End of Interlude 15b

I want chicken.

This was very solid. We got a good look into how Brian has been affected by the events of Snare, some excellent Aisha development (especially highlighting how much she genuinely cares about her brother despite their differences), a little bit of Bonesaw, a look at how Brian’s powers appear from his perspective, Brian’s detailed assessment of Taylor’s body and “quirks”, and some sweet relief at the end that really helped sell the ship again. The chapter was low-key, but held a lot of very good stuff.

Next up… the morning after, I suppose? Maybe Taylor will get a chance to go check on her colony then. Other than that, I don’t really have much to go on, I think. Alec and Lisa seem to be handling Victor, so we probably won’t be following that side of things directly.

And hey, for all I know, we might be getting another Interlude 15 next chapter. *checks* Nope, Colony 15.4. Well, I guess I’ll just have to read on and see what happens.

See you then!

She didn’t reply, only smiling and nestling in close again.

Taylor fell asleep before he did.  He laid there for some time, trying to match his breathing to hers, as if he could copy her and fall asleep the same way.  It was almost as if he’d forgotten how.

Aww.

He wasn’t all better.  Wasn’t sure he would ever be.  He just had to think about it, and he could almost see Bonesaw in the kitchen, waiting, watching.  Whatever barriers he’d erected between reality and the uglier possibilities, they’d taken a beating.

Hey, Bonesaw, could you pass me some of that chicken? Thanks.

And yeah, these things aren’t healed that easily. It takes time and comfort, and even then it might never truly be healed.

Maybe Brian should take up stand-up comedy. I haven’t listened to it yet, but yesterday, this month’s selection of Audible Originals (shorter works of which members get two free from a selection of six each month) came out, and one of the ones I picked was a documentary of a project involving three PTSD-afflicted war veterans being taught to joke about their experiences for a crowd as an experimental rehabilitation method. It’s an interesting premise.

But he could breathe, now.

His eyes closed.

Relax. Dream. Rest.

Good night, Brian.

“Thank you,” he said.  It took him a second to raise the courage, but he kissed the top of her head.

Oooh.

She nodded, her head rubbing against him.

“Really,” he said, reaching over to tilt her head so she was looking up at him.  He kissed her on the lips this time. “Thank you.”

“I’m sorry,” he said.

“Don’t be.”

He couldn’t be quite sure what he was sorry for.  This awkwardness, the length of time this had gone on?

I’m not sure Taylor knows either, yet she’s pretty clear that he shouldn’t be sorry for… this.

For putting her in a position like this, when she knew he was vulnerable and would have a hard time of saying no?  He didn’t get the sense that she minded.  If she had, he suspected, there would be some sign, some movement, some attempt to pull away.

Taylor isn’t one to let herself be forced into things without a fight.

Maybe he’d said it because it had taken him this long?

Perhaps… it’s been twelve Arcs since I started shipping you two, eight since she made her feelings clear…

But there’s no rush.

He dismissed the doubts and hesitation.

“Can we?” he pulled away slightly, and looked in the direction of the couch.

I recommend checking on the chicken first.

“Um,” her eyes widened a fraction.

“Not… not that.  Just-” he paused, trying to find a way to say what he wanted to say without putting her in a position where she couldn’t say no.

Pfft. Get your mind out of the gutter, Taylor. 😉

“Okay.”  She seemed to get his meaning.  She led him by one hand into the living room.  He laid down first, arranging the cushions into a makeshift pillow.  She took that time to remove the knife, the gun and the various contents of her pockets, placing them on the nearby coffee table.

Right, it’d probably be a bit uncomfortable to cuddle with those in there.

Once he was arranged, he was the one to pull on her hand.  Moving gingerly, as if she expected him to react badly with every motion she made, she found a way to lie across him without lying on top of him, her head on his shoulder, both legs draping across his pelvis, her upper body pressed against his side.  If he hadn’t noted that quirk of hers, how she bent herself at odd angles, he might have thought she’d be uncomfortable.

Maybe Taylor should consider becoming a contortionist?

Or maybe a fake contortionist. The audience thinks the contortionist is wearing a costume that looks like she’s covered in insects, but in reality, the contortionist is made of insects.

As it was, he somehow didn’t feel the need to worry.  He pulled her closer with one arm.

For days, he’d been seeking some way to get centered, to stop that downward spiral where anxiety and fear gave him cause to be more anxious, more afraid.  He’d hurt himself doing it, and he’d very nearly hurt his relationship with Aisha.

It looks like you’ve found the thing that helps center you.

He’d been trying to do it alone.  He’d needed a rock, an anchor.  If he’d been asked months ago, weeks ago, even days ago, he wasn’t sure he would have believed that was true, or that it would be Taylor, of all people.

You need to allow others to help you.

“The stove,” he said, starting to sit up.

Told ya.

Heh, maybe Taylor has used her bugs to turn it off.

“Handled,” Taylor replied, pushing him back down.

He looked over and saw the dials had been set to ‘off’.

By the bugs, like I was imagining? Or did she just do it when he wasn’t looking?

Swallowing, he reached out and wrapped his arms around her shoulders, gently pulling her close.  He couldn’t shake the idea that she’d break if he squeezed too hard, so his touch was light.

She’s not that fragile. Still, it’s sweet.

She hugged his lower body, pressing her head against his collarbone, both actions surprising him with their strength and ferocity.

Hehe. Taylor has no such ideas of physical fragility for Brian.

He willed the darkness away, banished the sparks that, as Taylor had suggested, painted them as very small people in a big world.  As the light returned, it was just them.

“This is what you wanted?” she murmured.

“You’re so still,” he replied, not even sure what he meant.

So… calm? Collected?

“That’s good,” she answered him, her non-sequitur almost matching his own.

They stayed like that for some time, his chin resting on top of her head.  He could feel her breathing, her heartbeat, and the warmth of her breath against his chest.  He felt tears in his eyes, blinked them away, unsure why they’d even come in the first place.

It’s official, guys. I’m back on board.

This is a very sweet moment. 🙂

He idly wondered if that veneer would crack if he surprised her here.  But he didn’t want to be mean as he did it, that felt wrong.

Oooh, this sounds like fun. So if you’re not going to be mean about it, how exactly are you going to do it? :3

Hand on her shoulder?

Something else.  Almost on instinct, Brian stepped forward, reaching for her, then stopped, letting his hands drop to his sides.  If he reached out to hold her, that would be a breach of trust, wouldn’t it? He-

…I guess she sensed it through the bugs?

“Hey,” Taylor said, her voice so quiet he could barely hear it.  Slightly louder, she said, “Go ahead.”

“If you need a hug, I’m here.”

She knew?  But-  He felt out with her power, saw the ‘spark’ of the bugs she’d placed on the cuffs of his pants, on the edge of his sleeve.

How did she keep track of all that?

I know, right? I suppose that’s what her passenger helps with.

And how was he supposed to respond, now?  He barely had any friends, outside of ‘work’, his contact with girls had been limited to flirting, more ‘work’ and fighting with his sister.

(or, well, “her”)

He expected there to be a swell of that dark anxiety that had plagued him as she raised the subject of what had happened, but when his heart pounded, it wasn’t the same as it had been earlier.

Relief, happiness that there’s someone he can talk to who isn’t Aisha? Love, even?

Through the sliver of power he had borrowed from her, he could feel the bugs at work, performing a hundred subtly different tasks, sweeping over areas in formation, drawing lines of silk across doorways and roadways, marking the people elsewhere in the neighborhood, keeping an eye on their movements, gathering en masse when people weren’t in a room to check tabletops and cabinets.

What are you doing, Taylor? Like, keeping an eye on your surroundings is one thing, but this seems more focused. Are you looking for something?

And Taylor was just standing there, leaning agains the counter, calm.  She was blind, deaf, and the person at the other end of the conversation hadn’t responded for at least a minute.  It wasn’t like she didn’t have her own ugly thoughts plaguing her, a thousand responsibilities, a hundred reasons to feel angry or guilty, but she’d somehow found a way to let herself be at ease here.

I think it has a lot to do with trust. She trusts you.

Or was that the same deceptive confidence she’d displayed as she’d approached his headquarters?

Maybe it’s both things.

She spoke, interrupting his train of thought, “Okay.  You probably have some reason for keeping the darkness up this long.  I won’t complain, since you’re probably working things out in your own way, like I was talking about with my bugs, but maybe keep an eye on the chicken?”  She offered a small laugh, “I could use my bugs to check on it, maybe, but I don’t think either of us want that.”

Ahaha!

He glanced at the stove, prodding the chicken.  No problems.  He turned down the heat to be safe.

That’s a good idea if you’re going to be spacing out like this again.

“Look, Brian, I don’t want to stir up any unhappy thoughts, but I don’t want to ignore the subject either.  I did some reading, and there’s a pretty scary number of people who have their second trigger events and then have a bad ending shortly after.

Well that’s ominous. Are we talking suicide here?

I think it has to do with the toll it takes on you, the event… I’m… I’m not good at this.  At the people stuff.  But I have been through some dark spots.  My mom died not too long ago, I can’t remember if we really talked about that.  And there was the bullying, I sometimes wonder how much that influences what I do and why.

Oh man, she’s getting really personal here, in her effort to get through to him and connect.

I don’t really know where I’m going with this, but I guess I’m saying I’m here for whatever you need.”

I won’t speak for Brian, but I appreciate it, Taylor. I really do.

In fact, as he looked, he could note how long her arms and legs were, the length of her neck and torso.  She was still growing, she had grown even in the months they’d known each other.

Somehow, he could see how the groundwork was being laid for the finished product, a body that wouldn’t be skinny, but slender, long-legged.  If she was still growing, and if her dad was any indication, she’d be tall.

Tall and beautiful, right?

(Also, that’s a nice little casual reminder that Brian has met Danny.)

Would she be a trophy wife, or turn heads?  Probably not.

Taylor would hate being a trophy wife.

But he could see how someone might come to look past the quirks, even come to like them, and they’d find nothing to complain about in her.  How someone might want to hold her in their arms-

Dude, I think it’s pretty clear at this point that someone is already getting to that point.

Poor Taylor’s probably wondering if he’s going to try anything else with the bugs or if he’s just gonna space out for the rest of the evening.

He didn’t reply.

Instead, he looked at Taylor.  She wasn’t conventionally attractive, he had to admit.  Her mouth was wide for her face, her ears large enough that they stuck out of the mess of black curls that draped over her shoulders.

I think this is the first time we’ve gotten an outside perspective on what she actually looks like as Taylor Hebert.

Wide mouth, large ears… I didn’t realize Taylor was a goblin.

And her shoulders: narrow, bony, deceptively delicate in appearance.  She somehow managed to be self-conscious and yet unaware of the way she held herself.

Narrow, bony shoulders… goblin theory still checks out.

The seeming fragility of her body was accented by the angles she seemed to settle into when she rested: her wrist bent at a right angle as she picked at one of her cuticles with her thumbnail, her leg raised so her right foot could rest flat against the cabinet, her shoulders tilted forward a fraction.

The neat thing here is that we’re not just getting an outside perspective on Taylor’s appearance. We’re getting it from someone with a certain attraction to her, someone who’ll notice all these little things.

It was as if her skin didn’t fit and she couldn’t stretch both arms or both legs out to their full lengths at the same time.

“It was like she was supposed to have more limbs, and wings, and a few more eyes too.”

It wasn’t so dramatic that he’d notice if he wasn’t already paying attention, but it was a quirk he could note as he studied her.  It made him think of a bird, or one of her insects, but… he didn’t feel he was being unflattering by thinking it.

I’m not at all surprised to see her being physically compared to the insects. The people reflect their powers and their powers reflect them.