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Charity Begins at Home

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April 19  - backpack stolen and set on fire behind the school during lunch. Textbooks and homework inside. Emily dumped pencil shavings in hair in fourth period. Sophia tripped me down the stairs at end of day.

 

I set my pen down. Is that really it? Is that all I have to say about that? It feels like so few words for what would have been paragraphs when I’d started my journal, but really, what else is there to say that hasn’t been said already? If I described how things made me feel, I’d be on my tenth journal already, instead of approaching the end of my first; its just not worth it to put it all down.

I hear Dad’s truck pull up, a sputtering, dying noise, and the decision is made for me. The journal goes back into hiding, secreted away in my closet. Dad comes in through the front door as I reach the bottom of the stairs. He glances at me as he takes off his jacket and hangs it by the door. His boots are already off. His mouth pinches into a tight line and he looks away.

“Dinner’s ready. It’s staying warm in the oven,” I say. He nods at me. I wait for him to say something, to ask me how my day was, or if the bullying had let up, or any one of his typical, habitual questions. But he doesn’t. He follows me into the kitchen and makes his plate. We’re halfway through the meal - an attempted pot pie that’s mostly just mushy vegetables floating in mashed potatoes - by the time he finally does speak.

“You remember Charlie? Red hair, wider than he is tall?”

I might vaguely remember a dockworker like him from years ago, so I nod.

“I had to lay him off today. He didn’t take it well. Took a swing at me before Kurt got him to calm down enough to leave.”

Dad’s face isn’t busted, his glasses are still in place on his wide eyes, he wasn’t walking with the limp of someone who’d been hit in the stomach, and Dad looks more upset than angry, so I assume Charlie missed. I wait for him to finish his story, but he doesn’t and we finish dinner in silence.

“I have homework,” I tell him, leaving him to do the dishes as I go back upstairs.

“Taylor,” he calls when I’m at the base of the stairs. He’s looking at me from his seat. “If you need to talk…” he trails off.

I don’t answer him. It isn’t until my bedroom door is shut behind me that I can release the frustrated sigh. How can he expect me to want to talk to him, especially after that. He’s got more important things to deal with than my petty high school bullshit, and even if I did tell him, he can’t do anything about it. The school strong armed him after the- the incident back in January. It’s not worth it, not with all the stress he has at the DWU; he doesn’t need another Sisyphean task to crush himself under.

Neither of us can do anything about the bullying, but I can do something else. Or at least, try. I lied about the homework - sort of; I do have homework, but it was in my book bag and that's… yeah - so instead I grab a book and sit in bed to read to pass the time until Dad goes to bed. I flip through a couple chapters, barely paying attention as the hours go by, only comprehending the story because of previous reads, until finally, finally, Dad goes to bed.

I give it another half hour to let him fall asleep before I sneak downstairs then into the basement, doing my best to avoid the louder steps. I have to stop halfway down when I feel him start to stir, but he just rolls over. I don’t dare let out a relieved hooo until I’m sure he’s not getting up. Soon enough, though, I’m in the basement and pulling my cape gear out from the boarded up chimney chute.

I strip out of my normal clothes and don the spider silk body stocking I made using the dozens of black widows I keep down here. The grays and greens turned out darker than I wanted, but I can’t spend another three months weaving another just to fix the color. My time with my black widows is better spend making new gear than replacing otherwise functional gear.

I slide my mask on over my head and adjust it until it fits right, then flip up the hood, letting my hair spill forward over my shoulders. I wind a length of spidersilk rope around my torso to take with me. Hopefully, if I don’t have a chance to tie up a villain, I’ll at least be able to finally try scaling a building. I stuff my other supplies into my costume’s pouches, then head out through the back door, keeping to backyards until I’m far enough from my house that I can safely join the main road.

I head vaguely towards downtown, keeping an eye and bug out for any suspicious people or groups. It’s the same strategy I’ve used every other night I failed to find any gang members, and I’d like to try something else, but I haven’t been able to think of a different way to patrol. With my range, I can scour the nearby blocks, but somewhy the gangs just don’t seem to be out tonight. Or any other night I’m patrolling.

Eventually, I find and follow a pair of what I’m pretty sure are skinheads for an hour, but they end up heading to an apartment complex and going to bed without doing anything more illegal than jaywalking, so I move on, frustration simmering in my gut. Isn’t Brockton Bay supposed to be dangerous? Everyone always warns against getting caught out alone late at night - and most times of the day - but as far as I’ve been able to tell from my patrols, this is the safest, least crime-ridden city on the east coast.

Every time I’ve gone out, I haven’t been able to find much of anything. I stopped a mugging on my first night, but he looked Latino and wasn’t visibly on drugs, so I don’t think he was a member of any of the bigger gangs in the Bay. I barely had to hurt him before he was on the ground crying and the muggee was running away without so much as a “thanks.” I couldn’t even arrest him, since I had to search for a payphone to make the call, and by the time I found one and got back, he’d run off. I left before the cops could arrive to yell at me for wasting resources.

I wish I could find a drug deal or a cape fight. At least then I could do something. Maybe less with the latter, but still, something. Bugs could be a good distraction, at the very least. I might be able to scare off a lower level villain like Uber&Leet or Satchel if I get lucky. But sadly, there’s no cape fights anywhere around me.  

With nothing more productive in range, I test my rope-climbing abilities. Some of my flying insects carry one end of the silk cord to the top of a squat, three story building with only a handful of people inside. My bugs tie an end to what I’m pretty sure is an air conditioning unit, secure enough that the rope doesn’t come loose with a tug. I start to climb.

Five minutes later, I fall the three feet I made it up, with aching shoulders and hands, wondering why I ever thought I’d be able to climb a rope. I’m not nearly strong enough, even using the climbing techniques I’d read about. Another night of being a useless hero. It’ll be a relief when I’m finally old enough to join the Protectorate, but at this rate they won’t even want me when that time comes. Useless bug girl: three years of experience and zero arrests. Pathetic.

I gather my rope and head back out in a random direction, choosing to patrol for another hour or so, not yet ready to give up for the night. It isn’t until her house enters my range that I realize where my feet took me. It’s a familiar neighborhood, but one I haven’t been in in years, with well trimmed lawns complimenting upscale houses. One of the neighbors even left their bike on the front porch.

I stop between houses, a block away from Emma’s house. The spider-crickets in the walls the ambient flies illustrate the familiar, strange halls. I use some flies to check on the Barneses. Zoe and Alan are asleep in their bedroom downstairs. Anne isn’t here; she must have started college last year. But maybe she’s just out for the night? It doesn’t feel like her bedroom’s changed all that much from what I remember.

Emma’s asleep in her bedroom.

I barely recognize it. Gone are her shelves of stuffed animals and posters of boy bands and heroes. In their place are tubes of… makeup, I think? A few framed photographs too. Even her bed is different: a queen instead of the single we used to squish together into for sleepovers.

She’s so vulnerable. If I wanted to, I could so easily kill her.

If the spare key is in the same place in the garden - it is, I determine with a quick check - then I could easily get in without waking anyone up. I could grab a kitchen knife on my way up to her room, and that would be that. Hell, I didn’t even have to enter the house; I could just sting her to death from here. She doesn’t have a bee allergy, but enough stings would have to be fatal, right? I don’t remember how many times I’ve fantasized about going Carrie on the trio - which I would never do; they aren’t worth endangering my career as a hero - but this is the first time its ever occurred to me that it wouldn’t have to be at school. At home, at the mall, on a bus, at a restaurant, at her modeling job: Emma wouldn’t be safe anywhere if I really wanted to attack her.

…Hypothetically, I mean. I’m a hero, and heroes don’t kill. I won’t let her take this from me too.

I force my feet to take me home, trying and failing to put those thoughts out of my head. Dad’s still sound asleep, so it’s easy to sneak back in and stash my cape supplies, then head to bed for - I check the clock - 3 hours of sleep before school in the morning.

Sleep is slow to come, and it brings no rest.