Why yes, it appears that this story is indeed not dead, but has merely lowered itself to shitty cliff-hangers, as well as unsatisfying and terribly written interludes.

Why yes, this appears to be the reason why the length of time between this update and the last was so long.

Why yes, I do think I'll go leave before you all can kill me for how terrible this is (though I sincerely apologize for the quality of this chapter and the wait time).

Interlude 1.x

It hadn't been Emma's idea. Sophia had suggested it – Hebert being dead wouldn't help any of them, really. A major, possibly life-threatening injury? Surprisingly, things like that could still be waved away, but an actual dead body?

…Those were harder to deal with. Actual investigations happened. When bodies appeared, people paid attention. Legitimate attention.

Even if the body in question belonged to a weakling like Taylor Hebert. A useless, fucking, goddamned weakling. One that refused to take the opportunities presented to her. To become something greater than what she was. And how many times had Emma offered it to her, the opportunity to become something greater? The power, the…everything which came with what she was. She and Sophia both. Madison too, to a small extent, she supposed, but she wasn't anywhere close to their level. No, Madison could pretend. But she was just as much as a sheep as the rest of the crowd who followed the three of them around, longing for that power, their influence.

They never attained it.

Sheep, all of them, no more than tender sheep in a wolf's furry hide. Ferocious at first glance, but tear that away, and all of that aura, that presence…

…it meant nothing.

"We don't want the weakling dying on us," Sophia had told her. "She's not worth all this goddamned effort, but you know what happens if they catch us." She did. Her, Sophia, Madison, they'd be screwed for life. What were they supposed to do if Taylor—goddamned weakling—died on them? Sophia's status wouldn't protect her then. She was already on probation. One more strike and she would be out.

And Emma? She had her modeling career—no way was she giving that up. Fuck that.

Yeah. Fuck that, she thought. Fuck it all.

And that was the entire reason why she ended up walking to Winslow at 10 pm. On a fucking school night. Goddamn this whole locker thing. It definitely wasn't worth all this extra effort. This should have been easy, should've been simple.

That was what she kept telling herself at the time, all that time, walking through darkened streets under flickering street lamps, their reaching arms casting twisted shadows onto the street, always reaching…

No. No, she was a predator. And she wouldn't fall prey to stupid, irrational childish fears. Because that was fear. Something irrational. Predators weren't afraid of things. Predators didn't get scared. NO, predators fucking dealt with the fucking problem, and then they MOVED ON.

And Taylor Hebert was a problem. Which meant she needed to be dealt with.

And once, she was your friend.

Back when I was weak.

She's withstood all of this. Everything you've put her through.

And yet she never fights back.

She doesn't want to hurt you.

Then that makes her weak.

It means she has restraint.

Restraint is for cowards. I'm a predator. You don't need restraint to survive.

Keel telling yourself that.

She almost screamed then. To do what, she wasn't sure. To tell her thoughts to shut up, perhaps. And make people think she was insane in the process.

No. She had to stay calm.

Think. Be calm. Predators didn't lose their heads, did they?

No. No we don't, she thought, and that was the end of that.

Somewhere behind her, two men were laughing. One of them swung a glass bottle in his hand, back and forth in a rocking motion which temporarily disconnected her from reality as she looked away.

Don't let it get to you.

"You know talking to Skids like that ain't gonna end well. Just you fucking wait."

"I'll be fine. Stop being an asshole."

"Nah. I'm serious here. That man doesn't forget the shit people do to him. He ain't a genius, but he isn't a fucking retard either. He's competent enough to know when people are screwing with him, and it doesn't please him."

Merchants. Somehow, it didn't even surprise her, despite this not even being their territory. Loudmouthed, bigheaded, total crackpots. The Merchants held territory, but they strayed past it so often that it may as well have not existed. The boundaries which existed in Brockton Bay only existed when people could actually bother to give a fuck. Otherwise?

"Hey, miss!"

This was what happened.

The men chortled with laughter, one of them whistling as she increased her pace. For all she knew, he was probably staring at her butt.

"Oi! Miss! Wait up a sec!"

Nope. Nope, nope, nope. I'm a predator, not an idiot.

"Dude, stop," the other man suddenly said. "This ain't a good idea."

"And how is that?"

"You know what's gonna happen if she screams. Skids will hear about it." Blessed silence followed his words, if only for a few seconds. But the man's next words put Emma at ease.

"Shit. Fuck, you're right." Emma kept her eyes looking forward, fixed towards Winslow. She was almost there. All she needed to do was get inside, make sure Hebert was still alive, and then she could be off on her merry way.

Or at least, that was what she thought until she saw the truck. She hadn't thought much of it at first – the traffic wasn't too heavy, and a truck wasn't a rare sight. But then she realized three things. A: The Merchants had mysteriously disappeared behind her. B: The name of the company the truck belonged to wasn't one she'd ever heard of. And C: The driver was Asian. Which sounded pretty racist, but when you lived in Brockton Bay, all three of those signs pointed to two things. 'Gang', and 'ABB'.

And Emma was absolutely screwed.

She was a predator. A goddamned predator. But seeing the ethnicity of the man behind the wheel was all it took to send her running like a weakling, like a sheep. Like prey. Because Emma's only memories of the gang were horrifying. Screw Taylor Hebert – if she died in that stupid locker, then that was on her. She shouldn't have forced their hands. Emma couldn't bear to experience it again. She wouldn't let it happen.

No.

NO.

NO!

The wheels spun faster. The vehicle neared. Emma ran. Fast, then faster, then as fast as she could. Headlights shone. Tires squealed. The vehicle hummed, hummed, hummed – all humming, so loud, closer, closer, CLOSER–

For Emma, it had felt like she had been running for hours. Hours upon hours of fleeing from that vehicle as it neared closer and closer, her breathing reduced to loud panting. And yet it had barely taken twenty seconds for the truck to catch up, and the door to slam open. And then, as she had seen the man aiming his gun at her, and the frightened, bound girls behind him, Emma's world had ended for the second time.

((E))

She wasn't sure how long she had sat there, shaking in fear and anger. The door was completely shut – no light was allowed in. The only source of light, the only thing allowing her to see, was the glow of their guard's phone as he played a mobile game. Emma had learned after the first five minutes that trying to escape was a bad idea. She'd tried to fight him off, as he had pushed her against the wall, bound and gagged her before forcing her to sit in a cross-legged position.

Needless to say, it hadn't ended well. Her aching ribs were proof of that. When the door had opened, when the man had gotten out to grab her, none of the other girls had tried to make a break for it. They'd just kept sitting there, watching it happen. They'd barely even blinked. Even when she'd been forced to sit down, the other girls had merely shuffled to the side, eyes flickering between her and the guard.

All so scared.

So hesitant.

She didn't try to run again. How the hell was she supposed to? It had taken barely any time for him to slam her against the wall, his the horrific stench of his breath wafting into her nose as his face neared hers, mere inches apart. He'd barked something at her, something which she hadn't understood word for word. It definitely hadn't been in English. But no matter what language, a threat was always distinguishable. And the guard's words had been a threat.

She'd sat down once more, this time on her own. He'd nodded at her, out of approval, relief, or something else, she wasn't sure. But as the truck moved on and the floor shook beneath them, the guard remained vigilant. The gun was no longer aimed at them but still remained by his side, easy to reach in case anyone tried to stir up trouble.

None of them did.

One of the girls, the blonde one, threw up sometime later. They had seen the signs earlier, of course – the guard had noticed her abruptly jerking forwards, gurgling sounds coming from her throat. He'd ungagged her, holding her head forward as the vomit poured out like an oozing waterfall, both liquid and solid chunks of food splattering onto the metal floor. The other girls had hurriedly inched away, Emma included, as they were subjected to the terrible smell. The guard had slipped the gag back on immediately after, despite the girl's protests and insistence that she needed air. The girl opposite her had quietly whimpered. The guard had shot her a pointed glance, but when she made no more noise he went back to silently playing his game.

And then they heard gunfire.

Every single one of them had screamed when the first bullet punched through one side of the truck and then the other. The guard had waved his gun around and told them all to 'shut the fuck up!' before the next bullet had entered, and the next, and the next. There were screams, explosions, the truck rattling as something enormous slammed into its side. Someone squealed. The guard threatened them again. Emma was pretty sure that at any moment, the truck was going to explode, with them still inside of it.

She still wasn't sure what the hell was going on. Somehow, she doubted this to be coincidental. Had the cops found out? Had a random gang shootout occurred out here in the middle of the street?

NO, this HAS to be about us. They HAVE to have found out about the truck. That's gotta be what happened.

And so Emma cried silently as the sounds of gunfire continued around the outside of the truck, praying that someone would open the door, and take her away from here. She couldn't bear to be here any longer. Couldn't bear to be with them, not the ABB, anyone but them… well, not anyone, but of all the possible groups that could have been driving by in this truck, why did it have to be–

And then the door opened. The guard moved. The gun fired, bullets flew, and the car directly behind the truck abruptly went up in flames, an explosion shaking the ground. And throughout it all, Emma saw a figure moving around in the darkness, barely illuminated by the flickering light of the orange tongues of flame. And to her chagrin, the figure was one she recognised. One she loathed.

Please, she thought to herself, don't tell me that I'm going to be saved from the ABB by Taylor Hebert.

She would have even taken Greg Veder, at least he didn't pretend to be better than he was. At least he didn't stand up to her as if he was worth anything. But fucking Taylor?

And what the fuck was she doing here? She was supposed to be inside the… locker. Emma caught herself wincing slightly when she saw the blood covering Taylor's clothes.

Nope, nope, nope. You're not gonna feel sorry for Hebert, of all people. Nope, nope, nope.

No. She wasn't sorry. Wasn't sorry at all, watching the girl, her former best friend, somehow dodge a bullet at a distance of less than a meter. No, she was almost gleeful. Almost. Because no matter how satisfied Emma felt seeing Taylor finally taking one of the many opportunities she'd had handed her to rise above her status as prey, she had realized her own weakness.

She'd deluded herself into thinking that she worthy of her title as a predator. And the ABB had proven her wrong, picking her up as if she was nothing but a clueless sheep, thrashing wildly only due to discomfort as it was dragged away for slaughter or exploitation, neither of which were favorable. And here Taylor was, having somehow escaped from the locker, covered in blood and other assorted shit, facing off against a man with a gun.

She hadn't thought it was possible. But any thoughts of superiority over Taylor died the moment their eyes met, and she saw the fire within them. She had seen Taylor as she dived behind the car, and somehow, she found herself begging. Begging for Taylor to free them, somehow.

And Taylor had understood, just by looking at her. Emma had stood up, head-butted the guard out of the truck. Made an opening. A narrow one, sure, but it was enough.

It was what they needed. And then Taylor emerged from behind the car and used a gun to put bullets into two men.

She couldn't comprehend it, at first. She hadn't wanted to. But it didn't take her very long to understand. She had turned Taylor into a predator. At the cost of reducing herself to prey.

Even when they'd gotten out of the truck, even when they started running, Emma was replaying those moments in her mind. Over and over again she saw the gun, the bullet, and the explosion of flesh and blood, a man crying out, Taylor, standing there. Staring.

Did you enjoy it, Taylor? Did you enjoy doing that?

She didn't dare ask.

So she asked other things instead, tried to talk to her, while in the back of her mind, she was wondering where the hell Taylor had put those guns.

She never dropped them. Fuck, she'd have to be stupid to drop weapons with everything going on.

Where the fuck are they?

It wasn't as if Taylor was interested in talking to her. So she begged. Tried to share her philosophy with her, the way Sophia had shown her the way the world truly worked. Trying to tell her what she was. That she was the prey, and that Taylor was the predator now. But Taylor? She didn't care about that.

Taylor wanted to know what happened on that day.

The day Emma met Sophia.

She didn't want to tell her. Couldn't tell her. Not here, not now, maybe not ever.

She's the predator now. If she wants something, she'll fucking get it.

And that was why she agreed to talk tomorrow. Maybe the only reason. Just that sparkle of curiosity was enough for her.

Because Taylor needed to know. And Emma knew that. She deserved it. She'd earned her title. And now it was time for her reward.

But…she had to get home first, and so she did.

((E))

She didn't press the doorbell, at first. She found herself staring, standing stock still as cars drove past behind her and the faulty light on the other side of the road flickered sporadically. The bulb blinked repeatedly, casting strange shadows over the road. Emma blinked, shaking her head before reaching out her arm to ring the bell. She tried to ignore how shaky the movement was.

It didn't take long for someone to arrive. She heard footsteps, rapid and frantic, as she shifted her weight from foot to foot, unable to find that sense of balance that usually came naturally to her. But it gone, left her, just like everything she'd once used to carry herself. Everything she'd used to rise above the sheep. Because as she stood there, shifting and shivering, she felt no confidence, no belief in herself.

That had left her when she'd stopped being a predator, too.

Frail as she was, the look on her mother's face was filled with as much love as it always was, and the sense of familiarity was enough to bring Emma to tears. Half a second later she was being enveloped in a familiar warm embrace, her face buried into her mother's chest.

It didn't matter.

Predators and prey?

Sophia's philosophy.

Fuck that.

Fuck it all.

Love came first. Always first, not second, third, fourth, fifth… no. Fuck everything that had ever come out of Sophia's mouth, her speeches about them taking their rightful places in the world, dominating the social hierarchy, of things like status and structure…

Because, Emma realized as she cried and her mother comforted her, it had all been a lie. A huge, enormous lie comprised of the biggest pile of bullshit in existence. Because Sophia Hess was bullshit, and her words were bullshit, and that bullshit philosophy and her title as a goddamned predator hadn't fucking helped her out of that truck, they?

No.

Taylor had. Taylor had helped her, freed them, and severely injured two men without hesitation. And it hadn't been for her. But it still counted, and as far as Emma was concerned, whether Taylor was predator or prey, she'd saved her life, just like Sophia had. And she'd done it without preaching bullshit promises.

Fuck Sophia.

Fuck her.

As she was ushered into the house, she refused to meet her father's eyes, refused to listen to his rants, his questions.

Where have I been? WHERE have I BEEN?

What was she supposed to say? What was she supposed to do?

She broke away from her mother's grip. There was a yelp of surprise, a shriek of outrage and a cry of concern, but to her, it was all background noise, compared to the voices in her head.

What have you done? What have you done to her?

What have you–?

What have–

What have I done?

She saw her sister on her way upstairs. She ran past before her older sibling could create an opportunity to exchange more words.

I can't.

I can't talk about it.

I CAN'T I CAN'T I CAN'T–

When she opened the door to her room, she slammed it shut behind her, ignoring the loud thump and the thundering footsteps coming up the stairs. Locking the door was trivial, a twist of her wrist and it was done. They wouldn't be getting in without breaking down the door.

Concluding that her father wouldn't try and do that, even with that much alcohol in his system (because no, she didn't miss how bad his breath smelt), she closed her eyes.

And then she screamed.

Emma screamed for herself, the old version of herself, the one before the alley. She screamed for Taylor the girl whose life she'd utterly destroyed over the course of the time they'd spent at Winslow together. And she screamed for the title that had twisted her life, a title which she had obsessed over and worshipped more than she had truly owned it. A title that had ruled over her life without her noticing, controlling her actions as if she was nothing but a puppet on strings.

Predator.

She clawed at her hair, scratched her skin, felt the places she'd harmed sting as warm tears flowed over them like a waterfall running through a stream, and she just didn't FUCKING CARE because she didn't even fucking deserve to live in this goddamned–

FUCK! FUCKING… GODDAMMIT!

Emma felt herself reaching for the door handle, using to pull herself up. And then she staggered, half-blinded by the torrent of tears as she entered the bathroom, though for what she wasn't sure. At first she headed over to the sink, to wash her face. But even as she turned on the tap, she was looking at her reflection.

Red eyes, hair, and clothes disheveled, rope burns on her wrists which weren't likely to ever disappear. A permanent reminder of what had happened tonight.

And then she punched her reflection.

The mirror shattered, a spider web of cracks manifesting from the place where her fist had impacted the glass. Blood splashed over the glass, seeping into the cracks just before her other fist joined the first, another spider web forming from her split knuckles. She punched, again and again, her scream growing louder and her voice growing hoarse as the shards of glass fell from their place on the wall.

She didn't stop at the mirror. She slammed against the walls, threw bottles of liquid and perfume and all the vain bullshit she'd bought because why the fuck not? And she screamed and she cried and walked over the bloody and trampled broken glass without realizing that it was there, and the water from the tap kept pouring and going around the wall, swishing, swishing, swishing, fast, faster, faster–

Emma collapsed in a pile of blood, water, and broken glass, the two liquids mixing together until they were all a single puddle of crimson fluid, surrounding her like she was an island in the middle of an ocean of blood. And it felt that way, all her emotions boiling on the inside. Like she was a volcano ready to blow.

Her eyes laid upon the shard of glass clenched in her hand, the broken edges cutting into her skin. It wouldn't take much, would it? Just bring it a little over to the left, yes, over the wrist right there, good, good.

Keep the hand steady. Stop shaking. Don't. Shake. Be. Steady.

Stop hesitating, goddammit.

Don't listen, don't think, just do it.

JuSt FuCkInG dO iT yOu UsElEsS–

DESTINATION.

END OF ARC 1: SHUTDOWN