Based on the web serial "Worm" by wildbow.
The Girls Who Can't Unplug
Trace amounts of blood on saliva indicates minor
bleeding from gums; lack of yellowing or other
discoloration on tooth enamel points to regular
brushing. Gum bleeding caused by floss use.
Flossed; doesn't need to floss owing to mastery over
bacteria in mouth. Like hand-washing at hospital,
attempt to foster sense of normality in her life rather
than relying on power. Gums bled from excess force,
stopped flossing. Overcompensated by repeated
brushing and overuse of mouthwash. Brushed teeth
three times before leaving house.
Flossed; wants to make good impression on me.
Flossed; had spinach salad for—
I screw my eyes shut as I break off our kiss.
Amy immediately drops the hand cupping my cheek. She doesn't attempt further physical contact, but I also doesn't hear her back away. We huddle together, each under our own umbrella, as a light rain continues to patter down around us.
"Sorry," I say a few moments later, my breath a white puff on the air. "How was your shift?"
"Long." It always is. "How's... your stuff?"
Recurring second thoughts; nagging d—
And that's that for asking about my job.
We have our rules and stick to them. Amy because, like ivy, she needs scaffolding to build herself up. Me? Because they make for more opportunities for fun than chaos does. Although if I was being brutally honest with myself, and it's hard not to be, it's because those rules are the only thing that keep this game between us going.
Amy pops her umbrella twice, shaking the beaded water free, then snaps it shut and steps under mine. I hook my arm around hers. Her touch brings a pleasant tingle that I'm almost certain isn't her monkeying with my blood chemistry.
We start walking.
There is a coffee kiosk in a park a few blocks down the road. With the weather like this, the place will be empty. Amy won't worry as much about being recognized.
Even in mild Brockton Bay, early March is still too chilly to be walking around in short sleeves, but keeping skin-on-skin contact between us is a rule. Only fair that Amy gets to peek inside my head. Plus, it's not like either of us have to worry about getting sick.
Aside from our respective preexisting conditions, that is.
"How's Glory Hole?"
"Still prettier than you."
I smile. She doesn't, which makes my smile stretch wider.
"You could fix me," I needle her. "Victoria Wilbourn."
"T-That might be fun," Amy admits, glancing down, and I throw my walls high on reflex even as I raise my eyebrows, "but it'd be weird, and I don't think you'd like me using my power to play with your face like that."
I squeeze her arm with mine a little, because it's a good day when she can be honest about her fucked-up-ness.
"I probably wouldn't be able to get your freckles right when I undid it, anyway. Phenotype— well, you already know."
I didn't, actually. While it's a healthy step forward seeing my girlfriend air out her neuroses, it also conveys lot of really squicky information and associated guilt that I don't want to rehash in my head. So, for a few moments, I had put my shoulder to the barricade against my power.
I ease off myself.
Amy adds, brightly, "I like your freckles."
Overcompensation; eager to please, lingering shame, afraid of jealousy.
Also likes my freckles.
"But how is your sister, really?"
"She and Gallant are back together."
"I don't know what she sees in him." Amy glances at me, worry flashing across her face. "Not like that."
I nod, and let the almost-truth go.
We pause our conversation to hurry across a crosswalk, splashing pooled rainwater with our rubber boots as we go. It doesn't pay to depend on the kindness of motorists in Brockton Bay.
She continues, "There's a lot of better guys out there."
I could say a lot about Victoria Dallon and her taste in men, especially how the dim bitch keeps trying to set up her transparently closeted older sister with rich tools, but that would start a fight. I don't bite my tongue because, even though I want to keep my mouth from running ahead of my brain, Amy will sense that.
Something slips through, however. She shoots me a side glance that even someone without a Thinker rating could spot. The perils of dating a bio-Striker.
The perils of dating, maybe.
"It might not all be his fault," I say, trying to be helpful. "I'm pretty sure being bad with people has something to do with his trigger. He falls back on being gallant for a reason — small 'g'. Relying on rigid conventions rather than intuiting social situations is red flag in my book, especially when your power is blasting random emotions at people. Victoria's aura makes what she's feeling clear, which must help him a lot."
Amy looks thoughtful. "They do always fight over the phone."
"I have a..."
Friend is the wrong word. Associate?
"I have an associate who has trouble relating to people, worse than Gallant."
"Yeah?" Amy asks.
It's a go-ahead, but I'm careful about walking this red line; nothing about dogs.
"Her brain got rewired by her power in a bad way."
"Like yours did."
Now I do bite my tongue.
Amy laces her fingers through mine. "I'm not trying to be rude."
"I'm not excluding myself either. All powers are like a gun that capes can never take off, except guns can only kill people. You and me? We can do so much worse than that if we wanted. Don't tell me that doesn't ever affect how you deal with people."
"I handle it." Better than you.
"But you can't stop using your power as an extra sense any more than I can."
"Don't start on Ibuki-Ross again."
"Come on." She nudges my shoulder with her own, and despite my irritation the friendly gesture loosens some of the tension in me. "Admit it. Rogues would be the rule instead of the exception if our powers didn't screw with our brains somehow. Look at your migraines. There's nothing physically abnormal about your brain even when your power knocks you down cold. I couldn't cure your migraines if I tried."
Not that she ever would. That wasn't just another rule. That was THE rule.
"If it can give you headaches," Amy says, "what else are our powers doing?"
"I'm still considering the evidence in my spare time, but I think it's a colossal mistake not to consider the social and political aspects of why we play cops and robbers professionally. Different countries have different cape cultures. "
"That's window dressing and you know it. Capes fight, no matter how they present themselves."
"Humans fight. I think you like Ibuki-Ross because it lets you off the hook for hating your job."
Amy turns her head away.
"You could have an Alexandria Package—" like your sister goes unsaid "—or a harmless crap power and you'd still psych yourself out, because the truth is you just don't want to be a cape, period."
Her grip on my fingers hasn't gone tense, but then Amy's strength isn't physical.
"You wouldn't pull a gun on me," I say gently.
"You would," Amy replies, not meeting my eyes. "You have."
We walk the rest of the way to the park in an uncomfortable silence.
When it comes time to buy our coffee from the tented kiosk, we go Dutch. Another rule. Amy's tolerance of my 'stuff' only extends an arbitrary distance. I can't even buy her flowers without triggering an attack of conscience on her part.
To counter the chill in me, the hot coffee is the second best panacea available.
"So," Amy begins, as we walk past a bed of budding tulips, "you think Victoria only dates Gallant because he's hard up for a normal relationship?"
"Oh my God, can we not talk about your sister anymore?"
"Look, I'm just trying to sort things out."
Tense, fearful, self-loathing, pondering, distracted.
Distracted; other topics on mind, wants privacy,
park chosen for privacy.
Privacy; breakup, make-out, sex, marriage pro—
I press the curved umbrella handle into Amy's free hand and pull away. I need the distance to think. Flecks of water begin to dot my short-sleeved blouse, and a detached part of me is suddenly glad I wore dark colors today.
I rub at my elbows as best I can holding my coffee, fighting off a shiver.
"We're not talking about your sister, are we?"
Victoria-Gallant relationship; equates us with them.
Gallant and I; outsiders to sibling binary, interlopers,
strangers, socially acceptable alternative to incestuous lo—
"No," I mutter to myself. "That's not it."
Bisexual runaway villainess not socially acceptable
outside seedy internet forums.
Gallant and I; interpersonal relationships affected
by power. Extrasensory perception, lateral insights
into human behavior; 'hard up' for romance, goes
for the Dallon sis—
"Idiot!" Amy storms into my personal space, bringing me back under the umbrella. I'm already fairly damp. "You already got stuck in a loop once today. Keep that up and you'll give yourself a migraine."
"I really hate being called stupid, Ames."
"Then don't stand in the fucking rain, Sarah."
We glower at each other, our breath coming out in the cold like curls of smoke from the snouts of dragons. Our faces are close enough that I can smell mint and coffee on Amy's breath.
My girlfriend doesn't crack first. She just talks first. "You could've just asked me, you know. I would have answered any questions you had. Instead you have to go off on a Thinker bender because something I said freaked the shit out of you."
Amy isn't one for swearing. We were both raised by our parents to see it as a thing lower class people did. Except there's a nasty streak in her that comes out when her blood gets hot. Something got under her skin, and I have a hunch I know what.
"Am I supposed to be the Gallant in this relationship," I ask, "or are you?"
Confusion, sees question as non-sequitur; wasn't
pondering relationship dynamics.
Amy closes her eyes. "You went off on a major tangent, didn't you?"
"Yes. But a very reasonable one! You're swearing all of a sudden. You keep bringing up your sister and her boyfriend. You brushed your teeth three times before coming here. Clearly something is up."
"I had a—"
"—spinach salad for lunch, yes, I know."
Amy takes a long sip from her coffee cup.
"Are you using your power right now?"
"No," I reply.
"Can you tell what I'm thinking anyway?"
I cringe just a little.
"You're wrong," Amy says.
She leans up on her toes and kisses me on the lips.
Carmel, chocolate sprinkles, French roast, cinnamon,
green apple flavor moisturizer ChapStick; sweet tooth.
ChapStick; texture of lips indicates history of nervous—
Amy settles down. "I think you're worried that I think you're a freak or something. You're not. I'm the one with the ugliness inside her. The thought of turning you into Victoria shouldn't even be something I joke about."
"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have teased you."
"I'm the one who took it seriously."
"That's not a bad thing to—"
Amy shakes her head. "I like you, Lisa. It - it might even be more than that. I don't know. You're the one I want to be with, not Victoria."
I swallow, and slap down my power hard.
Amy went on, "You may be a villain, but I'm trying not to be a monster."
I reach out and take hold of her wrist, let her watch the blood flow in my brain to see if I'm telling the truth or not. "You're not a monster. Trust me. I've seen inside the heads of a lot of screwed-up people, and you don't hold a candle to them."
Amy Dallon nods, but I know she's not letting the point go. All the months we've been together hasn't done enough to burnish her poor self-image. I toss my unfinished coffee into the flower bed and wrap my arms around her, burying my face in her frizzy brown mane.
Lack of natural oils indicates repeated shampoo
and conditioning. Flossed; brushed teeth three
times. Ironed shirt, freshly washed jeans.
Attempting to look her best; has news.
I break the hug and throw my walls up high, if only not to spoil the surprise.
"Sorry. If you've got something to share before my power does..."
"Victoria set me up on a double-date with the heir to the Medhall fortune. He's sixteen and worth millions."
"I'm pretty sure he's only fifteen." If the bio I wrote for Coil was right, and it was.
"I told her I was gay."
Relief, lingering anxiety, suspense, self-loathing, hope.
Amy passes the umbrella to me, and then slips her newly freed hand into mine. Apparently throwing her coffee into a flowerbed was littering, and thus eeeevil. "I told her I was dating this amazing, genius bitch of a girl."
"A genius, huh?"
"I may have been exaggerating a little."
"Are you free Wednesday for lunch? We could double-date. You could meet Victoria and Gallant, and... y'know."
Fuck fuck fuck.
"I... have 'stuff' that day."
Amy is quiet for a long stretch. The steady fall of rain fills the void.
She doesn't let go of my hand, though.
"I'm free Thursday for lunch," I say.
Assuming I don't get arrested or shot while robbing the Ruby Dreams casino the day prior.
"It's a date?" she asks.
I squeeze her hand. "It's a date."