Confrontation II: the Reckoning
A Worm Fanfic
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 will accept any legitimate criticism of my work. However, I reserve the right to ignore anyone who says "That's wrong" without showing how it is wrong, and suggesting how it can be made right. Posting negative reviews from an anonymous account is a good way to have said reviews deleted.
This is a sequel to the fanfic Confrontation.
Part One: An Unexpected Encounter
"I understand, Taylor, that Sophia has revealed to you the essence of why your previous best friend turned on you." It was almost a statement, almost a question. Taylor found herself almost drawn into a response. Mrs Yamada was very good at this.
"Uh, yes, she did," she agreed. Glancing across to where Sophia sat, she went on. "It's got to do with the ABB attacking Emma and her father, where Emma was traumatised. Sophia got to her when she was vulnerable and convinced her of her bullshit way-of-life philosophy -"
"Hey, it's not all bullshit," protested Sophia. "It's about the strong and the weak." She paused, and added as an afterthought, "and you're pretty damn strong yourself. You want to say it doesn't exist, you want to give away your power, never use it again?"
"If I was just using my powers to hurt people, I'd deserve to lose them, yeah," retorted Taylor.
"I was using mine to help people." Sophia's tone was defensive.
"Okay, everyone take a breath," Mrs Yamada's voice cut through the gathering tension. "Taylor, Sophia, I want you to do a mental exercise for me. Can you do that?"
"Yes, Mrs Yamada," Taylor responded. Sophia just nodded; the 'bullshit way-of-life philosophy' comment seemed to have hit a nerve.
"Good. All right, Taylor, I want you to think of five situations in which a strong-versus-weak philosophy would be a good idea. Sophia, I want you to think of five situations where it would be a bad idea."
Each of them looked startled and somewhat discomfited. "But I don't believe that," protested Taylor, about one second before Sophia could express almost exactly the same sentiment.
"So stretch your mind. Try to imagine a situation where what you currently believe doesn't apply." She looked at both of them. "Taylor?"
Taylor blinked. "Oh, uh, in a beehive. If bees are hatched weak or malformed, they are destroyed before they can weaken the rest of the hive."
"Very good. Sophia?"
Sophia's forehead was sheened with sweat. "Uh, shit. Sorry. Um. Parents and kids. Parents are supposed to support and educate their kids, not just treat them any old how."
"Also good," Jessica praised her. "Tell you what, we're getting close to time, so I'll leave the rest of them for your next joint session. But in the meantime, I've got a homework assignment for the two of you."
"Homework?" Taylor didn't like the sound of that.
"I thought this was therapy, not school," Sophia objected.
"If you don't learn from therapy, it does nothing for you," Mrs Yamada pointed out. "This is a joint activity for the both of you."
"Okay," Taylor responded cautiously. "What is it?"
"This is the worst idea in the world." Sophia leaned on the Boardwalk rail, her feet unsteady under her, for good reason.
Taylor finished fastening her own roller-blades and stood up. Unsteadily, she set herself in motion, wobbled over to Sophia, and grabbed the rail beside her. "Apparently Mrs Yamada didn't think so."
"But roller-blades?" Sophia's voice rose. "Somehow she knew that neither one of us knows how to rollerblade."
"So we're supposed to figure it out, and teach each other. I guess that was the 'joint' part of 'joint activity'."
"But I've never used roller-blades before," groused Sophia.
"Well, nor have I."
"Well, you're staying up a lot better than me, which is totally unfair."
"Oh, I used to go ice skating with Emma when we were kids. She was always better at it than me, but I could stay upright at least."
There was a pause before Sophia spoke next. "Uh, about Emma ... "
Taylor stood upright and let go of the rail. "What about Emma?" Her voice was noticeably colder.
"I, uh, I'm sorry for giving her the idea to bully you."
"After the three of you bullied me for so long."
Sophia winced at the cutting tone. "Yeah, well, it's not something that's easy to stop. But for what it's worth, I am sorry."
"Mainly because you got caught."
She didn't bother denying it. "But also because of what I did. And because now I know what an idiot I was. You could have killed me a dozen times over once you got your powers. There's weak and there's strong, and then there's stupid. That was me."
"And still you did it."
"Yeah, well, I'm saying sorry, okay?"
Taylor moved away from the rail, brow furrowed in concentration. "Still doesn't give me the why of it."
"I told you why!"
"No, you told me why you told Emma your philosophy, so she could be strong. Doesn't explain why you picked on me. Give me your hand."
Sophia extended a hand; Taylor took it. "You were there. Emma needed to compare herself, to be able to prove to herself that she was getting stronger." She let herself be guided away from the rail.
"Put your feet like mine. Your weight farther forward. So how long have you been in the Empire Eighty-Eight?"
Sophia jerked her head around to stare at Taylor. The motion destroyed her already-precarious balance; her feet went out from under her, and she landed hard on her butt. Taylor nearly went over too, but managed to skate in a half-circle and retain her equilibrium. She looked down at Sophia, still gripping her hand. "You okay?"
"You did that on purpose!" Sophia glared up at her.
"Well, I didn't mean to make you fall over, but you have to admit, it was kind of funny." Taylor's mouth quirked, but she didn't laugh out loud, as much as she wanted to.
"What the fuck did you mean, calling me a Nazi?" demanded Sophia, trying to get her feet under her.
Taylor braced herself, centring her weight over the skates. "Well, that's what you were doing. Back in World War Two, the Nazis needed to get the people on side, so they invented a common enemy that had been there all the time." She paused, and grunted as Sophia came to her feet.
"You're talking about the Jews." Sophia stared at her. "That's why they hated them, why they killed them?"
"Sure." Taylor shifted her weight, moved around Sophia a little. "Watch your feet. See how I move mine? Move yours the same way. The Jews and other minorities were an easy target; a lot of people already disliked them. They just made it official. You made me your target so that Emma could have someone to look down on, to make herself feel better."
"Fuck." Sophia moved her feet carefully. Her natural athleticism, and years of experience of rooftop-running, were coming to her rescue; she seemed to be moving more easily now. "And the Nazis did this shit first?"
"It's what they do," Taylor told her bluntly. "So how does it feel to be a Nazi?"
Sophia glared. "Stop calling me a Nazi!"
Taylor glared back. "Then stop being one!"
There was a long pause, then Sophia ventured, "I don't hate Jews."
"It's not about race hatred," Taylor explained patiently. "It's about setting yourself up as being better than others. Master race bullshit. Strong versus weak. Predator versus prey. Ubermensch versus subhumans. All part of the same bullshit package."
They began to move off down the Boardwalk, Sophia still a little unsteady, while Taylor moved with much more confidence.
"So why race?"
Taylor looked around; Sophia was watching her feet carefully. "Sorry?"
"Why race?" asked Sophia again. "Why use that as a point to attack them on?"
"It's a visible thing. They look different, therefore they are different. It's a short step from 'different' to 'wrong'."
"And that's how I was treating you. Like they used to treat people like me."
"And how the Empire wants to keep doing even today, yeah."
She turned her head to look at Taylor; for the first time ever, her eyes were full of pain. "Shit, Taylor, I -"
The collision could have been avoided, even at the last moment, but Sophia misjudged and went right instead of left. The young man in her path went the same way; they went down in a tangle of limbs. Taylor nearly had a collision of her own, but she leaned one way, the teenage girl in front of her leaned the other, and they brushed past each other.
Taylor skated in a circle and came back. "Geez, I'm sorry," she exclaimed. "Are you guys okay?"
The two on the ground were still trying to get themselves sorted out; the other girl, instead of helping, was pointing and cackling with mirth. "Holy shit, that was awesome!"
"Shut up, Aisha," her male companion retorted, pushing himself to a seated position. "How about you help, instead of laughing?"
He was, Taylor belatedly realised, quite muscular. Very muscular indeed. Sophia looked up into his face. "Hi," she murmured winsomely. "I'm Sophia." Taylor blinked; she had never heard Sophia use that tone before.
"Uh, hi," he replied. "Brian. You okay?"
"Oh, uh, my ankle's a bit sore," she prevaricated. "Not sure if I'll be able to stand on it."
"Well, let's have a look at it, then," he stated. Not moving from where he was, he took her ankle and started probing it with what looked like strong, capable hands. Taylor felt a stab of jealousy; no-one ever offered to check my ankle for injury when I fell over. Especially not a hunk like that.
"Hi," the girl announced herself, extending a hand. "Aisha. That big lunk's my brother Brian."
"Taylor. That's Sophia." Taylor shook the girl's hand; she and her brother were both at least as dark-skinned as Sophia herself, but Aisha sported a purple streak through her hair. She also wore a microscopic top, denim shorts, and luridly-coloured tights; not too bad for the Boardwalk, but Taylor suspected that this was her daily wear anywhere she went.
Breaking into Taylor's thoughts, Aisha tilted her head at where Brian was still checking out Sophia's ankle, their heads close together. When she spoke, her voice was low enough that neither Brian nor Sophia caught it. "Smooth."
So she'd seen it too. Twisted ankle, my ass. "Him or her?"
Aisha smirked. "Yes."
Okay, yeah, her I like.
"Well, it doesn't look damaged, and there's no swelling that I can detect," Brian decided, although Taylor noticed that he didn't take his hands off of Sophia's ankle. "But you might want to take the weight off of it for a while."
"Help me to a bench?" asked Sophia, giving him the puppy-dog eyes treatment.
"Sure, okay." He wriggled out from under her, and helped her to her feet, making it look effortless. They made the trek across to one of the benches that dotted the Boardwalk, and she let him assist her in sitting down. "Here, I'll help you get these off." He bent over the fastenings on the roller-blades. "They'll just be in the way, and you probably don't want to be on them for the rest of the day."
"Thanks," Sophia told him, her gratitude sounding genuine. "I didn't want to come out rollerblading, seeing that I've only just really started to learn how, but Taylor insisted, and we're besties, so I can't really say no to her … "
Taylor's eyes opened with with outrage. It wasn't my idea! But she couldn't really say as much in front of the brother and sister, not without raising more questions. So she controlled the reaction, although she wasn't certain that Aisha hadn't caught it.
Brian looked up at her after removing the second set of roller-blades. "I get that you're friends and all," he noted, mild censure in his voice, "but maybe you shouldn't push Sophia too fast on this sort of thing. You're obviously better at it than she is, and you can see how easy it is to get hurt if you're not careful."
Oh, how right you are, Taylor wanted to say, but didn't. Just for a moment, while the other two were looking away from her, Sophia grinned at Taylor then stuck her tongue out at her. This time, Taylor controlled her expression of outrage, and instead forced contrition into her voice and features.
"Yeah, sorry. It's obvious that Sophia needs a lot more work on this sort of thing before she's going to get anywhere." Hah, see how you like that.
Taylor had seen Sophia Hess on the running track; she had a sort of grim determination to her. A drive to win, that had stood her in good stead, time and again. Of course, Taylor had been secretly cheering on the other contestants in the races, given her personal history with Sophia, but she was well aware of the girl's competitive streak. So she noted the glint in Sophia's eye when she shot that barb. Let's see if that gets you on your feet again.
But instead, Sophia changed the subject. "Thanks for the save, Brian. I'm sure things would've turned out a lot worse than they did if I hadn't run into you. So are you and your sister just hanging out down here on the Boardwalk, or were you going anywhere in particular?"
Taylor counted herself as being socially oblivious in most cases, but even she could spot the subtext here; wherever you're going, could I come along too? She wasn't entirely certain whether it was to do with procuring an excuse to avoid the rollerblading, to spend more time with the eminently hunky Brian, or a combination of the two.
I have to admit, he does make for some very nice eye candy. Mind you, if he was feeling up my ankle like he was with hers, I'd probably spontaneously combust on the spot.
Brian didn't answer immediately, and Taylor hoped that the reply would be in the negative; they really had to get back to working on their rollerblading and their issues. As nice as Brian was to look at, he would ultimately be a distraction and an impediment to free conversation.
Unexpectedly, it was Aisha who replied. "Hey, yeah, why not. Big bro was gonna take me to see a movie. He can take one of you two, or even both. I'll just go do my own thing."
She started to move away; Brian cleared his throat. "Aisha."
"What?" She was still walking away, but more slowly.
"Get back here." His tone was mild, but there was steel under it.
"You're no fun." Her clothing contained nothing with flounces on it, but she managed to flounce back to them anyway. "Come on, bro. You've got a couple of real live girls to talk to. You don't need me as well."
"Dad said to keep an eye on you and don't let you wander off."
"Dad can go bite my -"
"Dad being willing to take you in is the only reason you're not at Mom's."
Taylor glanced at Sophia; she was obviously listening to everything, just as Taylor was, and was probably equally lost. Sophia cleared her throat. "Uh, Brian?"
Startled, he glanced at her. "Uh, sorry, family argument. Shouldn't have aired that in front of you."
"You hear one family argument, you've heard them all," she pointed out. "I'd love to see a movie with you." A sly glance in Taylor's direction. "Taylor can watch Aisha if they don't want to come along."
Nice try. I wonder what Brian would think of me putting your tracker bracelet back on to leave you with him. The bracelet, temporarily removed for the purposes of rollerblading, currently resided in Taylor's pocket.
"Sorry, no can do. We're sticking together on this one. Just remember that we've got that homework to get done after you've had your movie date, Sophia. Mrs Yamada's pretty strict."
From the sour look that flashed across Sophia's face, she'd made her point. Sophia could duck out of therapy-mandated activities for so long, but not forever. Taylor would get her back up on roller-blades, and would finish that talk with her.
"Hey!" protested Aisha. "What about me? Don't I get a say in this?"
"Yeah, you do," Brian told her. "You get to come into the movies with us, or you get to go home to Dad's. Your choice."
The younger girl grimaced. "You suck."
"Doubtless. Your choice?"
Aisha rolled her eyes. "Fine. Let's go to the movies."
"Look, if you don't want to go to the movies with us -" began Taylor.
"Nah, nah," Aisha assured her. "It's not you, it's him. You got a big brother?"
"No," Taylor told her.
"I do," Sophia put in.
"Then you know what I mean," Aisha told Sophia. "Big brothers can be such douches, you know? Always sticking their noses in."
"Oh, don't I know it," sighed Sophia; Taylor couldn't tell if she was serious or not. "Other people's big brothers are just fine though." She shot Brian a mischievous grin.
Aisha rolled her eyes again. "Wow, come on, let's get to the movies already. I'm getting diabetes here."
"Shush, Aisha," Brian ordered, ignoring her raised middle finger. "Sophia, how does your ankle feel?"
"Better." She rose and gingerly tested it. "Still a bit tender, but I can walk on it."
"Great. You got shoes?"
"In my backpack." She indicated the pack that she wore, almost a twin to the one that Taylor had on. It was how they'd gotten the 'blades to the Boardwalk in the first place.
Taylor had an idea. "Hey, Aisha, can you rollerblade?"
"A bit, why?"
Taylor turned to Sophia. "Can Aisha use your blades? We can get some exercise in while you two slowpokes are trudging to the movies."
Sophia barely hesitated before handing them over. "Don't break them. Or better yet, do break them. I'm beginning to hate the sight of them."
"Yeah, yeah, good try," Taylor told her. Sophia wrinkled her nose at her.
The roller-blades fit Aisha reasonably well; she was obviously as rusty as Taylor had been when she first got back on to them, but within moments was moving easily. "Okay, this is cool," she admitted, sweeping around in a curve and getting back to them.
"Let me guess," Sophia challenged. "You used to go ice-skating when you were a kid?"
"Nah," Brian replied. "We had a roller rink near our place for years before it shut down."
"Is it just me, or does everyone but me know how to rollerblade?"
Sophia's question was probably rhetorical, but Brian answered her anyway. "I don't know how, either."
Aisha grinned. "But he does know kung fu."
"What, really?" asked Taylor, startled. He is built, and moves like he can take care of himself, but an actual martial artist?
"Not really," he replied. "Not one of the official styles, anyway. I'm more of a mixed martial arts fan. I basically take what I need from different styles."
"That's how Bruce Lee did it," Sophia noted. "I dabble a bit myself. Maybe we can spar, sometime."
"When your ankle's better," he pointed out. "Movie first, sparring later?"
"Movie first, sparring later," she agreed.
"Is that what they're calling it these days?" jibed Aisha. Sophia took a moment to get it; her jaw dropped in shock. Taylor grinned and gave Aisha a high-five.
"Aisha, enough. Okay, we should get going if we're going to get there in time," Brian noted.
They made their way down the Boardwalk; Brian and Sophia walked side by side, chatting, while Taylor and Aisha skated up and down. Taylor found that while she was the faster, due to her longer legs, Aisha was quicker on the turns, and more agile overall.
When they got to the movie theatre, Taylor stored her roller-blades in her backpack, replacing them with the sandals she had been carrying; Aisha handed the borrowed 'blades back over to Sophia. The movie turned out to be an Earth Aleph action thriller, depicting dubious-looking aliens and square-jawed human protagonists. Taylor sat between Sophia and Aisha, with Brian on the other side of Sophia; Aisha finished her own popcorn, stole some of Taylor's to throw at Sophia and Brian, and snarked about the movie the whole way through. Taylor laughed so hard that she missed most of the plot points, but she didn't care.
This is what I've been missing. This is fun.
The sun was getting low over Captain's Hill when they emerged into the open air once more.
"So yeah, that was good," Sophia told Brian. "Wanna do it again sometime?"
He nodded. "Yeah, I'd like that. Aisha?"
The younger girl considered that. "Sure. You guys are cool to hang with. I guess I could bring myself to stand your company some more." She nodded at Taylor's backpack. "Especially if you bring roller-blades."
"Yeah, well, I've got to get you back to Dad's soon, so we've got to get going."
"Wait." Sophia pulled out her phone. "Get your number?"
"Good idea." Brian got his out as well.
"I'll get it too, just in case." Taylor got her Wards phone out, thankful that it wasn't outwardly different from a standard phone.
Numbers were exchanged; Taylor got Aisha's number as well. As abrasive and sarcastic as the girl could be, she was also fun to be around. And her home life is obviously not the best.
"Well, we'll see you around," Brian observed, starting off up the Boardwalk. Aisha, walking backward beside him, grinned, stuck her tongue out, crossed her eyes, and waved.
"See you later," Taylor responded, trying not to laugh at Aisha's antics. Once the other two were lost in the crowd, she turned to Sophia. "Twisted ankle, huh?"
Sophia grinned unrepentantly. "Got me off the roller-blades and into a movie with a good-looking guy, didn't it?"
"Yeah, well, you know we're gonna have to get back on to the roller-blades, right?"
"Can we do it tomorrow?" Sophia indicated the westering sun. "Bit late today."
"That's fine, but we can still talk about what we were talking about before you ran into Brian."
"Actually, I wanted to talk about Brian," Sophia suggested. "Would you have problems with me seeing him again?"
"I -" Taylor stopped. "I couldn't let you go on a date on your own, not without talking to Ms Bright. But I can come along."
Sophia sighed, aggravated. "Damn probation. And he's such a nice guy, too. I got along with him really well."
"I could see that," Taylor agreed. "He is nice. And his sister's a hoot."
That raised a chuckle, despite Sophia's attempts to stifle it. "Yeah, she is. There's this line about a beautiful friendship in some movie or other -"
"Casablanca," Taylor supplied. "'I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship'. I've watched it with Dad a dozen times."
"Yeah, that's the one." Sophia smiled; a genuine smile. "The beginning of a beautiful friendship. That sounds about right."
And Taylor couldn't help but wonder if she was right.
End of Part One