Buzz 7.6: Ear to Ear, Heart to Heart

Source material: Worm, Buzz 7.6

Originally blogged: October 27, 2017


The wheels on the Buzz they go round and round, round and round, round and round… Man, I wish I’d thought of that one for the last chapter.

Hi again! It’s time for some more Worm, and this time… well, Taylor has some splainin’ to do. I’m very much looking forward to seeing how she handles explaining to Brian why she kissed(!) him last chapter, considering that the truth – “fuck off, he’s mine” – is kind of… compromising. I think this explanation might happen while the two of them are shopping, which was established last time as a thing they’d be doing – I feel like this is a Chekhov’s shopping trip, which wouldn’t have been mentioned if it weren’t going to be at least somewhat relevant.

Other than that, I’m thinking this or 7.7 will likely be the last chapter before we enter this Arc’s combat section, likely by way of Taylor and Brian getting a distress call or not getting a check-in call from the other three Undersiders towards the end of one of these chapters. I hope we get some great domestic content from Taylor staying overnight before that happens, though.

Without further ado, let’s step off this bus and see what’s up!


Of course, there is the possibility that this Arc will forgo the usual structure and not have a combat section, to focus on the Taylor/Brian subplot. Heh, maybe Taylor’s fight against the awkwardness is enough combat for the latter half of the Arc?


“So, about that ‘favor’ I just did you…” Brian began.

Right to the point, huh? :3

I glanced around at the other people who were departing the bus, still more were waiting at the stop. “Can we talk about it later? In private?”

He gave me a curious look, but he replied, “Of course.”

Ah, fair enough. I guess they won’t be doing it while shopping, then.

Which I suppose frees up the shopping trip for other events. Maybe it’ll just be a scene about Taylor’s awkwardness as she spends time with Brian post-kiss, and her efforts to figure out how she’s going to explain this by the time they get to his apartment.

I knew I was making it worse by procrastinating, that I’d only get more awkward if I dwelled on it.

Oh boy, if that’s accurate, we’re in for a treat.

Well, unless you’re bothered by second-hand embarrassment, I guess.

Whether I admitted my feelings or told him about Sophia, both felt too personal to talk about with the crowd of strangers following us off the bus.

Yeah, that’s fair.


We’d gotten off the bus at a mall I’d never been to. It wasn’t one of the ones with any major chains or stores in it, but it wasn’t small enough to deserve the label of ‘strip mall’ either.

Huh, so a decent-sized mall made out of small shops. Sounds nice.

There were more people milling around than I thought there might be, given that it was still mid afternoon; high school students and nine to five employees wouldn’t be out yet. I realized there were more than a few people in their late teens or early twenties with backpacks and bags. College students.

I guess this might be on or next to campus, possibly for the same college Brian takes online classes from.

“Next bus going by my place should come in half an hour, but we can stay longer, if you want,” Brian told me.

“What did you want to get?” I asked him.

“Bus tickets and some stuff for breakfast. This is the closest spot to my apartment that has both.”

Nice.

“Okay.”

“You need anything?”

“Toothbrush, toothpaste, and I was thinking about grabbing a book.”

Sounds like a good idea.

Hm, I don’t remember if Triumvirate was a school book or something Taylor was reading on the side simply out of interest. Either way, this made me think of that book.

“Don’t worry about the toothbrush or toothpaste, I have extra stuff set aside for Aisha when she comes, and replacing that before then is easy.

Ah, nice.

Want to go to the bookstore, and I’ll meet you there when I’ve got what I need?”

“Sure.”

Some time to herself… will she be able to pick a book, or will she be too distracted by thoughts of a certain favor? 😉


That might have been the point we went our separate ways, but the grocery store and bookstores were in the same direction. We walked together, in awkward silence, until we saw a crowd outside a store.

Heh. That awkwardness when you officially split up and then end up walking the same way.

…a crowd, huh? Is it the good kind of crowd, or…?

It was an electronics store, with computers and TVs in the window. The number of people had reached critical mass and was drawing more onlookers, to the point where it was hard to find an angle where we could see the screens. At least, where I could see the screens – Brian was tall enough to see over the average person.

Ah, I guess the news outlets are going through with the reveal at the moment. Either that, or they already have and Kaiser’s response is swift and newsworthy.

The images displayed on the screen were the same as the ones I had seen in the email, earlier. Max Anders and Kaiser. Kayden Anders and Purity. The blondes as Fenja and Menja. The broadcast flickered through all of them: Hookwolf, Krieg, Night, Fog, Stormtiger, Othala, Cricket, Rune, Victor, Alabaster, the Crusader… the list went on.

rip secret identities

The screen shifted to two news broadcasters. In the top right corner of the screen, there was the usual story of the moment image, showing Max Anders sitting at a table at some event, with a swastika followed by a question mark hovering above him.

Yup.


Oh hey, it didn’t even occur to me that that last paragraph contained a bunch of new names! Let’s take a look.

Kaiser, Purity, Fenja, Menja, Hookwolf, Krieg, Night and Fog are familiar.

Stormtiger… I mean, their power could involve weather, but I feel like it’s more likely to have to do with the SA, Sturmabteiling. Exactly which power would be involved, I don’t know. Tiger animagus?

Othala… nope, I have no idea.

Cricket, first name Jiminy. Possibly a permanently physically altered parahuman like Newter and Gregor? Or maybe a transformer, like Lung.

Rune. This is actually a completely normal men’s name in Norway, though we say “roon-eh”. I don’t think that’s directly what Wildbow was going for, but the meaning is the same, and I do think this name being in use for a Nazi is related to how the Nazis saw us Scandinavians as part of the Aryan race. As for powers, it’s probably tied to symbols and writing.

Victor… well, that’s a normal men’s name even in English. Doesn’t tell me much, and I’ve already used up my jokes about the “power to win”.

Alabaster is one of those words that I know exist but the meaning of which doesn’t really stick. At least it should be safe to look up, especially if I go straight to Wiktionary instead of googling. Let’s see… huh, it’s a material. Okay? I really don’t know how to parse that with respect to a parahuman power. Alabaster is soft and often used for carving, so maybe their power involves shaping something? Maybe minerals, maybe themself…

The Crusader… sounds like a particularly religious case, and also a soldier archetype. Maybe they look something like this?

…hang on. Well then, here I was pointing out, in an ask response right before starting this chapter, that the Simurgh was still the only parahuman(?) we knew of with a definite article in the name. Huh, guess that streak’s broken now.

Anyway, powerwise, the Crusader might be able to empower themself (or others?) through faith or something like that.


“Word’s out,” Brian spoke to me, quiet. “If they didn’t know about this already, they do now.”

I nodded without turning away from the screen. The broadcast changed to show Armsmaster and Miss Militia with a man in a suit and tie, addressing a crowd of reporters.

This is gonna be interesting. The Protectorate now has the information they need to seek out E88 members in their civilian lives, but what will they say about it? Will they use it? Can they use it, legally, not knowing the source of the information?

“We’re probably not going to see anything new here,” Brian whispered to me, “And we can’t hear anything through the window. We’ll text Lisa, let her know it’s on the news, and she can handle the information side of things.”

Sounds like a good plan.

I nodded and joined Brian in walking away.

“It’s clever,” I murmured, glancing around to ensure nobody was in immediate earshot, “I don’t know if I agree with how the boss went about it, I think it sort of crosses a line, but I can see the reasoning. Controlled chaos, keeping everyone that matters busy and off-balance so he can advance his own agenda.”

Yeah, that’s true. On top of weakening the Empire, he might be getting the Protectorate to focus on the Empire, and thus the Empire on the defensive on that front too.


“It does cross a line, yeah. We’ll have to see how that works out.”

I saw the bookstore to my left, “I guess this is where we part ways?”

“Sure. I’ll meet you in a couple of minutes.”

Time for some alone time.

What if she runs into Sophia again? I feel like Taylor would’ve noted it if she got off the bus in the same spot, but it’s possible she didn’t see it.

Being around Brian was tense, in a way. I found most social situations awkward, and the only way I could cope was by planning out what I’d say, considering and anticipating everything in advance. Around Brian, though, I got so flustered and distracted that I couldn’t do that.

Yeah, that’s a bit troublesome, isn’t it.

At least it usually seems to work out alright, even if it doesn’t feel like it to Taylor in the moment.

That led to me feeling like I sounded dumb, created awkward pauses. It only got worse as I became aware of any of it. That was where the kiss had been so nice, settling my thoughts and giving me a sense of tranquility for that all too brief moment.

Ah, yes, there it goes – her thoughts are wandering back to that tender moment.

Except things were worse now, and Brian and I had a discussion looming. Worse, I’d been so focused on not screwing up the dialogue now, in the present, that I hadn’t had time to think about what I’d say in the immediate future.

Oh boy. Yeah, better make good use of this brief alone time, then.


In short, as much as I liked his company, liked him, I was glad for the break and the chance to calm down and get my thoughts sorted, so I could handle it when the conversation happened.

Good luck.

The used bookstore wasn’t organized in the slightest.

None of the organization. None of it.

I actually kinda like it being phrased like this instead of “disorganized”. It really paints a vivid picture – “disorganized” implies it’s not very organized, but “not organized in the slightest” is on a whole other level of disorganization.

There was a heavy musty smell, and the racks were organized haphazardly. There were fantasy books and science fiction both classified under ‘fantasy’, which irked me, and non fiction was one broad category that took up an entire wall.

This store is a librarian’s nightmare.

If there was a system to sort the books, I couldn’t see it, and many of the shelves had books on their sides, stacked atop one another, sometimes two or three layers deep. Some of the fuller shelves had books stacked on the ground in front of them, requiring careful steps to avoid knocking anything over or stepping on a stray book.

You might want to avoid buying something here, Taylor. This feels like one of those dusty little bookstores that always just so happen to contain at least one or two magical books, for better or worse.


Plot twist: The rest of Worm follows Taylor as she reads The Neverending Story.


The sole occupant of the store was an elderly black man that sat behind the counter, leaning back in a chair with his hands folded on his stomach. The television played a little too loudly for the store’s old school atmosphere. Some courtroom show.

The person behind the counter being elderly does not help to dissuade the magic book shop feel.

What he’s doing kind of does, though, just a little.

After checking out the selection of fantasy books in the middle of the store, I navigated my way to the back, keeping an eye on the signs identifying each section. The Romance section had way too many books in it. So did Mystery, as far as I was concerned. Both genres tended to be a little too repetitive and samey for my tastes.

Yeah, I can’t argue there.

As I disappeared behind a row of shelves, the man at the counter called out, gruff, “Don’t be shoplifting because you think I’m not paying attention!”

Not the most trusting of people, eh? Fair enough.

“Alright!” I called back, feeling silly as I said it. I wasn’t sure how else to respond.

Hehe.


I found the Instructional section and spotted the item I’d come into the store for in one of the stacks on a lower shelf. Dog Psychology: The Basis of Dog Training.

Oooh, that’s a good idea. Research on that ought to help massively with understanding Rachel.

With minimal experience being around dogs, I needed more information, if I was going to continue relating with Bitch. I’d known I wanted a book on the topic of how dogs thought & related to others, and I was glad to have found it.

Knowledge is power, or in this case, social skill.

Kind of.

I tucked the book under one arm, then picked up another book on tailoring, as a possible reference for future costume design. Flipping through it, I wasn’t too impressed. I checked out another.

My thoughts froze as a hand touched my hair. I belatedly remembered Brian.

Ah, right, he was going to meet up with her here once he was done.

…pretty much the opposite of what I predicted seems to have happened here – I thought she’d be too preoccupied with composing her explanation to properly focus on the books, but instead she got so preoccupied with the books that she seems to have forgotten to work on the explanation.

I tried and failed to organize my thoughts. I’d forgotten to plan out what to say to him, and what would he be doing touching my hair?

That’s also a good question. Either he’s being particularly affectionate, or this isn’t Brian.

The latter option is a little skeevier.

I started to turn around, only for the hand to seize my ear and wrench it hard enough to make my legs buckle at the pain.

Well, shit.

Definitely not Brian.

I was shoved over and my body’s weight and momentum weren’t enough to pull my ear free from my attacker’s grip, with the skin joining my ear to my head paying the price.

Owww.

I felt like my skin was tearing, and I couldn’t even scream as my breath hitched in my throat.

😦

So, options:

– Brian. Nope.

– The shopkeeper. Not likely, as Taylor hasn’t done anything suspicious and the attacker hasn’t said anything.

– One of the Harpies. This kind of direct attack doesn’t seem like their style, and the ear grab sounds too advanced.

– An Empire Eighty-Eight member. How would they recognize Taylor? Does the Empire know her civilian identity somehow?

Hm…


I collapsed on top of a pile of books, and the white-hot pain surrounding my ear was so overwhelming I wasn’t entirely sure if my ear was still being held or not. A knee pressed against my side with enough force I had little doubt that most or all of my attacker’s body weight was on top of me. Long fingernails stabbed into my cheek, forcing the skin in between and against my teeth, as my assailant gripped the side of my jaw.

Long fingernails often implies female, though not universally.

It being Bakuda would be ridiculous. Even if she did survive the Interlude, she’s not exactly the type to break out of prison quietly. Taylor would’ve heard about it in the news.

It not only forced my mouth painfully open with the pressure of my cheek against my own teeth, but it pressed my face hard against the pile of books beneath me. My cry of protest was reduced to an incomprehensible, muffled noise, which became a primal groan as my ear was twisted again, the opposite direction as before.

Whoever this is seems to like twisting ears as an assault tactic.

“Something you should know about me,” Sophia’s voice was dulcet, “The reason I’m such a good runner? It’s not that I’m driven to win. It’s that I really, really hate losing.”

Oh hey, it was her.

Well then. Mayyybe antagonizing her wasn’t the best idea after all.

But only in retrospect.


She wrenched my ear again, changing the direction again, and I cried out. If she went any further, I was positive the skin would tear and the ear would come off entirely. I struggled, but the books slid beneath my hands and knees, giving me minimal traction.

So, uh, shopkeep? Are you not hearing this fight taking place in your shop?

“And I hate losing the most when it’s to a depressing queef like you,”

That’s, uh, quite the insult you went for there.

she rocked her right hand back and forth against my cheek, as if she wanted to drive her fingernails through the skin. Her thumbnail bit into the underside of my jaw.

Geez, this girl is pissed.

I really wish the shopkeep had seen this, so there could be a witness, so Taylor could turn the game around and charge Sophia for assault.

I have bugs inside my jeans and backpack. I can end this.

And now Taylor is forced to make a decision. So far, she’s held back on using her power against the Harpies, but in this situation, does she have a choice? And it’s not like it would be a Carrie situation, either – this would be direct self defense.

Now, one issue is the risk of Sophia blabbing if Taylor isn’t careful with how she goes about this. She might be best off using only a few bugs, making it plausibly deniable.


With both hands, using her grip on my ear and jaw, she lifted my head up and plunged it down hard against the pile of books beneath me. It wasn’t the worst hit I’d ever taken, but it still left me reeling.

I couldn’t afford to take too many hits to my head. Though my concussion was more or less healed, I’d be susceptible to a relapse of symptoms and future concussions for a while yet. I just had to use my bugs to get her off me, buy myself time to get my knife and baton and…

Are you sure pulling out a knife in a mall is a good idea, even if you’re out of sight from most of it? Also, the bugs should be enough, unless she’s secretly a parahuman too. You’re not going for the kill, I’d imagine. Or rather, you won’t be, once you think a bit more about what you just told yourself.

[…did past me just…?]

…and then I’d be fucked. I’d do more damage to myself in the long run, outing myself as the girl with the bug powers. I’d never be able to go home to my dad.

Exactly.

Sophia let go of my cheek to cover my mouth with her hand. Using this fresh hold, she wrenched my head as far to the right as it would go, so I could see her looming over me, her hair hanging down around her face. She looked like a panther, black-skinned, savage, teeth bared just a little as she panted.

Fitting, considering black panthers are simply black specimens of three other feline species (which can also be collectively referred to as panthers, without the “black” modifier), one of which is the leopard, the quick runner.

[Pretty sure past me is mixing up leopards and cheetahs here. I blame Norwegian, for using very similar words for the two – “leopard” and “gepard”.]


She let go of my ear and tapped hard against the lens of my glasses as she continued, “This is your reminder that everyone has their place in life, Hebert, and you should stick to yours. Trying to act better than you are only embarrasses you and irritates me, get it?”

Yeah, fuck you, Sophia, okay?

She yanked on my ear again, as if to make her point clear.

“Nod if you understand, and I’ll let you run off home.”

I glared up at her.

Taylor is so done with this shit these days.

My fingertips traced against the books on the bottom shelf until I found the hardcovers. I got hold of one, pulled it free, and in the same motion, drove one of the corners of the text into Sophia’s side.

Please give her a papercut, please give her a papercut…

…am I evil for wishing that on someone?

She fell over, and I flipped onto my back to swing again, switching to a two-handed grip to add more power to the swing. The time it had taken me to get into position for another swing, however, bought Sophia time to get out of the way. I had Brian’s tips on fighting in mind, keeping on the offensive, and the only way to do that was to fling the hardcovered reference book at her head. She used her arms to knock it out of the air, then winced, rubbing her arm.

This is Taylor’s chance to show what she’s learned.

Also seriously, the shopkeep really can’t be paying attention. It’s that or this shop is ten times bigger than I thought.

“What the fuck is your derangement?!” I shouted at her. “In what twisted perspective is it all right to stalk and attack someone because they kissed a boy?”

“derangement” is a good word.

“It’s not just that,” Sophia started toward me, then stopped when I let my backpack fall to the ground and straightened, ready for another confrontation. “You got me fucking suspended. I don’t care about missing class, but I’m off the track team until further notice. And it’s all because you ran off to whimper for the grown-ups. I need that shit.”

Oh coddammit this is exactly what Taylor was trying to avoid.

“Boo fucking hoo. If I knew it mattered that much to you, I’d have written a letter to your coach days ago, just to drive the point home and make sure you never got back on the team.”

I mean, getting them suspended on a short term basis that doesn’t do jack shit to keep them from taking revenge. That’s what’s happening here – that revenge.

But yeah, Sophia deserves what she got and more.


Sophia gave me a look of pure loathing, “You’re a coward, Hebert. A rat. You know you’re a nerd, you’re flat chested, scrawny. Nobody likes you, nobody wants you for a friend, you’re not good at anything. So you run, you hide, skip school, stay quiet, don’t do anything with your waste of a life. And if things get tough, if anyone decides to have a little fun at your expense, you go crying to the people in charge, because you can’t take it.”

Geez.

You really don’t know Taylor at all.


My ear throbbed. I put my hand up to tenderly touch the base of it, and pulled away when I felt a bitter stinging pain in response. My fingertips were red with blood when I lowered them.

“Oh, I must’ve fallen ear first on a rock with some raspberries hanging over it.”

Okay, that won’t be as funny to you guys as it is to me unless I tell you a little anecdote from my life.

When I was in second grade, I had a friend I liked to play with. Next to her house, there was a forest filled with raspberry bushes, where we sometimes went to play in the trees. In particular, there was this one spot where a tree had fallen, lying over the ditch of what must’ve been a small stream of water at some point. Naturally, climbing on this tree was something we liked to do.

But one day, I was wearing boots after it had rained. Yeeah, bad idea. I soon went headfirst into the ditch, and in a case of oddly bad luck, landed right on the sharp corner of a motorcycle gas tank or something like that, that had been lying unnoticed in that ditch for some reason. As you might expect, my head didn’t like that and opened up a bit.

Getting up from the fall, I put my hand to my now slightly hurting head, and when I took it back down, it was covered in a bit of red. But I was seven or so and had just taken a hit to my head, so my first thought wasn’t “this is blood, I’m bleeding from my head”, but rather:

“I guess I must’ve fallen on a rock lying under some raspberries.”

Fortunately my friend was a little smarter than me and got me to come with her back to her parents. I went to the doctor and got seven stitches, and since then my head has only had the holes it’s supposed to have. 🙂


“FYI, it was Emma’s dad who called the meeting at the school, not me,” I replied without anger in my voice.

Good point. Taylor didn’t go crying to the people in charge at all.

I was sobered by the sight of my own blood. Odd as it sounded, I felt more comfortable with the situation. I’d dealt with more serious fights, and I felt like I could handle this better, having seen the blood, knowing the ante was higher.

“You still told someone.”

That would be her dad, I suppose.

“So what if I did? What did you expect, that I’d keep my mouth shut, put up with it?”

“That’s exactly what I expected. It seems you didn’t get my point about knowing your place.” Her eyes flickered to the spot where she’d just held me down. “Maybe you’ll get the message after round two.”

r o u n d t w o

f i g h t


Brian was supposed to meet Taylor here. If she holds out, there’s a chance she’ll receive backup.

I do think she can win this without him, though. She beat Rachel!

She started toward me, and I had a good sense of how this would go. She was my height, but she was a [sic] stronger than me, with more room for muscle on her frame. Not that she was fat, or heavy in any way, but her physique was athletic, slender, and mine was that of a scarecrow – just plain thin.

I guess she does have an advantage here, but didn’t Rachel have a physical advantage too?

There was also the broader context – I was already hurting, and she was fucking psycho. If it came down to it, I suspected I’d get the worst of it in the fight, unless I either found a way to get to my weapons in my bag or used my powers. That didn’t mean I wouldn’t be able to do some damage to her in the meantime, it just meant she’d kick my ass in the process.

Not a particularly positive prognosis, perhaps.


If that was how it turned out, I was okay with that.

“Enough,” the male voice cut in.

Sophia halted in her advance. She turned an impassive expression to Brian, who stood to her left. He set plastic bags of food on the ground as she watched. “The boyfriend.”

Eyy, backup!

Brian looked at me, and there was a touch of concern in the expression.

I turned my attention back to her. “Meet Sophia. One of the girls that’s been giving me a hard time at school.”

“Oh hi, Brian. How are you? This is Sophia, she’s against me.”

The look of concern disappeared from his face in an instant. It was replaced by anger.

“She’s lying,” Sophia told him, without the slightest trace of hesitation.

Too late, Sophia. Brian trusts Taylor.

“She cheated off me for a test, and got us both suspended and-”

“Shut up,” Brian’s voice was low, not much different from his normal speech, but Sophia got the message. She closed her mouth. He turned to me, “Are you okay?”

Voice manipulator or no voice manipulator, Brian knows how to make people listen to him.


“My ear hurts like hell, and I don’t even know what she did to the side of my face, but I’m alive.”

“Good.”

Sophia bolted, and there were only two ways to go – through me, or past Brian.

Well, I think it’s pretty obvious which way she’d pick.

She chose the easy road, dashing toward me, and I lunged for her, aiming to grab her, slow her down enough for Brian to step in.

Except she was faster than I’d anticipated, proving her position on the track team wasn’t just for show, and even my last-ditch effort at grabbing her wrist fell short.

The leopard [no, the cheetah] can run at up to 58 kilometers per hour. This black panther is outta here.

Brian and I gave chase, and were stopped when the guy from the front counter emerged and stepped partway between us and Sophia.

Seriously, dude. Not helping.

“What’s this?” he looked between us. Behind him, Sophia turned to face us, assessed the situation and then backed up a few steps with the old man’s back was turned to her.

“She attacked me,” I said.

To be fair, usually the person running away isn’t the attacker, unless they took something.

“Looks that way, sure, but the girl said it was justified, that you stole something from her on the bus.

Seriously, dude?

Asked me to stay at the counter and turn up the volume on my show while she got it back.”

And here I thought you weren’t the trusting type – turns out you’re straight up gullible, and also quite irresponsible.


“It’s a lie,” I told him.

The old man ignored me. He looked at Brian, “I thought you’d be on the other girl’s side, not sure I would’ve let you past if I knew it was any different.”

For fuck’s sake.

Why had he come to that conclusion? Because Brian and Sophia were both black? I didn’t like that assumption, that I was automatically the bad guy, here.

Ahh, right. The shopkeep was black too.

Ugh, I don’t know how to put what seems to be going on here without sounding like a douche…

It’s racism. I do not want to debate whether “reverse racism” is a thing or not, but the black shopkeep appears to be prejudiced against Taylor because she’s white and in favor of Brian and Sophia because they’re black. If that isn’t racism, then I don’t know what is.

(I’ll say this much – it’s a matter of semantics. Usually one side of that debate is talking about systemic racism whereas the other is talking about personal racism, but people don’t always keep in mind that there’s a difference.)

“No,” was Brian’s curt reply. “My friend is right. That girl attacked her.”

Sophia backed away another few small steps, behind the old man. When Brian moved forward, the old man got in his way, angry. “Hey now, I’m not going to have any more fighting in my bookstore.”

Of course. When the person you’ve assumed is the “good guy” is on the defensive, you don’t want any more fighting.

Sophia saw her chance and ran. I raised my hand, as if I could somehow reach out and stop her, then dropped it.

Oh well.


It took us another two minutes to wrap things up with the old man. He accused me twice more of being a thief and gave us a dressing down for causing violence in his store.

As if you didn’t cause violence in your store your-fucking-self.

When he started demanding we go to the back with him and talk about the damage and mess, Brian grabbed my arm and guided me out of the store, ignoring the old guy’s insults and shouts of protest. We took the quickest route out of the mall and started walking down the street.

Let’s be real… it’s not like that bookstore could get much more disorganized.


Ribbit.


I want you guys to know that the making of that image involved the downloading of a file called mars_needs_cunnilingus.zip

(#it’s the font used for the character names)


I’d left the dog psychology book behind, I realized. That bummed me out as much as anything.

Aww.

Oh well, there are more bookstores in Brockton Bay, I’m sure you’ll find another one.

I hadn’t really won or lost, as I saw it. Any injuries I’d sustained were balanced out by the fact that I’d fought back, and that Brian had been there to back me up.

Yeah, I guess this was kind of a draw, to some extent.

Well, that was my gut feeling, anyway. It was entirely possible that I’d change my mind after I saw how bad the damage was to my face and ear.

Well, maybe.

Might as well know sooner than later. I gestured to the side of my head and asked Brian, “How bad is it?”

“I think that ear’s going to need stitches,” Brian told me. “You’ve got a tear in the skin by the earlobe.”

Ouch.

I nodded, mute.

“You want to press assault charges?”

The only witness they have besides Brian is on Sophia’s side. That might complicate things.

I shook my head. No money to do it, no use in trying. She had Emma’s dad backing her up, and the only witness was the old guy from the bookstore, who had given me the distinct impression he sided with Sophia over me.

Yeah.


“So that’s what you’ve been dealing with at school?” he asked.

I shook my head.

This was a bit more… direct, more violent than usual.

When I tried to speak, a surge of emotion made my voice reedy. It took me a second to figure out how to get the words out, and the end result was that my voice sounded hollow and robotic, “That was the worst she’s tried to hurt me physically. Guess it’s different outside of school. I can defend myself more, but she has less reason to hold back.”

And on top of that, she was especially angry.

“So I suppose the,” he cleared his throat, “Kiss on the bus? It was for her benefit?”

I swallowed hard, in an effort to get my voice more normal.

Yeah, but how does Taylor explain why she did that?

I probably wouldn’t get another chance. “Some, yeah. Some was for mine.”

He turned toward me, eyebrows raised a fraction.

Smooth 😉


I shrugged, doing everything I could to sound more casual than I felt. I wasn’t sure how successful I was. “I, um, I like you. You don’t need to make a bigger deal of it than it is, I just-” I floundered as I tried to find the words, already regretting opening my mouth.

And there the smoothness dropped out the window. But hey, she actually got it out! That’s to be commended in its own right.

He didn’t speak, giving me a chance to continue, “I think you’re good looking, I like you as a person. I respect you, more than any of the others, because you’re smart about what you do, career-wise. You know. And because you’re so comfortable in your own skin, so confident. I admire that.”

It’s getting better.

“You sound so analytical,” Brian offered me a slight smile, but he looked a little pained, “Going through the points, step by step, like you’re checking things off a list.”

Hah. Yeah, that’s kinda what she does.

“That’s not- I’m not trying to.”

“I’m not criticizing you. I’m saying it seems very you.”

:3

“No. I just thought, um, you’ve gone out of your way to spend time with me, you were meeting me on my runs, invited me to be at your place alone. I’ve noticed maybe there was more casual body contact, and thought it might be intentional, a signal, guy flirting, I dunno. The present, the amber…” I trailed off. It had sounded like a stronger argument in my head than it did out loud. Except… what was I trying to argue? Was I trying to convince him he liked me?

This whole conversation is just

adorable, hilarious and really sweet all at the same time

I am quite satisfied with this.

“Ah, geez. I’m sorry if I sent the wrong signals.”

My heart dropped.

Aaand there it goes.

Yeah, there was always the chance of this happening in the back of my head. We’ve seen lots of unsubtle signs from Taylor, but not much from Brian. Some of that could be chalked up to the fact that we’re in Taylor’s narration, not Brian’s, and can only really perceive what Taylor perceives, but the possibility that he wasn’t showing it because it wasn’t there was always a thing.

I’m not gonna say I’m not somewhat disappointed, but I’m fine with this development. It’s okay if their relationship stays platonic, just as long as they stay close friends. We got a lot of adorable interactions between them even long before Taylor officially started considering Brian a romantic interest, and I hope that they can maintain a good relationship like what we’ve already been seeing, even if Taylor has to deal with some heartbreak.

On the other hand, there is still a chance that this is something of a bait-and-switch, with Brian having not intentionally been sending signals but there being some feelings nonetheless. I wouldn’t bet on it, though.


“You’ve got to understand, the only girls I’ve spent time around are Aisha and Lisa… Bitch doesn’t count, you know?”

I nodded, tightly.

Ah, I see. He’s not used to spending time around girls who aren’t either closely related to him or a close friend who isn’t interested in dating, so he doesn’t have a good grasp of where the boundaries go.

“Even when I was attending high school, I was always gone the second classes ended. Meeting my dad at the gym, working, or going home to plan some costumed burglary or whatever. You know? I don’t have much experience, being around girls.

Makes sense.

I don’t really think that much about the relationship thing, outside of noticing when I see a good looking girl. It’s something I always figured I’d get to later, when I wasn’t so preoccupied.”

This is kind of relatable.

I offered another nod, not trusting myself to open my mouth.

“So if I gave you the wrong impression, I guess it’s partially because I have no idea what I’m doing, and because I’m an idiot when it comes to stuff like that. I don’t see you that way. It’s… more like you’re my sister, someone I want to protect, and help, and support. I like you as a friend, I can even see us being best friends, somewhere down the line.”

Like his sister. A friend.

Sorry, Taylor.


“If there was more body contact or if I was spending time with you, or any of that other stuff you mentioned, I promise I wasn’t teasing or anything. If any of it was conscious on my part, it was meant to make you feel more welcome, let you know you’ve got me around, because I knew you had a rough time of it at school.”

And pity. There’s the trifecta.

Aw.

“It’s okay. You can- you can stop now.”

We walked a few seconds in oppressive silence.

“I’m sorry. I feel like an asshole. Like I’m kicking you while you’re down.”

You’re not an asshole. It’s just not what she wanted to hear.

I shook my head, “It’s fine. Not a big deal. Just drop the subject?”

“Alright.”

I’m not sure Taylor is as fine with this as she claims to be, but dropping the subject for now might help. It’ll give her some time to deal with it in her head.

I bobbed my head in mutual agreement and swallowed the lump in my throat. In a different place or situation, if Brian wasn’t around, if I had privacy, I might have cried. I didn’t have that luxury, so I focused on putting one foot in front of the other, controlling my breathing, reading street signs and store names, and just focusing on anything that wasn’t Brian or the conversation we’d just had.

And/or put it out of her head for a bit until she’s in a better mental state to deal with it.


The walk back to his apartment was long-ish, maybe half an hour, and was peppered with only meaningless small talk and long, wordless pauses. We got up to his apartment, and he started putting things away and getting the first aid stuff together. I turned on the TV to liven up the awkward quiet.

Are we getting more news, or…?

I didn’t have to wait long before something caught my eye. It was on channel 4, a live update on the Empire Eighty Eight situation. From the looks of things, there was no doubt in my mind that Kaiser’s people were giving Brockton Bay their response to the email.

Well, that doesn’t exactly sound good.


End of Buzz 7.6

Here lies Braylor
June 25, 2011 – February 4, 2012
Not a date at the mall

Okay, so this may have had an unfortunate outcome, but it was a damn good chapter. Between the fight in the bookstore, the confession, and the rejection, every part of this chapter was very well written.

I’m not going to say I’m happy with the outcome, but I’m glad Taylor actually managed to confess at all. That’s something I’ve struggled with in the past, ultimately letting my first crush slip away because I couldn’t work up the courage, so seeing Taylor getting past that hurdle in a realistic way is satisfying to me even if she wound up heartbroken as a result.

Next chapter, we’ll likely be taking a look at what form the Empire’s temper tantrum is taking, and address some of the lingering awkwardness and heartbreak between Taylor and Brian (but not remove it just yet). Also, my prediction from the beginning of this chapter, about a distress call or something similar near the end of 7.7 causing Brian and Taylor to end up fighting the Empire, still stands.

So… yeah! See you then!

2 thoughts on “Buzz 7.6: Ear to Ear, Heart to Heart

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