Interlude 6.b: In Love and War

The last week had been Hell for Danny Hebert.

Things had started off fairly well. Despite the circumstances, he'd gotten a chance to meet Lisa and Amy, Taylor's two new friends. It had started a little awkward, true, but once the conversation had really picked up steam, they'd talked and talked and talked…more in that one dinner than any in recent memory, if he was honest.

It was good.

He'd learned more about the new people in his little girl's life, he'd been able to see her brighten and smile and just be happier than…than she'd been since Annette died.

That…That had a lot of complicated feelings attached to it, sure, and maybe it'd helped to drive home again exactly how much he'd neglected her happiness and how much of a bad father he'd been the last couple of years, yes, but the important part was that he was getting to see her happy. She was actually, honestly smiling, and if there was a little tension as they all tried to figure out how they fit together, that wasn't necessarily bad. In fact, it was basically expected, wasn't it?

When Taylor asked to let her friends spend the weekend, Danny was only too happy to let her, thinking nostalgically of the days when she and Emma were attached at the hip. Whatever had happened with Emma, Danny still didn't understand, but Taylor was moving on, finding new friends, she was better than she had been, and he wasn't about to discourage that by telling her no, not over something as simple as a sleepover.

And the next few days, things only got better. The girls spent most of the time squirreled away in Taylor's room, but at breakfast and lunch and dinner, they all talked and talked, mostly about inanities, but it was easier and smoother than that first night. Danny was surprised to realize they were the happiest three days he'd had in…months, really.

And then it all came crashing down Monday morning when he knocked on Taylor's door, only to open it and find the bed made and all three of them missing.

Well, he'd thought at the time, they must have gone with Taylor on her morning run. It niggled at him, because they hadn't the other two days, but he convinced himself that she must have managed to convince Lisa and Amy to go along, and they'd be back in time to go to school.

That time came and went, and still, there was no sign of them. They must have gone straight to school, he reasoned instead, even though Taylor had always come home to shower after her run. Still, he had to believe that, that Taylor and Amy were at school and Lisa…

Except Lisa had her GED.

Around 10:30, as that realization struck him, he called Arcadia to check, but there was no sign of her. According to their attendance rolls, she was absent, she'd never set foot in the school. They wouldn't answer him when he asked about Amy, too, because he wasn't listed as family or anything on her emergency contact information, but they didn't really need to.

When he tore through the phonebook and called up the Dallon residence, no one answered. When he tore through it again, the only Wilbourne listed in the book was a middle-aged couple that lived on the complete other side of the city and had never had a daughter, let alone one named Lisa.

He'd remembered a few minutes later that Taylor actually had a cellphone, now, so he tried that, next, hoping against hope that she'd pick up, but she didn't. He tried once, twice, three times, one after another, but each one went to voicemail without even ringing.

Panicked, Danny had taken the rest of the day off and drove straight to the local precinct just before lunch, where he was summarily informed that a person could only be considered "missing" if it had been at least a day since they'd disappeared. Something of his desperation must have shown, however, because a man with a slight limp calling himself Detective Doyle came over and offered to expedite the paperwork.

He hadn't felt much better by the time he made it home (with the promise to call if any news came in about Taylor), and his stomach rebelled at the mere idea of eating, so he skipped dinner. He had resigned himself to a sleepless night, waiting by the phone in his chair, when a knock came at the front door.

Danny leapt out of his seat, heart pounding — except the person on the other side of the door wasn't Taylor, but a man in a suit with short-cropped brown hair and a neatly trimmed beard, who introduced himself as Colin Wallis and asked to come in.

Colin Wallis didn't tell him much. What he did say was good news: that Taylor was okay and uninjured, that she was recovering from her ordeal at the PRT Headquarters downtown, and the most surprising thing of all, that Taylor was a cape. A parahuman, was the word he used.

He didn't explain what ordeal or why it was the PRT HQ and not a hospital, which was frustrating and worrying but not, when Danny (belatedly) realized he was talking to what amounted to an agent of the federal government about what may well be a classified incident, unexpected. He didn't even tell Danny which cape Taylor was, citing respect for her privacy and something that boiled down to it not being his story to tell. Lisa and Amy were both alive and well, too, and also at the PRT HQ, when Danny remembered to ask about them.

But it was enough, after spending most of the day imagining all sorts of horrible things that could have happened to Taylor, to hear at least that she was okay. Danny was so relieved that he almost didn't think anything of it when Colin asked if they could borrow Taylor's bed. The answer Danny got when he asked why was almost as bizarre as the request itself: "We don't know, but it's been suggested by a Thinker currently in our employ that your daughter will recover faster if she sleeps in it."

Danny hadn't known what to say to that except to agree and watched as two more agents, dressed in PRT fatigues, went up and then came down the stairs with Taylor's mattress and sheets. Colin assured him that the bed would be returned when Taylor was well enough to come home.

It was bizarre, but by that time, he just didn't have it in him to actually care.

Danny went to bed that night and managed to fall asleep after only an hour of fretful worrying.

The next day, he took the day off of work and made the trip to the PRT HQ, intent on visiting Taylor, only to be turned away at the front desk, told that "she wasn't able to accept visitors." Danny had been ready to raise a ruckus about it, until Colin Wallis appeared again and took him aside to explain that she was still sleeping off the fatigue from her ordeal and that they would call him when she woke up so he could come and see her.

Danny…hadn't really liked that, especially the implication that she might be asleep for days, which meant that whatever had happened to her was a whole lot more serious than they'd told him it was, but he had to grudgingly admit defeat when it was laid out for him how suspicious it would be for Danny Hebert, Head of Hiring at the Dockworkers Union, to visit the PRT HQ day after day for no apparent reason.

He wanted to know what was happening, he wanted to know exactly how bad his baby girl was hurt, he wanted to know that she wasn't…broken or…or maimed or something equally horrible, and the worries and doubts gnawed at him. He didn't want to wait. He wanted to see her now, so he could see for himself that she was still…all in one piece.

Perhaps sensing his desperation, Colin agreed to let him look in on her — at least, long enough to see for himself that she was okay — and led him up to the third floor and down the maze of hallways, until they came to one that was manned by two guards, agents dressed in the full PRT armor, visors and all. They nodded to Colin as he led Danny past and to the room at the end of the hallway.

What waited on the other side was…not what Danny had expected, but neither what he'd feared most. Taylor lay in her bed, set in a standard hospital frame, with an IV drip attached to one hand, and on the other side, holding Taylor's other hand, was —

"Amy?"

The girl startled, jerking her gaze over to the door.

"Mister Hebert!" she gasped. She looked to the man beside him. "Ar — Mister Wallis!"

For a minute, Danny stumbled over the fact that Amy was allowed to visit Taylor, but not him, and a nasty suspicion curled in his stomach that maybe she was the one who had dragged Taylor into the whatever-had-happened that no one had yet told him anything about.

Then, however, he remembered that she was a cape, too, Panacea, the girl who healed people. He'd never really taken the chance to find out if there were any limits, but the doubt in his heart told him that her being here wasn't a good sign.

He tried to go to Taylor, to see for himself that she was alive and real and there, but a solid hand on his shoulder stopped him, and his gut squirmed with worry and fear and frustration and half a dozen other things as he realized that this was, for now, as close as they were going to let him get.

He'd never thought much of anything about the PRT, before, never had a reason to care. They were just there. A part of life that he never interacted with and had no connection to, the same as most of the businesses that called downtown home. Right then, however, he hated them for keeping him from his daughter, and he hated his own powerlessness to do anything about it.

Even so, he packed all of that away as best he could; Taylor came first.

"Is Taylor okay?" he asked anxiously.

"She's…exhausted, is the best way I can put it," Amy answered. She grimaced and rubbed her eyes. "Um, everything's working okay, as far as I can tell, but she pushed herself too hard, so her body has…turned the lights off, so to speak, while she recharges."

Danny looked back at Taylor, as though to make sure she wasn't lying to him. Both hands, all her fingers, both legs, he had to assume all of her toes, no scars and no bulk from bandages that he could see, no oxygen mask to help her breathe… For all intents, aside the IV, she looked like she was just sleeping.

Something in his chest eased, like a knot loosening.

"And you, Amy?" he asked now. "Are you okay, too?"

"Um, yeah," Amy replied, sounding surprised. "Yeah, just…a little tired. I've been keeping an eye on her since last night."

"Since last night? You didn't go home?"

She winced and frowned and averted her gaze. "No. I, um, thought I could do more good here."

There was something there. Danny wasn't the most observant man in the world, but even he caught the implication of something deeper and more meaningful behind it. Whatever it was… Well, she was in the PRT HQ. It was probably cape stuff that he couldn't do anything about, and they were probably handling it.

Taylor was more important, right now.

"When do you think she'll wake up?"

He wanted to be there the moment she did.

"I…don't really know," Amy hedged. "Could be today, could be tomorrow, could be sometime next week. It…really depends on her, Mister Hebert. I can't really make it happen faster."

"Mister Hebert," Colin began. The look on his face said it was time to go. Danny didn't want to, but he had enough presence of mind and he'd cooled down enough to know that the only thing raising a fuss was likely to do was get him tossed into a cell or out into the street, neither of which did anyone any good, least of all Taylor.

His little girl was a cape. For now, at least, he'd have to leave her here with the cape experts.

He turned back to the bed momentarily and addressed the tired-looking girl still sitting by Taylor's side.

"Take good care of her, Amy. Please."

"Of course, Mister Hebert." Her lips quirked into a strange expression, somewhere between a grimace and a grin. "I'm her attending physician, after all," she said wryly.

After that, Danny let himself be led out and went home, and the next several days were…better, than the first had been, but not by much. He spent what seemed like every spare moment when he wasn't at work or in bed waiting by the phone, and even at work, he caught himself glancing at the receiver, hoping, with every other thought, that the call would come in telling him that Taylor had woken up.

He must have lost ten pounds, because he didn't have any appetite, either. Everything he tried to eat was bland and tasteless in his mouth, and even leftovers of Annette's special lasagna, the one dish that had only ever failed to impress once before, in the wake of the funeral, were like ash on his tongue.

It was like that week at the beginning of January all over again, only this time, there was no Principal Blackwell for him to yell at, no police to vent to, and whenever he thought of someone to blame, it was ultimately himself, for not seeing it before, for not recognizing sooner that his daughter was now a cape.

What kind of father missed all of the signs? Even now, he couldn't think of any that pointed to it, and that only made him feel like an inattentive asshole.

Finally, finally, in the early evening hours of Sunday night, the phone rang, and all he had to hear was Colin Wallis saying the words, "She's awake," before he was rushing out the front door and driving as fast as he legally could towards the PRT HQ.

If he ran a few red lights and zipped past a few stop signs along the way, well, he didn't have it in him to care too much.

Colin was waiting for him when he raced into the empty reception area and said nothing about Danny's unshaven face, red cheeks, or panting, merely told him, "This way," and led him back through the maze of color-coded hallways and up to the third floor. Two guards — Danny had no idea if they were the same two who had been guarding her room the last time, but they certainly looked the same — still stood outside in vigil.

And then, the door opened, and there she was, sitting up in her bed, propped up on a bunch of pillows. She was reading a book, so very much like her mother that it almost hurt to look at. The relief and joy that surged through him was like a balm to his soul.

"Taylor!"

He raced into the room, and this time, there was no hand on his shoulder stopping him. He didn't even notice the door clicking shut behind him.

She looked up, blinking, and then dropped her book unceremoniously on her lap.

"Dad!"

He practically threw himself at her, pulling her into a bone-crushing hug and holding tight, as though to assure himself that she was really there and this was really real and he wasn't imagining all of it. He didn't have the hands to pinch himself, but the press of the sharp edge of her glasses against his cheek worked just as well.

She slapped him on the back.

"Air, Dad!" she gasped. "I need air!"

Danny held on for a few seconds longer, then pulled back.

"I was so worried!" he said. "I came in to check on you and you weren't there, and Amy and Lisa were gone, too! I thought maybe you'd all gone for a run together, but you didn't come home, and then that you went straight to school, and then I remembered that Lisa already has her GED and…"

He was ranting, he realized, so he cut himself off.

"Don't ever," he said instead, "scare me like that again!"

"I'm sorry," she replied quietly.

"Do you have any idea what it was like?" he demanded. "I didn't know whether…whether you were okay or if you'd been kidnapped or if you were even still alive! And even when Mister Wallis came and said you were okay, no one would tell me anything about what happened! Just that you were okay and asleep."

"…Yeah," she said, almost as though talking to herself. "I've been doing that a lot, too, haven't I? Not telling you anything. Not trusting you."

Black seemed to condense out of the air on her fingers and up her arm, stretching up her neck and under the hospital gown. For a moment, he worried, and then he realized, bewildered, that the black substance wasn't some kind of rot or skin disease, but a stretchy, skin tight fabric, appearing out of nowhere.

Stuck somewhere between unnerved and in awe, it dawned on Danny that this had something to do with her powers.

"Taylor?"

But she pressed her black clad hand gently against his chest and didn't respond. She just muttered something in a lilting language Danny didn't recognize, but thought might be Irish. In his chest, he felt a noose he hadn't even realized was there loosen and vanish from around his heart, and he took in a sharp breath at its absence.

"What was that?" he asked her.

Taylor refused to meet his eyes; instead, she reached for the pendant hanging from his neck, the one she'd given him, fingering the gold and the symbol etched into its surface. She frowned guiltily.

"I needed a way to make sure," she mumbled, "so that you'd wear it every day, no matter what."

Something cold settled into his gut.

"Taylor…"

She stopped.

"You swore an oath, and I made it binding," she said strongly. "So that every time you thought about going a day without it or just forgot, you'd feel that pang and remember you needed it. Your bulletproof vest."

He swallowed thickly around a complicated mess of emotions that swelled in his throat. Betrayal was a big one, but equally as prominent was the feeling of utter failure, that he was so unreliable as a father and had let her down so often these past few years that she hadn't trusted him with something so important.

He'd thought they were doing better. After the thing with Sophia Hess, when she ran off and came home, hugging him so tightly he'd been bruised around the middle the next day, he thought they'd been getting better. They had been getting better. Taylor had started actually smiling again, and she talked about her friends, and she seemed…not over it, because how could you get over something like that in just a week or two, but certainly happier than before.

"Why… Why didn't you just trust me?"

Again, she refused to look him in the eye.

"…I wanted to," she said at length. "At first, it was…the same reason I didn't tell you about the bullying. You…you had enough to deal with, and piling me and my powers on top seemed like too much. Then, later on…you would've stopped me. From going out that first night, from going after Bakuda, from dealing with Coil."

"You're damn right, I would have!" he snapped. "Taylor, you're fifteen! You're not an adult, you shouldn't be —"

"Shouldn't I?" she challenged, finally looking up at him. "I have access to more power than most people would know what to do with. I could take on the entirety of the Brockton Bay Protectorate by myself. With the right Heroic Spirit, I could even go toe to toe with the Triumvirate. More than that, Bakuda threatened you, and Coil tried to kill Lisa and me. Was I supposed to just let them do it?"

"Yes!" was his immediate response, and he realized immediately after saying it that it was the wrong one. "No! I don't… You could have reported it to…to Armsmaster or the PRT or the police or…"

"And then waited at home, safe and sound behind all of the defenses I put on our house, stuck there for days or weeks while people's lives were in danger," she shot back. "Should I have let Coil have Lisa, torture her, kill her? Should I have let Bakuda go on her bombing spree and destroy maybe hundreds or thousands of lives? Should I have run away and let Lung burn the Docks down, looking for the Undersiders? Should I have let all those people get killed just to save my own skin?"

"You're important, too!" he told her angrily. "God, Taylor, you're my daughter! I don't know what I would've done if you'd actually…"

Died. The word wouldn't come out, as though to say it would make it something that could have actually happened.

"You're all I have left," he said instead. "I can't… If I lost you, too, I…"

Would probably load the pistol he'd bought for self-defense years ago and eat a bullet. Failing that, take a long walk off a short pier. One way or another, Danny would die if Taylor did.

"I know," she said grimly.

"Then why —"

"Because I was tired of being the victim. I was tired of always being the one in need of rescue who nobody came for. Of…of being Emma and Sophia and Madison's punching bag. And I have power," she added, "in spades. If I can be a hero and make a difference, shouldn't I?"

"You could have joined the Wards," he pointed out. No, that wasn't what he needed to to say, it was more like, "You should have joined the Wards."

Because then, he could be sure she was safe and protected and not going off on her own to fight dangerous villains.

She grimaced. "I thought about it," she admitted. "But I was worried."

"About?"

"That it would be like high school," she told him. "Maybe not…exactly the same. But…" She looked him in the eye. "I'm…like Eidolon, Dad. What the PRT calls a Trump. My power lets me choose an almost limitless number of different powers to use, all of them top tier powers on their own. Who wants to be on a team with a hero who can do just about anything you can do, and sometimes do it even better than you can?"

Danny…didn't really have an answer for that. It was hard to imagine a comparison for what that might feel like, and the only thing he could think of was that one kid he'd vaguely known in high school who always had the answer and always finished first in every class. Danny himself hadn't particularly cared, but a number of his classmates had been resentful and — he could recognize with the power of hindsight — jealous.

"And it would have meant telling you I had powers," she added, "and that would have meant explaining when and how I'd gotten them, and that would've just… It's the same reason I didn't tell you about the bullying. Because it would have made you angry and frustrated and you would've tried and failed to do anything about it."

It took Danny a moment to put the pieces together, but when he did, an ugly suspicion curled in his gut, black and cancerous.

"Taylor," he asked, a part of him dreading the answer, "how long have you had powers?"

For a moment, she hesitated, which was, in its own way, a confirmation. Then, she looked him right in the eye and answered, "Since January third."

The Locker Incident.

He hated that he'd been right.

"And how," he asked reluctantly, "how did you get them?"

This time, she didn't hesitate.

"The same way all capes do," she told him. "I came face to face with the worst day of my life."

Then, she began to explain it to him, the concept of Trigger Events. How capes were forged in moments of high stress and trauma, how they received their powers not through some cosmic lottery, but because in a singular moment of agony, they broke. How she had broken, trapped in that locker, so sure that she was going to die in there among the muck and the bugs and that no one was going to come and save her.

In that moment, Danny found in himself an all new level of hate for the three girls who had done this to his daughter.

But like some kind of dam had broken, she didn't stop. Taylor kept talking, explaining how she'd researched and experimented with her powers, how she'd been afraid of them for a while, then forced herself to face them. How she'd used one of her "heroes" — Medea, she called it — to turn their house into a fortress, how she'd used another, Aife, to learn martial arts, and another, Nimue, the Lady of the Lake, to make herself a private base out in the bay.

How she'd gone out and wound up fighting Lung. How Sophia Hess had tripped those defenses by trying to come into their house and kill her. How Bakuda had threatened them, how she'd made him the pendant to protect him, how she'd used an ancient Irish curse to make sure he always wore it.

How she'd met Amy during a bank robbery, how Coil had forced Lisa to work for him at gunpoint and used the bank robbery as a distraction to kidnap a little girl, how he'd tried to kill both Lisa and Taylor when her powers started to interfere with his.

Then, the incident that had put her in the state she was in: Coil's death and Noelle's rampage. The fighting, the clones, using mind control to stop it all, then pushing herself farther than she'd ever gone to heal a girl she'd never met before and didn't owe anything, all because she understood just how closely she could've been in the same position — overtaken by her powers, until Taylor was gone and only the Hero was left.

Somewhere along the line, he'd taken her hands in his.

There were things she was leaving out. He could tell, because she was skimming a lot of it, giving him a vague overview on some things and going into more detail on others.

"You're not telling me everything," he accused her quietly, once she was finished.

She frowned and admitted, "No."

Don't you trust me? was on the tip of his tongue.

"Why not?" he asked instead.

"Because of what comes next," she answered. "Piggot is going to try and make me join the Wards."

"And you don't want to?"

He wasn't sure what he'd do if she said no. The story she'd told of all the things that had happened since January hadn't convinced him that the Wards was any less a bad idea than it had at the start. Quite the opposite, in fact. Pride at the things she'd accomplished and the lives she'd saved did not, in any fashion, make him feel less inclined to bundle her up in bubble wrap and ship her off to the most remote, least dangerous place he could find.

But at the same time, she was trusting him, now, with all of these things. She was powerful enough — from what he was able to understand — that he had become keenly aware that the only authority he had over her was the authority she let him have.

If he tried to force her into the Wards, she might just run away from home and go live in her secret base.

He was inclined to try anyway.

"I don't know," she said uncertainly. "Maybe? After all of my mistakes and screw-ups, some part of me wants to just let someone else make the decisions. The rest of me doesn't want to give up my independence, doesn't want to trust the PRT and the Protectorate."

"You don't trust them?" he asked.

Immediately, he felt stupid for forgetting. Sophia Hess. One of Taylor's bullies had been a Ward.

"Because of Sophia, yeah," she said, as though she'd read his mind. "But also because…" She clammed up suddenly, lips pursing, and glanced around like she was expecting someone to appear out of thin air. She shook her head. "I don't want to make up my mind before I hear her out. I don't want to prejudice you against the idea, either."

He squeezed her hands and had to catch himself to stop from squeezing too hard. "When you say it like that, it sounds like there's a reason I should be."

Taylor grimaced.

"Maybe," she admitted. "Probably, even. There are things that…I know now that I didn't before. Things that make it…hard not to say no out of hand. About the Protectorate, about the PRT. About the people in charge of them. Knowing those things doesn't really change my situation, though. Just my perspective on it."

"Then it sounds like something I need to know," he said firmly.

She frowned.

"Dad…"

"No," he told her. "You're shutting me out, again. Don't."

She bit her lip, eyes darting back and forth, as though looking for an escape. Finally, at length, she shook her head. "I can't," she said. "I… I really, really can't, Dad."

"Can't, or won't?"

Her grip on his hands tightened, and it was his turn to feel the strength of her fingers — and to realize, with no small amount of surprise, that his skinny, almost waifish daughter could likely crush them if she wasn't careful.

"Both," she admitted after a long pause.

His eyebrows rose towards his hairline.

"Both?"

"This is…" She trailed off for a moment. "The…the really big thing, Piggot will bring it up, first thing, I'm almost sure of it. It's too big for her to leave it alone, and it's something she and all of the other bigwigs are definitely going to want an answer to. That's why I don't want to tell you right now," she added. "It's big enough and important enough that you might make up your mind before we even sit down with her and…whoever else she decides to bring with her. Armsmaster, definitely. Maybe Miss Militia."

"That's the thing you won't tell me."

She nodded.

"And what you can't?"

"I…"

She chewed nervously on her bottom lip, looking down at their clasped hands, then shook her head again.

"You knowing would put you in danger. Grave danger," she told him. "I think…maybe, my powers might be enough of a blindspot to offer some protection. But it's… If I say it or if I write it down, what it'll bring down on your head is…"

She fidgeted.

"Even the name is dangerous, Dad."

"You're talking about this like it's some kind of conspiracy," he said.

Behind her glasses, her eyes grew wide and a stricken look crossed her face. It was enough to snuff out even the slightest embers of humor.

"Taylor, you can't be serious —"

"Don't," she cut across him. "Please, Dad, just don't. I can't talk about it. The less you know, the safer you are."

"And what about you?" he snapped back. "Aren't you in more danger, just because you already know? How do you know this stuff, anyway, if it's such a secret?"

She hesitated.

"Is it because of the thing you won't tell me?"

"…Yes," she admitted defeatedly.

"Then won't I just find out anyway?"

"No, because one doesn't lead to the other. Please, Dad, listen. As long as I don't try to tell you — or anyone else — what it's about, who's in it, or what they do, we're all safe. You're safe. Possessing the knowledge doesn't mean anything. It's the transmission of that knowledge or acting on it that makes it dangerous."

"You just said the knowledge itself is dangerous," he accused. "Now you're saying it's the transmission that's so dangerous. It's got to be one or the other, so which is it?"

She grimaced.

"Dad…"

"Taylor, you had to put yourself into a coma before I heard one word about this! You were shoved into a locker filled with…with toxic waste and had to be hospitalized before I learned anything about the bullying! A girl died on our front lawn before you even hinted at Emma, the girl who was like a sister to you growing up, being involved in that mess! You've been keeping secrets from me for I don't even know how long!"

Taylor cringed and slumped lower and lower in on herself with every word. Danny took a deep breath to try and rein in his temper.

"I'm tired of finding out all of these important things only after you can't keep them from me anymore," he said as evenly as he could. "So if whatever-this-is is so important that it could affect something as critical to your future as whether or not you join the Wards, the state sponsored junior superhero program, then I need to know what it is."

A long silence stretched out between them.

"No," she murmured suddenly.

Danny stared.

"What did you just say to me?"

"No," she said again, straightening to look him in the eye. "You're asking me to trust you with something this dangerous, but it's not about trust, and it's much, much bigger than just you and me. It's a secret spanning entire worlds, plural, that I don't even know how many lives have been lost and ruined over, and even if you ground me until I'm thirty, I'm not going to put yours at risk to tell you it now when I could do it safely in a week or two."

"I'm your father," he said with all the authority he could muster.

"And I'm your daughter and I love you," she cut across him, "so I'm asking you, please, just this one last time, to trust me. I know I've screwed up a lot and I know I've made a bunch of mistakes. I know I haven't given you any reason to. I know you have every right to refuse."

She paused, then her mouth set into a line. "I'll even swear a geis, if you want me to. Just…this one, last time, trust me, and I'll explain anything you want to know when I can be sure we're both safe."

For a long moment, Danny just stared. There was a…a kind of weight to this promise that he didn't understand, although he thought he might have an inkling. A binding oath, she'd said she had put him under. One he couldn't break.

Danny wasn't angry enough — and he was certainly angry, just much more frustrated — to force his little girl to make something like that.

"The other thing," he said.

"Other thing?"

"The one you didn't want to tell me," he clarified. "Won't, you said. This big secret, this…this world-spanning conspiracy, I'll wait on that one, if you tell me about the other one. That's the deal, Taylor."

She hesitated, bit her lip, and for a long moment, mulled it over in her head. Finally, at last, she closed her eyes, sighed, and in a quiet, defeated voice, said, "Okay."

And so she did.

— o.0.O.O.0.o —

Where I've been...a lot of stuff happened. I won't write out the whole story here, but real life kidnapped me and locked me in the basement for a while there. Hard to write, though, when your grandfather is on the way out, you know? The wake was about a week and a half ago.

Thanks to my patrons for sticking with me throughout. You guys are awesome.

I summarized a lot of stuff, this chapter. If you guys want me to write it all out, say so and I shall.

If you want to support me as a writer so I can pay my bills, I hav treon (p a treon . com (slash) James_D_Fawkes), and if P a treon is too long term, you could buy me a ko-fi (ko-fi . com (slash) jamesdfawkes).

Or if you want to commission something from me, check out my Deviant Art page to see my rates.

As always, read, review, and enjoy.