As Brian and I returned to the loft, I felt more than a little apprehensive. It wasn’t just that I was going to be around Bitch again, but I was also having to face Lisa and Alec. After shouting and talking about quitting the team, I was turning around and going back. A part of me wanted to apologize, but a larger part of me felt I shouldn’t. I had been justified in everything I had said and done, right? Maybe it was just because I wasn’t used to violence or raising my voice.
As I’d feared, there was a bit of an awkward silence as we reached the top of the stairs. Bitch was sitting in a chair beside one of the tables, her dogs nowhere to be seen. As she saw me, she scowled, but didn’t say anything. Alec grinned as I came back, but I couldn’t decide if it was because he was glad or if it was at my expense. I didn’t know him well enough to guess either way.
“Glad you came back,” Lisa told me, a bit of a smile on her face, “Alec, can you go get the first aid kit? It might be in the storage closet.”
While Alec did that, Brian sat me down on the arm of the couch and I pulled off my sweatshirt to get a better look at the damage. I pulled the bottom of my tank top up around my ribs to get a look at where one of the dogs had been gotten at my stomach and back. My clothes had taken most of the damage, and I’d only suffered three or four shallow-ish scrapes. There was bruising and some raw areas where I felt tender, but I figured I’d recover from that in a day or two. I had a cut on my ear, which would be harder to hide, but I was pretty sure I could keep the incident from my dad without him raising hell.
There was only one spot of real damage, a puncture where it looked like a fang had buried itself deep in the top of my forearm and then dragged an inch or so down towards my wrist as it made its exit. The area around it was already turning colors with bruising. I wasn’t sure how deep the puncture was, but I was pretty sure it should have been hurting more than it did. The blood from the injury had trickled down my arm, and was still welling out.
“Christ,” I said, mostly to myself.
“That was awesome, you know,” Alec told me, as he returned with the first aid kit, “I didn’t think you had it in you to kick someone’s ass.” I glared at him, but he just sat on the back of the sofa, his legs kicking like an excited kid.
“I think we’re going to clean that and stitch it. Tattle’s power should give us a better sense of whether stitches are necessary,” Brian said, quietly.
“Alright,” I agreed.
I would hardly describe getting stitches as a bonding experience, but Bitch more or less stayed quiet throughout the process. We were both sat down and told to sit still while Brian both cleaned and sewed up the hole in my arm and the tear my kick had made in Bitch’s ear. Brian insisted I take two Tylenol, though the pain was still limited to a mild ache in my arm. I grudgingly obliged. I’d never liked taking pills, and never felt they made a real difference.
“You have first aid training?” I inquired, to make conversation and break the tense silence.
Alec complained, “We all do, Brian made us all take a comprehensive class less than a week after we were gathered as a team. Such a pain in the ass, believe me. He’ll make you do it too.”
“I already did,” I admitted, “One of the first things I did.” I jumped a little at a snarling from my left, but it was just Rachel cussing as Lisa taped a cotton pad to her ear.
Brian just looked at me and flashed that boyish smile again. I looked away, embarrassed that a guy like him would get pleased like that on my account. He got up to head to the bathroom, garbage from the bandages, sutures, cotton swabs and ointments in his hands.
With Brian gone and Lisa absorbed in trying to patch up Bitch’s ear, I was left with Alec. To make conversation, I said, “Alec. You were going to tell me what you do. You go by Regent, right?”
“The name is a long story, but what I do is this.” He looked over his shoulder at Brian, who was returning from the washroom with a damp washcloth in hand. Brian, mid-stride, stumbled and fell onto the floor.
“Way to look good in front of the new girl, gimpy!” Alec mocked his teammate, laughing. Grateful for the break in the tension, I couldn’t help but laugh too. While Alec continued laughing, Brian got to his feet and ran up to the smaller boy, at which point he got Alec in a headlock and began punching him in the shoulder repeatedly. This abuse only made Alec laugh harder in between his cries of pain.
Lisa turned to me, smiling at the prank and play fighting between the boys, “It’s a bit complicated to explain, but basically, Alec can get into people’s nervous systems. This lets him fire off impulses that set off reflexes or make body parts jerk into motion. It’s not a dramatic power, but with timing, he can make someone fall over midstep, drop something, lose their sense of balance or pull the trigger on a gun.”
I nodded, absorbing the information. It sounded very underwhelming to me, but I was willing to admit I could be underestimating it.
“Well,” I said, after a long pause, “I think I pretty much get what everyone can do, then. Correct me if I’m wrong, but Bitch can turn those dogs into those freakish monsters I saw the other night?”
Sitting a few feet away, Bitch muttered, “They aren’t freakish.”
Lisa answered my question, ignoring her. “Rachel can do it with any dog, actually,” she said, stressing the name, “And no codenames when we’re not in costume, ‘kay? Get in the habit of using the right name at the right times, and it’s that much harder to slip.”
It was hard to think of Rachel by her real name. Bitch seemed really fitting given the stunt she had pulled. I apologized to Lisa, “Sorry.”
Lisa gave a small nod in response, then told me, “She can use her power on any dog, but only Brutus, Judas and Angelica are trained well enough that they’ll listen to her when they’re pumped up.”
Ah, so that was it. “And Brian makes that oily darkness that screws up your hearing. The Parahumans wiki said it was darkness generation.”
Brian smiled, “I put that into the wiki myself. It’s not wrong, but it does catch people off guard when they think they know what you can do, and there’s something more to it.”
Lisa added, “It’s not just hearing. It also cuts off radio signals and dampens the effects of radiation.”
“That’s what her power tells her, anyways. I haven’t had much chance to test that part of things. I get by as is,” Brian said. He turned his hand palm up and created a handful of the darkness. It was like smoke, but so absolutely black that there was no texture to it. It was like someone had taken a scalpel to reality and the blackness was what was there when everything else was gone. I couldn’t even gauge the dimensions of it, unless I looked at it from a different perspective. Even then, with the way the darkness shifted and billowed like smoke, it was hard to judge the shape.
More of it just kept pouring from his hand, climbing upwards to cover the top of the room. As the light from the windows near the upper edges of the room and the florescent bars on the ceiling was cut off, the room got a great deal darker.
He closed his hand into a fist, and the darkness thinned out and disintegrated into strands and tatters, and the room brightened again. I looked at the light coming in from the windows and was surprised it wasn’t later.
“What time is it?” I asked.
“Nineteen minutes before five,” Lisa said. She didn’t look at a watch or a clock as she said it, which was unsettling. It was a reminder that her power was constantly available to her.
Brian asked me, “Do you have somewhere you need to be?
“Home, I guess,” I admitted, “My dad will wonder where I am.”
“Call him,” Lisa suggested, “Now that the introductions are over with, you can just hang out for a bit, if you want.”
“We could order pizza,” Alec suggested. Then when Lisa, Brian and Bitch all made faces, he added, “Or maybe everyone’s sick of pizza and we could order something else.”
“Stick around?” Brian made it a question.
I glanced at Bitch. She was sitting on the table behind one of the couches and looking like a mess, with a bloody bandage over one ear, blood smeared below her nose and lip, and a bit of green around the gills that suggested she was feeling a little worse for wear. With her in that state, I didn’t feel particularly threatened. Staying meant I could work to get things more copacetic and maybe dig for a bit more information. I’d also missed socializing with people – even if it was under false pretenses with a group that included an apparent sociopath. It had been a sucky day. Just chilling out sounded good.
“Okay,” I decided, “Yeah, I think I’d like to.”
“Phone’s in the kitchen if you want to call your dad,” Lisa said.
I looked over my shoulder as I headed across the loft. The others got settled on the couches, with Alec turning on the TV while Lisa and Brian took a second to clean up.
I found the phone and dialed my dad.
“Hey dad,” I said, when I heard the phone being picked up.
“Taylor. Are you alright?” He sounded worried. It was unusual, I supposed, my not being home when he got back from work.
“I’m fine, dad. Is it cool if I hang out with some people tonight?”
There was a pause.
“Taylor, if there’s anyone that’s making you make this call… the bullies or someone else, tell me everything is fine. If you’re not in trouble, tell me your mother’s full name.”
I felt momentarily embarrassed. Was it so unusual for me to hang out with people? I knew my dad was just trying to keep me safe, but it was bordering on the ridiculous.
“Annette Rose Hebert,” I told him, “Really dad, it’s cool.”
“You’re really okay?”
My gaze roved over the kitchen, taking in the details, as I gave him my assurances.
“Better than ever. I kind of made some friends,” I said.
My eyes settled on their dining room table. There was a stack of money, wrapped with a paper band just as the money in the lunchbox had been. Beside the money, plain as day, was the dark gray metal of a handgun.
My attention caught by the gun, I only barely caught my dad’s question. “What are they like?”
“They seem like good people,” I lied.