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A Helping Hand

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Taylor

Jun 16, 2011

"I'm sorry, I'm so sorry." She reached for my hand again but I stepped back. "Let me fix it. Please ." She pleaded with me, and I remembered what happened with her sister.

"Amy." My level voice stopped her in her tracks and I tried to stay calm, even as fear seeped through me. "I'm not mad. I just want you to tell me what you did before I let you fix it."

She was fidgeting and looking around everywhere but at me, on the edge of hysterics. "I'm so sorry. I was trying to do what you said and do stuff with brains, because rules were just rules and I shouldn't hold myself back! A-And I was just fixing the stuff I mentioned and then..." Her rambling trailed off and she went quiet, making a soft whining noise. It would almost be cute if the situation were different.

"And then...?" I prompted her.

"Well..."

Her voice was almost a whisper and I leaned a bit closer to hear. I could count each of her freckles in the smattering across her nose. I never noticed how cute they we- wait.

"...I was thinking about how great you've been to me and...and that it was a shame you don't like girls that way...And..." Her voice shook. "It was just a stray thought, but that's all it took and my power just-"

"You made me fall in love with you." I stated it as a fact. It was clear what she'd done. Again. Maybe I shouldn’t have-

"No!" She screamed. "I just made you attracted to girls!"

Wait what.

"But I never should've done something like that and I didn't mean to, so please let me fix it. Also it got me thinking about what I did to Vicky and then I was comparing you again and I might've made your hair start growing in blonde..." Her rambling trailed off as she went quiet in embarrassment again and ducked her head. She was visibly shaking. Meanwhile I was just frozen, trying to process what she had said.

She had...made me attracted to girls? She could do that? I guess I had heard it wasn't really a choice, just how the brain is wired but...it hadn't occurred to me that...Huh. Like I never had anything against people who liked the same sex. And it's not like I'd ever had much luck with guys. The only problem had been I just...wasn't interested in girls. But now...

"Am I...still into guys too?" I asked cautiously.

She looked up, confused, and I could see tears in her eyes. She sniffled and answered. "Well...yeah. I didn't change that much, just made you interested in girls too. I am so sorry I-...Just let me fix it." She reached toward me again but I held out a hand to stop her.

"No no, hold on a sec." Was I really okay with this? "And you...didn't change anything else? You didn't make me have feelings for you or...stop having feelings for anyone else?"

"Well...there's your hair, but aside from that no...Why?"

"Well...as long as it's still my choice who I like...I guess I don't mind more options." I admitted. I looked away, too embarrassed to see her reaction.

"You don't have to! If you just let me I can-"

"I don't have to, but I want to." I cut her off sternly, turning back to her. I might be embarrassed, but she needed reassurance this wasn't going to be a problem. I wasn't going to be like her sister. She needed someone to give her a chance and trust her, so I would.

"Really...?" She looked at me with such a hopeful expression. I couldn't help but wonder if she'd also included what type of girls I liked because...that face almost made me melt.

"Yes." A small smile crept onto my face. "I want you to change my hair back though. And I don't mind if you use your power on me, but I want to know everything you're doing before I agree to it!"

My reassurances must have finally sunk in, because a wide grin split across her face and her eyes lit up.

"Yeah, of course!" She said, nodding eagerly. She reached for my hand again and this time I held it out for her. Immediately I felt my scalp tingle again, hopefully bringing back the black hair I shared with my mom. "As for the stuff I did for tuning up then, I just gave you the same kind of stuff I did for my family. Adjusted your pores to clear up your skin and help it stay clear, made your muscles more efficient like I did with Atlas' and made it easier for you to build muscle. I also increased your metabolism to help you stay thin. Well...I hope you like that last one anyway. My sister did..." Her grin faltered.

"Yeah, that sounds great." I hurried to reassure her. I didn't want her slipping back; this was the happiest I'd seen her. "Thank you, Amy."

We stared at each other for a second, smiling, before we realised we were staring and looked away awkwardly.

"So...lunch?"

"Right, lunch. Good idea."

As we got lunch together Charlotte joined us with some of the kids. Amy was hesitant at first, but she warmed up to them. Afterward we split up to take care of our own things. Amy went back to work on making relay bugs and experimenting on different things for Atlas. She asked me to send her some less useful bugs for raw materials and we worked out a signal where she tapped a nearby beetle twice if she wanted me to send her more.

Meanwhile I had my bugs do a sweep of my territory and refreshed myself on the situation. I was running that in the background however as I took out my phone. I had a call I needed to make.

x

I sat in the chair in Skitter’s room, waiting, my foot tapping nervously. I wanted to trust Amy. I had to. But...after everything I couldn’t take any risks. Still, it was a bit embarr-

My thoughts were interrupted as the door leading downstairs opened.

“Look, I assume this is about earlier, with Victor, and I’m really sorry we didn’t tell you. But you have to-” Lisa was talking before the door even opened, but she broke off as she saw me, her expression turning confused under her mask.

I had a couple beetles lock the door behind her as I took off my mask. Lisa just looked at me, stunned for a couple seconds, before she started laughing.

“What?” I grumbled at her. “Why are you laughing? This is serious.”

“Hahah, right, right,” she coughed, trying to stifle her laughter. “Yes, serious, sorry.” The laughter trailed off, though she couldn’t keep the smile off her face. “So?”

“So?” I repeated, confused.

You called me here. Said it was an emergency and you needed to talk to me in person?” That familiar, fox-like smirk spread across her face. Freshly repaired by Amy.

I rolled my eyes. “As if you don’t know. Why were you laughing?”

“Just uh...thought of something funny.” She coughed again. “So, what is it?”

I glared at her. She knew, but she was going to make me say it. She clearly wasn’t worried, so I guess maybe I was worried for nothing. But it was too late now.

“I was talking with Amy, and she noticed I was upset about something,” Lisa at least had the decency to look a little chastened at that, “and she offered to give me some...tune ups.”

“I’m sure she did.”

“And!” I raised my voice in annoyance. “During it she...accidentally made some other unintended changes. To my brain. So I thought I would call my Thinker friend to check me for Master influences. Because I was worried she might have Mastered me .” I tried to stress the seriousness of the situation, and her smile did slip. A little.

“Sorry, sorry.” She sighed and stepped closer, looking me over.

I desperately tried to keep my eyes from slipping down to the skintight bodysuit I made for her, but given the quirk of her lips she no doubt caught it. Damn it Tattletale.

“Well...this could definitely count as Mastering. But not in the way you’re worried about.” She snickered and spread her hands theatrically. “I diagnose you as gay!”

“What.”

“Congrats!” She laughed. “It’s a shame, I was getting used to having a friend who wasn’t Bitch that didn’t stare at my ass every time I turned around. But I’ll cope.”

I groaned and put my face in my hands. She was going to be insufferable now wasn’t she.

“So how are things between you two now?” She asked. “First base yet?”

“Lisa, please shut up.”

“Oh come on, you called me here, and I’ve been waiting since-”

“Wait,” I cut her off, realising something. “You knew this was going to happen didn’t you?” Looking up at her, I saw her mouth sealed suspiciously. That shut her up.

“You were so amused when she showed up.” I continued. “And then you seemed expectant when you called me that night and you seemed disappointed when I didn’t have much to say. You knew she was going to do something and you didn’t tell me!”

She raised her hands toward me, placatingly. “Now hold on, that’s not true.”

“Then what, Lisa?” I glared again, rising from my chair, making her step back. “I am getting sick of you keeping things from me right now.”

Lisa stopped and raised a finger. “Okay. Normally I’d be hurt by that but I’m gonna let it slide this time because of earlier. You have every right to be upset.”

“Damn right I do-”

“But!” She cut me off before I could get started, and I stopped to give her a chance to explain this. “I didn’t know she was going to do this. I could tell she was...interested in you. Maybe developing a bit of a crush. I was curious to see what would come of it. But I didn’t expect…” She gestured to me. “ This .”

“And what is ‘this’?” I said, exasperated. “Please just...give me a straight answer. You can go back to teasing me after.”

“Hard to give you a straight answer, considering, but...Fine, fine.” She put her hands down and took a breath, composing herself. “I know you’re worried she did to you what she did to Victoria. But she didn’t. She didn’t make you fall in love with her as far as I can tell. Otherwise you wouldn’t be checking me out.” She raised a hand to cut me off before I could even begin protesting. “It’s unconscious and I’m used to it by now, don’t worry about it. But that, and your worry, and other things do tell me that you haven’t ‘suddenly fallen madly in love with her’. You’re still you. You just have a...newfound appreciation for the fairer sex.” She smirked again “So back to...first base yet?”

“Please shut up,” I groaned. “You are being way too flippant about my potential Mastering.”

“Everything is fiiiine.” She paused. “Okay well...mostly fine. This does still probably count as Mastering and she did alter your brain. You... are okay with this right?”

“Well...I…” I shifted on the spot uncomfortably. “Yeah. I mean...I guess so. There’s no reason I shouldn’t be, right?”

For the first time, the teasing expression actually fully dropped from Lisa’s face to be replaced with a sad smile as she gripped my arms softly. “You have every right to not be alright with it Taylor. Even if you’re alright with people who are gay, that doesn’t mean you have to be alright with becoming one. It’s changing part of who you are.”

I nodded, looking away nervously, unsure how to respond. “Thanks. But...I think I am okay with it, really. I never had much luck with guys and...I really don’t see anything wrong with liking girls. It’s just...more options.” Suddenly, a worrying thought wormed its way in. “I don’t...I don’t just feel this way because of what she did, do I?”

Lisa just snickered. “No, I don’t think so. That’s just your dorky self.” She flicked my nose and I threw her an annoyed look as she stepped back again. “In that case, I wish you lovebirds luck then!”

“H-Hey, we’re not together yet!” I sputtered back.

“Yet?”

“Shut up Lisa.” I grumbled. “And don’t you go anywhere yet. We still have more to talk about.”

“We do…?” Her smile fell a bit, as a worried expression overtook her. Rightfully..

“I’m still not done with you. We need to talk about Victor, and our plan for this meeting with Coil tomorrow.”

“...what if I pick up some pens off the ground for you instead?”

Lisa!

x

Amy

I had trouble sleeping that night after my colossal fuckup. I'd managed to put it out of my mind throughout the day, but lying alone in bed, my mind was racing.

After everything with Victoria, I couldn't believe I'd done that. It was so stupid; it could've ruined everything I was building here! But...

I also couldn't believe how well it went!

She'd been worried and wary at first, ready to fight. It hurt to see, but it made sense. But...she actually heard me out. She was willing to let me fix it, and then actually told me not to after I told her what I did! She...she was okay with it. I messed with her brain and she didn't mind .

And now I...maybe I had a chance. She liked girls too now and...she seemed to like me. I wondered if I had unintentionally skewed that or if she just...liked me.

It was a long night.

By morning I had managed to get some sleep, but I was still fairly tired. Pulling myself out of bed and trying to avoid waking the kids I shared a room with, I trudged to the kitchen to find them already there, along with Sierra, Charlotte and Taylor. Taylor smiled when she saw me. I took that as a good sign.

Then it faltered and fell a little. Bad sign

"Good morning sleepyhead," Charlotte said. "Want some waffles?"

"Definitely yes." I replied. A couple of the kids stared at me. By now everyone knew who I was, so I had been expecting some stares. Being Panacea I-

"You look tired." Or they could just be staring because I look that bad.

"Rough night?" Charlotte asked, passing me a plate as I sat at the counter.

"Yeah. Just had a lot to think about." I tried not to look at Taylor. I think I mostly succeeded.

"I want to talk to you after you're done eating, actually." Taylor said, making my heart skip a beat. "Hate to put more worries on your plate, but there's a few things we need to talk about."

"Right. Sure." I nodded, hoping any awkwardness was chalked up to being tired.

As conversation drifted into idle chatting, mostly from the children, I just focused on eating. I hadn't found where I fit here yet and didn't know what to say.

I had to answer some questions from the kids of course, but my thoughts were still mostly on what Taylor wanted to talk about.

Soon enough, breakfast was done and Taylor led me up to the second floor. I waited nervously for a few seconds as she seemed to fidget before finally speaking.

"So I know you just joined, and I didn't want you to be worrying about this stuff so soon, but you're going to need to know. Sooner than later, unfortunately."

I was both relieved and worried that she didn't seem to be talking about what I'd done last night.

"You probably know already that the Undersiders and Travellers have been working together." She began. I nodded, remembering hearing something about that before I left, and she continued. "Well...we both work for a villain named Coil. You've probably heard of him, he's been around for a while."

That got me. "Coil? Of course I know him; he was one of the big names with the E88 and ABB. But no one knew much about him aside from that he was probably a cape and that he hired out some elite mercenaries. Didn't hold much territory and just got in skirmishes with the other villains now and then. You work for him?" Just a couple days ago this would have put me on guard, but I trusted her now. I'd wait for the explanation.

Taylor seemed to notice that and relaxed. "Yeah. I mentioned before that I started out undercover to get information on the Undersiders. Well part of it was to find out who their boss was. By the time I found out though, I couldn't turn on my friends. And at first he didn't sound too bad. He was saying he wanted to improve and revitalise the city. But just before Leviathan attacked I found something else out...That bank robbery where we met? He had us do that as a distraction so he could kidnap someone. A young girl named Dinah Alcott with a kind of precognition. He has been keeping her complacent and cooperative by getting her addicted to drugs."

"Oh my god." I gasped, unable to stop myself.

"Exactly." Her face was grim. "I left the Undersiders then, but it wasn't even an hour later that Leviathan showed up and you know what happened there. I did go back to them after, but since then my main goal has been to stop Coil and free her. That’s the reason I came back. I'm telling you because if you're working with me you're going to be involved whether we like it or not. Coil probably already knows you're here, so he'll want to use your abilities." I opened my mouth to say something, but she just kept going. "I don't plan on letting him. I don't know what he would plan to do with you but I know I won't like it. And I'm not going to let him turn you into another Dinah. He's probably going to ask about you today, but I'll make some excuse. You're settling in. It won't work for long though, so I'm going to have to act sooner than I planned."

"I-" This was a lot to take in. It sounded like I'd joined a conspiracy without knowing. This also put everything she'd done into even better perspective. I'd learned a lot about her recently. I couldn't believe I'd told her she was delusional for thinking of herself as a good person before. "I'm sorry I messed things up for you."

She sighed and sat down heavily in the big armchair at the back of the room before looking back to me with a strained smile. "It's alright. You're probably still helping enough to make up for it. And it's probably better if I can do this sooner than later anyway. I'd wanted to wait; see if I could convince him to give her up in exchange for everything I've done but...I don't think he will anyway."

It didn't even take a moment's consideration before I simply said, "How can I help?"

She laughed nervously. "I hadn't wanted to ask but...there is a lot you can do to help. First, don't let anyone know about the relay bugs or your upgrades to Atlas. Anything you do beyond healing stays between us and maybe Lisa. Coil will already know you can do more than healing, but the less information he has the better. If he knows how useful you are he might not be willing to wait."

"Of course." I'm useful !

"And the relay bugs are great. I'm thinking I can use them to build up a presence in his base. Being able to control bugs there from here is going to completely change the game. In a couple days I might have a big enough swarm hidden there to take the base."

 

"Really?" They would make that big a difference? "What about all his men and the other capes he has there?"

She smirked. "I thought you said you knew what you were giving me? Spread across this far, I can pull insects from all over to come down on them. Bullets won't do them much good, and most of the Travellers don't have good powers for close quarters either. Coil's power will be a problem either way. Hopefully I can catch him off guard; I'll need to take him down as quickly as I can. Hopefully if I take him out, the rest will surrender. That's where you come in."

"Me?" I asked. I had a feeling she wanted me to make something, but I wasn't sure what. Though... "And when you say, 'take out'...?"

"Yeah..." Her expression turned grim again. "I need to shut him down. I don't want to kill him but...with his power and his connections...anything else will have him escape and come down on me hard. I have lots of insects with venom, but I was hoping you could make me something with a strong paralytic. I might be willing to kill him if I need to but...I don't want to ask you to make me a deadly weapon."

I just nodded. I didn't entirely agree, but I was new to this side of things. And...I honestly couldn't think of any better suggestions. And that scared me a little.

"I'll...I'll see what I can do." I said. "Send me some bugs for materials and I'll try to have some ready. I might want some of your most venomous as well, for reference."

This time, the sigh was one of relief as she relaxed in the chair. "Thank you so much Amy." She smiled a little. "I feel like I'm saying that a lot lately. I shouldn't be relying on you this much."

"Well I am relying on you for food and shelter." I chuckled awkwardly. "It's the least I could do..."

"Still." She looked away at the floor. "Thank you."

Silence stretched for several seconds before I broke it.

"I'll go...work on those bugs for you then." I turned and hurried out of the room down to Atlas' garage. I was already starting to think of it as my workshop.

x

Over the next hour I focused on my new project for Taylor. I started out making a few modified spiders with a strong paralytic like she asked, and then moved on to designing a few other bugs I thought she might find useful. In all cases I changed the DNA to match so she could use them fully.

While I worked Atlas hovered around me, occasionally butting me with his head for attention until I pet him. I could've sworn I hadn't programmed him to recognize me too, but I guess he'd just become familiar with me naturally. The reminder that I made a living thing that could do that was unnerving.

The attention was nice though. I had always wanted a dog and I was glad he liked me.

I managed to get a good bit done before the hour was up and the new bugs swept up together with other bugs from around the room into a humanoid shape. I remembered what I'd said when I'd seen her after the Leviathan fight, playing with cockroaches while she waited to find out her fate.

You're so creepy, you know that?

"I hiv' t' 'o now." The cloud of bugs buzzed. "W'sh me lu'."

"Good luck." So why did it barely phase me now?

The swarm collapsed again and dispersed out of the room through small cracks. Atlas hit a button on the wall and the garage door slid open enough for him to crawl out as well before closing after him, leaving me alone.

And I was already getting anxious. It had never been this bad when Vicky went on patrol. Maybe because I had more than just her back then. Not much more, but still. Other people.

And she had never felt as fragile.

I needed to keep myself busy.

I went back to the kitchen and made myself some lunch. Charlotte, Sierra and the kids were gone; probably helping with the reconstruction projects. It was amazing how much they were getting done. I couldn't help but wonder what the heroes were doing to help rebuild.

Once I'd finished eating I left through the storm drain, texting Sierra as I went and letting her know I wanted to do some more healing. She told me she'd spread the word and send some people over.

By the time I reached the street where I'd been last time, a small crowd was gathering. There weren't as many as before and most of it was just minor injuries. Small cuts and infections from before that I hadn't got to last time or new minor injuries like a broken thumb from swinging a hammer while working and not paying attention.

It didn’t take nearly long enough and within an hour I was done and the only ones left in the line were just people with minor complaints as excuses to meet 'Panacea'. They could deal.

After asking Sierra if there was anywhere else I could help, and finding out I was sorely unqualified for most of the heavy lifting, I was put in charge of watching the kids and directing their messenger or fetch and carry jobs since Charlotte has gone to visit her parents for a bit. The kids were a busy bunch and it was a relief that they liked me. I was worried I wouldn't do well with them, but I managed and it did help take my mind off things.

A little.

Another hour passed like that before she finally returned.

To my relief and horror.