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I heard a knock on my door.

Well, there's really only a few options there, I thought, sitting up in my bed.

The reinforced springs of the bed groaned under my shifting weight. Once upon a time, I might've felt embarrassed by such things, I quickly outgrew those feelings.

I shifted into a sitting cross-legged on the bed. I could have strained my ears to listen and find out who was on the other side. Breathing, heart rate, scent, all of these things could have painted a picture clear as day. But I knew I didn't need any of them. All I needed, was a little patience.

"Amy?" Came the deep voice of my dad, tentative, but hopeful.

The lights were out in my room, and there were about 4 other places I could be this time of night, so it made sense that he'd be uncertain of my presence.

"Here, Dad," I called back, "It's open," I said, my way of inviting him in.

At my words, he twisted open the door and let in a few tiny rays of light from the hallway, all framing his silhouette. He flicked up the light switch with practiced ease, bathing my room in glaring lights. I shifted my eyes, narrowing the pupils and tweaking the photoreceptors with hardly a second thought, adjusting to the sudden change in light far faster than my dad would be able to get accustomed to the dark.

Pulled into a world of light, my room was revealed in all its glory. A glorious mess, that is. I wasn't terribly fond of putting my clothes away, clean or dirty, and instead left them scattered all over the floor. With my sense of smell and memory, it wasn't like it was hard to tell which clothes were clean and which weren't, and I wasn't going to get particularly bent out of shape from a few wrinkles. The more dressy clothes I used for service and other such things were, of course, hanging in the closet, immaculate, but they were held to a higher standard than the rest.

There were very few posters in my room, only two, really. One was a poster for a band I liked, featuring a hooded grey skinned man with glowing red eyes, a shirtless chest showing off his muscular physique, a demented grin that was all teeth, and all of cast in the light of the flames he walked through.

The other poster was of an absolutely adorable jumping spider being absurdly cute, posted right behind the headboard of my bed.

Spoiler: Spider


I loved it, in part because mom had gotten it for me, in part because it was adorable in all the right ways, and in part because Taylor hated it in all the best ways. I loved my sister to death, but the way she cringed at the giant spider behind me, every time she came into my room? That would never get old.

I suppose it helped that I had five terrariums scattered around my room with various insects, a snake, some scorpions, and one tarantula. Feeding them all, and the vast collection in the basement, was a serious investment, and one of the reasons I was getting the job at Sanctuary, but it was important to me. Mom had gotten me interested in collecting critters, and most of the stuff I had now I'd gotten from her.

Mom told me that there was something calming about handling simple creatures with simple needs after dealing with all the complexities of humanity in her day to day life. As a kid, I didn't quite understand, but more recently, well…

There was beauty in their simplicity.

Dad, however, had been expecting all this, and after living with mom for so long he'd built up a certain resistance to being creeped out. He didn't so much as flinch at the sight of the tarantula in a box next to the door.

"So Amelia," Dad said, gently closing the door with a quiet click, "Is Taylor still up?"

"No," I shook my head, "She stayed up reading for a little bit, and if I'm hearing things correctly, she's currently snoring into a page of one of her Dresden books."

"Good, good," Dad nodded, "In that case…" He opens the door again, swinging a hand through in invitation. "Care to join me downstairs?"

I gave my dad a suspicious eye. There were a thousand and one places he could be taking this, but the fact he wanted to make sure Taylor was asleep narrowed things down a bit.

"Alright," I said, forcing a casual air to pervade my body. I shrugged, adding, "Hot chocolate?"

"Meetcha halfway with a mocha," He smirked, "I need some coffee for this."

A few minutes later, the two of us were sitting downstairs in the kitchen around the little round table in there. It wasn't meant to hold but two, maybe three, people. Technically, it should have been able to hold a cramped four, but it was shoved over to the wall to make space for the rest of the kitchen. Half the time it was so piled up with random newspapers and junk that it could really only sit one person.

The large overhead fluorescent lights that normally bathed the kitchen in bright white light were off, leaving nothing but the warm orange stove light to illuminate the room. Most of the rest of the house was dark, save for a lamp on in the living room that peeked through the doorways, keeping the atmosphere of night without giving the idea that the house was cold and empty.

The smell of coffee and hot chocolate filled the air, mixing with lingering scents of cooked meat and almond cheese. My reinforced chair held me in a familiar embrace, creaking in just the right ways when I shifted this way and that. All in all, it felt cozy, comfortable, and familiar.

I could see why Dad had taken me here.

"So," Dad began, a large white mug cupped in his hands. He paused for a second to blow across the surface a few times. "How is it?"

I glanced down at my own mug. The steaming brown liquid mixed with clouds of lighter tan in swirling patterns. I could feel the heat radiating from the ceramic, pooling into the cells of my hands. I took a small sip, enjoying the way a simple taste made my nerves light up inside me. The way the intense heat hit my tongue was soothing, both in the in the familiar way I managed it, and in the sensation I could feel running over me.

"Perfect," I said, smiling with closed eyes.

"But it's no Black Ooze, huh?"

My eyes flashed open, my mind whirling into overdrive. For a fraction of a second, I let my emotions slip out. I quickly reigned it back in, pushing my anger and surprise deep inside.

"I'm not sure what you mean?" I said carefully.

Dad slowly arched a brow. "Are we really going to do this?" he said, a sip from his mug hiding his mouth.

I feel the urge to scowl and curse, and bury it deep in my intestines. Instead, I sigh, and say shortly, "Fine."

"Fantastic." he smiles over his cup. "I've got to get up early in the morning so I'd rather not take all night playing run around."

Now I let myself frown. It was hard to get a read on him when he was like this. Was he actually in a good mood? Or was he just smiling to keep from yelling?

"Okay?" I said slowly, testing the waters, "So...what, exactly have you heard?"

"Oh, you know." He shrugged, leaning back in his chair. "A whisper here and there about some hot new drug on the streets. Some say it's actually a tinker-tech virus that turns you into his puppet. Other say that it's really some kind of alien blood, made to incubate their young in whoever drinks it."

"But everyone agrees, it gives you the biggest high this side of the Appalachians. As much as the fear is spreading, the need to escape is even stronger." He took another sip from his mug, "There have also been a few people showing up in the hospital with symptoms of brain damage, broken bones, and a history of drug use. One woman even had her face ripped off. Entirely unrelated, of course."

Shit, I thought. This was already spinning a bit out of hand, and it'd only been a couple of days. I'd wanted rumors to spread and for it to take up a life of its own, but this…

This might be too much.

"So," he said, pulling me from my ruminations, "My question, is when I should expect the invasion to come?"

For a moment, brief and fleeting, I considered denying it. But that'd be stupid. Beyond stupid, really. I'd already confirmed more than enough for him. And dad was smart, he'd already figured out enough in the past couple days to come to me. Obfuscating it anymore wouldn't really help me here.

"How'd you find out about all that?" I said, trying to stall for time as I cobbled together some form of game plan.

"Well, your mother had a lot of connections in her day," he pointed out, circling the mug through the air to accentuate the word, "And while she might be gone, the loyalty she earned isn't. They know me and I know them. So, when they hear something that I might be interested in..." He gestured to himself with both his hands. "They come to me."

Which means he probably knows a lot more than he's letting on. I scowled internally.

"Okay," I shrug, taking another sip of my mocha as I bury my real feelings under my skin. "So?"

"So?" Dad repeated, his brows raised in surprise, "That's what you're going with, so?"

"Yeah," I attempted to brush it off, all while the irritation boiled under my skin. "So what? You said it yourself, they're scum."

"So you think they deserve this?"

"Of course they deserve this. They tried to hurt Emma. They terrorized her, tried to break her, physically and mentally. I'm just doing the same in kind."

"Maybe so, but don't you think it's getting a little out of hand?"

I did, but I didn't need him second-guessing me when I could do this on my own. I had everything under control.

"No." I took another sip, careful to keep my whole body from trembling.

"If you keep this up, the merchant's will escalate."

"Let them. I'll tear them apart from the inside out."

"I thought you said you wouldn't kill."

"I don't need to kill them. I just need to crush their will to resist."

"You're talking about torture."

"Maybe."

"Isn't that going a bit far? They might be scum, but they're human too."

"Are they?"

"Pardon?"

I sneered, unable to keep the irritation buried anymore. So deep was the rage that it was starting to leak out of me. Despite absolute control over my entire body, I couldn't control my own emotions.

"They're scum. Subhuman trash. Have you seen the things they do? Pedophiles, murderers, rapists. They're all no better than the trash they sleep in."

"Starting to sound like the Empire."

"What?!" I hissed, my fingers twitching against the mug. I reigned in my power, careful not to shatter the fragile ceramic. Carefully, inch by inch, I set it down on the table.

"These ideas…" Dad started, swirling his mug, "They're a bit...distressing. You have to realize they're human, Amy. You can't ignore that."

"I realize that," I said through gritted teeth.

He was silent for a moment.

"Maybe this is my fault."

What?

"I don't think I should have told you they were scum"

No no no. I thought, my eyes widening. He can't take this from me.

"Maybe you aren't really ready for this yet."

Being a human was so stifling. Day in and day out, the same four limbs, the same ten fingers, the same basic configuration. I was tired of just being "Amy" every day, and the first time I get to stretch my legs, he cuts me off?

My skull cracked in half.

My head split open, cut right down the vertical. Teeth erupted from the edges of my skull. My first mouth twisted, sliding further back and shrinking into the cavity of my maw. My face melted, eyes dissolving into basic stem cells for later use, while my hair merged with the rest of my flesh.

My skin went taut, becoming hard and rigid. The skin along my arms split open, cracking into segments and pits. The pits sunk in, base stem cells filling in and turning into ocular components. Pupils, jelly, veins, all began to form round orbs of white and black along my arms. New eyes, to replace the ones I'd lost. Everyone single one locking onto my father's form.

My throat grew, my neck rippling as it all rose up to meet my larger head. My first mouth grew long and thin, like a snake resting in a pipe, and my massive vertical maw clamped around it. The cells in my body decompressed, stretching out to fill more external space and use. Muscles formed, bones grew. My back nearly exploded out of me, rippling with thick cords of muscle. My arms split in two, right down the middle, and grew additional clawed fingers on each limb.

I slammed all four onto the table, sending splinters flying into the air. My maw split open and roared at the man standing before me.

"No!" I bellowed. "I've been sitting around for over a year doing nothing!"

My skin blackened, turning into a dark shell. More cells filled in underneath, turning into more plates, and pushing my shell out. At the edges, lines of bioluminescent bacteria colonies grew on my shell, glowing with light blue patterns all over me.

"I've been trapped inside this prison of meat and bone for years!" I towered over him, "I Refuse to go back!"

The shell on my back opened up, exposing my innards to the air. Cords of muscles on my back disconnected from my shoulder blades, flopping onto the ground with a wet smack. The meat twisted, the exterior growing thicker, harder, becoming tough, like pink leather. The tendrils wrapped around the legs of the table, anchoring it in place.

"You dare try and take this from me!" I growled, looming ever closer. "You can't stop me, you can't take this from me. You don't have the strength."

I rumbled, my maw hanging over his head, "Though you might make things difficult…"

My thoughts shifted ever so slightly down. I knew this man couldn't hurt me directly, but he knew of others who could. He could call the PRT, Sanctuary, New Wave…

But only if he was left alone.

I wouldn't kill him. Killing this man was wrong, for some reason. I couldn't remember why exactly. Was it because of last time?

It didn't matter. I could crush him. Destroy him. Killing him would be so easy, consuming him, even easier. There was nothing he could do to stop me, and why shouldn't I. Why shouldn't I take him-

Then a smell hit me. I nearly flinched. Something in me remembered it-

-Oh god.

I dissolved.

Two-thirds of my body turned into liquid biomass. It splattered down on the beat-up table, covering the floor in a flood of clear viscous liquid. Left behind was me, Amelia Hebert, as my human self, drenched in the fluids of my inert flesh. I was hunched over the table, staring wide-eyed at my father, unable to believe what I'd come so close to doing.

Dad stared back, a bottle of mom's perfume in one hand.

In the other, his mug.

He took a sip of his coffee

"You are so grounded," he said.

"What?" I said, dumbfounded.

"I said, you're grounded," he repeated, looking me straight in the eyes with a kind of stone-carved nonchalance.

"That's...that's it?" I said incredulously. "I'm grounded?"

"Yep."

"I...did you know this was going to happen?"

"I guessed," Dad said. He placed the bottle of mom's perfume on the table, well within reach in a very deliberate manner. "You've got a bad habit of tweaking your brain."

"No, I…" I ran out of gas on that argument before I even started, "I mean...yeah, I guess…"

"And since scent is such a trigger for memory, I brought this," he said, tapping the top of the bottle. "You already told me about your little, uh, 'repository' of memories. Figured your mother's perfume was probably my best bet there."

"How did you know it would work?"

"I guess I didn't." He shrugged.

"I...you...what…" I rambled, trying to figure out whether to be furious, terrified, or confused, "What would have happened if it didn't work?"

"Things would have gotten really interesting," he said nonchalantly, his wooden chair creaking as he reclined in it. "Fortunately we didn't have to go that far."

"Are you saying you gambled on this?"

"Well…" He stopped to take a long sip of his coffee, loudly slurping it up as he left me in suspense.

"Yeah." He nodded, " Yeah, I did do that."

I stared at him uncomprehendingly.

"What?!"

"Amy," Dad began, and I could tell he was trying not to laugh, "I was married to the Matriarch for over a decade, okay? If there are two things I learned, it was when to take a risk, and how to not shit your pants."

"This wasn't just a risk, I almost killed you!" I tried to impress upon him how incredibly close I'd come to crossing the line. He couldn't possibly understand that, could he? There's no way he could know that and still laugh, right?

"Almost,"

Argh!

"I-!" I stopped myself, cutting myself off before I could twist myself in anger again. I took a moment and took a deep breath. I was Amelia Hebert. Adopted daughter of Danny and Annette Hebert, and older sister of Taylor Hebert.

Me.

I was me.

I closed my eyes and said a short prayer. "When I feel tainted, God, remind me that I am holy."

After another moment of peace on contemplation, I finally spoke up again.

"So…" I let the word hang there, leaning over the table with my own goop dripping from me as I clenched the wooden sides. My nails dug into the soft wood where so many years of scratches lay before.

Arguing about the previous topic clearing wasn't going anywhere, and I knew my dad well enough to know that he honestly wasn't phased by my little tantrum. So I moved on. "...You're grounding me?"

"For a week," Dad clarified.

"For a week," I repeated as if that would make any more sense.

I looked up at him again, hoping beyond hope that I'd see something in his face.

"Yep." He put the cup down about an inch from the puddle of biomass on the table. His face was hardly a foot from my own, and he didn't even flinch. Instead, he had that same damnable ghost of a smile on his face.

I had the power to tear him apart, and I very nearly did it. So how can he just...sit there?

"That's it?" I questioned, "For...almost attacking you?"

"Actually it's for doing supervillainy without consulting me, as well as damaging the table and making a mess." He gestured to the table in question and the pool of inert me that was surrounding it. "You're cleaning this up by the way."

With a thought, I had all the biomass I'd turned to inert goo reactivate and flow back into me through my feet. It took about as much concentration as, say, swallowing a bit of saliva in your throat.

"Also put some clothes on," he added.

I scrunched my face up. "Why?"

As much as I was in my base Amelia human form, I hadn't actually bothered adding many details below the neck. I was basically a living mannequin.

"Because I said so," he said, smiling in that kind of 'because I'm your dad', way he did.

I rolled my eyes but complied in making the imitation of clothes. Most fabrics were a bit too complicated for me. It wasn't impossible by any means, it just wasn't extremely easy to weave patterns with my fiber-aligned flesh. Given that it was comparatively easy to make my skin look like leather I didn't feel the need to bother with it.

In a matter of seconds, the biomass I'd absorbed back into me was put to use turning into something that resembled that treated skin. When I was done, I'd grown what looked like a leather jacket from my own skin. It was my own skin in nearly every way it mattered, it just happened to also fulfill the visual description of "clothes" to the human eye.

With my clothes formed and my pool of goo reabsorbed, I dropped back into my chair.

"You know I'm still technically naked, right?" I asked, trying to get the last word in.

"It's the principle of the thing," Dad said, leaning back in his chair. "Which is much of why we're having this whole conversation."

I quirked a brow at him. "What do you mean by that?"

"Let's start with how you're dealing with the merchants,"

"But what about what I ju-"

"I'm getting to that," he brushed it aside, patting the air in that patronizing way of his. "First, the Merchants."

"Okay?" I frowned.

"I want you to stop what you're doing," he explained.

I opened my mouth to argue the point, but he spoke over me.

"But," he said, "You can still go after them."

Alright, now I was confused.

"What?" I said, sagging in the chair.

"The Merchants are scum," Dad started, "And, to be frank, if they all choked to death on their own piss and shit, I wouldn't shed a tear."

"Wait, then why-"

"However," he stopped me, "If you were the one to do it, I would be heartbroken."

I blinked. I...what? Why would that…?

"I don't understand," I said, feeling absolutely lost. They were scum, right? He said they were scum, and he just said I could still go after them. He even said he wouldn't mind if they all died. He just didn't want me to do it?

The hell kind of mixed message is this?

"You see, Amy," Dad said, taking one of my hands in his. The moment our skin connected, I got a blueprint of his entire body. I could see, broadly speaking, everything he was doing. Another copy of his DNA and current status burned its way into my mind. Most importantly, I could see how completely earnest he was being on a cellular level.

"I don't care about the Merchants. I care about you," he told me, "I love you, Amy. You are my daughter in every way that matters, and if you'd gone around killing the Merchants, then it'd mean that I'd lost you too."

I swallowed, hit hard by the sincerity of the statement.

"I…" What do I even say to that? I couldn't find the words or even the right thoughts to respond.

The simple fact of what I was doing and how it was hurting him far more than roaring at his face did. I couldn't even begin to figure out how to express the depths of my regret. I didn't really know why I did it, now that I thought about it. It just...seemed like a good idea at the time. It seemed like a good way to have fun without anyone really dying, without crossing the line I'd laid out for myself.

But I guess that was the problem, wasn't it?

Dad seemed to understand what I meant though. He clasped his other hand on top my own, cupping it between his hands.

"You didn't mean anything by it, did you?" he asked.

"No," I admitted. My throat felt tight, and I almost dispelled the instinctual reaction, but this time I kept it. I needed to feel human right now. "I just needed some information. And I wanted to scare them a bit."

"So you decided to tear off a woman's face, make some Merchants 'disappear', and psychologically torture their friends?"

"No!" I burst out, then winced, "Well, sort of?"

"Not much middle ground there, Amy."

"I...no one got hurt. No one died. I made sure that didn't happen," I explained, "It was all just...tricks, smoke and mirrors, hallucinations."

"You're sure?" he questioned.

"Yes," I nodded emphatically, "I never want to…" I stopped, my mind hiccuping as darker memories were dredged up, unbidden and unwanted. "I never want that to happen again."

"Okay." He patted my hand. "I believe you."

And he did. He knew what I could do, that I could tell what he was really feeling just by touching him. Holding my hand was a sign of trust, that he was putting all the cards on the table now. It...it felt good to know that after everything I'd done, he still trusted me this much.

"Still," he said, "You need to stop this."

"But no one got hurt!"

"You tore a woman's face off," He pointed out.

"I...well…" I had done that. I'd enjoyed doing that. But that was because, well... "She was a pedophile!"

Dad paused, shooting me a silent and stern look that demanded calcification. "I found her hanging around Winslow, and she was...well…"

"Picking up and seducing people around Taylor's age," Dad guessed, sagging a bit. I could feel the way his heart rate rose. I could see his blood pumping more furiously through him, the way his brain lit up in those familiar patterns. He was mad, but suppressing it.

"Yeah…" I answered.

Dad sighed, letting out a hot and angry breath. "That may be true, but it's not about her."

I was about to protest, but I stopped when I remembered what the conversation was about. "It's about me," I said instead.

"Yes." He nodded. "It's about you, Amy."

"She may have deserved to get her face torn off, may," he clarified, "But, this kind of stuff changes a person. You can't just go in implementing psychological warfare and torturing people and come out the same way you went in."

"Each time you commit an act like this, it makes doing it again that much easier. Now, it's just a scare here and there. Later, it might be broken bodies and broken minds. The more you use pain and fear as a tool, the more it becomes the only tool you want to use."

"And if you do that enough, one day you'll look back in the mirror and you won't recognize yourself. You understand this, right?"

"...Yeah," I said quietly. I felt ashamed now. My anger and indignance snuffed out from the sad and cold truths he'd explained. "...My father said much the same…"

I could feel Dad biting his lip more than I saw it on his face. Dad didn't quite...agree...with my father on most things. I don't think they really liked each other, and I doubt it'd gotten better.

"Well." He swallowed the bitter pill. "He's right in this case. And he should know, it happened to him. He very nearly went beyond redemption. It's...it's why he's not here right now. I don't want to see you make the same mistakes he did."

I looked down at my hands, peeling the skin off and revealing the bone underneath for a moment. I got this power from my father. Did I get this...itch from him too?

"And," Dad interrupted my train of thought, "It's my fault it went this far in the first place."

"No." I shook my head. I wasn't going to take the easy way out of this. "I did this, you didn't make me do any of this."

"But I did set you up to fail," he pointed out.

"I failed all on my own," I countered.

He snorted, pulling back his hand and reclining in his chair. He took a moment to glance at his mug to see if there was anything left inside. He quickly downed the last of it.

"Alright," he said, "You did do that, but I'm at fault too. I should have known better."

What does he mean by that? I wondered.

"Your mother taught me a lot about parahumans. One of the things I learned, is that if parahumans don't use their powers, especially in an active and challenging way, then they get...a bit stir crazy."

Oh… I realized. I'd heard that too, at some point, but I'd forgotten it. With that little reminder, a lot of pieces started to click into place.

When he saw my face dad gave me a smile that was very nearly a grimace. "Yeah.."

"It's been nearly a year and a half since the day you got those powers, and about that long, since you've really used them in what I'd call a challenging way," he pointed out. "After all that time, it's not surprising that the first time you pull off the gloves you go a bit...overboard. It's probably not the only factor at play here, but I'd be amazed if it wasn't involved"

"Well, I mean, what about all those times with Aunt Grace and Mr. Smith?" I asked.

"Who?" Dad scrunched up his face in confusion.

"The tutor."

"Oh," Dad's face looked like he'd just thrown up a bit in his mouth. "Him."

He waved his hand through the air in a manner similar to wiping away a bad smell. "A little exercise here and there is nice and all, but you said it yourself. You've been locked in a prison of, uh, 'meat'."

I did say that, didn't I? I grimaced.

"So," Dad continued, "I think this...ah...endeavor against the Merchants isn't necessarily a bad idea. You do need to breathe, and they're a safer group to go after than the Empire or ABB. As safe as any kind of cape activity in Brockton Bay is, anyways."

"That being said, we need to approach this differently."

"We?"

"Yes, I said we." He smiled a bit. "I do happen to know a thing or two, and you are my daughter in every way that matters. Letting you go off and do this on your own would be more than just irresponsible, I'd be abandoning my duty as a father to guide you."

"Yeah...but...don't you need sleep? I plan on doing most of this stuff at, like, two in the morning."

"What do you think coffee's for?" He chuckled. " 'Sides, I don't plan on staying up all night. Don't really need to anyways. We can plan things out in broad strokes while I'm up, then you can go out while I go to bed, and you can give me a report in the morning. I'll chew over that at work, and come back with something the next night," he explained.

I had to admit, it wasn't a terrible idea. It kind of tied me down a bit more than I'd like, though, and I wasn't sure I wanted to tell my dad everything I had planned.

"I'm guessing that doesn't sound totally awesome to you, huh?" Dad said.

I suppressed the instinct to flinch ruthlessly. "Well...I mean…"

"Look, Amy." He reached out for my hand again. I let him take it, sensing his entire body again the moment we touched. "I'm fine with a little wiggle room, and the last thing I want to do is push you away and lock you up, but you've got to trust me here."

"I mean...was it really that bad though?" I questioned. "I can stop ripping faces off, but that rumor I was spreading was really starting to work."

"Beyond the fact that 'I can stop ripping faces off' isn't something I ever wanted to hear you say," he said with a wry smile, "Yes, it was."

"If the PRT gets wind of it, they might think you're a biotinker on the level of Nilbog or Bonesaw creating some kind of super mind control virus. If they think that, then the kid gloves are off and they'll tear this city apart looking for you, and they might very well get a kill order for you."

I allowed myself to swallow thickly. I hadn't actually considered that. I'd just...had some fun, I thought. No one actually got hurt, and I couldn't actually make a virus that would spread like that, not one that would last, anyway.

"Then there's Taylor."

I perked up. "What?"

"How do you think your sister would react if she hears that you're the boogie monster of the bay? You already know how she felt about Matriarch."

I grimaced. "Okay, that's a good point."

"See?" Dad said, giving me a meaningful look, "You need to think these things out more. Which is what I'll be here for."

"Okay, okay." I huffed, pulling back away from him and reclining in my own chair. He had a point. A very good point, in fact, but that didn't mean I had to like it.

"Ugh," I groaned. "I just...I feel like I finally get to stretch out of the little box I was in, have some actual fucking fun, but now here I go shoving myself back in."

"I know." Dad nodded solemnly. "Which is why I have a proposal."

"How about next weekend, we go on a little hunting trip?"

I blinked. "I fail to see how that solves any of my problems," I said flatly.

"Think about it," he said, "We go out to the woods, just the two of us, and you can be whatever you want. You can...indulge yourself and really get outside the box. All while hunting down some live prey."

"I do like live food," I admitted. I could assimilate living tissue, while I could only salvage dead biomass, "And deer is kosher."

"But don't you need a hunting license for that?" I pointed out.

"Who says I don't have one?" he retorted easily.

"...Why do you have a hunting license?" I asked

He half laughed, half sighed. "That is a long story."

"Speaking of stories," he said, turning the tables on me with a meaningful look, "Why don't you tell me exactly what you did to the Merchants?"

I sighed, mostly to give me more time. "It's...complicated."

"I've got time."

"...Fine." I relented, taking another sip of my coffee as I gather my thoughts and memories.

"It all started Tuesday afternoon…"

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