Another day in paradise, Danny thought morosely.
The mayor's office had just cancelled tomorrow's meeting where Danny would, again, have tried to convince the man that the Ferry was worth reopening. Sometimes Danny wondered why he even bothered.
Maybe he'll lose the next election, I might have better luck with his replacement.
Danny had planned on using most of today to work on the presentation but since that was a bust he supposed he should try and find some work for some of the boys.
The Protectorate got into a fight with some Empire capes at a construction site a couple days ago, maybe I can get the contract for the clean-up. Should provide work for a couple guys.
As Danny was about to stand up and walk over to his filing cabinet his phone rang.
Reaching across the desk, "Dockworkers Union, Danny Hebert speaking."
"Hey Dad, it's me."
"Taylor? Are you alright? What's wrong?"
There were many reasons why his daughter would be calling him in the middle of the day when she was supposed to be at school, none of them good.
"I'm fine but-um...you need to come to the PRT building."
Danny stared at the phone for a second, as if looking to confirm that it was still working. Of all the things he had been expecting to hear, that wasn't one of them. "The PRT building? Taylor, what's going on?"
"I shouldn't talk about it over the phone. Just come to the PRT building and tell the lady at the front desk…" Taylor's voice trailed off and Danny come make out the sound of her talking to someone else before she came back and said in a sardonic tone, "Tell her that you're the victim of crime and that you're there to reclaim your stolen Dragon-themed beer coaster."
"...my dragon-themed beer coaster?"
"It'll let them know you're here for me and not just some random person off the street. Not like anyone else would come forward and say that."
"You've got me there," Danny admitted. "Alright Taylor, I'm on my way."
After saying the rather unique phrase to the secretary, Danny was escorted through the building by a very polite man in a PRT uniform until he was shown into conference room.
Seated at the table was his daughter who was happily chatting with one of the heroes of the Protectorate.
Crap, which one is he? Clearly isn't Miss Militia or Battery and Armsmaster wears blue so that leaves Dauntless, Assault, and...Speedy? You'd think I'd be able to name the local Protectorate team.
"Ah, Mr. Hebert. I'm Assault, pleasure to meet you," the hero said, rising from his seat with a hand extended.
Well now I don't have to embarrass myself asking which one he is. "Please, call me Danny."
"Certainly Danny. I was just chatting with your daughter here. She's a smart cookie."
"Yes, she is," Danny said with a smile. He noticed that Taylor had blushed when Assault complimented her. "Now I don't suppose you could tell me what all this is about? Taylor wasn't very forthcoming on the phone."
"Sorry about that, there was the possibility that someone could be listening in on the conversation so we like to keep these sorts of things face-to-face."
"That makes sense...but you still haven't told me what this is about."
"Dad," Taylor said, finally speaking up. "Assault was investigating what happened to me at school...with the lo-" Her voice caught in her throat.
"It's okay Taylor." Danny patted her shoulder. He thought she was handling the experience far better than he would have in her shoes. If the only problem she had was a little trouble talking Danny would count that as a win. Danny turned to look at Assault. "How it'd go?"
"Taylor named the people she thought were responsible. Upon being called out, one of the girls physically attacked your daughter-"
"What? Taylor, you said on the phone you were fine!"
"I am fine," Taylor said defensively.
"Relax Danny. Taylor took out the girl in one hit. Which brings us to the crux of the issue."
"What do you mean?"
"Dad, look at me." Taylor flexed one of her arms. "Do you think I could take anyone out in one hit?"
"I'm confused, did you or did you not knock the bitch's lights out?" Under normal circumstances Danny wouldn't encourage Taylor to get in fights. But after what she had gone though, if one of the girls responsible attacked her, Danny couldn't find it in himself to chastise her.
His daughter rolled her eyes. "Dad." Taylor huffed. "I'm a parahuman."
Assault chuckled. "That's a standard reaction."
"I'm a parahuman," Taylor repeated. "So when I hit Sophia...she stayed down."
"So...where do we go from here?"
Assault shifted in his seat. "At the moment, we're waiting for the Director and Deputy Director to arrive so we can discuss the possibility of Wards membership as well as how the criminal case against the young ladies will be handled. But before that there is something you should know, now I'm not supposed to tell you this but it's better you find out now rather than during the meeting with Piggot because if you blow up at her it won't go well."
Assault cleared his throat. "What I'm about to say can not be repeated, you and Taylor will have sign an NDA before you leave, regardless of the outcome of the meeting."
"Sounds serious," Danny said even as he nodded.
"Alright, one of the girls that has been bullying Taylor, the one that attacked her and quickly learned how much of a mistake that was and is currently in a holding cell downstairs, is one of our Wards, Shadow Stalker."
"WHAT?!" Danny shouted and leapt to his feet.
"Dad!" Taylor's voice cut through Danny's anger. He took a deep, calming breath. Then several more.
Danny sat down as smoothly as he could manage.
"Now it's important you understand: yes, Taylor is the victim of a multitude of crimes and yes, you should hold out for terms that are good for the two of you because you got us over a barrel, but you need to understand that the government takes the secret identities of its heroes, particularly the Wards, very seriously. So whatever you do, don't go threatening to expose her because that'll just get you arrested."
"Which is why you're telling me this now, because if I found out during the meeting I might have lost my temper and said something I shouldn't?"
"That's the long and short of it, yea. So, any last questions before my bosses arrive?"
Danny could only look back and forth between the costumed hero and his daughter. "This is all such a shock to me...I don't even know what I should be asking."
"Don't worry about it. Take the papers, read true the stuff, and then head home and let it percolate in yalls noggins. Don't need ta sign anyting right away."
"That accent was terrible," Taylor said, grinning.
While Danny agreed the accent was atrocious, he couldn't deny that it had made his daughter smile. It was a genuine smile, not forced at all. It was a depressing thought as he realized how long it had been since he'd seen such a thing.
Danny heard the door open behind him and saw Assault rise to his feet. "Hello Directors, was just keeping the Heberts company while they waited for you two. I'll get out of your hair."
"Yes, I imagine you have a lot of paperwork to fill out regarding your trip to the school."
Danny stood up to greet the speaker and discovered it was a heavyset woman with an unflattering haircut. Behind her stood a man that was almost remarkable in how ordinary he looked.
"I'm Director Emily Piggot head of the PRT East-North-East. This is Deputy Director Paul Renick, he oversees the local Wards team," the woman said as Assault exited the conference room.
After Danny and Taylor shook their hands and introduced themselves the four of them sat down.
"So, Miss Hebert, I understand you're considering joining the Wards?" Piggot asked.
Negotiating over paperwork. This is something I know I can help Taylor with.
"That went well," Danny said as he and Taylor walked into the house.
"You're just saying that because you're not the one carrying all the paperwork," Taylor joked.
"I'm old and hurt my back getting out of bed this morning. You're strong enough break a girl's bones just by hitting her with your backpack. I think you can lift some paper without my help."
Luckily, Taylor wasn't looking at Danny when he joked back with her. If she had she would have seen the pained expression on his face.
His little girl had powers. It didn't matter how much he was assured that the Wards were the safest option for her. It didn't matter that her power apparently made her incredible hard to hurt. All Danny could see was his little girl getting thrown into the dangerous world of capes and there was nothing he could do. It had been hard enough getting concessions from the school after Taylor had spent a night in the hospital. Getting involved with capes was beyond the bounds of Danny's knowledge. Every parent wants to see their child grow up and become successful and happy and safe. Sure, you're proud if your kid has a high risk job, but you never stop being afraid for them. And Taylor wasn't grown up yet, she was still in high school.
I thought I'd have to deal with boyfriends before worrying about her getting a real job.
Technically, it wasn't her job yet. Nothing had been signed (except the NDA about Shadow Stalker, that was non-negotiable). Even if Assault hadn't advised them to wait Danny still wouldn't have signed anything. As much experience as he had dealing with contracts, Danny still wanted a lawyer to look things over first.
Would have asked Alan to do it but not after everything that's happened.
Finding out that Emma had been one of the bullies had been a shock to Danny. He knew he hadn't seen her in ages and he couldn't remember the last time Taylor went over to the Barnes' house but he never would have thought things had gotten as bad as they did.
It had been an even bigger shock to find out that one of Taylor's bullies had been a Ward. Danny had almost said some things that probably would have gotten himself arrested. Luckily, between his promise to never lose his temper in front of his daughter and the fact that Taylor had apparently come close to killing the girl from a single blow, Danny was able to keep his composure. One of the numerous papers they had brought home were NDA's regarding Sophia Hess's identity as a Ward. Danny wished he could have gotten away with not signing it right away. After Assault's speech he wasn't about to try an expose her, no matter how much he wanted to after what she did to Taylor, but that didn't mean he didn't want to make the PRT sweat a bit as the worried about what he might do. Would serve them right for being so abysmal at doing their job.
"They don't actually expect us to read all of these, do they?" Taylor asked as she dropped the massive stack of papers on the kitchen table. "Maybe it's a ploy to get us to agree to everything, just bury us in paperwork?"
"That's actually legitimate strategy in some cases," Danny said with a chuckle. "But no, in this case I think it's because you're a minor and the Wards sometimes go into dangerous situations so they have to make sure they cover their butts from any liability."
"As well as define how much skin I'm allowed to expose when I'm out in costume apparently," Taylor said as she looked at the page on top of the pile.
"I'm hoping it's somewhere in the realm of slim-to-none."
"Daaaaad," Taylor said in a tone of exasperation.
"Seriously, honey," Danny said as he walked past her to the fridge. "You don't need to be wearing some skimpy spandex costume. I am totally fine with you dressing like an eskimo."
She punched him in the shoulder.
"My plan was actually to get a costume similar to a knight, you know, like King Arthur."
"A knight, huh? Gonna wear a big suit of armor?" Armor is good, much more protection than cloth. "Isn't there already one Ward that looks like that? You and he could be partners."
"Gallant, yea. But I'm hoping not too big a suit, I don't want to be mistaken for a dude."
"As I recall from glancing over the paperwork, there's a PR department that has to OK your costume and name before you're allowed to go out so I imagine they'll be able to help in making sure you look sufficiently feminine."
As Danny began making dinner Taylor continued reading over the paperwork they had been given. She asked him questions about legalese wording and he answered to the best of his ability. He told stupid 'Dad jokes' when she started getting frustrated. The two laughed as they ate. There was something different about the atmosphere of the room tonight. After thinking about it for a moment, Danny realized what it was. This wasn't two people that happened to be eating at a table at the same time, it was two family members bonding over a shared meal, something he and Taylor hadn't done…
Since before Annette died, Danny realized. I know I was a wreck after her death but I thought I was doing better after Alan's pep talk but I wasn't, I just wasn't as bad as I had been. This? This is better.
Author's Note: And so we reach the end of my plotted story. I'm open to the possibility of revisiting this someday and expanding it, this would actually work fine as the first arc, but for now I consider this finished.