Summary: Winter raged around Taylor, who was sealed in her locker at freezing temperatures. The cold doesn't bother her anyway.
The sneeze caught me unaware; I'd been asleep on my seat, apparently.
Fortunately, it seemed it'd been a short enough nap that nobody'd noticed. Nobody'd cared to notice, at any rate. That was good. Invisible is good. I'd rather not be seen than challenge the belligerent tempers of a bunch of teenaged idiots.
Mr. Gladly smiled and looked at everyone in the class as he expected an answer to a question Taylor hadn't heard.
"It's no surprise that most of you can't answer," he said, finally. "After all, the impact of parahumans of the world has been immense. But, what we can do to make it a simpler question is to simply focus on a smaller sample to build a bigger whole. The idea is simple, you will separate into groups, no more than four to a group, and we'll pick a famous parahuman for each group to make a presentation for. The idea is to exposit on what changes they have brought to the world at large, there is no shame in picking someone with a smaller impact, though correctly expositing on the socio-political changes brought along by, say, Legend would, naturally, receive a higher score."
He seems to be in love with the sound of his voice. I wonder if he honestly thinks he's some sort of great orator - I find his droning tone to be nigh unbearable, and I'm the girl who can sit endlessly alone for hours. He seems to think he is the popular teacher, everyone's favorite, but the only reason anyone even comes close to liking him is because he is such an useless pushover that never punishes anyone for anything.
Admittedly, I've never been one to test a teacher's patience, but then again, it was no surprise he let Madison get away with everything she did right in front of him.
Hell, I wouldn't be shocked if he went home every night and masturbated to thoughts of some of the more attractive female students, Madison included.
Seeing her with that smug grin as I was stuck with the two least popular boys in class, I wondered if she got satisfaction out of it.
Honestly, I can't even remember the name of one of them and the other I only remembered because he's the class' resident creeper, who was frequently a creeper towards me.
Knowing that it was invisible to eyes other than mine, I looked upon one of my palms and saw the swirling heat swimming above it. I used my left hand to massage my wrist, to pretend there was a reason for me staring at my palm, when in truth all I wanted was simply to remind myself of just how far above Madison I truly am now.
I am better. I am greater. I am a Parahuman, I am... or I'm going to be anyway... a hero.
The mantra helps me keep calm.
I know that some day, she's going to try to coast by as she always did through school and meet with the brick wall of a world that doesn't care how cute she is. She might even have to resort to employing her, ahem, oral examination skills, to land even a basic job, while I received a check from the protectorate for doing what I felt was right, saving people from imminent doom and maybe even kill an endbringer some day.
The heat quickly moved away from my hand, and I could see the beginnings of frost forming on my hand as the water in the air froze. With a mental flex, I returned the environment to its normal condition.
Much as I wanted to, I could not just make a spear of frost and throw it at Madison. For one, unlike me, Madison would likely die from being frozen over. For another, my cold had a habit of manifesting as ice whenever I threw it at something, and it would be really obvious that I had been the one to throw it.
Still, the fantasy of cutting loose and simply raining icy death on everyone around me, and I knew I could do it, was one that warmed me up inside. Even if I could never feel warm again, technically, it's not like the cold bothers me anyway.
I superimposed the images of the boats I had practiced throwing lances of cold at, in the boat graveyard, with the images of the bodies of some of my more annoying classmates, but I sighed and dismissed the thought.
A hero can't be having thoughts of murdering a bunch of kids just for being assholes, after all, and I will be a hero. No matter what.
It didn't take long for the class groups to descend into bickering about which member of the triumvirate'd had the biggest impact on the world. I quietly handed in our group's - well, mostly mine - paper while Madison was busy arguing rather loudly with one of her friends about whether Alexandria had done more for feminism or Legend had done more for gay pride.
As for me... Well, I rather focused a little on the effects of the relatively unknown hero known as Vikare - the very first costumed and masked vigilante on record, and the very first man to touch Scion, the first and greatest hero in the planet. I also tried to place emphasis on the fact that many of the customs and quirks of modern cape culture had their start with him, a former cancer patient who'd become a masked vigilante after Scion's touch... and who had died by being clubbed in the back of the head in '85.
A rather ignoble end, all in all. Nobody had caught his killer, but his funeral had been a landmark nonetheless.
Mr. Gladly would likely mark it a passing grade and give Madison a perfect mark regardless of how well she actually did... but I'd get the satisfaction of knowing she would have to scramble with her group to get a paper out; she couldn't steal mine this time around.
One of the benefits of my power that I really could not appreciate enough was that I could give myself a metaphorical cold shower whenever I was getting a little hotheaded. It's amazing how much effect body heat has on our temper, and how much easier it is to think things through when you can cool yourself with a thought.
Admittedly, I hadn't yet got to enjoy an ability to keep cold even in the highest of heats. I knew I could do it - I'd been stupid enough to shove one of my hands into boiling water to test it, and it had indeed frozen immediately. Foam and bubbles and all. Some water even froze in mid air and bounced off the ice around my hand when gravity caught up.
Fortunately, ice yielded to my whims. Much as I feared my power was hydrokinesis, a lesser version of Leviathan's, it was not - I could not control water, at any temperature... above freezing. Frozen water, though - it yielded to my every whim. Ice was my plaything, and I could create it nearly at whim, likely violating several laws of physics but I'm not a physicist so I'm not sure.
"Hebert!" someone shouted.
Oh, people were talking to me. Was it lunchtime already?
"Taylor," the same voice said, a bit more subdued as it came closer. I recognized Mr. Gladly's voice. "I've noticed things, Taylor, and I wanted to know - why aren't you doing anything for yourself?" he asked.
I felt my temper rise, like blazing hot fire erupting from a crack in the ground.
I dowsed the flames of rage with ice cold water, straight from the arctic - the earth still burned, but the explosion was calmed. I was angry, but I was angry in a way I could control. "Mr. Gladly," I began, regarding him as respectfully as I could, even though I have no respect for the man, "I am doing something for myself."
He seemed puzzled.
Good, I'm going to try to sate my anger at him through subtle means. I know I can't keep it quiet forever unless I indulge at least a little.
"But you're not... telling anyone," he said, "or even fighting back."
"But I am," I said. "I am not telling anyone, nor am I fighting back, and in doing so, I am doing everything against them. You see, Mr. Gladly, that is what they want me to do. They want me to get angry, to fight back, or to get spooked and go to the faculty. And then it's my word against theirs, and they are three, and I am one," I explained, knowing that he probably wasn't quite getting it.
It's okay, I know you're stupid. "I don't get it."
Honest, at least. "I am fighting back, Mr. Gladly, through means of frustration," I confessed. "What is a bully looking for when she insults another girl, Mr. Gladly?"
I kept saying his name, he probably hadn't noticed it, to enforce his position as an authority here, as a teacher - I was forcing him to acknowledge all the bullying that he routinely ignored, even if indirectly, but I needed to be subtle about it. Buttering him up was out - dumb as he was, he'd notice schmoozing from me nigh immediately, because I was not known to do it, but cold indifference had become a trademark for me these last few weeks, so all I had to do was turn it into respectfully cold indifference.
"They're looking for a reaction," he said, finally realizing what I was getting at.
"Yes, exactly," I explained. He didn't even notice I was patronizing him. This man was a teacher? I've seen smarter doorknobs. At least they did their job. "And when they want something and go to the length of hurting another to obtain it, and even so it is denied to them, guess what happens?"
"They get frustrated, they get angry, and they give the reaction they wanted of you instead," Mr. Gladly summarized. "Hm... I've never quite seen 'ignore it, and it'll go away' rationalized quite this way. But still, I can't imagine this not being painful to you, Taylor."
"Somewhat," I admitted. "You see, the reason Emma used to hurt me as much as she did was because I still held out hope that some day, she'd apologize and we might even be friends again. Let's just say that a little blood and a storm got in the way of that, and I've cut any and all remaining ties to her - I can say, with honesty, that I am free of Emma Barnes and her words now affect me no more than anyone else. Much like all the others who would insult me as readily as they would greet a friend, she is nothing to me."
Mr. Gladly nodded. "Taylor, I think I have newfound respect for you. Honestly, I expected anger, I expected you to lash out against me - to be quite honest, I don't quite know how to act in this situation, myself. I've never had to deal with it, you see. Usually, we kick it up to the Principal but, well, Blackwell has been less than helpful, you understand."
That was a surprisingly interesting nugget of information. Apparently, there was a reason why the teachers weren't helping me, and from Gladly's words, apparently the order came from on high. I'd pegged him as someone who sorely wanted acknowledgment and approval from the popular kids, but maybe he was actually just incompetent at his job instead of actively malicious.
Never assume malice when stupidity is a viable answer, a wise man once said.
Come to think of it, it was a rather interesting thought. Of course, it clearly didn't apply to the trio of bitches, for whom the point of stupidity had long since passed and they'd jumped headfirst into the pool of malice, but I imagine that most others weren't actively malicious - they just didn't care for or about me.
It was almost sobering and kind of a blow to my ego, but when it comes down to it, I have an awareness that when it comes down to it, Winslow does not revolve around me.
It's just a shithole in general.
"Have you tried acting like a teacher?" I asked.
He seemed confused. "I... what do you mean?"
He was giving me the benefit of the doubt. I'd proved reasonable and willing to be cool, calm and collected, so he was not immediately assuming an insult from my words. It was, but I was ready to turn it around. "Simple. You are a teacher of World Affairs, Mr. Gladly, but you have no doubt taken advanced schooling beyond high school. I know that courses beyond high school start demanding for creativity in assignments, as well as cleverness and thinking outside the box."
This was all bullshit, but Gladly seemed the type to agree with anything that made him look better. I wasn't surprised when he nodded. I started to feel a little bit of vindictive rage helping me.
"Well, Mr. Gladly, I am sure you are more than smart enough to figure out ways to teach certain students that their behavior is wrong without directly punishing them for it. You have seen Madison Clements take my assignments, have you not?" I asked.
He frowned. He was unwilling to admit to wrong doing.
"'s cool," I said, "just answer."
"Yes," he finally admitted.
"Then make it simple. When she hands it in as hers, take it as mine and award her a zero for not handing in an assignment. It won't raise an alarm with Blackwell, because you're not punishing her for her bullying, but it certainly will raise an alarm with her, when she notices her behavior isn't being rewarded as usual."
"Taylor, it's not that I intend to reward them, it's just that-"
I raised my hand. "Mr. Gladly, I get it. You like your job and you want to keep it, you want to keep a peaceful classroom and you want to be friends with all the cool kids, everyone wants such things," I said. I can't have him back down on me now. "But you're a teacher, aren't you? You're here to help shape young minds and prepare them for the future. You're here to help, aren't you?"
"Yeah," he said. "I'm here to help," he said.
"Then help them. You know that this isn't good for them. Help them be better people, and they will thank you later."
I despised this man.
He was weak, spineless and easily manipulable.
Were this an earlier time, before that storm, I would have gotten angry, lashed out and burned any possible bridge with him, simply because I despise him that much.
But as the cold washed over my very being, my anger stilled and my mood calmed, but deep beneath, I was motivated by a deep seated flame that I could not snuff completely.
It urged me forward. As I said my goodbyes and left Gladly's presence, I couldn't help but wonder if all my control wasn't just an illusion.
In the end, I suppose it really was. I'm not delusional, I know that ultimately, I am acting as I am acting out of anger. I used my cold to help myself feel in control, to cool down my anger - but in the end, it wasn't much help when I stopped and realized that just because it wasn't an explosion of emotion, it didn't mean that it wasn't still anger.
I could almost feel my brow furrowing as I dwelt in that unpleasant thought.
I'm indulging in my negative emotions way more than I had before.
Honestly, I'm starting to wonder if trying to 'cool down' wasn't making things worse in the long run, but I'd hardly ever feel satisfied unless I finally did something right. Hey, maybe the bullshit I sold to Gladly would even come into play, and I could come out smelling like roses out of this mess.
Who knows, maybe Emma will even pull her head out of her ass, realize she's been a bitch and run crying into my arms.
Admittedly, these days I'm not sure I'd be able to stop myself from strangling her if she did.