Okay, so first of all, I screwed up. I just want to make that clear. This one wasn't on Greg. I'd gotten too into the game and I'd forgotten to keep the mist shroud up. The girl -Taylor- had seen right through it, and of course Greg's cape geek friend had instantly outed me.
Oh, and she'd outed herself, too. I mean, I thought so anyway. Maybe she thought we were recruiting non-powered rank-and-file teenagers or something. Sure.
She blinked. "You're... not trying to recruit me?"
I shot a glance over to the kitchen. Greg's mom hadn't budged, so I guessed we were safe for the moment. It was funny to think about, but we'd probably been noisier playing Smash than we had outing each other's cape identities. I touched the mist and made sure she heard nothing weird. Greg had zoned out, using his power again, which left me to deal with Taylor.
"Uh, well, I mean, should we be?" I laughed uneasily. Man, this was not my strong suit.
Taylor stood and started pacing. "No. No, this is bullshit. You're playing dumb. You have to be. There's no other reason for you to take the risk of showing up to a school unless you're working an angle. Seriously, I thought this whole 'sudden besties' thing was a little suspect, but this is just too much coincidence to be believable."
Greg snapped out of his trance and shook his head. "Coincidences happen! We didn't know you were the bug user!" He paused, his eyes widening. "That's super cool!"
Taylor's eyes narrowed at Greg and she stopped pacing. "Alright, so what's your power then?"
Greg adjusted his glasses. "Uh, I don't see how that's rele-"
"It's relevant, because it determines exactly how much I trust you. I never told you that I control bugs, so either you're lying about not knowing about me or-"
I moved between them and spread my arms. "Look, Taylor,that's just Greg's thinker power, and yeah, I didn't have a clue whether you even had powers until Greg said just that."
"Are you trying to out me?" Taylor hissed. "Mrs. Veder-"
I waved my hand in a jedi-mind-trick kind of way. "She doesn't hear anything she doesn't want to hear right now." Taylor's eyes widened. "Yeah," I continued. "Here they call it a 'stranger power.' I can make things seem unimportant or boring. It's handy, to say the least."
"And as to my power, that's a bit complicated." Greg chimed in. "It's, uh, simulation, I guess. I can simulate like fifteen minutes at a time. I mean, I can simulate the fifteen minutes I chose to record as many times as I want. I can take different actions during the simulation and see the results." Greg licked his lips. "Plus, it only takes me five minutes to run fifteen minutes of simulation so I'm really fast at internet browsing now."
Taylor blinked. "Uh, okay, so..."
"I just recorded that moment where you outed yourself. So I simulated it. But, uh, in the real world I just wasted that time. In the simulation I asked you some :" His eyes glazed over a few moments, and Taylor sent me a questioning glance. I just replied with a shrug. Who knew what the kid had in mind. Greg snapped out of it and grinned. "I just asked you some more questions. You can multitask infinitely, you control everything with a simple mind, not just bugs, uh." He blinked. "Your favorite pet is a black lab, but your Dad is allergic?"
Taylor's frown deepened.
I let out a long, low sigh. "Greg, this isn't much of a way to build trust." I turned to Taylor. "Look, I can't prove it to you, but honestly I was just going to school because I didn't want to get too far behind in my studies, I had a couple days to kill, and I wanted to get to know my new partner."
"Ha!" Taylor barked. "You went to Winslow because you wanted to learn? Now I know you're shitting me."
I sighed. "Yeah… finishing school is important to me." My stepdad had moved mountains to keep me enrolled at Goode back when Hera kidnapped me during Christmas break. My mom had cried when he'd told her that she'd pulled it off. I'd do anything to make her proud of me, even back when I expected to die before I turned thirty. I'd figured that whenever the odds finally did catch up to me, I wouldn't regret taking a few years to give my mom something to be proud of. Now that New Rome was on the table? Halfbloods had grandkids there. Of course, now I was back in mortal peril and a universe away from safety but.. I shook it off. "Look, you said I must have had an angle. What's my evil plan now that you're calling me out? What's my angle in denying I knew anything?"
Taylor just glared in reply, and I felt a tingle in my spine as a beetle ran up my pantleg. I avoided twitching by sheer force of will. While fighting monsters makes you brave, it also makes you jumpy, and I'd fought just about everything I'd ever met. Taylor was needling me, trying to see how guilty I felt. If I flipped out, she'd probably take it as a sign that I'd felt it likely she'd attacked me. Basically, it came down to posturing. Styx, what did this girl want from me, anyway?
Greg's eyes flickered as he flicked his power on for a moment, and then went back to normal. "Shit." He tried again. "Shit!" He gave it another shot. "Oh come on!" He glared up at Taylor. "You can seriously be a bitch some-" Greg winced as Taylor turned to glare back at him. "...This isn't the simulation, is it?"
Taylor opened her mouth to say something, but Mrs. Veder trundled in with a platter of crackers, salami slices, little cheese squares, and a bunch of baby carrots and cucumber slices.
"Oh dear, looks like some people are poor losers!" She set the platter down on the scuffed up coffee table and floated over to Taylor, laying a hand on her shoulder. "Don't let their injured pride bother you. It's the way of men. Rub your victory in their faces. It's what my Gregory would do if he had won."
She nodded and gave Taylor a pat on her shoulder, and then walked out, glaring at Greg with a raised eyebrow.
Greg sighed and shook his head. "I mean, sorry. We, uh, didn't know." He braced for Taylor's response.
Taylor just ran her hands through her long hair and slumped into a couch. "Alright, so, assuming I believe you, what now?"
"Uh, well." I glanced at Greg. He nodded. "We start this conversation over, and try to recruit you. I mean, we'll have to talk it over with our third member, but she's not fully signed on anyway. That's who..." I paused. I'd said her name earlier. She could probably connect the dots as it was, but I wasn't going to help her. If Taylor didn't end up working with us, she'd probably be on an enemy team soon enough, hero or villain.
"Uh, anyway. We're super new. Like, we don't even have a team name. I'm Percy, AKA Riptide, and, well, you've seen me fight. We're working on a name for Greg."
"But we're going to be a huge deal! Percy's an A-lister. Our third member is a..." I cut him off with a sharp glance. That Purity had merely changed the color of her cape was going to be obvious. That didn't mean we had to come out and say it. "A-a high-powered blaster and mover. Probably the best in the city. My powers aren't quite so awesome, but seriously? They're pretty great." He licked his lips. "I was thinking about the bug controller in general, didn't know it was you, and I was thinking about how great a team we'd make. You see everything in a... well, like half a block radius at least, right? My main downside is I can only simulate things within my field of vision. Together, we'd like, know everything."
I smiled and gave a thumbs up. Greg's presentation wasn't the greatest, but you couldn't fault the guy's enthusiasm.
Taylor crossed her arms and frowned. "I mean, great pitch, except for Percy being on the Protectorate's naughty list. I'm not one to trust authority, Percy, but I don't know you well enough to trust you with my future. I mean, you seem pretty heroic so far, but for all I know, you're like... a racist or a rapist or something. Greg, you're a nice guy, but this wouldn't be the first time you got led astray."
Greg's mouth opened and then closed shut, his face blossoming deep crimson. I clicked my tongue. "That wasn't a nice thing to say. Also," I held up my hands. "Not a racist. Some of my best friends back home were literally not human." Granted, I'd had a hard time identifying with mortals after I found out about my heritage. I liked to think I'd worked through all that, spending time with Paul and Rachel, but honestly it was hard to say. And as to her other concern... I palmed my face. "It's awful I have to say this, but: I'm not a rapist either." I laughed, it was just too ridiculous. Hades, I hadn't even... not even with Annabeth. We'd never had time. We'd only been technically dating a year, and we'd only seen each other for a few months of that time. And now... Anger rose in my throat. If Olympus' gates had been before me I'd have given storming them a shot. I was pissed enough I didn't care if I lost or not. I'd been here most of a month and no word from them. Nothing. No quest, no guidance, no way to get home. I'd do anything to get back to Annabeth. Twelve labors of Hercules? I'd do fifty freaking labors if I could just go home.
Hades, pissed as I was, I'd beg at Ares' feet if it meant I got to go home.
"Uh," It was Greg. "You ok?"
Somewhere along the line, my lips had drawn into a snarl and I was burning a hole in the carpet with a glare. My face drained of expression and I went for a cracker sandwich. "Yeah. I mean, no. Not all right at all." I'm pretty sure being the butt of a cosmic joke doesn't qualify as 'all right.' "Just... thought of something." I tried to shake it off. "I'm not a rapist, murderer, or thief. I don't drink, I don't smoke, I don't do drugs, and I don't use my powers for for personal gain. I don't really care about religion, skin color, sexual orientation... whatever. Back in the day I looked down on... non-capes, but I'm over that now. I might not be a hero in the PRT's eyes, but all in all, I don't have trouble sleeping at night."
I swallowed. "I am a killer though. You knew that much, but suffice to say Oni Lee wasn't the first. Never murdered anyone outright, but I've been fighting constantly since I was twelve and I haven't had the luxury of pulling my punches until recently. I don't see the point in handling someone who's trying to kill you with kid gloves on."
Taylor was quiet a moment. "So, just to be clear, you're three kids with no money, no allies, and no real plan, with a possibly unstable killer leading the group." She raised an eyebrow. "I'll be honest, I've heard better bids."
"Unstable? Come on, I'm not that odd."
"More referring to the whole 'possible Simurgh timebomb' thing."
"Oh that. Well, I guess you'll just have to believe me when I say that I'd never even heard of the Simurgh when I got here. Never been to Australia either. I mean, Simurgh victims usually remember her, right?" I put on my most winning smile. "As it happens, I'm pretty sure I have a way to get money legally and Greg and I have already been making plans. I may be not much older than you, but I've been doing this dog and pony show since I was twelve, and our third member's been in the game for over a decade. Your complaints don't apply."
I went back on the offensive. "But you're not actually worried about those things, are you? I mean, you're still here. I heard about the locker thing, I guess that's when you got your powers? You've had months to go to the wards but you haven't. If you wanted to go villain, you've had plenty of time for that as well. I'm sure the E88 or merchants would love to have you. But you don't seem like a villain to me, and if you want to play hero it's either the Protectorate, us, or flying solo."
"And flying solo is stupid and gets you killed." Greg stated. "Especially if you're a squishy master or thinker."
Taylor steepled her fingers. "Who's your third cape?"
Greg looked at me. I shrugged. He wrung his hands. "It's Purity. She's... trying to be a hero."
Taylor flexed her jaw. "Alright."
"So..." I sat down. "You need time to think about it?"
"Definitely. This... Kayden you're meeting later? That's Purity, right?"
"Uh, yeah." I stated. "It'd be nice if you didn't spread that one around."
Taylor waved her hand. "It's fine. I'm not telling anyone any of your identities. But if you're meeting her for dinner, can I give you a call when you meet her? I know Greg has a cell at least."
Greg blinked out of his haze and nodded. "You want to talk it over with your dad, and he's getting home in an hour." There was no question in his statement.
"Right." Taylor nodded. "I'll... I think I'm going to leave now, though."
I smiled. "Sure, cool! Hey, it was fun just playing Smash with you as well. Too bad about all this cape stuff."
Taylor got up and started walking out. "Yes, it... it was nice. Thanks everyone. Hey, thanks Mrs. Veder! Something came up and I have to leave, but thanks for the crackers and cheese." Mrs. Veder emerged from the kitchen smiling warmly, and grabbed Taylor in a hug. I didn't overhear what she said to Taylor, but Taylor just smiled and said thanks again and left.
I let out a long, low whistle. "We either just got a new teammate, or we're totally screwed."
Greg pushed up his glasses. "Maybe both." He paused. "You want to play another game of Smash."
I sighed. "Styx, Greg, quit using your power like that. It's creepy. Also, give me the green controller Taylor was using, this gray one has a wobbly c-stick."