(AN: Trying a bit of writing again. Just finished playing through the ME trilogy again, and Worm is my favorite written fiction. Having already read Exiled, I figured I'd try my hand at a paragon Fem-Shep into Worm. For her face, red head Sarah Shepard by JSRV on the face database. For her name, grabbed it from my favorite ME fic Avatar of Victory, though the personality is my own creation and in line with what I'm comfortable writing. For those familiar with my writing, you'll know that thoughts, ideas, exposition, and conversation are what I tend towards. I write things that are interesting to me, and post it for those that might have similar interests.)

The roof during lunch was her favorite place. It was removed enough that she had been yet to be found up here. Like most good things, too much was likely to be a bad thing. If the trio couldn't figure out where she was and managed to put together it was a frequent occasion they would likely find this spot. So it was really more of an occasional vacation or indulgence than it was a refuge.

As she came through the door, though, something unusual greeted here. Rather than it being her lone sanctum for the lunch period, she found that there was another girl up here. She glanced quickly and guarded, in a way that only the bullied really could, gauging danger and click placement while mentally berating herself for not scoping the area out for bugs first.

The girl was sitting on the ledge, back against a wall, reading the parahuman studies school book. She looked to be about Taylor's age, maybe as much as a year older. She was also about as tall as her, which was odd enough to draw it as a note in her mind. White, as well. That's where the similarities ended, though. She had medium length red hair, green eyes, and an figure she felt a flash of jealousy over. Less like Emma's early modeling physique and more like one of the Protectorate members that could honestly rock the spandex.

"Yeah. One of those things that's easier for guys." Her voice was friendly, but there was an undercurrent there, steel and fire. Not directed at her, more just a fact of life or a force of nature. She'd heard it occasionally during interviews with some heroes. Legend for one, miss militia on occasion more locally. More importantly, she'd been caught staring. She blushed and quickly looked away before stammering out "What?"

The girl closed her book and sat it on the ledge before standing and looking at her. "Roles and judgments and such. Girls have certain beauty standards. Fitness, chest, ass, hair, complexion, etc. Not to say that a guy that has all those things isn't eye candy, just that if you take a guy and a girl that are of a similar subjective attractiveness level and have them both work out, the guy's subjective attractiveness will improve more. Basically, guys subjective attractiveness is more in their control. A guy can spend a year of dedicated training and get ripped. A girl can't really dedicate time and effort into making her cup size grow."

Her embarrassment faded away as her brain had something else to latch on to, a tasty bit of perspective that she hadn't observed before. It didn't really change anything, but it was still interesting information that she filled away.

"Yeah...yeah. I can see that." She shook her head, wariness coming back a bit as she eyed the girl. The only thing that was holding her back from raising the red flags in her mind was that she had never seen the girl before.

"Aimei Shepard, by the way." The girl, er, Aimei said before holding out her hand.

"Er. Taylor. Taylor Hebert. Are you new?" Easy Taylor, she thought to herself. She hasn't been snagged up by any clicks, but Emma's going to be all over her soon.

Aimei shrugged. "New to the city. I'm not planning on going to school here, if that's what you're asking."

She blinked. "So...uh, why are you here?" Smooth Taylor.

Aimei pointed back over her shoulder to the book. "Studying."

"..." She took half a step back before catching herself, and glanced around. Ok, she'd stumbled on to a crazy person on the roof. Play it cool, Taylor. "You could, you know, learn all that stuff about parahumans better online..."

A shrug and a smirk, picking up on Taylor backing away. It didn't twig her bully senses though, and taking half a second to look at the situation she could see that it was from genuine amusement of what was going on rather than any maliciousness on the other girls part.

"Yeah, and I already have. But there are...different levels of information. What you learn from a high school textbook vs. a college textbook vs. internet speculation vs. legitimate research papers...and that's not even going into what's likely classified by your PRT or whatever shadowy conspiracy groups there are. For something as fundamental to the world as parahumans it's best to have as comprehensive a view as possible."

While that made quite a bit of sense, outside maybe the whole shadow conspiracy thing, there was still "And so you snuck into the most rundown school in the city to steal a textbook to get some perspective?"

"Partially. Also wanted to scope out the hive of scum and villainy to get a feel of the local gangs from the least of their members. Scope them out where they have to remain neutral, get a feel for them in their territory, see how they interact at the higher levels. It's another one of those problems where the way to finding the best solutions involve gathering data from all levels."

Something clicked into place in her head, and her question was out of her mouth before she could stop herself. "Are you a hero?" A new Ward, maybe? Just transferred in to the city?

A raised eyebrow from the girl. "From what I've read up on, I'm pretty sure that at best that's a rude question, and at worst it's likely to get you killed."

She tensed, reading the situation. Bugs in nearby areas began massing but staying hidden for now, ready if she needed them. She was caught off foot when Aimei smiled at her. "But in this case, don't worry about it. I picked up on you being parahuman shortly after we started interacting. You don't seem to have a bad guy mentality, so it would be rude to have a major secret of yours and not give you one back. So, yeah. I'd consider myself a Hero, narratively speaking."

The tension eased off very slightly, and she managed to form words after a few moments of shock. "Th...thanks. But you've got it wrong. I'm not..."

Another raised eyebrow from the girl. "So the few bugs around us started behaving agitatedly when you were clearly distressed at seeing someone up here all on their own? You should work on that. I'm particularly observant, but if it happens frequently you're secret isn't going to stay secret very long."

She sputtered briefly before collecting herself, taking a long and deep breath to calm down.

"Even if that's true, and I'm not saying it is, isn't it still dangerous for you to be telling me these things?"

"Maybe. Lot's of things in life are dangerous. Call it a bet, then. You're not a revealed cape. No one in the local heroes, gangs, or mentioned independents around here do bug control. Thus, you're not established. Either a recent trigger then, or someone that has the good sense to figure things out before she goes rushing into trouble. I'm further guess that you've had your powers a bit, given the usage of them when I called you out. It was controlled and made a good attempt at being more subtle if I wasn't specifically watching for something like it. Gangs would have already put you to work, and you haven't joined the Wards indicating hesitation to do so. Hypothetically, how am I doing so far?"

She mulled it over in her head for a bit before reappraising the girl. Some kind of Thinker power? Maybe...but everything she said sound like reasonable deductions. It seemed more like a lot of experience. Maybe someone that triggered young and just transferred here? She had no idea of the other girls powers, so it was possible.

"Hypothetically, maybe you're right. So what are you getting at?"

Aimei sat back on the ledge but with eyes remaining on her own. "Independents don't last long. Very high death rates, very high rates of being forced into gangs. If you're not a bad person, and you really don't strike me as such, then I'd like to avoid that happening to you. Didn't have any plans of this sort when I dropped in to do some reading and get a feel for things, but I've learned to do what I can where I can."

She froze. The girl, the cape in front of her, was offering to team up with her? The suspision was nagging at her, telling her how this was just another trick, but if it wasn't then this was...amazing. She'd have backup, maybe even a friend? Cool your heals Taylor. You don't know everything about the situation yet. Don't get ahead of yourself.

"You...want to team up with me?" A little more hope and suspicion slipped out in that statement than she had intended.


Her heart fell a bit. Of course no one wanted to team up with Taylor Hebert. What kind of power was bug control anyways? Stupid, stupid.

"Hey. Hey. None of that. I can nearly taste your self deprivation from over here. It's no judgment on your it's just..."

Aimei seemed to be eyeing her critically, thinking things through. She settled back and looked up to the sky while humming to herself for a moment before settling back down and looking at her again with a face that spoke of decision.

"Alright, look. There's more to this, to me, than you know and I'm comfortable sharing with you at the moment. Here's the deal, though. I'm way more developed and experienced than you are. If you're teaming up with me, you're not going to have a lot of natural growth and development. Like, if you joined up with the Wards, then there would be back and forth. You'd learn from them, they'd learn from you. Your personality and theirs would be shaped from the interaction. It's what occurs with peers. But at the moment, you're not my peer. Shaping and molding by interaction is going to be almost entirely one direction. In a sense, rather than natural organic development that you would see you're just...going to be taking on a lot of my traits." She crossed her arms and let her shoulders drop a bit. "Given the vibe around the school, you don't have any friends here. Unlikely to have friends outside of here. How's your relationship with your family?"

She winced.

"Sorry. Yeah, should have expected that. It just makes what I'm saying that much more true. It sounds like I'm going to be your only point of interaction."

Her mind rushed taking all of this in, sorting it out. She tossed up her hands to signal the other girl to give her a minute to process everything None of it was something that she'd given thought to before, or had previous lines of understanding, but it was simple enough she could absorb it and apply some thought to it. After a minute, she nodded to herself. "Two questions. One, how do you know all of this? It's not really...complicated, but it seems like it's...outside the scope of school? And two, hypothetically, how would one develop if they'd had no friends for over a year and been systematically tormented by their one ex friend and half the class? Just to give you perspective on unnatural development."

It was the other girls turn to wince.

"Point taken. As to the first, a friend of mine was a psychologist, and had insights into a lot of interesting subjects. One of the more useful things that we discussed at one point was how one shapes those that interact with them, and how they're shaped in return. Events that shaped me were a bit...larger than what most people ever deal with, so there tended to be a disproportionate exchange in that department even with other people with interesting lives in the Chinese curse sense. As to the second, either independently strong or near non-functional at the extremes, but regardless very broken."

"Yeah. So if the alternative is that or picking up some traits from someone that obviously has her stuff better together than I do, and maybe getting someone to watch my back in the process..."

Aimei nodded. "I get it. But one of our priorities is going to be finding you peers of your own to interact with. I would much rather you develop in as close a way to natural as a parahuman can than be developmentally subsumed by me."

She snorted. "Yeah, ok. I won't say no to that, but I wouldn't be to disappointed when it doesn't work out. Is part of your power way more life experience than you should have? I mean, don't take this wrong, but you really don't strike me as 15."

Aimei chuckled briefly. "Something I should probably keep in mind when dealing with normals. Yeah, something like that. I'll fill you in more later, but you should probably mentally label me as a very experienced 30 year old." She reached into a backpack that was leaning against the wall and tossed something over.

Catching it, she eyed it wearily. "A cellphone?"

"Yeah. Trying to stay in touch via extranet boards seems both unreliable and unsecure. Cell isn't leaps and bounds better, but it at least has the advantage of being so unless someone has a specific reason to look rather than some authority figure, Thinker, or techie running certain search patterns over messages or posts. Speaking of which, be careful of anything you put in data form. It's never really gone or deleted, just some degree harder to access."

A bell down in the building rang, indicating lunch was almost up.

"Sounds like we're out of time. Get a hold of me after class and we'll meet up."

Taylor nodded somewhat numbly before waving at the girl and heading back downstairs. This wasn't anything like how she pictured her day going, but as she thought about it, she picked up a little more spring in her step. No, not at all how she pictured it, but she was pretty happy with how it turned out.