Carol smiled a little, “Oh, it hasn’t been pretty.  Addicts and thugs thinking they can band together to take over the city.  The Slaughterhouse Nine-”

Yes, tell me what you know of the Nine, Alan.

Alan shook his head in amazement.

“My husband was gravely injured in the attack, you might have heard.”

You were lucky to have Amy, even if it took her a while to help out.

“Richard mentioned it.”

Now who’s that? One of the partners?

“Head injury.  Could barely feed himself, could barely walk or speak.”

“Amy’s a healer, isn’t she?”

“Amy has always insisted she couldn’t heal brain injuries.”

But… she did. Is Mark covering for Amy?

Alan winced.  “I see.  The worst sort of luck.”

Carol smiled, but it wasn’t a happy expression.  “So imagine my surprise when, after weeks of taking care of my husband, wiping food from his face, giving him baths, supporting him as he walked from the bedroom to the bathroom, Amy decides she’ll heal him after all.”

Eeesh. Yeah, no, she isn’t happy about that revelation.

I mean, sure, she’ll appreciate that Mark did ultimately get healed, I should hope, but the fact that Amy didn’t do it before when she apparently could…

He set down the food and then turned to leave.

“Thank you!” she called after him.  She saw him hesitate.

You okay there?

The door slammed shut after him.

If I’m right about who we’re dealing with here, Trickster’s behavior surrounding this situation has changed. It seems like he’s no longer giving Noelle the time of day, possibly out of guilt.

“You thanked him?” The words were accusatory.

She couldn’t justify it.  Her heart was pounding.  She stared at the plate.  Soup and bread: enough food for one person, barely enough for two.

This feels wrong too. Coil has resources above all else, and even with the mess Leviathan and the Nine have made of Brockton Bay, he should be able and willing to give these two more food than this.

She could have said she did it in the hopes that he would feed them more often, but she wasn’t sure she would be telling the truth.

“Let’s… let’s just eat,” she spoke.

“Thank you for feeding us anything at all!”

It’s… hrm.

Reaching out, she fumbled, felt the dim warmth of skin.  An arm so thin she could wrap her hand around it, middle finger and thumb touching.  Her hand slid down the arm and her fingers twined with those of a hand smaller than hers.

A child?

The physical contact seemed to put the physical sensations of air on her skin into a kind of context.  The sense of pressure faded.

Maybe if it’s fading, we can figure out what’s going on here.

“I’m hungry,” the girl beside her spoke.

“I am too.”

“I want to go home.”

“I know.”

Hmm.

How about this: Cauldron test subjects?

There was the sound of a key in the lock, and her heart leapt.

The light felt like knives being driven into her eye sockets, but she stared anyways.  A man, tall, tan and long-haired, entered the room, a lantern in one hand and a plate of food in the other.

…Trickster, is that you?

If not for the child I would take this to mean we’re in Noelle’s head… that might still be the case, but we need to figure out what’s going on with the child.

Is it Dinah? Did Coil decide to store her with Noelle while she’s recovering? That seems like a tremendously bad idea.

Frech speaker here, lightning in french is éclair, which is pretty close to éclaire which is a baked good. Guess the family did try theme naming… they just didn’t do enough research.

I’m sure you’re gonna get 20 asks about this but I can’t resist being the obnoxious Frenchperson telling you that Éclair is not only a pastry, but also means lightning (without an e in either case, that is Wildbow’s mistake or the girl’s).

Oh, huh. Sounds like a very shocking pastry!

image

When I turned to head downstairs, she followed.

I guess that means ‘thank you’.

Best you’re gonna get for now, yeah.

We were greeted by the others in the kitchen.  There was just enough time to grab and prepare our burgers before the others arrived.  Grue, Tattletale, Imp, Regent and Shatterbird.

One of these is not like the others.

They turned down the offer of food, and together, we ventured back upstairs.

There’s a lot of up and down those stairs today, huh.

Watch out for the stairs.

With everyone gathered in my headquarters, I handed out the costumes.  Like Bitch’s, the other costumes were in various stages of completion, primarily with minor details missing or askew.  I ate while the others tried it all on.

Aw, we’re not getting extended first reactions for them?

It’d take a while, maybe, but it’d be fun.

Lisa’s costume was virtually the same.  The complicated aspect had been maintaining the crisp differences in color without any bleeding of black into lavender or vice versa.  There’d also been the issue of getting the mask to fit her face well.  I’d accomplished the former by making the black and lavender pieces separately and attaching them to a gossamer-thin sub-layer when I was done.

Well, her costume was pretty neat to begin with, so I can’t complain.

We had the boys and Shatterbird turn away while Lisa and Aisha changed at one end of the room.  The mask was a failure, it didn’t sit right around the eyes, but I was left with an idea of what to do.

You could, of course, have sent them back down the stairs, or even up the stairs, but I suppose this works, and raises fewer questions from Rachel’s minions.

“I made it anyways.”

She adjusted her mask, turning it so it hung off one side of her head.  She was glowering at me.  “Why didn’t you listen when I told you to fuck off?”

“Because I’m your friend.”?

Two ways I could interpret that question.  “Don’t worry about it.  Look, the hamburgers will be ready soon…” I trailed off.

I suppose it could be read as going all the way back to Insinuation, and various “fuck off”s from there on.

I like how we’re treated to Taylor actually attempting to employ the tactic she just mentioned a couple paragraphs back, in order to illustrate Taylor feeling the need to escape the dual question without actually saying it. Chekhov’s social escape tactic.

An awkward silence reigned.  I turned to head downstairs.

“What do you want for this?”

Friendship?

It took us a while to get here, but I think I can finally accept this relationship as a shaky friendship rather than hostility and denial.

“Looks like Brutus,” she said.

😦

I didn’t see it, but I didn’t see fit to correct her either.

She pulled it on.

“It’s just a little bit flexible, if you want to bend any bits that are rubbing in the wrong place, or shape it to fit your face better.”

“It’s fine,” she said.  She adjusted her jacket again.

She’s gonna look so cool with that mask on.

I’m looking forward to seeing everyone else’s costumes. I’m guessing we’ll be seeing those too in this chapter, when the others arrive. There’s plenty of scrollbar left.

“If you want me to change anything-”

“No.”

Her refusal was so curt it gave me pause.  I couldn’t tell if she was upset or happy.

If anything she might be upset that there’s nothing to be upset about.

I forced myself to keep my mouth shut.  I’d give her a few seconds to let me know either way.  If she didn’t, I was ready to escape by pointing out that lunch would be waiting for us.

“You made stuff for the others?”

Maybe we’re about to see the other costumes before the others arrive. Though I’m not sure I want to. I’d like to see their reactions too.

“Yeah.”

“But I didn’t ask for it.  I told you to fuck off when you asked me for my measurements, remember?”

Ah, here we are, though it’s more civil than I was expecting at first.

Barker had pushed me, I’d left him mewling like a baby.

At the same time, I faced a dilemma on the opposite end of things.  I wanted to help people, and I wanted to build friendships with the others.  With the way Bitch sort of mandated that I go the extra mile, it was hard to be nice to her without seeming weak to others.

And seeming weak to her isn’t good either, even when trying to be nice.

Well, what they didn’t see didn’t hurt them.

So basically you’re going to be nice to her in secret?

First tsundere Rachel and now secret meetings where their true feelings can shine? You’re spoiling the Taylor/Rachel shippers this chapter.

I stepped downstairs.

“Bitch?” I asked.  “A word?”

She frowned, glancing at the food.

Take it with you.

“We’ll be done before the food is,” I promised.

Oh, right, it’s not done yet.

She followed me up the stairs.

“It’s not complete,” I admitted, walking over to where I had fabric draped over a workbench.

Ooh, costume show-off time!

Fashion montage! Fashion montage! Fashion montage!

Except… wasn’t Taylor not supposed to make one for Rachel?

I picked up one piece and flicked it out.  “I just figured you’d want to see it and voice any complaints before the others got here, so your voice doesn’t get drowned out.”

That really is a good thing to do. The others are quite a bit more talkative than Rachel, so she can have trouble getting her points across.

She took it from my hands.  It was a jacket, not dissimilar to the one she’d lent me once upon a time, but it was naturally lighter.  There was a hood with a fluffy fur border at the edges, extending around in front of her shoulders.  Besides the zippers and buttons, the fur was the only thing I hadn’t made myself.

Ooooh. Taylor made a costume but made sure it was in Rachel’s style.

So does that mean this jacket is made of spider silk?

“I dyed it dark gray.  I figured if you wanted it any color, you’d want it something dark, so I can tint it dark red, dark blue, dark green, or whatever you want.”

Rachel: “I’m colorblind.”

She stared at it, her forehead creased.

“It’s spider silk.  Tensile strength like steel, but flexible enough to resist wear and tear that steel wire would experience.  And it’s lighter than the steel would be.  Knives won’t cut it.  I figured you’d want a heavier feel, judging by the jacket you lent me before, so I put rectangular panels of armor in between the inner and outer layer to give it more substance.

Awesome.

I originally meant for there to be an undershirt or something you can wear to protect your upper body for when you don’t have it zipped up, but I kind of cannibalized it for my own costume, after I burned my legs.  I’ll have the shirt ready for you in a week or two.  Here, there’s leggings, too.  They survived.”

I picked up the leggings.  Unlike the jacket, they were skin-tight.

I don’t know how Rachel’s going to feel about that.

While they continued talking, I stepped away to check on the hamburgers that Charlotte was cooking on the stove.

“Is he going to be okay?” she asked me.

Oh, Barker? Might have a sore throat for a while.

It took me a second to realize who she meant.  I looked back at Barker.  “Yeah.”

“I mean, is he going to attack us?”

…oh.

She doesn’t want a repeat.

“I dosed him with pepper spray, basically, as well as a few stings and bites to add to the hurt.  That’ll generally put someone down for half an hour, so I don’t think he’s a threat.  I don’t think he’s stupid enough to attack with Bitch and I here.”

She nodded, but she didn’t look relieved.  I would have asked what was up, tried to pry for more clarification on just why she hadn’t slept well, or why she was so easily spooked, but I was interrupted by the vibration of my phone.

As much as I had trouble with the relevant scene in Interlude 14, I’m pleased with the fact that this chapter suggests we’ll be following up on Charlotte’s mental state going forward.

So what does Lisa have to say today? Trouble on their way here?

For extra measure, I drew the bugs out of my costume and sent them straight for his nose and mouth.

Here we go again.

He went bug-eyed as he sat up, coughing and sputtering in an attempt to clear the bugs from his airway.

At least he’s so far not literally bug-eyed like Clockblocker.

After one rolling cough, he created another detonation in and around his mouth, obliterating a majority of the bugs I’d tried to gag him with.

I glanced at Biter.  He was still seated.  Good.  I’d somehow thought that the guy would be stepping up to defend his partner, making this a two-versus-one fight.

Seems not. Biter seems to be staying neutral or even silently taking your side.

If Barker’s power does draw fire, Biter is probably well aware that it wears off soon enough.

Barker was climbing to his feet.  I saw him falter, then start coughing again, gagging.

The capsaicin had kicked in.

Taylor, this is very much overkill. Disproportionate retribution.

Also I was joking about the jalapeños!