Tangle 6.3: Nuts and the Grabbing Thereof

Source material: Worm, Tangle 6.3

Originally blogged: August 25, 2017


Wooo, hello there! Who’s ready to unpack some furniture and possibly more of Brian’s characterization? Or at least watch Taylor do those things? I certainly am!

Last chapter was delightful, and considering the subject matter, I have a feeling this one’s going to be even better.

Normally, I’d say more, but I think I’ve made if perfectly clear what I’m expecting from this chapter, so… Let the shipping commence!


I opened the glass doors for Brian so he could carry the boxes of furniture in. The thing that struck me about his apartment building was how uncluttered everything was. No litter, no people, no noise.

It’s gonna be interesting to see how much of this apartment’s appearance and quirks come from it being meant to show the people who’ll be making the decision in the Aisha case that Brian is a responsible person, and how much is from Brian actually being a responsible person.

I’m not sure there’s much separation between those things, though.

There was a bulletin board just past the second set of doors, which was something I normally might have expected to be a little messy, as a rule, but even there, the individual postings were carefully spaced out, and the entire thing was sealed behind a glass pane with a single small lock. It felt kind of sterile. Or maybe that was just me being used to an area with more character.

Remember how I was talking about Spitfire’s part of her and Labyrinth’s room as having more personality than Labyrinth’s part? Seems Taylor would agree.

But yeah, like, no one’s gonna look at a messy bulletin board and go “clearly you’re not a responsible caregiver”. This is either Brian going overboard with the presentation of his apartment, or him genuinely appreciating this degree of orderliness.

I didn’t know what to say. Not just in terms of Brian’s apartment building – I had no idea what words should be coming out of my mouth. I didn’t have the know-how to naturally make small talk.

Small talk is bullshit sometimes, to be honest.

I usually got by with constant planning ahead on what I might say.

Don’t do this if you’re nearly deaf and can’t hear it if the conversation goes differently than expected.

Problem was, I’d been distracted, not so much by Brian’s features, but by the realization that I had been looking at them.

Ahaha!

Now that I was trying to recover, get my mental footing and plan out some conversation, all I could think was ‘Dammit, Taylor, why can’t you think of something to say?!’.

Just say “Axe handle.” and take it from there.


We entered the elevator, and Brian rested the boxes on the metal railing on the interior. I managed, “What floor?”

“Fourth, thanks.”

I hit the button.

Oh, we weren’t quite in his apartment yet, just the building. Whoops. I guess it’s time to disregard everything I said about the bulletin board.

We ascended, and as the door opened, I offered Brian a hand in steadying the boxes as he backed out of the elevator. He led the way down the hall and stopped by a door while I fumbled with the keys he had given me, to find the one to his apartment.

I wasn’t sure what I expected to see in Brian’s place, but he still managed to surprise me.

Okay, let’s see what he’s got in here, for real this time.

The first thing I noticed was that the ceilings were high. The apartment was virtually two stories, a fairly open concept with few walls. The kitchen was to our left as we walked in, smallish, separated from the living room by a bar/kitchen counter. To our right was the hall closet and the walls encompassing the bathroom and one of the bedrooms.

This sounds nice.

Directly in front of us was the spacious living room, backed by a floor to ceiling window and a glass door leading out onto a stone balcony. A set of stairs led up to a bedroom set above and on top of the bathroom and first bedroom – I figured that was where Brian slept, going by the not-disheveled-but-not-quite-made bed that was in view from where I stood.

Like, really nice.

The not-quite-made bed makes a lot more sense as applied to Brian than the exaggerated neatness of the bulletin board would’ve if he were responsible for it.


What threw me, I think, was how mellow the place was. There were two bookshelves, light gray in color, in the living room. On the shelves, I saw, there was a mix of novels, plants and older books with cracked and frayed leather spines.

Either Brian likes to read, or he wants to give the impression that he does. I’m guessing the former.

The fronds of some of the plants draped down over the shelves below. The couch and accompanying chair were a pale tan corduroy, oversized with cushions thick and deep enough they looked like you could get lost in them. I could totally imagine curling up in that armchair with my legs tucked in beside me, a book in my hands.

I wonder if Brian has “99 Uses for Snails” on those shelves.

Also, why curl up in that armchair when you can curl up in the couch next to Brian? 😉

Somehow I had been expecting aesthetics along the lines of chrome and black leather[.] Not that I associated Brian’s personality or tastes with that sort of design, but it was what I might’ve thought a young bachelor might go for.

That does sound closer to the aesthetic Brian goes for in his Grue costume, so I wouldn’t blame you for associating it with him.

Whether it was the softness of the colors, the little jar with stones, water and bamboo on the kitchen counter or the sepia tone pictures of trees in the front hall, the place gave me a sense of ease.

Unlike Taylor, this is pretty much the aesthetic I had imagined. I like it.


I felt a pang of envy, and it wasn’t just because Brian’s apartment was nice. I was getting a better sense of who he was, and how we were very different people, in a respect.

How so? In that you wouldn’t go for this much… decor? I mean, it’s rather minimalistic as it is, but I think Taylor would take that further, down to the bear necessities.

Brian grunted as he set the boxes down by the front closet. He pulled off his boots and I took that as my cue to remove my shoes.

It’s interesting how the rules of shoe removal vary between cultures. As far as I’ve been able to tell, it’s decided on a per household basis in the U.S., and you’re most commonly not supposed to remove your shoes? Whereas in Norway, pretty much every private household has you take off your shoes before entering the main areas of the house/apartment/whatever (walking into someone’s house with shoes on, without explicit permission, is very rude). The exception is, like, schools and businesses and such, and even some of those have you take off your shoes or put on plastic covers for them.

I guess the key to this difference might lie in climate? In Norway, it’s snowy (and I mean really snowy, not just fuzz… if you can see asphalt under it it doesn’t count) outside for like a third of the year or more, whereas some places in the U.S. rarely get snow at all. And Norway gets pretty rainy at times, too. So what I’m saying is Norwegians may have more mud and snow and such on the ground outside, that you wouldn’t want to drag into the home proper.


“So, I’ve already got one bit started,” he told me,

leading me into the living room, and I saw that there was a pile of light gray boards and an empty cardboard box leaning against the wall there. “Turns out it really needs a second set of hands. You want anything before we get started?

…I feel doubly justified in making that reference now.


You prefer tea to coffee, right? Or do you want a soda? Bite to eat?”

“I’m fine,” I smiled, taking off my sweatshirt and putting it down on the kitchen counter. I’d promised Tattletale I would.

yesss

Feeling very self conscious with my belly showing, I tried to distract him with the task at hand,

Nah, let him soak it i–

“Let’s get started?”

…Oh my fucking cod.


There’s nothing actually wrong with the characters using the phrase “get started” three times in short succession, but doing so after I linked to the Game Grumps bit on the first one? The irony is thick.

(At least Wildbow would have to be a time traveller to even know about the Game Grumps at all while writing this, so I don’t have to sit and wonder if this was somehow a reference.)


The first job, the one he’d left incomplete, was a set of shelves, and we started with that.

At least this time it’s not “got started”.

It was, as he’d said, a job for two people. The shelves had three columns with six shelves each, and every part interlocked with the help of wooden pegs. It was impossible to press two pieces near the top together without ones near the bottom pulling apart, and vice versa,

And the troubles (get started) begin.

so we got into a rhythm where one of us would put pieces together while the other prevented everything else from coming apart.

Sounds like a dance.

All in all, it took us twenty minutes or so. After we verified that everything was fitting together and lined up, Brian hauled the shelf off the floor and set it against the wall.

“That’s one,” he smiled, “You sure you don’t want a drink?”

You really should have something to drink ready while doing physical labor like this, even if it’s light physical labor.

“What do you have?”

“Here, I’ve got stuff in the fridge. Come and take your pick.”

I grabbed a cherry coke.

Ooh. I’ve heard of cherry Coke, but I’ve never had the opportunity to taste it. I think I’d like to – it sounds like an interesting taste.

Brian grabbed a coke, but mostly ignored it while he opened the next box, the square one that was nearly four feet across, and started laying out the individual pieces on the kitchen floor. A kitchen table with stools.

Try to put all the legs on the correct side of the bits they attach to. Y’know, unlike a certain someone.


As it turned out, the kitchen table was a tougher job than the shelving unit. The legs had to be held at precisely the right angle, or the bolts jammed in the holes, or forced the table leg out of position. Each time that happened, we wound up having to take the bolt out and start over. I wound up holding the first table leg steady while he screwed in the bolts at the base.

Yeesh.

Without glancing my way, he placed his hand over top of mine to adjust the angle a fraction.

Oh boy, how is Taylor gonna react to this? :3

The contact made me feel like someone had plucked a guitar string that ran from the top of my head down through the middle of my body. A deep thrum deep inside me that couldn’t be heard, only felt. I was very glad for the long sleeves of my top as goosebumps prickled my arms.

I feel like the Greek chorus in “I Won’t Say I’m In Love”… though maybe that’s more Lisa’s role. :p


I found myself defaulting to my most basic defense, staying quiet, staying still, so I couldn’t say or do anything stupid. Problem was, this made me very, very aware of the silence and lack of conversation.

This is a defense that works a lot better in groups of five or more.

One on one, however? It’s utter shit.

Brian probably hadn’t given the quiet the briefest thought, but I found myself wondering what to say, wondering how to make small talk, or how to get a conversation going. It was agonizing.

She wants to talk, but she doesn’t want to talk in a way that might reflect badly on her, and she doesn’t quite know how to avoid that.

He moved in closer to get a better look as he put a nut on the bolt, and his arm pressed against my shoulder.

Y’know, like geology, furniture construction is a surprisingly erotic topic. Lots of talk about nuts and screwing.

Again, it prompted an almost elemental reaction from my body. Was this intentional? Was he signalling interest through casual physical contact? Or was I assigning meaning to something coincidental?

In this particular case, my money is actually on the last option, but the fact that Taylor’s thinking about this is adorable and in no way helping her case in arguing that this is all platonic from her side.


“Nearly done,” he murmured, adjusting his position to start screwing in the other bolt for the table leg. His arm wasn’t pressing against my shoulder, now, but the way he was crouching, his face was only a few inches from my own. Okay, that was worse.

Ahaha.

“Taylor, you think you can grab that smaller wrench without moving the leg?”

I didn’t trust myself to respond without making a funny noise, so I just reached for the little wrench and handed it to him.

“That’s faster, thanks,” he replied, after a second, “Want to grab me the nut?”

Sooner or later, he’s probably gonna catch on to her silence and wonder what’s up, if he isn’t already.

And if he decides to ask… what is Taylor gonna say?

(Also, Brian’s nut and the grabbing thereof has not gone unnoticed.)

I did, dropping it into his cupped hand rather than placing it there, worried about what I might do or how I’d react if my hand touched his. I wasn’t going to survive the next three table legs like this, let alone the stools or the third piece of furniture we hadn’t even started.

Hehe.

“Taylor?” he asked.

Ohh, here we go. Maybe.

Or maybe we’re just in for Taylor freaking out about Brian having possibly caught on to her behavior and then Brian saying something else, perhaps furniture-related.

Either would be good with me.

He let the question hang, so I swallowed and replied, “What?”

“Relax. You’re allowed to breathe.”

Oh, he’s caught on alright.


I laughed lightly at the realization I was holding my breath, which resulted in a nervous, chuckling exhalation that only added to the awkwardness I was feeling.

He was smiling, “You okay?”

What was I supposed to say? Admit I didn’t know how to deal with being around a good looking guy?

Hah! Called it.

Should’ve thought of this earlier, Taylor. Now you’re stuck between a rock and a hot friend. :p

I stared down at the ground, at the table leg I was holding. “I get nervous when I’m close to people. I think, you know, maybe I have bad breath, or maybe I have B.O., and I wouldn’t be able to tell, because it’s mine, so I hold my breath like that to be safe. I dunno.”

A+ save. Nice work.

Bravo, Taylor. Bravo. I imagined the slowest, most sarcastic of slow claps. Talking about bad breath and B.O. was totally the way to go.

No, really, I genuinely think that was a good lie. I guess it might not seem like it when you may have gotten your crush to think about your possible body odor, though.

One of those brilliant moments that would have me cringing every time I remembered it in the next few years or decades, I was sure.

Fair enough.


Then Brian leaned close, closing the scant inches of distance that separated us, until our noses were practically touching.

“Nope. You smell nice,” he told me.

Ooh, now this intimacy seems a lot more intentional than before. :3

If I’d been a cartoon character, I was pretty sure that was the point where I’d have steam shooting out of my ears, or I’d be melting into a puddle. Instead, I went with my first instinct, once more, and went very still.

Planklor. Taylplank. Taylank? Tayplanklor? …no, this just doesn’t work.

Also, I suppose there are worse things she could do by instinct in this situation.

I became aware of a heat on my face that must have been a furious blushing.

…Scarlitter? No, that just sounds like the garbage left behind by an environmentally unfriendly Lion King villain.

So yeah, if it somehow wasn’t clear to Brian what’s going on yet…


It would be hard to say whether it was a mercy or not, but Brian was distracted by the sound of a key in a lock, and the opening of the front door.

Huh? Who else would have the key? Aisha?

I mean, he’s expecting the people who are coming to check out his apartment, but I see no reason for them to have a key, and it seems like we’d know about it if they were running out of time. The landperson would possibly have a key, but likely wouldn’t just let themself in like this – which, come to think of it, would apply to the former option too.

Meanwhile Aisha and Brian have a close enough bond that I could absolutely see him having given her a key to his apartment. I think we’re about to meet her properly! 🙂

My first thought was that the girl who walked in was Brian’s girlfriend. Then I saw her glance our way, smirk, and noted the similarity between her eyes and Brian’s. His sister.

Nice! Hiii!

Yeah, she’d be a bit young for that first option, but it makes sense that Taylor would leap to that thought right now. “oh god what if he has a girlfriend and she just caught us being this intimate and I’m attracted to a guy with a girlfriend and he might be attracted to me what do I do but also that gives me a good excuse to not get romantically involved with an Undersider before I betray them which is nice but also I kinda really hate that oh god stop thinking about that what do I doooo– oh wait that’s his sister nevermind”

Buuut yes, judging by that smirk, she has absolutely spotted the intimacy going on between Brian and Taylor as she arrived.

Excellent.


My second thought, or my second response, really, was hard to put into words. It’s like, you could look at a Mercedes, and say that it was a beautiful work of art, even if you weren’t someone who paid much attention to cars. Along similar lines, when you saw a Mercedes with a cheap flame decal pasted around the wheels, and a tacky homemade spoiler stuck on the back, it was painful and disappointing on a fundamental level. That was what I felt, looking at Aisha.

That’s… one hell of a description.

Are you saying Aisha looks like a cheap knockoff female Brian? Or just an overly made-up girl girl who would look much better if she went without makeup?

She was beautiful, as feminine as Brian was masculine, with high cheekbones, a long neck and even though she was two or three years younger than me, she already had breasts larger than mine. I could be convinced to chop off a finger for legs, a waist and hips like hers.

Damn, this family had good genes.

Haha!

So far, I can’t help but imagine her looking a bit like Sister America from Scandinavia and the World:

Incidentally, her brother is built a lot like Brian.


You just needed one look at Aisha to know that she was going to be drop dead gorgeous when she had finished growing up. All that said, though, she had a streak of hair bleached and some of that bleached hair had been dyed into a stripe of purple. It was as though she had gone out of her way to look trashy, with ripped denim shorts over neon green fishnet leggings, and a strapless top I would hesitate to even call underwear. Any envy I felt towards her was accented by an almost offended feeling, as far as how she was spoiling what she’d been naturally given.

Yeesh. Do I have to call in Fashion Jasper from over at Loreweaver’s blog again? I think I do.

“Am I interrupting?” she said, her tone vaguely mocking, as she gave me a look I couldn’t quite figure out.

Please don’t be a bitch, Aisha. Yes, I do want you to call these two out and force them to bumble their way through that situation, but please be the type to do it in a loving manner.

“Aisha,” Brian stood up, “What are you doing here? You-” he stopped as a solid, heavyset black woman entered through the front door. Where Aisha’s glance my way had been ambiguous, the look this woman gave me was anything but. Disapproval, dislike.

Oh cod.

Ohh cod.

I think we’ve got a mother on our hands here.

I realized what I must look like, slightly sweaty, on the floor amid pieces of furniture, stomach showing, practically glowing with a pink blush. I hurried to grab my sweatshirt and pull it on.

Sure, that’s not incriminating you further.

“Mr. Laborn?” the heavy woman said, “I’m afraid I expected you to be more prepared, but it seems like you’re in the middle of something.”

Well.

It’s not his mom. I guess that’s a good thing. But on the other hand, it seems they have run out of time, which is almost definitely worse than the mom alternative.


Brian shook his head, “Ma’am. Mrs. Henderson. I’m almost positive your office told me to expect you at two this afternoon.”

“That was the original time. Aisha told me you wanted to reschedule-” Mrs. Henderson trailed off and gave Aisha a hard look.

Coddammit, Aisha, why.

Aisha smiled, shrugged, and hopped up so she was sitting on the end of the kitchen counter. “What? There’s a movie I want to see this afternoon with my friends.”

Seriously, if Mrs. Henderson holds this against Brian, I’m going to be very angry with her. Aisha has just made it incredibly clear that Brian not being prepared is entirely her fault.

“If you’d asked, I might have said yes,” Brian told her, “Now I’m probably going to say no.”

“Not your call, bro, I’m not living with you yet,” she raised a double-set of middle fingers his way.

Hrm. Does she actually want to live with him?

Brian looked like he was going to say something else, but then he stopped himself. He sighed, then turned his attention to Aisha’s caseworker, “I’m sorry about this.”

She frowned, “Me too. I should have called to check, given Aisha’s history of bending the truth.”

At least it looks like Mrs. Henderson is reasonable.

She looked at her notebook and turned a page, “If you’d like to reschedule, hmmm, I’m afraid I’ve already filled the afternoon slot, but perhaps this weekend…?”

Brian gave Aisha an annoyed look, “Since you’re already here, if you’re willing to look past the furniture we haven’t finished putting together, we could do it now.”

I’m down for that.


“If you’re sure? What about your… companion?” she glanced at me.

My blush probably hadn’t gone away, and I suspect I blushed a little harder at suddenly being put in the middle of an awkward situation. Probably didn’t help banish any wrong impressions she’d picked up.

Yeah, not helping.

“She’s a friend, she was helping me out. Taylor, I’m not sure how long this will be. I don’t want to waste your time, but I’d feel bad if you left so soon after coming all the way here. If you want to stick around and take it easy, I could give you a ride back after.”

A ride on what? You don’t have a car. Oh wait, you do have the rental, never mind.

Also, wouldn’t it make sense for Taylor to stick around afterwards to help with the rest of the furniture anyway?

Every socially awkward part of my brain itched to take the offered escape route, make my exit, cool off. It was hard to say why I didn’t.

“I’ll stay, if I won’t be in the way. No plans for the afternoon.”

Nice. I mean, I was never under any impression that Taylor might leave now, after this masterful setup for letting the reader witness the caseworker’s inspection, but it’s nice to hear it from her nonetheless.

When Brian smiled, I realized why I hadn’t jumped on the chance to leave.

I reiterate: Taylor likes when the boys smile.


The woman gave me another close examination. She asked me, “Are you in his online class?”

I shook my head.

How do you explain how you know Brian, anyway? I doubt Mrs. Henderson would take kindly to “I met him on a roof one night.”

“No. You looked a little young for it.” Then she challenged me, “Why aren’t you in school?”

“Um,” I hesitated. Stick as close to the truth as possible. “I was caught at the edge of one of the bomb blasts, got a concussion. I’m missing classes until I’m totally better.”

Good, stick to your story, and stick the story close to the truth.

“I see. I’m sure that assembling furniture is what the doctor intended when he told you to rest and recuperate?”

I smiled awkwardly and shrugged. Man, I was really hoping I wasn’t tanking this thing for Brian.

Hm, I mean, that’s a fair point. Light physical labor is hardly the worst thing Taylor’s been doing in her recuperation period, but she can’t exactly tell that to Mrs. Henderson.

“So,” Brian spoke to Mrs. Henderson,

Yes, good, distract her.

“You wanted to look my place over, and see the space I set aside for Aisha? I guess this is a chance for you to check out a place before the family has scrambled to sweep everything under the rug.”

Heh, true. When she’s come early like this anyway, might as well use it to play up your trustworthiness by showing her that you’re still a responsible would-be guardian while unprepared for inspection.

“Mmm.” A noncommital response. “Let’s step onto the balcony, and you can tell me about the area and the nearby schools.”

Hm… seems like a good opportunity for Aisha and Taylor to talk amongst themselves.

Brian led the way and held the door for the caseworker. It swung shut behind him, leaving me with Aisha, who was still sitting on the kitchen counter. I gave her a small smile, and received a cool, penetrating stare in return. Uncomfortable, I turned my attention to the table and tried to see what I could do on my own, with the second leg.

Taylor has too many people giving her uncomfortable stares in her life.

“So. You’re on my brother’s team?”

Interesting, so she knows about that.

Maybe she shouldn’t know about that, though. If she hadn’t been right, she would’ve just given away that her brother has a team of some sort. Considering which city this is, the leap from there to “Brian is a parahuman” isn’t big.

What? I was proud of myself when I barely missed a beat. “Team? I know he boxes, or boxed, at least, but-”

She gave me a funny look, “You’re going to play dumb, hunh?”

“I’m not following. Sorry.”

And after this, it’s really time to stop.

“Right.” She leaned back and kicked her legs a bit.

I turned my focus back to the table leg. I didn’t get very far before she interrupted me again.

“Look, I know you’re on his team. Process of elimination, you have to be the bug girl.”

Okay, fair enough. I guess maybe she’s fully aware of Brian not really making friends outside his team, or something like that. Plus, she knows there’s a bug girl, and presumably that this bug girl is a new-ish addition to the team, and then Brian comes home with a girl she’s never seen before?

Still? If she’d been wrong, she would by now have not only given away that Brian is a parahuman, but also which parahuman. Unless of course there are multiple bug girls in Brockton Bay who have teamed up with a six-foot guy and at least one more person (as “process of elimination” implies there’s someone who’s been eliminated).

#oh geez this post got long


I shook my head, as much to deny it as in exasperation. What the hell, Brian?

“He told me that he had powers, didn’t say what they were. Since he has powers, he thinks there’s a chance I could get ’em too. Didn’t want me to be surprised.

Looks like Taylor’s thinking the same as me: Aisha can’t be trusted with these secrets. Meanwhile, Aisha is continuing to prove our point.

I wonder if there’s any truth to the idea that a sibling with powers indicates that you might have the chance to get them too when your parents (as far as we know) don’t have powers. It would make sense if the first-generation parahumans have a genetic predisposition, but if the predisposition is more randomly given than that (to potential first-gen parahumans), it might not actually apply.

Did that make sense? I think that made sense.

I figured out who he was after that, saw something about some villains robbing a casino on a night he wasn’t at home, started keeping track of times he wasn’t available and it kept matching up. Called him on it, and he didn’t do a very good job at denying it.”

Well, at least it wasn’t his decision to tell her everything, then.

Hoping to throw her off balance, I put the most convincing wide eyed expression of shock on my face that I could manage, “You’re saying your brother’s a supervillain?”

She blinked twice, then said, slowly, like she was talking to someone with a mental handicap, “Yeaaaaah. And I’m saying you are, too. Why else would my brother be hanging out with you?”

Ouch. That stung.

She’s assuming a lot of things about Brian’s social habits that may or may not remain accurate forever, and once they don’t… man, that’s gonna cause trouble.

I wonder if this kind of thing is why she has a reputation for bending the truth, too. What if she’s been telling Mrs. Henderson about her brother’s second life and not been believed?


I was spared having to come up with a response and keep the charade going when Brian and the caseworker came back from the balcony.

The caseworker was saying, “…hesitant, with the waiting list.”

Hm… were they talking about Arcadia High, maybe?

“She’s in the territory and she’d be entering the school at the same time as the rest of the grade nine students.” Brian replied, giving Aisha the evil eye, “And it would mean separating her from the bad influences around where she’s living now.”

Aisha gave him the finger, again.

What kind of people have Aisha gotten herself involved with? Just regular delinquents, or something more sinister?

“Mmm,” the caseworker replied, glancing from Aisha to him. “I’d like to see your bedroom next?”

“Mine? Not Aisha’s?”

“Please.”

That might seem odd, but there’s a lot you can tell about someone from their bedroom, so I suppose it makes sense.

Brian led the caseworker up the stairs to his bedroom, which overlooked the rest of the apartment.

“Maybe I should see how you react if I shout it aloud,” Aisha suggested. She played up an accent, “What do you call yourself, again?”

I rolled my eyes.

Heh. People have been asking that ever since 1.6.

At least Taylor knows she can blame Aisha’s lying habit if she goes through with it.

“Not saying? Whatever.” Hands cupped around her mouth as though she were shouting, she mock-shouted at a volume barely above regular speech, “Ladybug and Grue, in da house!”

Ladybug? Not bad, but unfortunately taken. By a character I’ve repeatedly compared Taylor to, even.

Although I suppose it wouldn’t be taken yet when Wildbow wrote this.

I glanced upstairs, hoping that Brian and the caseworker weren’t in earshot. The murmur of conversation up there didn’t seem to have been interrupted by what Aisha had said.

Hrm. Good, but now Aisha has seen your reaction: Glancing upwards to check if anyone heard it. That’s probably enough for her.


“Seems like you’d be in a lose-lose situation, broadcasting it like that,” I replied, “Either you’re right, and you tick off two people you really might want to avoid angering, or you’re wrong and you look crazy.”

I mean, fair point.

“What if they already think I’m a little crazy, though? What do I have to lose?”

“Can’t say.” I tightened the bolt, checked the chair leg, and found it solid as a rock. I moved on to the next one. “What do you have to gain?”

At this point, it feels like Taylor has given up on trying to turn Aisha away from the idea that she’s on Brian’s team, and is more playing a game of intentions with her to stop her from broadcasting it.

“Come onnnn,” she wheedled, “Just admit it.”

My heart was pounding when Brian and the caseworker came down the stairs. Aisha, for her part, pasted a wide, fake grin on her face to greet them. Brian ushered the woman into the second bedroom, but didn’t go inside with her. He stopped to look at me.

“Taylor, you don’t need to do that on your own.”

It’s nice to have something to fidget with while being pestered about your status as a supervillain.

At parahuman trials, they hand out free fidget spinners to the defendants.

“It’s alright,” I said. Glancing up at where Aisha was sitting on the countertop, I added, “It’s a nice distraction.

“Sorry. I think we’ll be just another minute.”

I guess it doesn’t take all that long to inspect the apartment.

It was, it turned out. The caseworker exited Aisha’s bedroom-to-be and glanced through the bathroom, then investigated the cupboards and fridge.

Mrs. Henderson spoke to Aisha, “I’d like you to step onto the balcony for a minute.”

Why? Do you want to say something to Brian (and Taylor) that you don’t want her to hear?

“Whatever.” Aisha hopped down from the counter and headed outside.

“And,” she said, turning to Brian, “You might want your friend to step outside too.”

Ah, she thought about that. But yeah, why didn’t she just bring Brian out on the balcony like before when they were talking about schools and such?

“I don’t really have anything to hide,” he answered, glancing my way.

“Alright. Let me start off by saying this is better than most.”

“Thank you.”

“But I have concerns.”

Good start, but…?


You could see Brian’s expression change a fraction, at that.

“I read the documents and plans you emailed me. You have a solid plan in mind for accounting, paying the bills, assisting with her education, possible extra expenses, clothes budget, even setting money aside for college. In many respects, this is the sort of situation I wish for, with most of my cases.”

buuut?

Is the problem that Aisha doesn’t seem to want to move in here?

“But?”

“But when I look at this place, I see that you’ve made it very much yours. The furniture, the decorations, the artwork, they seem to point to your personality, leaving very little room for Aisha’s, even in the space you’ve set aside for her.”

Brian looked a little stunned at that. “I see.”

Aw, shit.

He spent too much effort making the place reflect him as a responsible guardian, and filled every spot with clues to that?

Either way, this is something that could easily be changed once Aisha moves in. It should in no way be enough on its own to produce a negative decision… right?

“Look, Mr. Laborn, we have to consider Aisha’s perspective. She’s a serial runaway. She clearly doesn’t see your father’s place as a home. Extra care should be given to ensure she sees this as one. Assuming she winds up here and not at her mother’s.”

Ah, so that’s why this doesn’t match “most of” her cases.

“My mother’s,” Brian’s expression took on a more serious cast.

But it would surprise me greatly if she saw her mother’s place as any more of a home than her father’s.

“I’m aware of your concerns on the subject of Aisha’s mother, Mr. Laborn.”

My cell phone buzzed once in my sweatshirt pocket. I ignored it.

Brian sighed, sagging a little, “Is this fixable?”

Yes. Yes, it should be.

Also, I wonder if that buzz is Lisa being nosy about how the date is going.

“Yes. Involve Aisha in the decoration, be willing to compromise your tastes and aesthetics to allow her to feel like this is her space too,” she said, “I know it won’t be easy. Aisha is difficult sometimes, I’m sure we can both agree.”

I was beginning to gravitate towards that conclusion, myself.

Yeah, that’s been pretty clear.


“Yeah,” Brian nodded, “So what’s next?”

“I’ll be making a visit to her mother’s home in a week and a half, if I’m remembering right. If you want to send me another email when you feel you’ve amended this minor problem, and the small handful of things I pointed out during the inspection, I could arrange to stop by again.”

“That would be terrific.”

You know what I haven’t been saying enough in this chapter? I like Mrs. Henderson. She’s a competent and human authority figure, which is relatively rare so far in this story. She recognizes that mistakes can be made and fixed, and clearly has the best for Aisha in mind with every decision.

“Keep in mind that I have an overflowing caseload, and I probably won’t be able to stop by until at least a week after you’ve let me know.”

“Thank you,” Brian said.

“Any questions?”

He shook his head.

She’s also very professional, in a good way.

“Then I wish you luck. To apologize for the unexpected appointment time, I’ll make you a one time offer to take Aisha off your hands. If she insists on getting herself suspended, I can maybe introduce her to some other that went down that road, while I go to this afternoon’s appointments.”

Brian smiled. Not quite that amazing smile I’d seen so often, but a nice smile nonetheless, “I guess she’ll be missing that movie she wanted to go to.”

Yesss. I kinda wish she were in the room to hear that.


“Looks like,” the caseworker smiled conspiratorially. “Keep it up, Mr. Laborn. Aisha’s lucky to have you.”

Brian perked up a little at that.

😀

The meeting didn’t last long after that, and a complaining Aisha was dragged off by the caseworker. I couldn’t quite breathe a sigh of relief until they were gone. Even then, I was uneasy, knowing how strong Aisha’s suspicions had been.

Yeah, even though you didn’t give an explicit confirmation, I think Aisha is still 97% certain.

Remembering that my phone had buzzed, I reached for my cell phone to see what the message had been. While holding down the button to unlock it, I told Brian, “Aisha knows about the Undersiders, looks like.”

“Shit. Sorry,” he made a pained face, “If I thought you’d be running into her, I would’ve given you a heads up. You didn’t say anything?”

“Pretended not to know what the hell she was talking about, for all the good it did. Is this going to be a problem?”

Quite possibly.

“She promised she wouldn’t say anything to anyone… and it really bothers me that she was indiscreet enough to raise the subject with someone I hadn’t okayed. But Aisha wouldn’t tell for the sake of telling. I think she was probably messing with you.”

I’m glad it bothers him. It should bother him. Aisha could’ve gotten him arrested or worse if she’d been wrong today.

“If you’re sure,” I had my reservations, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to press him on the subject, when he was already stressed.

“Pretty sure,” he sighed.

I looked at my cell phone. It was from Lisa.

srry to interrupt smoochfest. you two need to hurry back. shit is going down.

Well, damn.

So what shit is going down this time?

(”smoochfest”, ahaha)


I felt a bit of heat on my cheeks as I took extra care to delete the text. When I was done, I turned to Brian. “Lisa says something’s up. She says to hurry back.”

Of course, can’t let Brian see the word “smoochfest”. Good for Taylor that Brian has a stronger sense of respect for privacy than Lisa does. 😛

“Pain in the ass,” Brian said. “I was hoping… ah hell. Guess we’re not going to get this stuff put together, huh?” he smiled at me.

I smiled back, “Another time.”

Yes, please.

He gave me a hand to help me to my feet. Was I being hopeful or observant when I noted his hand maybe lingered a half second longer than necessary on my own?

Both, possibly.

Was a part of me dreading those possibilities, hoping that it was neither hope nor accurate observation on my part? Because I couldn’t quite tell if there was, or if I just wanted there to be a sane part of me having a say.

Hehe. Sorry, Taylor, the sane part of you may have taken a vacation.

Fuck. I mentally moved up my timeline. No longer than a week, and I’d have to take what I knew about the Undersiders to the Protectorate. I wasn’t sure I trusted myself for any longer than that.

Oh shit, it sounds like we might actually get the Decision in this Arc, or the next one… should be interesting.


End of Tangle 6.3

This was a good chapter.

The shipping fuel and Taylor questioning herself throughout was fun, and then we got to meet Aisha and Mrs. Henderson. Contrary to my worries when they showed up early in a story with as cynical a view on authority figures as Worm has, the visit went well, because Mrs. Henderson is a good character who goes against the expectations the story has set for its authority figures so far.

Aisha on the other hand is… a bit of a brat, apparently in part because of corrupting influences in her current neighborhood. She also knows about the Undersiders, enough to deduce that Taylor is Skitter, which could be problematic.

At the end, we learned that shit is going down… but what shit? Is the ABB on the offensive? What’s going on? I guess we’ll find out shortly, in the next chapter.

And then there’s the way Taylor’s decided to move her Decision closer to the present (possibly to the end of Tangle), which means it is now very close. I’m looking forward to seeing how that goes down, even though I have do a strong feeling as to what the outcome will be.

See you next time!


[postscript]

By the way, if you haven’t visited my Tebble of Constants before, you may want to take a look – I give each chapter a sort of “title” to make it easier to find the right chapter, and they’re often on the silly side.

Case in point, I just added “6.3 – Nuts and the grabbing thereof”.

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