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, 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.
[A/N: This story idea suggested by Takao-Kun.]
[A/N 2: This story has been revised after much perusal of constructive criticism.]
Part One: Trigger
I huddled among the other hostages. The majority of the villains had just exited the bank to take on the heroes outside, and they weren't watching us any more.
"Hey," muttered a guy beside me. He was tall and well-built, and probably thought that he was pretty tough. "There's only the one left. She doesn't look like much. If we took her out, that's gotta help the heroes, right?"
Idiot. The girl in the bug costume said that the spiders would know if we moved or did anything stupid.
"I wouldn't try it," I murmured back. "I think she can sense through her spiders. Do you want to get bitten?"
"Well, we can't just sit here and do nothing."
"You can sit here and do nothing. I'm going to do something about this."
"You?" he asked, looking me up and down. "What can you do?"
"I'm Panacea, of New Wave," I retorted. "Now shut up and let me think."
Thankfully, he did, allowing me to concentrate on what I was sensing through my powers. The fact that she could sense what was happening to her spiders was something I could work on. I knew exactly where each of the black widow spiders was on me – despite the demands on my time, having biokinetic powers can be very useful on occasion – and I tapped into their bodies, their internal processes.
They're being controlled. Can I use that?
One part of their brains was working overtime; I studied it. Signals were coming in and out; I couldn't decipher them, but they seemed to be saying, hold still, don't bite. Hold still, don't bite.
Before I took my next step, I breathed deeply. Spider brains aren't human brains. And I'm doing this for a good reason. Then I adjusted their tiny brains, so that what they saw, what they felt, wasn't what they sent back. Like that old movie trope, hacking a security camera to send back a loop of the last five minutes.
At least, I hoped it worked that way. For good measure, I added a degree of static; if she thought something in the fight was messing with her powers, all the better.
I peeked toward the front of the bank. The bug girl was still peering out the window, trusting in her spiders to keep us under control. The other one – Tattletale? - was somewhere in the back. Nobody was watching. Good.
Carefully, trying not to make any noise, I circulated among the other hostages. They watched me, eyes wide, as I held my finger to my lips. Touched skin to skin, to find where on their bodies the spiders were hiding. Touched each spider and paralysed it. Its brain would send back all fine here, all fine here, but it would be incapable of doing absolutely anything else, ever. This would kill it in about half an hour, but I really didn't care.
Once I had done everyone, my heart thundering so loudly in my ears that I was certain the people outside could hear it, I pointed them toward the stairs upward. Slowly, cautiously, they began to move. For myself, I wasn't about to run away. I could see where a fire extinguisher was hooked on the wall. I'm not scared of you, I told myself.
As I unhooked it from the wall, I recalled the last time I had told someone that.
Three Weeks Previously
Fred muttered a curse as the stone skittered away from his foot. He was definitely not as good at this as he had been, twenty years ago. Worse, the teenage girl ahead of him had heard the noise.
"Who's there?" she called out, eyes searching the darkened street. "Come out where I can see you."
Screw it, he told himself, and stumped into view, leaning on his cane. "It's okay, kid," he assured her. "I'm not going to hurt ya. There's no reason to be scared."
"I'm not scared of you," she replied; probably not altogether truthfully, in his estimation. Still, she had grit enough to hold her head up and look him in the eye. "What are you doing, following me?"
"Makin' sure you get there an' back safe an' sound," he told her, nodding toward where the hospital bulked in the distance.
"Wait … you're escorting me?" she asked, apparently taken somewhat aback by the notion.
"Somethin' like that," he agreed. "Now, I don't know what's gotten into ya that ya gotta get up an' walk to th' hospital in th' middle of th' night, but if you're gonna do it, I'm gonna make sure ya get there okay."
"It's just something I've got to do," she replied shortly. "What's your name, anyway? And why are you doing this?" She started off toward the distant building; he walked alongside her.
"Something I gotta do, too," he replied. "Name's Fred. Fred Jones."
"What, like in that cartoon show?"
"Yeah, like that." He snorted. "Couple guys made the mistake of calling me Scooby, once upon a time. Didn't happen twice."
She looked him up and down critically. "I would think those days are long past for you, uh, Mr Jones."
"Don't make the mistake of thinkin' I'm totally helpless, little miss," he retorted, just a little sharply. "I might be old, but I still got my self-respect."
"I -" She paused. "I'm sorry."
"Don't be," he assured her. "I know I don't look much. But I can still take care of myself."
"And I appreciate you looking out for me," she told him.
When they arrived at the hospital, Amy paused just inside the main doors and smiled at the old man. He had made the last half-mile of her walk quite pleasant, with general conversation and the occasional acerbic observation on superheroes and villains of the day. She still didn't know quite why he had chosen to walk with her, but she had enjoyed it.
"Thank you," she stated. "Like I said, I appreciate it. Can you tell me now why you're doing it?"
"Depends," was the answer. "Care to tell me why a little thing like you is walking to the hospital in the middle of the night to heal people?"
She wrapped her arms around herself and looked at the ground. "Because I have to," she mumbled. "Because they need me. Because I can't sleep for thinking about people I'm not helping."
He nodded, slowly. "Fair call," he mused. "Dunno that I'd think that way, but it's you, not me."
"All right," she responded, a little annoyed. "I answered your question. How about you answer mine?"
"Oh, that's easy," he replied. "I'm doing it for your dad."
And with that, he winked, turned away, and walked out through the doors, leaving her staring after him.
" - about your father," Tattletale told me, with a smirk.
I shook my head with a smile of my own, cautious of the knife at my throat. "Too late, bitch. I already know all about him. And I know why he gave me up. So you can give up right now, and my sister might not break every bone in your body."
She sagged slightly. " … fuck. You do know. Dammit. I was hoping not to have to use this one."
"What one?" I asked incautiously.
"The other big secret," she told me, her grin widening again. God, I wanted to wipe that grin off of her face with my fire extinguisher. "You know the one. And you know what'll happen if I say it out loud."
I flicked a glance at my sister. The girl I loved, utterly and hopelessly. Who I could never let know about it, for fear of the rejection, the disgust, that she would surely feel for me.
But I couldn't let these villains just escape. She would know that she could use that secret on me, every single time.
But I couldn't let the secret get out. They escape, they get captured later, and I keep the secret.
Vicky was looking at me. "What's she talking about?"
Amy stumbled from the elevator, bone-tired. She'd been at it for hours, healing sick kids in Pediatrics, cancer patients in Oncology, and most everyone in the ICU. Except the brain injuries; it had almost physically hurt her to leave them, but she couldn't, wouldn't, dare. That risk was something that she simply would not take.
And all the time, she had been puzzling over the strange old man called Fred Jones, who claimed to be acting in the name of her father. That he could be referring to Mark Dallon, she had dismissed almost at once; if Flashbang wanted her escorted, he would do it himself. He didn't even know of her trips to the hospital, that she was aware of.
So it was her birth father he was referring to; the mysterious person who had turned her over to the Brockton Bay Brigade, just before it became New Wave. He was a supervillain, she was pretty sure. Or maybe she had thought someone had told her that once, and it had stuck. Once, when she was young, she had gotten curious, and asked Carol about the man with the long hair she remembered from way back, and Carol had told her to stop asking questions and to go and play. It didn't take long for her to realise that asking questions like that was not something a Good Girl did, and she wanted very badly to be a Good Girl, and get the hugs and praise that Vicky did.
Once she gained her powers, and became a member of New Wave, she had realised that she could go to the PRT and request the information; ask when exactly she had been adopted by the Dallons, and work out by process of elimination exactly who her father was. But by that time, she had no real desire to know; whether it was the influence of Carol's opinion on the subject, or just a loss of interest, she wasn't sure. Or maybe she didn't want to confirm that her father was actually a supervillain; as a superhero, that could be quite embarrassing if it got out.
A rich, enticing smell crossed her nostrils, making her mouth water. She looked over to the benches near the main entrance, and there sat Fred, in his disreputable overcoat. He had a takeout box on his lap, and another beside him.
"Hey there, kid," he greeted her. "Hungry? That one's yours."
There was a smoking area outside the hospital doors, with tables and chairs under umbrellas. Fred followed the girl to the nearest one, and creakily lowered himself on to the plastic chair. He picked at his food – there was a rather good Chinese store next to the hospital – while watching her dig into hers.
"Christ, kid," he asked. "How long since you had a proper meal?"
"Oh, uh, yesterday, I think," she admitted. "Carol doesn't cook much, and Mark mostly forgets. So we usually get takeout or something." She paused and eyed him warily. "You said you were doing this for my father."
"I did an' I am," he told her. "I mean, he doesn't know I'm doin' it, but I'm doin' it anyway." His eyes twinkled. "Do you want to know who he is?"
"I, uh -" she hesitated. "I was told he was a supervillain, and he was arrested."
He snorted. "Yeah, that's true. More to it than that. He got Birdcaged."
"Okay, so who was he?"
He fixed her with a beady eye. "Is, kid. At least, I figure he's still kicking. If anyone can survive that hellhole, it's him. An' since you asked, his name's Marquis."
Her eyes widened. "I've heard of him."
"So've a lot of folks, kid. He was one of the big names in the villain game, back in the day. Firm but fair to work for, too."
Her head jerked up. "You worked for him?"
"Hell yes," he declared proudly. "From ninety-two on." A sigh of nostalgia escaped him. "Now there was a villain with style. None of these racist pricks, excuse my French. None of these druggies. You worked for him, you did the job, you got recognised."
"But … he was a villain," she protested, frowning.
"Sure he was," he agreed readily. "But not the same type of villain as these other jerks you get. Do you know, Jack Slash came to town one time, tried his damnedest to make him break his code against killing women? Could not do it. Failed utterly. Marquis told that psycho bastard where to shove it, and told him to get the hell out of the Bay. He went, too."
"Wow." She was staring at him. "Really? That was my dad?"
"Sure as hell," he confirmed. "He mighta been a bad guy, your dad, but he wasn't a bad bad guy. Some of those villains, they'd get a wild hair up their ass, turn around and decide that their minions are plotting to overthrow them. Put the fear of God into them with a purge. Blood on the walls. Marquis was never like that. If he wanted you gone, you just … disappeared. You were never seen again."
She shivered. "That's horrible."
"You'd think so, wouldn't you?" he mused. "But it wasn't really like that. If you wanted out, he let you go. Not a word. But if things went the other way, he'd make it so no-one ever saw you again, sure, but he had a thing against hurting women and kids. So he'd make sure that some cash went to the wife and kiddies, if they had any. Enough to tide 'em over."
"Still not a good thing," she pointed out. "Murder's still murder."
He snorted. "And you're gonna try to tell me that you've never seen anyone you don't think would be better off dead?" Her silence was all the answer he needed. "Yup. See, way I see it? Heroes and villains, they're all the same, deep down. It's just that the villains are a tiny bit more honest about the way they do things. They've got more at stake, so they've got to stay more in control."
"Those villains were out of control!"
I wished that my mother – my foster mother – would tone it down a bit. The painkillers I had been given were working, but not as thoroughly as I would have liked, and my head was still aching abominably. I'd suffered a mild concussion from the baton blow to the side of the head, but it had only knocked me out for a moment. At least Tattletale didn't spill the beans.
"Mom, I'm okay," insisted Vicky, but a little less strongly than I would have liked. "Amy healed me. I'm good now."
"You don't look good," Carol Dallon declared. "You look positively peaked." She turned to me. "Some poison effects can be subtle. Are you sure you got it all?"
I nodded. "Yes. I double-checked. No allergic reactions, no toxic shock. Physically, she's fine."
"It's true," confirmed Vicky. "It's not the bug bites. It's the surprise, you know? I'm used to being invulnerable. Nothing touches me. And then that Tattletale bitch figures out a way around my powers. And the next thing I know, ten million bugs are biting me." She shivered involuntarily.
"Still, I think you should get some bed rest," Carol insisted. "There might be long term effects involved." She nodded to me. "And maybe you should lie down, too."
Still fussing over her daughter – her real daughter, I thought mutinously – she led her from the room. I was left alone in the living room.
My hands clenched into fists. You could at least pretend to be my real mom.
Two Weeks Previously
"So what happened to my real mom? Was she a supervillain, too?"
Fred chuckled warmly. Ever since the kid had rumbled him, he hadn't had to sneak around, and he was able to walk her to and from the hospital. It was a long walk, and left his legs feeling like limp noodles, but it was worth it.
"Sorry, kid. No, she was a girl who took up with him for awhile. He was a charming bastard, and he treated women right, but sooner or later, they drifted away from him. She was pregnant when she left him, and never told him. Later, she got cancer and died, but before she did, she passed you on to him."
Amy swallowed, apparently from nerves. "Did … did he want me?"
Fred rolled his eyes. "Want you? Kid, he was over the moon when he found out that he had a daughter. You had the best toys, the best of everything. And he made sure to spend as much time as possible with you." A grin creased his lips. "I will never forget walking in that one day and seeing him playing horsey with you. Mind you, you're the first person I've ever admitted seeing that to, either."
A small smile crossed her face. "So he really loved me?"
"Kid, you been listening? I'm saying he adored you. He woulda given it all up, just to make sure you had a good life. And he did too, in a way."
A frown. "How do you mean?"
"Back in two thousand. The Brockton Bay Brigade – New Wave that was, before they had the moronic fuckin' idea to unmask, excuse my French – found out where he was living, and busted on in. This was kinda before the unwritten rules really had a chance to catch on, you know? Well, they caught him napping. But he woulda beat them – he had them beat for sure – but you were there. And when he tried to steer them away from the closet where he'd shoved you when they busted in, Brandish went to attack it. So he took the hit, to save you."
She was staring at him. "Mom – Carol – tried to attack me?"
He waved a hand impatiently. "She didn't know. Couldn't know. But they still captured him. Handed him over to the PRT. And they figured that with all his enemies, you wouldn't last long in the foster system. So New Wave adopted you." He shrugged. "Me and a few of the guys, we woulda taken you in, but it's not like Child Protection woulda even looked at us."
She took a deep breath, and faced him directly. "So why are you here, now, telling me about this? What do you want from me? What do you want me to do?"
"Nothin', kid," he told her honestly. "Doc told me I didn't have long to live. I'm old, and with all the shit that's happened in my life, my organs are pretty well singing the farewell dance. So I called in a few favours, found out where New Wave was living now, and started keeping an eye on you. Only, these old bones aren't as good at sneaking around, so you got the jump on me."
"But why?" she asked, her tone puzzled.
He shrugged. "I just wanted to see if I could catch up with the boss' kid one last time. Make sure you were all right. I'd thought maybe I could talk to you sometime, tell you about your old man from someone who knew him. Give you the straight dope."
"I … see." Her eyes might have been filling with tears, but he couldn't be sure; his vision wasn't what it used to be. "Fred, was it?"
"Fred Jones, at your service, Miss Lavere. Minion number twenty-one."
"He numbered you?" Her voice was incredulous.
He chuckled. It hurt, slightly, but he didn't care. "Nah, that was a bit of a joke. We gave ourselves numbers, and he went along with it. Mostly he called me 'Mr Jones'."
"Oh. I see. Uh, is there anything I can do for you? I mean, I -"
Gently, he shook his head. "I know you can make folks younger, but you don't. That's fine, kid. I've really enjoyed catching up with you."
I walked in through the front entrance of the PRT building. Not surprisingly, I drew a few stares, as I was currently dressed in my Panacea costume, but that was how they'd requested me. Striding up to the desk, I announced, "Panacea to see Director Piggot."
The girl behind the desk had seen enough capes come through to not be overly surprised; she picked up a phone, pressed a button, and waited. A moment later, she murmured a few words, listened, said something else, then put the phone down. "You can go up now, Panacea," she announced.
As I made for the lift, one of the PRT guards in the lobby followed along. I didn't care.
One Week Previously
Amy looked around at the roof of the hospital. "Are you sure we're supposed to be up here?"
His chuckle was warm. "Pretty sure we're not. But what are they gonna do? You're Panacea, and I'm so old I have to take a rest break when I get up for a piss."
She eyed him. He looked older than when she had first met him, two weeks previously. Frailer. More decrepit. He was definitely leaning on his cane more than he had been before.
"Are you all right?" she asked cautiously.
He made a vague gesture with his off hand. "I'm sixty-seven. Fifteen years ago I took a shot from Radian that was meant for your dad. Damn near killed me, and I never really came all the way back from it. Figure it's finally caught up with me."
"If I can take a look -" She reached for his hand.
He pulled it back. "No you don't, missy. What I got is what I got. And what I got to look forward to is a month or so of lying in bed while tubes do my eating and shitting for me, and that's no kind of life. So I'll go out the way I want to go out." He gestured toward the eastern horizon, where light was starting to show. "So, we gonna watch this sunrise, or what?"
There were folding chairs up here already; Amy supposed that the staff had left them up there for the purposes of relaxation. It was the work of a moment to turn them so that they faced to the east; another moment later, she had Fred comfortable in his chair.
Settling into the chair beside his, she pushed back her hood, to let the breeze play with her hair. The thin wisps of grey on his scalp also twitched in the same breeze. "I, uh, can fix your eyes, if you want," she ventured. "So you can enjoy it properly."
After a moment, he nodded. "Thanks, kid. Just don't touch nothing else."
"I won't, I promise." She laid her hand on his, and only barely managed to suppress her gasp. He hadn't been kidding about the fragile state of his body; it was a wonder that he had survived the climb up the roof stairs. It seemed that he was hanging on by sheer willpower. Carefully, she renewed his eyes, clearing incipient cataracts and strengthening the lenses. "All done."
"Thanks, kid." He blinked, looked out at the horizon, where the edge of the ocean was starting to turn red. "Been years since I've seen a proper sunrise."
"Thank you for getting me to bring you up here," she replied softly. "I really should take the time to enjoy these more." She paused. "How did you know what happened when Marquis – my father – was captured?"
His chuckle turned into a cough; she waited patiently while he worked through it. "He went to ordinary prison first. They didn't have the Birdcage up and running. I knew some guys who knew some guys, and I had a bit put away. So I dropped a few bribes and got myself a phone call with the boss. We had a good chat, him and me. Told me all about it. Asked me to look you up when I could, an' I said I would." He paused for breath. "They took him away to the 'Cage the next day. I tried to build up some cash again, but it all went wrong. I went down for grand larceny, but with my health problems I got early release. Got out mid February."
"And that's when you started keeping an eye on me." Her voice was soft.
"Well, I made your dad a promise. He woulda done the same for me."
"Well … thanks."
They fell silent then, as the brightness increased and the sun slowly climbed into sight, amid red and gold-tinted clouds.
"God damn, but that's beautiful," he muttered.
"It is," she agreed. "It really is."
When the sun had cleared the horizon, she felt the breeze pick up, and shivered slightly. "Fred, I think I should be getting you downstairs again."
There was no answer.
Still no answer.
She looked at him; he was still looking at the sunrise, with tears streaking his lined face. Reaching out, she nudged him; his head lolled to one side. "Fred!" She grabbed for his hand.
His skin was cool; there was no heartbeat, no brain activity. He was gone.
She took a deep breath. "It's okay, Fred. We'll just sit up here a little longer. No rush."
Still holding his hand, she leaned back and watched the sunrise with him.
I marched into Director Piggot's office; she looked up with a frown on her face. "I don't recall asking for you to come to my office before visiting the Wards. What's the problem?"
I steeled myself for what was going to come next. In my imagination, Fred had his hand on my shoulder. Give 'em hell, kid.
"Director Piggot, I've recently learned something rather surprising to me."
"And what's that?" she asked cautiously.
"It turns out that my father is actually the supervillain Marquis. The one who was sent to the Birdcage -"
"I know who Marquis is," she interrupted me. "Get to the point."
I nearly backed down at that moment. Nearly chickened out. But the memory of the aged gangster who had looked out for me, spent his last days with me, bolstered me up. "I want him released."
It took her a moment to process my words. When the meaning did hit her, she came up out of her chair. "WHAT?"
Behind me, the PRT guard opened the door and peered in; she waved him away. He closed the door again. She eyed me grimly. "This had better be some kind of joke, or -"
I shook my head. "No joke. I want Marquis released into my custody."
"Or what?" Her glare was ferocious. "What will you do?"
She stared at me. " … what?"
"I said, nothing." I stared back at her. "I won't do anything. I won't heal anyone, ever again. I won't fix the Wards' injuries. I won't visit the hospitals. I won't do anything. Not until my father gets out of prison."
Putting my hands on her desk, I leaned forward. "Director Piggot … I want my dad back."
End of Part One