(Joss is Buffy-boss. Worm
belongs to Wildbow.)
(This is a response to the Buffy/Worm Fusion
It would never work, Taylor thought to herself. Her power was too strong. If she tried to go undercover, she wouldn't be able to avoid using her power in ways she didn't want to. The Undersiders had been there when she took down Lung. They'd seen her go well beyond the plant-based powers she pretended to have.
Looking up from the lunchbox full of money, Taylor regarded the the two guys and two girls who stood across from her on the rooftop.
Demesne, or Willow as she'd introduced herself, wore jeans and a fuzzy pink sweater, and her vibrant green eyes watched Taylor hopefully. It was somewhat disconcerting to know that this harmless-looking girl giving her the puppy-dog eyes was the same person as the radiant figure of power from the other night.
Beside the redheaded leader stood Insight, a muscular brunette boy with a kind face and disarming smile, who'd introduced himself as Xander. His eye-watering hawaiian shirt was... well, it was there. And it was eye-watering. Not the kind of thing she'd have guessed he'd wear, based on his somber blue and black costume and opera mask.
Third was Majesty, introduced as Cordelia, who wouldn't have looked out of place on a magazine cover with her movie-starlet features and figure. She wore a blouse and skirt of some expensive-looking material, and seemed utterly disinterested in her teammate's recruitment attempt.
Finally there was Hellbeast, who was apparently a very petite monosyllabic paragon of unflappable calmness called Oz, whenever he wasn't a hulking monstrosity covered in natural armor plating and bone spikes like he'd been the other night.
"Two grand a month," Taylor said, to fill the silence.
"Um, actually," Willow said sheepishly. "We make a lot more than that, what with the jobs and the thieving and the spoils of war being all spoilery. The two thousand is just what we get paid to do the standby thing."
Now that wasn't something Taylor had expected to hear. If the Undersiders had a sponsor, it might mean there was something more going on here than the obvious. That made it even more dangerous to join under false pretenses, but at the same time she wasn't sure she could walk away from the opportunity to find out what was really going on with them.
But she didn't want to be the kind of cape who hid behind the label of 'hero' to excuse despicable acts. Joining a team, feigning friendship, and then selling them out to jump-start her career... Even if it worked
, if that kind of betrayal made her a hero, maybe she didn't want to be a hero. If she did that, she'd be no better than Sophia.
Taylor sighed, and decided to go for the middle ground. Honesty. "Look guys, I'm not really eager to become a villain. I mean, this seems a lot like the kind of moment where people will look back on my life and say 'then she fell in with a bad crowd' or 'that's when it all started to go wrong' about, you know?"
"Maybe," Xander admitted with an understanding smile as he spread his hands in a shrug.
"I wanted to be a hero," Taylor said, just to be absolutely clear.
Xander wasn't deterred. "I notice you did the past-tense thing there. I think you think you want to be a hero, but I don't think you actually want to be a hero. I think what you really want is to be heroic."
It echoed Taylor's earlier thought with eerie accuracy. "And you think joining you guys is the way to do that?"
"Say you keep going solo, making the city a better place in your own way," Xander said. "Would what you do stay legal?"
Taylor suppressed a wince, thinking of the symbiotic virophage she'd released into the population last week. Wiping out every virus on the face of the earth with a super-contagious anti-plague was a good thing no matter how Taylor looked at it. But if anyone ever learned she was responsible, she'd have to chose between a gilded cage and a kill order. And she had plans for more sophisticated contagious cures in the works. And that didn't even get into the things she'd done with the symbiotic microbes in her own body, or her bionetic implants.
"You've already done something like that," Xander said, nodding. "Something big, if I'm reading you right. Imagine what you could do with the money and resources that come with being on a successful team."
"...okay," Taylor finally gave in.
Xander grinned and Willow practically bounced. "Really?"
"If I join, there are conditions," Taylor said. "I want to be upfront about this, because this isn't negotiable. You don't ever ask me to use my real powers in public. How far I go with my power is my call, and none of you argue when I make that call."
"Oh, we're totally on board with that," Willow said. "In fact, Oz is the only one of us who isn't
hiding the true extent of our powers. I'm right there with ya, and Xander and Cordy get it too. Promise."
Taylor nodded, feeling slightly better about this whole thing. "The other thing. My dad never finds out. Ever." Feeling it appropriate, Taylor pulled off her mask and offered a smile. "Hi. I'm Taylor."
Taylor's costume, at its core, was a bodysuit of armor scales, wired together with tendon and made of bone with a thin skin of dark hardwood. The scales were patterned after tree bark, and the theme was accented by green leaves at her shoulders, across her chest and down her back. The leaves at her shoulders and back concealed gaps in the armor where her 'vines' connected to the climbing harness built into the suit of scales and kept in contact with her skin so she could control them with her power.
While the Undersiders waited in the alley below, Taylor stripped out of her costume and swapped it for the jeans and hoodie she'd brought in her backpack. The vines and the leaves melted as her power unbonded all the cells that made them up, and repackaged those cells into something that bore superficial resemblance to a very flat watermelon for easy storage.
Zipping up her backpack and slinging it on, Taylor turned and stepped off the edge of the roof. She fell five stories and landed in a crouch next to Cordelia.
"Eah!" Cordelia yelped. "God! What are you? Dynamic Entry Girl?"
"Sorry," Taylor said, embarrassed.
Willow grinned in amusement while Oz was as expressionless as ever. Xander, though, put and arm around her shoulders and gave her a one-armed squeeze of a hug. He was just tall enough to be at the perfect height to do it, and it caught Taylor off guard how nice the gesture felt.
"Welcome to the team, Taylor," Xander said.
"Thanks?" Taylor managed not to squeak, a little distracted by the fact that she couldn't remember being this close to an attractive boy in... ever.
The four of them walked with Taylor deeper into the docks, finally arriving at an old abandoned factory of red brick. Willow led the way inside through a small side door, ignoring the big front doors that were chained and rusted shut. Inside, it looked pretty much like an abandoned factory.
"Come on," Willow chirped excitedly as she went to climb the spiral staircase in the corner. "Our evil lair is upstairs."
In contrast to the first, the second floor was a spacious loft. Couches were arranged around a humongous flatscreen TV, near a collection of tables and shelves. To the left, a large area was sectioned off into rooms, and on the far side of the couches was what looked like a kitchen. There was a lot of open space. All together it was bigger than Taylor's entire house.
The whole loft had a very 'lived in' messiness to it. Nothing gross or repulsively cluttered, but it was obviously a place without adult supervision.
"I'm jealous," Taylor admitted.
Cordelia rolled her eyes as she brushed passed. "Well that's dumb. You joined up, didn't you?"
"I meant it's cool," Taylor defended.
"And it's your place now too," Xander cut in. "This place belongs to the team, and you're a member now."
"Oh," Taylor said.
While Willow headed into the kitchen with Oz, and Cordelia took a seat on a couch and turned on the TV, Xander proceeded to give Taylor a brief tour. Each of them had a room, and there was also a full bathroom and a storage room.
"We'll clean out the storage closet for you," Xander told her. "It'll be your room."
"Thanks, um," Taylor said, taken aback. "You don't have to. I've got a place."
"Then you'll have two," Xander said cheerfully, leading Taylor to the couches.
After a series of beeps from setting the oven timer, Willow and Oz returned from the kitchen and joined them. With the whole team seated, Cordelia switched the TV over to closed captions and Willow turned towards Taylor excitedly.
"Okay, so you know you're getting two thousand dollars a month, but that's just for being on the team," Willow explained. "Which means you get an even share of the loot, a vote on what jobs we take, you go with us when we get a gig, and you make yourself available if we need you, 'kay?"
"I don't have a phone," Taylor said.
"Oh that's okay, I'll set you up with one," Willow said, dismissing the concern. "Let's talk powers. Like I said before, Oz is the only one on the team who isn't doing the misdirection thing. How much do you know about what we can do?"
Taylor blinked a few times and hedged, "I looked you guys up on the wiki, after the thing with Lung. The pages for Insight and Majesty were just stubs without any information about powers. Hellbeast's page described him as a Changer slash Brute. Yours, the Demesne page, called you a Shaker, and said your power was weak telekinesis and solid static illusions?"
Willow nodded with a little grin. "I know. I wrote that entry myself."
Taylor's eyebrow went up. "So how does your power really work?"
"Willow here is a full blown reality warper," Xander said proudly.
," Willow protested. "What I do is, first I have to push out these little sparks that soak into the stuff around me. The longer I'm in one place, the longer I can push out, and the more area I can affect. If I move out of my affected area, I have to start over, and I have to constantly keep pushing, and it gets harder the further I push, up to a city block before it gets too hard to keep going, and if I don't concentrate I can lose track of where I am, because what I do is see all the things that might have
been in a place and mix and match em, and I can control how they all interact including like what direction stuff gets pushed apart when it intersects so I can make something intersect with a bunch of else-air and push it all out in one direction to make the something move around which is how I pretend telekinesis, but my illusions aren't illusions they just go back where they came from when my affected area isn't affected anymore."
Taylor stared, mouth hanging slightly open. She looked at Xander and tried to form the question, but he spoke before she could manage it.
"Yes," Xander laughed, "she said all that without taking a breath, and no, she was able to do that before she got her powers."
Willow pouted. "Xander..."
Xander gave the redhead an affectionate hug. "That's Willow's power, anyway. Mine is what you'd call a Thinker power. It helps me know stuff. Like, you know how if you know someone really well, you usually have a better idea of what they're thinking than someone you don't know? My power is like that, only super-charged. It fills in the blanks for me, as if I've known you intimately your entire life, even if I've just met you. It works best on people, but I can use it on other things too."
"You know everything about everyone you meet?" Taylor asked nervously.
"No," Xander clarified. "My power is to know you
, not your past. I know everything there is to know about who you are right now
, but my power doesn't tell me anything about how you got that way."
"Oh," Taylor said, still feeling self-conscious. "I guess I see why you don't advertise that."
Oz spoke up. "I hulk out and clobber stuff. Pretty simple."
"Okay." Taylor nodded.
Everyone looked at Cordelia. She was watching the TV and ignoring the rest of them.
"Cordy," Xander prompted.
When Cordelia didn't respond further, Willow got a naughty look on her face. Her eyes glazed and started rapidly flicking around. After a moment, her smirk widened and she gestured, presumably for dramatic effect. A live pigeon appeared out of thin air on Cordelia's head.
Cordelia shrieked and swatted at the suddenly panicking bird, nearly falling out of her seat. The pigeon made a break for freedom, and evaporated as it passed out of the boundary of Willow's power.
"Goddamnit! What is your damage?" Cordelia demanded.
Willow made a resolved face. "We're sharing
, Cordy. Tell the new girl about your power."
Cordelia scowled and flicked a hand at Taylor, and Taylor's bicep suddenly convulsed. Her arm didn't move, but she could feel the muscle momentarily strain against her bionetic muscle augments, tearing the muscle fibers.
"Ouch!" Taylor blurted, clutching her arm with her other hand. "The fuck?"
Cordelia blinked in surprise. "That's not what usually happens."
Taylor glowered. "What usually happens?"
Xander snickered. "Cordy's power lets her hijack nerve impulses. She can make someone twitch a muscle, trip over themselves, drop something, you know, that sort of thing. But she wasn't expecting you to have whatever it is you've implanted yourself with. Something you made with your power?"
Taylor nodded. The pain was already fading as legions of enhanced bacteria performed microsurgery to repair the damage. Taylor was proud of that one, and she really wanted to refine it enough to make it safe for people other than her. For simple injuries they worked great, but in occasional edge cases she had to use her power to nudge them back on track. In someone without her power that would be a deadly flaw.
"I guess it's my turn," Taylor said. "I manipulate biology. I have to touch whatever I'm using my power on, and it doesn't work on my own cells, but other than that I can do pretty much anything. I'm a Striker?" Taylor made it a question.
Willow nodded. "Striker is what they call powers that you have to touch something to use."
"Right," Taylor said. "I figured if I was going to be fighting, I was going to be getting up close with other capes... I can put someone to sleep instantly if I get a hand on them, but my powers don't really help with the getting my hand on them in the first place part. So I got creative."
Xander suddenly snapped his fingers and grinned. "You're a cyborg!"
Taylor paused. "Um, yeah, sort of. Only better, because I can use biological constructs instead of machines, which works a lot more seamlessly with my body. The first thing I did was reinforce all my internal organs and bones. That was pretty simple actually. My symbiote took a lot longer to get right."
"Symbiote?" Willow asked curiously.
"It actually began as a suit of power armor I could wear," Taylor explained, "but the more I refined it, the more I had to stick nerves and stuff through my skin to control and feed it so I wouldn't have to constantly use my power to keep it working... I eventually scrapped the armor idea and went fully internal. I've got a layer of shear thickening fluid under my skin for armor, and an entire secondary muscular set up interwoven with my natural muscles and wired into my brain stem. Even without my costume, I'm bullet proof and strong enough to pick up a compact car."
"Okay, that is kind of neat," Cordelia admitted. "What's up with the plant theme?"
"My real power is scary
," Taylor stressed. "If I wanted, I could grab you and melt you down into a gooey pile of homogeneous biomass, and then turn that into a giant hairy wang that sprays acid and sweats bubonic plague. It'd take me about twenty seconds."
"Yowza," Willow muttered.
"That's a mental image I did not need," Xander opined, cringing slightly.
Taylor blushed. "Sorry."
"Right," Cordelia said. "You're not allowed to melt people. She's not allowed to melt people, right guys?"
"I for one vote no on the whole melting people thing," Xander said, but he was smiling.
"That's not something I ever want to do," Taylor agreed emphatically.
"I like your vines better anyway," Willow put in.
"They're not really vines," Taylor told them. "They're actually hexilateral aerostats, with a thin coating of plant cells. You would not believe how long it took to come up with a design that didn't look like a balloon when it moved, and at the same time looked convincing when cut open."
"The 'vines' conduct your power?" Xander guessed.
"Yeah," Taylor said. "I was thinking I'd pretend to control plants and pretend the vines can transfer a knock-out drug or something."
"That sounds workable," Willow said, only for the oven to start beeping. "Ooh!"
Willow hopped up and scurried into the kitchen. A baking sheet scraped and clanged, then what sounded like an arctic blizzard blew a small flurry of snow onto the floor. Willow emerged holding a plate of chocolate chip cookies. Willow stepped over the snow and it evaporated behind her like it was never there as her power collapsed back to her body.
"Welcome cookies!" Willow announced brightly. She set the plate on the coffee table in front of Taylor and took one for herself. "Help yourself to the chippy chocolate gooey goodness."
Taylor found herself chuckling at the surrealness. The supervillain Demesne had baked Taylor cookies. Today was not what she'd been expecting. "Thanks, Willow."
(So, this is a Worm AU where:)
- Grue was swapped for Willow. (Demesne.)
- Tattletale was swapped for Xander. (Insight.)
- Regent was swapped for Cordelia. (Majesty.)
- Bitch was swapped for Oz. (Hellbeast.)
(In the wake of this, several powers have been switched around:)
(Taylor Hebert and Amy Dallon have swapped shards.)
(Willow has Labyrinth's shard, less powerful but without the nasty side effects.)
(Labyrinth is now called Void and has Grue's shard, including the power-copying but with the side effect that she can't see or hear outside her darkness.)
(Xander, Cordelia, and Oz have the same shards as Tattletale, Regent, and Bitch. However, the way their powers manifest has been tweaked appropriately for each of them.)