Based on the web serial "Worm" by wildbow and the "Young Justice" animated series.
I got home at nearly two in the morning, mood foul.
Three days surveilling an ABB drug lab only for Purity to swoop in and torch the place. Until I found a new site to stakeout, I wouldn't get any leads on where the bulk of their profits went for laundering. Nobody I had scanned at the lab had known. The Azn Bad Boys compartmentalized that information, probably for security reasons.
Scuttlebutt online said that Purity was trying to turn over a new leaf as a good guy. I tried to keep that in mind, but it was hard not to feel a little bitter.
So, consumed with dark thoughts, and exhausted from three days of almost continuous superheroics, I didn't notice my dad sitting in the dark until he flipped on the kitchen lights.
"Taylor. It's good to see you safe and sound."
I froze mid-step.
My dad glanced up at the door frame. His eyes were red. I had the sinking sensation that it wasn't due to summer allergies. "How did you get the bell to not ring?"
Telekinesis, I couldn't say. The straps of my backpack cut into my shoulders, the weight of the costume buried within suddenly leaden. "I'm sorry."
My hand still hadn't slipped off the door knob.
Neither of us could quite meet the other's eyes across the kitchen table. The tension twisted my guts into a knot. I hadn't felt like this since school had ended in May, and I had gotten a three month reprieve from the bullying.
I understood sophomore year was coming, and everything that went along with it, but I could prepare for that. I had survived a whole year of bullying, tackling it day-by-day. Feeling this way at home was both unexpected and pretty shitty.
"...I love you, Taylor. Do you know that?"
I nodded stiffly.
"I know we haven't talked about it in a long time, but your mom and I never thought of you as anything but our child. That's never changed. You'll always be my daughter. No matter what."
My jaw clenched. My dad was my dad, no question. It wasn't fair to bring up the adoption. Like it was supposed to matter.
"But I'm scared for you, Taylor. This whole summer, you vanish all day and never talk much about what you're doing. You try to hide bruises with long sleeves. You go out at night after you promised not to. You lied to me. I put bells on the doors just so I'd know you were safe. Only when I check on you in bed," his voice cracked with emotion, "you're almost always gone."
Where was all the concern during the school year?
"You don't need to worry. I'm going to bed now." I stood up from my chair and made a beeline for the stairway door, but the knob didn't turn. It was jammed?
My dad held up an old iron key. "They're all locked. We need to talk first."
"Don't feel like it."
A little fumbling with my telekinesis slid the locking bolt out of position. I swung open the door and ran upstairs. My dad, shocked, swooped after me.
I slammed my bedroom door in his face. Keeping a mental finger on the lock rendered his frantic efforts to work the key useless. Despite that, he didn't really pound on the door like I feared. Just knocked, if frantically.
"Taylor! Please, I just want us to talk!"
I'd had guns fired at me on multiple occasions, fought a pair of Empire Eighty-Eight giantesses to a standstill, and even won a sword off a teleporter whose ass I kicked all the way to prison.
All that? Easy, compared to this.
My dad gave up on the door. "This can't go on, Taylor. Whatever is happening with you, you have to tell me. No more running away from the truth. I'm not going anywhere. I'll even call in sick to work tomorrow, so we can talk."
I looked around my bedroom, cataloguing escape options.
Door or window. The former meant going through my dad, which wasn't a real option. The latter meant explaining away a two-story drop since "I can fly" was off the table. Pretty sure I could make the jump, even as normal me, but it would read as crazy desperate. A rope made from bedsheets was a doable band-aid.
Escape route, check.
Where did I go from there?
Gram was the only family I had left, and she'd march me straight back here. None of the heroes I'd met so far as a cape were much more than acquaintances. I had no school friends to call. I could rely only on myself.
So, a motel.
How did I handle my dad tomorrow or the day after, when I finally came home? No clue.
Did I want to come home?
But did I want to run away?
Yes. I did.
Because staying meant telling my dad... everything. Half-truths wouldn't help. He wasn't a stupid man. He would be able to put together all the pieces once he had the basics laid out for him.
Yet running away meant losing my dad anyway. Catch-22.
"Damn it. Damn it!"
A sweep of my arm demolished the far side of my bedroom. Posters torn from the wall. A nightstand overturned. A lamp shattered. Even my bed's heavy wooden frame was jolted a few inches to the side.
"Taylor." My dad's tone was soft, if dampened by the door. "Do what you need to vent, Taylor. Possession can be replaced."
I closed my eyes, and reached out to my dad's mind.
When I was a little girl, back when English had still been mostly nonsense to me, I had leaned on my telepathy for reassurance that my new parents loved me. Call it the mental equivalent of tossing some loose grass blades into the air to judge which way the wind was blowing.
I had been a lot weaker back then, barely able to make a spoon skitter across a tabletop, and timid in a way I wasn't with my shapeshifting. Always afraid that they would figure out I wasn't a normal kid.
That I was a freak.
Now, I let my dad's concernlovefearworryache soak into me. It was an anchor for my own unsettled thoughts. Yet beneath his feelings for me, there was also angerguilt. That deep-seated well of rage I had always known was in my dad.
I had only ever seen him fly off the handle once, toward some aide to the mayor, while I was visiting in his office years ago. That memory still made me queasy.
More than anything, I wanted the various parts of my life to stay as distinct as the bodies I wore. I wanted to be Taylor Hebert, the daughter my dad knew and loved, if in a distant way nowadays. I also wanted to fight for justice as a superhero, even if I'd gotten stuck with a crappy cape name. Who knew how my dad would react if he learned those two people were one and the same?
I couldn't see any escape from the crossroads I stood at. Not unless I used the full scope of my powers on my father. Made him forget. I'd never dug that deeply into another person's mind before, but my gut said it was doable.
Yet if I did that to my dad, then I wouldn't just look like a monster on the inside.
The conviction I felt backing that realization gave me my final answer. For better or worse, the only way out of this room was through my dad.
I fell to my knees, banging them against a hard floor barely softened by ratty old carpeting. The door unlocked itself.
My dad tip-toed around me, settling down on the edge of my low-lying bed. At his height, he was all knees and elbows with nowhere to go.
I felt a stab of regret already at letting him inside. If I could have, I might have sunk through the floor on impulse. My powers allowed me to alter my density, but I had always been afraid of pushing it that far. The one tentative experiment I'd made at phasing through a solid object had ended with a bloody nose and an awful headache.
"Superhero," I blurted out. "I'm a superhero."
My dad blinked, hard. The magnifying effect his strong prescription glasses lent to that expression might have made me smile in normal circumstances. Right now, I was too busy struggling not to throw up all over the floor.
I waited. I don't think I could have spoken if my life depended on it, and in a way it sort of did.
"Okay," he repeated, rubbing his palms over his knees. "That - that's good."
We lapsed into silence.
"What sort?" he asked all of a sudden. "What can you... do?"
I looked around my room, searching. Then I spotted the little paper bird on my desk, a personal trophy from my freshmen year exercises in fine telekinetic control.
My dad rocked back a little as a blank sheet of computer paper floated off my desk and over to him. Any illusion he might have had about a draft died the instant it went taut midair. The paper then began folding itself many times over, eventually forming an origami crane.
Telepathy wasn't needed to read what was going through my dad's mind right then. Bewilderment, the kind that comes when the world suddenly stops working the way you expect it to, is something you just can't fake.
With only a little hesitation, he plucked the finished produce out of the air with his long, thin fingers. My dad turned the crane over and over in his hands.
"Are you freaked out?"
"No," he said softly.
"Not even a little?"
"Taylor, I just - I was afraid you were drinking and doing drugs."
My dad had seriously considered that? The realization stung, as did the idea that maybe he had dug through my room searching for needles and the like.
Says the person who riffled through his mind two minutes ago.
"It must have been hard to let me in. To tell me your secret."
"That's not all. I can... Do you mind if I change in the hallway? I promise I won't run." My dad moved to stand, but I put a hand up. "It'll only take a second."
I half-closed the door behind me, blocking myself from my dad's view. I held onto the rickety old knob for support and closed my eyes.
The shift didn't take long at all. Not like back at the start of this summer...
I ditched the last day of freshmen year to go fight crime.
The idea had kept me up the night before, more out of breaking my habit than any sense of guilt. I had survived the worst year of my life by breaking it down into discrete chunks. Week by week. Day by day. Class by class. I told myself it didn't matter doing this one time. Our grades were in. We weren't learning any new material. Hell, in my foreign language section we had spent the last two days watching the French dub of Finding Nemo.
I also couldn't shake the feeling that Emma, Sophia, and Madison would find some way to cap off freshmen year in spectacular style. No reason to stick around for that experience.
But all of that was secondary to my main reason.
Today was the day.
Today was the day!
I would finally be a superhero.
Just to be sure my dad would be gone when I got home, that morning I rode the bus until it made a full circuit. Any lingering doubt I felt about ditching was gone by the time I walked back through my front door.
I raced upstairs, stuffed my backpack under my bed, and schucked off all my clothes. There was a full-length mirror in the corner of my bedroom, bought on discount at the mall. The pieces of its plastic frame never stayed snapped into place like they were supposed to, but that didn't matter.
The mirror was for training, not decoration.
My reflection was an unappealing thing. Even now I was mostly matchstick limbs, after months of shedding my slight belly and gradually layering on muscle. I didn't need to exercise to do it, but I had. Jogging every morning for over seven months, and again every other day in the afternoon. All to get myself into the proper mindset for who I wanted to become.
Because this is me, I thought to myself, repeating my childhood mantra. This is me.
Both my parents had been tall, and I had chosen long ago to take after them that way. I still didn't have much in the way of hips or a bust, and I never would. My mother had been flat as a surfboard. The only feminine attribute I had going for me was my long black hair.
I'd put a lot of work into this body over the years.
My superhero one was no different.
I clenched and unclenched my fists, taking deep breaths as I flexed a long-atrophied muscle somewhere inside me. My skin prickled with pins and needles as I shifted its pigmentation to a pale pea green.
The transition still felt odd, but it was easier now. It hadn't been at first. When I'd begun experimenting with putting my shapeshifting through its paces back in the autumn, it'd been a struggle to keep myself changed. Years of habit, keeping my head down and pretending to be a normal girl, had left me stiff.
The faint outline of the bones at my hips, ribs, and shoulders faded. I added a foreign heft to myself. Muscle and curves that my regular body lacked, that it could never reasonably put on. My bust I left alone. I felt phony the few times I had experimented there, like I was abusing my powers to pad my bra. Dumb, but there it was.
My face was still my own. That had to change.
The alterations here were subtle. The ears, mouth, and curve of my nose that I had borrowed from my parents shifted back to my template, child actress Marie Logan. I had looked up pictures of her as a teenager in the mid-80s, from after Hello Megan! had been cancelled and her career had fizzled out, and used them for my superhero template.
That felt right. I was going full circle, in a way. As a little kid, reruns of Hello Megan! had taught me English instead of the gibberish I used to speak. I had also practiced mimicking the expressions of Marie Logan, struggling to match up the feelings I felt inside me with the human face I wore as a disguise. What was second nature to me nowadays had been a horrible struggle when I was a child, back in those grim months before I was adopted.
Between the physical alterations and the extra thirty pounds I'd put on, I barely recognized myself in the mirror.
Except for the hair. Couldn't forget that.
Warmth flowed down each strand as it shifted from black to auburn. I straightening the air of curliness it had as I grew it from my shoulders down to my mid-back.
I had experimented with hundreds of skin and hair color combinations over the months. I'd started off with mundane possibilities, but gradually shifted to the inhuman.
I didn't intend to wear a mask - this new body was my mask, really - but I couldn't shake the fear that I might accidentally copy the looks of some random person. That could make them a mistaken target for reprisals. I felt confident that nobody would recognize a green-skinned version of an obscure 80s TV actress, especially with this body not being waifish like hers.
I regarded my reflection in the mirror and almost felt confident enough to strike a pose. Nobody would guess that me, the superhero Myriad, was the nobody Taylor Hebert.
I looked badass.
Maybe I could even pull off wearing a cape...
Dad cracked open his beer. He had actually offered me one, which was by far the scariest thing I'd had happen to me in months. I took a diet soda instead. After we'd poured our drinks out, I used my mind to float the aluminum cans over to the sink to wash them out before recycling them.
My dad talked to me while watching over his shoulder, "Seems like a waste."
"Aluminum cans are good practice. They're delicate like plates, but it's no loss if you accidentally break them."
He turned back. "You said you dropped those plates."
"...With my telekinesis."
"You lied to me."
I levitated some Oreos out of the cupboard and laid out a stack in front of each of us. "Yes. I'm sorry. I didn't want to talk about my powers. I wasn't sure how you'd react."
My dad looked hurt.
I turned my eyes down to my bubbling glass.
"And you can really fly?"
"It's not flight-flight, but I can lift myself with my own telekinesis."
He nibbled on a cookie. "I'm sorry, Taylor, but how many powers do you have? It's getting hard to keep them straight."
"I've got the full Alexandria package, plus extras." I counted off on my fingers, which were white rather than green again. "Super-strength, but only enough to chuck around a car. Telekinesis, which also gets me flight. I'm pretty tough on my own. I shift my density, which either makes me even tougher or light enough to really zip along flying. Shapeshifting. So if we're not counting flight on its own, that's five."
My telepathy I left out. My dad had enough on his mind before I started comparing myself to the fucking Simurgh.
"I'm in the top five most powerful capes in Brockton Bay. Maybe top three."
My dad sipped his beer.
"Do you, uh, ever go out as other people?"
It took me a second to decipher that. "No. It's hard for me to not look like myself. Like this." I gestured to myself, Taylor Hebert. "Sticking with my Miss Martian persona took months of practice."
"Not a bad name."
I tried not to make a face. I'd never been happy with it, myself. Too retro. Like something you'd read in those old pre-Scion superhero comics. "I wanted to call myself Myriad, but the other name started getting around instead. Not sure who started it."
"Still better than being called Kid Win."
We shared small, forced smiles.
My dad pushed his spare Oreos over to me. "Anything else I should know?"
I clasped a hand to the back of my neck. "Well, the only thing I can't change is that horseshoe birthmark. It's always there. Not sure why. But nobody ever sees that anyway because of my hair, so my secret identity is safe."
My dad walked over to the sink and poured out his beer. The glass was still three-fourths full. "Why haven't you joined the Wards yet?"
Goddamn it. I knew. I knew he'd throw that in my face. "I don't want to."
"Taylor, with all your powers, are you bulletproof?"
"Sort of. I can push the bullets away with my telekinesis, and I fly fast enough that nobody can hit me."
"That's not a yes." My dad leaned against the sink, hands gripping the edge of the countertop. "And there's worse things out there than bullets. What happens if you get hurt? And I'm talking worse than those bruises you've been trying to hide from me."
"I'll fly myself to the hospital."
"What if you can't? The police drive around with partners for a reason."
"I can handle myself."
"It's not just about the fighting. It's about someone having your back. What if you go missing? No one will know where you were patrolling. What if some psychopath gets a grudge and doesn't leave you alone? There's a million things that could go wrong that don't need to."
I took a deep breath.
"And even if you can take care of yourself all the time," and his tone made it clear he didn't think that was so, "what about when school starts up? Are you going to keep going out?"
"And when your teachers notice you're covered in bruises?"
My mouth twisted in a bitter smile. "Trust me, they won't care."
My dad shook his head. "You should be worrying about dating boys, not fighting gangbangers and - and Endbringers!"
"I won't stop doing this."
He looked at me, eyebrows a firm line, expression lost yet also on edge. As if he found himself faced with a crazy homeless person on the street who somehow knew his name. "Why?"
"Because I have to!" I knocked my chair back as I jumped to my feet.
"I can't just sit back and not use my powers. Just because I'm fifteen doesn't mean I get to look away from people who need my help! If I can help the people no one else will, I have to!"
I looked down.
I was a good foot off the kitchen floor. My shock was sharp enough that I dropped and stumbled. My dad shot over to my side to steady me.
"Thanks," I mumbled. "T-that never happens."
"We all lose control sometime."
He hadn't let go of my upper arms.
My chest felt tight, and my heart was beating so fast that I worried it was going to rip itself back into its natural twined form. It wasn't exactly a relief to tell all this to my dad, more like shifting the load I carried so certain muscles got a break for a little while. Because he didn't know everything.
He knew enough now to figure out what sort of cuckoo I was, and he probably would over the next couple weeks if I didn't tell him now. I didn't want to talk to him about this, but I also knew in the long-run I'd never be able to resist the temptation to peek into his mind again to see if he had figured out everything. Which as outcomes went was a million times worse.
Didn't make this any easier, damn it.
"...I don't ...just ...turn into a superhero."
I went very still.
"We keep family photo albums, Taylor. Your, uh, changes didn't escape your mom and I."
What the actual fuck?
"Y-you knew?" I stepped back, breaking his hold.
My dad ran his fingers through his thinning hair. "Not about the flying. Or everything else. But we're your parents, little owl. Everyone always told us how much you took after us, and after a while we realized they had a point."
"Since you were ten or eleven."
My legs almost gave out.
Nobody had ever known about my powers, I had thought. The closest I'd ever come to telling anyone was with Emma after summer camp that one year, when I'd worked up the courage to finally spill my secret to my best friend. Not that we ever got a chance to talk as friends again.
Yet my dad already knew.
My mom had known.
Not... about what I really looked like on the inside... but they'd known enough.
"Why didn't you ever tell me?" And why the hell didn't I ever notice with my telepathy? I mean, I'd stopped leaning so heavily on it for support after I befriended Emma, but it'd never come up by accident? They would've had to have been pretty damn calm about it for that revelation to not make waves. I couldn't accept that. My parents were supposed to freak out if they ever caught on about my shapeshifting.
So why hadn't they?
"We didn't know if you knew, and we didn't want to put you in the position where you felt you had to give up your childhood to put on a costume. Your mom and I decided to wait until you were comfortable enough to talk with us about it."
Checking my feet, I was surprised to see I wasn't floating again.
I felt untethered. My whole life had changed in an instant yet again, but at least this time no one had died, no one was telling me they'd secretly hated me for years. Everything was going to be different.
"I'm not going to tell you to stop being a superhero," my dad raised a finger, "but I want you to think about your safety more, for my peace of mind and because your mom would have wanted it. Join the Wards. Or even New Wave, if you want. I'll support either choice one hundred percent."
Invoking my mom was a low blow, and giving up my secret identity struck me a moronic idea, but I didn't argue. I'd run out of words.
"You don't have to make a decision tonight. Sleep on it."
"I need to go for a walk," I heard myself say. "Clear my head."
My dad opened his mouth, maybe to argue about how dangerous our neighborhood was for a girl my age to be out at night, but he shut it wordlessly. Short of Lung or Kaiser trying to mug me, I was safe.
"I'll see you in the morning?"
I nodded, and let the kitchen door's bell ring freely on my way out.