The streets are all dark and still, this late on an October night; I stride down empty walks and cross untracked regrets, heels striking concrete in a rhythm unbroken by traffic light or crosswalk signal.
The cadence makes it easier; footfall and heartbeat finding a sort of harmony, marking time in a way that pins itself to the forefront of my mind and drives away other thoughts.
Thoughts about how it feels to wear my mother like a set of clothes, constrictive and unexpectedly binding like my body's the wrong size for my wardrobe.
Thoughts about home, about Dad.
Second thoughts, whether leaving was the right choice to make.
I can feel that star-sense of my copy, already weak and flickering from when we swapped places and guises; minutes pass, an ever-increasing distance separates us, and the flame-drawn-low gutters and struggles-
And then it's gone, leaving my head full of darkness and footfall and the beat of my heart.
"Thank you," I whisper to the night.
My watch says it's been about ten minutes since I left; another ten after that and my guise starts to fray, Mom peeling away from me like a mummy's bandages-
Yeah, I laughed. It's late and I'm tired.
And I'm cold; regardless of whether I'm Taylor or Annette Hebert, it's still an October night in Brockton Bay, and I can still feel the harshness of the air every time I breathe in.
I'm pretty sure the other me packed a jacket; Mom always thought about things like that. Getting it out would mean stopping, though... and walking's keeping me pretty warm.
(Walking's also keeping me from thinking about home and the warmth of a bed behind a closed door and the man behind that closed door, the tension in his voice and the way his heart beats in his closed fists.)
It'll be warmer once I reach the bus depot.
The depot is definitely warmer.
At least, it looks warmer from out here.
(I was about to go inside when I realized that 'tall black-haired girl buying a ticket to Boston in the wee hours' was distinctive enough that it might help someone trace my egress.)
(A certain savage part of me really liked the idea of Dad being the one to abet said egress; it had a certain turn-the-knife simplicity to it.)
So, Dad-me is inside, ordering a bus ticket; I'm outside, loitering in an alcove across the street, trying to be inconspicuous.
...I'm not very good at it.
Found my jacket, at least. That's something.
Still cold, though.
Dad-me comes back out, bus ticket in hand; he looks both ways, crosses the street to meet me in my alcove.
He shakes his head. "No problems. Next bus leaves in an hour; here." Holds out a mess of small bills and change.
"Thanks." I stuff the change in one pocket of my jacket, take the bus ticket and put it in another pocket; I don't notice Dad-me stepping closer.
I do notice when he puts an arm around my shoulders, starts to pull me closer and I duck my head under his arm, pushing away from him as I take a step back, the night air harsh on my throat as my breath comes in quick gasps-
-And I look up and Dad's looking back at me in dog-like befuddlement; sad and baffled and an unasked why in his eyes.
"You looked cold," he says, and I fight to get my breathing under control. Shake my head.
"Sorry," is the only word that comes out at first. I gesture at him. "It's just... you're him."
He looks down at himself, confused- and then clarity strikes and his eyes narrow.
"That asshole," he growls, and I feel the side of the alcove press into my back as I hear the undercurrent of threat in his voice-
"S-stop." The voice is high and breathy and it takes a moment to realize that it's mine as Dad's gaze flicks up to meet mine. "Please...?"
He stares at me for a moment, brow furrowed- and then his expression runs like water, trickling through understanding and shock.
"God, it- honey, I'm sorry-"
I'm already shaking my head. "Just- it, you took me-" I look up at him. "Can you... not be... him?"
We stare at each other for a few moments; I watch his face twist in bemused consideration.
"I... can try." He reaches up, takes his glasses off, rubs his face. "God, this is messed up."
He nods. Puts his glasses back on, looks across the street at the bus depot, his expression bleak.
He looks back at me, curious.
I hold open my arms, try a smile. "You look kinda cold?"
My cheek is pressed to flannel and there are strong arms around me and I can smell warmth and the husk of orange and cedar that's Dad's aftershave.
I'm leaning against him, letting his embrace define the scope of my world, almost floating there in my fatigue.
And then a voice breaks through; a girl's voice, high and clear in the cold night air.
Dad's arms tense around me.
I open my eyes, twist in Dad's arms to look-
She's small, is my first thought; she barely comes up to my chest, the greens of her costume sharp and vivid under sodium light.
"Vista," Dad says, echoing my next thought. He frowns, letting go of me as he steps between her and I. "Look, I know the situation had the PRT worried, but I found Taylor- she's safe, she's okay, we had a talk and-"
Vista's head slowly tilts to one side as she watches Dad-me talk. "You're not Mr. Hebert, though," she says, interrupting him.
"I... beg your pardon?"
Her visor is opaque, but I can see her smile, a tight little a-ha grin. "Daniel Hebert's at home with a PRT liaison, waiting to-"
"Run," Dad whispers, and I duck out to one side, darting past Dad, past the small superhero-
And I stagger, as the sides fall off the world and the night sky yawns wide above me.
The pavement stretches, the sidewalk wider than the street used to be, the street open and gaping like the interstate in the witching hour-
I could run, run for hours and not even cross the street.
"I just want to talk, that's all."
I look back; she's turned to face me, but other than that, she's barely moved, her hands at her sides.
And behind her, the Dad-shaped me, stiff-shouldered, fingers knotting as he steps up behind her-
-and all I can see is Dad standing over Sophia in a Winslow hallway-
Vista glances over her shoulder at Dad and casually gestures with one hand; the distance between them sprawls wide, the feet between them lengthening to yards.
Dad-me stands there for a moment, stymied; he takes a step or two towards us and the sidewalk accordions between us, pushing him away like he's on a concrete treadmill.
And for a moment, she just looks at me, her expression unreadable under her visor.
"Why won't you leave me alone?" The question explodes from me, dripping with sick frustration, almost-petulant in how the words sound like the pleading of a child.
Her shoulders drop, and I can see her sigh come out as a puff of fog.
"Because everyone's life goes to shit when they get powers."
She takes a few steps, moving slowly like I'm a wild animal, and carefully sits on the curb, looking up at me.
"That's actually how you get powers, you know that? Worst day of your life hits, and boom, you get to warp space, stop time, get a gun that never goes away." She smiled slightly, glanced over at Dad-me. "Make copies."
I'm staring at her - all I can do is stare at this girl.
"And nobody handles it well - especially parents." She nods towards the bag on my back. "Kinda imagine that's why you want to gee-tee-eff-oh." She enunciates each syllable with precocious precision.
My voice, when it comes out, is strangled, each word forcing its way up through an ever-tightening throat. "What the hell."
"Taylor." Her expression sobers, and she leans forward a little. "Listen, you don't have to do this. The Wards have quarters in the PRT building, you can stay with us while we talk to your dad, get him to see reason-"
My legs are trembling, tired from all the walking I've done today; I drop down to sit on the sidewalk, back against a newspaper box. "You're never going to stop, are you?"
After a moment, she shakes her head. "I could let you go. Let you catch your bus, ride off down to Boston. PRT would just have someone there looking out for you, same as I'm doing right now." Her nose wrinkles. "And you'd have to sleep on a bus."
I breathe out a long sigh and let my head fall back, let it thump against the sheet-steel of the newspaper box as I look up at the stars.
"Hey." Vista's voice is quieter, the hints of brash professionalism replaced with something softer, more vulnerable. "Come stay with us. Just for the night."
The stars are glimmering; I close my eyes, feel tears spill down the sides of my face. "What about Sophia?"
"...she's still in a hospital bed. You wouldn't see her."
I sniff, the sound of it all blobby and congested. "Good."
"So... you want to come back with me?"
I knuckle the tears away from my eyes until I can see her smile, hopeful and salt-blurred by my glasses.