Tales of Tattled Tales with Tattletale's Tale Tattled
A small, lonesome side-street, empty in the evening's darkness, a stark contrast of desolation compared to the skyscrapers only minutes away. Three boys lay on the ground, unconscious. All suffered relatively minor wounds; they were disabled with no more pain than necessary. A young woman stood a bit off to the side, eyes trained on the bodies, noting their status. A much older man watched her, just a little ways away, breathing hard not from lust, but from adrenaline.
"Thank you Ms…"
"Hebert," Taylor finished. "Taylor Hebert. It was nothing."
The older man's jaw went slack. "Three gangsters, nothing? Who are you?"
She glanced down, at the three groaning teenagers. They really were nothing at all, compared to Lung, Mannequin, or even Lisa. All were untrained, only one knife among them. It had taken less than half a minute. Taylor turned back to the person she'd just 'saved' and straightened her dress shirt.
"Founder of Khepri," Taylor answered, "a regular woman, more or less. Just trying to help the people who need it."
"Commendable," the man remarked. "I have a fairly large stash of savings myself. How would a donation of a hundred thousand dollars be?"
Taylor smiled her business smile. "Everything helps, sir."
Mr. Wilbourn returned the favour and stretched his right hand out for a shake. Taylor sheepishly reached out with her left in response. She awkwardly gripped the outside of his hand and shook lightly.
"You were right-handed."
Not a statement.
"You're observant," Taylor noted.
Mr. Wilbourn sighed. "Comes with the trade. You hesitated and moved your right hand first."
Taylor raised her prosthetic limb and dangled it loosely.
"Gang members?" he guessed. "Friends of those ones?"
Taylor shook her head. "Golden Morning."
Of course, she didn't mention her considerably more… active role in Golden Morning. It was close enough.
"It's fine," Taylor interrupted. "My apologies Mr. Wilbourn, but I have one question."
The man raised one well-groomed eyebrow. "Go on."
Taylor took a deep breath and hoped her guess wasn't wrong.
"Do you have a daughter named Lisa?"
A blink. Two, in rapid succession. The winning smile flickered. Surprise, a brief lapse in concentration. Mr. Wilbourn knew something; that name meant something to him.
"I did," Mr. Wilbourn said slowly. "May she rest in peace."
Damn. It was too much to hope for, even if all the other variables found a way to match up. Earth Aleph's Lisa wouldn't be the same Lisa, but what had Taylor expected? Why had she brought up such a moot point, of a girl who she'd never met?
"I'm sorry for asking," Taylor managed. "Truly, I am."
Even if they had met, Earth Aleph's Lisa would be unique. Her parents may have simply found the name pleasing to the ear; it guaranteed nothing of who the woman would be. Taylor knew, perhaps better than most that names could change very easily.
"… called … Lisa," Mr. Wilbourn murmured.
"Pardon? I didn't catch that."
"You called her Lisa," Mr. Wilbourn said audibly.
Taylor paused. "What do you mean?"
"You called her Lisa," Mr. Wilbourn repeated. "Only Reginald called her 'Lisa'."
"Who were you to her? Who was Elizabeth to you?"
Taylor processed this new tidbit of information. Lisa and Reggie were nicknames, shortened versions of much more traditional and formal ones. Was it because of a lack of trust or a memory better left unspoken that Lisa neglected to mention that? A variation in the worlds? Either way, Taylor would never be able to confirm. She frowned; it was an unfortunate truth, one she was no longer capable of changing.
"Answer me," Mr. Wilbourn demanded. "Who was my daughter to you?"
"I was a… a friend," Taylor replied.
"A friend," Mr. Wilbourn echoed.
"You were a friend."
Taylor nodded. What was that on Mr. Wilbourn's face? Distrust? Disbelief? What happened to Earth Aleph's Lisa?
"She never mentioned you," Mr. Wilbourn chuckled hollowly. "Though Elizabeth never mentioned much of anything to us, right up until the end."
"The internet," Taylor lied, "and a similar history of not being very social."
That was a stretch. The Lisa she knew was very social. Taylor wondered how loose the ground she was on was. The Lisa of this world already passed away, and in the near company of her family. Disease? A fight? No – Mr. WIlbourn wasn't even close to knowledgeable about self-defense. His form, figure and stance when the gang members approached all screamed 'attack me'. If Earth Aleph's Lisa was even close to as smart as Bet's, she would hardly be an easy target for anyone around her.
A worse thought came to mind: suicide. Did she follow her brother's footsteps?
"May I ask what happened to Reggi- Reginald?" Taylor tried. "Did he…"
Taylor brought a hand to her neck and squeezed lightly. Mr. Wilbourn frowned, hard creases engraved into his forehead.
"He… did, yes."
Another block fell into place. If she was Lisa, Taylor suspected she would have had the whole picture. As it was, she needed to ask for the information. Truthfully, with the aid of a private investigator, Taylor could almost certainly dig the data up from old news articles and records. This, however, was much more direct, and infinitely more accurate.
Mr. Wilbourn glanced around at the empty streets. In the dark of the waning winter moon, streetlights and other unnecessarily bright signs flashed. Apparently satisfied, he then looked at the gangsters who had fallen.
"Was this planned?" Mr. Wilbourn accused. "Some plot to get me to donate money, or to destabilize my mind? Who put you up to this?"
Taylor blinked. "Nobody."
"With a capital N?"
"Lower-case," Taylor clarified. "I was just leaving my office, honest. I only asked about Lis- … Elizabeth because I recognized your last name. I'm running late, actually."
She glanced at her watch. Taylor was five minutes behind schedule. Thankfully, he wouldn't care as much as Accord would have.
"In that case, I believe I should leave you to your work," Mr. Wilbourn said. "Farewell. It was… interesting."
Taylor nodded her assent "Sorry for bringing up bad memories. Have a nice day, Mr. Wilbourn. Remember to take care of these kids."
Taylor strode off without a single glance back. Once, she would have watched her back through the multi-faceted eyes of her bug legion. Now, that nagging prompt was a reminder of a friend forever lost, many friends forever lost. The street grew blurry. With a frown, Taylor reached up to her eyes and found her carefully applied make-up damp. Tears? She wiped them away as quickly as they had appeared, and kept going.
Taylor missed the Bay. She missed Rachel and the dogs. She missed Sierra, Charlotte, and the others. She even missed Aisha, no matter how much the girl tried to wheedle her. But most of all, Taylor missed Lisa. Her best friend, the endlessly intuitive Tattletale, with that tell-tale smirk that crossed her face upon unraveling yet another mystery.
Taylor would never see them again, any of them. Not Lisa, Rachel, or Aisha. Brian, whoever he was with now. That bridge was burnt, ties cut off and permanently eviscerated. Contessa had made sure of that.
Wishful thinking, all of it. Needless, pointless and utterly in vain. Taylor shook her thoughts free and kept her mind on the sidewalk. Would Mr. Wilbourn uphold his previous promise? Had she ruined the opportunity by bringing up the man's two deceased children? Taylor took another deep breath, and wished she could run. High heels were irritating.
Only ten minutes and many aching feet later, Taylor came to a stop at her apartment. A quaint little thing, small with the bare minimum of accessories. There would be a media outrage if the founder of one of the world's largest charity organizations lived in such a small home. Or would there? It would silence the nay-sayers, the selfish idiots too addicted to their own wealth to care about the others in need, the less fortunate and wounded. To force the realization that there existed people who cared, and charities didn't exist to embezzle hard-earned cash. For a moment, one brief moment, Taylor considered leaking her address to the public. Not a good enough return chance – there was no guarantee compromising her privacy would help.
Taylor entered her home, and went to the bathroom, to wash off that foreign substance known as 'make-up'. She was behind schedule, but that just meant driving in a 'slightly' more dangerous fashion. He would understand, even if she did come by late. Taylor glanced into the mirror and did a double-take. As always, the person who stared back was foreign to her. Tall, that she was used to. Skinny as if her metabolism never changed, that was the usual. The same watchful gaze like she was still warlord of Brockton Bay.
What bothered her were the little things. Taylor touched a hesitant finger to the lightly applied blush. Not her handiwork – her assistant had to do it every time with a grumble and a wry smile. Even in a suit, Taylor was still plain; she would fit right into a crowd of overworked corporate slaves. Taylor hadn't changed that much… but she was definitely different.
Taylor glanced down to her hands. Nail polish, also courtesy of her assistant. That was also something she wouldn't have even dreamed of back on Earth Bet. Between villainy, heroics, and 'world domination', Taylor always preferred gloves to going bare-handed. There was no point in painting something that would be covered. A glove made her punches stiffer and stronger, whereas going bare risked injuring the very important appendage. Strange, how something so small, so insignificant, could show how much she had moved away from the person she had once been.
But that was enough time wasted. Taylor wet her hands and reached up to wipe the powder from her face, with the mirror as reference. She paused, wet fingers just barely separated from her cheek. A figure stood in the reflection that had not existed seconds earlier, a woman dressed in formal attire, much like her. A sense of panic, instinctual fear that was suppressed behind Taylor's expressionless mask. Taylor placed the name just as the woman, Contessa, spoke.
"Greetings, Taylor Hebert."
"Good evening," Taylor responded. "Are you here at Teacher's behest?"
"No. We split ways a long while back," Contessa answered. "Teacher was captured years ago, and Lung managed to end him before the PRT could secure him. The Undersiders had a hand there in the former, but that's classified."
Contessa smiled coldly, lips stretched without any emotion. Taylor turned to face her directly, already breaking down possible escape routes. The window wouldn't work; that would be one long drop to death. It was a bathroom with one door, and Taylor didn't keep a weapon hidden in her bathroom. There was no path, no way to get past the woman without directly confronting her. Taylor couldn't win.
"Good," Taylor said. "Will this take long? I have someone to meet later. I'm not Skitter, Weaver, or the 'Queen Administrator'. I'm just Taylor."
Taylor watched Contessa's body language. She examined the older woman's face, and scrutinized every detail. A firm emotionless smile, without the slightest hint of expression. Did Contessa's ability tell her to relinquish any form of emotional appeal? Or was it because Taylor would've tried to call the bluff on any form of faked expression? A show of trust, that Contessa pretended she wasn't using her ability? Granted, Taylor was a sitting duck here, in her bathroom; Contessa didn't need to ask her for anything.
"So why are you here? What do you want?" Taylor asked bluntly.
Contessa widened her smile, an arc now rather than a thin press. "You."
Taylor stared. Contessa's unflinching eyes returned the favour. It certainly didn't feel like a confession. Taylor mentally covered her assets and liabilities. In Earth Aleph, Taylor only owned a small apartment and a puny amount of savings, but she was also in charge of an enormous non-profit organization. It seemed against Cauldron's modus operandi to take out any organization that was doing good without a reason. Meanwhile, on the other Earths, Taylor was public enemy number one for every cape out there who didn't enjoy bodily enslavement.
"What do you want with me?" Taylor clarified.
"I would like to apologize," Contessa began, "I feel exile may have been a tad harsh, given the bonds you've formed."
"So you feel sorry for me?" Taylor asked. "What do you actually want me for? You wouldn't cross worlds to apologize."
She didn't buy it. It screamed ulterior motive as clearly as a sign made of flies. Taylor felt a sinking suspicion that whatever it was, she wouldn't like it. It was a familiar feeling, that fear in the pregnant pause before the other foot came down. Of tinkers with their unfair tech, or thinkers who knew everything.
"I want you to take this," Contessa explained. "I trust you know how to use it. This is your only chance; if you refuse, you will never get this offer again. No strings attached, though I doubt you would believe that."
Taylor let Contessa press a small metal device into her palm. Teacher had had something similar, and Taylor knew it was used to thicken the boundaries around Earth Aleph. Contessa nodded once, and stepped out of the bathroom. Taylor paused to inspect the cool metal device for any visible timers, not that there would be any, and then ran into the hall. In the five seconds that had passed, Contessa had already left.
Taylor fished through her bag, and found her phone. One button and the call went through. One ring. Two, three and… he picked up. Taylor raised the phone to her ear.
"Hey, I'll be late today, sorry. Something came up. I'll be with you soon."
"Nothing serious, I promise," Taylor lied. "It won't be like last time."
"Alright," he conceded. "Just don't try to take on too much; you're only twenty-one. Try to have fun sometimes."
"Yeah, see you later. It won't take that long."
Taylor hung up and set her phone down. The device that Contessa left was tempting. Over the years, Taylor had wondered what the Undersiders had accomplished. How did Imp manage her 'kids'? Had Bastard found his way through the worlds to return to Rachel? Did Sabah and Lily stay together? How much had Tattletale pulled off in three years? Still, there were no guarantees any would be in a safe place for her to drop in.
Taylor ultimately decided on Lisa. With her resources, Taylor would be safe from information leaks. Rachel was a tad blunt, cared less about the finer details. Meeting her would be risky. Aisha was the same. There was no way of knowing whether Imp would be out in the field invisible, or psychologically destroying someone. Sabah and Lily… weren't quite as close, and Taylor wasn't sure she wanted to know how Grue spent his evenings.
Taylor stepped back into the bathroom, locked the door, and checked the window. It would do. With another glance in the window, Taylor swept her hair to one side, tidying it as quickly as she could.
"Doorway," Taylor commanded, "Lisa's room."
A portal manifested, a tear between worlds, a rift between realities. She stepped through.
Taylor landed on soft sheets. A bed. She pushed herself up and looked around the room. Expensive décor littered the place, like an emperor's chamber. Or, in this case, an empress. No one was here; Lisa was out. Taylor was glad she decided on Lisa's room, rather than her whereabouts. Tattletale was almost certainly in an important meeting, negotiation, or possibly even combat. The powerless her would be a liability, a worthless bystander who was more likely to be used against Tattletale.
Taylor frowned. She reached down and took a whiff of the lavender fragrance. Taylor closed the portal with another click. She sighed, and slumped down onto the bed. Taylor wondered when Lisa would be back. Though she had promised her father, Taylor didn't know how long it'd take, and she wasn't sure she could go back without at least greeting her old friend. Taylor lowered her eyes shut and straightened out her ruffled clothes. There was no need to be tense.
Somehow, Taylor dozed off, surrounded by that soothing familiarity and calm.
She woke to a crash.
Taylor's eyes shot open, and instantly analyzed the scene. Lisa stood before her, robed in formal wear, mouth agape. At her feet lay countless shimmering glass shards, a yellow liquid pooled around it. The blonde's eyes went wide, and Taylor could almost see Lisa's power working as her attractive features returned from their paralysis.
This title though. I had this entire thing written out over a week ago, but I was too lazy to edit or think up a title. There's surprisingly little slash-fiction involving Taylor and Lisa, so I figured I'd rectify that issue.
That said, there should be three to four more chapters of this, which may or may not take several weeks to months depending on how well I honour my other commitments.
I also had no idea what to name the charity so I just called it Khepri.
Anyhow, thanks for reading, and have a nice day.