Jun 17, 2011
Coil was on the move. I didn’t know why or what it meant, but he was acting. Now.
I’d sensed him leave his base with my relay bugs, but I hadn’t thought anything of it until Tattletale called me. She said something in one of his alternates had spooked him, but we weren’t sure what. I had my new bugs stay close to him when he left, but I wanted to keep my view of his base and didn’t have any relay bugs to spare to chain after him. I regretted that when Tattletale called and told me something was wrong, but it was too late to do anything by then. I'd already lost him.
Already planning to return to my territory first, I pushed Atlas to move even faster now. It would make sense for Coil to try to grab Amy while I was gone, though the heroes stopping by might have been a blessing in disguise there.
As I neared my territory I had my clone bugs set down and fan out. They would check on things throughout the territory and communicate with the community leaders for me. Already they were paying off in terms of letting me multitask more easily.
I continued straight toward Amy, using a bug I had on her to quickly zero in. She was already hurrying toward me as Atlas landed and I hopped off. Seeing the small smile of relief on her face as she saw me made my heart skip a beat in a strange way, sending a warm feeling through me. I was glad I was wearing my mask, since I wasn't sure how obvious my reaction was.
"Amy, are you alright? Still no sign of Coil?" I hadn't sensed any more trouble with my bugs, but I still needed to ask.
"No, nothing." She shook her head. "And you, did your job go alright? Are you okay?"
"Yeah," I nodded, letting myself relax a bit. I was home, and for the moment there was no immediate danger that I could sense. "I got the mayor to agree pretty easily. Your paralysis venom really helped once Triumph and Prism showed themselves."
"The mayor?" She froze, looking at me in confusion. "What...what was the job you were doing?"
Shit. I never told her, did I? We'd been so distracted by the assassination attempt that it slipped my mind.
"There is a conference coming up..." I began, carefully. "To discuss whether to condemn the city. The mayor is supposed to attend, and Coil wanted us to...persuade the mayor to convince them to save the city."
"You threatened the mayor!?" Amy's eyes widened in shock before narrowing in a glare as she advanced on me angrily.
"I-I had to!" I threw my hands up, taking a step back as her anger caught me off guard. "Coil-"
"Is turning on you anyway!" She cut me off, before lowering her voice a bit as she led me to the side to talk more privately. I used my bugs to make sure no one was near enough to hear. "He's not an excuse anymore. I can overlook some of the stuff you did before, but threatening the mayor to make him do what you want? And Triumph...where did you go after him?" With her tone, she already knew. Of course she'd known Triumph's civilian identity. I could imagine her knowing most, if not all of the local heroes' identities.
"We...caught him at home...while he was having dinner with his family." My shoulders fell. I knew this wouldn't go well but I couldn't lie, not to her. I needed her to trust me and I knew she would probably find out anyway. "Even if it weren't for Coil, they were going to condemn the city. After everything we've done to save it!"
"And that makes it okay?" She glared at me and I withered a bit under her gaze. "You told me to tell you if you did something I didn't agree with. To keep you honest. Well this is me doing it. That was extortion. Threatening his family to get your way is NOT OKAY!"
I flinched back. She was right. What was I turning into? I'd told myself I was doing it for Dinah, but...I'd just stood there as Trickster pointed a gun at a different kid.
"Amy...you're right. This isn't what I want to be." I looked away. "This is why I told you that. I wanted you to point this kind of stuff out. Catch me slipping just like you wanted me to do with you."
"Well...good," she sounded kind of awkward and I turned back to find her looking away as well. Most of the anger seemed to have faded. "What's done is done I guess, as long as you try to do better. Second chances, right?"
"Right. But...thank you." I told her, stepping closer again. "And with things out in the open now with Coil, I have no excuse to do anything like that again anyway. I can finally just be who I want to be again. We both can."
She turned back to me with a bit of a blush, a small smile teasing back onto her face. "Yeah. We just gotta keep each other honest, right?"
"Right." I smiled back a bit, though my mask hid it. "It'll be hard to make peace with the heroes after that, but I can start trying now." I started leading her back to the road heading to our base. "Speaking of, tell me what happened earlier. A couple heroes stopped by? I felt one flying and one in armor, but I couldn't hear much. I thought it might have been Purity and Krieg at first.”
Her steps stuttered for a moment before she kept walking.
“It was Assault and...Victoria.” She said, finally. She was walking in front of me so I couldn’t see her face, but I didn’t need to, to know how she probably felt about that.
“Victoria? How was she doing…?” I tried to tread carefully. Obviously it hadn’t come to blows, but it must have been tense.
“She’s...fine.” Amy replied, hesitantly. “She’s with the Wards now. The PRT heard I was here and she volunteered to come check on me with Assault. He was grateful to me for saving Battery during the last encounter with the Nine, but Vicky…” She stopped walking, her arms wrapping around herself, still looking away from me. “She was...scared. Of me.”
“Amy…” Before even thinking about it I was already stepping forward and putting a hand on her shoulder. She stiffened at my touch but I didn’t let go. Some of my people saw us, but they looked away, trying to give us some privacy. “You made a mistake, and...you did hurt her. But like you said, second chances right? She might not give you one, and...that’s her right. But you can have one here?”
She looked back at me, her eyes wet. “Can I? I did it again, to you. I’ve already used my second chance.”
“I-I told you,” I began carefully, “it wasn’t that ba-”
“It was!” She cut me off. “And I could do it again! I’m...I’m afraid every time I touch someone; worried I might go too far. It’s easier not to go too far with people I don’t know, because I can’t get distracted as easily, but...”
“Amy, I…” I hesitated. “I trust you.” I wasn’t entirely sure I believed it myself, but it was what she needed to hear.
“How can you!?” She nearly screamed. “You barely know me! For all you know what I did to your brain could-”
“Tattletale checked me after,” I told her. “It didn’t do anything else, just like you said.”
“She could be wrong! I’m not even sure if it didn’t do anything else,” she insisted.
I looked around. A few people were watching our exchange from a distance, likely overhearing some of the more heated points Amy had made..
“Come on, let’s go back to the base and talk there.” I put an arm around her back to lead her away. As my arm settled around the small of her back and she let me lead her away I found myself thinking about how comfortable and warm it felt, and I began to understand what Amy meant about distractions.
She seethed silently as we walked back, nearly shaking. I thought she had been doing better, but seeing Victoria must have caused her doubts to come crashing back. Recovering from a life of being treated like a ticking time bomb wouldn’t be so easy. Especially when she had finally gone off about a week ago.
We made it back and slipped inside through the garage to let Atlas settle back in. It looked as though the kids had made him a bed of blankets in the corner. Atlas nudged our hands for pets (which we gave him, of course), before he burrowed himself into the pile with a low chur of contentment. We both stayed quiet as we took the side door from the garage back into the main building.
Charlotte must have returned at some point, since she was there waiting with a concerned look. I just gave her a wave to let her know everything was alright before taking Amy upstairs. We went past my costumed level and I took her up to my private room.
Once there I took off my mask and shook my hair out as I sat on my bed. I instinctively reached for my glasses as my mask came off before remembering I didn’t need them anymore, then turned back to the reason why. Amy hadn’t followed me to the bed and just stood awkwardly by the door.
“What…” she started hesitantly. “What did you bring me back here for?”
“I thought the talk was getting a little...personal, and that it would be better if we didn’t have people eavesdropping.” I wondered what she had thought we came back here for, if not that.
“Right.” She nodded. “Well, what more did you have to say then?”
“Change it back.”
“What.” She froze, her eyes growing wide.
“My mind.” I waved a hand at my head. “If you think it’s something bad or somehow affecting my opinion, then change it back.” Despite what I said, I was nervous to let her do something like that again. Scared even. What if she was right, and she did something horrible?
But I knew this was the only way to stop her from spiralling. I needed her to trust me, and herself. If she kept going down this road it would only be worse for her, me, and everyone else. She was stronger than she knew, in more ways than one. I just needed to help her see that for herself.
“Are you sure?” she asked quietly, nervously creeping closer like a scared animal. “What if...what if I go too far?”
“It’s fine.” I swallowed, averting my eyes. “I trust you.”
She just nodded before carefully stepping over to sit next to me. I took off my glove and held out a hand, turning to face her. She still seemed shaken, but determined to try.
“Take a deep breath. Calm yourself, and focus. Don’t let your mind wander.” I coached her, trying to help her remain calm. Trying to help myself remain calm.
I saw her take a deep breath, closing her eyes for a moment before opening them with more resolve. Her shaking had slowed by the time she reached out and took my hand.
After a few seconds I felt the familiar sensation from before, but different. A sensation of something shifting. Smoothing. A little dizziness as my perspective shifted and then the feeling faded. I shook my head to try to get rid of the lingering strangeness as I turned to her.
“Is it done…?” I asked. I didn’t feel much different. Would I notice if I was though?
“Yes.” She nodded. She seemed nervous, but not panicked.
“So...everything is back to normal?”
“I changed the connections back the way they were,” she clarified. “It’s easier since I remember how it was, so I just needed to reset it.”
I relaxed a little. It sounded simple. “So, no more changes then? I’m back the way I was? You’re sure?”
“Yeah, it’s just as I remember, aside from the injuries I fixed.” She ducked her head a bit. She must have thought I was asking out of suspicion or fear. Maybe it was, just a little, but that wasn’t all of it.
“Good.” I squeezed her hand a little and smiled reassuringly. “Then you know it’s not due to some Master influence when I say this. I do trust you. I do want you here, and you do deserve a second chance, Amy.”
She stared at me, wide eyed yet again, but this time the surprise was tinged with happiness. A nervous smile started teasing at the corners of her mouth before she looked down at our hands, averting her eyes as a small blush reddened her cheeks.
A part of me was a little disappointed. Amy was cute, and she supported me, and we did work well together. Maybe something could have happened. It...might have been nice.
Brian had never returned my feelings, and that didn’t even consider how he had changed...since the Nine. I couldn’t blame him for either, but we didn’t fit anymore, if we ever had. But with Amy…
I couldn’t think about this. Not here and not now. It needed to be done.
“Thank you Taylor.” I almost didn’t catch her response, it was so quiet. “I...I still don’t think I deserve this but...thank you.”
I pulled her into a hug and rubbed her back comfortingly as she slowly relaxed into it. It just seemed like the thing to do. What she needed.
“We should sleep soon. Tattletale is going through Coil’s records at his base to try to track him down, so there isn’t much we can do tonight anyway.” I finally said after hugging her for a couple of minutes. She pulled back and I could see her eyes and cheeks were both wet and red, not to mention the mess that had become of her hair.
“Yeah, I guess it’s been a...long day” She looked away again. “I should head back downstairs and let you sleep.”
She didn’t get up right away and I considered for a minute. It wouldn’t look good if she went back downstairs looking like that, and she wasn’t really in a condition to be around the others right now anyway. She needed more time to really collect herself. It wouldn’t be good for people to see her as weak.
“It’s alright, you can stay here for tonight,” I said, finally standing. “Let me just clean up. I’ll be back in a second.” I grabbed a pair of pajamas and hurried to the bathroom adjoining my room. Stripping off my costume, I finally let myself fully relax. Meeting with Coil alongside the Undersiders and Travellers, dealing with Parian and Flechette, then the job with the Mayor after that, and now the tense talk with Amy? It had been a busy day to say the least.
Under the costume I felt disgusting. Sweaty and sticky, and there was still some blood on my shoulder from where Flechette stabbed me. I’d need to fix the tear in the costume later too. But for now, I really needed the shower.
I stepped in and let the hot water wash away my worries.
Twenty minutes or so later I stepped back into the bedroom in my too-big t-shirt and the old track pants I wore for pajamas. Amy hadn’t moved from where I’d left her.
“Amy?” Her head snapped over to me and she looked red again, but this time it was just her cheeks. She quickly looked away again. “Are you okay?” Was she embarrassed from earlier? Maybe she was getting sick; I knew she couldn’t heal herself.
“Yeah!” she squeaked out. “Yeah, I’m...I’m fine.”
I walked over to sit on the bed with her, putting a hand on her arm. “Are you ready for bed? I could get some blankets and sleep on the floor if you’re not comfortable sharing. It’s been a while since I had a sleepover or anything so I uh...don’t really know how this goes anymore. Did you want to borrow some pajamas?”
“No it’s...It’s fine!” she insisted.
“Well...alright.” I pulled back the blanket and started climbing into bed. As she moved to follow I smiled a little, amused. “You might want to at least lose the jacket first.”
Her cheeks darkened slightly as she giggled. “Right, um, good idea.” She took off her brown jacket and set it on a chair before climbing into bed in her jeans and t-shirt. Still probably not the most comfortable, but an improvement at least.
Amy lay down with her back to me, clearly tense. I wasn’t sure what else to say, so I just pulled the blankets up and made myself comfortable. I didn’t think I would be able to sleep very easily after everything that had happened. There was still so much on my mind. After everything that happened with the mayor, my worries about what it meant, the heroes, Coil, Dinah, Amy...
I heard a buzz from somewhere nearby and slowly blinked awake. My sense slowly spread out but the first thing I noticed wasn’t from my power’s sense, but the touch of something warm against me. It took a second for my tired brain to catch up before I remembered last night and realized it was a sleeping Amy in my arms, spooned against me.
I froze up for a second, my cheeks reddening and I realized why Amy had been so awkward before bed. This kind of thing...wasn’t normal was it? Well...not when one of us…
My mind finished catching up and I realized the buzzing was my phone vibrating against the bedside table where I’d set it before bed. I carefully extracted myself from Amy and rolled over to grab the phone. With a small smile I saw her squirm and mumble a little in her sleep, discontent at losing my warmth. Looking back at my phone, it took a second for me to remember who matched the chain of symbols that I had set to code my contacts before I realised and the smile quickly fell away.
I sat up as I received the call. “I’m listening.”
“Skitter. I’d hoped we could carry this charade a little longer, until my plans had come to fruition, however it has become clear that I can no longer turn a blind eye to your schemes.”
My schemes? Before I could process that and reply, he was already continuing.
“I know you have found some way to extend your range to my base, and I know your pet has made you some new toys. You wished to hang a Sword of Damocles over my head, but I have escaped your reach. And now it is my turn.”
“What’s your game, Coil?” Sword of Damocles? Was he talking about the bugs I had on him? How did-
“I have your father. Now, you’re going to cooperate with me or things are going to go very poorly for him .”