When I'd first woken up in the hospital bed, I hadn't expected to feel so... OK. I should have been weak, I should have been sick, I should have been anything except fine, but I was fine. I was better than fine, in fact; I felt like I could hop out of the bed and run a marathon. Had Panacea been called in to heal me? It was the only thing that made sense, but something felt off about that explanation, as if I knew it was wrong somehow. I sat up and found the nurse call button. A severe woman responded within a few seconds, but I paid her only a moment's attention, because fucking Armsmaster followed her in.
"Miss Hebert?" he asked, sounding as if he wasn't quite sure of the pronunciation. I nodded, somewhat awestruck. He shifted his weight uncomfortably. "How are you feeling?"
"I'm fine," I said. I meant it. I hadn't felt this good in years. It was honestly a bit worrying, especially with a member of the Protectorate visiting me in my hospital bed. He had to have been waiting for me to wake up, which meant that something parahuman was going on. A sinking feeling started to build in my gut. Why wasn't Dad here? I echoed the thought to Armsmaster, who grimaced as if he had bitten into a particularly sour lemon.
"We need to discuss some things first, Miss Hebert. Otherwise, things could get... complicated." That was an understatement if ever I heard one. Definitely something parahuman about this situation, then. I didn't like it. I wanted to see my father. I glared at Armsmaster, locking eyes with his helmet. I got the impression he was glaring back, a bit, and I relented after a few long moments.
"Fine," I grumped. "Let's get this over with."
The hero nodded, the nurse left, and the interrogation began.
Twenty minutes later, Armsmaster had some answers, and so did I. He had asked (rather tactlessly, in my opinion) about all the details of the bullying campaign I had been subjected to. He seemed particularly upset upon learning the identities of my bullies, if the creaking of his gauntlets had been any indication. Along the way, he let slip that I had been found unconscious outside of my locker, which had apparently been blasted open by some kind of explosion from the inside. Evidently I had been holding a hammer that couldn't be moved unless I was touching it, and even then it was stupendously heavy. I didn't quite believe him until he pointed at something next to the bed. I looked down. It was a large, short-handled hammer with intricate designs around the corners and a strange sigil etched into the sides. One doesn't typically think of hammers as "beautiful," but this one undoubtedly fit that description.
Armsmaster cleared his throat and I tore my attention away from the hammer. Oops. I gave him an apologetic smile; it must have looked a bit unsteady, because the Protectorate hero huffed a sigh.
"We can continue this another time. I recommend sharing this with your father at your discretion, but no one else. For your safety and his, of course." I understood. Given that I was apparently a parahuman, it wouldn't do to give up any information to villains who would try to recruit me - or worse, simply eliminate me before I could become a hero. Even if I could handle them on my own, and there was no guarantee of that, especially with monsters like Lung prowling around the Bay, it was almost a sure thing that they would try to target me through my father. God, I wanted to see him so bad.
Armsmaster turned to go, but paused. "You should think about joining the Wards. It's the safest option." He didn't sound entirely sure of himself for some reason, but before I could ask him about it he was already out the door and my father was there in his place.
"Taylor," he began, and all of a sudden I was crying into his shirt. The sobs didn't last long, but the tears continued to flow until we were halfway home.
"So," Dad said, and then he paused awkwardly. We had come to a sort of mutual agreement that we wouldn't talk about "The Issue" until the day after I had been released from the hospital. I didn't want to, really. I wanted everything to go back to normal. I wanted Emma back. I wanted the whole thing to have never happened. But I wouldn't get that, so instead I chose to sit across the table from my dad. Our leftover bowls of breakfast sat to the side, waiting to be put in the sink with the rest of the dirty dishes.
"So," I said, more to fill the silence than anything else. "I'm a cape." It was easy to say. I'd expected the words to stick in my throat for some reason, but they slipped out as if what I'd just said were the most normal sentence in the world, on par with, "It's rained a lot this week, hasn't it?" "I'm a cape," I repeated, just to make sure I'd actually said it. I giggled a bit. Dad looked a bit worried at that, but I got myself under control and he relaxed back into his seat.
"Armsmaster said I should join the Wards," I blurted out, and immediately I cringed internally at the look of horror that flashed across my father's face. "I haven't made up my mind yet!" I assured him, quickly, because he looked like he would rather swallow glass than let that happen without some serious assurances. It was the truth, too. I really wasn't sure I wanted to join the Wards. I wasn't even sure what my damn powers really were, besides, apparently, creating hammers. That particular artifact was sitting safely under the bed, out of sight from prying eyes looking through the window. It was a temporary solution at best, but it was better than nothing.
"Taylor," Dad said, swallowing thickly. "If that's what you want, then I'll support you every step of the way, but..." His head fell to his hand. "The Wards fight villains, Taylor. Dangerous villains. I don't- I can't lose you." Like Annette went unspoken, but I understood all the same. That was the biggest thing holding me back, really. At the same time, though, I knew I wouldn't be able to avoid fights forever. I had powers, whatever they actually were, and sooner or later I was going to end up using them. I still looked up to heroes, still wanted to be a hero. Maybe a compromise would work?
"All right," I agreed. That got a weak smile out of Dad. "But I want to at least talk to the PRT about this, too. They might have some kind of trial program for the Wards, a way to see if it's right for me without committing to it?" I could tell he didn't like that very much, but he at least gave it some proper thought. Finally, he sighed, and I knew I'd won.
Dad found the entry for the Brockton Bay PRT in the phone book, and I dialed the number with fingers that only trembled a little bit. They picked up on the second ring.
"Brockton Bay PRT; what is the nature of your call?" A man's voice, surprisingly young-sounding.
"I, uh..." Shit, what to say? "I'm interested in, uh, maybejoiningthewards."
"Could you please repeat that, miss?"
Fuck. I cleared my throat and tried to tamp down my spiking heart rate. "I'm interested in potentially joining the Wards. I spoke with Armsmaster yesterday." I wasn't quite sure why I'd added that last part; maybe I thought it would help me get in the door?
If the man on the other end was perturbed at all, he didn't let it show. "I see. We do have a program for prospective Wards, entailing an interview with a current Ward, a PRT officer, and member of the Brockton Bay Protectorate, if any are available. Let me see..." His voice trailed off into rapid typing. "Ah. Yes, there is an open slot this Saturday at 2 P.M. Would that work for you?"
"Yes, that would work," I said, unable to keep the excitement out of my voice.
"One more thing," he said. "What name should I put down?" The man must have sensed my hestitation, because he hastened to add, "It doesn't have to final. We just need something we can use to keep your cape identity separate from your civilian life."
It took me a moment, but the hammer meant there was really only one name that would feel right. "Mjolnir."
"Mjolnir it is. Now, on Saturday, here's what you'll need to do to get into the building..." The man rattled off a list of commands, which I scribbled down, but I was only halfway paying attention. He had me read back what I'd written down, then wished me luck, and then the line was dead and I was grinning like a loon. Despite himself, Dad seemed to be happy too.