Infringement 16.6

It was several days later that I was walking down the hallway, after having teleported Panacea away to the middle of nowhere to help her spar and refine her suit (which she insisted on putting on before I showed up) and back to base, and saw a face I hadn't seen in a while.

"Tyrone?" I asked, having to take a second to remember the Replicant's name.

"Yo', nig-?" the man started to greet in response,

"Can we not?" I interrupted, and he gave me a disbelieving look, before shaking his head.

"What up. . . 'brother'?" he said, overemphasizing the word as he laughed at me.

I had to shrug, thankfully that he wasn't going to be throwing around racial slurs. On one hand, I didn't mind, even if I wouldn't use them. On the other, we had staff now, and that would just look bad. "Nothing much. Things are looking pretty good, to be honest. We're rebuilding the city, and while it's slow going, it's progress. Things getting better?" I asked rhetorically. "It's a nice change."

"I got ya," he nodded. "Hey, you're putin' up buildin's right? Apartment buildings n' shiet?" I nodded in return. "Yo, ya think ya could hook me up? I mean, you're gonna need people to mind shit, and I could help ya out there when I'm not bustin' heads. Erreybody needs a side-gig, ya know?"

I had to think about that. "What's Boojack's job?"

"Drug disposal," the alternate version of my friend replied with a grin.

"Fair enough," I laughed. "He is dedicated to it. You want me to see if I can make one with a hound theme, for ya?" I asked, accidentally mirroring his way of speaking.

His grin widened, "Yo, dat'd be dope! Fuck yeah, man, themed digs, that be kickin'!"

Shaking my head, I told him, "I'll put the request in with the team in charge of planning. Thanks for offering to help, man, I really appreciate it."

He waved me away, "You my boy, I'd have ta be ice-cold ta not have your six."

"Boojack?" I had to ask.

The replicant shook his head. "Naw, man. He aight if he blunted. He's just, ya know, got a beef with actually given' a shit, ya know?"

"Not really?" I offered, getting a laugh from him. "See ya around, Tyrone."

"Deuces!" he replied, heading off wherever he was going.

It was easy enough to put the request in, the team dealing with the planning able to handle it, and a quick question to Zilla got me Herb's location. He was working with Theo, helping the kid build a pair of gauntlets. Taking a peak at their powers, the gauntlets actually counted as 'small arms' for the purpose of the Tinker power, because of the armaments contained within. Herb was copying Theo's power, and then some. As I watched, he was offering Theo help and suggestions, which his power took and ran with, assisting with the construction. It was. . . oddly paternal.

*Ahem* I coughed, and they both looked up. "Hey Herb, Theo, watchya workin' on?"

"I um, well, gloves!" the teen Tinker replied, his pre-cog power flaring for a moment, his surprise ending in, seemingly, an instant. "I was trying to figure out how to make armor, and then Mr. Winslow-"

"I told ya to call me Herb, kid," my friend chided good-naturedly.

"Uh," another flicker of precog. "And then Herb started to suggest things, and how they could work with the way my powers are aligned, and it all made sense. He's a lot smarter than he lets on."

I laughed, nodding, "He's very knowledgeable about an odd variety of subjects. Also, I see you have a kinetic wave driver in the knuckles. From the way its set up, it fires when you punch?" Theo blinked, flickered his precog, and nodded, as I Saw the blueprints listed in his power. "Maybe some way to adjust the power settings so you could use it on a variety of targets? The scanner you're using looks at a targets hardness, but with powers you're likely to have it under, or over, perform if you don't have some kind of override in the odd cases when you need to tweak the output."

He looked at me, then down at the gauntlet on the table, then back to me, and there was another flicker of precognition as he used the 'frozen time' aspect of the power to think of what to say, immediately replying after that, "I see you are knowledgeable as well. Yes, that's a good idea."

"While you're working on that, I need to talk to 'Mr. Winslow'," I smiled.

"Come on man, not you too!" my friend whined, but followed me over anyways. "Since when do you have Tinker powers?" he asked quietly, when we were out of earshot of the boy.

I shook my head, "I don't, but I can See the schematics both your powers had pulled up, and saw a potential problem."

Herb stared at me, before sighing, "Dude, that's not the power I get when I copy ya at all."

Shrugging, I asked instead, "When were you gonna tell me Curtis was back?"

He blinked. "He is?"

"I just talked with Tyrone, and I saw him die fighting Leviathan. If he's back, then Curtis is too. That said, Tyrone saved my ass, and didn't even hesitate to die to give me time against the Endbringer. He seems good."

Herb sighed again, this one relieved instead of resigned, "Glad one of 'em is."

"Mike's not that bad, just. . . Flighty," I argued. "Have you seen him since the fight?" Herb shook his head. "Well, if we're right about the order they return, that means he didn't die against Leviathan, so he's. . . somewhere. But why didn't you tell me they were back?"

"'Cause I didn't know?" he shrugged. I stared at him, unbelievingly. "Dude," he protested, "they show up when I'm asleep. When was I supposed to see 'em?"

"It's your power," I argued. "Are you telling me you weren't keeping track of your own power?" At his hesitant nod, I had to growl, "Herb."

"I thought they just weren't showin' up for a bit!" he stated, defensively.

Shaking my head, I told him, "Powers don't just stop. Just. . . warn me when the next one shows up. If I'm right, it'll be someone new. I'll need to change their face, and get a feel for them, and I'd rather have some warning, okay?"

"Sure dude, I got ya," he agreed. "Anythin' else?"

"Can you get more Vials?" I requested. "I want to try my hand at fixing a few more." He grimaced. "What?"

"They're askin' me to spy on ya," he offered.

"Oh, okay. Sure," I nodded.

He looked at me like I was crazy. "What."

"Well, go talk to Overwatch, and see what he thinks would be harmless details to give. Try to avoid lying, but you can answer, somewhat truthfully, that you're not involved in managing and planning things for the most part, so you don't really have more than some scattered details to give."

"You called?" chimed Overwatch's voice in my ear, and I remembered I hadn't taken out the comm-bead, having just gotten used to it.

"Cauldron wants Break to spy on us; I suggested he talk to you to figure out what he can tell them to get them to relax a bit," I summarized.

". . . My specialty is parahuman law, not counterintelligence," he replied, somewhere between exasperated and amused.

"But you can find someone who's specialty it is, and talk to them, can't you?" I prodded.

". . . I'll get someone on that," he stated resignedly, closing the comm-line.

"See?" I asked, arms wide. "It's not a big deal."

"I guess, man, but can't they use what we tell them to find out more?" Herb asked, unsure.

I shrugged, "Not really. Anything involving me negates precogs, Sarah's ability to do just that was something they didn't have before, doesn't work on me, and they're probably gonna have at least one of the people working here already on their payroll, if they're smart. This seems like it's less spying and more of a loyalty check, though it's also spying. I trust you not to screw me over," I said, hesitating and amending, "after you talk with an expert so you know what won't screw me over."

"Vejovis," Overwatch called, re-opening the line.

"Found an expert that fa-" I started to reply, impressed, only for him to cut me off.

"Merchants broke through a gate. We have injured," he informed me.

I envied Theo's ability to slow down time to think right now, but I was already forming a plan. "Injured or dead?" I demanded, the Tinker at his table looking up at me.

"Several injured, no fatalities yet," Quinn stated.

I nodded, "Open up comm-lines to everyone on the team. Anyone off-site?"

"Glory Girl. Opening lines now," he said. "Lines open."

"What is it?" Taylor asked, "You're upset."

How did she know? I thought, mentally facepalming. Right, I'm in range, I realized, able to feel her concern over our shared power. "Merchants decided to attack us, we have injured. Overwatch, what are they doing? Heading for the sentimental valuables warehouse?"

"No," he said, his voice oddly electronic compared to Taylor's, who sounded like she was right next to me. "I don't know where they're going."

"Odd, but junkies aren't known for their intelligence," I commented. "Okay, two teams. Panacea, suit up, you're going to the gate to stabilize them. I'd go myself, but you're ready for field deployment. Lady Bug, Break, Purity, you're with me, we're going after the Merchants. Mouse, you're with Panacea. We should-."

"I can help!" Theo interrupted, staring at me, overhearing us now that I'd fallen into command-mode, my voice purposefully carrying.

I looked to Herb, "He ready?"

"Not if he's 'round you, but yeah," the person I'd left in charge of the kid's training agreed.

"Okay, Theo, you're with Mouse and Pana-" was as far as I got.

"I'm going with my son!" Purity objected.

"Not the time, Kayden," I snapped. "Fine, Purity, Panacea, Theo, you're going to heal and play defense. Panacea's in charge. Mouse, drop them off and join the rest of us. I'm still carrying your Mark, so use that. Lady Bug you have my Mark?"

"I do," the girl in question quickly replied.

"Good, you have fifteen seconds to get out of sight of the others. Overwatch, come here and give a comm-piece to Theo. Theo, you have thirty seconds to suit up. Use this," I extruded a gunmetal grey domino mask and tossed it to him, "if you don't have a helmet. Hell, put it on under the helmet. Mouse, port to my locat-"

She was beside me before I could finish talking, Overwatch stepping out of the air and handing an earpiece to Theo, who was dashing around and shrugging on harnesses, loading them up with weapons.

"Theo, grab what you think you will use, and half again that, no more. You're playing defense, not storming PRT headquarters," I told him, understanding, a little, his over-preparation. "We have a Mark on Glory Girl?"

Mouse shook her head, "I checked, she left it in her room."

Part of everyone's kit was a small orichalcum dagger, inscribed with my Mark on one side, Mouse' on the other. Inscribing it, taking more time to 'power' it, and patterning the metal underneath it the same way had upped the time a Mark could last by quite a bit, making it last at least a week, as none of them had fully faded yet. It was now part of everyone's standard kit, but she hadn't taken it to visit Dean.

"I'll talk to her. Lady Bug, ready?" I asked.

"I am, but I don't have my costume," she replied.

I nodded, teleporting to her, grabbing her, and teleporting us both outside my room, hers being the next one over. She'd picked. She dashed off as I Teleported back to Herb, grabbed him, and then moved back to outside my room. "Ready," Panacea announced.

Mouse's "Comin' ov-what the fuck!" was, in hindsight, expected.

"Red armor's Panacea. It's a project she's been working on," I told the teleporter before she did something stupid. Grab her and bring her to gate. . ."

"Gate 3. The Western entrance," Quinn supplied. Mouse and I had both marked the gates, as well as a few key locations. It took all of five minutes every other day to keep them up, and had been a suggestion of Taylor's.

"That one, then Theo and Purity. Mark one of his guns, we'll get him a dagger later," I snapped off. "Overwatch, location of the Merchants?"

"They're driving down Charleston, just passed Lincoln."

I paused, "I. . . have no idea where that is. General location?"

"Southeastern corner of the fenced area. They're driving fast, and there's something in pursuit, but my sensors can't pick it up. They seem to be going for something in particular, but we have nothing there," he commented, confused.

I was similarly confused, as the only thing there was. . . "Oh."

"Oh?" Herb asked.

"The warehouse complex on. . . fuck, I can never remember street names. The one with the five, that are kind of four in a square, and the fifth one next to it, towards the bay. West? Yeah, west. The ones that look, um, new-ish?" I asked with trepidation.

Quinn was silent for a moment. "Yes, that seems to be their destination. What is there that's so valuable?"


Herb's face screwed up with confusion, "Uh, what? Why you got corpses. What do they want with corpses. Why do you have corpses?"

"Well, we're going to bury those that died, right?" I shrugged. "I've been collecting them. It's a safety hazard to leave them out, and kind disrespectful. But, yeah, why are they going after the bodies?"

"I have an idea, but now's not the time," Overwatch reminded us. "They are almost there."

Taylor, now in full costume, dashed out of her room. "Ready!"

Motioning her over, and holding out my hand, she grabbed it, as Herb grabbed my other. With our knowing where to go, this was even easier, and I used the Mark I'd left in the main warehouse to bring us to our destination.

It was pitch black, not needing light to see myself, and having stacked up the boxes to cover the windows for maximum efficiency. "Holy shit," swore Herb, as he let go and looked around at the rectangular metal caskets I'd stacked to the ceiling, forty feet up. "These are all bodies?"

Raising an arm, I pulled up a bit of Light, illuminating the space. "Yeah. So, we don't know which warehouse they're going after, but they all have some caskets stored in them. I didn't really have a system for placing them, and that was before I just said 'fuck it' and repaired the warehouses. Meet me up top," I told him. As Taylor hadn't let go of my hand, it was easy to fly both of us up. The Skiff was nearby, and to use it I'd added a wooden skylight that I could control with Brix's power, mentally opening it up and flying through it silently.

Herb followed, jumping on air, and we landed on top of the building as the sound of engines and gunfire resounded.

Mouse popped in next to us, looking around the top of the building in confusion, but keeping silent.

The Merchants pulled up, driving vans and moving trucks, U-haul and the like. Pouring out like cockroaches, they started to run into the warehouses, as the last few vehicles pulled up, the backs open and firing. Whatever was chasing them was large, and fairly familiar, dripping bright green blood, and completely invisible.

A few bugs, hibernating, were lodged in its fur.

"Oh, it's that. I guess it followed me home," I commented, the other three turning to stare at me.

"What?" Taylor asked, incredulous.

"I've been playing peek a boo with it for the past week. It's from the Yellow Zone. Maybe," I shrugged. The creature charged, head-first into the pistol-fire, and launched itself into the moving van and the wet sound of death emanated from it, rents being torn into the steel. "Bigger than I thought it was."

"Dude," Herb said reproachfully, even as Taylor started pulling bugs in from every direction. I fed her a little bit of power, expanding her range three-fold.

The creature tore its way out of the side of the truck, blood covering its hulking form, though even that seemed blurry. Five feet tall, and ten feet long, it was hexaped, with three pairs of seemingly identical legs. Backwards facing knees gave the appendages an odd look, and it had thick, stubby claws, seven per foot. It also didn't really have a head, per say, but a gaping maw lined with teeth that several thin tongues were flicking over, cleaning, and already returning it to invisibility.

"Didn't expect the six legs either. Powers," I shrugged, as the Merchants, screaming in terror, opened fire. It turned it is 'head' away, suggesting a weak point, the bullets hitting its fur to little effect.

"What's scarin' ya fuckin'- Holy Fuckin Sheit!" a voice I hadn't heard since I met the villains for the truce. The ground underneath the creature turned sky blue, quickly shifting to deep cerulean, flinging the creature back down the street.

Taylor frowned, observing it through her insects, watching as it lumbered off to the side, sat down, and promptly started cleaning itself as long, long tongues snaked out from its mouth and brushed against its fur, creating more spots of invisibility. "They just gave it time to jump them, didn't they?" she asked.

"Yep," I sighed. "You see the tag I left?" she nodded. "If it eats it, drop some more. How do the rest of you want to handle this? Ninja-takedowns, challenge them like paladins, or just beat the shit out of them?"

"Challenge!" announced Mouse, even as Herb nodded with authority and stated, "Beat." Taylor offered an almost apologetic, "Ninja."

"That's what ya get for tryin' ta pass off the decision," grinned my friend.

"Fine. LB, you go down and start knocking out the stragglers, and keep bringing the bugs," I told her, growing a long ladder down from the skylight, putting an insect on every rung to highlight them. She nodded, darting over and climbing down silently. Like a ninja.

"Mouse, you and I are gonna go down and engage in 'the banter'," I instructed, with air quotes. She nodded happily, having extolled the nature of such, at length, the day before. "Break, when they bring out their capes, you come in, without warning, and start fighting. The guy in football armor ramps, kinda like you do, so start with him if you can." Herb nodded as well, a vicious grin on his features.

Slipping out a dagger, I asked, "Shall we?"

"We shall!" Karen quipped back, nodding, and I lightly tossed the blide in front of the still-swearing Skidmark, who was telling his men not to be scared of 'the big fuckin' dog'. The blade hit the ground ten feet in front of him with a loud crack as it buried itself to the hilt in the concrete.

As one, and as we'd practiced, we both disappeared, re-appearing in front of the leader of the Merchants. "Cease your swearing, smelly scoundrel!" Mouse declared. "For I, the Mouse of Justice, am here to-"

"Who the fuck are you? Some kind of rat-bitch?" the Merchant leader interrupted.

"Really?" I asked, perfectly willing to play the straight-man. "With the way you and your lot live, you expect me to believe that," I lightly flicked the ears on her helmet, "looks like a rat?"

"Do I look like a give a shit what you think, ass-licker!" he snarled. "The fuck you want?"

"We want to bring you to Justice!" Mouse declared, a little annoyed. "Cheesy, cheesy Justice!"

Skidmark gave her a mocking grin, presenting a case that drugs, indeed, rotted ones teeth. "I got some dick-cheese for you rat-bitch! Why don't you get down on your knees and it eat all up, and I might let you go, after me and my boys finish having their fun with ya!"

"God, I hate that I understood that sentence," I sighed. Having a mother who was a nurse meant that the personal hygiene lessons were. . . graphic. Not just in descriptions but with actual pictures.

"That is not cheese, but accumulated crime! No, I shall brie you to justice!" she declared.

"You and what fuckin' army!" he yelled the others gathering around us even as others started to pull out the metal containers, requiring two of them just to carry a single box.

"Can we just fight them?" I asked. "He's really grating on my nerves."

"You munster!" she gasped, "One needs to take their time, even if he is swearing a bleu streak!"

"I'll take my time makin' you my bitch!" he snarled, taking out his pistol, and Speed Zones started to appear around all of us in a ring, boxing us in. Except for the fact that we could, you know teleport.

Running with the cheesy jokes, and glad I'd taken that hour to memorize cheese-types, I turned to Skidmark and asked, "You okay? With all the sex talk, you're sounding pretty provo-lonely."

"I'll fuck you up shit-nozzle!" he said, shooting me. I mentally repressed the shield, letting the shot bounce off my invisible helmet, ricocheting off and hitting one of the warehouse walls.

Mouse Protector actually snorted, laughing. "Good one, but I think he's feta up with us."

Through the eyes of the bugs that were in every direction, I could see the others coming up behind us, Cravin' already starting to ramp up. "Blindside this bitch!" Skidmark commanded, which kind of undercut the effectiveness of the tactic, and the Brute started to charge forward, only for an ankylosaurus to fall on him, spinning around and slamming him with its tail, sending him flying.

The dinosaur turned back to Herb, "If ya say so!" he cheered, turning and punching one Merchant while his Stand appeared behind him, grabbing a knife that another thug was trying to use to stab my friend in the back. With a crack the Stand broke the bones in the Merchant's hand, the thug screamed in pain. The Stand let go, kicking the now disabled thug away. Twenty feet away.

A blue glow appeared beneath our feet, shoving us backward and away from Skidmark as he shot at us, air control making every shot a wild miss, a few hitting his own men. I let him push us back, seeing two guys with metal-cutting saws open up one of the caskets. They breached it, only for both of them to immediately fall back, one vomiting, as the accumulated gasses of decay billowed into their faces.

"Cravin', get over here and rip this open!" Skidmark yelled, as the parahuman started to charge us, while Mouse, Break, his Stand, and myself easily took down the thugs around us. I was pretty sure I wasn't doing enough damage to kill them, but given they'd shot their way in, I didn't really care that much.

The Brute lumbered over, shoving his hands into the steel and ripping it apart, revealing the rotting corpse within. On the bright side, watching Skidmark fall back over himself and try not to lose his lunch was hilarious. On the other, the dark tendrils that were indicative of Cravin's power nearly doubling in size, was not.

"Break," I started to say, his, "On it," almost instantaneous. Launching himself forward, he hit the Brute with a cannonball blow, and the dark clouds on the horizon were a visual indicator of the near-biblical plague that was about to fall on these idiot's heads.

"Why the shithumping christ is there a fuckin' body in there!?" the Merchant screamed.

I teleported back to the dagger, still buried in the concrete, and flew above the Speed Zone. "Because it's a casket, you inbred ignoramus. They all are. What did you think I was doing?"

"Gettin the best shit for yourself, ya rectal cyst! Shoulda known you were one of those anus-suckin' self-righteous fucktards!" he swore, shooting me again, having reloaded. It didn't help.

"It's not self-righteous if you're actually a good person," I replied with a sneer, being judged by a literal drug-dealing, slaving, piece of human trash not putting me in the best of moods. I knew I shouldn't care, but the sheer hypocrisy of it galled me. "But then again, to someone like you, everyone that's not human trash must seem self-righteous, don't they?"

A flicker of movement caught my eye, someone I didn't recognize jumping out of a car. Well, jumping was a strong term. A morbidly obese woman in a cow-print bikini was both something I never wanted to see, and also completely out of place with the. . . aesthetic of the other Merchants. Seeing her power, I only had time to think 'what the fuck is 'Cow Creation'' before I was hit by a Texas Longhorn going at well over a hundred miles per hour.

While the impact only drained a single shield, the sheer mass of it sent me flying. The creature's neck snapped on impact, but I was still hit by a fucking cow. Tossing it to the side, I was hit by a second, then a third.

The fourth I punched, flying forward as I increased my own density, a shower of blood and viscera spreading out as it practically exploded. "Keep hittin' 'em, Bessie!" Skidmark yelled, and another bovine was hurtling towards me.

God powers are weird, I had to think, watching the Merchants from the perspectives of the insects closing in. Was it me, or did the woman start to look a little thinner?

"Hit 'em, LB," I commanded, and the gathering swarm surged forward, As I dropped off the flow of my power into hers before it became an issue.

"Fuck! Get back here fuckknobs, we're pullin' out like yer mommas' shoulda!" Skidmark yelled, the tide of insects pouring in from every direction.

I tried to get close, only for two more cows to hurtle towards me. With a flash of light, the Speed Zones disappeared, and I used the distraction to teleport back to the dagger, Mouse appearing beside me even as the bugs started swarming over everything in a black tide, mere meters away. The swearing gave away Skidmark's location, and Karen and I both jumped over to the van he was in, ripping the doors off, only for a cloud of dark pinkish powder to billow out.

A black woman with a white afro smiled at us, as if she'd already won. "Protect everyone in a vehicle. Kill everyone else," she commanded.

I didn't feel the anger of a active Master effect, which made her statement completely nonsensical. "How 'bout no," I told her, reaching to grab her as her eyes went wide with panic, only for Mouse Protector to grab my hand and teleport me back to the dagger, her sword slashing up to catch me in my armored stomach.

"Sorry, Veji-mite," Mouse told me, launching me backwards as the cars revved. "You heard the big cheese," she said, eyes wide and tone manic, "time to Fon-die!"

Her Orichalcum blade screamed in for my throat, and while I had armor, blunt force was still an issue. Air control, however, could deflect more than bullets, and I pulled back as I forced her blade upwards and out of the way.

Flying high and out of slashing range, the insects around me surged up and around me, leaving the cars alone as the tide came for me. They were moving back and forth in wavy patterns, but were undeniably closing in on me from every direction. "Lady Bug? They're getting away!" I called, her presence in our shared sense was a mess, somehow both happy, angry, and soul-wrenchingly despairing. I was barely able to feel the throwing knife come towards me with the movement of the bugs everywhere, disturbing the air, but I twisted out of the way as Mouse appeared next to me, slashing for me.

"I'm sorry," Taylor sobbed, "I have to kill you!"

The fuck? I thought, teleporting back down as Mouse tossed another throwing dagger at me, her swing only missing because I was already gone, and I had to take off again as she reappeared, mid-swing, catching me in the leg anyways and discharging a shield as I was sent flying.

The bugs in front of me tried to crawl through the gaps in my armor, mandibles biting into the plates that covered my body, and I understood. Not only was the woman a Master, one I was apparently immune to for some reason, but she'd affected Taylor through her bugs. Closing the gaps in my costume, and biting in half the wasp that'd made it to my face, ignoring it as it stung me in the mouth, I swallowed it and yelled, "Break, Mouse and Lady Bug are Mastered."

"I fuckin know!" my teammate yelled, his mouth muffled.

"I'll handle Mouse, you overpower Lady Bug. She hasn't moved!" I commanded, unable to see through the bugs, but neither could Karen as she was attacked by them as well. I was able to over-power Taylor, but only in a small radius around me. Even doing that much, forcing them back, gave Mouse enough clearance to attack me again while I was distracted. I mentally set the command for the insects around me to freeze, and turned to face the veteran hero head on, confident from our spars that I could handle her.

Apparently, she'd been taking it easy on me.

Three knives flashed out around me, hitting the ground, and she appeared in front of me, stabbing hard with her blade, twice, not with enough force to push me away, but with enough power to break first my shield, and then my bones. The only reason she didn't, was that my bones were wrapped with orichalcum, though I felt shooting pains as muscle was crushed.

Appearing behind me, I shifted my costume, growing a neck-guard even as her blade bounced off of it, a blow meant to crush the vertebrae barely stopped. Even as I turned, she moved to a third, slamming her sword point-first into my ribs twice, another sharp blow meant to crush organs or break ribs.

I tried to fly upwards, but she teleported to my side, grabbed me, teleporting me back down to the ground and stabbed me twice in the chest for my attempt.

"What's wrong, you normally can't shut up," I called, trying to vie for time to figure out what to do. I didn't want to hurt her, but I didn't see how I was going to be able to stop her if I didn't inflict enough damage to disable her, just thankful she was only attacking me. "Normally you're a real cheddar-box!"

"Sorry, not really in the moooo-d," she quipped, the joke enough to get her to respond, but her tone had lost a bit of the manic edge it'd held half a minute ago. She struck me hard in the knee, dropping a shield, then teleported as I tried to grab her and hit it again from the other side, hard enough for a normal knee to break. "I know I shouldn't, but I have ta shred ya Lee. . . sorry."

She hit my head, but didn't bother the second time, realizing that the helmet I wore wouldn't let her do anything to me, spinning to strike with another stab in the same ribs she'd hit before.

Think Lee, I pressed myself, trying to fight. She was probing my defenses, trying to find a weak point, and I wasn't arrogant enough to believe I didn't have one. I considered shifting to full-armor, and had to ask, "What'll you do if you can't hurt me?", letting out a sharp grunt of pain as she hit my knee again. I could make it work through power alone, but it still fucking hurt.

"Go after Break, and LB, and everyone else till I come down or get put down, feels like," she replied, tone resigned.

I seized on the phrasing, even as she tried to stab me in the groin, only to discover that I had a cup. "Come down?"

"I'm trippin' cheese balls, Vejy. Heroes don't do drugs, ya know," she added, tone tight as she hit me in the spine hard enough that I felt something crack, and I reinforced the costume with an armored strip, blocking another stab. My legs felt odd, but I could still move, so I kept going.

However, that gave me an idea, and better than that, an explanation. If the Master's vector was drugs, I literally couldn't get high. I'd tried getting drunk, only enough to get a buzz, but three bottles of vodka later and it might as well be bad-tasting water. Thing is, as I learned against the Bandits, I could give others the same immunity.

"Remember how you wanted me to strip you?" I asked with a grin, even as she tried to slam her sword in what might've been the eye-hole in my clear helmet, only to discover it was just a solid piece of material.

"Not really the time, Lee," she replied, not stopping as she tried to kill me.

I laughed, "Don't tell me you forgot. That costume is nachos, it's mine." Focusing on the part of the dimensional fabric that surrounded her, I dismissed it, leaving her completely nude.

Her moment of surprise, either from the exposure or the terrible pun, was all I needed to grab her, the fingertips of my Gauntlets pulled back, and to start to force her to 'Get Better' as hard as I could. She tried to stab me, but her blow went wide as she started shaking, like she was having a seizure, and she vomited pink all over me. I let my costume clear itself, but a thin sprinkling of pink powder fell off of me anyways, unable to be absorbed by my suit.

Holding her as I forced her to detox, she started crying, first that she had to kill me, then that she didn't want to hurt anyone, and finally just apologizing over and over. Using my own gauntlets as the spread-point, I re-clothed her, my hand on her stomach kept in contact with her skin as I kept healing her.

"You were Mastered, it's okay," I told her, even as I ached from a dozen injuries.

"But I tried to kill you, Lee!" she cried. "I had a good thing goin' and then I tried to cut your fucking head off."

"You have a good thing going," I disagreed, trying to deal with the mental whiplash of the situation, more focused on healing her than what she was saying, but getting the jist. Using air control, I picked up her sword and resheathed it for her in her re-made costume. "I'm not holding you responsible for what just happened. Hurt like a bitch, and you are going to go close to that hard on me in our spars going forward so I can learn how to fight better, but that wasn't you."

Shifting her costume, I dragged my hand up her body, keeping in contact, stopping to hold her shoulder. She shuddered, but shook her head. "Everyone says that but-"

"I'm sorry," I smiled, "when has anything that applies to 'everyone' worked on me?"

She stared at me, and I remade her helmet in my other hand, holding it up for her to take. She did, shakily, muttering, almost to herself, "Holy shit, you are weird."

Looking around, I realized the bugs had stopped attacking, each one holding its position, either in the air or on the ground. Feeling through Arthropod Control, I mentally flinched at Herb's presence with the ability, a dominating force that was holding Taylor in place, along with all of the insects around us, an unwavering will that screamed STOP to everything except for me.

"Found a way to cure the Master effect, I think I've stabilized Mouse," I said over the comms. "Be over in a sec."

"~Take your time. I got this.~" The swarm announced as one, in a thunderous chorus.

"Well, that's fuckin' creepy," I had to say, Acoustokinesis the only reason our ears weren't ringing. Mouse nodded, still sniffling a little. I turned down the healing, slowly, making sure my hand was still bound to her shoulder if I needed to start again. "You feeling homicidal?"

"Against you?" she asked. "No. But I'm gonna fuckin' kill that bitch!"