Finding the Way
1) This story is set in the Wormverse, which is owned by Wildbow. Thanks for letting me use it.
2) I will follow canon as closely as I can. If I find something that canon does not cover, then I will make stuff up. If canon then refutes me, then I will revise. Do not bother me with fanon; corrections require citations.
3) I welcome criticism of my works, but if you tell me that something is wrong, I also expect an explanation of what is wrong, and a suggestion of how to fix it. Note that I do not promise to follow any given suggestion. Posting negative reviews from an anonymous account is a good way to get said review deleted.
Part 1: the Flute
Taylor stared at the flute.
It had been her mother's before she died. It was not an expensive instrument, but her mother had always kept it polished and cleaned, and made sure that the keys worked smoothly. She could still recall her mother playing it; the sound had been haunting and beautiful, and had brought tears to her eyes.
There were tears in her eyes now, tears of pain and anguish.
The flute lay atop the heap of trash destined for the compactor. When she had found it, she had first felt a surge of joy; Emma had only taken it to scare her.
But then she looked more closely.
It had been ... violated.
The body had been beaten flat, with what must have been a brick. The nickel-plated keys had been torn half off. And something horrible, with a vile odour, had been smeared into every crack, every crevice, every finger-hole.
She couldn't even bear to touch it.
She wanted to throw up.
She went looking for a bag, something made of plastic. If she could wrap it up, get it home, Dad could fix it. Dad could fix anything.
When she got back, the flute was gone. She couldn't see it anywhere. She had turned her back; she had lost it a second time.
One more torture to the many that already lay upon her shoulders.
Oh god, what can I do now?
She went to the bathroom, locked herself into a stall, and cried and cried.
Danny Hebert came home to find Taylor lying curled up on the sofa; the room lights were not on, and nor was the TV. She was staring at nothing, arms around her knees.
"Afternoon, kiddo," he said, then slowed. She had not answered him.
"Taylor?" he asked her.
She whimpered. It was the sound of an animal in the extremity of pain.
In an instant, he was seated on the sofa beside her, pulling her on to his lap. She clung to him desperately.
"God, Taylor," he said softly, patting her on the back gently as she started to cry, "what happened?"
"I didn't mean to," she sobbed. "I didn't mean it to happen. Oh god, I didn't want it to happen."
"What?" he asked her. "What happened?"
Oh god, he thought. She's been raped. Or she's had sex with a boy and she's pregnant. On top of everything else. Oh god.
"Who did it?" he asked automatically. "Who did this to you?" I'll kill him, he thought. I will seriously kill him.
"I took it to school," she said.
He couldn't follow her. Took what?
But she was speaking. "Mom's flute. I took it to school. Thought I could get through the day if I could go to my locker and look at it, hold it."
He knew the flute, knew it well. He'd given it to Taylor as something to remember her mother by. A cold feeling stole over him. "What happened?"
She was crying into his shirt, getting it wet. He couldn't have cared less. "Someone – someone took it from my locker. Wrecked it. Destroyed it. Killed it. I couldn't touch it. Couldn't. It had ... stuff on it."
Her misery was so complete that he could not even begin to raise any anger for her having taken something so precious to school. But she had said, it was in her locker. Someone took it from her locker?
"Where is it now, kiddo?" he asked, very gently.
"Went to get a bag," she sniffled. "But when I got back – it was gone. Like it was never there." She burst out crying all over again. "I should have grabbed it, kept it, not worried about the shit on it. I was sostupid!"
He held her, rocked her, while his heart burned with anger. Not at her; never at her. But anger at those heartless scum who had made Taylor's life a living hell for the last two years.
"Who did it, Taylor?" he asked. "Do you know who did it?"
She looked up at him, her eyes reddened, her face tear-stained. "I think it was Emma. Or Sophia. Or Madison."
"Emma?" he asked. "Emma Barnes?" He paused in confusion. "But she's your friend!"
She shook her head. "No, Dad," she said dully. "She hasn't been my friend since we started high school." And the tale tumbled out; the snide comments, the references to her mother, the shoves, pinches, trippings.
How she would find her clothes in the toilet, or thrown at her in the showers. How her classwork would be defaced or stolen and handed in by one of the three as their own. How her projects would be destroyed or sabotaged.
How it was always Emma, or Sophia, or Madison behind it. How they never quite did enough to be seen by a teacher. How her complaints had fallen on deaf ears; apparently two alibis were worth one complaint, and they always backed each other up.
He listened, the anger turning to cold rage in his gut.
"Christ almighty," he ground out. "I'm going to ring Alan Barnes right now and –"
"No Dad, no," she pleaded, clutching at his sleeve, as though to stop him. "It won't do any good, really it won't. And it's over now anyway. Today was the last day before Christmas break. Maybe they'll have gotten bored of it by January. Found something else to do."
He saw her point, though he still wanted to ring Alan Barnes, and tell him a few home truths about his precious Emma. And the Clements girl ... he didn't even know her father. But he should know as well.
But Taylor had asked him not to.
"Well, fine," he said reluctantly. "But over this break, we're going to sit down and you're going to tell me everything that's been going on. Everything. Anything that's a possible criminal offence, we'll take special note of. And if they do one goddamn thing to you come January, we take the lot to the police. I am not letting them get away with one single more goddamn thing." He held her tightly. "Ever."
Taylor hugged him back. She loved him so much; he felt more like her father than he had, these last few months.
"Thanks, Dad," she said softly. "I've –"
"You've what?" he asked gently.
"I've been writing down what they've been doing, since September," she said. "Every day."
His head came up, and he looked at her. "Right," he said. "I want to see that. In fact, I'm going to look around for a legal aid expert, and see how much of what you've written down is actionable in court. So if they start up again ..." He didn't have to finish.
"I can get that for you," she said. "Plus the emails they've been sending me."
"Bad?" he asked quietly.
She nodded, her head down. "I ... I didn't want to bother you."
He drew in a deep breath. "I ... haven't been much of a father, lately," he admitted. "But I'm back now. You're my daughter, and I love you, and I will defend you to the very last breath in my body."
She relaxed into his embrace. Tears came to her eyes again, but they were tears of a different kind.
Dad's going to help. It's all going to be okay.
"But you've got to be able to do something with it!" Danny protested, trying to keep his voice down. Beside him, Taylor shrank into her chair, head down.
"I'm really sorry," said the legal aid representative, carefully sorting the papers on the desk. "The emails are all from throwaway accounts. The people who sent them obviously chose them for that purpose." He looked directly at Taylor. "Personally, I have no doubt that they are all from these people you speak of, but proving it in court is a far different matter."
"Okay," said Danny. "The other things. How about them?"
The rep cleared his throat. "Frankly, Mr Hebert, I am astonished and appalled at the systematic campaign of bullying that has been going on here. Your daughter does not seem to be the attention-seeking type that would create such a thing from whole cloth. But."
He put his hand on the pile of papers. "All of this is simply ink on paper. She would have to be cross-examined about each and every incident, and the defending attorney would do his best to shake her story, or produce witnesses that brought them into doubt."
His lips tightened. "If I had even the slightest shred of hope that justice could be wrung out of what is written in here, I would urge you to take it to the courts. But if, as you say, the chief offender's father is an attorney in his own right, then he has tricks he can play, even if you win."
He sighed. "I will put you in touch with people I know, people who might see more than I can in this. I can take it myself, if you insist, but I can already see how it would turn out, and that way is badly, for yourselves."
"Right," said Danny heavily. "Well, thank you for your time." He stood, picked up the papers, and shook the man's hand briefly.
"I wish I could do more," said the rep.
"So do I," said Danny shortly.
The door closed behind him.
The legal aid representative got up and put on his coat.
Cases like this depressed him. I need a drink.
Danny eyed Taylor over the table that night at dinner. She was silent, withdrawn, pale. Her food had been pushed around the plate, but barely touched.
He reached out and touched her arm; she jumped.
"Are you okay, kiddo?" he asked gently.
She nodded; barely a movement, her hair swayed gently. He could not see her eyes.
"It's okay," he said, with enthusiasm he didn't feel. "We'll go and see someone else tomorrow. Someone better."
She shook her head. "Won't make any difference." Her voice was barely audible.
"Of course it will," he said heartily, but there was nothing behind it. Christ, who am I trying to convince? he asked himself. Me or her? Because I know she isn't, and I don't think I am either.
"Okay," he said. "Just hang in there, all right? Things will get better."
She raised her eyes to his, very slightly. The doubt he saw in them tore at his heart.
I'm supposed to be her father! he raged. Silently, impotently. I'm supposed to protect her! How the goddamn fucking hell can I do that against this?
And then he looked at her again, and he felt a faint chill of worry. People in Taylor's position had committed suicide before, and they would again.
Christ, he thought. Not my girl. Not Taylor. I couldn't stand that. I'd die first.
"Can you do me a favour and clear the dishes?" he asked gently. "I need to go to the bathroom."
She nodded faintly, and rose to clear the table. He went upstairs.
He used the bathroom, all right. But he also removed all the dangerous pills from the bathroom cabinet, and the straight razor he favoured for shaving over the disposable type. If she killed herself with that ... I'd never forgive myself.
By the time he came downstairs, she had started on the dishes, and he gave her a hand. They chatted while they did it; or rather, he chatted, and she gave him nods, shakes of the head, and monosyllabic replies.
They watched TV for a while after that; or rather, the TV was on, and they sat in front of it. Taylor barely seemed to be taking any of it in, and Danny was trying to figure out what to say to her, to tell her that he loved her, to please, oh goddamn please don't kill herself.
Eventually, she got up from the sofa. He got up too, switching the TV off.
"Night, Dad," she said quietly into the silence. "Thanks for trying, today."
He put his arms around her and hugged her tightly. "And we'll keep trying," he assured her. "Together." He put his hand under her chin, tilted her head up so that her eyes met his. "And Taylor?"
She looked at him, her eyes vast and melancholy. "Yes, Dad?" Her voice was barely a whisper.
"If you ever need to talk to me about anything, no matter how bad, no matter when, no matter where, or even if you just need me to hold you, I will be there for you. I will make time. No matter what. I promise. Okay?"
The urgency in his voice seemed to get through to her, and she smiled, very slightly. "Okay, Dad," she said, in a slightly stronger voice. "Thanks."
She held him tightly for a moment longer, then padded up the stairs to bed.
She lay in bed and stared out at the darkness. It didn't matter whether her eyes were open or closed, whether she looked into reality or into her thoughts. It was all darkness.
I don't see how I can go on, she told herself. I've got nothing more. They've taken it all away from me. I don't even have my flute anymore.
She clenched her eyelids shut, but burning tears still leaked out on to the pillow.
Dad tries, and he loves me, but ... it's not enough. He has to think of other things, and I can't be in his thoughts every second of the day. I have to be strong, and I can't. I'm out of strength. There's no more.She felt the void filling her chest. She didn't even have the strength to cry any more. I'm done. I'm finished. They've won.
She found herself idly wondering how she was going to kill herself. At the thought, she said to herself, that's terrible. But she realised that she didn't mean it. She only thought it should be terrible.
And then, a new thought struck her. Oh god, she thought. This is what Dad was talking about.
He said, any time I need him to hold me, he would be there to hold me.
I need him to hold me, now.
Danny Hebert opened his eyes from a light doze.
"Wstfgl?" he asked.
"Dad?" came Taylor's voice from the darkness.
"Taylor?" he asked, becoming alert in an instant. "What's up?"
"Can I get in with you, just for a while?" she asked, her voice near tears. "I need you to hold me. Please."
"Of course," he agreed, lifting the covers. "Get in quick, it's cold out there."
She slid into bed quickly, shivering slightly. "It's really cold out there," she agreed. He gathered her into his arms to warm her up. She snuggled close to him gratefully. Her skin was chilly to the touch.
He held her close. She held her arms close to her, enjoying the embrace. "What's the matter, kiddo?" he asked quietly.. "Did you want to talk about something?
After a moment, she shook her head. She didn't want to freak him out with talk of casual thoughts of suicide. "Just wanted you to hold me, Dad," she said softly. "I just needed to know that someone in this crappy world loves me."
He smiled and went to kiss her on the forehead; in the darkness, it landed somewhere next to her left eye. She giggled anyway.
"Well, I do," he assured her. "And I always will."
He tightened his hold her; she snuggled into his warm embrace, safe and secure.
Slowly, they drifted off to sleep.
Just for this night, everything was okay.
End of Part 1