ruined door felt hot against my bare feet. I flicked on the lights.

    Taylor lay unmoving on her bed, her thin, pale face lolled to the side. In her arm she cradled an empty prescription bottle and a nearly empty bottle of whisky. Alcohol reeked over the scent of smoldering wood. I was almost too scared to check, but I knelt, took her wrist and tried to do what I'd seen in movies and on TV. My fingers may have felt something. It didn't seem very strong.

    "Taylor!" her dad called behind me, and then he was by my side.

    "Taylor! Taylor!" he gasped more than said. He shook her shoulder, and she groaned and opened her eyes sleepily. Both of us sagged with relief.

    When we pulled her out of bed, she mumbled something and threw up a boozy mess along with over a dozen white pills. Only a quarter of an hour had passed since I talked to her on the phone, so probably most of what she'd taken hadn't had time to absorb into her system. Not that either of us were doctors.

    Mr. Herbert still seemed in shock, but he had enough presence of mind to retrieve a fire extinguisher and spray over and under the scorched, splintered door smoldering into the carpet.

    While he was doing this, I sat with Taylor on the bed, keeping an arm around her to hold her up. She was awake, if not lucid. Her delicate, bony shoulders hunched forward, her skinny arms curling around herself in an insecure hug. I felt her shiver. I also felt her ribs. She'd always been slender, but at school she cloaked herself in sweatshirts and loose fitting jeans. Seeing her now in a t-shirt and shorts, she looked scarily frail.

    Wide, dark brown eyes met mine, and then darted skittishly away. I brushed long, black curls out of her face and leaned close to a round ear peeking out from the curtain of her hair.

    "I won't tell, I promise," I whispered. "Everything's going to be all right."

    I gave her a hug. She seemed to relax a little and leaned into me, her head touching mine. I managed to hold down my sobs.

    By the time we half-carried, half-walked her outside, the ambulance had decided to show up. The paramedics agreed with us that she was going to be all right, but because of regulations they wouldn't let Mr. Hebert ride with her in the back.

    Mr. Hebert took one look at the SUV straddling his mailbox and said that I probably shouldn't drive home. I said I wanted to go with him to the hospital; I felt like I should. He just nodded as he slipped a jacket on over his undershirt. His eyes were lighter than Taylor's, but otherwise they bore the same owl-like intensity, the same perpetually harried expression.

    I called my parents and evaded most of their questions while not lying too much. Then I rode shotgun in Mr. Hebert's car.

    Neither of us spoke at first. Through idle curiosity, I held up my hand and gloved it in glowing purple. I made a thought and sent the mist swirling around my fingers, the sparks licking my skin in the miniature storm. I blew into my palm, but the mist wasn't disturbed.

    Mr. Hebert stared at the spectacle before turning his eyes back on the road.

    "So, you're a cape."

    "Just a parahuman. My parents . . . they don't know."

    He didn't reply. The silence opressed the air inside the car. My throat hurt, I was thirsty, and I felt faint. But I still felt like I needed to say something.

    "I'm sorry about the door. And the mailbox."

    His laugh was more like a huff. "After all you've done, I think I can forgive a little property damage. If . . . if you hadn't . . . "

    He trailed off, and I saw there were tears running down his cheeks. I sunk in my seat and hugged myself like Taylor had done.

    "She called me, and I . . ." The lie died in my throat, replaced with a growing lump.

    He nodded as if I'd explained everything. "I think the bullies are still giving her problems. That's why she . . ." He sighed and shook his head. "After . . . after the locker, the school said they'd look out for her, but she's been getting more distant lately, and . . ."

    We stopped at a red light, and he wiped a sleeve across his eyes. He doesn't know, I thought dumbly. That's why he never confronted my dad. But how could he not know?

    He looked at me and smiled weakly, his wide mouth so much like Taylor's. "Thank you for saving my daughter, Emma. You've always been a good friend to her."

    I cried all the way to the hospital.
     
  4. Threadmarks: Ideation 1.2
    JMHthe3rd

    JMHthe3rd Not too sore, are you?

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    1.2
    The public restroom was white, sterile and empty. A bleach smell overwhelmed the antiseptic background that dominated the hallway.

    Leaning close to the mirror, I dabbed the tea tree oil over the small blotches on my cheeks and forehead and then rubbed them with anti-fungal cream. They were noticeable, but makeup would only aggravate them. I hoped they would clear up soon. I had considered using fudge mix instead of the real thing, but Taylor's powers might be able to tell I was lying. If my two gifts were to mean anything to her, she had to know I was sincere.

    I'd been dreading this all day, facing her, apologizing, but part of me was relieved. I had to get out of the house.

    My parents weren't mad about the SUV, but while I was gone they found the ruined flute I'd left on the bathroom counter. Even without, Annette Rose Hebert, inscribed on the side, my mom would have recognized it. She and Taylor's mom had been good friends.

    I'd had no choice then but to come clean about the bullying. That was hard, seeing their disappointment grow into horror as I described all the ways we hurt Taylor. By the end, my mom was sobbing as much as I was. My dad was furious, but he mostly blamed Sophia, saying she was a bad influence on me. This was true, but I admit I played it up as being more her idea than it really was. I'd even hinted I was afraid of her.

    A little dishonest, but if I was going to cut Sophia out of my life, turning my dad against her was the first step.

    Earlier this evening, I sneaked out and rode the bus to the hospital. And now here I was. I looked myself over. My eyes were wet and red, and there were the blemishes on my face. But at least I hadn't thrown up in a while, not that I'd eaten much.

    I needed to settle my nerves, so as I washed my hands, I released purple wisps into my palms. The water hissed and spat, mini-lightning streaks lacing and arcing amid the splashing. I concentrated, and a few droplets levitated in the luminous mist like tiny electrical planets before boiling away. I breathed in the steam and ozone and sighed. Watching my power relaxed me, but I'd been putting things off long enough. I evaporated the light show and left the restroom.

    Taylor's room was just down the hall. The door was open. Her bed was reclined forward so she could sit up, though her head was slumped back on her pillow. An overhead lamp shone down on her with weak, yellow light. Her black curls were a mess, but she didn't look as pale as she had at the house. A laptop sat on her foldout dinner tray.

    I was glad about the computer. It'd have more impact if I didn't have to show her on my phone.

    I don't think I made any sound as I walked up, but as soon as I stood beside her bed, her large, dark eyes flicked open. They were already gazing directly into mine, and I realized her ghost had been watching me. Had she just witnessed me crying in the restroom? Had she been sitting beside me on the bus? Strangely enough, I didn't find either of these possibilities as unsettling as I would have thought.

    "You saved me." She made it sound like an accusation.

    I opened my mouth, but my breath caught. No, you saved me, I wanted to say. Instead, I just nodded.

    Her stare was piercing, yet fragile. "When did you become a parahuman?"

    "It happened in my bathroom, when you were . . ." I trailed off, took a deep breath. I had to warn her. "Taylor, I haven't told anyone about what you did. And I'm not going to. Ever. I swear. But you can't do that to anyone else. I'm serious. You could get into a lot of trouble, and I don't want that to happen to you. I . . . I know you might not believe that. I know I've been horrible to you, and I'm so sorry--"

    "Why," she demanded. "Why did you turn on me?"

    I hesitated, but she deserved to know. I closed the door, sat in a nearby chair and told her everything. Her eyes widened when I described the attack in the alley, with the knife in my face and the order to 'pick,' and how Shadow Stalker would only save me after I fought back. I told her how helpless I felt afterwards, how I was scared to leave my room.

    Taylor's mouth gaped when I revealed that Shadow Stalker was in fact, Sophia Hess, and then her expression turned stony when I explained Sophia's philosophy of how the world was divided into survivors and victims, predators and prey. When I told her that I'd chosen to be a survivor, to be strong, I had to flinch from her wounded glare.

    "So all this shit you put me through, making me miserable, making me want to kill myself . . . it was because hurting me made you feel strong?"

    I looked down. The excuse was on my lips: I didn't want to hurt you, but I had to prove to Sophia you were a predator and not prey, and then we could have been friends again . . . . But I think I always knew that wasn't the real reason. And now, after whatever scouring Taylor's dreams had done to me, I couldn't believe the lie anymore than I could believe in the Easter Bunny.

    "Yes," I admitted finally, my voice hollow. "It made me feel in control. Less afraid. Whenever I . . . I felt bad about it, I pushed the feeling down. I didn't want Sophia to think I was weak. I didn't want to backslide to my old self. And . . . and hurting you became like a habit. Something I had to do . . ." My words guttered against the growing lump in my throat. Everything I said was true, but it wasn't the whole truth. It didn't explain why I'd chosen her. And by her silence, I knew she knew I was holding back.

    I curled inward like a cowardly animal and broke into heaving sobs. I didn't dare meet her eyes because I knew I'd see the same pain from that afternoon when I told her to go home, that I didn't want to be her friend anymore.

    Please don't make me say it please don't make me say it please don't make me say it . . .

    There was betrayal, and then there was soul-searing evil. How could I tell her: You were finally recovering from your mother's death, finally becoming your old self again, but I was afraid the tables had turned, that you were stronger than me. So I kicked you down and made you small and weak so I could feel better about myself.

    And I never did feel better. I'd destroyed her for joyless little rushes, like a junkie hawking heirlooms for another hit.

    "I'm sorry . . . I'm sorry . . . I'm sorry . . ." I croaked as I rocked myself in the chair and wept. I don't know how long this went on. My eyes were blurred and burning when I felt the hand on my shoulder.

    Taylor was sitting on the edge of the bed, her long, ungainly legs allowing her bare bony feet to rest flat on the floor. Slowly, I looked up. Her wide eyes were tight with concern. The IV in her wrist snagged as she handed me a box of tissues. I sniffled as I tugged one loose. I wiped at my tears.

    "When I was . . . inside you, Emma, I could feel you were hurting. I could taste it. I didn't know why you betrayed me, but I knew the old you was still in there. So I . . . whispered to you, and I touched you, and now . . . you've woken up." In her teary eyes, her pupils were shiny like black onyx pebbles. She gave my shoulder a reassuring squeeze. "You've hurt me. A lot. But you're the only friend I ever had. I want to forgive you, Emma. I want you to be my friend again."

    I just stared at her. She should hate me. She deserved better. And I wasn't even sure if it'd be healthy for us to be friends now. But if it weren't for her, I'd still be that broken monster. If she wanted me back, I couldn't deny her.

    Finally, I took out my smartphone. I sent the prepared attachment and nodded at her laptop.

    My face ached from crying, but I made myself smile. "Check your mail."

    She raised an eyebrow as she pulled the computer into her lap. She put on her glasses which rested on the tip of her nose. I watched her face as she found the message and clicked on the download link.

    "Hello, my name is Emma Barnes . . ."

    She watched the video with a sort of blank bewilderment. When it was finished, she said, "So . . . you smeared shit on your face."

    "Dog shit. From our corgi."

    Her wide mouth pursed as if she were about to ask, why? But the word never came out.

    "Look at the text," I said. "Those are my Facebook and email passwords. They're yours. I'm not going to change them. You can post the video on my page. You can mail it to my friends. Upload it on Youtube, if you want . . ."

    She shook her head. "Emma, I want you to be my friend again. I don't want revenge."

    "But I . . . I . . ." I'd betrayed her secrets; I'd spread lies. I threatened anyone from being her friend. Her high school life had been nothing but a series of escalating humiliations. Everyone at Winslow thought she was a joke, the loser 'locker girl' who existed only to get shit on. How could I even begin to make up for that?

    "This is not what I want, Emma."

    I tried not to sound desperate. I forced a little laugh. "Oh, come on, Taylor. Admit it, you've wanted to see that for a while."

    For the first time in forever, I saw her grin. It was big and broad and showed teeth. I knew then that the rashes were worth it.

    "Okay," she admitted. "Maybe a little. But . . . " She held the laptop so I could watch as she deleted the email, dumped the video file into the recycle bin and then emptied it.

    "I appreciate the gesture, but you shouldn't do that to yourself. I mean, look at that stuff on your face."

    "We did worse to you."

    She tried to hide it, but I'd said the wrong thing. Her eyes stared off into nothing, and for a few seconds she seemed to freeze, though I could detect her faint shudder. I remembered the locker from the dreams with the bugs and the filth and the darkness and the smell, and I knew for her that toxic nightmare was always swimming just below the surface. When me and Sophia filled the locker, we intended only to gross her out, not . . . hurt her like this.

    I dug through my purse for my second gift, and then placed the small box in her long thin hand. There were faint red scars crisscrossing her fingers and palm that hadn't been there before the locker. I tried not to look.

    The box was gift-wrapped, a little red bow on top. She pried open the lid with a fingertip.

    "A cell phone," she said.

    It was a cheap one. I hadn't wanted to spend too much. The repair shop was still working on an estimate for the flute.

    "If you ever feel . . . upset or you just want to talk, I want you to call me," I said. "It doesn't matter if it's during school or the middle of the night, I'll answer. We can talk about whatever you want. You . . . you shouldn't have to go through this alone."

    She stared at the phone and flipped it open. I saw a smile.

    "I'm going to go to a therapist," I went on. "I think you should too. They can help you."

    She didn't quite wince, but I picked up on the irritation. I felt stupid. Therapy cost money, and Mr. Hebert was poor. This stay in the hospital was probably eating what little savings he had.

    "I'm going to make sure you get that help, Taylor, I promise." I had no idea how.

    "Thank you." Her voice was reedy; tears ran down her cheeks. "I'm glad you're back, Emma."

    I opened my arms, and she practically melted into my hug. I knew from the dreams that hugs held an almost mystical power for her. I don't think she ever got them, not even from her dad.

    "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, "I said as she clung to me. "Things are going to get better. Everything's going to be all right."

    We held each other and cried for a long time. We talked for a little longer after that. She was going to be kept for a week for psychiatric observation, and then she would come back to Winslow. I told her to call me and that I'd visit her again soon.

    When she was snoring softly, I tucked the sheets up to her chin and brushed black curls out of her face. I don't know if it was depression or a side effect of her powers, but since the locker she'd become very prone to falling asleep, a fact which we'd exploited mercilessly. I wondered how I was going to get my friends to lay off her.

    "Goodnight, Taylor," I said, speaking to the ghost who may or may not have been there. I closed the door behind me.

    I had a lot to make up for, but I also felt as if I'd shed a burden I didn't know I had. Taylor had given me a second chance. I didn't deserve it, but maybe I could earn it. She'd fixed me, and now I could fix her.

    And afterwards, maybe . . .

    As I rode the elevator down, I idly played with a handful of purple. I hadn't fully tested my powers, but I seemed to be a short range shaker that could work as a striker and brute. Maybe a short-range blaster. And maybe a low-rated thinker rating too, since the mist let me see through objects.

    I hadn't won the lottery like Eidolon or Alexandria, but I was happy with the card I'd been dealt. I could be strong. Really strong, not a pathetic bully. I had no reason to be afraid of gang members with knives in alleyways. My powers were cool.

    But they had nothing on Taylor's.

    Taylor couldn't blast holes in walls or mass taser crowds, but she could change monsters into people. Was Sophia like me underneath all that hate? And how about major supervillains like Lung and Kaiser? Were they a week of bad dreams away from turning themselves in? Working from the shadows, could Taylor dismantle the gangs and make Brockton Bay a nice place to live?

    I liked the idea, but there were two problems.

    First, Taylor would have to be kept secret because the public would never accept a cape whose power could best be described as 'nightmare demon.' My parents felt bad for they way I've treated Taylor, but if they knew what she'd done to me, they'd reach for their torches and pitchforks.

    The second problem was Taylor might accidentally out herself. Just by context, it had been pretty easy for me to figure out who was behind the ghost--I mean, who else could it have been? Madison?--but even if I hadn't known who Taylor was, she'd still left clues. I had no idea how her power worked, but maybe she could practice keeping certain things out of the dreams?

    But I could worry about that later. I hadn't even doodled a costume yet.

    ***​

    That night I dreamed of the time when Taylor and me were kayaking. We were both twelve; it was about a year before Taylor's mother died. My family was visiting my grandparents, and Taylor had come along. There was a small lake near their house. Or at least we thought it was small. There'd been a recent flood, and piles of unearthed trees and bushes had made a wooded labyrinth of the water. As we rowed around one foggy bend and then the other, we soon found ourselves lost in what seemed a half-sunken forest from an old fairy tale--the scary kind, the ones with gray skies and lots of mud and that typically ended with the children in witches' cauldrons.

    But we were big girls. And we'd brought picnic baskets. We beached our kayak, and on a tiny sandbar we ate a lunch of sandwiches and glass-bottled root beer. Cricket chirps filled the air, and I thought I saw an alligator. Taylor hummed the Jaws theme, but it was just a drifting log. Alligators didn't live this far north.

    In the end, Taylor climbed a dead tree to find the way home. By the time we rowed to shore of the house, it was night, and my parents and grandparents had been worried sick.

    We talked in the dream, but I don't remember what about. But I know we laughed. We were happy.

    When I woke up I was crying, but I didn't mind.
    ***

    AN: Next, I'm working on chapter seven of "Weaver and Jinx." After that, I'm taking a brief break from Worm fics to focus on an original work (a Mongol-esque fantasy).
     
    Last edited: May 28, 2015
  5. Peanuckle

    Peanuckle Versed in the lewd.

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    Well that was touching. Lotta people just want to hurt Emma, but believable redemption fics are way better, IMO. Emma's still got a bit of that manipulative bitch in her, but I imagine she'd eventually open up to Taylor after they've really rebuilt things.
     
  6. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    So many feels.

    I like it, a lot.
     
  7. JMHthe3rd

    JMHthe3rd Not too sore, are you?

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    I've always found Emma to a really sad character. Her interlude is painful to read as you watch her lose herself into this toxic worldview. She needed help, and instead she got the worst therapist in the world. It's doubly tragic that there's no closure. She apparently kills herself after Arcadia, and Taylor never learns why her best friend inexplicably turned on her.

    I remember when first reading Worm I was hoping for some sort of redemption arc, or at least the beginning of one.


    Yeah, Emma's conscience has been reawakened, but I wanted to avoid having her whole personality change. She's still essentially the same Emma.
     
  8. GiftofLove

    GiftofLove A Gift From The Heart

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    I am enjoying this quite a lot. I always enjoy a proper redemption, and this one is handled with great skill.
     
  9. Harpy81

    Harpy81 I trust you know where the happy button is?

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    in my opinion it should be a bit of both I think that Emma should pay but at the same time I think she should get redemption
     
    JMHthe3rd likes this.
  10. cyberswordsmen

    cyberswordsmen I trust you know where the happy button is?

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    Accepting some amount of punishment is an important part of any redemption plotline unless you want it to come off as them just getting away with their crimes with author support. Emma here seems like she realizes this but doesn't quite know how to go about it productively.
     
  11. Prince Charon

    Prince Charon Just zis guy, you know?

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    ... which is itself pretty believable, really.
     
  12. GiftofLove

    GiftofLove A Gift From The Heart

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    "So I ruined Taylor until she would rather die than be in the same world as me."

    ". . . I - I don't think hallmark has a card for this."
     
  13. cyberswordsmen

    cyberswordsmen I trust you know where the happy button is?

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    Yup. I like redemption stories but doing them right requires the author to keep in mind exactly how horrible their crimes are and the character flaws that lead to them. A lot of stories just have them up and decide they are done being evil and suddenly they are redeemed. This one has done a great job so far.
     
  14. Threadmarks: Ideation 1.3
    JMHthe3rd

    JMHthe3rd Not too sore, are you?

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    1.3
    "She tried to kill herself, Julia. I was there with her dad when he drove to the hospital. He was crying, and he . . . he thought we were still friends! I felt . . . I felt so . . ." I trailed off and let the sobs gush out. In the Skype window, Julia's pixelated expression had changed slowly from contempt to suspicion to now a sort of wary shame. I had her.

    "But . . . Taylor's a loser! You say it all the time!"

    "She's not . . . Okay, she's a nerd, but she didn't deserve all that shit we did to her. She's fragile. And I'm pretty sure she's depressed. People use that word a lot, but do you know what it means? It doesn't just mean she's sad. It's an illness. Her brain can't make the chemicals to let her be happy. Can you imagine what that's like, always being miserable and there's nothing you can do? And we were just beating up on her every day! And . . . and there's the locker. I know that hurt her a lot. I've known her since kindergarten, Julia. She was my best friend. And I almost killed her."

    Julia looked a little upset now, but also confused. "I know you used to be friends. I always thought it was weird that you hated her so much. What happened between you two?"

    I swallowed the lump in my throat and took a deep breath. I wiped my eyes. This was the fourth time I've gone through this today. I felt drained.

    "It was after Taylor's mom died. She was a wonderful person. She was smart and beautiful, and Taylor was really close to her. Afterwards, it was like Taylor lost a part of herself. I know it sounds horrible, but she was kind of a wet blanket. I tried to be supportive, and she was getting better. But then I met Sophia and . . . it started as little things, like Sophia tripping her and calling her names. And soon I caught myself doing it too. Sophia was fun, you know, and Taylor wasn't. And we just kept doing it more and more, and doing worse and worse things. And, well, you know how Sophia is . . ."

    Julia looked away. "I . . . I've never really liked Sophia." As if anyone did.

    "I know it's not an excuse," I said, "but it's like she brings out of the worst in people."

    Julia turned back at the screen, her brown eyes wide. "I know, right? She's always angry and negative, but she has this 'I'm-so-cool' attitude and it's like . . ."

    ". . . it's like you want to impress her," I finished.

    "Yeah, kind of like that. She's still a bitch, though."

    I nodded solemnly. "But it was more than that. I don't want to get into it right now, but a couple years ago something bad happened to me. I . . . I should have gone into therapy, but I didn't. And with Sophia always around, it was like I lost myself. I wish I could take it all back, Julia, everything I've done, but all I can do is try and fix what I've broke. I've talked with Taylor. I promised her things would be different, that I'll try to make it up to her. She . . . she's a sweet girl, Julia. She just needs friends."

    Julia blinked rapidly. The resolution was low, but her eyes looked wet. She chewed her lip and said, "My aunt . . . she committed suicide. She was seventeen. I never knew her, but my dad still misses her and I . . . I don't want to drive someone to that. So, okay, I'll leave Taylor alone when she comes back. I promise. I'll even be nice to her."

    I smiled. "Thanks, Julia. I knew I could count on you."

    "But what about Sophia?" she asked.

    "Don't worry, I'll talk to Sophia," I said. "I'll see you tomorrow."

    "Okay, later Ems."

    My tears had been real; that helped sell it. And most of what I'd said was true.

    I was raising Taylor from a punchline to a person. I was humanizing her, making her matter. It had been easier than I expected. Jessie and Christine were fine with it, and Madison had even cried when I mentioned the suicide attempt. That had surprised me.

    Madison had confessed she thought we went too far with the locker but kept on bullying Taylor because it was expected of her--and she'd liked it. But after the telephone pole, she just felt bad. She told me we should have just stuck with the harmless 'juice and glue' pranks, but now she was more than willing to stop the bullying altogether. I even convinced her to come with me to the principal tomorrow. That hadn't been too hard, especially since my dad was going to make sure Sophia took most of the blame anyway.

    If Taylor hadn't . . . woken me up, I know I would have taken a different path. I'd laugh about Taylor trying to kill herself, and I could easily see me getting all the girls to sign a 'Better Luck Next Time' card and leaving it in her locker for when she returned to school. For an extra cruel touch, maybe slip a razor blade inside.

    And that's what scared me: if Taylor hadn't triggered in the locker, she probably would have committed suicide by now. And if that had happened, I'd never be able to face what I'd done. I wouldn't be strong enough. I'd live my life desperately lying to myself about how she deserved to die for being weak, how she meant nothing to me. But the rot would be there, poisoning my insides even as I denied the pain.

    Taylor had saved me from that.

    I had so much to make up for; I owed her so much. Keeping her safe was a good start.

    ***
    "How about in-school suspension?" my dad suggested. "Two weeks for Ms. Hess, and three days for Emma and Madison."

    Ms. Blackwell, the principal of Winslow High, paused, but nodded. "I'll have to talk with Ms. Hess' caseworker, but I believe she'll find two weeks acceptable. And taking into account that you two have willingly come forward about the bullying, you'll each serve only three days."

    "In a room separate from Ms. Hess," my dad said.

    "Of course," the principal agreed.

    "Good, I'm glad we could come to an arrangement." My dad pushed the document across the conference table. "But there's also the matter of Ms. Hebert's medical expenses."

    Ms. Blackwell winced a little. "Yes, we'll pay for her psychiatric treatment as an ancillary to what we agreed following the incident in January."

    "Thank you," I said, and for an instant the principal glared at me. At least she'd shed the look of stunned betrayal she'd worn throughout most of the meeting, as if she wanted to scream out, Why are you doing this to me? I was letting you two get away with it!

    Throughout this, Madison had remained silent, her head turning back and forth between my dad and the principal as if she were a puppy trying to follow a college lecture. Her parents scarcely seemed less confused. It was understandable. Ms. Blackwell should have been the one deciding the punishment, Sophia should have been present, and if anyone should be paying for Taylor's therapy, it should be us. That my dad was practically telling the principal what to do must have seemed truly bizarre--unless one knew what was really going on.

    When Sophia was first forced into the Wards, she was worried she'd be under increased scrutiny, so we eased off on Taylor for a while. But Sophia found out two things that convinced her to take the risk. First, the school received additional funding for having her enrolled. Second, her PRT liaison really liked her cozy assignment. In short, both the principal and liaison had a vested interest in covering up for her.

    The locker had been a test of this theory, and it had passed. Sophia mattered. Taylor did not. I remembered that wicked glee I felt after we learned we were going to get away with it, that Taylor would live every day in fear that it could happen again. Thinking on it now made me want to cry and throw up. I'd been a terrible person. Ms. Blackwell was a terrible principal.

    But now that we were threatening to involve the school board and the PRT, we had her over a barrel. Or at least she thought so. It was actually more of a balancing act on my dad's part. He didn't want Sophia to get into too much trouble because I was in on the bullying too. Also, he'd testified as a character witness during her probationary hearing; it'd look bad for him if she got kicked off the Wards.

    But in the end, my dad only faced professional embarrassment and the inconvenience of keeping me out of juvie. Ms. Blackwell faced career ruin. She signed the document.

    I was especially proud of my dad for drafting that so quickly. It weakened our position, making this extra demand of the school, but he knew how important it was for me that Taylor get help. Though he insisted on adding a legalese-hidden clause that Mr. Hebert relinquished all rights to file suit against the unnamed 'alleged instigating parties,'--that is, us and the Clements.

    I didn't want my dad getting sued because of me, but Taylor deserved compensation for everything I put her through. On the other hand, I'm sure I could get lots of money when I went out as an independent hero. Gang hideouts probably had whole piles of cash laying around. Finders keepers, right?

    But I could worry about that later. What I had to deal with now was Sophia only getting two weeks suspension. She was violent. She'd killed people. She was going to be pissed when she figured out what happened, and I wasn't going to be able to protect Taylor all the time.

    Sophia had to go.

    ***
    For in-school suspension, they stuck Madison and me in an empty classroom and gave us busywork. Read this. Write an essay on that. Work these algebra problems. That sort of thing. Poor Mr. Gladly was assigned to watch us but spent most of his time playing on his phone. He didn't say anything when we took out ours.

    I texted some particularly untrustworthy friends and that I hoped Sophia didn't find out I snitched on her. Others I texted that I planned on confronting her after school. Sure enough, when Mr. Gladly let us out, I found I had a slowly growing entourage shadowing me down the hallway. I lingered by my locker, and as I'd hoped, Sophia appeared and came up to me.

    She'd saved me in that alleyway, a year and a half ago, but if I hadn't clawed that guy in the eye, she would have let them cut me up. I'd always told myself that this didn't bother me, that prey deserved whatever they got, but no matter how many times I repeated the mantra in my head, it never quite felt right inside. And if I've learned anything over the last few days, it's what you feel deep down that counts.

    How many rapes and murders had Sophia allowed to happen while she watched? I owed her nothing.

    Sophia stopped a few paces away. Her expression was too hurt to be called anger. The others in the hall watched in silence.

    She kept her voice to a low growl. "Why did you tell, Emma? Just tell me why."

    "Taylor tried to kill herself," I said.

    She blinked at that but recovered quickly. "So what? Hebert's a coward. She tried to take a coward's way out. You ratted me out for her?"

    "I reprioritized my life, Sophia. I'm through with you. You're a thug, and you made me into one too. But now I've outgrown you. I'm better than you."

    She bulled forward until she had to look down to meet my eyes. Hers were dark and wild with confused fury. She bared her teeth. I smelled tuna on her breath.

    "Better than me? What the fuck's wrong with you?"

    I could kill her in a second. Knowing that gave me strength. The lockers were just to the right of me. I hooked one ankle behind the other, twisted slightly and kept my arms loose by my side. I turned my head, as if dismissing her.

    "I'm done talking to you, Sophia. Go away."

    "No one tells me to go away--"

    She shoved me. It wasn't hard, but I was prepared for that. I toppled backwards and pivoted, and my cheek smacked against a locker door. My nose struck the padlock. I heard a crunch and pain snaked through my head. I was sprawled on the floor, warm blood gushing down my lips and chin. I licked at the iron taste. The hallway erupted into murmurs.

    I glared up at Sophia through my tears and the stars dancing across my vision. I hadn't planned on the nose, but as I sat up I snorted through my nostrils. It stung, but the red sprinkling down my blouse looked very dramatic.

    "You stay away from Taylor, you crazy bitch!" I screamed, my words sounding stuffed up. "I'm through with your shit! Hasn't she suffered enough?"

    Sophia stared down at me, too stunned to react. Slowly, she scanned the hallway with all its accusing eyes, and I saw it in her face as the gears turned and she realized what I'd done. I had to force myself not to smile.

    "Fuck!" she shouted, her fists balled at her side. For a moment, I thought she would snap and attack me right there. Instead she turned around, and the crowd parted as she stormed off.

    Madison and Julia helped me up and walked me to the nurse's office. After the school called my dad, and I was lying on a sofa with an ice pack on my swelling nose, Charlotte and a couple of other girls showed up.

    "I feel so stupid," I said as I cried. "I thought I could reason with her, but . . ." I shook my head and instantly regretted it. The nurse had given me Tylenol, but I wish she had something stronger.

    "Sophia's mental," Charlotte agreed, leaning against the office doorway. "But you have to admit, you three have been bitches too. Especially you, Emma."

    "Hey!" said Julia. "You can't say--"

    I held up a hand. "No, she's right. We have been bitches. But that's going to change. Sophia's been a bad influence on us, I think we can all agree."

    "So, what are you going to do now?" Charlotte asked, giving me a shrewd look. She knew I was hardly an hapless hanger-on. The only reason Sophia was popular was because of me.

    "I'm going into therapy, and I'm going to spend a long time making it up to Taylor." I paused and took a deep breath, blinking so fresh tears rolled down my cheeks. "But I'm afraid of what Sophia's going to do. Back there in the hall she . . . she said she was going to make Taylor pay."

    I only had to wait a few moments.

    "Yeah, I heard her say that," Madison said.

    "She whispered it," said Julia, "but I heard it too."

    "Me too."

    "Yeah, fuck Sophia. I heard it too."

    Charlotte rolled her eyes. "Sure, why not? Count me in."

    My bright smile hurt my nose. "Thanks, guys!"

    Ms. Blackwell had her face in her palms when my dad and me entered the conference room for the second time that day, but she had no choice in what to do. The girls and I had told her what happened--admittedly spicing up the truth a little. Not only had Sophia threatened Taylor, but apparently she'd also deliberately slammed my face into the locker. That made for better drama, which is important in a story. And that's what I was creating here: a new story for a new regime.

    Taylor was no longer a pathetic loser who existed only to be shitted on. She now was a sweet, shy, nerdy girl who'd been so horribly abused she nearly took her own life. I was one of her guilt-ridden tormentors who'd been led astray by a past trauma and a crazy friend, and now I was desperate to make amends. And Sophia was revealed as the evil psycho behind everything. Everyone liked a good story, and that this one was mostly true only made it better. The school would lap it up. They would rally behind it.

    But Sophia wasn't a fan. She'd restrained herself enough not to attack me right there in the principal's office, but she'd screamed and cursed and kicked Ms. Blackwell's desk. She'd called me a lying, traitorous bitch, but who was going to believe her? I was the one who came forward about the bullying. I was the one with the broken nose.

    So my dad and the principal agreed that Sophia had to be expelled. She was also facing assault charges, though my dad thought that even with her probation, it might take more than that to get her kicked off the Wards. But at the very least, she'd be disciplined and probably barred from patrols until she passed a psychiatric evaluation. And of course, there would also be the restraining orders against approaching either Taylor or me. And since the ice had been growing thinner with every step she took, she wouldn't risk doing anything stupid now.

    And if she did, I could lure her to an alleyway and take a more permanent measure. I knew I could do it if I had to. I was strong now.

    "I'm glad she's out of our lives," my dad said as we crossed the parking lot to our car. "And I'm glad you're reconciling with Taylor. Not everyone would take you back after . . . after everything that's happened. That's a friend worth keeping."

    "I know, dad," I said. "She was always my best friend. I . . . I was stupid and forgot that."

    "Are you going to visit her tonight?"

    "Yeah, I can't wait to see the look on her face when I tell her I got Sophia expelled."

    "I think Sophia did that on her own," my dad said, and we both laughed.
    ***
    To be continued . . .

    AN: Okay, I've been itching to write another chapter for "Tales of a Power Armor Apocalypse" and then after that I'll get back to Weaver and Jinx."
     
    Last edited: Jun 30, 2015
  15. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Holy shit.

    Emma as manipulator of events is fucking badass.

    And taking a hit to make sure that Sophia gets expelled was kind of awesome.

    I have to admit, when I read "Sophia had to go." I thought for a moment that she had a more final solution in mind. (Not that I would object).

    Also, Emma using her position to do a total turnaround of public opinion on Taylor is very illuminating.

    That was kind of awesome. I'm going to read it again. Because that was how awesome it was.
     
  16. Gear

    Gear Who threw that wrench!?

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    That option is on the table, make no mistake about it, but it's a last resort kind of option, what with the high risk of horrible blowback and all.
     
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  17. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    And after they discuss it a few more times, they will actually remember her saying it.

    Such is mob psychology.
     
  18. GiftofLove

    GiftofLove A Gift From The Heart

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    The best way to get passed a lie detector is to think you're telling the truth.

    : )

    -

    I have to say it feels a little too smooth though. I mean, I expected some of the girls to refuse to change their stance on Taylor. Suicide is a hot button for a lot of people, after all.
     
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  19. JMHthe3rd

    JMHthe3rd Not too sore, are you?

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    Thanks. I've tried to avoid essentially replacing Emma with an OC. Even after Taylor's Mind Rape Scary Dream Therapy, Emma's personality is still relatively intact, and her powers serve as a nice security blanket.


    The Trio are the spearheads behind the bullying. Most of the other girls, even the ones involved with the bullying, don't have strong opinions on Taylor one way or another. Any holdouts would be going against the zeitgeist Emma's constructed. Bullying Taylor is no longer the in thing.
     
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  20. Starfox5

    Starfox5 Experienced.

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    Basic human psychology. There was an experiment where they made people watch a recording of a car accident, and then asked them if the traffic light had been on red or green at the crossing. Many witnesses were convinced it had been green, many were dead sure it had been red - but there had not been a traffic light there at all.
     
  21. alethiophile

    alethiophile Shadowed Philosopher Administrator

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    This is really cool.

    I figure this is my favorite take on Emma's character I've read, not that this is saying much. I suppose the second would be One More Trigger, which is decent, but butterflies so early that that Emma might as well be an OC compared to the one we see in canon. (The other closest thing I can think of to a fic that redeems Emma after canon start is Breaking of Shadow Stalker. Which should tell you how deep I'm reaching, that I bother to count that. <_<)
     
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  22. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    What, Amelia isn't a valid Emma-redeemed fic?

    And how about Security! ? :D
     
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  23. Starfox5

    Starfox5 Experienced.

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    There's also Atonement and Intrepid, both from Cerulean.
     
    Last edited: Jun 18, 2015
  24. alethiophile

    alethiophile Shadowed Philosopher Administrator

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    Haven't read either of the latter. Amelia...I had honestly forgotten Emma showed up in that. Which just goes to show how much other stuff was going on, I guess.

    Security mostly seems to have Emma in as a side note. Neat to have, but not notably significant to the story. Also, I'd forgotten about those bits too. (I'm not too good at categorizing stories in my head. <_<)
     
  25. Starfox5

    Starfox5 Experienced.

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    Atonement doesn't feature Emma for a bit, but she later grows into a bigger role, and redeems herself.

    Intrepid starts with Emma wanting to redeem herself, she's one of the four leading characters there.

    I can recommend both stories, they are excellent.
     
  26. JMHthe3rd

    JMHthe3rd Not too sore, are you?

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    I like Intrepid, but I find that Emma's post-locker redemption unrealistic. I just don't think Emma at that point can pull herself out of the crazy hole she's dug herself into. Not on her own, and not the way it was described. Her defense mechanisms are too good. Would she feel guilty for ruining Taylor's life? Undoubtedly, but it'd all be in her subconscious. She won't reflect on it, because that guilt would hurt. So she'd do what she always does: ignore it and lie to herself. Shift the mental gears. Fake it until she makes it. Etc, etc.

    I think it'd take a personal crisis like the guilt-trip scene out of Atonement or Emma's post-Arcadia meltdown in Nyctophobia (or, a master attack like in Faraday) before Emma could believably confront what she's done.

    Or years of therapy, but "years of therapy" doesn't lend itself to a compelling read.

    Intrepid!Emma's radical heel-face-turn just feels like an amnesiac OC has quantum leaped into Emma and inherited her memories. Or someone's secretly mastered her.

    By the way: I like the Emma-redemption subplot in Security! It works because Mike dismantled her enabling support structure, forcing her to face herself. And later there was the Bakuda-at-Winslow bomb collar crisis moment. It's dropped out of the main plot, but I thought it was nicely done.
     
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  27. Threadmarks: Ideation 1.4
    JMHthe3rd

    JMHthe3rd Not too sore, are you?

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    1.4
    I wasn't going to be a monster again. I wasn't. But a pressure built in me, and putting others down was the only way I knew to release it.

    I let a little out today.

    "Wait. Come back. I'm sorry!"

    Gothapotamus stormed into the bathroom, the door bouncing off her big butt as she pushed through. I followed her inside before it could shut. She stomped over to the mirror and leaned close, her gross belly dipping into the sink, and began to touch up the pale foundation of her makeup. She wasn't crying, which I guess was good, but she looked pretty mad.

    "We shouldn't have made fun of you."

    "You do it every day," she said bitterly.

    It'd almost been a tradition. Every time Gothapotamus lumbered past us in the hall, me, Madison and--until recently--Sophia would make our customary, Boom! Boom! Boom! footstep sound effects. She'd give us her pissed piggy look, and we'd laugh. Aside from those amusing moments, she never crossed my mind.

    But today, that dirty look carried an extra edge. I'd always known we were hurting her--that was kind of the point--but it wasn't funny anymore. She might be a fat, ugly vampire girl, but that wasn't an excuse to make her life more miserable than it already was. Just by looking at her, I could tell she didn't have any friends. Maybe I could help.

    "That's going to stop," I said. "We're not going to bother you anymore."

    Her hooded brown eyes, darkened with too much eyeshadow, regarded me carefully.

    "They say you're trying to turn over a new leaf, but I don't buy it. What's really going on?"

    I took a deep breath which made my bruised nose ache. "I don't know if you've heard, but Taylor--"

    "--tried to kill herself," she finished; she stepped forward until we were nearly touching. "But you should be crowing right now. After all, you're the one who ruined her life. You even warned me to stay away from her. You remember that? You said losers like her don't deserve friends. Didn't you two used to be besties? That's fucked up. And what about the locker? Everyone knows that was you. I can't even imagine how nasty that must have been."

    I could. 'Nasty' didn't even begin to do that nightmare justice. My throat grew tight. I fought to keep back the tears. "I . . . I'm trying to change . . ."

    "So you betrayed Sophia. Don't get me wrong: I hate that bitch. But being your BFF is a precarious position to hold. If Taylor wants a backstabber like you back, she must be suicidally desperate. I wonder how long before you grow tired of her and lock her in a septic tank?"

    On some reflex, I hugged myself. "I . . . I don't want to be that person anymore. I'm going into therapy . . ."

    "Oh, yeah, I heard the rumors. Something 'traumatic' happened to you, right? What, were you raped or something? Does that make you special? Is that your excuse?" She advanced, making me step back until I was against a stall door, and she leaned into my face. Her breath stank. "Let me tell you something: lots of people have gone through lots of bad shit, and they don't turn into full-out psychopaths. You're a narcissistic drama queen, Emma. You're poison. Stay the fuck away from me."

    She shoved me into the stall and stormed off. I wanted to call out to her, but I didn't even know her real name. I sat on the toilet and sobbed until blood dripped from my broken nose.

    Yesterday I had my first session with my therapist. He told me that when people are scared and hurting, they could do horrible things. I know that, but Gothapotamus was right: it's not an excuse.

    After the alley, Sophia's philosophy of survivors and victims was like a lifeline for me, and while I know now that worldview was flawed, there'd been opportunity in her words. I could have reinvented myself. I could have carried a taser and pepper spray. I could have thrown myself into self-defense training. I could have chalked up the day to bad luck and moved on.

    Instead I was an insecure coward and ruined my best friend's life.

    Taylor's locker nightmare creepy-crawled through my mind, overlaying with the memory of me and Sophia giggling outside. I shuddered. I took out my phone, but she didn't need to hear me blubbering. With shaking hands, I texted her a hug.

    I couldn't change who I'd been, but I could change who I was going to be. But I'd slipped with Gothapotamus. I needed to break old habits. I needed to be a New Emma.

    I dried my eyes and changed into my gym clothes. I had one more period left for the day, but I stopped by the nurse's office and told them I didn't feel well. I lived several miles away, and the surrounding neighborhood was pretty rough. But unless Lung himself planned on mugging me, I didn't have anything to worry about.

    I'm in decent shape, but I'm not used to running. It wasn't long before I was stooped and panting, my guts churning. Sweat soaked the splint on my nose, which ached and dribbled bloody snot as I strained to breath through the clogged nostrils. My long red hair hung in wet rat tails. I wasn't even halfway home, but I pressed on.

    My world receded to the rush of wind on my face and the pounding of my sneakers on concrete. By the time I reached my house my clothes were drenched and my brain throbbed feverishly. I nearly fell over when I retched all over the sidewalk.

    I staggered inside where downed a bottle of water and plopped on the living room couch, my breaths raging like a bellows. My mom cried with alarm and asked what on Earth had gotten into me. I may have mumbled something about not being weak, but I didn't bother explaining.

    When I recovered enough, I went to my bedroom. I'd already destroyed all the photos of me and Sophia, but there were still the posters of eye candy boy bands and beefcake hip hop stars. I tore every one of them down, ripped them to shreds. A blue spark from my fingertips set the paper scraps ablaze in the trashcan. Smoke wafted out my open window.

    Aside from two hanger bars packed with name brand clothes--a lot of them gifts from modelling jobs--my walk-in closet was crammed with boxes of toys: Strawberry Shortcake dolls and Barbies and Hello Kitty crap from when I was in junior high. I'd taken comfort in owning them, but they were frivolous, childish things. Old Emma things. I wanted to melt them, burn them, explode them, but instead I pulled out the clothes and boxes and arrayed them on the floor. Among them I found the superhero action figures me and Taylor used to play with. Those, I would treasure.

    In the bathroom, while I collected my more valuable perfumes, I stopped to look at myself in the mirror. I was a mess, my round face flushed, my nose bandaged and swollen, my makeup smeared. But aside from that, I filled out my gray tanktop with nice curves, and my pale skin was flawless except for the faint freckles sprinkling my chest, shoulders and face.

    It was a body that had served me well, but it was soft and weak and would tend towards chubbiness if I let it. My sister Anne was already headed that way, packing on the post-high school pounds. But I wouldn't go down that path. I would be hard and strong.

    Taking good pictures took longer than I expected, so I only listed a few of the more expensive items on my eBay account. By the time I quit, my parents had left for a business banquet, so I had the evening to myself.

    Our garage wasn't exactly tidy, but with the SUV still in the body shop it had a lot of room. In the corner, behind rotten boxes and draped in cobwebs, sat a pile of cinder blocks from when we had our pool deck built years ago. No one would miss them.

    It was embarrassing how much I had to strain to lift the top block one handed and hold it before my face. My bicep burned; I knew I'd drop it soon. So I swirled out my purple, and with a crack of lightning the concrete exploded, the mist protecting me from the grit and gravel. I laughed. That was fun!

    I smashed a few more this way before I decided to try something more elaborate. I concentrated, and the mist swept out, absorbing over and into the remaining dozen blocks. I could feel the echo of every interior crack, every embedded grain. Breathing in the ozone, I raised my hands in a dramatic arise gesture and the pile floated up as if the surrounding gravity had shut off. Blue and violet sparks crackled like electric gnats amid the blocks which tumbled slowly like cubist asteroids in a nebula. It was beautiful. I could watch it for hours.

    But I could feel the drain this lifting took on me, and when I tried stacking the blocks into a tower, I lost my focus and they crashed to the floor. Cursing, I kicked at one and hurt my foot, but I had a feeling my powers would grow stronger with practice. I'd experiment more later. For now, I needed a more physical release.

    One wouldn't guess it now, but in college my mom took Savate--French kickboxing. She still had a dusty old punching bag on one of the garage shelves. When I finally pulled it down, climbed a ladder and hung it from a rafter, I was again soaked in sweat. My arms and back hurt, and I felt dizzy. But to slack off now would be a step towards the Old Emma, the weakling, the traitor.

    I didn't know how to kickbox, but I'd watched a few martial art movies. I wrapped gauze around my fists, put on some pulse-pounding music and began to punch, kick and scream at the swinging bag as hard and loud as I could.

    A few minutes later I was holding an ice pack over my right wrist. I might also have jammed a finger. Or broken it.

    Maybe I should take classes.

    ***​

    I was getting a weird sense of deja vu.

    Sitting in bed with my phone to my ear, I was leaning against the wall. My room felt somehow foggy, and while I couldn't read the blurred glow of my alarm clock, I knew it must be late. A purple mist twirled slowly from my palm, the pulsing neon magenta illuminating the small packages stacked on my nightstand. I'd sold a few of my perfumes. I would drop them off at the post office on the way to school.

    I'd just come back from a long road trip to Manchester, and my shins and thighs still ached from the lessons my mom had given me. I really wanted nothing more to just sleep away the next few hours until I had to get up. But I'd promised Taylor she could call at any time . . . and if she was going to call in the middle of the night, I was going to be there for her.

    She hadn't told me; she said she just wanted to talk. But I could tell she'd had another nightmare. It crushed me inside knowing that she was still haunted by that locker. I really hoped the therapy would help.

    "They released me today, or I guess that was yesterday now. I'll be at school in the morning. The doctor gave me a lot of prescriptions to keep track of. A couple for depression and a couple more for my narcolepsy--though for that he told me to mainly just drink lots of coffee and tea. He's also given me something for . . . for the nightmares, but later he wants to try something called 'exposure therapy.' Basically, he'll talk me through the . . . the locker. Until I get used to it. That way I won't freak out every time I . . ."

    She trailed off again. I heard breaths over the phone. A lump grew in my throat.

    "I'm sorry, Taylor . . ."

    "I know, Emma."

    "Give me the dreams. Like you did before. Let me go through it with you."

    "That's not what friends do to each other," Taylor said with a sigh. "I'm not going to lie: I still have a lot of resentment. But I'm not going to hold a grudge. Do you know why? It's because you were mentally ill. And now you're better. I know this. I can taste the difference in your brain."

    And I could feel the difference. Before, I was living a brittle, empty existence, as if I was cut off from my soul.

    "Thank you, for that," I said. "And you can do whatever you need to do in my head. To make sure I never backslide."

    "I don't think that'll be necessary, but I won't let you go bad again, I promise." She paused, and when she spoke again I could hear a smile in her voice. "But while we're on the subject of me being in your head, what do you want to dream about tonight?"

    I grinned. I loved her dreams--well, not those dreams. I loved the nice ones. The ones taken from our shared memories. The ones like little adventures. It'd been a couple of days since she'd given me one. I hadn't wanted to bug her, but I was beginning to worry.

    "Surprise me," I said.

    She chuckled. "All right. I think you will be surprised. By the way, have you been keeping up with your dream journal?"

    I cringed. "Sorry, I always forget when I wake up, and by the time I do remember, the dreams have already slipped my mind." I almost never remembered my natural dreams. Keeping my misty lamp floating in place, I crawled out of bed and took the notebook from the dresser. "I'll sleep with it in my arms. That way it'll be the first thing I see when I wake up."

    "Okay, but while I can whisper dreams into you, it's kind of awkward when you don't even know you're dreaming. We can have more fun when you learn to stay lucid."

    "I'll try. So far, the only thing I've used the journal for is doodling costume ideas."

    "I know. I'm looking at them right now. The longcoat is badass, and purple and black are a good color scheme. But I'm not a fan of the mask. It's too reminiscent of Shadow Stalker. Though I admit I might be biased."

    That made no sense. She was awake, so she couldn't be a ghost. And the notebook was closed and in my hands. Suddenly it occurred to me I was no longer holding the phone to my ear. I hadn't been for a while. So how had I been talking to her? It was then that I noticed the posters on the walls. The posters I'd torn down two days ago.

    Taylor sat next to me on the bed, her Cheshire grin wider and with more teeth than humanly possible. The magenta light of my powers sparkled in her dark eyes, making them seem electric. Her eyebrows arced in a shrug.

    "Surprised?" she asked.

    I woke up.

    Gentle morning twilight strained through my window blinds. I was holding my pillow which was wet from drool. Open on my nightstand, on top of the packages, sat my notebook. A page rose up as if on an unfelt breeze before turning over. I swept out my mist, keeping the energy low.

    Taylor's pale, slender ghost floated in the purple, wavering slightly like static. One of her hands was embedded in the top of my head. Her featureless face was staring at me. She raised her other hand from my dream journal and waved.

    "Sneaky," I said, sitting up.

    What did you expect? I'm a ghost, said a voice inside me, playful humor radiating from the tone. And I told you I was going to do this. Remember?

    And the memory came back. Earlier last night she had called me after one of her nightmares. The dream I'd just awoken from had been more or less a rehash of that. But later we'd talked about lucid dreaming, and I'd urged her to test me. Apparently, I failed.

    "It was still sneaky," I said, "making me dream something so ordinary--something we'd just done. People dream 'repeats' all the time. I might have figured it out if you put me in an enchanted forest full of unicorns or something."

    I didn't put you anywhere. I just worked with a dream you were already having.

    "Still sneaky."

    Taylor's spectral hand 'tapped' the notebook impatiently.

    "Okay, okay, you win. I'll start writing down my dreams. And I'll see you at school today, right?"

    I'll be there. I sensed a tinge of anxiety, and I winced a little. I didn't blame her.

    I stood and wrapped her ghost in a hug. Her long, spindly arms returned the gesture. She had no substance. I felt nothing more than vaguely cool air.

    "It'll be all right, Taylor. I promise."

    I know, Emma. And thank you. I'll see you soon.

    And her ghost evaporated, leaving me alone in my bedroom.

    It was a little past six. I still had to mail the packages before school, but there still was enough time for a morning run.
    ***

    To be continued . . .

    AN: I'd like to thank Racheakt for his help with writing this. His input has been invaluable.

    Next up, Chapter Nine of "Tales of the Power Armor Apocalypse," in which a butch lesbian and a homeless elf battle a giant bat mecha.

    After that, Chapter Nine of "Weaver and Jinx."
     
    Last edited: Jul 16, 2015
  28. Dr. Mercurious

    Dr. Mercurious Not too sore, are you?

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    ...I love it. I'm not sure if I'm supposed to say 'D'awwwwww' or 'Dear god that's fucked up' but I love it to bitsies!
     
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  29. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Both.

    Definitely both.

    When you're as fucked up as Emma is, you'll have a lot of fucked up (but less so than the state that she was originally in) moments before you get back to normal.

    One comment though; the stall doors in the girls' bathroom open outward (it's how Emma was able to trap Taylor in the stall in canon). Just saying.
     
  30. Xilph

    Xilph Well worn.

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    Maybe some bathrooms were made at different times as the school changed so had different doors installed? It works as an explanation just fine.
     
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