A/N: Words go here, I hear. Hah, I didn't even do that on purpose. The answer to the questions a fair number of you are probably asking are, in order, no, the covids didn't get me, yes, I really did start another story despite past promises (those happened in chapters I've posted, right?) and…maybe. Maybe this will mean I'm back in a writing mood. Not sure what it says about my mood that this is what I felt like writing, but hey. Sometimes the cheerful fun stuff just doesn't flow as smoothly as the 'fuck my bullshit life' misery overload.
I blame Trump for this. Trump is the root of all evil. I did the math, I can prove it.
If it means anything, I've got chapters for my other stories in the works, some of them even mostly done and just looking for the right note to end on. But that probably doesn't mean much; I've always been bad at endings. (See also the lack of an ending to literally any story I've ever written.)
Anyway, without further ado, welcome to The Story Where Taylor is Basically Discount!Wolverine™ but Somehow Kills an Eldritch Crystal Space Whale…Probably.
If only the title field was large enough to make that the actual title…
Chapter 1: The Fall
(it wasn't graceful at all. it never is.)
Somehow, I don't think this is how the suicide 'jokes' bullies tell usually end.
Why that's the only thing that ran through my head as I fell down the stairs, I'm not sure. Maybe it was because this was the 27th time (I'd counted) that I'd been pushed, tripped, or shoved in one way or another near the top of a flight of stairs and the umpteenth (I'd stopped counting at after the thousandth time because it just wasn't worth it anymore) time one of my bullies had tripped me, period. Maybe it was because I could see, even as I fell, that no one was so much as moving out of the way, never mind trying to catch me as I fell. They didn't need to, they'd probably seen what I hadn't, namely Sophia's foot kicking mine in just the right way to make me stumble as I tried to get away from the bitch. Maybe it was because the girl who'd made the suicide joke was the same girl who'd helped me as I cried my heart out when my mom died, and I still wasn't sure what I'd done wrong to make her hate me so vehemently.
Well there's a thought, maybe what I'd done wrong was staring me in the face, I reflected with detachment that probably should have been alarming as my face slammed into something like the twelfth stair down the staircase. Maybe, all I'd done was take my lumps like a good little girl and that's what pissed her off so much. After over a year of this shit, I could think of few reasons other than spite to explain why she hadn't at least gotten bored.
It was shortly after this minor epiphany that I felt the dull vibrating thud of my body hitting the staircase below me and realized with no small amount of alarm that I couldn't feel the impact. At all. My face hurt where my cheek had crashed into the stair, and there was a sharp pain in my neck, but other than that my entire body was alarmingly numb. Almost like…I'd just broken my neck. It probably said something about me that I was halfway hoping that my neck really was broken, if only because that would probably, finally, get someone in this schools blatantly uncaring faculty to take me seriously when I accused Sophia goddamn Hess, track star extraordinaire, of pushing me down the stairs for the 27th time.
I closed my eyes and tried to sigh. The air that had just been knocked out of my lungs didn't cooperate, and it came out as more of a cough. Then…
[Error: Secondary Host death imminent. Searching…requirements met. Connecting. Secondary Host elevated to Current Host.]
[Unnecessary, Host personality will lead to adequate data without need for mimicry protocols.]
…there was a sharp crack in my neck, and sensation flooded back into my body all at once.
Hang on, what the hell? That was a really loud crack. It sounded like I imagined it might sound if my neck was actually broken, which I realized was probably not the case since I could feel my body again. I'd popped my neck after sitting still for too long before, and this was at least twice as loud as the loudest pop my neck had ever made before. What's more, I hadn't been trying to move, never mind pop my neck. So why the hell had it made such a loud crack?
Taking a few deep breaths to get air flowing through my system again, a maneuver I had an unfortunate amount of practice with, I decided to stand back up and just leave. After a stunt like this the trio knew better than to pursue me. If I went running to a teacher and they were following right after me, they looked guilty as sin. If I went running to a teacher and they were just standing at the bottom of the stairs chatting, I was still the crazy girl who wouldn't stop complaining about 'gentle horseplay' and 'casual accidents.'
If I'd so much as glanced in the trio's direction, I wonder how much my life would have changed? What would have happened if, when I spent the next three days thoroughly researching trigger events, I was wondering why the girl who tripped me up and caused the whole thing had collapsed mysteriously at the same time as I got my powers? Would I have noticed that trigger events, especially first generation triggers, cause existing capes nearby to drop, hard, and occasionally start babbling nonsense? Would I have put two and two together?
I'll never know, for the simple reason that at that time in my life I was in a general mood to look at my bullies as little as possible, if only to avoid seeing the glee on their faces when they looked at 'a job well done.'
After I'd recorded the incident in my journal that evening, along with the three casual shoves before in the halls and the two afterward, the juice that just so happened to have been spilled by someone on my desk in World Events, and the 3 different variations of biting comment Emma had come up with today which I could still remember (not counting the dig about suicide, since it was covered in detail during my recounting of Stair Incident #27) I sat down at my desk, pulled out a pocket knife I hadn't thought about in years, and tested my theory in the most harmless way I could think of. I made a small incision on my pinky finger, making sure to cut deep enough that it would need a band-aid just to stop bleeding. (I had one handy, just in case my theory was as crazy as it sounded. I'd also cleaned the knife blade and my finger to minimize the risk of infection.) As expected, I still bled red blood. Not that I'd really had doubts about that. I was more interested in what came next.
Five minutes later, I put on the band-aid and shook my head in disgust. Of course getting powers wasn't that easy.
So I thought.
It wasn't until the next morning, when I took off the band-aid to check and see if the wound was still bleeding that I realized something was genuinely parahuman about my healing. I'd have enough shallow cuts in my life to know that they didn't close up overnight, even if they were relatively minor. But when I took the band-aid off in the morning, there was barely any blood to be seen and no trace of a wound on my finger at all. Even what little blood might have been there had all been absorbed by the band-aid's sanitary pad.
This called for further testing.
It wasn't until I'd already cut a long, horizontal cut into the inside of my arm near my elbow just how this might look from the outside. No one who was really suicidal would cut themselves like this, maybe, because they'd have done enough research to know that just one cut could never be fatal no matter how deep it was, something I'd also done just to make sure I wasn't taking any unnecessary risks. But that wouldn't matter to Emma, Madison, and Sophia. They'd see the cut and use it as an excuse to lay on the suicide 'jokes' extra thick. Maybe even add 'emo' and 'goth' to my long list of mildly offensive 'nicknames.' It would be as offensive to emo and goth culture as it would be to me, but somehow I doubted they'd let that stop them.
It was really too late for regrets, though. Fortunately, it was late December in Brockton Bay, with an average weekly high of 50 degrees Fahrenheit. No one would think twice about me not taking my sweater off in school, not with how often I already used a baggy sweater to camouflage myself amongst the numerous wannabe gangsters and downtrodden teenagers in the halls of Winslow.
That night, I realized I needed to do some more thorough testing. I'd managed another day at school without any serious incidents and recorded all the ones I remembered in my journal once I got home, but when I unwrapped my arm the much larger cut was just as gone as the one on my finger had been. In the interests of being cautious though, I decided to venture a bit outside my comfort zone and looked up Panacea's public phone number. Well, it was New Wave's public phone number, but it would do for now. Then I dressed in the blandest clothes I owned, tied a bandana around my neck to hide my face in a pinch if necessary, and took the bus across town to the biggest branch of the city's library district. I didn't even have a city library card, I only ever visited one to use the computers and occasionally steal an hour or two of reading time in a location where I could be sure I wouldn't be disturbed. I'd stopped bothering to check out library books or even take them home with me after the first time my backpack went missing and I got in trouble with the school for 'losing' my textbooks. But they did have a phone I could borrow, and no one at this branch would have seen my face before, bandana or no bandana.
The lady behind the desk gave me a very, very odd look when I came in dressed like I was and just asked to borrow a phone, but didn't ask any questions. It took me longer than I care to admit to realize that even without showing off my powers, the fact that I was dressed like a cape was a statement all on its own, one it was best not to question.
Not unless you were a cape yourself, apparently.
"Look, I'm not asking for very much, Mrs. Dallon," I said with forced patience. "I just want some oversight while I test my powers. And given that my powers are…well, that they require self-harm to test, I figured I'd ask someone who could make any accidental scars go away."
"You won't even give me your name, but you expect me to believe even a single word you say?" I couldn't see her face, but the scoff was audible even over the phone.
"Not everyone can turn into an invincible bouncy ball and conjure a freaking lightsaber out of nothing, Brandish," I hissed in frustration. "If you want a name, wait until I've come up with one to use when I'm out fighting crime." Mouthing off probably wasn't the smartest option, no. But there was only so much I could take before I snapped, and unlike my bullies I could be reasonably sure that an outed parahuman hero wouldn't take their frustration out on me when I talked back.
"You…don't even have a name yet?" she asked.
"Did I not just make that obvious? I barely triggered two days ago, of course I haven't thought of a good name yet!"
"Two days…" she echoed in disbelief. "And you haven't gone out to cause trouble yet?"
I barked a short laugh that was slightly louder than I'd intended it to be. "Unless you count getting in trouble for being bullied in school, no."
Brandish was silent for a few seconds before she asked, hesitantly, "How exactly…would being bullied in school get you into trouble?"
I smiled an ugly smile that only I would ever know about, since I was wearing a bandana over my mouth. "How else? It's Winslow. No one gives have an ounce of deep-fried shit if it doesn't escalate into gang violence."
Brandish let out a sound I couldn't quite identify, but which bore resemblance to someone who's been 'accidentally' hit in the throat with some force. Don't bother asking how I know what that sounds like.
"If things are that bad, why haven't you asked for help?" she asked plaintively.
"Who am I supposed to ask," I demanded, "when even the Principal simply shakes her head and tells me that I have nothing more than circumstantial evidence to offer? I have tried to ask for help. When I figured out that no one was interested in putting in the effort to figure out what was going on, I stopped trying."
"Miss, I realize this may sound harsh, but you gave up far too early. If you are being bullied so badly that it could cause a trigger event, the school's staff is guilty of criminal negligence at best, and conspiracy to cause lasting damage at worst. No matter what the charges are, getting them all summarily dismissed would be as easy as getting you to testify. Your trigger event need not come up on the stand, what you're describing to me sounds like a long enough campaign that it wouldn't need to."
It was then that I remembered that Carol Dallon, in her day job, was a criminal prosecution attorney. Our conversation became notably more amicable after that point, and when she heard just how many spiral-bound notebooks I'd filled with documentation of what the trio and their hangers-on did she became positively feral. Somehow, I found that I didn't mind. For the first time in quite a while it seemed like someone actually cared about what had happened to me, and that was enough to cause me to reprioritize several goals I'd long since given up on.
All I'd had to do was break my neck. Hah! That certainly puts a new spin on the supposedly encouraging theater saying, "break a leg."
Speaking of broken legs, it seemed upon more extensive testing (this time overseen by Panacea) that those weren't something I'd have to worry about anymore. While flesh, muscle, and all the other squishy parts could be damaged as easily as ever it all healed without a trace and minimal help from Panacea. The only thing we didn't test were traumatic head injuries, since Panacea apparently couldn't heal the brain. The larger a wound was, the faster it would heal, but something like a severed Achilles tendon still took several minutes to heal. It turned out that something like my initial cut to my finger I'd tried would actually take the longest to heal, but having multiple wounds simultaneously didn't slow the pace of any individual wound healing. They just stitched themselves back together at a pace that, while sluggish, was still miles better than anything normal human anatomy could pull off. Panacea did warn me that my power didn't seem to pull matter out of thin air though, it just patched up any holes and fixed anything that was broken. If someone, to use her gruesome example, were to run off with my entrails, I probably wouldn't be able to grow them back.
"Not without help, anyway," she mused, "from what I can tell, you'd survive the process. You wouldn't run into real trouble until your body started running low on nutrients and you had to replenish the supply without a digestive system."
"But you could grow them back?" I asked curiously.
"Mmm, not exactly," she said, tapping a finger on her lips. "I don't pull matter out of nowhere either. But I could probably repurpose, say, a leg or two and give you a new digestive tract if it came to that. It'd probably mean that your power had nothing to work with to regrow that leg, but it would also mean you could eat enough to make up the deficit."
I quietly resolved to chase down any stolen body parts in the future. That didn't sound pleasant.
Much more interesting, to me anyway, was the fact that she couldn't affect my bones. At all. She couldn't say for sure what that meant, but advised me not to do anything that would cause them to break. What she couldn't touch with her power, she couldn't heal. Still, even with that restriction, knowing that I didn't need to worry about even very major injuries was a bit of a relief.
To my surprise as Carol and I talked about how to pursue a case against Winslow, my dad came up.
"You really should tell him what's going on. At least about the bullying and the fact that you've got legal representation to help with the problem," she told me, "While I can technically represent even an underage parahuman without parental permission, it will be much easier to make your case if you come forward in your civilian identity to testify. Testifying to your bullying as your cape identity would be as good as unmasking yourself, and frankly I can't recommend that you try unmasking yourself without a solid team to back you up."
I wondered idly how much good 'backup' had done Fleur, the member of New Wave who had effectively killed their unmasking movement by dying to an ordinary man with a gun in a home invasion, but chose not to comment. That was definitely a sore subject.
More importantly, she had an unfortunately good point about telling my dad what was going on. I just couldn't see a way to do it without telling him that I'd broken my neck while falling down a set of stairs, and I really didn't want to do that to him. Still, if I wanted Carol to be my lawyer, I didn't really have a choice.
This was going to be painful.
A/N: Wait, but that's not what parahumans see when they trigger! Or is it? Would they honestly be able to tell the difference between one wiped memory and another when most of their focus is on the whole "holy shit space whale crystal thing in SPAAAACE" bit?
But that's the wrong question. The right one to be asking is just what hints this trigger 'vision' was dropping, since at this point giving the hints from canon would be a bit superfluous so I'm probably not doing that. And for yet another hint, originally the trigger even was just going to be a blank in Taylor's memory, since this story is told in first person and Taylor isn't exactly going to remember anything. So it's probably nothing important. Right?
Also, Taylor's getting legal representation. From Brandish, aka The Reason Panacea Went Wrong. This should be interesting. I genuinely didn't plan that, it just happened when I realized who'd answer any incoming calls meant for Panacea.
Anyway, have fun and get some work done. (No I'm not a hypocrite, thanks for asking. What? No I'm also not lying. Shut up.)