“Hamburgers?” I asked Bitch.  She nodded.  When I looked at her minions, they signaled agreement.  Good.  Easy and simple.

Hey, guess what I had for dinner today, just before sitting down to blog!

“Charlotte, would you mind?  Maybe fries, too, if you know how to make them on the stove?”

“I don’t, but there’s some in the freezer that I can do.  They aren’t bad,” she replied.

I didn’t have fries, though.

“Good.  When you have a second, some towels for the dogs, too.”

“Okay.”

I led the others into the sitting area on the ground floor.  With the shutter up, some dim light filtered through the rain-streaked windows.  Bitch was outside, tending to Bentley, who had yet to shrink to a more normal size.

Just remember not to take him inside before he can fit through the door.

Wait, dogs plural? So it’s not just Bentley who’s here, helping Rachel and Taylor. Are the others out of line of sight from where Rachel was, not being controlled by Undersiders?

Or maybe Rachel sent them down south to pick up the rest of the gang. Seems weird, though.

I stepped outside to give her directions to where she could stow Bentley until he’d returned to a more normal size, pointing the way to the beach.  She marched off with the one-ton monstrous dog, not offering a response.

One ton is about two thirds of the weight that was given earlier, so either Taylor is rounding down or she’s saying the weight again to indicate that he has shrunk somewhat.

“Come on,” I told her.  “We’ll go to my place while we wait for the others.”

While Bentley had been helping to tear down and dismantle the derelict building, I’d been contemplating how I’d leverage Bitch’s early arrival to mend fences and rebuild some trust.

This wording makes Taylor sound kind of manipulative, though I don’t think she is being that. Just trying to work her way through social dynamics like everyone else, with someone who doesn’t really see the same playing board.

I’d decided on something simple, as that seemed to work best with Bitch.  I imagined that she hadn’t paid a lot of attention to stuff like food as she took hold of her territory.  Odds were good that she’d asked Coil for a lot of easy food she could stuff in her pockets and eat on the go.  She probably wouldn’t pay much attention to stuff like seasonings or variety in courses.

The fastest way into a bitch’s heart is through her stomach?

I’d recently spent some time looking back on our past interactions.  Her perspective toward me had zig-zagged between a kind of hesitant acceptance and hostility.  We’d met, she’d attacked me.  We’d gone to the bank robbery, and she’d been open and excited, only to do a one-eighty and start shouting at me after misinterpreting something I said.  Two steps forward, one step back.

That last sentence pretty much describes their whole relationship.

Until I’d left the group and then been outed as an undercover operative a short while later.  That had been a good solid one-hundred steps back.

Right. She really didn’t take that well.

Recovering from that breach of trust had proven far more difficult than anything that came before.  Not quite impossible, though; I’d apparently proved myself in the recent past, because Bitch was making an effort on her end.

That’s why I think this is salvageable now. That’s new.

She was here earlier than I’d asked, for one thing, and she hadn’t murdered me when I asked for a hand with some things I couldn’t handle with my own power.

Not murdering your friends is a good start.

Sierra glanced at me and nodded.

I turned my attention to Bitch.

So how did you rope Rachel into this?

“You owe me,” she said.  The rain had plastered her short hair against her scalp.  Her gang of four people stood by with dogs on leashes: Barker, Biter, a college-aged kid with the scars of four parallel claw marks running across his face, and a girl with her arm in a sling.  They didn’t look scared, like my people had, but they still didn’t look fantastically thrilled to be in close vicinity to one of Bitch’s dogs on full throttle.

They’re more used to it, but working for Rachel sounds like a nervewracking experience anyway.

Nevermind that you were the one that came here early.  “Of course.

Wait, are you suggesting that Rachel hurried here when asked, eager to help even if she won’t admit it, says it doesn’t mean anything, it’s not like she likes you, b-baka?

We’ll get you and your people some lunch.”

She frowned.  “Lunch?”

Not hungry?

Yeah, I think maybe she thinks you owe her more than that.

There was a bit of a pause.  I waited patiently as she considered the idea.

“Fine,” she decided.

“But it’s strictly platonic! It’s not like it’s a date!! You hear that, baka?!”

Kid Win shrugged, tapping a few keys on the laptop to rotate through a series of progress bars and graphs.  “Nobody told me about that.”

That’s a real shame. We know Kid struggles with self-worth. He could use the validation.

“That’s a shame,” Legend said, turning his gaze to the window to relieve some of the pressure his very presence seemed to put on Kid Win.  “The ability to manage yourself with the public is crucial if you intend to go on to make a career out of working with the Protectorate.”

So we’ve got the kid who feels like the weak link of the team he’s in, and we’ve got the leader of the team he’s likely to move on to telling him that yes, there’s something you’re good at besides tinkering and yes, that thing you’re good at is very very important.

These two are such good eggs.

“It’s kind of weird, that someone as important as you are is making such a big deal out of an event I barely remember.”

…okay yeah I can see that. That is very fair and honestly kinda relatable. I haven’t had that happen to me with someone “as important as” Legend, but it does feel weird when people make a big deal out of something you did that you don’t really remember all that well.

“I study the records of everyone I intend to work with, and I studied yours.  I try to make a note of individual strengths.  That event stuck in my mind when I was reading through your files.  It was a very easy mental picture to put together, especially the part with the gun.”

The fucking gun still cracks me up.

“Director Piggot yelled at me for drawing the gun.”

Ahahaha!

Oh man, I changed my mind, this is way better as a noodle incident.

“It was something that could have backfired very easily, but you struck the right tone and you defused the situation with humor.  I think that’s a good thing, and so did the staff at the school.

*gestures to entire blog* Can you tell why I relate to Kid Win, besides the ADD? 😛

I mentioned earlier that Legend’s one of my favorites. Guess who else fits that description more and more by the paragraph.

The teachers sent emails a few days after the event, commenting on the overall positive impact you had on the students, the hecklers included.  And when I say you, I mean you specifically.”

Niiice.

Haggis. Hummus. I don’t know maybe your language does something with the spelling. 

As for the “hummus” confusion, you were probably thinking of “haggis”

you might be getting hummus confused with haggis! I definitely did as a kid!

“Well, then. Why do I associate it with Scotland??” I’m not really sure, but the only logical answer I can think of was your brain confusing Scotland being the home of hummus instead of haggis. Bit of a stretch, I know, but it’s all I got.

Mixing up hummus and haggis?

Ohhh. Yeah, that sounds like something I would do.

“Those three… are they going to die?”

“No.  The bites weren’t from a brown recluse.

Hah! Called it!

Kinda.

They’ll hurt, they’ll swell, and the three will probably leave the city to find a doctor.  Even if they realize I conned them, I think I scared them enough that they won’t be coming back to challenge me.”

Especially since she is in fact capable of really doing what she threatened, at least physically. Her conscience might not agree.

“Ah.”

They say we fear the unknown, Sierra thought to herself.  So why does she freak me out more as I get to know her?

You’ve got the wrong Undersider for fear of the unknown.

I think part of this is because she’s falling into the uncanny valley. When you started out, she was a faceless villain who’d do villainy stuff. Then you learned there was a human behind the mask, but she was still a faceless villain who’d do villainy stuff. Nowadays, she’s a human with emotions and a face and a personality and she still does villainy stuff.

She brought her employer tea in the largest cup she’d been able to find.

“Priscilla, cup of coffee! No, the small one. The small one!

Thank you.

Sierra hesitated.  What was she supposed to do here?

She ventured forward and reached out to put a hand on the girl’s shoulder.

Yes, good. Be the one who treats Skitter as a human when Skitter herself won’t.

She stopped when she saw the carpet of ants, cockroaches and wasps.

Oh. Right. Might be a bit prickly.

“I’m okay,” Skitter said, without looking up.  She removed her hands from her face and leaned back.  There was no sign of tears – her eyes were dry.  Just tired.

No, she might not be crying, but this isn’t just regular tiredness.

“Could I bother you to make me a cup of tea?  Milk, drop of honey.”

I don’t even drink tea (I’m not one for warm drinks), but this still sounds nice.

Sierra nodded, “I remember.”

Silence reigned as she filled the kettle and set it down on the stove.  Still have to deliver the soup.  Sierra tried to surreptitiously examine Skitter.

Ah, yes, the soup. That somewhat uninteresting subplot is still a thing. Maybe it can get tied into the rest in a metaphorical sense by the end of the chapter?

The girl was removing all of the bugs from the surface of her costume and the gaps in the armor.  The swarm flowed up the stairs as a single mass.

The gaps in the armor are definitely relevant in a metaphorical sense, though, intended or otherwise. Skitter is rapidly losing the armor, the costume, showing the human underneath.

She mentally sorted them out, then directed them, “You, you’re in charge of those three.  You’re in charge of these two… You’re in charge of this pair, okay?”

Older kids looking after little kids.  They sorted into their groups.

That makes sense.

“You’re carrying soup out to the sleeping areas.  We’ve got something to carry them in, Charlotte?”

“Yeah.  Just give me a minute.  Don’t want them to burn their hands.”

Is Sierra going to be cynical about this too? Oh poor kids having to worry about burning their little hands when she’s been out hauling corpses all day…

“Everyone carries what they can.  Take the soup out there and then come back here.”

Charlotte put the lids on the first few containers of soup, and the kids scampered off.

Okay, looks like we’re good.