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Taylor Hebert, Medhall Intern [Worm Fanfic]

Discussion in 'Creative Writing' started by Ack, Feb 26, 2019.

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  1. Mecrazyfang

    Mecrazyfang Not too sore, are you?

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    Every time I get to chapter two, three or so in an Ack fic I buckle down and ride past the cringe.
    Not of bad writing, lord no, of a genuinely painful and faithful recreation of bullying, such that Wildbow himself would nod and take a few notes.

    It's always swiftly followed by catharsis. Every, single time, it's wrapped up into a neat little package that is formulaic but inevitable.
    I know it's coming, and it doesn't dillute the effect at all.

    Thank you, Ack, I needed that today.
     
  2. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Really? Every time? Huh.

    I need to up my game if I'm that predictable.
     
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  3. Xyshuryn

    Xyshuryn Holder of Hands

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    I wonder what it says about Brockton Bay that a nazi controlled company is more supportive and wholesome than Taylor's other options. Still, I am enjoying this as I do most of your other works.

    I feel that I'm due an Ack Attack! That is to say, I'll binge a few stories.
     
  4. Visual Pun

    Visual Pun Know what you're doing yet?

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    Can't wait for the revelation that Winslow has zero authority to do anything about Taylor macing Sophia.

    Since Taylor had already stepped onto the bus when Sophia laid hands on her, Taylor was off of school property.

    'Alexander the Great' will enjoy the hell out of eviscerating any and all opposition Winslow, the Barnsesezes (how do you STOP spelling that?!?), and the Trio can muster.

    I wonder if Sophia will spin a yarn about this to her PRT handler/Social Worker or will just hide the puffy eyes behind her mask and plot revenge on Taylor...

    Eagerly awaiting the the next chapter, whenever availability to write it syncs up with your, no doubt, copious free time.
     
  5. SMDVogrin

    SMDVogrin Getting out there.

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    Predictable? Or "Brand conscious"? :)
     
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  6. Crazael

    Crazael Could be wittier.

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    Is that necessarily true of everyone, though?
     
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  7. macdjord

    macdjord Well worn.

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    Greg mentioned that the janitorial staff made racist jokes, which eliminates the hypothesis that Medhall is an ordinary company which simply happens to be controlled from the top by the E88. They can't all be E88 members, but plainly enough of them are racists to influence the corporate culture. That doesn't mean everyone is racist, but Ms. Harcourt almost certainly is, and I doubt very much that Kaiser would allow someone who wasn't an E88 supporter to become the company's lawyer.
     
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  8. GladiusLucix

    GladiusLucix Versed in the lewd.

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    I'm pretty sure that Victor was the guy from legal, especially with the mention of his wife working as a nurse sometimes.
     
  9. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Members of the Empire Eighty-Eight are seeded through the company, more or less keeping an eye on the rest of them. Victor (because Alexander the Great had many victories) is in Legal, Crusader is in Advertising, etc, etc.

    Hiring isn't controlled strictly by "if you're not a Neo-Nazi, you're not one of us" but people are carefully sounded out for white supremacist and generally racist leanings and more of those are hired than others. Not that they don't take on minorities from time to time, but they're there because a) Kaiser recognises that ability and intelligence is not restricted by ethnic boundaries and b) they're useful camouflage. Also, racial harassment within the company is strictly verboten, for obvious reasons. Also, racial harassment of company employees outside working hours. That sort of thing might hurt the company, so it's a no go.

    That being said, teams within the building tend to be organised in groups of 'we think this way'. Those who dislike PoC are grouped with others of a like mind, while those who have no opinion on different ethnicities are teamed with them. Those who do think in an 'acceptable' way, but who aren't already Empire rank and file, are marked out for discussion and eventual recruitment. Greg, being an intern, was dropped into a group who was about mid-range with their attitudes; happy to swap jokes but hadn't been given the recruitment pitch yet.

    Ms Harcourt is naturally that way; she's not Empire. They haven't bothered trying to recruit her (possibly because they're scared she'll take over). She is, however, fiercely loyal to Max Anders, to the point that she might not even take it amiss if she found out.

    Tracey is oblivious.
     
  10. macdjord

    macdjord Well worn.

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    Ah. Not nearly as bad as I'd feared.
     
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  11. Gladiusone

    Gladiusone Experienced.

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    The irony I picked up from that chapter? The tactics that the Trio use, the hate emails, harassment, assault, theft, gaslighting, manipulating authority figures? The tactics that the Medhall people are getting huffed up about?

    Theyre the tactics white supremacists use every day.

    ’But that’s totally different!’
     
  12. preier

    preier Not too sore, are you?

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    Cliche Nazi:
    "It's unnatural and immoral when it's THEM doing it to US"

    Fanon Sophia spawns:
    "Yeah, damn preys getting ideas, trying to get above their station!"

    Nazi, with tears in his eyes. "You understand, you really understand don't you?"

    This was to be only the start of a beautiful polyhating relationship and of the famed United Haters of Brockton Bay.
     
  13. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Max Anders signed a document, then put it in his out tray. He picked up the next one and skimmed it; just a cc regarding a new potential hire ... and then his brain skidded to a halt as he stared at the included photo. Ten seconds later, he was punching numbers into his phone.

    "What the hell is this on my desk? You're actually considering hiring this Sophia Hess?"

    "Uh, yes, sir. We're also thinking about fast-tracking her for recruitment."

    He took a deep breath, if only to prevent blood vessels from exploding in his forehead. "You fucking morons! She's black! You do not hire black individuals and recruit them into a Neo-Nazi organisation!"

    "Sir ... have you perused the additional material?"

    Frowning, he paused to do just that. When he'd finished, his tone had much moderated. "All right. I see your point. But ... recruiting a black person into the Empire Eighty-Eight ...?"

    "Sir, she's a natural. And you do keep talking about how we need to appear more inclusive."

    "Fine. Whatever." Max hung up the call, then got up and went to the liquor cabinet. Pouring half a glass of prime bourbon into his glass, he downed it in one gulp, not even noticing the bite.

    What's the world coming to when a teenage black girl does Nazism better than we do?
     
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  14. preier

    preier Not too sore, are you?

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    Eeeeee Ack-senpai liked and quoted my post!!

    Err, I mean...

    I'm honored, sir.


    Hmm makes me wonder, actually... We know that Max is not actually into the white supremacy koolaid, that krieg IS and that the pitfight trio is more into the "violence is life" trip ( I think, and hello Sophia). Do we have any insights into the fervour of the others?
     
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  15. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Reportedly, Rune triggered because she was in juvey with persons of colour (her parents aren't believers, but she is).

    Victor married into the Herren clan; Othala was a member of the extended family, which probably means she was indoctrinated from an early age.
     
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  16. macdjord

    macdjord Well worn.

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    That's a bit misleading:
    (From the Worm WoG thread)

    So it isn't that she was so intensely racist that just being in prison with black people constituted a Trigger event; she was racist enough to get herself in trouble and get sent to solitary, and that caused her Trigger.
     
  17. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Ah. Yeah, there's a little bit of a difference there.

    Still, she's racist.
     
  18. RJ_The_Berg

    RJ_The_Berg Getting out there.

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    That is just the wind playing your imagination... Just go back to sleep now.
     
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  19. RJ_The_Berg

    RJ_The_Berg Getting out there.

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    So, I have some things to unload...

    Those last two chapters was nerve-wracking. All that bull#### that just got loaded on Taylor after it finely went well for her! I felt and I don't usually say I have strong emotions about something.
    Well done Ack, you made me feel something :)

    And now: Quotes

    Taylor has already meet that many? Jesus, how did I miss that?!?

    Some people are just like that.

    I wouldn't say that. She seem to be kind, and friendly; and was sharp enough to notice that the message was out-off-character for Taylor ;)
     
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  20. Crazael

    Crazael Could be wittier.

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    I think he means about the whole 'neo-nazi' thing.
     
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  21. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Yup. She's a good judge of people, most of the time. But nobody ever stops to wonder, "Is my boss really Kaiser? ... nah."
     
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  22. Loveschach

    Loveschach I trust you know where the happy button is?

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    Give it a few generations, Wilhelm II had enough descendants that eventually one of them is gonna be in an actual position of power.
     
  23. RJ_The_Berg

    RJ_The_Berg Getting out there.

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    I know but tried to play my respons as a joke :(
     
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  24. Threadmarks: Part Four: Battle Lines; Drawn
    Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Taylor Hebert, Medhall Intern

    Part Four: Battle Lines; Drawn

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

    I managed to hold out for a good half-hour before I finally gave in to temptation. "I'm gonna go change," I said, grabbing up the package that held the rest of my newly-replaced business attire.

    "Well, finally," Tracey retorted with a grin. "I was beginning to think you were made of stone or something. Literally every other woman I know would've disappeared into the bathrooms in about three point two seconds to change into the new outfit."

    I raised an eyebrow. "Every other woman? Are you including Ms. Harcourt in that? I can't see her giving in to temptation of any kind."

    "True," she agreed. "She'd just glare at the package and the clothing would spontaneously dissolve and reform around her, out of pure fear of what she might do if it didn't."

    "Oh, good," I said in tones of fake relief. "I'm not the only one who thinks she's the most terrifying person in the building, then. At least, among the ones I've met."

    "Oh, no, no," she replied with a smirk. "Many people you haven't met are also of the opinion that she's a very bad person to cross. But she's not a total ogre." A gesture pointed out my suit jacket, which I was still wearing. "That, for instance. I mean, if you screw up, yes, she will tear you a number of brand-new orifices proportionate to the magnitude of your idiocy. But I've also seen her go to the mat with Mr. Anders himself if she thought one of her people was being unfairly treated."

    "Ah. Right." It took me a few seconds to register her pleased expression. "Wait, she spoke to him about me?" To say I was startled would've been an understatement.

    "Sure she did." Tracey snorted lightly. "You don't think she put all that together unilaterally, including getting Alexander in on the act, do you? Even a good sergeant-major knows when to punt a request up the line."

    "But … Mr. Anders?" I was having trouble getting my head around that little tidbit. Before this day, I would've given long odds that Max Anders didn't even know I existed, let alone that I was interning in his company. But now he knew who I was, and he'd obviously given Ms Harcourt the go-ahead to repurchase my stolen clothing and bring the amazingly-fit Alexander Grayson into the deal.

    Of course, Tracey's description of Ms. Harcourt as a sergeant-major definitely fit with my own observations of her. I wondered briefly why the woman wasn't in the military or the PRT, then decided she probably wouldn't find it challenging enough.

    "Don't sound so surprised." Tracey put her arm around my shoulders in an unexpectedly welcome side-hug. "If I know her, she requested a meeting and laid it out for him. He's not a stupid man. I bet he had all the angles figured out before she even finished. Trust me, Medhall will be getting just as much in the way of PR benefit out of this as you'll be getting material benefits. They will not be the losers in this. Neither will you." She didn't have to explain who the losers would be.

    "Wow." I shook my head. "Don't get me wrong, but … well, I've never had anyone step up for me like this before. It's entirely outside of my experience. If Medhall gets a bonus out of it too, I'm totally glad. I mean, you guys have been absolutely nothing but amazing to me. Even Ms. Harcourt was tough but fair about the induction. And you're going to be paying me to intern here?"

    Tracey's laughter was high and clear. "I'll be honest with you. Internships are so we can look prospective hires over and decide if we want them in the company or not. That said, unpaid internships don't usually go anywhere, while over sixty percent of paid internships generally end up with an actual job offer. We started with the unpaid internship to weed out those who are just in it for the money and don't see a future with the company. But you've made your mark, so that's why we're transitioning you to a paying position. So, if we think you're worth giving you real money to work here, we're going to want to protect our investment. Does that sound too mercenary to you?"

    I blinked. The idea of someone (apart from Dad) actually considering me of having real worth … I couldn't get my head around it. "I, uh … is it okay if I say I think it's pretty awesome that you think that much of me? Seriously, I don't think that much of me. Ever since you told me I'm gonna get paid, I've been worried that you're gonna change your minds as soon as I make my first screwup." There, I'd said it. It was out in the open. I knew Tracey wanted me to be honest, so that was as honest as I could get.

    The reaction I got was not the one I'd expected. Either she'd brush it off or laugh about it; but she did neither one. Instead, she gave me a sober, serious look. "You ought to quit that sort of thinking right now, Taylor." Her voice was just as serious. "If you believe that of yourself, sooner or later, you start believing that you should fail. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. And the moment you talk yourself into screwing up, you'll be telling yourself 'I told you so!' and you'll never try hard for anything again, because you'll already have yourself convinced you'll never be anything but a failure." She put both hands on my shoulders and looked me straight in the eye. "Gauging from the work ethic I've seen from you so far, the only way you could ever be a failure is if you deliberately set out to be one. And just between you and me, I don't think you're the type of person who chooses to fail."

    There was literally nothing I could say to that. She'd seen my self-doubts, grabbed them, shredded them, and shot the shreds on a rocket into the sun. This was Tracey. She was not only my boss, but she was also the person who'd prised the confession out of me as to what had happened, and who'd actually done something about it. I so wanted to be like her. But even more so, I wanted to not disappoint her.

    As I stared at her, not sure whether to flee into the bathroom and start crying or just hug her, she let a gentle smile cross her face. "Of course, it's up to you. Do you think you're a failure?"

    Well, shit. I was going to have to answer her now. And of course, there was only one answer she'd be willing to accept. To tell the truth, after the lengths Medhall had gone to for me, there was only one answer I'd be willing to accept as well. "No. I don't. I'm not a failure." I didn't necessarily believe it, but I was willing to work hard enough to make it true.

    From the look in her eye, I suspected that she'd read at least part of what I was thinking in my face. But she didn't call me on it, for which I was intensely grateful. Everyone needs some secrets in their life. "Well, good." Lifting one hand from my shoulder, she patted me on the cheek. "Now go on, get in the bathroom and change. Also, you might want to wipe your eyes. Just saying."

    My eyes? I wasn't sure what she was talking about, until I realised tears were spilling down my cheeks. It looked like my 'flee into the bathroom and start crying' option had chosen to manifest anyway. But her expression wasn't mocking. It was sympathetic. "Thanks," I mumbled. Grabbing my business clothing, I … well, I fled into the bathroom.

    I took the time to get it just right and run a brush through my hair. In the process, I stared myself down in the mirror and told my reflection firmly that I was smart, I was successful, and I did have a right to be there. My reflection looked dubious, but I told it to shut the fuck up. What did it know, anyway?

    When I came out of the bathroom, Justin was there again. I nearly did a U-turn right then and there; I wasn't at all sure that my newly restored confidence was up to a real test yet. But as it happened, he saw me first. "Damn, Taylor," he said approvingly. "When Tracey told me you got yourself outfitted for Medhall, I thought maybe a nice hairband or a new top. But you've really gone all-out. That's what I call dressing for success."

    I blushed to the roots of my hair at the compliment; Tracey elbowed him in the arm, not gently. "Leave her alone," she told him. "She's had a rough few days already. She doesn't need you making it worse with your idea of a sense of humour."

    "I wasn't joking," he said plaintively. "I'm actually trying to be nice, here. You know how hard it is to give a teenage girl a compliment, especially about her clothes, without sounding like a creeper?"

    "I'm not offended," I assured the both of them. "And thanks, Justin. I appreciate the compliment. It's just that …" I shook my head and stopped what I was saying. It's just that I don't get compliments, especially from nice-looking guys. There was no way I could finish that out loud without sounding both pathetic and like I was fishing for more compliments. It was startling to realise just how hungry I was for them.

    "I'm not going to ask 'It's just what?' because I've got no desire to get dragged down that particular rabbit-hole." Justin grinned engagingly at me. "As far as I'm aware, girl code changes every time a guy figures it out, but I know enough that if you don't want to tell me, I'd be making an idiot of myself if I just tried asking you. So I'm gonna be happy you're okay with the compliment and leave it at that."

    Startled into a smile, I decided I could see why Tracey liked the man. He was charming, irreverent and smart enough not to push things. The fact that he was an incurable rogue only added to his charm. "Thank you," I said. "Would you like some coffee before you go? I was just about to make some. Fair warning; you'll get it the same way I like it myself. You know, like the last cup you stole from me."

    "Ooh, zing," he returned with a broad grin. "Tracey, have you been feeding her red meat? I like it. And sure, you make a pretty good cup of joe. Every time they transfer some poor idiot into my department, we have to train them how to make proper coffee all over again." He paused, looking thoughtful. "Hey, Taylor, would you be interested—"

    "Don't you damn well dare, Justin!" Tracey's eyes flared in mock anger as she put her arm around my shoulders. "I am not about to let you poach my intern just so you can get a good cup of coffee."

    "I give, I give," he said with a chuckle, putting his hands up in surrender. "I'll be good. No more poaching attempts. Besides, can you imagine what Harcourt would do to me? It doesn't bear thinking about."

    "Fancy that," Tracey said with a smirk. "A woman in this company you can't wrap around your little finger with a charming smile and an empty promise? Wonders will never cease."

    "Don't think I haven't tried." He shuddered theatrically. "Once, and once only. It was only a teensy favour, too. By the time she finished verbally flaying me alive—without raising her voice or using profanity even once, I might add—I was ready to ask Bradley to put me out of my misery."

    "Bradley? The security guard? He doesn't wear a pistol," I said with a frown. At least, I hadn't seen one on his hip. Did he have one in a shoulder holster?

    "Figure of speech," Justin assured me. "However Bradley chose to end me, it would've been a mercy after that godawful shellacking. I don't have many rules, but number one is now Don't mess with Ms. Harcourt. Just saying."

    I shook my head with amusement as I went off to start the coffee going. "I made that my number-one rule about ten seconds after I met her," I said over my shoulder.

    "Now you can see why I wanted to poach her," he said to Tracey. "She's capable and she's smart. And, not being a creeper here, but I like her dress sense."

    "That's because she bought her outfit at the same shop I go to," Tracey said, gentle exasperation in her voice. She didn't go on to elaborate the troubles I'd had with that outfit, which I appreciated. Justin was funny and cool, and he didn't talk down to me like a lot of adults did, but I didn't need everyone in Medhall knowing about my problems.

    "Oh, no wonder then," he said with an impressive recovery. "Because your dress sense is pretty amazing in its own right."

    I was beginning to see why she dated him on an on-again-off-again basis. No matter how many times he put his foot in his mouth, the guy just never gave up.

    <><>​

    "Three o'clock, Taylor," Tracey said cheerfully. "Time for you to escape into the wilderness once more."

    "Almost done here," I murmured. "Two more files and I'm finished. Which will give you until Wednesday to find some other way to keep me out of your hair." As I spoke, I readied the scanner, then positioned the sheet just so on the glass.

    "Pfft, as if I need to keep you out of my hair," she chided me playfully. "You're good company, and you make great coffee. I'm beginning to wonder why we didn't do this intern thing years ago."

    "I suspect the company did, and it flopped," I suggested absently, then hit the start button on the scanner. As it hummed through its process, I carefully watched as the image appeared on my screen. It seemed to be clear and sharp, but I didn't want to take my eye off it for a second. "This sort of thing isn't for everyone."

    "You're probably right," she sighed. "Well, I'm glad it's working out for you. And as far as the internship program is concerned, your gain is our gain. So it's a win-win situation."

    The OCR was just starting to do its magic, so I didn't answer, focusing intently on the screen instead. Taking the sheet from the scanner, I did a quick eyeball comparison, then nodded approvingly. "Okay, that one's good." Looking up at Tracey, I nodded again, this time in agreement with her words. "Oh, absolutely. I'm totally in favour of anything that gives Mr. Anders an incentive to let me keep working here."

    We chatted while I ran the last file through the scanner. I made sure to check it as thoroughly as I had the rest of them. Tracey's words about my work ethic should've given me a sense of complacency, but they'd instead made me even more determined to prove that it wasn't just a fluke, that I deserved a place at Medhall. But finally, I was able to save the file and shut the terminal down. Standing up from the desk, I rotated my shoulders to crack my back. "Whew, that's a relief."

    "I'm actually pretty impressed," Tracey confessed as she stood up as well. "Those files have been sitting around for longer than I've been working here. When I was starting out, we made a few stabs at digitising them, but the effort never lasted. There was always something with higher priority. It's very satisfying to see them finally put to rest."

    "Well, I guess that's what I'm here for," I said. "Do the incidental stuff that frees you up to do the important stuff." I located my backpack and started getting ready for the trip home.

    "True, though doing the incidental stuff is almost as important as the 'important' stuff," Tracey reminded me. "Someone's got to do it, and before you got here, it was me doing it. More importantly though, you got it done without needing supervision or wasting my time." At my blank look, she shook her head. "You have no idea how irritating it is to have someone who's supposed to be helping me do more work but who spends their time asking for help in doing their work. And how satisfying it is to have an assistant who can actually assist."

    The warm feeling that spread up through my chest choked me up and brought tears to my eyes. Impulsively, I hugged her. She hugged me right back with a warm chuckle. "I just want to say," I told her. "These two days have been the best days I've had in years. Bar none. Thank you for that."

    Gently separating us, she looked into my eyes with a smile. "Well, let's see if we can't keep that going on Wednesday, shall we? And, uh … if I get any more problematic phone calls, supposedly from you, perhaps we should have a code phrase or something, so I can make sure it's not from you?"

    "Oh. Oh, yeah." It hadn't worked this time, but that didn't preclude Emma from trying again. "Um …" I tried to think of something that Emma wouldn't be able to second-guess. My eyes lit on her coffee cup and I nodded. "Got it. You challenge me with 'coffee', and I say 'Justin'." Because by now, the two words were linked in my mind.

    She giggled. "That'll definitely work. Nobody outside this office would have the faintest idea of what we were talking about. Can you believe the nerve of that man, trying to poach you right out from under me?" Her tone was more amused than outraged.

    "Oh, I can definitely believe his nerve," I said with a smirk. "I get the impression he does what he damn well pleases and gets away with it most times. But don't worry. He's nice to look at, but I'm happy right here."

    "Which means he'll probably be dropping by more often, just to get coffee the way you brew it." She shook her head in fond exasperation.

    I wiggled my eyebrows suggestively. "Which I've never heard you complain about."

    A snort of laughter escaped her. "Oh, go on. Get out of here. We've corrupted you enough already."

    "Yeah, but what a way to go." I picked up my backpack. "See you Wednesday."

    "See you then, Taylor." She gave me a wave as I headed for the door.

    After I signed out, I headed for the elevator. Bradley nodded politely to me as he pressed the button. "Did you get your package, Miss Hebert?"

    "Yes, thanks, Bradley." I held down the urge to do a twirl in front of the beefy security guard to show off my business clothes; he probably didn't care, and I'd most likely turn an ankle. So I smiled at him instead. In return, his granite visage cracked very slightly. The elevator opened and I stepped inside.

    Greg was waiting for me as I stepped out on the ground floor. He didn't quite have the same reek of cleaning products on him as he had on Friday, and his expression wasn't as haggard. "Hi, Greg!" I greeted him. "Thanks again for letting me borrow your phone. You're an absolute life-saver."

    "So are you, Taylor," he said unexpectedly. Side by side, we walked out through the main doors onto the street. "They started in on me today, and I tried the DVD rewinder line. When they stared at me, I thought oh shit, now I'm for it, but then Frank laughed and slapped me on the shoulder and said I was all right." He rubbed his shoulder ruefully. "I think I've got a bruise there."

    "Yeah, well, blue collar humour is a bit more physical than normal," I agreed. "So your day went okay?"

    "Oh, yeah," he said enthusiastically. "I mean, they didn't let me slack off, and they made me read bits of the safety manual and then quote them back when I wasn't doing anything else, but I learned so much more than I did on Friday. We were doing maintenance all over the building, and I'm skinnier than the rest of the guys, so I could wriggle into places they couldn't get into comfortably." He held out his hands, and I could see skin missing off most of his knuckles. "I tightened so many screws and nuts today, in places you'd never think they'd have screws and nuts."

    "It's a big building," I said helpfully. "I wouldn't be at all surprised what they've got up in there."

    "Oh, trust me," he said with a confident chuckle, "there's a lot more to that building than meets the eye. Just for instance, did you know there's maintenance passageways all the way through it? I mean, you're playing a dungeon game and there's hidden doors and secret passages and you're wondering why would someone put stuff like that there, right?"

    "I guess so," I said, vaguely figuring out what he meant from context. Trust Greg to relate everything back to video games.

    "Exactly!" he replied enthusiastically. "But in Medhall, it all makes sense. I know why the doors are where they are, and where the passages go. They're not to get around without being seen, but to get to systems that aren't directly in public view. Like all the plant rooms. Did you know, every floor of that building's got a plant room?"

    I blinked. My first mental image, of a room full of plants, seemed off somehow. Why would Medhall have even one room like that, much less one per floor? "Uh, plant room?"

    "Oh, sorry." He visibly reined himself back in. "A plant room's where they keep the machinery for water pumping and air conditioning and stuff like that, for any given floor. Some of 'em can be really big and loud, but they soundproof them and design the buildings so nobody notices that there's a chunk of the floorplan that's just missing."

    "Oh. Huh. I guess that makes sense." I gave him a smile. "You have been learning a lot today, haven't you?" I was kind of proud of him. He'd really grown up from the careless idiot who'd half-assed the induction on Friday.

    "Oh, man. Have I ever." He looked at me. "Oh, hey, those clothes look really sharp. You weren't wearing those on the way in … were you?" A frown crossed his face. "Or am I missing something?"

    "No, you're not missing anything." With great glee (it was far easier to feel it after the fact) I related the story of how Tracey had wormed everything out of me, then arranged for my entire outfit to be replaced on the spot. I didn't tell him of the visit from Alexander the Great (I was allowed to call him that in my own mind, surely?) because it was a lot easier for legal matters to go through if the other side wasn't forewarned. And while Greg was a lot better than he had been, I still didn't know if he could be trusted not to taunt Emma and her coterie with their impending comeuppance. I knew I was going to be seriously tempted.

    "Whoa …" he breathed as I finished my tale. "Okay, that beats my stuff hands down. High-five!" He held up his hand and I slapped it. "Sounds like your boss is even cooler than mine."

    "Nah, Frank sounds pretty straight-up for a maintenance guy," I disclaimed. "Tracey's pretty amazing, but her kinda-boyfriend loves to steal my coffee. So I gotta make two cups when he comes over."

    "Really?" Greg burst out laughing. "Is he at least nice about it?" he asked, once he recovered. I had to give him that; it was kinda funny.

    "Oh, he's a perfect charmer," I said expansively. "Eye candy for days." I related the story of how he'd tried to poach me from Tracey for my coffee-making skills, and how she'd reacted. By the time I was done, we were both laughing.

    "Oh, hey, here's my bus," he said. "See you tomorrow, Taylor. Have a good night."

    "See you, Greg." I gave his shoulder a squeeze. "And please don't tell anyone at Winslow about my new outfit. You know they'd only try to ruin or steal it."

    "Yeah, nope," he said, his tone serious. "Screw that. Go, Medhall!" He held up his hand and I gave him another high-five.

    I watched him get on the bus and waved as it drove away. As I sat waiting for mine, I couldn't help but wonder at how my life was turning around every time I went to work at Medhall. I had a great boss, friendly co-workers, and my one acquaintance from outside work was actually turning out to be a pretty cool guy, once I gave him a chance.

    I could really get used to this.

    <><>​

    The next day on the bus to school, I was a lot less sanguine. It wasn't a day I'd be attending Medhall, which meant that I'd be stuck at school for the whole day, giving Emma and Sophia and Madison free rein to screw my life up any way they could manage. Sophia, I knew, would be apocalyptic over being pepper-sprayed like that; despite the assurances I'd gotten from Tracey and Mr. Grayson, I was not at all sure the school would see the law in the same way, or even apply the rules in a fair sense. It wasn't as if they had any track record of doing so in the past. And while Medhall was on my side, they were at Medhall and I was going to be at Winslow.

    So it was with a certain sense of trepidation that I got off the bus and trailed my way toward the front entrance of the school. I'd wanted to wear my work shoes, but common sense told me that Emma and her crew would stop at nothing to scuff, scratch, or flat-out steal them before the day was out. So I was wearing sneakers, and my most-worn hoodie and jeans, on the principle that I could easily replace or clean any of it without fuss. The books in my locker were less replaceable, but at least they hadn't started vandalising that on a regular basis. Even though I still couldn't figure out how they were getting into it to steal stuff. I would've skipped school altogether, but I was fairly certain one of the terms of my internship was that I also kept my grades up, and I was not going to give them the opening to screw me out of the best job I'd ever held.

    Not that I'd held many jobs at that point, but it was the principle of the thing.

    As I reached the top of the steps and started into the school, my worst fears came true. Well, second worst. There were no police officers waiting for me (I had no doubt by this point that if Emma could've arranged for them, she would have) but all three of my nemeses were there instead. All looking at me, and it seemed I'd been correct. Sophia was pissed. Even a day later, her eyes seemed a little red and swollen, and the glare she gave me made me happy she wasn't a cape. If she'd had eyebeams right then, I would've been cut in half.

    I gulped a little, and squeezed the canister in my pocket for reassurance. It was the one I'd used on Sophia, and I hoped it still had pressure in it; I had no idea how to tell Dad I needed a new one without telling him how I'd used the old one.

    Seriously, the number of secrets I was holding from Dad was becoming ridiculous. We were going to have to sit down sometime and have a proper father-daughter chat. After which I'd probably be grounded for life, just for not telling him stuff that I should've. Which was technically fair, I figured. I just didn't want to do it.

    Screw it, I decided. I wasn't going to let the Bitches Three intimidate me anymore. How would Ms. Harcourt do this?

    She'd glare at them and they'd melt away into the woodwork.
    That wasn't going to work for me.

    Going to Blackwell was out. I'd tried that before, and it had never worked.

    Okay, let's try direct confrontation. I marched up to Emma. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw that Madison was wearing the other blouse she'd stolen from me, and I nearly faltered. Well, no, I nearly dived at her to force her to give it back. But I had a purpose in mind, and that purpose was to talk to Emma. Madison, I told myself, was inconsequential.

    "Emma," I said firmly. "We've got to talk."

    I figured she'd expected me to try to sneak around her, so walking straight up to her threw her off her stride a little. But she rallied and came out with a sickly-sweet smile that hid a sneer. "What would I want to talk to someone like you about?" she riposted.

    "Normally, that would be my personal hygiene, my weight, my morals and whatever drugs you want to decide I was taking at the time," I shot back. "But we're done. I'm walking away. You're walking away. Find some other hobby, bec—"

    My first mistake, I decided later, was taking my eyes off Sophia. My second mistake was not watching my back. Emma had more than a few followers and hangers-on, but the vast majority weren't in it for the possibility of violence. However, Sophia ran track, so it seemed she'd asked a few of the male track team members to show up to this meeting. They crowded in close, so that when Sophia hit me, nobody saw it. I barely saw it myself; she was just too fast. But I sure as hell felt it.

    I was just getting into my stride in my rant at Emma when Sophia came in low and fast, burying her fist in my stomach. Pain exploded outward from the impact, doubling me over and sending a wave of nausea through my body. She buried her hands in my hair, then lifted my head up and brought it down again. Helpless from the blow, I couldn't raise my arms above my midsection. Her knee came up, hard and direct. It slammed into my cheekbone, blasting stars throughout my vision. She raised my head again. This time, I knew through the spinning in my head that it would be a direct hit. My nose, my lips, would all be destroyed.

    "No!" Emma stopped her just before my face would've made contact. "Not like that. Facial injuries are sympathetic." She said it in a cloying tone. "Besides, she doesn't have any looks to fuck with. Keep it to body punches."

    "No, I got a better idea." Sophia took hold of my arm and twisted it in a certain way. "Come on, Hebert. We're going for a little walk."

    "Oh, hey, me and the guys gotta go," said a male voice. "See you in Track?"

    "Yeah, yeah, see you in Track." Sophia's voice was distracted.

    No, I wanted to say. Don't go. They'd stopped anyone from seeing what Sophia was doing, but surely with witnesses she couldn't intimidate, Emma wouldn't go too far? I tried to make eye contact, tried to call out. But the guys were looking away from me and the loudest noise I could make was a wheezing groan. They headed off down the corridor with not a single backward glance.

    With Emma and Madison bunched around us for camouflage, so nobody could see how Sophia was holding me, we walked through the corridors of Winslow. Or rather, I stumbled, Sophia supported me, and the other two walked as if they had not a care in the world. As my head cleared, I looked around for anyone who might render assistance. But all I saw were gang members doing gang business. One and all, they glanced at me, then looked away, uninterested.

    Then I saw Greg.

    He saw me at the same time, and frowned, as if wondering why is she walking with them when they hate her? But then he looked more closely, and I saw the lightbulb go on over his head. Do something, I urged him silently with my eyes. Say something. Raise the alarm. Go to Blackwell. Get a teacher. Get someone!

    But then we were past him, and he was still standing there. Doing nothing.

    My heart sank. I thought I could depend on him.

    At first I thought they were going to take me to the bathrooms where Sophia could work me over properly. Hopefully it wouldn't be so bad that I'd still be able to report to work on Wednesday. I was beginning to see those half-days at Medhall as a Promised Land, rewarding me for the crap I had to endure at Winslow. Maybe I'd even get Tracey to get pictures of the bruises or something, to prove that yes, Winslow sucked.

    But we didn't go to the bathrooms. In fact, we ended up in a corridor alongside a familiar row of lockers. Not many kids were here; the few that were getting their books from their lockers gave me the same eh, who cares look and went back to what they were doing. I wanted to call out to them, but their probable response (nothing) and Sophia's reaction (twisting my arm) held me back. Besides, my breath was still a bit wheezy.

    Sophia stopped me alongside my locker. "Combination," she demanded.

    "What?" I managed. "No. Not having my combination." Handing that out to them was basically inviting them to steal me blind rather than take individual things.

    "Suit yourself," Sophia murmured, then let go my arm and slugged me in the stomach again. Gagging, I doubled over, doing my best not to retch on the floor. Emma's shoes, that would be a different thing. For those, I'd shove my finger down my throat.

    Sophia turned her back on me—and on the others—and fiddled with my lock. "Huh," she said. "It's almost open. I can feel it." With a few more rattles of metal on metal and the sounds of the combination on my lock turning, she said, "Bingo!" Stepping back from the locker, she slid the lock into her pocket and pulled the door open.

    "Wow, you can pick locks too?" Madison sounded envious.

    "I'm just good." Sophia sounded smug. I wanted to explain to Madison that guessing someone's combination was totally different from picking a lock, but now was not the time.

    "Emma," I wheezed instead. "You really don't want to do this. You really don't." It was true, in that whatever they did would be likely added to the legal troubles being drafted for them by Alexander Grayson and his team, but what I really meant was that I didn't want them doing whatever they had in mind.

    Now that there was just us to see it, the sneer came out in full force. "Taylor, how about you stop telling me what I want and don't want, huh?" She looked at Sophia. "What are we gonna do? Lock her in there?"

    I was weak as a kitten from the repeated gut-punches, so I couldn't resist as Sophia turned me around and slammed me face-first into the next locker over. "Yeah, but first I wanna check something …" Brisk, professional hands searched me, and I felt the pepper-spray being pulled from my pocket. "Hah, yeah. Perfect."

    Why didn't I spray them when I walked up to them? I raged in the quiet of my own mind. Sophia, at least. But I knew the answer. If I attacked them without provocation, I'd be in the wrong. It might screw the whole legal case. But now Sophia had the pepper spray, and I knew damn well she'd use it on me all day long if she got the chance.

    "What're you gonna do, Sophia?" Madison's voice was bright and eager.

    Sophia's chuckle was cruel. "Well, you know how stoners get in a car or a van and they wind the windows up and all light up and fill it with smoke? They call that hot-boxing. I've just invented something I'm calling 'pepper-boxing', and Taylor's gonna trial it for me."

    Now I was really starting to panic. I started to struggle, but a sharp blow to my kidneys took the fight out of me yet again. I slumped against the locker, only supported by Sophia. "No …" I mumbled. "No … please …"

    "Oh, hey," Madison suggested. "When it's empty, wipe the prints off it and put it in there with her. That way we can say she did it to herself."

    "Whoa, damn," Sophia said admiringly. "I am fucking impressed, Mads. You come up with the best plans." Taking me under the arms, she hoisted me up and aimed me at the empty locker. "Time to try out your new accommodations, Hebert. Might be a bit cramped, but you'll have time to get used to it."

    "Let her go!" The voice belonged to none other than Greg Veder. He strode toward us purposefully, finger up and pointing. "Emma Barnes! Madison Clements! Sophia Hess! Let Taylor go! Right now!"

    "What the fuck?" That was Sophia. She sounded utterly baffled, and I didn't blame her. We'd walked right past him, and he hadn't done a thing. Had he been wrestling with his conscience all this time?

    "What the fuck, Greg?" Emma didn't sound like she believed it either.

    "Greg?" Madison shook her head. "What do you think you're doing?"

    "Shut the fuck up." He pointed at Sophia. "Let her go right now, or you're in big trouble. I mean it!"

    It was the 'I mean it' that broke the spell. Emma began to giggle and Madison started tittering. Even Sophia shook her head with a snort of laughter. "And what the fuck do you think you're going to do, Veder?" she asked derisively. "I don't see any teachers, and I don't see Blackwell. And who's gonna believe your word against ours?"

    Greg was shaken, but he didn't pause from his advance. "It'll be Taylor and me, and they'll believe us! You'll all be in deep shit if you don't let her go right now!"

    "Oh, for fuck's sake, just spray him already," Emma snapped.

    "No, I want to save it all for Hebert," Sophia growled stubbornly. "You two hold Hebert. I got this." She let me go; I slumped against the locker and tried to claw my way upright again, but Emma and Madison were there before I could do it.

    "Where do you think you're going, Taylor?" asked Emma faux-sweetly, as Sophia advanced on Greg. Her nails dug into my arm.

    "You're not going anywhere, except in your locker," Madison added. "Maybe after Sophia's finished beating the shit out of Greg, he can join you in there. He's obviously got the hots for you, after all."

    "Fuck, Madison, I think he really does," Emma said, dropping the mocking tone. "He's not running away."

    You idiot, Greg, I thought as loudly as I could. You should've brought back someone. Anyone. Not tried to take on Sophia yourself. I was already feeling the effects of Sophia's close and personal attention. Tomorrow, I was definitely going to have bruises.

    Finally, as Sophia closed to within a few yards of him, Greg seemed to think better of his ill-advised venture, and began to back-pedal. She followed him about ten yards down the hallway, with him steadily retreating before her, before she stopped in disgust and turned away. "That's right, Veder," she said with a sneer. "Run and hide."

    She started back toward us. I clenched my jaw in an effort to suppress my fear. I was going to be shoved in my own locker, and deluged in my own pepper-spray. This was going to suck far more than anything they'd ever done to me—

    Whether Sophia was fixated on her delayed revenge with me, or had simply written Greg off as a potential opponent, I would never know. But she had totally turned her back on him, and he … he was running toward her!

    Emma and Madison realised what was happening a second too late. Just as they opened their mouths to shout in warning, he collided with her solidly, and they both went over. My jaw honestly dropped open. I'd never thought Greg was suicidal before. But there it was; he'd just crash-tackled Sophia Hess and brought her to the ground.

    Rolling apart, they both stood up. Greg was on the defensive, but it didn't matter. Sophia was beyond merely pissed, beyond angry. She was even more enraged at him than she was at me. Her first punch blasted through his feeble defence and collected the side of his face. He staggered up against a locker, nearly went down, then used it as a prop to stand up again. "I said, leave Taylor 'lone," he slurred.

    She wasn't listening. One punch smashed into his stomach, and I reflexively winced—I knew how that felt—then again as she kneed him in the nose. I heard the crunch from where I was. He stood up, more from the impact of the knee than any real capability to keep fighting, and she kicked him between the legs. With a high-pitched shriek, he collapsed, clutching at himself.

    I roused myself as Greg went down. Yanking my arm out of Madison's grip, I elbowed her in the jaw. Then, ignoring the searing pain from my elbow, I turned to Emma and punched her square in the mouth. She let me go and staggered back, then sat down hard, staring up at me as if I'd just grown horns and hooves. Madison was sprawled half in, half out of my locker. I didn't care.

    As Sophia drew back her leg to kick Greg in the face, I yelled, "Leave him alone!" I still wasn't in the best of shape, but I managed a shamble toward her. She might still shove me in the locker, but I wasn't going to let her kick my friend's teeth in.

    "Oh, you want some too, do you, Hebert?" Sophia's voice was as deadly as her fighting capability. Where a high-schooler learned to fight like that, I had no idea, but she'd utterly fucking demolished Greg Veder in about four hits.

    I saw something behind her and blinked, then grinned savagely as I focused on her again. "Come get me, Sophia. You might find that one-on-one's a lot harder than three-on-one. It won't be as easy to shove me in the locker with just you, either."

    "I can get you in there with just one hand," Sophia promised, sidling closer to me. "And I can always say you broke your hands on the inside of the locker. After you emptied your own pepper-spray canister in there with you." She took out the tube and shook it. "Hebert, you are so fucked. There's no way you can win against me. Why don't you just admit it?"

    "Because she knows better." The voice from behind her made her spin around. Alexander Grayson was strolling down the corridor, one hand in his pocket and one holding his phone, as if he owned the entire building and was considering making it over into a mall or something similar. Behind him was the reassuring bulk of Bradley, the guard from the elevator. "Miss Hebert, are you all right?"

    "I've been better," I admitted. "Greg might need medical attention, too. Did you get all that?"

    Grayson turned his phone around, showing me a moving image on the screen. "Audio as well as video," he assured me. "Of course, if it wasn't for Mr. Veder's quick thinking, as well as his incredibly noble sacrifice play, we probably wouldn't have gotten here in time."

    "What the hell?" burst out Sophia, eyeing Bradley very cautiously indeed. "Who the hell are you guys?"

    "Oh, we're from Medhall. I'm Grayson, from Legal." Mr. Grayson gestured toward the big guy. "This is Meadows, from Security." He paused to chuckle, apparently finding the next words rather amusing. "I suppose you could call us the cavalry."


    End of Part Four
     
  25. SailorOfMyVessel

    SailorOfMyVessel Writer of plot, with some Plot for pleasure.

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    Magnificent.
     
    Silver_cheese, macdjord and Ack like this.
  26. CottonKey

    CottonKey Your first time is always over so quickly, isn't it?

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    I can honestly say....this is the first fic that made me happy to see Victor and Hookwolf...what the hell...I'm gonna blame the damn bullying trio. Lol

    It's going to be interesting with the actual evidence!
     
  27. macdjord

    macdjord Well worn.

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    Dammit, Ack, stop making me like nazis!
     
  28. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Well, this is Nazis when they're not being Nazis.

    Taylor is on the way to being a valued member of the Medhall family, so they're going the extra mile for her.

    And Greg just jumped into a fight he knew he couldn't win, and got the shit kicked out of him, to save a friend and fellow Medhall intern, so he's gonna be getting some back-slaps and high-fives when he shows up to work next.
     
  29. Ragnarok

    Ragnarok Versed in the lewd.

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    Can't wait to read another story about sympathetic nazis.

    Place your bets, how long til the teenage bully with mental issues gets gruesomely killed.

    Oh yes, we can't forget the easy redemption of an actual child mass murderer.
     
    Ack likes this.
  30. Crazael

    Crazael Could be wittier.

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    Its always nice to see Taylor standing up to the Trio. Even if only barely.
     
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