"I have conditions." I look across the conference room table at Deputy Director Renick. At Mr. Weis, who represents something called the 'Youth Guard' in his polo shirt and easy smile; at Ms. Sobol, sitting opposite him in dress shirt and tie like a cheap stereotype of a federal agent.
I had notes, scribbled on a scratchpad with a half-dead pen in the middle of the night, but I wasn't going to look down at them.
I knew I didn't have a leg to stand on, but I was going to try anyway.
"Vista told me about how you get powers." The words sound so small as they cross the table, barely echoing from the walls. "How they come on the worst day of your life."
"The girls who did this to me-" My fingers clench, curl, nails biting into abused skin as my throat tightens; I try to hold onto composure, try to think about Dad at work, strong and firm at the negotiating table; try not to feel the empty seat next to mine, the knowledge that I could fill it with someone and not be alone.
"This wasn't the first time." My gaze drops to my hands, clammy-slick, knuckles white and bulging, and I force myself to flatten my fingers against the table. "They've been doing it since the start of the year."
I fold one hand to the other, pull in a breath; try to reorder the jumble of words in my head.
Be the hero you want to be.
Get your justice. On your terms, not theirs.
"Something that was always a mystery to me was... was How? How were they able to get away with what they did, for so long?"
I look up at Mr. Renick. "Sophia being a Ward cleared up that mystery." He shifts in his seat, has the good grace to look ashamed.
"Miss Hebert." The man in the polo shirt speaks up, looking at me as he tries out a smile that's meant to be comforting. "I would just like to say that the Youth-"
"I'm not done." The edge in my voice puts him to silence; that, or the way my entire body is locked tight and tense to keep from shaking myself to pieces under their combined, shocked scrutiny. Sweat pools at the small of my back.
"I want-" I start, the words halting and difficult. "I want to understand what happened. How this could have gone on for almost a year without anyone intervening, without any consequences for what they did."
I want them to feel consequences.
I want them to be punished.
I want them to hurt .
The tightness in my throat makes it easy to choke off the words before I can utter them; I close my eyes, try to find focus.
I'm going to be a hero.
I have to show them that.
"I want to make sure that what happened to me doesn't happen to anyone. Ever again."
My eyes open, and I look down at my hands, watch one thumbnail reflexively pick at the other.
"I want justice."
For a moment, there's silence; I look up, and find them all looking at me; the emotion in their eyes is uncomfortable, unfamiliar, and it takes me a little while to place it.
Maybe I can do this.
Mr- Deputy Director Renick is the first one to speak up.
"Taylor." He folds his hands in front of him, meeting my gaze with sympathy in his eyes. "Thank you for sharing that. I realize it must have been difficult for you."
I nod jerkily, ducking my head so I don't have to meet his eyes as he continues.
"What happened to you happened on the PRT's watch, and I want to assure you that I plan to investigate what happened to you, and those responsible will find consequences for what they've done."
They're such small, simple words; I can't recall someone ever saying them to me before.
My eyes sting; I peel off my glasses, rub with my sleeve to defuse ambushing tears.
"Yeah." My glasses go back on, and I look up at him.
He smiles, small and tentative and oddly gentle. "You're doing all right. I can't think of many people in your situation who would be handling this with such maturity."
The set of my shoulders starts to crack; fingers curl around each other to hide their tremors.
"Was there anything else you wanted to cover, Taylor?"
All my careful words are gone; I expected pushback, resistance, Blackwell's mealy-mouthed prevarications about evidence and mutual blame.
"I want to get out of Winslow," I find myself saying. "And I don't want to see my dad."
Mr. Weis picks up his pen, makes a note on the pad afore him.
"Well... getting you transferred to Arcadia will help smooth out your Wards experience." Mr. Renick nods at the woman in the shirt and tie. "Ms. Sobol is going to be your handler and point-of-contact with the PRT; she's going to be working with your principal, ah..."
"Blackwell," she supplies, smiling a little as she looks over at me. "Don't worry, I've done my due diligence."
"Right." The deputy director picked up his pen, fidgeted with the cap. "As for the other matter..."
His eyes flick over to Mr. Weis, then back to me. "The Wards do have rooms here at PRT headquarters; I believe you stayed there last night? I'm sure there won't be any trouble with you staying there while we work out what happens in the longer term."
Mr. Weis doesn't seem to have an objection to that.
I look across the table at the three of them, all easy smiles and confident solutions, and all I can feel is a sick sense of relief, one I hope isn't echoed in my expression.
"Taylor?" Mr. Renick's standing, one hand extended towards me.
I take it, clasp it firmly.
"Welcome to the Wards."