Apathy 1.5

Taylor awoke, and existence ached. As the conscious world slowly seeped into her perception, the first thing she became aware of was the utter exhaustion that permeated her entire body, a kind of tired she'd never truly experienced before. She felt like a slinky stretched out too far to spring back again, or like that time she'd dislocated her arm during practice and was made to keep it that way for some time as 'training to resist discomfort' that was probably supposed to be more of a punishment than a direct lesson in pain management.

Every attempt to move was like she was wading through sludge to accomplish anything. Twitching her fingers, taking a breath...even her eyelids felt indescribably heavy, her very thoughts sluggish and stumbling. The fatigue magnified into pain when she reached for the Force to heal herself, and had she not already been breathing out, it's likely her remaining air would've wheezed out of her at the sudden sharp sensation in her brain.

[Focus on the pain. Take hold of its clarity and use it to affirm your grip on reality.]

Taylor nodded minutely, and continued reaching for the power within her despite the suffering it brought. Every attempt was like another spike in her brain, a punishment for reaching deeper when there was nothing left to grasp for the moment.

[This will pass, in time. You have over-exerted yourself, channeled more than you could handle tonight.]

The words came into better clarity the more Taylor desperately grasped for the Force. Every piercing headache plunging into her brain was used as a climbing spike to ascend out of the foggy land halfway between consciousness and unconsciousness. After another brief moment and one last reach, it was like a dam being broken, and the barest trickle of the Force began flowing through her. It wasn't enough to get awareness of where she was, not even enough to assess the state of her body, but it was enough to assuage her panic for the moment.

With a Herculean effort, she wrenched open her eyelids and leaned up in the gurney she was apparently lying in. Her eyes constantly threatened to close once more, but she kept them open and took in her surroundings - the situation she recalled being in last before the fatigue overwhelmed her did not fill her with a great deal of confidence as to her current situation, but there was some hope perhaps.

...there was not. She certainly seemed to be in a hospital or a clinic (it was certainly clean enough), but the equipment in the room looked old and rundown. There was too much of it as well - more like it was being stored in here than used. She couldn't hear the hustle and bustle that normally filled a clinic, and while the room was clean, it clearly wasn't too recently - it didn't have that fresh hospital smell, the one that was more a very insistent lack of scent than anything, where only the cleaning agents could be detected olfactorily. The detail of immediate concern was Oni Lee, leaning up against the wall and watching her...unmasked.

[This is a teachable moment. You will be on your own for this conversation, child. Prepare yourself.]

The words registered in Taylor's mind and she just barely suppressed an audible grown - her mentor was playing games, so the situation couldn't be too bad, but it was still aggravating. No doubt they'd be going over the conversation to come with a fine-tooth comb pointing out every point where Taylor had screwed up and needed improvement.

The villain straightened as he noticed her stirring and took a few steps closer. "The bullet passed clean through your shoulder, and during the incident, the wound became cauterized on both sides," he said by way of greeting. His voice was still a bit hoarse, and his tone detached, like he was just reading off a card. Had she screwed up putting his emotional responses back together, or was a career in medicine just the kind of thing that made you apathetic to all that after enough time?

"I've cleaned away the dead flesh and disinfected as best I can," he continued, either not noticing or not acknowledging the guarded look she was giving him, "Although our facilities here are limited, so only so much could be done in that regard. Your right shoulder and arm will still be a bit twingy for a week or two, during which time you'll probably experience greater hunger and fatigue while your body works to repair the damage naturally. Paranormal treatment will increase your recovery time substantially, depending on the specifics of the power in question."

She nodded, and idly felt the area in question with her left hand. Unfortunately she couldn't inspect the wound directly, since it was covered by-

And just like that, it was as if a bucket of ice water washed over her. She was most definitely wide awake now, and able to properly focus on the conversation. She was very abruptly aware of the lack of weight on her head where her hood should rest, on the friction of fabric against her lips that should have been there but wasn't. So that was why he was unmasked as well, then. She eyed him more carefully. What was he playing at?

"There's also some cream for your bruises on the side table," he continued, apparently oblivious to her sudden stiffening. "Do you have any questions?"

She eyed the man before her. The one she remembered experiencing was different - younger, his hair neat and vibrant black, rather than this choppy dark gray cut he was rocking now. It was short, but messy, like it had been cut to keep it out of his eyes more than anything to do with keeping up appearances. "Why did you heal me?" she asked, still feeling the situation out. He wanted something, she wasn't sure what.

"Why did you?" he asked back, and for the first time she hears a note of inflection in his tone. It's too little to read directly, but its presence here and absence before…

Taylor briefly bemoaned the Force's absence at this moment - without it, without her mentor's guidance, she was fumbling to read the man with her own skills. It didn't help that even without his mask, he was clearly used to keeping himself in check enough that his body language and facial expressions were barely giving anything away.

"...don't worry about the time-frame. I'll have myself fixed up fine and be back on the streets in no time," Taylor says with a confidence she doesn't quite feel. "That is, provided I'm allowed to leave."

"Of course," Lee replies with a nod.

"Hmm," she hums noncommittally, as she glances around the room once more. There were no windows, and he was between her and the only door in or out. Certainly in her current state she couldn't force her way past him, if he truly intended to keep her here, but fortunately it seemed that wouldn't be necessary. She refocused on him as she drew her hood back up and slid the mask portion into place. "And how much of...all this...will you be keeping to yourself?" she asked.

She thought she saw a flash of irritation in his eyes. At being found out, or something else. "I have no intention of spreading what little I know of your identity...or your powers. The last thing we need is the Empire having yet another reason to seek you out for themselves." Ah, irritation at the idea he'd betray what little trust there was between them now.

"Does not talking include Lung?" she asked casually, as she began dismounting the gurney. Her legs were wobbly beneath her for a moment, so she rested on the edge and eyed him. "You will need to tell him something of what's happened here, yes?"

Lee doesn't hesitate, although a slight stiffening in his body language tells her she's on the mark. "I will need to inform him now, while I still can, in case I'm incapable of doing so in the future." A different kind of pain lanced through her head at that, this time built of guilt rather than fatigue. "Unless you can confirm that this is...a permanent fix?" Ah, so that was it, she was just overthinking things. He was playing nice with the healer cape, that's all.

Taylor didn't have the energy to check his mind over at this time, but he didn't need to know she was running on dregs. She made a slight show of observing him more directly for a few moments, her eyes glazing over as she gazed into the middle distance, before replying: "If there is degradation, I'm not seeing any. But then it's only been…" she hesitates deliberately.

"You've been unconscious for just about 80 minutes now," he supplies, just as she'd been hoping. It was good that she hadn't been out too long, she could still get home in time for the schedule she'd set for herself when she left the house...but it was also less than ideal, because it meant he'd had time to think things over.

"...right, only 80 minutes," she continued. "We'll see in time, I suppose, won't we?"

"Perhaps. Perhaps not, if you're going to insist on continuing as you have tonight."

She glanced at him. Had she misheard? "You want me to not go out fighting crime. For purely altruistic reasons, I'm sure," she added dryly.

His lips tightened, but he didn't otherwise react to the rather unsubtle rebuke. "You have many gifts, to be sure, but healing is a rarity. It's not like most powers, it can make the world a better place."

Taylor shook her head. "It stems the tide, but it doesn't improve, it only undoes the damage being done elsewhere. It's a band-aid on a bullet wound. I'd rather take out the shooter."

"Escalating like that just means you're playing the same game they are, and they'll be more experienced," Lee replied. "You might have lost tonight, facing down my men and I, and that was with the assistance of a veteran Protectorate cape."

"I won tonight," she shot back. "I wouldn't have passed out if I didn't heal you."

"You wouldn't have needed to heal me if you had not put my life in danger in the first place."

"I didn't have to save you. I didn't want to be a murderer." She stared him down, and he shifted minutely. She sighs. "I can take care of myself well enough. Tonight has been a wake-up call, but not in the sense that I need to leave this behind entirely. It's just a lesson to be more careful in the future."

"Are you joining the heroes?"

Taylor remains silent for a moment. "I'm going to be a hero, with or without them."

"You will be a hero with them, and dead without. Going it alone is a death sentence no matter what side of the law you're on. If you won't join them…"

"I'm not joining you either," she interrupts. "I'm not-"

"You're a hero, yes I recall. Or you want to be, at least. You're still young, you're not evaluating the risks properly. I…" Lee stops, and takes a deep breath, just a touch of a shudder betraying his nerves. "If words gets out of your capabilities - and it will with or without my help, mark my words - then the only people willing to fight you will be those attempting to get you under their thumb. You will be left unprepared for whoever comes after you. And no matter who wins you, everybody loses. Join the Protectorate, or New Wave, or just disappear to retire. Hell," he added, a bit of fire seeping into his voice, "Even if you're not willing to join up, we could pay for services. Having another person working to undo the damage...you can't imagine how much it would change things."

Taylor regards him for a moment. "Then you'll be right there beside me, yes?" His gaze flickers, and she smiles inwardly. "Another person working to undo the damage, yes?"

"I'm not a healer. I can't mend flesh and bone with a touch," he says, a slight bitter note tainting the words. "And I've got my own people to worry about, holding strong against the filth of this city."

"Ah, you're one of those doctors, my mistake."

"I've got my own problems to manage, I can't deal with everyone else's too!" he spits out. "I'm no hero!"


They stared at each other for a minute, neither backing down. "There's always a choice, Doctor," Taylor said eventually. "It's not always easy, but the hard choices don't stop being hard once you make them." She got to her feet, and after barely swaying for a moment, stood upright without any assistance. "...if your mind relapses, seek me out and I'll fix it again. Only your mind." She made her way past him to the door. He made no move to stop her.

"Oh." She stopped just before reaching it. "And if you're tracking me down, try to do so in a way that's not going to out me, yes?" She left, not bothering to look back to see if he'd answered non-verbally or not.

It turned out they had been in some small clinic, she noted as she made her way through the building. She also saw more than a few ABB idling within, but none of them gave her any trouble on the way out. One of them gave her a bit of a dirty look - a woman she'd engaged while Velocity held Lee off - but no words or blows were exchanged, and Taylor passed her on by. She saw even more idling in cars as she exited the building and started her journey to the Boardwalk, but none of them followed her away.

Several minutes into her walk, the trickle was steadily increasing, and she had enough power to get awareness of her body once more. As she walked, she began to assess the damage.

[Leave that for now and focus on your surroundings. You are injured and vulnerable, don't blind yourself to further attacks looking inward until you are somewhere safe again.]

Taylor suppressed another groan and began practicing her scouting skills, keeping an eye out for anyone or anything around her that might give her trouble. She was tempted to expand her awareness to encompass her surroundings, but at least for the moment her eyes could see further than she could feel, and pushing like that would be that much less power if something did end up happening.

[Indeed. We will discuss this conversation in greater detail later, when distracting you with constructive criticism isn't an unnecessary risk.]

{Constructive criticism? I thought I handled that really well!} Taylor shot back. She knew full well what her master considered 'constructive'.

[Oh indeed, you played upon his weakness well, and got him to attack his own position at one point. This will have value going forward. It is the early stages, where he got you to admit almost immediately to your own fault in his mental damage, and to admit to your self-healing capabilities, that mistakes were made. You got a good deal out of him, but it was hardly one-sided.]

Taylor didn't bother answering. Her mentor had high standards, particularly when it came to conversations like this. As far as she was concerned, this had been a remarkable improvement over her previous attempts in her private life. {You're making it sound worse than it was.}

[In a sense, but you are downplaying the mistakes in an attempt to soothe your own ego. Rest assured, child, that if I had thought a loss at this stage unsalvageable, I would not have left you blowing in the wind unassisted. You have both left this debate with the impression that you owe him future mind-healing should it be necessary, which is almost assuredly what he wanted out of this, first and foremost,] they lectured on. Taylor didn't tune them out, exactly, but rather kept her primary focus on not getting ambushed.

[But you have also set the stage for future victories - even if he believes you easily-manipulated via your conscience, you will be hardened against such things going forward. Let him think you are weak where you are strong.] Taylor simply walked for a few minutes, running over bits of the conversation in her head. Mercifully she was allowed to silently contemplate these things without additional commentary.

{...do you think it'll get out that I'm a healer, with or without him?} she asked after some time.

[It is difficult to say. Only you and he were aware of that capability among the combatants, but any onlookers may be able to spread tales. Additionally, some of his subordinates may have theories as to why you were allowed to walk away from the clinic tonight, and some of those theories may strike painfully close. He is right on one point at least: should it get out, you will find yourself becoming a very valuable prize for any that wish to compete for control. Practice caution, my apprentice.]

Taylor nodded, and redoubled her efforts to reach somewhere safe to change. As the dregs of her power gathered, she pushed outwards to turn away the attention of others - it wouldn't make her invisible, as it had before, but maintaining that kind of protection was unnecessary at this point. This would merely dissuade those who noticed her from paying her too much attention for the time she was in their sight. It wasn't very strong at all, but hopefully, it'd be enough to keep her from getting followed home.


Nearly two hours later, she had finally arrived. Her father would be waking up soon enough, so she switched out her costume for normal clothes and started making some early breakfast. She'd have to suffer through another day without sleep in order to get her cycles back on track, but it was necessary for the deception to work. Sure enough, he didn't seem to notice anything amiss when he awoke with the sun. They exchanged smiles and greetings as he prepared some coffee to go with the eggs and bacon she was frying up. Once the food was finished, she brought him out a plate to where he was watching the early morning news.

"-nkfully nobody was harmed in the attack, although authorities have confirmed that Winslow High's computer files were compromised. Our sources have indicated that this may be an almost immediate retaliation to the robbery executed by a small-time parahuman gang on one of the ABB's properties, a casino deep in the docks with a long history and ties to the Asian-American community here in the Bay. The gang in question, the Undersiders, consists almost entirely of what is estimated to be older teens from troubled backgrounds, leading some to believe this attack is an attempt to uncover their identities."

Taylor returned with her own plate and silently ate while they watched the news together. The report continued in this vein, mostly wild speculation as to the motive and overly-confident predictions of greater crackdowns by the PRT in the future for getting a school involved in inter-gang conflicts. Not that anybody would really care, it was Winslow, but…

[It seems he's done as you asked. This won't necessarily trace back to you, simply too much was taken for them to be sure what information the ABB was truly after.]

{...I need to train more before going back out.}

[On that we can agree.]