One More Trigger
1) This story is set in the Wormverse, which is owned by Wildbow. Thanks for letting me use it.
2) I will follow canon as closely as I can. If I find something that canon does not cover, then I will make stuff up. If canon then refutes me, then I will revise. Do not bother me with fanon; corrections require citations.
3) I welcome criticism of my works, but if you tell me that something is wrong, I also expect an explanation of what is wrong, and a suggestion of how to fix it. Note that I do not promise to follow any given suggestion. Posting negative reviews from an anonymous account is a good way to get said reviews deleted.
Part One: The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same
Emma blinked tears out of her eyes, looked for an escape, an answer.
And she saw a figure crouched on top of her father's car, dressed in black, with a hood and a cape that fluttered out of sync with the warm sea breeze that flowed from the general direction of the beach. She could see the whites of the girl's eyes through the eyeholes of what looked like a metal hockey mask.
The dark figure didn't move.
Lao, the one eyed man, reversed the knife in his hands and handed it to the girl with the eye shadow. The girl, for her part, dragged the knife's point over Emma's eyelid, a feather touch.
"Pick," the girl said. "No, wait…"
She shoved the handful of hair she'd cut away into Emma's mouth. "Eat it, then pick."
Emma had a mouthful of her own hair, couldn't breathe, couldn't speak. The dark figure, watching, made no move to help her.
She could hear her father screaming. He was a big man, powerful, but he was no fighter. He couldn't do anything to help her.
I'm going to die here.
Reality went away.
She floated in space. Planets and stars glittered in the void around her. Great creatures – whales? Worms? Fish of some indescribable genus? – swam through space, writhing and twisting about one another. Fragments, shards, something, drifted away from them.
She jerked back to reality. A shallow cut on her cheek stung.
"Hey, ginger bitch, don't you go away on us! You still gotta pick!"
Her mouth was full of hair.
She liked her hair a lot. It was long, and wavy, and showed up well in her modelling portfolio. It had character. It was one of her best features, really.
And this gang bitch just cut some of it off, and shoved it in her mouth.
She felt herself getting angry. And something awoke inside of her.
The first indications that the ABB thugs got that something was wrong was when her hair began to extend in all directions, growing at an impossible rate. The second was when said hair, dividing into what could easily be called tendrils or tentacles, wrapped around those holding her down, and threw them away from her.
She got to her feet, feeling a newfound energy coursing down her limbs, running through her hair. She looked at the hair; it was at least ten feet long, waving like seaweed underwater, and there were sparks, lines, crackles of energy running through it.
The girl with the knife got up. Emma didn't even bother moving; three tendrils lashed out, caught her about the throat, the wrists. They pulled her arms out straight, lifted her until she was on her toes. And then power crackled down the lengths of hair, and the girl convulsed, dropping the knife.
Emma didn't want to kill her, so she cut the power, letting the girl hang there, unconscious. She looked around, spitting out the hair in her mouth.
The ABB were either down and unconscious, or up and running away. Dealing with a cape was the last thing they wanted to do.
Emma dropped the girl, flicked up the knife with a tendril of hair, and threw it hard at the wall. It stuck, quivering, in the middle of an ABB tag.
"Holy shit, that was awesome!"
She whirled, her hair-tentacles coming up in a defensive position. It was the girl in the dark cape and hockey mask.
"Shit, girl, you really screwed them up!" said the girl, jumping down from the roof of the car.
In the next instant, Emma had her spreadeagled on the hood of the car with a tendril at each wrist, one at the throat, and one for each ankle, for good measure.
"You goddamn f**king bitch," she hissed. "You could have saved me at any time. You stood there and watched them. You were going to let them cut my eye out, or my ears off, or rape me, or whatever they wanted to do. And you didn't do a goddamn thing."
"Hey, hey, go easy," said the girl. She shimmered slightly, went to pull free, then jerked back to solidity when something sparked in Emma's hair. "Holy f**k! That's live current! What the f**k?"
Emma picked her up from the car, and then slammed her down again with a hollow booming noise; the wind went out of her with a whoosh. "Why the hell didn't you help me?" she snarled.
"Hey, go easy! I wanted to see who you were, that's all!"
The statement made no sense at all to Emma. "Who I was? Who the hell did you think I was?"
"Predator or prey," said the girl simply. "And shit, you're obviously a predator."
The car door opened, and her father got out.
"Emma?" he said, as if not quite sure if he was addressing his daughter.
"I'm okay, Dad," she said, answering the unspoken question. "This bitch, however ... was going to let them do whatever they wanted. Unless I fought back, or something, I guess."
"Well, well, well," he said, recovering quickly. "You're some kind of cape, I take it."
"F**k you," she said, struggling to get out of the bonds. Emma let her have a trickle of power. "Hey, f**k, that hurts!"
"Wait a minute, wait a minute ..." said Emma, looking into the middle distance. Then she looked down at the girl. "Nope, still don't care."
Reaching forward, her father plucked the mask from the girl's face. She opened her eyes wide in outrage, which turned to outright fear when he snapped a photo with his phone.
"Jesus f**k, what the f**k are you doing?" she screamed. He dropped the mask carelessly back on her chest.
"If I ever see you in the news for any reason," he said coldly, "I will publish your face, and what you did here tonight – or rather, what you didn't do. My advice? Give up the mask. Because you think my daughter's scary? I'm a lawyer. I can bury you."
The girl lay quiet, unresisting. She was dark-skinned, attractive, with black hair under her hood. But Emma sensed that she wasn't as beaten as she looked. When next she spoke, she addressed Emma.
"Hey, Emma, isn't it? Look, I know we got off on the wrong foot, but seriously, we can –"
"We can do nothing," said Emma bluntly. "I never want to see you again." She picked up the mask with a small tendril, flicked it high in the air to land, clattering, on a nearby rooftop. "Dad, get in the car."
He got in the car. She let the girl go. "Fetch," she said.
"Seriously, Emma, we could make a great team –"
"Still not caring," said Emma, and leaned in the window. "Back up a bit, Dad."
Alan Barnes put the car in reverse, and moved back several yards. He ran over the hand of an unconscious ABB thug, but didn't particularly care.
Emma let her hair tentacles settle on the dumpster, and braced herself, heaving backward. It grated toward her, one end swinging around like a large gate. Small pieces of rubble sat beyond it; those she simply threw out of the way.
It was incredible. The girl was still there.
Emma walked toward her. "Go away. I don't want to see you. I don't want to hear from you."
"But you're so f**king badass. You just owned these guys. We could kick serious ass together." She paused. "Look, my name's Sophia, okay?"
Emma shook her head. "I don't want to know you. I'm not looking to kick anyone's ass. I just want to go home and have a long hot bath. Goodbye."
She got in the car. After a moment, she reached down to find the phone she had dropped. It read 911, but she had not pressed the call button. "Drive, Dad. Please. Get us away from here." As she slumped in the seat, her hair tendrils retracted, until the hair was just ordinary length.
"Taylor got back from camp this morning," her mother said.
Emma paused. "Yeah?"
"She might stop by."
Emma couldn't resist hurrying a little as she collected her dishes and rinsed them in the sink.
"If she comes by when you're not here-"
"I'll call her back," Emma said. "Don't worry about it."
She made her way to the front hall, stopped by the mirror to run a brush through her hair. It had all been cut to match the piece that had been cut shorter with the knife.
It had been three weeks. Three weeks, during which time she had barely dared access the power within her. Three weeks, during which time she had waited for Taylor to get back from her summer camp. Her family was helping her get over the trauma, but she really needed to see her best friend.
When she walked outside, there was someone standing at the gate. She frowned. That's not Taylor. Dark skin, long black hair ...
Anger propelled her off the porch and down to the gate. "What the hell are you doing here?" she snapped.
"Found out where you lived," said the girl – Sophia, that was her name. "Came over to see if you'd come round yet."
Emma shook her head. "You don't get it. We're not the same. We're nothing like each other. I would not sit by and watch someone else get mutilated, just because they were too frightened to fight back."
"But you've got it wrong," said Sophia insistently. "There's people who survive through adversity, and people who don't. You survive. So do I. We are the same. We're badass. We're top of the heap."
Emma saw a familiar figure approaching. Taylor. Still wearing the camp gear, all bright clothing. She smiled. Sophia misunderstood; she smiled in return, and started to open the gate. Emma put her hand on it. Sophia frowned.
Emma watched Taylor's approach fondly. Broomstick arms and legs, gawky, with a wide, guileless smile, her eyes just a fraction larger behind the glasses she wore, a little too old fashioned. Her long dark curls were tied into a loose set of twin braids, one bearing a series of colorful 'friendship braclet' style ties at the end. Only her height gave her age away.
Same old Taylor. Dependable.
Sophia looked around. "Who the f**k is that?" she asked.
"Emma!" said Taylor, smiling widely.
"Who the f**k are you?" Sophia asked.
Taylor's smile faltered. A brief look of confusion flickered across her face. "We're friends. Emma and I have been friends for a long time."
Sophia smirked. "Really."
"Really," Taylor echoed Sophia.
Taylor was her rock; she would give her sympathy, would listen to everything she had to say, give an unbiased ear to every thought, every wondering and anxiety.
She would give her friendship, too. Support. Just what Emma needed.
"I love the haircut," Taylor filled the silence, talking and smiling like she couldn't contain herself. Emma had missed that. "You manage to make any style look great."
Emma took a deep breath. "Sophia," she said firmly. "Go away. Now. Taylor is my friend, and is welcome here. You are neither."
Sophia looked at Emma as though she really couldn't parse what had been said. It was as if there was a filter in her brain, and certain statements just never made it through. Then she looked at Taylor, and a certain expression crossed her face, for just a moment.
"I'm going," she said. "But I'll be in touch. And we'll kick ass together."
She headed off down the street, as if she owned the whole footpath.
Taylor looked over her shoulder as she went, and then back at Emma. "What was that all about?"
Emma smiled, opened the gate, and pulled her into a hug. "I have so missed you."
Taylor hugged her back. "Missed you too, Ems. What's been happening? You've been all secretive on the phone."
"Seriously," said Emma, "you will never believe what happened." Linking arms with Taylor, she led her inside. What she really needed was a good long toenail-painting session, and a shoulder to cry on. And Taylor was good for both.
I used to think Taylor was starting to get dull and boring. But she's just ... normal. And right now, I really need normal.
Sophia strode along as if she had a personal grudge against the pavement. Taylor, huh? Emma's friends with that little stick figure? Well, once she sees how pathetic her precious Taylor is, she'll drop her like a hot potato. And then we'll see who she wants to be friends with.
Emma leaned over Taylor as she knelt at the bottom of the stairs, concerned. "You okay?"
Taylor nodded. She felt her knee, and winced; her hand came away with a spot of blood. "I think it's just a scrape."
Emma looked up; Sophia was half a dozen steps up, with a few other girls clustered around her. "Did you push her?"
"Me? Would I do that?" asked Sophia, doing her best to look innocent. "She's just got such long stick legs that she probably tripped over herself. Just an accident, is all." The other girls giggled in chorus.
Emma's eyes narrowed. "She seems to have a lot of 'accidents' around you."
Sophia shrugged. "Not my problem." She led her bevy down around Emma and Taylor. "See you laterz, Emma."
Emma stared after her. Ever since she was transferred here, she's been on Taylor's case. And I think I know why. And that worries me.
She offered Taylor her hand. "Come on, let's get you to the nurse. She'll fix that up."
Taylor smiled as she accepted the help. "You're such a good friend, Emma. I don't know what I'd do without you." She leaned heavily on her with every other step. "I don't know what I did to upset Sophia, but I wish I could make it better."
Emma shook her head. "It's nothing you did."
Her concern grew, however. What will she do next?
Emma heard the screaming and banging as she bolted into the locker room, past laughing girls who were on the way out. No-one seemed to be paying much attention to it, but she knew who it was, who it had to be.
She had had classes separate from Taylor's, and had only heard by chance the remark by one of Sophia's cronies that 'the little stick-figure dweeb was locked in her locker' as she went in for her second class for the beginning of the year.
Ignoring the teacher's startled shout, she had turned and run from the room, sprinting down the hallways.
Taylor's been locked in a locker since the beginning of first period? Oh god, I hope she's all right.
But in her heart, she knew otherwise.
Sophia, I am going to kill you.
Halfway down the hallway, she had slipped ... or something. She came to, face-down on the floor, a string of drool running from her mouth, and a rapidly fading memory of ... what? She couldn't recall.
But Taylor still needed her help. So she got up and ran.
She zeroed in on the right locker, aided by a horrible smell from the same area. When she found it, there were ... oh god, were those tampons? ... scattered around it, on the floor. The stench was incredible. And Taylor was trapped in that locker.
She couldn't hold back. There was no time to waste. Taylor had no time. She reached inside herself, tapped that power. Her hair grew out, waving around her head, crackling with energy. She latched on to the door, pushed on surrounding lockers. Heaved.
The door came off with a shriek of tearing metal. She tossed it aside lightly, uncaring. Taylor lurched forward, screaming and swinging. Emma caught her in an embrace of long hair, binding her gently. Taylor struggled and writhed in her grip. She stank, abominably, as did the foul, reeking mess that had spilled from the locker.
Emma moved away from that locker, bearing Taylor with her. "Taylor," she said urgently. "Taylor, it's me. Emma." She ignored the smell, bringing Taylor up close to her. Reaching out with her hand, she brushed hair back from Taylor's face.
"Taylor," she said. "It's me. Emma. You're safe."
Taylor blinked. "Emma?" she said, in a small voice.
"Yeah," said Emma. "Hang on, shower time."
She bore Taylor into the shower recesses, turned on one to hot and hard, carried Taylor under the stream.
As the water hit her hair, the power that animated it fell away, and it shrank back to normal length. Taylor slumped under the spray, hugging herself. She still smelled; used sanitary products clung to her.
Emma quickly stripped out of her clothes and stepped under the spray with Taylor. Gently, with soft words and coaxing, she eased Taylor out of her own stinking, horrible clothes, and tossed them away from the shower. Then she began to scrub Taylor down, from head to toe.
Taylor began to cry, great heaving sobs. She clung to Emma, and Emma held her close.
"It's all right," she said. "I'm here. You're safe. You're not in the locker any more."
Taylor blinked. "Emma?" she said again. "Emma? You came?"
Emma hugged Taylor tightly. "Of course I came, silly," she said. "Why wouldn't I?"
Taylor began to shudder. "The locker was so dark, and it smelled, and I couldn't breathe, and I couldn't get out ..."
Emma stroked her hair. "It's all right, Taylor," she said softly. "You're out of there, now."
"Whoa, Barnes! Didn't know you had a hot lezzie thing going with stick-figure Hebert!"
Emma looked around. Sophia. Of course.
She stood there, near the shower recesses, with her usual coterie of yes-girls. Others, filtering in, stood looking with some curiosity, but no-one else intervened.
Emma had encountered this sort of thing before, in the modelling business. And she knew that there was only one answer to it, only one way to squelch it for good and all.
She looked Taylor in the eye, and said very quietly, "Taylor?"
Taylor blinked water out of her eyes. "What?"
"Play along," said Emma, just as quietly. "Trust me."
And she tilted Taylor's face to meet hers, and kissed her.
She had to give Taylor credit, she played along. After the first frozen moment, she wrapped her arms artistically around Emma's shoulders, pulling her closer into the kiss.
Emma, for her part, ran her hands as lightly as possible over Taylor's body, making it look as suggestive as possible without actually touching anywhere sexual.
There were a few whistles, a few catcalls, but Sophia seemed put out that Emma had called her bluff, and even looked annoyed.
"Hey!" she called. "We don't want those two spreading their gay around the school, do we?"
"What the hell is that supposed to mean?" asked one girl, leaning back from her locker. "My sister's gay."
Another girl stuck her oar in. "So's my cousin."
A third walked up to the group. "So's Legend."
Someone else added, "And what a waste that is." Laughter followed.
And then a girl Emma knew from a few classes stepped right up to Sophia. "And I'm gay," she said defiantly. "You gonna have me kicked out of school too?"
"You're gay, Clements?" asked Sophia. "I've never seen you kiss any girls."
Madison Clements bared her teeth in a grin. "I've never seen you kiss any boys, Hess. Sure you're straight?" More laughter, all directed at Sophia.
"F**k you all," snarled Sophia, and stamped out of the locker area. The other girls dispersed, robbed of their entertainment.
Madison strolled over to the shower, staying just out of the spray. "They're gone," she said conversationally. "You can stop now."
With relief, Emma broke the kiss. Taylor still clung to her, trembling.
Emma turned off the water and helped Taylor to a bench, where she sat with Emma holding her. "Could I have a towel, please?" Emma asked. "Two, for preference."
Madison brought over two towels, and Emma wrapped Taylor in one, then began to dry herself on the other.
"You're not really gay, are you?" commented Madison dryly.
"No," confirmed Emma. "But I've always found the quickest way to have a rumour spread is to deny it. Play along, and there's no drama, and it's forgotten." She grinned at Madison. "And you're not either, are you?"
Madison shook her head with an answering grin. "Nope, but it seemed the thing to say. Good thinking on your part, though." She bent in to help Taylor dry her hair. "What happened to you?"
"Locker," mumbled Taylor. "Locked in."
"That locker," Emma filled in, pointing down the row to the one locker with the door missing, and the reeking filth spilling from it.
"Oh god," said Madison. "I'll get you clothes."
"Thanks," said Emma. "Mine are pretty well grunged up."
Madison brought clothes for both of them; they hung on Taylor, but not overly much. The ones she got for Emma fitted well enough, if a little tight in the chest. And then they marched Taylor, against her protests, to the school infirmary.
"Madison, could you please stay here with Taylor?" asked Emma. "I need to go see someone about something."
Madison nodded, eyes full of curiosity, but she said nothing.
Emma found Sophia in the hallway with her cronies, laughing about something. She could guess what.
"Sophia," she said, loudly and clearly.
One of the girls looked around. "Oh, hey, Barnes," she said snidely. "Didn't recognise you with your clothes on. Doing a photo shoot, were we?"
Sophia backhanded the girl without even looking. She fell to her knees, nursing a trickle of blood from her nose. "What the hell was that for?"
"You don't get to back-answer Emma," said Sophia. She turned to Emma. "Seen the light, hey?" she asked. "I see you don't have that third wheel with you anymore."
"Yeah," said Emma. "You could say I've seen the light. I'm ready to go kicking ass."
"Excellent," said Sophia. And then she stared, as Emma activated her powers. Tendrils reached for Sophia, who uttered a yelp, turned insubstantial, and leaped for the ceiling. A tendril intercepted her, popping a spark, and she fell back to ground, curled up in agony.
The other girls had scattered, Emma noted distantly. She didn't care. She stepped forward to Sophia, and picked her up. With one hand, she held her against the wall. With the other hand, she started punching her. With each punch, she snapped a word.
Her fist was starting to hurt; her knuckles were bleeding. Then again, so was Sophia's face. She let the semi-conscious girl slump to the floor, then kicked her in the ribs, hard. Bending down, she lifted Sophia by the collar. "Stay away from Taylor Hebert," she hissed. Dropping her back to the floor and kicking her one more time, she turned and strode away, her hair gradually assuming more normal proportions.
When Emma got back to the infirmary, Taylor was lying in the bed with a blanket over her. Madison met her at the door. "The nurse said she's traumatised and needs a bit of rest," she said. "They've called her father." She eyed Emma's knuckles. "What happened to you?"
Emma smiled grimly. "I saw someone about something." She walked through to where Taylor lay. At once, she saw that her friend was groggy from some sort of sedative, but was not totally out of it yet.
"Hey, Tails," she murmured, putting her undamaged hand on Taylor's where it protruded from under the blanket.
"Hey, Sonic," Taylor responded blearily, using her old nickname. "Where were you? I missed you."
Emma grinned. "Just taking care of business. Sophia won't be bothering you any more."
Taylor managed to look worried. "You didn't get in trouble, did you?"
Emma shrugged. "If I do, hella worth it."
She was sitting on the chair, allowing the nurse to tend to her split knuckles, when the PRT troopers entered the infirmary.
End of Part One