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Agrippa
Writer of many weird things, including erotica with actual feelings and plot, which I think is banned in several countries.
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Agrippa

Wake-up Call – Chapter 6

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Agrippa

All right! Fine! I will take you! – Chapter 5

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Agrippa
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Wake-up Call – Chapter 5


‘All the cuddles’ may have been an overstatement, given in how much of a time crunch we currently were, but we still lounged in bed for far longer than it should be reasonable given the hour, said time crunch, and how soft Taylor’s body feels against mine.

Yes, that’s a factor. An important one.

Lisa Wilbourn in early stages of infatuation—

Not precisely an Earth-shattering revelation, Power.

Lisa Wilbourn unsure about course of action and stalling due to deep-seated fear of—

Right. This one’s on me. Why would I tempt fate so?

Lisa Wilbourn picking up on Taylor Hebert’s ‘adrenaline junkie’ tendencies due to social mirroring.

… Fuck.

Aaaanyway, Taylor and I are currently engaged in what clearly is the first priority for a pair of fugitives: having a makeover.

“I don’t really think this is necessary.”

You know nothing, Jon Snow.

“Lisa? Really, isn’t there something else we should be doing right now?”

“Shut up and try on the bloody blouse.”

“But…”

“Taylor, sweetie, either you come out of that changing room wearing the very nice clothes your girlfriend carefully picked out for you, or I am going in there.”

“… Is that a threat or a promise?”

Oh, you think you are all that suave, do you? You get into a girl’s pants a grand total of two times, and suddenly you think you can throw sexually charged jokes left and right, do you? Well, I am not—

Lisa Wilbourn’s face, ears, and upper chest experiencing rapid heating due to sudden dilation of capillaries—

Power! Whose side are you on?!

Lisa Wilbourn trying to ascribe loyalties to parahuman abilities’ interfaces reflects a lack of understanding of—

Right. Your own. Of course.

“Well, seeing as you aren’t coming in… In a scale of ‘total disaster’ to ‘we should call an exorcist,’ how do I look?” Taylor says as she opens the curtain. And I stare.

Her eyes still are what first catch mine, no longer hidden by glasses after I have (wisely) invested my money in contact lenses. It takes a physical effort to tear myself from that dark green, almost malachite, and her freshly applied eyeliner just brings more attention to them. Her pale foundation and light pink lipstick just make the contrast even more vivid, and the lines of her face look sterner, more severe, now that her hair is pulled back in a high ponytail rather than loosely diffusing her silhouette.

She is looking at me as if expecting something—clothes. Right.

Her cotton blouse is a soft, pastel blue with a sharp cut that goes well with her black, open blazer, the satin finish on the narrow lapels directing attention upwards to—right, not again. That way lie recursive loops.

And her pants… Skinny jeans, faded dark blue, almost painted on, thick denim hugging and holding her shape in just the right way, with a braided leather belt breaking the line between the two shades of color. The matching brown leather Oxford wingtips (with sneaker soles, because Brockton) just give the final touch to a very sharp, professional look.

Basically, Taylor is a tall, thin girl, whom I have, by the dark magic of power-assisted makeovers, turned into her college self. And now I am quite sure I am drooling.

“Earth to Lisa? Everything fine?”

“Oh, more than fine, I would say…”

And now she’s blushing. That makes it even better.

I wipe my mouth with my sleeve, just in case.

“I still think my hoodie is more comfortable,” she says, demurely looking down.

“Which is precisely why we are changing your style so drastically. You now look distinct enough for people to give a good description of you, but one that won’t resemble, at all, the description they would have given of the past you,” I explain, didactically and calmly. For the third time. Also, I am burning those fucking hoodies till only ashes remain as soon as I get some privacy. It will be cathartic.

Social mirroring—

Hah. No. Taylor wouldn’t use fire… Oh God, I shouldn’t give her ideas.

“Right, I get the theory, but… Is that really necessary?” she asks, distaste dripping from every syllable as she points to the most recent addition to my newly-concocted look.

“Don’t tell me you dislike the jacket so much? I really thought the white vinyl with pink trims sold the look,” I deflect with an eyelash bat. Masterfully.

“The jacket’s fine…” she grumbles.

“The pants, then? Are white jeans really so excessive? Or maybe they don’t suit me?” I insist, turning back and shooting her a look over my shoulder as I fake trying to see how my butt looks in these. Obviously, it’s a trap: it looks fantastic. The strategic rips add quite a bit more information than needed to get that point across.

“The pants…” she can’t help staring. And blushing. Again. I think I have a new favorite pastime. “The pants are also… fine.”

“Well, you can’t have a problem with my sneakers. They are sensible. And a pastel pink crop top is far from the more scandalous thing you have seen me wearing,” I ponder while tracing the strip of exposed, slim belly with my fingertips. Damn, now I am giving myself goosebumps. I am good.

Lisa Wilbourn’s behavior commonly referred to as cocktea—

Nope. No cocks here. You are losing your touch, Power.

Two college-aged men currently staring at Lisa Wilbourn and Taylor Hebert. Likelihood of them wondering about a possible sexual relationship highly—

… I hate you. So much.

I throw a glare over my shoulder, and, predictably, the two guys who have presumably come in to accompany their girlfriends or friends who are girls suddenly find the row of colorful blouses by their side extremely interesting.

Taylor clears her throat; it seems she has also noticed them, and her own glare makes them discover what an incredible deal on skinny jeans the store is having. On the opposite corner of the changing room.

I still have so much to learn... Teach me your ways, Master! I mean, Mistress! I mean… Oh God, why do I do this to myself?

Lisa Wilbourn—

Not a peep. I don’t need the headache.

“Your top is fine. Your shoes are fine. Your everything is fine—except that.” Seems scaring off two grown men didn’t merit any further comment. Also, it seems the glaring match somehow disrupted my psyops.

Cocktea—

I know what I am saying, Power.

“’That?’ I don’t know what you are talking about.”

Taylor gets close enough for our chests to brush and then, not too gently, grabs my recently made side-ponytail in a way I can’t misinterpret as something sexual (not at all, pinky-swear) and then shows me what is offending her sensibilities so much:

A streak of electric blue hair.

“Oh, come on, it’s a clip-in. I will take it off when I am in costume, I don’t see what’s your problem,” I don’t quite whine.

“It’s not your hair. And it stands out.”

“That’s the point. If you have a very distinctive detail, that’s what an eyewitness description will focus on, and if it’s something you can throw away, then you suddenly don’t match your own description. Heck, with a little luck, sometimes the very eyewitness will no longer recognize you, if the detail is distracting enough.”

“All right, fine, let’s say I believe you,” finally! “Then what is my ‘distinctive detail’ supposed to be?” Right, that’s the point to which I have masterfully lead this conversation. Because I am apparently far too easily embarrassed to do this straightforwardly.

“These,” I say as I hand her a small box.

One eyebrow raises inquisitively, and I gesture for her to open the damn thing before I lose my nerve. Then the other eyebrow raises in solidarity as she looks at the pair of silver emerald earrings inside.

“Lisa? Wh—When did you get these?”

“I… Shouldn’t you ask another thing?” This is mortifying. It seems to be a pattern with us.

“No. We have been together since we left the hotel in your harebrained search for the makeover to end all makeovers—”

“Harebrained?! Come on, look at us: we look like a serious college girl hanging out with her party-goer classmate who may or not be up to Sapphic shenanigans! It’s the perfect disguise compared to what went out of your house yesterday.” Deflection powers, don’t fail me now!

“Right, and we will have another talk about that as soon as we are done with this.” My powers are, once again, useless. “Now, when did you get this?”

“.. During math period…” I grumble, scuffing the floor with the tip of my shoe like a petulant child, because, apparently, that’s a thing I am doing now.

“So, before I needed a ‘distinctive detail’ to throw off ‘potential eyewitnesses,’” she says, in a way that’s not quite a question.

“… They looked pretty.”

“And that’s relevant because…?”

“Because I wanted to give you something pretty to cheer you up after class. There. I said it. I wanted to do something nice for my girlfriend, and I couldn’t just be straightforward about it, because I am a mess and I never have been in something like this before and I just—” And then she grabs my side-ponytail and pulls me toward her and mercifully silences my rambling with a kiss that is just long enough I lose track of my rant.

I would sigh in relief, but… That’s not currently an option.

We stand there, the kiss light enough that we can just keep going, more a sharing of presence, of reassurance, than anything sexual, till I hear an obnoxious whistle.

Followed by a yelp and the sounds of somebody frantically trying to smack a buzzing insect.

“Missing Alec already?” I tease her, whispering in her ear with a smile.

“God, no,” she answers, with a full-body shudder that makes my smile broader and sharper.

“Yeah, me either.”

“Good, because it’s not him we are meeting.”

“And you had to go and remind me…” She looks at me reproachfully. Something tells me I will need to get used to that look in the future.

Likelihood of interpersonal conflict in first romantic relationship high due to—

If you keep saying things like that, I am going to start calling you ‘Humbug.’

Despite association with Dickensian imagery, the word ‘humbug’ actually means ‘fake, deceitful—

I know what it means; I am the one who read the whole dictionary for you, remember?



That’s what I thought. Ingrate.

“Lisa? You still with me?”

“Always,” I answer automatically, before I register the actual meaning of the question. And now we are both blushing. Again.

Sigh.

“Come on, let’s go already. He must be getting nervous,” I tell her.

 

Not as much as I am, but, well… The sacrifices one must make when dating an undercover, runaway hero.

***

Going from the relatively upscale boutique where Operation: Makeover ended (and Operation: Give Her The Damn Earrings Without Making A Fool Out Of Yourself catastrophically failed) to the nearly dilapidated little dinner lost in the cramped streets near the docks is not a pleasant contrast. The place is at just the right location where, rather than a refreshing sea breeze, we get to experience the humidity and ever-present smell of seawater going stagnant with a dash of ship fuel thrown in the mix. It is a more ‘authentic’ marine experience than what the tourists at the Boardwalk are likely to get, but damn if I don’t envy their make-believe restaurants with actual air fresheners at the moment.

Genuine things are overrated.

Still, this is not what is making me uncomfortable, it’s just yet another reason I am coming up with to hate this place before even crossing the door (chipped blue paint characteristic of business in the area as—). Right, even Power is getting in on it.

“If you don’t want to come…” Taylor trails off before she can even finish, and I squeeze her hand.

“Hey, this won’t be easy for any of the three of us. The least I can do is be there for you.”

“It’s not. You don’t really need to do this,” she answers forcefully. I can’t help but note that she hasn’t let go of my hand.

“Well, I mean, I would have to eventually.” And she smiles at that, and tucks her chin just a bit, and then pulls me along as she opens the damn blue door with chipped blue paint and dirty glass, and we go into the poorly lit and hardly hygienic dinner. That smells like oil that should have been changed four fishes ago. I already hate it.

And then Daniel Hebert looks up from his coffee, sees his daughter looking like a college-aged girl, and grasps the table to avoid falling as his world crumbles for a moment.

Apparent age of Daniel Hebert, age of Taylor Hebert and typical age difference between heterosexual couples indicates Daniel Hebert likely met Annette Hebert during college. Taylor Hebert currently resembling—

Fuck. Could I just break people when I mean to? That would be swell, thank you.

Before I know it, I am standing by his side, grasping his shoulder.

“I am so sorry, Danny, I really didn’t think she would look so much like her—” And he looks at me, the sheer weirdness of what I am saying, of me being the one who says it, bringing him back from his ghosts.

“Lisa? I… I didn’t recognize you. What have you done with your hair?” See? If this was any other moment, this would be the time for me to get my smug on. Obviously, my girlfriend’s father is using the powers vested in him by his position to stop me from enjoying myself.

“Don’t even ask. Trust me,” Taylor says, exasperation mixed with concern. Which doesn’t stop her from capitalizing on the weakness of my current circumstances, as expected of the combat pragmatist.

Danny looks at his daughter, still shaken, but regaining his grasp on his surroundings doesn’t do him any favors as he now clearly remembers why we are meeting like this, in this place.

“Taylor… What happened?”

“That’s… a long story, dad.”

“I am not going anywhere.” Damn, Danny, that’s a smooth line, mind if we swap tips?

“Yeah, I was afraid of that…” Taylor, apparently, doesn’t appreciate how suave her father is. And must have been, if he bagged Taylor’s mom looking like he does.

“Well, if you want me to get the ball rolling…” I look at Taylor, and she nods while Danny looks at me with wide, uncomprehending eyes. I mean, maybe he could be cute in a ‘lost puppy’ way… “Your daughter and I are… parahumans,” I say as we sit on either side of him.

“What,” he states eloquently. I sigh.

“Taylor, if you please.” She glares at me, but soon a few flies land on the table and write ‘Hi, dad' in a very disturbing, possibly Satanic, way. Danny looks like he’s about to scream bloody murder before I clutch his arm and make him look at me.

“We are also in a torrid lesbian relationship.”

What?!” Oh, that brought him out of his shell-shocked funk. Who would have guessed?

Me. It’s me who would have guessed. Obviously.

Lisa!” Looks like I also brought Taylor out of her (hypothetical) shell-shocked funk. Who said I am not good at conversations?

“Yes, dear?” I answer, as sweetly as I can. Which should be enough to weaponize cavities.

Oh, Taylor is flushing, but more with anger than embarrassment, though there’s also a hint of that…. There’s an idea. For later. In privacy.

Lisa Wilbourn likely to enjoy flaunting in public her—

I draw the line at you suggesting new fetishes for me to try, Power.

“Oh God, Annette was right…” Danny mutters.

“Mom what?” Taylor definitely doesn’t sputter.

“She always said the way you and Emma—” And now I am witness to the novel experience of a fully grown man being interrupted by two teenage girls fake-gagging. Well, not quite fake, if I am being honest—I can now taste once again my breakfast blueberry muffin, and it was much better the first time around. Danny, you have verbally incapacitated a Thinker seven. Congratulations, mortal, your feats shall be recorded in the stars.

“No. Definitely not,” Taylor says.

“Sweetie, to be fair, my power thought the same.” And now I am being speared by my lover’s stern look. This day is definitely full of first times. Aaaaand now I am blushing. Why do I do this to myself?

Lisa Wilbourn likely to be aroused by—

Nope! Nope! Can’t hear yoooouuu!

Taylor’s ocular lynching of my innocent person is interrupted by Danny’s groan.

“Oh God, it’s true…” he says, clutching his head in the throes of despair.

“Elaborate,” Taylor demands.

“You two. Together. That’s the way Annette always looked when—” And he interrupts himself. And now he blushes. I am feeling a strange kinship with this man.

“If you finish that sentence, I swear you won’t ever sit in a chair that hasn’t been sabotaged by termites.” That’s right, love, you tell him. Also, that could be the most eco-friendly act of terrorism you have ever come up with.

“Right… So. Parahumans. This has to do with what went on at Winslow?”

And now we come to the less fun part of the conversation. Because it involves Taylor telling his father about how she has been hiding from him how bad things actually were, how defenseless she has been, how throwing herself against an almost certain death in a battle with Lung was a relief compared to what went on in her daily life. And how he, her father, hasn’t even suspected a fraction of what was going on under his very roof.

To be fair, most parents would expect their children to tell them if they were suffering horrible abuse rather than hide it and internalize it as their new normal.

To be even fairer, most parents are morons.

I try to mediate, even if Power is far more suited as a Warhammer (for the Emperor!) than as a scalpel, but ultimately I am an outsider in what very clearly is a family matter. I am only allowed to expound my views on specific matters.

“Taylor was never a villain, no matter what the press said. Yes, she most likely traumatized some of the people at the bank, but the ones who put them in actual, physical danger were the Wards shooting artillery and Glory Girl deciding that architecture is optional on casual Fridays.”

I mean, I try, but the facts aren’t that flattering by themselves.

“Her objective always was to get a hold of the actual villain behind the Undersiders. And, when it comes to actual villainy, the only person she has seriously hurt is the parahuman terrorist bombing the hell out of the city. Taylor saved all of our lives that night. Again.”

Well, some facts are.

“Danny, seriously, don’t even think about suggesting she signs up with the Wards. Not until Sophia Hess is behind bars. This shouldn’t be a hard concept to grasp.”

And some facts are just plain stupid. Seriously, that supervisor went from ‘wanting to keep the cushy job without making waves’ to ‘let’s pretend the attempted murder via bioterrorism didn’t happen.’ It’s a wonder she hasn’t already died by forgetting how to breathe and walk at the same time.

“No, really, Danny—”

“Lisa, if you don’t shut up, I will show you exactly how much Annette taught me to believe in gender equality.”

Ah, right, Taylor isn’t the only one with a temper. Well, I guess that’s an improvement.

Low emotional response usually associated with depression—

So, yeah, an improvement. Thanks, Power.

He takes a few calming breaths after his almost outburst, and then he looks straight at Taylor (likely trying to ignore me, for reasons unknown to mortal kind).

“To summarize: you have been hiding from me that you have powers, that you have been systematically abused since you were released from the hospital, that you joined a villain team while trying to be an undercover hero, and this morning you were almost shanked by one of your tormentors, who turned out to be an active Ward.”

“I… Yes. That is correct.” Taylor doesn’t flinch when she returns her father’s gaze, but I notice the flies buzzing off into the corners of this place. I don’t comment on it.

And then Danny hugs her to his chest, completely enveloping her like the child she can no longer be.

“Stupid, stupid kid,” he mutters in a watery garble.

“Dad, I…” Taylor is trying to hold back tears, receiving an embrace from her father for the first time in far too long.

“Shush. You are all right, and the bitch got shot. That’s all that matters to me,” he says, face buried in her hair, fingers clenched white over her shoulders.

“I also sent Emma into a catatonic shock by ruthlessly exploiting her trauma,” I can’t help but interject.

Danny raises his head just enough to look at me out of the corner of his eye.

Good,” he says, in a voice so low it rumbles in my chest.

Damn, now I am jealous of my girlfriend. This can’t be healthy.

And then the street is on fire, and Danny is throwing the table on its side and pulling us behind it, clutching us both to his side and offering the meager protection of his slight frame.

Ah, right. Ongoing terrorist attack. How could I have forgotten?

Lisa Wilbourn prioritizing threats of a personal nature due to—

Of course. Well then, that makes the solution simple, doesn’t it?

Bakuda, you almost killed my team and me. You almost killed my lover after subjecting her to the worst pain a human being can physiologically experience. You almost got lucky and got us both at the same time just now.

And now? I don’t care how much of a cliché this is; now I am making this personal. 

And I don’t think Taylor will take your almost murdering her dad very calmly either.



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Agrippa

All right! Fine! I will take you! - Chapter 4

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All right! Fine! I will take you! - Chapter 3


It is said that men are geared towards tunnel vision due to our hunting instincts. Our eyes face forward, not to the sides, so it is perfectly natural (in the most literal sense of the word) that a dense harem protagonist will miss the clues being dropped left and right by the more subtle girls of the cast while his gaze remains nailed to the white piece of fabric bared by the clumsy dojikko defenselessly exposed in front of him. It is just human (biological) nature.

In that vein, it needs to be stated in no uncertain terms that I hadn’t planned to meet Iroha this morning. I had, in fact, planned to come early to school so I could confront Shizu before classes started, and so that was my mindset (understandably mono-focused) at the time.

So it should come as no surprise that, when I see my Christmas Cake teacher come down the corridor, stop dead as our eyes meet, and promptly turn around and flee, my reaction is less ‘cool, collected senior skillfully evading a nosy junior’ and more ‘there is nothing suspicious going on, Isshiki, now I am going to run in that direction for absolutely no apparent reason.’

“Senpai! What the He--heck?!” My arm jerks back due to Isshiki still keeping her iron grip and I nearly dislocate my shoulder. I need to start exercising. Maybe I can convince Zaimokuza to go together to a gym and get a group discount? Or a discount from the gym if I promise them I won’t bring Zaimokuza anymore?

“Isshiki! Let go, I will explain later, I promise!” Curse you, mouth, you are always getting us in trouble. Oh, Isshiki is looking at me as if I am suspicious. And now she’s putting on that foxy smile of hers that makes her look suspicious.

“Of course, Senpai. I can see you are in a hurry, and I would never get in your way, so I will just be expecting a thorough explanation later on,” she says, the very picture of a demure, deferring junior.

Very suspicious.

“Fine, I will take it. Now, let go.” She does, and I am off to pursue Shizu.

Which is a bit… peculiar, as I am chasing down someone who is very much trying to look as if she’s not running away in case one of the few early students or another teacher catches sight of her, while I am also trying not to appear as if I am chasing her, in case anyone who can call the police or pull out a pepper spray does what comes naturally.

Basically, we are kind of rushing a bit, but not too much, while trying to maximize our advantage over each other, given our self-imposed limits on our speed. And suddenly I have a privileged insight into the art of the slow blade and the terrifying skill of Paul Atreides, scion of House Atreides, ruler of Arrakis, Emperor of the universe. Meaning I finally understand how silly it would have looked.

Yes, by all means, try to stab me slowly. See how that works out. This has now become my favorite way to not die against a fictional character.

And then Shizu reaches the stairs, looks around to see they are deserted, and starts running to the next floor, proving in practice that speed is actually a factor in any physical confrontation.

“Ms. Hiratsuka! Wait!” I raise my voice as much as I dare as I start taking the steps two at a time. She almost stops when she hears me, but picks up the pace quickly enough.

“We need to talk!” I insist, using the most dreaded phrase by men anywhere.

“No, we don’t! Everything is just fine!” I believe the gender roles have been inverted in this scenario. Which is a relief, because a girl chasing a fleeing boy is much more socially acceptable than the reverse.

“Shizu, stop!” She stumbles, and I almost catch up with her before she regains her step.

“Don’t call me that!” At the pace she’s going, we are gonna run out of stairs to keep this scene going.

“Make me!” I gasp out, my lungs letting me know in no uncertain terms how much they despise me.

“Don’t tempt me!”

“That’s the whole plan!”

“Wha—” She starts to turn around, red-faced and quick of breath, and I finally catch up to her.

And so, naturally, I kiss her.

It is rough, my hands pawing at her sides to make her face me, my neck stretching to make up for the height difference, my breath forcing me to start and stop in maddening pauses. It is clumsy, my exertion and eagerness making my movements frantic and unfocused. It is hungry, a whole night of longing and expectations pushing me forward.

It is perfect.

Shizu lets out a moan against me before she catches herself and backs away, climbing the stairs backward, and I press forward, our lips somehow not separating (something that seems quite unlikely without her active cooperation). At one point, I overtake her, turning her around and going one step higher than her before I start pulling her up the stairs, my hands on her neck and her back. And then, thankfully, we do run out of stairs to keep the scene going.

This would be an excellent time for a fade-to-black and transitioning to both of us smoking a cigarette.

“Hachi—Hikigaya, you can’t just do… that,” she says, bewildered, flushed, panting. I am tempted to take a picture and send it to Haruno. No, I don’t know why either.

“I am pretty sure I just did.” Cocky smiles don’t suit me, I am sure. This would have been the perfect line for the ikemen character to break down the barriers keeping him from his victim—I mean, destined true love. Speaking of which…

I turn us around at the landing at the top of the stairs, and push Shizu back against the door to the rooftop just before I slam my hand against the wall at her side and lean toward her. She looks at me, eyes wide and mouth slightly open.

“Did you… Did you just kabedon me, Hikigaya?”

“It was listed as the top fantasy for single women in a recent survey.”

“Do you realize it works much better when the man is taller?”

“If it worked much better than this, I think I would be calling an ambulance right about now.” Power of the cocky smile, don’t fail me now!

She snorts, which turns into a chuckle, which turns into full-blown laughter. What is it with me, beautiful older women, and making them laugh when they are far too near?

“All… All right, fine, it is a fantasy,” she concedes, wiping a tear from the corner of her eye. Finally, some recognition. “Thanks for fulfilling that for me, Hikigaya. Now let me go before we get in trouble.” I frown at her request, but also at something else.

“Stop that.”

“Stop what?” She looks confused.

I lean forward on my tiptoes, my chin tucked against her shoulder, my cheek caressing hers, and I breathe against her ear. “Stop saying my… Just… Just call me Hachi?”

Turnabout is fair play, after all.

I lean back just enough to catch her reaction and I see the whole sequence go off: visceral confusion, recognition of what she said to me yesterday, a flare of indignation at the brief suspicion I am mocking her. And then she turns her head just enough to look me in the eye.

And she sees me staring back—raw, naked vulnerability, a man that can’t put on a mask for fear he won’t be able to take it off. Sees how… how utterly fragile I can be. I hate myself that bit much for it, but it’s all I can offer. All I am.

And she kisses me.

“Hachi.” She moans my name as she peppers my face with light-feather kisses.

“Hachi,” she whispers, as she does something to my neck that makes me roll my eyes back and try not to moan.

“Hachi.” Her fingers thread through my hair and she pulls me against her, hungry lips devouring and being devoured by my own.

Mine,” I growl as my hands run under her vest, pulling her against me till our bodies mash against one another, her soft curves flattening to my own shape. She moans at that, as much at the word as at the sensation. I start unbuttoning her vest, much less patient with the frustrating piece of clothing than yesterday, and soon reach her cotton blouse. I should hesitate, stop, ask for permission. And then I remember a silhouette turning around behind ground glass.

And so I don’t.

I unbutton her shirt and pants as quickly as I am able, silencing any protest with hungry kisses that she can’t help but return, her neck craned down to offer me easy access to her lips, her tongue, her everything. She flinches back in surprise when I finally manage to start fondling her over her bra, the stiff fabric insufficient to stop me from enjoying her softness, her shape, her weight, but she soon enough starts moaning harder and faster. Weak spot located. Hit it for massive damage.

I push the cups of her bra upwards, unwilling to try and decipher the arcane engineering required to unclasp these contraptions (or so the cliché would have me think, and I am not about to put it to the test given the current circumstances), and I finally, at last, manage to get a glimpse of Ms. Hiratsuka’s breasts after having speculated about them for far too long (seeing her in a bikini didn’t help—at all).

And I finally stop my assault.

Shizu stands before me, her clothing in absolute disarray, her face flushed, her breathing erratic. Beautiful as I have ever seen her. And her breasts… I know it’s uncouth, that it doesn’t do me any favors if I want her to see me as a mature man rather than a growing boy, but…

They are… I…

Dammit, Zaimokuza, where is that thesaurus when I need it?!

“So… You like them?” she asks, shy, flustered, slightly turned in profile.

My left hand takes her waist, my right lifts her left breast—pale, smooth skin capped by a pink nipple the size of the tip of my pinky finger and half as long, standing with a slightly upward tilt—and I begin to kiss the skin between her breasts, going up with every kiss as my fingers sink into the softest thing I have ever felt. Her scent surrounds me, envelops me, inebriates me, and as her moans start once again, I reach her neck, where I demonstrate I was paying attention by giving her a thorough rendition of what she did to me just seconds ago.

She raises a hand to her mouth, biting her index finger as her eyes clench shut, and I know I must be doing something right (which is a relief, because I still don’t know where half of these ideas are coming from) so I raise my head, nibble on her earlobe, and whisper in her ear, “I love them. They are yours.” And then I slip my tongue in her ear, playing with it as if I was kissing her mouth.

She sags against the door, her knees buckling, opening to let me stand between them.

I press forward, my thigh brushing where her legs meet, and she jerks her head back hard enough she knocks against the door at her back. But she doesn’t protest, doesn’t even flinch, and keeps biting her finger as if it is the most delicious thing she has ever tasted, ecstasy written across her partly obscured features. So I keep fondling her breast with my right hand, playing with circling caresses and stronger pressure, sinking my fingers, and finally tweaking her nipple playfully as my mouth remains occupied with her ear. But I have another hand. And I would like to keep my pants dry.

I let my left hand trail down her stomach, barely brushing it as I feel her defined abs under a thin softness twitch at my teasing touch, so soft compared to what I am offering elsewhere, and I soon enough reach the elastic band of her panties. Neither it nor our positions are ideal, and my wrist strains as I slip my fingers inside the garment, but when I do… Oh, Shizu, you look so beautiful when you are this defenseless.

I think I may be an S. No, that doesn’t stand for “Shizu-maniac.”

… Not exclusively.

The wet heat that greets me inside her panties is yet another stroke to my ego, so I decide to return the favor. As gently as I am able, I cross the thin patch of soft, silken hair and reach a nub of tender, erect flesh that, according to my studies (Fate/Stay Night deserves to be enjoyed in the original format), should be able to do the job on its own without me risking a sprained wrist, so I start rubbing it in a smooth, circular pattern that—

And Shizu grasps my head, pulls me away from her ear, and kisses me harder than she has till now. Which is quite hard.

My head swims as her tongue invades my mouth and her muffled moans reverberate through our joined bodies. She hugs me against her, and I feel my hardness, uncomfortably bent down my pants, press against her, and I shiver, almost forgetting for a moment that I have my hands full.

Almost.

Her own enthusiasm only seems to fuel my desire to bring her over the brink, to show her I can give her this much, that I can be a man for her, even if only in this small measure. I pinch her nipple before rolling it between my fingers, and I press her clitoris down as my tongue stops being pushed around by her own and I turn the struggle into a dance, twisting and twirling around each other. I manage to open my eyes after realizing I had closed them at some point and I catch a glimpse of her, of her expression completely overcome by passion and lust, and it is a miracle I don’t ruin my pants there and then.

Instead, I jerk my hand, a movement unintentionally more intense than I thought (if thinking is even the right verb for what I am doing), and she comes.

A low whine is lost in the distance between her lips and my own, her eyes closed tighter as something that almost looks like pain due to sheer intensity paints her features. It is the first time I have seen a woman climax. The first time I have made a woman climax, and I am fascinated by everything of it. By the way her muscles go taut just before slackening, by the way she so desperately tries to hold back something she has no hope of stopping, by the way I, just for this second, seem to become the center of her world, the pivotal point upon which this all-consuming moment hinges.

I can’t wait for the second time.

Shizu slumps into my arms, and I desperately use all of my meager strength to hold her up (definitely going to that gym—just not with Totsuka). Her skin feels scorching, waves of heat wafting off her and carrying her scent, her very much changed scent, up into me. I kiss the top of her head, my hands gently rubbing her back under her clothes as I silently curse the strap of her bra that occasionally trips me up. I will need to practice with these things. Hopefully, in a way that doesn’t make Komachi ban me from her room.

It is over far too soon, as she straightens up, still flushed against me, and looks into my eyes.

“Hachi… I… This…” I can’t let her finish, so I hug her tighter, pressing into her body, and make a problem readily apparent. Her blush reaches (delightfully) the top of her breasts. “You are… very hard, aren’t you?”

“Oh, how surprising, making a beautiful woman come has gotten me on the brink of ruining my underwear and my reputation. How will my maiden heart stand this indignity.” Uh. It turns out sexual arousal and physical intimacy are not enough to hold back my snark. Truly, it is an unstoppable force of nature.

She punches my chest. Obviously. Turns out the violent tendencies of Hiratsuka Shizuka are also a force of nature.

(Though the punch is weak as a kitten’s paw, and that makes me proud and giddy in equal measure. But that shall remain a secret forever.)

“I could… should help with that?” She looks into my eyes, head tilted down, eyes lidded, small, unsure smile.

Something snaps inside my head. At this rate, I am going to run out of things to be snapped by cute, flustered Christmas Cakes. Such a horrible prospect.

I take hold of her hand and bring it down on top of my erection, pressing it against her.

“Yes. I think you should. It’s only polite to return the favor, isn’t it?” Her smile grows a bit cheekier at my attempt at suave, domineering talk. It is a skill I shall endeavor to practice.

“And we wouldn’t want to leave any evidence, would we?” she asks, leaving me confused before she drops down to the ground and unzips my pants, her eyes intent on what is about to be revealed.

Oh.

Oh.

Shizu maneuvers our bodies so I am the one leaning against the wall, and she hooks her hands into the waistband of both my pants and my boxers before pulling them down, so I am suddenly far more naked than I expected to ever be in front of a faculty member (weird dreams involving the whole assembly hall aside). Her eyes grow far more focused, intent on the rod twitching in front of her, and I expect her to make a comment about my size, my hardness, my readiness, or the huge dollop of precum hanging off my tip. Instead, she looks into my eyes as she takes hold of me (and I don’t let out a squeak at her overpowering touch, no matter what some ill-intentioned individuals—Yukinoshita—would have you believe), and she gathers said dollop with her tongue before visibly swallowing it.

I shudder. She smiles.

It is not a soft smile.

I do not say aloud ‘I think I need an adult,’ but my new mantra flashes through my brain in between the short bursts of coherent, conscious thought that I am allowed as soon as Shizu decides to take my glans between her lips, and her tongue starts devoting herself to reducing me to a drooling husk. I don’t want to be mind-broken the first time I get a blowjob, dammit!

I lean back against the wall and look at the ceiling to distract myself from Shizu’s enchanting eyes and her predatory smirk still visible from where it is comfortably perched on top of my erection, but the suspiciously off-white plaster can’t distract me from the intense, electric bursts of sensation shooting through my body from my groin. Almost of their own volition, my hands travel to the sides of Shizu’s head, and I find myself running one hand through silken hair while another plays with her ear, then I am rewarded by a muffled moan that draws my eyes back down to find hers closed in warm pleasure. The sight is enchanting enough I don’t even care about Iroha’s red face peeking from around the knee wall at the top of the stairs.



I feel I just overlooked something important.

Raising my sight from Shizu’s moaning, joyful face, I find myself staring straight into the eyes of the Strongest Junior, who looks not so much as if she has been caught with her hand in the cookie jar, but in the middle of the secure vault with Top Secret and Biohazard signs posted all over. I try to signal to her, with body language alone and an expressive gaze, what I think about her presence here.

You are interrupting. I will be very upset if Shizu stops what she’s doing before I am finished. Please be a dear and get the fuck out of here before this gets any messier.’ Which is more or less me jerking my head in the direction of the stairs frantically, but I think it gets the message across.

What? Senpai, are you saying that if Ms. Hiratsuka leaves before you finish, you will have me take over to make up for it? That you want to get me messy with your cum, painting over my innocent features with your seed as you climax all over my panting, red face? I am sorry, Senpai, but that is impossible, I could never let you soil me in such a way before even taking me on a date. It just is impossible. I hope you won’t be upset and will still let me act my voyeuristic fantasies on you.' Okay, fine, she’s just shaking her head so fast her hair is whipping about, but I somehow get the whole speech. Operant conditioning is a scary thing.

So, I am getting my bone marrow sucked out of me by my beautiful Christmas Cake teacher as my no less appealing cheeky junior peeks on us with an expression that is the furthest thing from disgust I have ever seen from her, and there’s nothing I can do to stop her without getting Shizu far too flustered to continue. Shizu, who, right now, has the hand that isn’t fondling my member buried in her pants as a drunken look blooms all over her gorgeous face, streaks of saliva and precum gathering around her lips.



I will take it.

There is something perverse about being made a spectacle, about knowing whatever you are doing and is being done to you is pure enjoyment for a third, uninvolved party. I know I should be offended at this first time with Shizu being intruded upon by somebody else, but as I look down at my teacher so eagerly lavishing me with her (wet, sloppy) attentions, as I see her body undulate under her own touch and her expression positively radiant at my own, I couldn’t care less about Iroha’s meddling.

I feel that’s a phrase I will regret at some point.

Even so, even if I try to dredge up some kind of grudge, of indignation, I just can’t. I like seeing Iroha watching me. I like seeing her watch Shizu so eagerly, with such focus, as Shizu’s hand accelerates along my shaft, jerking me forward toward her waiting lips. I find it hard to divide my focus between the two, but each time my eyes meet Iroha’s as Shizu gives me a quick lick or sucks just hard enough to make me shudder, the sensation is magnified. She knows what Shizu is doing to me, and is drinking it all with as much intensity as I am. Which is, obviously, a lot.

So it is no surprise that I just can’t hold back anymore.

“Shizu… Oh gods above… Shizu, I am going to cum. Right now!”

Her eyes finally open, pure joy radiating from them as she nods without letting me go, dragging my cock up and down with the motion, and that… that is enough.

I cum.

Burst after burst shoots out of me as my vision goes pure white, as I feel my fingers dig into her scalp and I somehow manage not to pull her down till I am cumming straight down her throat. I empty myself inside her mouth, and feel her swallow frantically, desperate not to let a single drop escape her lips, her eyes capturing my own each time I am able to see anything that isn’t the back of my own skull or blinding light. Finally, with a last, weak spurt and suction strong enough to coax out the dregs of my seed, my strength leaves me and I let myself slide down the wall till I am sitting on the ground, in front of my still masturbating teacher.

I lean forward, our foreheads touching, my hand caressing her neck, and I whisper, “Mine.”

And she cums.

It’s not as spectacular as the first time, not as intense, perhaps due to my lack of involvement or perhaps due to the circumstances and how uncomfortable she must be, kneeling on the ground, but seeing her eyes open so widely, the surprise written on her face as her orgasm overtakes her… It is beautiful. And it is only for me.

And… It may be corny, even if I don’t say it aloud. It may be hormones, teenage lust, desperation, and a thousand other things. But…

I feel it’s genuine.

We lay there, in silence, supporting one another for what feels like ages before, in silent agreement, we separate enough to make ourselves at least halfway presentable. I almost want to banter, to joke around in the middle of the euphoric mood, but instead we let a comfortable quiet remain, an unspoken something still connecting us after the passion of the moment has been spent. I smile, and so does she, and I don’t think any word could improve this.

She takes out some paper tissues and cleans my remains off her face, and I, not nearly half as busy, tuck her hair back in place before she shoots me a grateful look that makes my knees go weak(er). It is a serene silence, something to be savored.

And it is broken by Iroha’s voice.

“Tobe? No, you can’t go up. Student Council’s business. What? What business? Oh, you are offering to volunteer your help? How generous of you, Tobe, you just have to—don’t run away, you coward.”

It sounds like it is coming from the landing below us, but both Shizu and I know well enough that there is no Student Council business here and that Iroha just covered for us. The gratitude is somehow muted at Shizu’s flash of panic.

I try to take her hand to reassure her, but she’s already halfway down the stairs by the time I reach her, and we see Iroha idly playing with her phone. Shizu almost freezes before she decides to nonchalantly march down the stairs with me fumbling behind her in tow. It’s just as we reach Iroha that she tilts her phone just enough that I can see what is on the screen.

A picture of me making a very weird face as Shizu kneels between my legs.

I think I already said it, but at this point it bears repeating:

My illicit romance is messed up, as I expected.

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All right! Fine! I’ll take you! - Chapter 2


It is an obvious yet easily overlooked fact that words that describe essentially the same concept apply almost exclusively to a select class of people and never the other. If a homeless man starts walking around the neighborhood talking about how the voices of the spirits are responsible for his unemployment, he is a “nutcase,” but if the very same man was an actual millionaire speaking about how his corporally-challenged friends gave him tips to get rich on the stock market, people would pay for the privilege of listening to his rambles and speak in awe about this “eccentric” genius. Much in the same vein, if a traumatized, billionaire bodybuilder decides to spend his rainy days posing on top of an assortment of gargoyles he is “brooding,” but if an unpopular teenager lies on his bed and covers his eyes with his arm after being rejected by the first woman he kissed, he’s “moping or “sulking.”

Truly, the thesaurus is yet another weapon of oppression wielded by society. Rise up in arms, fellow illiterates, destroy the overly flowery Zaimokuzas of the world!

My phone message tone rings, and I jump up from my bed.

It is not Ms. Hiratsuka’s number. My shoulders slump.

May as well read it.

“Hey, Hikigaya, this is Haruno, Yukino’s sister. I am in front of your house, come down.”

I blink in confusion before a cold shiver runs down my spine. Maybe I can fake being already asleep—

My phone screeches its merciless death toll once again: “Stop fidgeting in front of your window and come here NOW.”

I throw my uniform jacket on and rush down the stairs while elevating a prayer to Zaimokuza, Patron Saint of Those Who Will Die Virgins, so that he can spare me his own fate, and open the door. She is there, her back resting against a lamppost, cheerfully waving at me.

“Hey, Hikigaya! Good to see you, come over here!”

It would be less threatening if she was waving a bloody knife. Deliver me from the Yuno Gasais of this world, Saint Zaimokuza.

In front of me stands Haruno Yukinoshita, a beautiful, intelligent, clever, perceptive woman, much like her younger sister if she had about ten robot pilots less insecurities and trauma and about five kuuderes worth of unfathomable depths, a ruthless disregard for societal norms, and a tendency to amuse herself by playing to, or against, the expectations of others. It’s like Yukino’s and my own child has come back from the post-apocalyptic future wearing a killer android flesh as a disguise. I know said future would be post-apocalyptic because that would explain how Yukino and I even managed to think of having a child together.

She’s also, for reasons none of them have ever explained to me, one of Shizuka’s friends.

Which means I am about to confront the sister of my “cathetus” and friend of my “this better remain quiet,” who is also known for playing mind games with me because I am just that amusing. No, I am not nervous.

Nervous is a long, fond memory at this time.

“So, are you going to keep ogling me, or are you going to come over and have a nice, friendly chat,” she asks in a way that is neither nice nor friendly. I mean, she is smiling, sure, but most fish have a genetic memory that screams at them to run away when they see this many teeth.

Which is definitive proof that I must be dumber than fishes, because I am now walking toward her, lazily waving my arm and mumbling a studiously informal “Sup.”

There’s a flash of amusement before the knifey smile makes a comeback. “Oh, you know, not much. I just went out for drinks with a few of my friends and you’d never guess who I ran into.”

“The sample size of our mutual acquaintances who can legally drink is not exactly that big,” I deflect, with a tone so flat I can feel the medical team rush in with crackling defibrillators.

“Right. So it wouldn’t be a guess, but a deduction with a high likelihood of being correct. So I am right: you would never guess,” she presses on, with what would be a smug tone if “smug” had a lethal setting.

I resist the urge to sigh and try to loosen my shoulders. “… What did she say?”

“Well, that about clinches it…” The question must show in my eyes, because she quickly clarifies. “She didn’t name you, Hikki, she still had her guard up, even after drinking… however much she drank before I found her. You know, it’s usually fun to rib her about her bastard exes while she goes on a drunk rant, but… Not today. Today wasn’t fun at all.”

“I don’t even know what I did—”

“Of course you don’t.”

We keep silently looking at each other, and I start getting angry rather than nervous. This is the genius of the Yukinoshita family, the idol that Yukino can’t help but tear herself down over because she won’t ever measure up to her. This is the woman who has made me feel like a heel after her whole “codependency” revelation because apparently I am hurting my friends when I help them. This is the woman I fear as much as an older version of myself. She knows me.

And so, I kind of know her in turn.

“There’s something you want me to say, something you want me to believe has come from a deep revelation about my issues while you have planted the seeds without my knowing. You want me to tell you these words at the end of this conversation and act on them starting tomorrow morning,” I say, acid dripping from every syllable.

She looks at me, really looks, her eyes glinting under the yellow light of the streetlamp. And her smile softens and she chuckles—right before she just starts guffawing, loud peals of laughter making me feel strange coming from this beautiful woman (damn you, hormones!), and she claps my shoulders with both hands, coming uncomfortably closer to me (not the time, hormones!).

“I always forget how hilarious you are, Hikki. It almost makes it up for all the bullshit you are pulling right now.”

“We could get to the end of this much sooner if you started talking straight.”

“Yes, we could, but faster is not always better. Maybe I should have taught you a bit before I let you have your shot at Yukino?” The meaning of the line flies right over my head till it decides to do a one-eighty and dive-bomb me from behind. I feel my cheeks redden, and Haruno’s chuckle doesn’t make it better.

“Much as I would have appreciated your… instruction…” I can’t believe I am saying this with a straight face. “I am not sure how Yukinoshita would have taken it.”

“Another chance to try and one up her dearest, older sister? You would have died a happy man, Hikigaya.”

The blush is about to become an aneurysm. “I feel like I should call an adult.”

“I am an adult.”

Police? Yes, I would like to report a crime in progress…

“Though I think Hiratsuka would be cross with me if I deprived her of the chance to teach you herself…”

A bitter taste fills my mouth. “I think her pedagogical calling has cooled in that regard.”

“You really can be stupid, for such a smart man.”

“You really can be cryptic, for such a duplicitous woman.”

“Oh, if only I was four years younger…”

“That would have made you a year younger than me.”

“And how would it make you feel to have me calling you ‘senpai?’” The otaku in me nearly chokes on his tongue at the line. The male adolescent starts coughing as she claps my back. “Well, that’s my answer, I guess.”

“Right, enough dancing around; what do you want, Yukinoshita?” I ask, with all the authority left in me while I wipe my coughed saliva with my sleeve and try not to have my cheeks spontaneously combust. It’s not much, admittedly.

“Tell me what you think happened. In exchange, I will tell you what I think happened.” Straightforward, and apparently fair enough. So it is obviously a trap, but I am far too tired to look for it.

“Shizu went on one of her rants about how she will die an old spinster, I kissed her in the heat of the moment, and she was apparently fine with the idea. Then we decided to go to a less public place. I went first, and she…” I remember a silhouette through ground glass, long dark hair waving as she turned around, the sound of hard soles clacking against the floor fading into the distance. “And she didn’t come.” I lie. Haruno knows it, but she doesn’t care to press me.

“I asked you what you think happened, Hikki, not to give me a list of events,” she says, not unkindly.

“That I got dumped.”

“Right. That’s what I thought.” Her hands are still on my shoulders, their weight anchoring me in the moment and not on what I was feeling in my room just twenty minutes ago. For that much, I am grateful. “You are wrong, of course.”

“There’s not much wiggle room, Yukinoshita.”

“They call you a ‘monster of logic,’ don’t they? Tell me, Hikigaya, what happens when, in the most perfect logical framework you can imagine, you introduce false assumptions?”

I pause, looking at her, at eyes so often mischievous, so often mercilessly cold. “What don’t I know?”

She smiles, looking at me, at eyes so often dead, inexpressive. Hers are warm, mine are wet. “She never rejected you.”

“She didn’t come.”

“She didn’t. So she didn’t confront you, didn’t tell you she didn’t want you, didn’t reject you. She fled, so she didn’t have to. Now, does ‘Shizu’ strike you as the kind of person who would deliberately hurt you just to avoid being embarrassed?”

She doesn’t. No, not Shizu—oh gods, I just called her Shizu out loud, this is mortifying—she… Ms. Hiratsuka always goes out of her way for the members of the Service Club. She shamelessly plays favorites with us, especially with me, going out of her way to include me, to give details of her life beyond the professional, to be there when I break down. She would never hurt me for something as petty as mere embarrassment, not when she has embarrassed herself plenty enough on my behalf and in front of me.

“You are starting to get it. Shizuka is not a monster of logic, Hikki, but she may very well be a monster of duty. She is a moral person, willing to always go above and beyond what is expected of her for others, always giving more than taking. So…” she trails off, expecting me to finish.

“So, once she calmed down she decided she shouldn’t… do anything with her student, even if that was what she wanted to, and precisely because she wanted to she avoided the temptation. And because it was a temptation and she felt guilty about it, she tried to drown her sorrows in cheap sake and too many salty snacks.” And I do.

“I see you know her well.”

“So do you. Did she ever tell you about something ‘genuine?’”

“… I am not going to answer that question,” she says, her eyes once again hardened. “But if you want something genuine, Hikki… What about my sister?”

“I—I promise I will do things right. I won’t hurt her.”

There’s a blur of motion, and suddenly my back is against the wall and Haruno’s breath is tickling my face. I don’t know what to—

“I am not going to kiss you, Hikigaya.”

Well, that just narrows it down to murder.

“I may hit you, though.”

Or maiming. I guess that’s also a possibility.

She shifts her hands, the way she is holding me, and only now do I realize how utterly incapable of escaping I am. I remember Yukino’s off-handed comment about her sister excelling at everything, including martial arts, and I am suddenly hoping this is a shounen and not a seinen. She presses nearer, the scent of lilacs overwhelming my senses and her breath scalding against my ear.

“You will hurt her. You will likely hurt her worse than anybody ever has, and that pain will be genuine. That pain will help her grow out of the stupid child she has so stubbornly refused to let go of. And you will hurt Shizuka, as you tear down her values and force her to confront them with her feelings, you will wound her, by showing her how irreconcilable they are. You will hurt them both, Hachiman, and that is the best you can do for them. I won’t accept any half-measures, I won’t accept any excuses, nor any compromises. You will be a man, and hurt the women you love, because only that will be ‘genuine.’”

I almost shiver at the end of her speech, and I don’t know whether it is in revulsion or something darker and softer.

“Now, Hachiman, be a man and promise me. Promise you will hurt my sister. Promise you will hurt my friend.”

I look at her, straight into her violet eyes, so harsh under this light, so unlike the frail, thin ice of Yukino’s blue. I lean forward, and whisper into her ear, “I swear I will do what I think is best for them. And if Yukino cries, there will be someone there to hold her.”

She rears back as if struck, and then starts laughing once again, but I think there’s actual mirth this time around. And she kisses me.

On my cheek.

“If only I had met you before her…” she teases, with a longing gaze that I am (almost) entirely sure is affected mocking.

“Then I wouldn’t have been me.”

“Maybe. But I think you would have always ended up being you.”

“And I think I should take offense to that.”

She giggles and finally lets me go, turning around and waving goodbye. I just stand there, in the middle of the street in front of my house, watching as she melts into the night, and I am left with this one looming question:

How am I ever going to fulfill that promise?

**

As I enter the school the next morning, I have yet to find an answer to that question. Unfortunately, there are no walkthroughs posted about it, as it seems my life is still in beta trial and no one wants to leak spoilers. That explains all the bugs, really.

So, it is forgivable of me to forget to activate Stealth Hikki long enough for something to go wrong, that something in question being having a hostile agent intercept me before I can get to class and/or look for Shizuka.

“So, how come you didn’t stop by the Student Council yesterday, Senpai?” Iroha’s cheerful, sweet voice is so fake it’s actually banned by several Food and Drugs administrations, and her grip on my sleeve is currently being studied to hopefully improve next-generation bear-trap prototypes. The Strongest Junior honors her title as she gives me no reprieve.

“I think I need an adult.” This may become my new tagline.

“Senpai, are you insinuating you want to see me as an adult woman? That you need me to be so? That you so desperately want to see me blossom into adulthood that you can’t wait any longer for me to grow up before you get your hands on me? I am sorry to reject you, Senpai, but it is impossible for me to stop being your cute, youthful junior at the drop of a hat—all flowers need time to properly bloom. I hope we can still be friends.”

I should be used to this by now. I really should be.

“Now,” she continues, undeterred by our short-lived romance, “as a show of our enduring friendship, how about you tell me in exacting detail what was so important that you couldn’t drop by and hear about our plans for the prom?”

But I think the day I get used to Iroha being Iroha is the day… Zaimokuza comes up with a good simile?

Yes, let’s go with that.

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Agrippa
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All right! Fine! I’ll take you! - Chapter 1


Author’s note: Obviously inspired by, and starting right in the middle of, this. This. Oh my God, the sheer diabetes!

There comes a time in the life of every man where temptation appears. Should I say I forgot my wallet back home? Should I look at the finished test of the bookworm sitting next to me? Should I look at the walkthrough before fighting the final boss? Should I push Zaimokuza in front of an incoming truck just to grant him a chance at his wildest fantasies? Society conditions us to refuse temptation so that people who are—

“Take me!”

Ahem. So that people who are below the totem pole don’t take advantage of opportunities that are not approved of by the system to rise up. Resisting temptation is a virtue because it allows the system to self-perpetuate, to keep down the ones who are down—

“Take me!”

Oh, for… Say, for instance, that a high schooler on the verge of graduation is entangled in a love triangle for reasons beyond his reckoning. The two girls in question are age-appropriate, both attractive in their own way, and, asides from their unexplainable attraction to the dense harem protagonist, apparently sane. Mostly. Society dictates that he should choose one of them and allow the other to go through heartbreak; that’s the established solution, and anything else would be cheating—

“Take me! Take me! Take me!”

Ms. Hiratsuka, you aren’t making this any easier. So, what is this boy supposed to do when confronted by the temptation of his delicious Christmas cake teacher? Should he go on a diet? Abstain from even the most remote chance of catching diabetes? Gorge himself on ludicrous amounts of plump, round, bouncy icing till his—

“Take me! Take me! Take—!”

“For heaven’s sake—all right! Fine! I’ll take you!”

“Eh? Hmph! Hmph!”

Before I can (finish) talk(ing) myself out of it, I am leaning over the small table that separates me from my gorgeous, middle-aged teacher, grasping her white coat-clad shoulders, and silencing the maddening siren call of her combo-finisher “take mes” by pressing my own lips on hers.

She tastes like cherries. Should have known she would use a high schooler’s lip gloss. Ms. Hiratsuka, don’t you know a woman who doesn’t act her age comes across as desperate and desperation is the ultimate mood-killer? Source: me.

“Hikigaya… I…”

She leans back and breathes my name against my lips, possibly to stop me. It is a very counterintuitive way to reach that goal.

I push forward, bumping my shin against the corner of the table as I try to climb over it. I should have known my first kiss would end up in pain.

Hiratsuka’s eyes are wildly open, looking into my own with something close to full-blown panic. Should have known I would terrify the first girl I kissed. Hey, Ms. Hiratsuka, I called you a girl in my internal narration, aren’t you happy?

Her eyes don’t stray as I advance the last few inches that separate us, and, this time, I am slow enough not to take her by surprise. I lean forward.

Our lips touch.

We move.

After all, I think I like cherries.

Though I could do without the tobacco aftertaste.

I would like to say I leave her breathless through sheer passion, that my heretofore unrevealed abilities as the ultimate lover are awakened and her pupils turn into pink hearts (which would look terrifying, so I am actually glad that doesn’t happen), but this is my first kiss, my shin is hurting like Zaimokuza’s beta reader, and the posture is awkward like… like everything related to both romance and Hikigaya Hachiman. No surprises there. I manage to climb across the table and sit beside her on her chair, mindful of making too much noise as we are still in the teacher’s lounge, even if we have these increasingly suspicious privacy screens. Hiratsuka shuffles, making room for me, and her hands travel up my back before tangling her fingers through my short hair. I like it, so, like the very good and diligent student that I am (LOL), I copy her and grasp her by her nape, making her let a little whimper of pleasure against my lips.

God, she’s so beautiful…

I can’t help myself and grasp her hips, shifting her so she is now sitting on my lap, never allowing our lips to part. Then, shyly, as if asking for permission, her tongue peeks from between her lips and moistens my own.

I lose it.

I open my mouth and devour her. My tongue tangles with hers, muffled gasps swallowed by my eager mouth as my vision goes white, as a torrent of heat rushes up my body, and I realize that yes, I am kissing this gorgeous bundle of insecurities and mature wisdom, this woman who has done so much for me and... I grasp her by her neck and her lower back, pressing her against me as the predictable physiological phenomenon occurs beneath my waistband, and I allow the sensation of her squirming on top of it to take away unnecessary thoughts.

“Hachi… Hachiman, we should stop…”

I nibble the side of her neck with a possessive urge I haven’t felt outside of particularly heated waifu wars. “Why?” My voice is hoarse and my wit nowhere to be found. How surprising. Not.

“Yukinoshita… Yuigahama… Iroha?”

That last name is not like the others, I am compelled to claim, yet the point does not evade me.

“What? Do you want them to watch?”

Though I can still act like it did.

She slaps my chest and pouts at me, so I nibble her protruding lip before she has a chance to retract. Don’t provoke me, woman!

 “You know what I mean. They… and you… And I am so…”

“You are making it far too easy for me to pretend not to know what you actually mean. Keep at it, it makes my job easier.”

The pout turns into a glare. It would look much fiercer without the blush that manages to cross the bridge of her nose in a prolonged, two-pronged campaign. Fight on, Blush-chan! You can do it, Blush-chan!

“You are thinking something stupid to avoid the consequences of this, aren’t you?”

“I don’t know, maybe it’s just that all the blood necessary to think not-stupid thoughts is currently devoted to trying to lift your shapely butt through the power of applied hydraulics.”

“…”

“I did say that out loud, didn’t I?”

“This is why Yukinoshita calls you a creep, you know?”

“First of all, I have never mentioned any of the intricacies of the male body going through puberty to Yukinoshita, second of all, could we please stop talking about her?”

“Would you rather talk about Yui?”

My traitorous brain can’t help but conjure Yuigahama’s Yuigahamas. Ms. Hiratsuka is not a slouch in that department (maybe the only department where she doesn’t slouch out of habit), but she’s still far from the reigning champion of my… My something extremely complicated that I dearly do not want to define at this very moment.

What else is new, Hikigaya Hachiman?

“And there’s the brooding look that was missing.”

“At least I am not pouting.”

“I am not pouting!”

I pointedly look at the protruding lip that had been my target not that long ago and she retracts it. Before licking it nervously. I am getting mixed messages here.

“So, consequences. What a fun topic.”

“I am twice your age, your teacher, and you are about to wage war on the whole administration and PTA on behalf of one of the two girls who have been surgically attached to you since you were introduced. This”—she gestures down towards where her excellent derriere is still parked on top of my lap –“is absurd, and you should forget about it.”

“Counterpoint: you aren’t twice my age, more like one and a half”—her knuckles dig into my solar plexus, and I let out a not at all surprised gasp—“I mean, you are much younger than that, almost as young as you look—please stop trying to give me a masochistic fetish—I am just one year from graduation, and I would go to war with the whole PTA over the brand of canned coffee they have available.”

“You care a lot about the brand of canned coffee we have available.”

“Right. Poor example.”

The hand that was still worryingly pressed below my breast bone relaxes, and her palm comes to rest over my chest. Ms. Hiratsuka, taller than me, a gallant figure straight out of a movie poster with fast cars and expensive cocktails, impossibly looks up into my eyes. My mouth dries at seeing them moist.

“This is impossible, Hachiman.”

My hand cups her cheek, and I breathe my answer against her lips.

“This is inevitable, Shizu.”

And I kiss her.

Not frantically, not half-maddened by the desperate litany of someone who fears loneliness as much as I do.

Gently.

Probingly.

Lovingly.

My mind is thankfully silent as I feel our bodies entangle, pressing against one another. The stiff fabric of her vest stops me from feeling her heat seeping into mine, from feeling her softness against my chest, but my fingers make up for it by delighting in the silk of her long hair as they travel down her tresses, exploring a back slim yet toned with muscle and finding so, so many delightful spots that, when pressed, result in little whimpers that I keep swallowing as soon as she releases them. Her whole body is enticing, her legs crossed atop my own radiating a warmth that grows as my pulse quickens, her firm behind molded against me in a way that should be obscene yet falls slightly short, her chest kept prisoner of a vest that, stylish as it is, I am beginning to despise (seriously, get a hint, you pretentious wifebeater). But, more than that, it is her slender, smooth neck that holds my fascination, as I keep making her shiver by softly dragging the back of my fingers up and down its length.

I don’t know how long we take, but we don’t end up brusquely separating while trying to get some much-needed air. We separate gently, languidly, our foreheads touching as our lips barely graze each other. Looking into one another’s eyes.

“Why?” She asks, barely audible over my thundering heartbeat.

“Because it is genuine.” And she smiles, and I smile with her, and it is not a creepy smile, it is not insincere, not trying to show what isn’t there. It… is a smile. Nothing more. Nothing less. Wonderful.

“It won’t be easy.”

“Ms. Hiratsuka, I am offended that you would think I would be easy. I would have you know I treasure my virtue and I am saving myself for my future working wife, to which I will devote my very being as a househusband.”

“There’s that twisted side of yours, I wondered where it went.”

“Twisted? I will have you know I am the very embodiment of the virtues of the Japanese spouse. I swear solemnly to receive you at the end of the day with the sacred phrase: ‘Would you like a bath, dinner, or… me, Ms. Hiratsuka?’”

“Stop that.”

“Stop what?”

She leans forward, her chin tucked against my shoulder, her cheek caressing mine, and she breathes against my ear, “Stop saying my… Just… Just call me Shizu?”

I feel something snap inside my head.

My arms surround her of their own volition, smashing her chest against mine as she gasps.

“Shizu.”

I nibble on her neck, still wet from my last try, and she whimpers as I murmur once again.

“Shizu.”

My hands wander, one pulling her hair so that she offers me her throat, the other venturing towards her backside, grasping it with more daring than I would have thought I had.

“Shizu.”

She moans, surprised as I maul her flesh with my eager fingers, as I suckle on her skin, delighting in her taste that no longer carries tobacco, and I venture to unclasp her vest (vanquished at last, my eternal foe), finally feeling her breasts without the stiff cloth hindering me.

Mine.”

I growl, and she whimpers.

I grab at her with all my strength, every gasp, every moan, a sign that I have a hold of her, that she is not beyond my grasp. Because she fears being alone, but I… I fear letting go.

So I don’t.

“Hachiman… Hn! Please!”

I don’t listen, now nibbling on her ear, still grabbing her hair, while I finally venture between her legs to find slight wetness soaking through her slacks. I begin to rub her and she jolts, the movement felt too strongly given what still lies beneath her (that is, me—a very much eager me).

“Hachiman, please, please, please, please—”

I rub up and down, not fast, but firmly, with short strokes. I hope eroge has taught me well.

And then she grabs my wrist and, with wild eyes and short breath, she tells me:

“Hachiman, please, stop.”

What a surprise. Not.

Something of my utter dejection must have shown on my face (I guess dead fish eyes can still be expressive), because she hurries to console me: “We are still in the teacher’s lounge, you know?”

Oh.

“Oh.”

The fond exasperation would be more convincing if you didn’t look like a gravure model who has finished an impromptu photoshoot after a bikini malfunction, a hidden camera, and a photographer that would make the #metoo movement faint, Ms. Hiratsuka. Mental note: never even think about gravure models when around Shizu. My brain-to-mouth filter is not to be trusted.

“Yes, oh.”

“Stop trying to act cool while looking like a gravure model who just realized the kind of photoshoot she signed up for.” Damn it, brain! You had one job!

“Stop trying to distract me from how cute my clueless student can look,” she ripostes, her eyes full of cheeky affection.

“Cute? Me? Is that blush from heatstroke, Shizu? Should we go to the nurse’s office?”

We both freeze at that. As we look at each other, we say at once:  “We should go to the nurse’s office.”

I hurry through corridors tinted orange by the evening sun and reach the nurse’s office so quickly that the speed alone would disprove any legitimate reason for me being there. Luckily, the place is empty, and I settle on one of the beds to wait for Ms. Hirat—for Shizu, each second feeling like a minute and each minute feeling like—like something very long. An info dump at the beginning of a fantasy novel written for the likes of Zaimokuza? Yes, let’s go with that.

We decided to come separately in case… Of something that should be obvious, given the very illicit nature of this burgeoning relationship. It may also have been a factor that I have had to walk here in standard adolescent male gait number two (hunched over, hands in my pockets—you know why) and not even the legendary Stealth Hikki would be enough to cover for this if I was walking beside a gorgeous woman who—hormones. Right. My old nemesis, we meet again.

Still, Shizu is taking her sweet time coming and I am starting to get nervous. Not for any actual reason, asides from all the very valid reasons.

Just as I am starting to ponder the merits of pacing around the room in a manner very unbefitting of an energy-saving character—sorry, Houtarou-sensei, it seems I have abandoned your teachings—I hear the unmistakable clacking of hard-soled shoes approaching, and Shizu’s silhouette appears through the ground glass window of the door. I hold my breath.

And she pauses.

I look at her distorted image, awful comprehension sinking in with each second that she doesn’t come in.

And the image disappears as her harsh footsteps vanish down the corridor.

I lie back on the bed that had filled me with so much anticipation just seconds ago, and I look at the ceiling like a traumatized robot pilot—I should buy myself some headphones. As I finally let out the breath I had been holding, I can’t help but say:

“My illicit romance is messed up, as I expected.”

I should come up with better taglines.

 

 

 

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Agrippa
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Wakeup Call - Chapter 4


The rest of the conversation with Taylor and Armsmaster is anything but calm and collected. There’s quite a bit of raised volume, panicked back and forths, barely restrained swearing, and incredulous reiterations of objective (?) fact.

All in all, I would say I am in my element.

Lisa Wilbourn delights in social confrontation as a way to compensate for her perceived weakness and vulnerability when it comes to—

Oh God, Power, can’t you let me have any nice things?

Lisa Wilbourn looking forward to spending more time with Taylor Hebert as they both

… You are mortifying. Have I ever told you that you are mortifying?

Well, to make a long story short, Armsmaster is currently trying to downplay Taylor’s involvement as a possible recent trigger/bank robber, yours truly is being presented as a “mysterious Thinker” who may have influenced an unstable schoolgirl to act on her behalf (which… uncomfortably close to the truth, but whatever), Sophia has been given a gag order as somebody has “fortuitously” found records of Taylor Hebert being hospitalized in the recent past, something that a junior LEO should have, maybe, kind of thought relevant to mention to someone if they didn’t want to appear suspicious, and… Well, that’s where the good news end.

The PRT is almost handled, in that we are unlikely to get shot on sight, but Coil would still lock me up in a dark basement if he caught me after I put everything in jeopardy by shooting up a school, Emma is a loose end because someone is bound to care enough about her to raise some kind of a stink over her going catatonic due to my emergency psychological surgery (without anesthesia), we can’t go back to the Undersiders as long as Coil is still in charge, Taylor’s dad remains at risk if the snake thinks he should get some leverage on Taylor (or on me through Taylor). And dear Armsie still hasn’t given us any secret badges or cool gadgets to go with our Totally Spies new schtick. Party pooper.

Oh, also? My head is killing me. So, so much.

Overuse of Thinker Power in stressful situations

Don’t I know it…

“Does it still hurt?” Taylor asks in a sweet whisper as she rubs my back while we both remain seated on the bed.

“Like a bitch.”

“You sure? I think Bitch would hurt a lot more. She has a mean hook.” I can’t help snorting at her quip. She’s getting better at those.

“She has a mean everything. Seriously, power-induced abnormal psychologies are the worst.” The hand rubbing soothing, tingling circles over my taut muscles stops at that, until a pleading look from me restarts the cycle of warm, fuzzy feelings. Dignity? Is that something that gets in the way of being petted like a pampered kitten? Don’t need it, thanks.

“Power induced what?” Oh, something else I hadn’t told her. Darn, those things keep cropping up, don’t they?

“Her Power lets her empathize with canines and understand their body language. Given that she was systematically abused in her foster home and her social growth was, to grossly understate it, stunted, she currently is unable to relate to anything that isn’t her ‘pack.’”

“’Currently?’ Meaning she could learn?”

“Well, if you manage to force the violently maladjusted juvenile delinquent with superpowers to go to therapy and make an effort… Maybe? These are the kind of connections that are established during the formative years; the brain grows less malleable as it grows older.”

“So this is a time-sensitive issue.” Oh, I know that look.

“Don’t make this into a personal crusade, please; our slots for those are kind of filled up at the moment.”

“Aren’t you a bit too talkative for somebody who has a debilitating migraine?” And that, ladies and gentlemen, is a grade-A deflection if I ever heard one. Or spoken one. Which I have.

It’s my superpower, don’t judge me.

“I think my Power makes an exception for conversations. I don’t know why, nor how. Heck, I don’t even know why Thinkers get headaches when teleporting Movers don’t—it’s not like my brain is doing the heavy lifting here.” I wince a little at the admission; it still smarts. “The rules seem kind of arbitrary.” And with that, the deflection is accepted. It’s for the best: do not fight on dispersive ground.

“Like that thing about ‘psychics not being real’ Glory Girl went on a rant about?”

“Right?!” Finally! Someone who gets it! “The floating barbie with a forcefield tells me I would need a brain the size of a football stadium to read someone else’s thoughts, but how the Hell does she think she’s flying? What brain-size do you need to stop bullets?”

“Bullet. Singular.” I take a moment to get it. And then I start laughing. Oh God, it hurts and I can’t stop.

Taylor looks far too smug at having effectively neutralized me before a flash of actual human compassion goes over her features and she lays me back on the bed.

“Come on, you need to rest,” she says, softly enough to be soothing rather than jarring.

“I need cuddles,” I try to whine. I think I manage admirably.

“Let’s compromise.” I swear, every time I hear Taylor use that word, I get the urge to check whether she’s a shapeshifter—

Body language consistent with patterns

Thanks, Power. Also, ouch.

“Compromise?”

“Yes. Turn over.”

I reluctantly obey her instructions and lie on my stomach, and then I am suddenly pressed into the mattress by Taylor’s weight lying square below my ass. She’s sitting astride me and—oooohhhh

“I see you like that,” she says, smug satisfaction dripping off every syllable.

“Whatever gave you—oh yes, just right there—that idea?” I answer as I feel her slender, deft fingers press along my shoulder blades, releasing the tension hidden underneath.

“You are literally purring.”

“I object. Kittens purr, we foxes do… something? I don’t know; I will google it later.” Much later, if I have my way. I have never had a massage before, and I never knew what I was missing.

Taylor chuckles, and I can feel the vibration where her hips meet mine, which I am sure would be doing all sorts of wonderful things to me at any other time. As it stands, her hands traveling up and down my back in trails of smooth embers hold my attention captive.

She keeps at it for some blissful moments, before she starts tugging on my shirt.

“The clothing is getting in the way,” she explains. ‘Hey, it’s not like I was objecting,’ I don’t verbally answer.

My pleased mumbling shall suffice to get the message across.

Her thumbs sink into my lower back, digging small circles that frame my spine and make me go slack with sheer relief before they travel upwards and release my bra strap.

She doesn’t comment. Neither do I.

My shirt is now bunched over my shoulders, caught beneath my breasts on the front, and Taylor’s fingers burrow underneath the fabric, kneading the taut muscle it hides. My breath deepens, and my eyelids droop as slow waves of relaxation radiate from every point she touches.

“Stop moaning, Lisa. It’s distracting,” she whispers, leaning right above my ear, the tips of her hair gently dragging across my naked back.

‘I am not moaning,’ I try to answer, but the words get caught up in a long, dragged-out moan. Truly, I am surrounded by traitors.

Taylor giggles, and I once more feel her body make mine vibrate with her enjoyment, her hands pressing down on me as she resumes the blissful kneading of my flesh. At this point, my power-induced migraine is a distant memory, and the uncomfortable throbbing of my temples is quickly losing the battle against the sheer relief she brings me with every circular twist of her thumbs.

“Seriously, stop moaning.”

“I can’t help it; you are too good at handling my body.”

We both pause as we digest our latest exchange. I am about to laugh at the absurdity of the porn-like double entendre when I feel her weight shift over my body, and once again I feel her voice, her much huskier voice than usual, murmuring beside my ear: “You don’t know the half of it.”

I lick my dry lips as I try to come up with a reply that’s up to par.

“Really? Because I am always up for a learning experience.”

… It seems my dialog is currently stuck on the porny setting. Only time will tell whether that’s a bad thing.

“Well, in that case, I guess it is always a pleasure to instruct such an eager pupil,” Taylor positively purrs straight into my ear, her voice reaching far, far deeper and southward.

Good thing. Getting stuck on porny dialog is a good thing. Definitely.

She nibbles on my earlobe just enough to leave me wanting more before she leans back and her hands start traveling downward from my shoulders, tracing gentle lines down my sides till they reach my hips. She leans forward then, using her weight to sink her hands along the bone, making me curl back as yet another moan escapes my lips, lips which I promptly bite while I try not to picture the kind of face I am making at the moment.

Thank God there are no mirrors here.

But Taylor doesn’t let up, dragging her fingers up, skimming them along my skin, till she reaches the side of my breasts, what little of them is spilling from below me without being covered by my bra or my shirt. She starts teasing at the line of skin that transitions from breast to torso, the change in sensitivity clearly visible through my reactions, even if right now it feels like my whole body would be sensitive enough to bring me over the edge as long as she’s the one who plays with it. Though at least I have stopped moaning.

Now, instead, I am letting out what even I can’t describe as anything but these cute, little gasping yelps that make me sound like an overexcited puppy. Fare thee well, Dignity, we hardly knew ye.

Taylor isn’t about to show me any mercy, and she presses her assault without any regard for my exposed weakness or non-verbal surrender. Very in character of her, I should add. She leans forward, her thighs pressed around mine, holding her weight as she bends over me and her face rests next to mine, and then lets go, laying over me, pressing me into the mattress.

And she hugs me.

And stops moving.

Oh. Shit.

“I am sorry, Lisa, I wanted to, but I just…” she apologizes, voice unnaturally steady, and I kick my horny brain for its sheer incompetence in managing the situation.

“Shh, it’s all right. There’s nothing to apologize for.” I mean, other than me needing a change of underwear, but I am guessing a pair of panties may cost about the same as a good massage, so we should be square. Now, about that happy ending…

No! Bad brain. Bad! No cute heroine in tights for you!

“It’s just… I try not to, but I keep thinking about it, about her being a hero, about someone covering up for her, and I—”

“Taylor, sweetie, you almost died today. I won’t complain if you feel up to snuggling more than snogging.”

“… ‘Snogging,’ really? You are henceforth forbidden from reading Harry Potter.”

“You are henceforth allowed to infringe on my trademark and use humor as a deflecting mechanism to avoid talking about thorny issues.” See how generous I am? Robin Hood has got nothing on this professional thief.

“How magnanimous of you.” Well, that’s another positive adjective than the one I had in mind, but I won’t complain as long as you praise me.

“Damn right I am. Now scuttle over, I have a girlfriend to cuddle.” She rolls to my side without any further prompting and, after some quick maneuvering that is in no way made awkward by my state of undress and managing to trip myself when my elbow gets caught on my bra strap, I find myself lying on my side as I wrap Taylor between my arms and I look into her green eyes.

And she keeps looking, her face carefully devoid of emotion. Wonder why—oh.

“So. Girlfriend, uh?” she asks without any inflection. Damn her anti-Thinker countermeasures! This is just unfair.

“Well, I mean… We are having sex?” Nope, bad start. “And living together, I guess, since we are now both runaways.” Oh my God, Lisa, stop digging! “Also… I call dibs?” That’s it, you are hereby expulsed from the Thinker club. You are the Anti-Thinker. Your stupidity is powerful enough to neutralize parahuman enhanced cognition. It wasn’t bad enough to get Coil on your ass, now you also had to antagonize Accord.

She keeps looking at me without saying nor doing anything, and I feel my nervous grin wilt under her implacable assault till she, finally, reacts in a way that is recognizably human. And laughs in my face.

Should have seen that coming.

Lisa Wilbourn trying not to use Power to avoid further pain

I know that!

“God, you should have seen your face,” she says, wiping an errant tear from her eye as she gets her breath back under control, and I try not to show how annoyed I really am. And then she leans forward and kisses my lips, and I try not to show the goofy grin that is inexorably rushing to said lips.

“So. I guess I’ve got a girlfriend now. This day really has some ups and downs,” she says with a teasing smirk.

“If it makes you feel any better, I think everything is going to be uphill from now on.”

“I… Are you sure you didn’t get that backward?”

“I know what I said, sweetie,” I say, before hugging her closer. She takes a moment to answer, as I feel her breathing press her chest rhythmically against mine and her scent fills my head with a fluffy haze.

“So, things are that bleak, aren’t they?”

“I don’t know. Coil must have heard about things by now, so we can’t count on the team anymore—”

“But, Brian wouldn’t… Would he?”

“Brian is stubbornly loyal to his own. In this case, his sister. We also counted until we became an obstacle to the boss who is so kindly providing him with a fake work history, and thus has him by his balls. Make no mistake, he’s a very nice guy, but his morals are very, very flexible when it comes to what he’s willing to do or tolerate for the sake of his objectives.”

“If he is doing all of this to get the custody of his sister, then maybe…”

“Taylor, Wards get paid. They also don’t have to do crimes. He had a choice, and he picked sides a long time ago.”

She nuzzles against me, face rubbing between my breasts. Before she mumbles: “So did you.”

My arms go slack around her, and I take a deep breath.

“That’s unfair.”

“It is. But here you are.”

I sigh, and I cuddle her closer.

“Yes, here I am.”

And her arms wrap around me, her face coming up right in front of mine, dark green eyes holding me still.

“I am glad you are.”

And she kisses me.

I feel my renewed tension drain out of my shoulders as her tongue invades my mouth, as her fingers travel up, digging trenches of tingling flame through my scalp, as she turns and pulls me on top of her, her other hand tracing my spine until it comes to rest over my ass and starts kneading me there, my pelvis instinctually tilting and pressing down on her own, her hand guiding me in an up and down motion, my body helpless to do anything but follow her demands.

“Are you… sure? You aren’t, you know…?” I mumble as I lean back enough to get a much-needed gulp of fresh air.

And she pulls me down and devours me.

My head goes blissfully blank as I become nothing more than a plaything in her hands, as she pulls even more moans and gasps out of me while her hand forces me to give both of us some much-needed pleasure. She lets me keep going as she stops kissing me long enough to finally get completely rid of my shirt and bra, the hand that had so thoroughly enjoyed my ass now paying equal amounts of attention to my breasts.

Her legs open, one jean-clad thigh slipping between my own and pressing upward just as I tilt down with enough force that I go cross-eyed as I whimper into her lips.

She throws me to the side and we both rush to get our pants and underwear off right the fuck now.

And then she sits between my legs, her right one going under my left, her left enticingly extending over my nude torso even as she unfairly keeps her awful, black hoodie on.

“I always wondered how this would feel,” she says, eyes locked onto mine with hunger and yearning.

“Always?” I can’t help asking, an inquisitive eyebrow reflexively raised.

She flushes—now, she flushes, when I am already a gasping wreck—before answering in a small voice. “My mom had… books. I am a very avid reader.” I can’t help my positively vulpine smirk at that nugget.

“Oh, I bet you were avid—” And she presses her sex against mine and manages to shut me up.

The amount of unfairness I am putting up with today…

Reciprocity usually considered essential for functioning relationships

Oh, right, a moral excuse. Thanks, Power!

Just as Taylor grinds her hips down (and a spark of something wet and warm shoots through my spine, but we aren’t dwelling on that), I rest my thumbpad on her suddenly exposed clitoris and start rubbing it in small circles. Her hips jerk, once again doing wonderful things to me as her wet lips glide along mine and my own clitoris gets briefly engulfed in her warmth, but her rhythm is sidetracked, and her eyes shoot open, almost bewildered by the turn of events, as if this I the first time she—

Oh, right, she only played with me last night. I didn’t get to return the favor.

A vicious smirk pulls at the corner of my lips as I see my chance, and my thumb keeps Taylor off-balance as I press my assault and let my Power give me a few tips.

Taylor Hebert surprised by turnaround, vulnerability intellectually unappealing, yet viscerally exciting

Figured as much. My free hand takes Taylor’s arm and pulls her up, and, off-balance, she goes along with the motion, sitting up as our legs bend and entangle, our torsos shifting. Then I lean forward and kiss her, as gently as I can while my thumb speeds up over her clit and I mix the circular motions with intermittent pressure.

“You can let go,” I tell her, softly, a warm smile blooming on me as I hold her close, as my breath ghosts over her lips and soft shadows outline our faces, framed by our falling hair, mixed dark and gold glinting with every thrilling shiver of sensation. “You can let go with me,” I repeat.

And she does.

Taylor’s body goes rigid next to my own, and shuddering waves wash over me as she finally experiences an orgasm that has been given by another. I try to hold back, to just delight in spectating the joy, the release, of my lover, but I can’t, and I soon follow her as our heat mixes between our entangled legs, as we both lose ourselves in one another.

It’s… It’s magical. Even better than last night, if only because it’s shared.

Also, orgasms make me corny. Good to know.

We take our time coming down from our respective heights, and I take advantage of her momentary weakness to pull her on top of me and cradle her head between my naked breasts. Her soft breath over my cooling sweat is quite distracting, but it’s a sacrifice I am willing to make.

Yes, ‘magnanimous’ sounds about right.

We just lay there, silent, for a while. When we get up, we will have to plan and act, recover all of my hidden assets, hammer down the deal with Armsmaster, make sure Coil has not made any moves… It’s a long list, and all of it is important, but, at the moment, it can wait, because my girlfriend just had her first shared orgasm and deserves some goddamn cuddles, no matter what the world may have to say about it.

“Lisa?” she mumbles, lips dragging over the skin between my breasts in a way that makes warmth bloom under it.

“Yes?” I answer, dragging almost limp fingers through her gorgeous hair.

“Remember what you said last night?”

“I said a lot of things.”

“That you loved me.”

Oh.

“Oh. That.”

“Yes, that.”

“It was… in the heat of the moment. Sorry if it made you feel uncomfortable.”

“No, I get that, it’s just…” She tilts her head up and looks at me, a small, fragile smile uncertainly growing on her face. “It’s just… I think I love you.”

I look at her, my brain taking far too much time to process what she just said before a goofy smile answers her hesitant one and I feel a giddy energy shoot through my limbs. She lets out a yelp as I drag her up and kiss her yet again, rolling around the bed with her caught between my arms.

Yes. She deserves all the cuddles.

And the world can wait.

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Wakeup Call - Chapter 3


I hold Taylor for as long as I dare, but the clock is ticking, and the sounds of scared students starting to run say we need to hurry. “Tay, sweetheart, I need you to focus. We have to act right now.”

She looks at me, eyes swimming in tears, and she nods just before her face goes blank and a disquieting buzzing starts surrounding me. Oh. That’s not what I meant. At all.

Taylor Hebert unlikely to overcome emotional distress in—

Right. It will have to do.

I kick Stalker’s knife to the corner of the room, give her a quick once over—overconfident, dismissive of others, unlikely to have contingencies—and suppress a wince as I kneel beside her.

“Sophia, you need to listen to me.”

A muffled curse makes itself known through her pained moans, more due to intent than actual syllables. I will take it.

“I am going to leave your PRT phone near you before we leave. You will tell them you need discreet extraction, that your injuries cannot be reasonably hidden in your civilian life if made public,” I say, as I start bandaging the mess where her knee used to be using the first aid kit Brian always makes sure I carry. Bless his misguided, caring, evil heart. “This is a career-ending maiming for an athlete, Sophia, you will need Panacea to heal you, and you don’t want that linked to your civilian identity.”

I parse her aggressive body language through the pain (mine and hers), and I know she will agree to this out of self-preservation, if nothing else.

“I would also suggest you keep Taylor out of this, because it will come back to bite you when her trigger is made public.” I give her a few of my painkillers so that she will be coherent enough to make her call, and she swallows them on reflex, but I know this time she won’t listen. She hates Taylor too much to think straight and will rationalize away how much this can hurt her own chances. I sigh, deflated.

It would be so easy to kill her.
It is Winslow, home of the Pre-K gangs, home-turf of a lot of Nazi-wannabes. Having the violent black girl with a chip on her shoulder get killed in the toilets? Perfectly reasonable, even parahumans can get caught off-guard. Another bullet and her pain ends, and so do a whole lot of the problems this will cause.
I look at Taylor. Misguided, ruthless, noble Taylor. And I sigh yet again.
I pick up Stalker’s phone with some toilet paper, wipe my fingerprints from anything I have touched in here, and leave it within reach of her.
Then I gather our strewn about belongings, take Taylor’s elbow, and get ready to leave this place without anyone recognizing us as I listen to the pattern of frantic steps, panicked conversations, and hastily barricaded doors as my Power makes my temples throb.
This would be a good time to have a partner with limited omniscience guiding me. Just saying.

***

Finding a hotel in Brockton Bay that managed to have the proper mix of physical security, discretion, comfort, and willingness to look the other way when it came to possibly unlawful guests was not a simple matter. It was, in fact, a time-consuming endeavor that couldn’t be managed on the spot even with my abilities.

It was lucky, then, that I had found the four most convenient places that hit all of my requirements weeks ago, because Taylor was in no state to watch me fuck around with my laptop and Streetview. Not to mention my slowly receding headache wasn’t all that conducive to investigative work.

The room we are currently residing in as the Webster sisters is not quite sparse and not quite luxurious. The wallpaper is a crème beige, with no apparent stains and a thin stripe pattern, the carpet has a couple threadbare spots, but is regularly cleaned and reasonably lush, and the bed is big enough, with blankets that—

Lisa Wilbourn currently distracting herself from

I let out a small sigh and turn toward the teenager hugging her knees on top of the bed. Slowly, carefully, I sit beside her and lay an arm around her shoulders.

“Taylor, sweetie, talk to me.”

She barely turns around, letting herself fall against my side, her head resting over my breast as if I was the tall one, the one who stands against all odds. Don’t do this to me, Tay; I really am not fit for the role.

I caress her hair, my power guiding me to mimic the motions her mother used to soothe her so long ago. It is manipulative, but for a good cause. I think. Story of my life, at this point.

“Don’t do that,” she mumbles.

“I… I am sorry. I just wanted to comfort you…”

“I know, Lisa, but I… I can’t stand anything fake, at the moment.” I look at her still downturned head, face hidden, and I take a deep breath.

“Then maybe you should stop hiding your emotions in your swarm,” I reply, as gently as I can.

She goes very still, unnaturally so, and then just releases the air she had been holding. And hugs me. And trembles. And cries.

And I hold her and run my fingers through her hair, not as her mother once did, but as I did this morning, a morning that seems so long ago, when I woke up with a happy, warm, soft girl between my arms.

I lie back and drag her down with me, shifting so I can cuddle her, so she can feel my whole body pressing against hers, so I can surround her with my arms and my warmth and keep the world at bay for just a few minutes. Her sobs lose energy as she drains herself of pent-up emotion and she clings to me, still trusting even after all that went down, even with how easily her paranoia could have twisted my actions to make them seem a plan to leave her with no recourse but leaving heroism for good and relying on me.

The silence stretches as her breathing evens out, and I kiss her hair, mumbling into it, “I should never have let you go to Winslow.”

She laughs at that, surprised at my joke (that isn’t). And there’s a frailty to it, but not enough that we can justify further delays.

“Tay, we need to start moving if we want to salvage any of this. Who was your contact in the PRT when you decided to infiltrate us?”

“Armsmaster. But he’s a prick,” she mumbles against my neck, reluctantly starting to get up.

“Yeah, no argument here.” I get up myself and go get my bag. I take one of my burners and start dialing. “Hello? Yes, I would like to speak to Mr. Wallis, it’s about his mother, there’s been—no, sorry, I should only speak about this with her family.”

I wait for a few seconds as the PRT secretary passing herself as “Mr. Wallis personal assistant” grabs hold of him to pass the message, and Taylor looks at me with dawning horror as she realizes exactly what I am doing. Finally, Armsmaster picks up the phone.

“What is it? This is not a good time.” The voice is brusque, no-nonsense. It barely masks his anxiety, his fear at what this call could mean. Good.

“I know it isn’t. You are going to hang up the PRT phone you are holding right now and call me from your own personal number, Colin.” My own voice isn’t precisely warm and laden with pleasantries either. I hang up.

Colin Wallis out of balance. Personal connection to mother figure—trigger event—unlikely to make him seek outside assistance

“What the Hell, Lisa—” The ringing phone interrupts Taylor’s mounting tirade before it can get off the ground. Small mercies and all that.

“What is the meaning of—” Armsmaster doesn’t sound like he’s having a good day. Excellent, misery loves company.

“I am calling on behalf of…” I hesitate for a second—Taylor Hebert didn’t have a moniker at the moment of contact, power idiosyncratic enough to— “Bug. The shootout at Winslow was not her fault, we have proof, and we can’t turn ourselves in for fear of our lives.”

“You just threatened my mother. Not a good way to build trust.”

“I am not threatening your mother, Colin, but the reason I can’t turn myself in is the man who made me dig into your private life. The one who would.”

“… This is about that mysterious ‘boss’ of yours, I suppose. What does this have to do with you shooting a Ward in her civilian identity?”

“Surprisingly enough, very little, she just-“ Taylor’s hand closes over the phone, and I look into her eyes. I sigh and activate the speaker function, laying it on the bedside table.

“Sophia Hess tried to murder me with a knife. Tattletale, the villain you warned me about, saved my life from your Ward. I would like to make a complaint to your manager, Armsmaster.”

I almost sputter. Karen Taylor would be an utter nightmare.

Collin seems to agree, because the line goes silent for far too long. Which I guess is my clue to keep the ball rolling: “You are speaking with a Thinker seven. I called you through an unsecured line because I knew it would have been useless to communicate with you any other way and expect you not to track me, but I also have prepared extensive contingencies to release a lot of uncomfortable information in the unlikely case I am captured. My life is on the line, and I am not pulling any punches, Colin, so don’t even think about finishing that message to Miss Militia.”

There’s a whine of servos forcefully stopping in the middle of something. If that’s the only whining I get out of this conversation, I will be positively elated.

“You are playing a very dangerous game, Tattletale.” I sigh at the sheer idiocy of the cliché.

“I am not playing any games. I just shoot out a teenager’s kneecap after seeing her try to murder a teammate of mine for the second—no, make that third, time. A teammate that was made to trigger because that little psycho you keep around decided to play at bioterrorism and her handler was stupid enough to cover it up and—” Taylor’s eyes are wide. Oh. I guess I didn’t tell her yet…

“Covered it up?” she says, her voice quivering.

“Tay, listen, he didn’t know, it’s not the—”

“That… How could he not know? How could they—they are supposed to be heroes. They let that monster just play at being a good guy while she tries to destroy me, while she—do you know how many times I thought about just ending it all?!” I… I don’t know how to manage this. I am terribly unsuited to defuse Taylor while negotiating with Armsmaster with our lives on the line, and I don’t even know what could stop her at this—

“I am sorry, Ms. Hebert.” For once, the brusqueness falls away and there’s a note of something else that comes through in his tone. Sorrow. Regret.

Oh, I almost forgot. He’s one of the good guys.

“Sorry? Sorry?! I was almost killed by, by… I don’t even know how to continue. Do you know what it’s like to see the face of the one who almost managed to murder you every day, watch her walk free, enjoying herself as if it didn’t even matter, as if she’s free to try again whenever she pleases because there will be no consequences when she does? Do you know what that does to a person?!”

“Considering Kaiser is still alive and free, yes. Very much.” His answer surprises me, but it really, really shouldn’t.

“Kaiser?” Taylor isn’t as quick on the uptake. We can’t all be Thinkers.

“My previous armor had a lot fewer ceramics and a lot more metal. I still have the scars.”

“Oh.”

“More or less what I said at the time, yes,” he quips, and I can’t help a startled laugh. May have to update his psych profile.

“But… The Unwritten Rules…” Taylor looks completely disoriented, adrift. I hug her from behind, and she almost recoils before leaning against me.

“Are made to disproportionately favor villains, in case you hadn’t noticed. When has it ever been acceptable for a criminal to take off their mask and suddenly become cop-proof?”

“People could go to a church for sanctuary—” the pedant in me can’t help but interject.

“But not parade around as lesser kings whenever they pleased, Tattletale. The rules also talk a big game about not murdering people; tell me, Bug, how did that first night against Lung go? A friendly spar, wasn’t it?” He’s bitter, understandably so, but not against us. The focus of the hostility has shifted.

Colin Wallis frustrated at his duty being overshadowed by interests he doesn’t understand. Actually heroic, self-sacrificing. Glory-searching tendencies exacerbated as he felt his efforts were futile in the long

“Call me Lisa,” I speak over Taylor’s shoulder, my arms still wrapped around that belly she had so many complexes about. “It’s only fair.”

“What does fair have to do with it?” he asks.

“Well, I would think it’s only fair that I have your identity because Coil made me investigate you, that Coil has my identity because he recruited me at gunpoint, and that we will get Coil’s identity as we collaborate to bring him down.”

“… Collaborate?”

“I didn’t call you to blackmail you, Colin,” I shift the inflection, his name no longer an implicit threat, “I called you because I don’t want to get murdered after I leave my villain team.”

“And shooting a Ward was your letter of resignation?”

“I… Believe it or not…” I squeeze my arms, holding onto Taylor with more strength than I should. “Bug turned me last night. I would have defected as soon as it was safe.”

Taylor turns her head to look at me, still bewildered, still off-balance with all the revelations she keeps getting hit by. But there’s a seed of a smile there, a hint of sun shining through the storm. I guess we are a pair of sappy, hormonal teenagers.

Puberty is a period of intense emotions characterized by

Yes, I know. God, do I know.

“I can vouch for her. She had been gathering information on Coil’s operations for quite some time and believes the bank job is the last piece she needed.” There’s a pause, and I can safely say that having Taylor act as my character witness to the leader of the local heroes without prompting nor warning is quickly making its place to my Top Ten ‘What the fuck, Power, how about a hint’ moments chart.

Taylor Hebert’s emotional attachment cemented during moments of crisis

Of course. She is an adrenaline junkie hooked on the suspension bridge effect. How did I not see this coming.

Romantic attachment often correlated with blindness to object of affection’s character flaws.

La la la, I can’t hear yoooouuu!

“That’s the second time you mention tangible evidence. I would like to get a look at it before I keep letting a Thinker seven talk me into things.”

“Spoilsport,” I automatically interject.

“School shooter,” he parries. I don’t even know if that is the most spectacular deadpan ever delivered by a non-cyborg or if he really is pissed at me for shooting at Sophia fucking Hess.

Colin Wallis unlikely to

Shush, Power, let me bask in the mystery.

“Fine, you win this round. I will send it to your private PHO account, just make sure not to open it on any computer accessible through the private PRT network. Your offices are bugged to hell and back.”

“And that is why you can’t ‘defect,’ I take it? Also, PHO? No hidden account in the dark web?” Taylor also looks at me with mild confusion. Oh, I get to mansplain to my girlfriend, I guess that’s part of the lesbian experience. Thanks, Armsy!

“In order: I can’t safely defect because a good deal of your agents have been suborned by Coil and he knows I know enough to warrant getting me killed in custody—incidentally, I am also including a list of known moles—and I am sending it through PHO because your girlfriend has managed to make the place the most secure communications system in the world. I haven’t yet hacked it, something I can’t say for any governmental agency.”

“Yes, keep confessing crimes to the LEO known to always carry recording equipment with him. Please, be my guest.”

“Oh, please, it was all done under duress.”

“Lisa, he has a tinkertech lie detector.” I freeze. If this was a face-to-face conversation, this would be the point where I slowly look up into Armsmaster’s face and find a smug grin directed at me. Damn it, I am supposed to be the smugger, not the smugged!

“I can confirm I do, in fact, have a tinkertech lie detector.”

Likelihood of Armsmaster enjoying dry humor revised up to

Right. I get it.

“Well, it is a good thing I haven’t lied so far then, isn’t it? Also, Bug, this is the kind of information you relay to me before I start negotiations.”

“This is also the reason you should tell me what the Hell do you intend to do instead of letting me fumble around in the middle of a fait accompli.” Oh. Damn, she kinda has a point.

She must never know.

“As… entertaining as this has been, I was called while in the middle of a very tense conversation. A conversation I should immediately get back to.”

“Right. Of course. I will send you the files right now.”

“Very well. And what do you expect me to do in the meantime?”

This… this is what everything boils down to. I cross my fingers and say something I never, ever thought I would say to Armsmaster, or to any other hero, for that matter.

“Well, I expect you to keep quiet that we are working undercover for you.”

A muffled noise that efficiently mixes strangled cat and a hint of aneurysm comes from the other end of the line and Taylor turns in my arms to look at me as if I have gone insane and doesn’t know whether to pity me or confine me for my own safety and that of others.

Likelihood of Colin Wallis accepting the very same deal that started the chain of events that culminated in the current crisis vanishingly small— 

Et tu, Power? Sigh.

Everyone’s a critic.

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Wakeup call - Chapter 2


“Lisa, let me go, I need to leave,” Taylor says, with all the patience of somebody wrangling a toddler and trying not to resort to physical violence. 

“Noooooo, stay!” I answer, with my best toddler impression. 

“You are being ridiculous.” 

Me? You are the one deciding to risk life and limb on a whim! There’s absolutely no reason you couldn’t spend the morning in bed and—” 

“Lisa! I am just going to school!” 

“That’s what I said!”

Taylor looks at me like I have finally gone over the brink, which, to be fair, is pretty much the way I am looking at her. It turns out that letting a burgeoning friend engage in self-destructive behavior while you make it clear you are there for them when they need you (as you systematically plan to make yourself an indispensable part of their almost non-existent support network so they will help you when— 

Lisa Wilbourn engaging in self-deprecation and self-aggrandizing simultaneously as a way to avoid confronting her feelings of loss of control when it comes to—

Shut the fuck up! I mean, as I was saying: one thing to let a friend get hurt, quite another to let a lover get hurt. 

Heh. Lover. 

Oh God, I am blushing. And now Taylor is looking at me, and also blushing, which looks adorable now that I can see it almost frames her glasses, and the way the vivid red on her pale skin contrasts with the dark green of her eyes, and now I am blushing more, and so is she, both of us caught in a feedback loop of blushing that is making my brain divide by zero— 

“So, I wanted to apologize,” says Regent. 

What?!” Taylor and I break out of the loop at once, yet our speech remains in synch. This may prove hazardous. 

Likelihood of power interaction vanishingly small, yet not zero—

I need to stop joking to myself. It only brings ever greater sources of stress. 

Alec looks at me weirdly, as if unsure of why exactly I am pulling at both my hair and Taylor’s wrist at seven in the morning while I try to bar her from the loft’s stairs. He’s also looking surprisingly alert for someone who just emerged from his bedroom about four hours too early for his usual routine. And he isn’t rushing to the bathroom. Something is up. 

No jokes about morning wood, Power. Have mercy. 

“For last night,” he continues his alleged apology. “I mean, it obviously was an important moment, and I shouldn’t have intruded as I did. The sanctity of the lilies should be ever preserved in this harsh world.” 

“What do floral arrangements have to do with—” 

“Taylor, sweetie,” I interrupt before she ends up too far down the rabbit hole, “you don’t want to know. Trust me.” 

“Philistine,” Alec haughtily remarks. Which may carry more gravitas if not said by someone wearing Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha pajamas. 

… Yes, I recognize her on sight. Bootlegging torrented subs from Earth Aleph counts as supervillainy. A very respectable, yet sinister, activity. Shut up. 

Lisa Wilbourn engages in deflection to avoid thinking about the possible parallelisms between the relationship between Nanoha Takamachi and Fate Testarossa and her own—

Fine, the traumatized dark magical girl attracted to the heroine with no regard for collateral damage is a blonde with green eyes. Don’t you also start with your shipping bullshit, that was disturbing enough last night. 

Lisa Wilbourn secretly pleased at the parallelism between—

For fuck’s sake, won’t you let me keep a shred of dignity?! 

“Anyway, Lisa obviously being an uncultured swine isn’t the issue, but rather how uncouth my behavior was, and the distress I caused you two in what should have been a quiet, intimate moment.” 

“Uh, apology accepted, I guess?” Taylor asks, looking at me as if I hold the answer to her question. 

She looks so cute when she’s being socially awkward… 

“Thank you, Taylor, for your tolerant, nay, magnanimous acceptance of my churlish and thoroughly inadequate behavior. But I must insist: at least take this, as a tangible token of my regret and my silent support of your relationship.” 

“You are talking weird. Being weird,” Taylor says, as she automatically takes the small object Alec hands her. “Why are you being so weird?” 

Object small and thin, likely cylindrical, symbolically related to romance—

Oh, motherfucker— 

“Guys? Why are you all up so early?” Brian asks, just back from his coffee run, as Alec’s smile widens to shit-eating proportions and Taylor looks dumbfounded at the chapstick lying in her palm. 

Alec looks at me, triumphant, and I am about to punch him just as he pushes the button of the remote hidden in his pajama pants and Katy Perry’s spine-tingling voice (I have needs!) blares out of his bedroom. 

“I kissed a girl and I liked it, the taste of her cherry chapstick,” Taylor’s look blooms into horror as she sees the candy red of the traitorous plastic tube lying on her open palm. Before she thinks to close her fingers, Katy inexorably dooms us all. “I kissed a girl just to try it, I hope my boyfriend don’t mind it.” 

Alec is about to say something, to deal the final blow, just as I deal mine and bury my right arm in his solar plexus almost up to my elbow— 

Sudden stimulus to solar plexus certain to trigger a diaphragm spasm and render speech impossible—

Yes. That’s the idea, Power. 

Grue looks at me bewildered, yet absent of reproach (it is Alec, after all), and Taylor regards enough of her wits to close her fist and hide the incriminating evidence in her pocket. I start to breathe, just as Katy delivers the last, punishing blow: “Don’t mean I’m in love tonight.” 

I blush. Taylor blushes harder. Alec desperately gasps for breath so he can deliver a one-liner. Brian looks very confused. 

“… Coffee?” he asks while lifting the carboard tray in supplicating offer, hopeful for the return of a world that makes sense. 

Oh, sweet summer child… 

***

“Right, so the whole thing boils down to you not wanting Taylor to go back to Winslow alone and unsupported,” Brian asks, after I swear solemn vengeance on Alec with eloquent body language. 

“Yes, that’s the whole thing. All of it.” I answer, lying through my teeth. 

“Tell her she’s being ridiculous.” Taylor’s tone is unwavering, cold, rational. She’s offloading her embarrassment to her swarm. Cheater. 

“No, I think she’s right.” I am about to refute his point when he agrees with me without arguing. Uh. That feels weird. 

What? Brian, don’t you start too, I can’t just drop out of high school just like that, I will be perfectly fine—” 

“You triggered there not that long ago, are regularly subjected to physical assault, and the place has more junior gang members than juvie while the ABB is still bombing the city. You are in very real danger whenever you set foot in that place, and not just as a random bystander, but as a target.” Oh, that’s what someone being reasonable sounds like. I should take notes so I can fake it. 

“Ahem. Yes. Precisely my point. Thank you for your input, Brian.” Nailed it. 

Taylor glares at me, obviously jealous of my quickly growing arsenal of weaponized maturity and level-headedness. 

“I am not dropping out.” Or digging in her heels like a particularly ornery badger. Yeah, one of those two. 

Taylor Hebert wants to avoid ceding ground to her bullies, as her own martyr complex makes her assign a non-trivial amount of her perceived self-worth to her enduring over a greater—

Yeah, I got that. It’s just frustratingly stupid, and I don’t know how to dissuade her. 

Malicious compliance can often—

Oh, that’s a good one. Thank you, Power. 

“Look, Tay, Brian’s got a point, so… Let’s compromise?”  

“A… compromise,” she says, as if the very word is anathema to her core. 

“Yes, a tiny, teensy one…” Brian looks at me with suspicion over the rim of his coffee cup, Alec sniggers from the sofa, and Taylor arches a very professorial eyebrow. 

Jeeze, everyone is a critic. 

*** 

“This is not a tiny compromise. This is so far from a tiny compromise it makes the Treaty of Versailles look like two friends arguing over a tip,” Taylor mutters into the hands-free system hidden in her lustrous, voluminous hair (not jealous, just… appreciative). 

“I am letting you march into a den of scum and villainy armed only with a stealth surveillance system and your objectively hot Big Sister monitoring you from the nearest café in this area, which, by the way, yuck. Be thankful I am calling this a compromise and not a gigantic favor you now owe me. Now, class is about to end, so stop talking to yourself, you weirdo.” 

By way of an answer, Taylor silently blows me a raspberry. Hmmm… That could merit a Stranger half, maybe? 

I keep working on my main laptop while the tablet propped up beside it shows me the feedback of the multiple cameras hidden in Taylor’s backpack, and I sip on what I dearly hope has at least a tangential relation to a coffee plant somewhere down its ancestry— 

Coffee content within the statistical mean of the composition of other caffeinated beverages consumed by Lisa Wilbourn. Subpar taste likely to be due to excessive roasting of the beans, aroma lost due to improper preservation, espresso machine having too low pressure—

My Power, ladies and gentlemen, the barista. 

… Damn, now I want to try it. 

As I muse (and not smile disturbingly, no matter how hurriedly the waitress just passed by) on what the properties of Power-brewed coffee may be, I realize Taylor has been detained when exiting her classroom by two girls who need no further introduction: Emma Barnes and Sophia Hess. 

“Seriously, Taylor, it’s for your own good. Why do you insist on coming here? Do you want the ABB to finish the job? Is that it? I mean, I can understand wanting to die in your circumstances, but at least you should be more proactive about it.” 

My blood runs cold. 

There’s a part of me that expects Taylor to stand up and punch her in the throat as she takes out her combat baton to finish the job. A part of me that expects her to coldly state how many deadly spiders the redhead currently has on her body and what their horrific venom will do to a grown man. A part of me that expects her to be Skitter. 

But it is just a part. The rest of me isn’t surprised when the cameras shift, and I can see her shrink into herself, as if hiding from an incoming blow. 

I am going to hurt them. 

“Taylor,” I whisper, “repeat after me…” And I unleash my Power. 

Keeping my eyes open is an effort of will as I am suddenly bombarded with knowledge of everything that surrounds me—third tile from the left on top of the toilet door cracked and blackened, disrepair due to economic downshift—everything within reach of my senses—left shift key in laptop keyboard worn down due to nervous tic, stress rising steadily since confronting Lung—and I focus it on the two girls—Sophia Hess silent, affecting boredom, checking Emma Barnes progress, personal investment on Taylor Hebert’s low self-esteem—on the two girls I am about to destroy

I channel my Power through inadequate means, cameras and microphone losing too much detail, but I manage to direct it in all its terrible magnitude at them, and, for a moment, I Understand them. 

They say knowing someone is loving them. It usually is, but I can make exceptions. 

“Emma… I don’t think I am the one in danger,” she repeats the words after me, following my directions in—Taylor Hebert emotionally distraught, latching onto external guidance—yes. Later. Now I am fighting. 

“Oh? Are you insinuating something, Taylor? Are you going to fight back for once?” Question masks insecurity. Afraid of Taylor Hebert showing strength, Taylor Hebert direct threat to self-image.

“Me? No, I am far too weak—” Sophia Hess contemptuous. Despises weakness. Perceives herself as having overcome weakness, as always having been strong. Contradiction not resolved—“but you, Ems? You are far too beautiful.” 

“What, are you a lesbian now, Taylor? I should have known, what with your mother being a feminist…” Emma Barnes laughing as a way to mask distress. Unsure about conversation, wants to take back control. 

Oh, Ems, sweetie… No

“Me? Maybe bisexual, but you? No, I think you are straight, which is good, seeing as you are flaunting your good looks while coming to school in the middle of a brewing gang war.” 

“And what is that supposed to mean? You throwing in with the Merchants now? Sucking a dick for half a joint?” Cruder insults. Emma Barnes resorting to harsher aggression due to unsolved trauma. Avoidant strategy.

“You always tell me how ugly I am, Ems, I am not the one who should be worried about sucking gang dick.” 

They all freeze, even Taylor hesitates for half a second before finishing her line, but she sees the wide-eyed stare coming from Emma, the absolute stillness coming from Sophia, and something relaxes inside her. She stands straighter, taller, towering over the two monsters, and I could cheer with joy if my temples weren’t pounding so hard. 

Just a bit more, Power. We are almost there. 

“I don’t think you have to worry about the Merchants, they keep away from the rich kids that don’t buy product, and you are too white for E88 to bother you, but the ABB…” Emma flinches, actually taking a step back. I have her. “The ABB would do anything to get their hands on you. They would put you on a farm and get every single dollar you are worth out of you. “ Taylor hesitates, tone wavering, unsure of her capacity to inflict such cruelty, of how unheroic all of this is. Then I see Emma’s head twitch, hair falling to the side and hiding her ear, nose wings flaring, eyes blinking rapidly, and I whisper reassuringly: “Taylor, just a last push, honey, I promise it will be worth it. Repeat after me.” 

“And you are worth a lot of dollars, Ems. I would say it would cost… an eye and an ear.” 

And Emma Barnes falls down. 

She’s screaming her lungs out, hysterically tearing at her hair as tears run down her face and her face reddens from lack of air. She’s a broken doll who has finally realized the cracks were there all along, and she can no longer fake as if she was still whole. She’s a ruined shell of a human being, a caricature of what she may have grown up to be in a kinder world. I have, for all intents and purposes, killed this Emma, but the other one? The one that held Taylor as she cried for her missing mother, the one who listened to my lover’s secrets and dreams long before I came into her life? She died a long time ago. 

One down, two to go. 

Sophia Hess disgusted at Emma Barnes. Sophia Hess no longer sees Emma Barnes as peer. Sophia Hess understands reason for Emma Barnes’ breakdown. Sophia Hess knows Taylor Hebert doesn’t have access to that information. Sophia Hess suspects—

Shit! 

“Taylor!” I yell, as I stuff my laptop in my messenger bag and grab my tablet. “Taylor, run!” 

She does. 

I run as fast as I can, leaving behind an alarmed waitress as I rush towards Winslow and keep frantically checking a tablet that shows me a livid Sophia Hess running after Taylor. 

Winslow High School floor plan typical of public schools designed as possible Endbringer aftermath shelters. Winslow High School has a low budget. Emergency exits unlikely to be guarded, nearest one is in—

Thank you, Power. Thank you. 

I push open the emergency door held unlocked by a convenient stone, with minimal protest of its rusted hinges, my bag banging against my thigh with every frantic step, and I check the tablet to see Sophia has dragged Taylor to an empty bathroom. 

“I am coming, Taylor, I am coming. Please be okay.” 

She doesn’t answer. I hurry. 

“Well, Hebert, it looks like you and I are going to have a chat.” Sophia is pulling Taylor’s hair, throwing her head back, and cradling her throat in the nook of her elbow. 

Formal combat training, non-lethal on principle—

Yes, I know. On principle.

“You see, I don’t think a dumb bitch like you would have actually checked, so I am going to clarify things for you before we decide how are we going to do things moving forward. What you did back there?” 

My feet pound the vinyl floor as I rush to the toilet that is farthest from my point of entrance on this floor, because of course it is—

Sophia Hess knowledgeable about parahumans—

Yeah, she would be! 

“What you did back there is assaulting a civilian with a parahuman power. Because Thinker bullshit still counts.” 

Fuck! 

“So I fucking own you now, Hebert. I can get you thrown in jail with a call or…” The cameras shake as Taylor starts frantically fighting, and a glint of metal comes into view. “Or I can fucking kill you right here and now and claim self-defense.” 

“Taylor! Please, don’t, not now—” But my warning comes too late, and Sophia screams as a swarm starts tearing into her. 

I throw the door open just in time to see Shadow Stalker using her power to break free and Taylor stumble toward me. 

I want to hold her against me, hug her, tell her I will protect her, that everything will be all right. 

I take out my gun and point at the sociopathic monster that nearly killed Brian just as she regains her solid form. 

“Don’t move. Or do, because I am itching for an excuse.” 

So she flashes back to intangibility and orients herself towards Taylor, knife ready. 

But I know Stalker. I have fought her, seen her patterns, studied her for the very likely event that she would try to come back and murder my teammate. I know what to do, and I won’t hesitate when instead of coming after Brian, she’s coming after my Taylor. 

Taylor Hebert shaken by events, will obey orders without hesitation. Sophia Hess using swarm as visual cover while she readies movement, about to—

“Taylor! Throw your backpack at her, now!” 

And a backpack full of cameras, a spare laptop, and a cellphone rigged to emit to my tablet sail through the air toward Stalker, who stands there in contempt, secure in her shadow form. 

A shadow form that is vulnerable to electricity. That spasms in agony as she is hit by a backpack full of active electronics and backup batteries. 

She flickers solid. I shoot. And Sophia Hess falls to the floor with one knee shattered, her pained sobs a poetic contrast to Emma’s emotional screams. 

And now I hug Taylor, and I kiss her as hungrily as she kisses me, not even the lancing pain on my temples able to stop me from doing so. And she latches onto me like somebody adrift at sea, like somebody who knows her world no longer makes sense and desperately needs someone to guide them. 

And I just volunteered for the job. 

God help us all.

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Wake-up call - Chapter 1


Do you know what’s the best part about dreaming? In my case, it’s that I don’t have to worry about my power. For a short, blissful time, I am free to experience incongruous moments without a part of me eagerly tearing them apart and feeding me clues. It’s liberating.
 
The worst part, of course, is waking up to a world roaring its mysteries at me, making sure I know how utterly out of my depth I always am. Especially today.

Because today I am tied up to my bed. 

Lights never turned on—perpetrator can easily move around in the dark. Tied over sheets, no physical contact with restraints, restraints loose—delaying tactic, not final measure. Perpetrator nearby. Perpetrator deciding whether further action is required. Rachel’s dogs never woke up. Perpetrator either Stranger or known acquaintance. Restraints thin yet resilient. Spider silk. Skitter.

Fuck. 

“Taylor? Didn’t know you were into the kinky stuff.” That’s right, Lisa, pretend it’s all a big joke. Maybe the biblical plague will play along rather than have the locusts scour the flesh from your bones— 

Control over arthropods. Dust mites are arthropods. Dust mites eat skin—
 
Thank you, Power! That idea definitely won’t haunt my nightmares for years to come! 

“Tattletale.” Oh. We are using cape names. Guess she isn’t in a playful mood.
 
I manage to turn around under my cotton blankets enough that, with the faint, yellowish light of the streetlights filtering through my window’s blinds, I can catch a glimpse of my eerily still teammate dressed in full regalia, the citrine lenses of her mask fixated on me (too still, channeling emotions to bugs, no buzzing in hearing distance—meant to avoid giving out clues, prepared for confrontation with Thinker)

She’s terrifying. 

“Skitter.” I try to inject as much levity as I can into my reply, with a mock-frown and raspy voice showing her how cliché the whole exchange sounds. I don’t think I am much successful. 

“You have been lying to me.” 

Fuck. No, not successful at all. 

All right, let’s try and cover all the bases: I’ve lied to her about not knowing she’s trying to be a hero, about my connection to Coil, about my own legal name, about her being suicidal… 

Any hints, Power? 

… 

Yeah, thought so. Fuck you too. 

“I don’t know what you are talking about. Also, I can yell and have the rest of the team here in seconds, so… maybe you could cut it out with the creepy stalker vibes while no harm has been done?” To me. Harm done to me. I feel the clarification is important.
 
I suddenly get the clear impression of an arched eyebrow under her mask, as if that was reply enough as to the capability of any of my ragtag band of misfits to interfere with what is going on. Still, she elaborates, if only for the intimidation value. “Brian is at his apartment, Rachel went out for a late-night stroll,” fuck you and your anti dog-fighting rings crusade, Rachel, seriously, “and Alec won’t bother to come even if you manage to wake him up from his deep, deep slumber. I wanted uninterrupted privacy, and we are going to get it.” 

“… Sooo, you are not helping your case about the whole ‘I am into kinky things’ deal, you know?” Damn, I just can’t help myself. Maybe I am the one that’s suicidal. 

There’s a loud exhalation coming from the general direction of my nightmares come to life. “Funny you should mention kinkiness…” Oh, fuck, no. 

Confrontation is about sexual matters. Deception strong motivator for hostile approach. Recent discovery made Taylor Hebert reconsider her relationship with Lisa Wilbourn. Taylor Hebert despises deception and manipulation. Taylor Hebert angry. Taylor Hebert recently discovered that—

Yes, I know! Fuck fuck fuck, deny! Abort! Exit ship! 

In fandom subculture, “shipping” often refers to—

Shut the Hell up, power, or I swear to God I will lobotomize you! Myself! Both! 

Okay, just take a few deep breaths that are in no way being resonated through the silk strings tying me down and feeding information about my mental state to Taylor through her spiders. Deep breaths, Lisa. You got this. “I don’t know what the heck you are talking about.” 

Again, there’s that damnable, invisible, arched eyebrow. “You masturbated in the same house as someone with limited omniscience. Denial is no longer an option.” 

“But still a river in Egypt? I could go to Egypt. Egypt sounds nice.” 

“How droll. I seem to remember something about them being a lot into locusts, maybe we could visit together?” Oh no, you fucker, you don’t get to pull terrors from my mind and use them against me, that’s my shtick. Also, please don’t hurt me. 

“Right, no international travel with the plague made flesh, got it.” I’ve got the strong impression she would be huffing right now if her body language wasn’t being suppressed, which is good, as Taylor isn’t the type to kid around with someone she has decided needs to be… dealt with. Not her style. That whole thing about a bad man enjoying abusing his power while a good man will just execute you… Yeah. At least she’s still got those heroic traits, much to her foes’ terror. “Still, I don’t see how my… self-care is any of your business.” 

“You are not that stupid.” Hey! I mean, I am not, but phrasing. “It was not that long ago that you shared with me that whole spiel about how your power has made you asexual, how it feeds too much information about any possible sexual or romantic matter and kills your libido.” 

“Yep, that’s me, TMI made manifest.” 

“But after catching you… in the act,” Is she embarrassed? Yes, she is on the verge of mortification. Good, that emotion is rarely associated with violent murder, “I started thinking, and that’s just bullshit.” 

“I will have you know asexuality is a perfectly legitimate lifestyle choice and I am deeply offended by the—” She waves a hand in irritation, which means I am dragging her into a conversational mindset rather than a confrontational one. Good. I don’t know how the Hell I managed, but good. 

“That’s not the point, and you know it.” 

“So what’s the point?” 

“That you’ve basically told me that boys have cooties, and that makes you go eww.” 

I pause. Yeah, that’s kinda what I did, isn’t it? Damn, and I thought I was being oh so clever with that piece of misdirection… “That’s not it at all, Taylor, you can’t imagine what it’s like to look at someone and know all of their deepest, darkest, sexual perversions. People are sick.” There, maybe that’s salvageable. 

“Bullshit.” Or maybe it isn’t. “But, for the sake of argument, I will give you a chance. Come on, Lisa, this should be easy for you: what’s the darkest, most depraved, sexual thing you can get from me?” 

I pause. I remember. And, going from the heat suddenly radiating from my face, I blush up to my hair roots. 

“I am waiting.” Is that a hint of smug in her tone? Okay, good news is she’s definitely letting up on the emotion suppression. Bad news is I am about to hit her with a trademark infringement claim. Let’s see how you like being demonetized, bitch. In lowercase. No TM infringement intended, Bitch. 

There’s a very pointed clearing of throat coming from the dramatically lit corner of my bedroom, and I sigh in resignation. “All right, fine, let’s see what I can remember… you like beefcake, obviously, have no notable experience save from the multiple times you have used marathon masturbation sessions as a means of escapism…” I trail off, hoping she will make me stop from sheer mortification—heck, I am about to choke up just from the second-hand embarrassment—but no dice, “you often fantasize about hair-pulling, even if you usually don’t allow yourself to think of you in a submissive position… And… you wonder whether your thin lips will be good enough to give oral pleasure… and often think about whether everyone has a different taste, and if that’s distinctive enough for you to recognize them after all your experience with bug senses… And… Fuck! All right! You don’t have a rape fetish, nor an incestuous one, haven’t ever thought necrophilia could be a real thing, have good hygiene and do not squick me out at all! Are you happy now?!” By the end of my tirade, I am almost panting for breath, and it is quite clear my tactic to inflict Taylor with enough shame to drop the fucking subject has backfired in the worst possible way. Fucking hate social confrontations without God-mode activated. 

“… Is that everything?” She asks, with a voice so tiny it lets me know my suffering is shared. After a silence long enough to signal her to continue, she once again clears her throat, but without the pointiness. “Very well, I can… attest to the accuracy of most of that. Also, necrophilia is a thing?!” 

“Don’t ask, Tay, just… don’t.” 

She looks at me with what I can only imagine to be wariness before deciding to continue… whatever this whole thing is. A thing, I guess. 

“Right… Still, seeing as we just proved your whole excuse is bullshit, and that the most elementary reading of behavioral psychology would indicate that even if you were surrounded all day by horny people with sick fetishes, you would just develop one of your own…” we get it, Taylor, your mom was a college professor. You are still just a teen putting on airs. No, I am not feeling petty just because you caught me. Shut up. “Well, the obvious question is… why?” 

Subject feels strong emotional attachment with Lisa Wilbourn. Attachment perceived as vulnerability, manipulation perceived as Lisa Wilbourn taking advantage of vulnerability. Subject craves attachment. Unwilling to let go of it. Wants excuse to maintain relationship.

… All right, on the one hand that’s both useful and reassuring. On the other… Power, you just made me feel like a heel. Damn it, I could have kept playing around and taken the conversation to an indefinite conclusion that left everyone unsatisfied and the status quo untouched, but noooo, the fucking voices in my head just had to guilt-trip me. 

I sigh in resignation and finish turning around, getting as comfortable as I can in my current restraints as I look at my best friend (and isn’t that an awfully complicated revelation) in the fake eyes of her mask. This is gonna hurt the both of us.
 
“I didn’t want you to see me in a sexual way. I wanted you to think I was safe, that I was as far as possible from your ex-girlfriend as a girl about your age could be. I wanted you to—“ 

“Ex-girlfriend?” 

And, just like that, just from that inquisitive tone, my stomach drops. 

“… Your ex-girlfriend, you know? Childhood friend, deep emotional bond, left you for the new girl and caused you to trigger?” 

Taylor’s mask moves in a way that tells me she’s wetting suddenly dry lips. “Lisa, Emma and I were never… like that.” 

… 

Of all the times to get a misfire, it had to be one like that, Power? What the Hell were you thinking?! 

Taylor Hebert displayed severe signs of emotional withdrawal in association with subject Emma Barnes. Conflict coincided with puberty. Puberty heavily associated with romantic attachments of violent intensity and flighty nature. Romantic relationship probable conclusion. 

Are you trying to make excuses?! 

Lisa Wilbourn is anthropomorphizing power input. Attributing a personality to non-sentient objects can be linked to feelings of loneliness or emotional detachment from peers. Lisa Wilbourn going through late stages of puberty. Lisa Wilbourn probably craves romantic attachment. 

… My power is a snarky shipper. Life is Hell. 

“Hey, you all right? You kind of… drifted off. And your face looks like you are debating the merits of throwing up whatever you just swallowed.” 

“Geez, flattery will get you everywhere, Tay.” Well, disturbing revelations about the nature of the voice in my head aside,  I still have to deal with the other disturbing revelations born by a misfire of said voice. Fuck. “Right, we just discovered this whole fiasco was caused by me being overly conscious about a perceived issue that wasn’t an issue at all, so… how about untying me?” 

There’s another pause as Taylor’s body language once again goes completely silent. Oh, dear. 

“Actually…” No. Oh God, fuck, no, “there’s just one final detail,” shut up, please,  shut up, just close your fucking mouth and— “it’s about what you said while you were—” 

“Nope! Taylor, you can’t seriously expect me to talk with you about—” 

“You kept calling my name! I thought you were in danger!” 

“In danger of dehydration, maybe! Now just fucking drop the subject before I get into even more danger of an arrhythmia!” 

“You are the first friend I have had in forever, don’t you think we should talk about this before it becomes a problem?” 

“I am tied down to my bed in silk ropes by the girl whose, again, silk-clad, sculpted legs have driven me to finger myself to sleep for the past week! I already have a problem, and being scaroused isn’t helping any!” 

At that, she stands up and unmasks herself. Her eyes are wide, her cheeks flushed enough to be noticeable in the low light of the sodium streetlights. As she takes a single step towards me, I can’t help my eyes from dropping to her shapely thighs and the way reflected highlights dance over the shifting, toned muscle beneath the fabric. Goddammit, not the time, Lisa! 

“And how do you think I feel?” What? “Do you have the slightest idea what those tights do to your ass?” Of course I do. Thinker here. Cockteasing is a valid distraction tactic. “Do you even understand what it’s like being near you, constantly, while you keep showering me with attention and affection and having to remind myself that you are just unattainable because your power effectively neutered you?!” She’s… she’s coming near. Standing over me. Over me tied down to my bed. Looking into my eyes, frustrated moisture barely held back in her own, hair in disarray from the violent removal of her mask. She’s breathtaking. 

Both Lisa Wilbourn and Taylor Hebert self-isolated from peers. Shared emotional bond has quickly grown despite deception on both parts. Resistance to bond overcome through emotional need on both ends—

“Tay… I… There’s something you should—” 

And she kisses me. 

It’s rough. None of us have exactly prepared with Chapstick, and our dry lips sometimes pull at each other as they brush, but I can’t help but lean forward, searching for more contact— 

Enhanced response when leaning forward, Taylor Hebert eager for reciprocity—inviting yet not pushing would— 

I open my mouth just enough to dart my tongue forward, licking her lips and softening them. She moans, and the vibration makes me hold my breath. 

Taylor Hebert afraid of, yet craving, intimacy. Offering and not imposing— 

I retract my tongue and, after a second where her warm exhalation washes over my still open lips, her own tongue pursues me right into my mouth. 

Excited by having initiative, yet insecure about own skill— 

I moan. Half of it is because I know Taylor wants me to (and isn’t that a thrill all on its own), and half of it is because this is our first kiss, and no amount of Holmesian deduction has prepared me for the sheer rush of mingled emotions racing through my spine. 

“Tay…” a moan escapes me as she decides to nibble on my lower lip, “Tay… we should talk about… Oh God…” 

“Tats… I love you dearly, but you talk too much.” 

And her lips seal my own. 

Excited about romantic connection. Afraid of losing connection. Wants to lose herself in the moment.

I try to work my arms from under my tied down blankets, whether to push her or hug her it’s unclear, but Taylor drops herself on me, and her embrace blocks my movement. I can feel her slight bust pressing on my own, the silk smoothly gliding over the cotton, and a sharp exhalation flees me as her two hard nubs start circling and pressing down on my own. 

Knows she’s wanted. Exalting in the feeling of Lisa Wilbourn accepting her. Excited by Lisa Wilbourn passively being subjected to sexual stimulation. Wants to go further. 

Oh God… That’s such a bad idea… 

She frees my lips just to lower herself a bit more and start working on licking my ear, which makes saying what I am about to say even harder. “Tay… Please, don’t take this as a rejection, but we should stop…” 

She lowers herself a bit more, now nibbling on my neck, and the sheer sensuality of the feeling (thrill of danger enhances—) makes me cry out. “No,” she says in a happy murmur. And my mind goes blank for a minute, only rebooting as her left hand starts palming and circling my breast. 

“What do you mean ‘no?’” 

Her lips go to my wet ear once more, and, between slow, sensual nibbles, she answers, “I mean that I’ve got a gorgeous, hot blonde, whose spandex covered butt has been teasing me for days, tied down to her bed, moaning at my every touch. I mean that I don’t think we should stop.” At this, her tone takes on a possessive note, and her hand grips my breast with enough strength to make me gasp. It’s hard to argue her point. 

Taylor Hebert often fantasizes about sexually dominant scenarios. Current circumstances allow Lisa Wilbourn to escape with enough determination. Slight resistance will be taken as going along with the scenario. Serious resistance will be taken as rejection and cause Taylor Hebert to withdraw in guilt. 

And now my power is emotionally blackmailing me. Great. If he was a human, he would be such a “nice guy.” Meanwhile, Tayor has taken my silence and ragged breathing as eager acceptance and let her hands wander. This girl, I don’t know how she makes such wild leaps of logic. 

Our mouths press together once again, and I can’t help but be an enthusiastic participant. Our legs entangle through my sheets, thighs rubbing through soft cotton, and I just can’t resist tilting my pelvis upwards, seeking pressure and friction. Taylor… doesn’t deny me, and I moan into the kiss once again, a low sound that rumbles up from my increasingly warm chest. For a short, blissful moment, my mind succumbs to the roar of rushing blood, and even the persistent mumbling of my power is drowned out. There’s only me, Taylor, and yearning. 

Her hands hold my face, scalding hot on my cheeks, and she lifts her lips from mine, only her surprising strength stopping me from chasing her—that, and my restraints. I let out a growl that would make Rachel proud. I swear, if she blueballs me after all of that… “So… I guess I have your permission to continue?” 

I look at her with all the grumpy pouting I can manage, which, going by the flush I can feel  burning down to the top of my breasts, may come across as more adorable than menacing. Damn it. “You think?” 

She has the goddamned nerve to chuckle. Oh, girl, you don’t know what you are getting into starting a teasing war with a fucking Thinker. Or by fucking a Thinker, come to think of it. Speaking of, why are you getting up and denying me the feeling of your sculpted legs rubbing between my soft ones? No, I am not needy. Shut up. 

“Don’t worry, I am not about to leave you hanging.” She smiles at me and my heart fucking flutters. Fluttering isch verboten, you hear, you damn mushy piece of crap? I am going to gorge on fried chicken and greasy pizza just to spite you, you pretentious valve system. 

“I am more worried about you leaving me tied down to the bed and frustrated out of my mind, to be honest.” There. A cheeky remark. Can’t let her forget who wears the pants in this snark—the skin-tight pants, much like her own. 

… 

Sorry, shorted out there, for a moment. 

Lisa Wilbourn uses humor and narrative conventions as a defense mechanism to avoid considering—

Shut uuuuuuuuuuuup! 

Thankfully, Taytay is feeling charitable enough to help me derail my train of thought and upcoming argument with the disembodied voice of a less boundary conscious Sherlock Holmes living in my head. By flipping the sheets up. 

What. 

I stare dumbly up at the still fluttering (forgivable in sheets, not in organs) piece of white fabric as I feel air suddenly rushing over my legs, followed by a leggy brunette slipping down my short pajama pants. I am still tied up from my waist up. Oh God, this could be so bad and so good

Before I can fully process what’s about to happen, I can feel Taylor’s lips leaving scorching trails of wet fire as she drags them over the inner side of my thighs, one leg after the other, alternating and going ever upwards with each pass. My gasps grow heavy with anticipation, and I clamp down hard on any hints my power is about to give me. The anticipation, the thrill, is too much for me to stand. And far too good for me to spoil. 

She stops, and I can feel her hesitation as warm air washes over my wet center. I shiver. “Lisa, If you don’t want me to—” Before she can finish, my hands slither from under the sheets and grab the silky hair I have admired so often. Then I pull her towards me. 

Taylor groans. 

The hesitation, the tentative touches expected of a first-time lover, get washed away by a torrent of passion finally unleashed. Her tongue attacks me, and it’s only my own arousal that lets me accept such enthusiasm from the get-go. 

“Taylor, I—” Her lips lock around my clitoris and she sucks on it as hard as she can. My breathing stops. 

It’s only after an indeterminate amount of time, which she spends alternating suction and quick, hard licks with her pointed tongue, that she stops and speaks, her words a vibrating warmth on my sex. “I always wondered, you know, when playing with myself, how it would feel to—” My hands tighten their grip on her hair and pull her against me so hard I can feel the impact reverberating up to my chest. A low moan hums against my lower lips, and there are no more words. 

There’s some shuffling on my mattress, Taylor’s lips intermittently abandoning my own, and I can hear soft fabric falling to the floor. Before I can guess what it is that Taylor has removed, her lips return to my nub, suction and an increasingly deft massage from her tongue leaving me seeing sparks, and then… Then her bare fingers start prodding me. 

And, before I can even begin to process what to say (teasing remark inappropriate in highly emotional—) she… She penetrates me. Taylor is inside me. Me. 

And I come. 

I… I am usually a quiet girl. Sometimes I mutter, or gasp, or moan, and sometimes I can get really into things and say a word or two in a volume that may not be entirely appropriate (or, apparently, chant my teammate's name in a litany insistent enough that she thinks I am desperately calling for help… which may not have been entirely inaccurate). But I am usually a quiet girl. 

Today? With my first real friend since I triggered, the girl I have been guiltily lusting after since shortly after meeting her, not only reciprocating my feelings but unleashing her own lust on me while I am helpless to stop her? 

No, today I am not quiet. 

I let out a scream that is only interrupted by the wracking shocks seizing my body, barely aware of my fingers digging into Taylor’s scalp as I press her even harder against me, desperate for her not to stop. I gasp for breath, and, even as the physical sensations let up, the emotional release is enough to make me cry out again—in joy, in laughter, in sheer exhilaration. I am here, with Taylor, and I am shouting my happiness to the world. 

Which is when somebody knocks on the door. 

Taylor freezes, which, given the way her fingers had been hooked inside me to rub at the upper walls of my pussy, makes me let out a final, strangled gasp. Of course, there’s no need to be a Thinker to know that—

Other teammates out of the building. Regent only teammate present. Intruders unlikely to knock—

… Power, you are useless. 

Trying to steady my breathing, I answer with all the dread the situation demands. “Yes? Is something the matter?” 

“You fucking kidding me?” Comes the slightly baffled response. 

“… No?” Comes the very mortified reply. 

There’s some sighing loud enough to come through the solid wooden door (theatrical expression of emotion, intended to maximize discomfort), and then, with an almost chiding tone, he says, “Tats, my dear teammate, either you enjoy strangling cats to a degree I find most disturbing—which means a lot, as I despise the little bastards—or you and Taytay finally did the deed. Just wanted to congratulate you, express my sincere admiration at her amateurish yet obviously effective technique, and tell you to keep it the fuck (heh… ‘the fuck,’ get it?) down, because some people are trying to sleep.” 

“I have no idea whatsoever what you are talking about.” 

“I can still see your nervous system lighting up like a Christmas tree.” 

… Given that psychics are not supposed to exist, I am getting fucking tired of being surrounded by them. My prolonged silence while trying to come up with an adequate reply (revealing Heartbreaker’s connection considered excessive retaliation—) seems to instigate further elaboration from the jerk with a heart of… jerk. “You know, if you have so much trouble trying to be silent, I can always lend you some gags that I—ouch! Hey! Stop that! There’s no need to—gack!” 

After half a second of pondering and at the start of a running retreat from the other side of my door, I turn my still blinded attention towards my leggier teammate. “Mosquitoes? Fleas? Gnats?” 

“Yes.” 

“God, I love you so much.” 

We freeze. 

“I mean, uh, that’s just an expression, you know, a saying, an idiom, a hyperbole used for humorous effect in a somewhat cliché manner that nonetheless contributes to establishing a common ground in the transmission of said effect to achieve effective communication and—” 

“Lisa?” 

“Yes?” 

“I get it. If you keep explaining I may get upset.” 

Regent’s pained cries for mercy play in the background as I ponder the wisdom of upsetting Taylor Hebert after what has probably been her first non-solo sexual experience. After a few pico-seconds of careful consideration, I offer my sincere capitulation. “Do you wanna cuddle?” 

There’s some rustling and a few snaps as the slight pressure of my bindings disappears and Taylor gets off my bed. I throw my blanket back down and, turning to watch her lithe figure, I scoot towards the wall, offering her a spot with what I hope is a warm, inviting smile, and not a slasher grin borne from sheer anxiety. Taylor, mask and gloves off, seems to consider my offer and gestures towards the rest of her uniform. “It is… kind of streetwear. Should I…?” 

I nod. 

I try not to nod twice. 

I fail. 

With a hint of humor, Taylor regales me with the striptease that by all means should have come before I did. The silk at times glides like water over her smooth skin, the faint light in the room not enough to reveal any imperfections and leaving me with the impression of a creature of myth stepping out of a cocoon of liquid darkness. When she’s finally down to her underwear and she shakes her head to throw her hair back, my breath catches. 

She’s my best friend. Quite likely my only friend. 

She’s, no matter what she thinks, gorgeous. 

She likes me. Broken, messed up, devious, vicious me. 

I… I think I have a huge crush on her. 

Postcoital emotional openness known to cause feelings of euphoria and elation, hormonal imbalance easily amplifies emotions—

Yes, Power, I get it, I am a hormonal teenager who can’t be trusted to know her own emotions. My feelings are all chemical reactions and everything is terrible and life has no meaning and love is a lie— 

Origin of emotions irrelevant to their effect. Effect divorced from genesis. Lisa Wilbourne's emotions valid datapoints. 

… Thank you, Power. 

Suddenly, before I even know how to react, there’s a warm body lying next to mine. I still have my pajama’s shirt on, but our legs finally entangle without any fabric getting in the way. Closely. Intimately. I am grinning like a loon. 

She looks at me, head bashfully tucked down, and I get the remarkable experience of looking down at the much taller girl’s eyes. I love it. “So… Where does this leave us?” 

I can’t even begin to think before my mouth opens. “Here. Together.” 

She giggles, and I feel her body trembling against mine. I also love it. I find that I love a lot of things, at the moment. “That’s a remarkably accurate description of our current circumstances. But is that literal, or…” 

I kiss her hair as she starts trailing off, and I murmur between her curls. “Yes, it is literal and metaphor. You’ve got me, Tay, and it will take some effort to make me let go.” 

We remain silent for a moment that stretches a lifetime before she answers. “Good.” 

And it is. 

But… Well, it wouldn’t be me if I didn’t engage in some possibly self-destructive exchange of words, would it? 

“There’s something I should tell you, though.” 

She prepares for the worst. She gets it. 

I talk long into the night, explaining to her how much of a bad idea it is to try to infiltrate a villain’s team, more so when said team has its own consulting detective. I reassure her I won’t betray her trust, that nobody knows about it but me. There’s a lot of hushed whispering while we try to keep the volume down. I manage to calm her, and she, delightfully, never leaves the bed and our legs remain twined. 

Then… Then I talk about Coil. 

I tell her I have extensive files on everything I know about his operations, everything I suspect about his power, everything she wanted when she joined the Undersiders.
 
She’s free to leave. 

I am not. 

And so, she doesn’t.

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