Gleaming – Interlude 9.x

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“What the hell is wrong with you?” Tristan asked.  “What the hell?”

Byron stared his brother in the eyes, incredulous.  “What’s wrong with me?

“Did you take drugs or something?  You’re all aggro, not making any sense.”

“You’re not fucking listening!”

Tristan made a face, shaking his head a little.  “Then I guess we’re not going to get anywhere, huh?  I’ve got stuff to do that isn’t being yelled at for random shit.”

He headed for the door.  Byron stepped into his way, grabbing for his brother’s shirt-collar.  Tristan’s attempt to shove the hand aside produced a small ripping sound.

“My shirt!  Let go!”

“Sucks to lose stuff you care about, doesn’t it?” Byron asked.

“Oh fuck you, you didn’t lose anything.  Now let go.  If you want to bitch and shout about stuff, the parents will be home soon, you can share your feelings while we eat and they can tell you that you’re making no fucking sense!

Tristan’s attempt to push Byron aside and leave didn’t get him anywhere, except to risk tearing his shirt further.  He grabbed Byron’s wrist, hard.

“Tried that.  They take your side.”

“Because I’m right!”

“You’re not right!” Byron raised his voice, which went a note too high.  There were tears in his eyes.

Tristan screwed his face up in disgust.  “Come on, By.  Name one person we know who would look at what you’re doing right now and say ‘hey man, cool.  Good for you for handling this this way.”

“That’s the whole fucking issue!” Byron jerked his hand, tearing the shirt on purpose this time.  Tristan grabbed him with his other hand, fingers digging into Byron’s shoulder and wrist, and shoved him against the door.

Through grit teeth and pants of breath, Byron growled the words.  “Do you know how hard it is to make friends?  To get people who have my back?”

“It’s not hard at all!  And that’s the furthest thing from the issue!”

“It’s the issue!” Byron shouted the words into his brother’s face.  “It’s what I’m trying to get into that thick skull of yours!  Ever since sixth grade, I’ll make the effort to make friends and then you’ll show up to a party or even a place where we’re sitting around and talking and you’re in, you’re part of the group!  It’s only easy for you to make friends because you take mine!”

“It’s not a transaction, you dipshit!  Just because they’re my friends doesn’t mean they’re not yours!”

“It does!  It always fuck-” Byron pulled his hand to the side, ripping the shirt more.  He stuck his other elbow into Tristan’s shoulder, partially shrugging free of the hand that gripped him.  What followed was flurry of him wrestling for a grip and striking out in half-push, half-punch hits, and Tristan doing much the same.  Tristan prevailed, just a bit bigger, a bit stronger.    Byron found his breath.  “It always fucking did, Tristan!  You join my groups of friends and then you make fun of me!”

“Reality check,” Tristan, his face inches from Byron’s, breath hot against Byron’s face.  “Ninth grade, little brother.  That’s what people do.  Dad and our uncles rib each other.”

“Rib!” Byron shouted.  “Not fucking destroying each other!”

His voice cracked at ‘destroying’.  He hated that.

“Destroy?” Tristan asked.  He started to laugh, but he didn’t even get a sound out before Byron pulled his fist free.  Byron bucked, trying to dislodge his brother, and brought a knee up to hit him in the side.  When held back, he scratched- anything to hurt, to convey what words couldn’t.  Tristan winced.  “Fuck, that hurt!  Stop!”

Byron panted.  “If there’s a new thing in clothes, you beat me to it.”

“That’s not destroying you, you shit.  That’s me reading the fucking magazines and paying attention!”

“If I beat you to the punch, wear my hair a way that looks good, you do the same and say I copied you!  I can’t say things without you saying I’m copying!  I can’t talk about a movie I watched or say a slang word without having to wonder if you’re going to use it to get a laugh, or if people will do the pecking order inside joke shit and say you were there first, you beat me to it!  They say it because you keep hammering it in!”

“I’ve been trying to make a point!  You need to walk your own path!”

You’re the fucking parasite!  You’re the one who follows me!  You’re the one who’s walking on my path and calling me the copycat!  You’ve been doing it for years and there’s nothing left for me!  That’s what’s destroying me!”

He pulled his wrist free and punched Tristan in the side.  Tristan grabbed his hand.

“Having nothing I can choose to do with my hair or clothes without you or someone in the group using it as ammo!”

He punched, and Tristan deflected, shoving his arm off-target.

“Every time I say something, you have to edge your way in, say something better or louder or cut me down, every time!”

None of the hits seemed to be really making any impact.  None of this did.

“Not being able to sit down with my friends, because you’re there and I know you’ll all joke about me, and they never did it before you entered the picture!”

“It’s called getting closer to people!  You figure each other out and you know where the lines are and you prod them!”

“You break my lines!  You kick them down and say things and they make fun of me for weeks!  They’ve been calling me ‘little brother’ for a year!”  Fueled with adrenaline, Byron punched out.  Even with Tristan holding his arm, he was able to clip his chin.  “And then you go out with Katie!?”

That?   That’s what this is about?  It was going together to the stupidest fucking movie!  it was one thing!  It didn’t matter!”

“It mattered to me!  I’m trying to convey to you that it matters and it doesn’t get through if I say it, hit you, or scream it!” Byron’s voice was reaching a fever pitch.  “I liked her and now she’s your best friend!  Your beard!”

Tristan’s expression changed.  His voice was as cold as Byron’s was hot.  With a surge of strength, he pushed Byron’s arms down.  “We’re going there?  You’re going to scream it so our parents might hear it if they come in through the door?”

“They know!  Everyone fucking knows because you’re really fucking bad at hiding it!  It’s why they treat you with kid gloves and give you the extra attention while you ‘figure yourself out’!  Katie’s more excited to have you as a gay best friend like in the movies, than she is about having me as an anything!  Even when you’re not there it’s about you, because they talk about how brave you are because you’re out to people, and then they joke I’m weak, I’m lame because they think I don’t have the guts.  I’m not fucking gay!  I’m not weak!  It’s fucking ridiculous that I get the flack!”

Byron started to win the hand-to-hand struggle once again.  Tristan was stronger, but in the sheer emotion that Byron brought to bear, he forced his way forward, arms straining.  He got his leg forward and pressed it against the side of Tristan’s knee, so Tristan couldn’t stay standing.  Inch by inch, he pushed back and pushed Tristan down.

“You’re a fucking- fucking gay basher, then?” Tristan’s voice was strained.

“Fuck you!  Fuck you to hell, Trist!  Fuck you, no!” Byron shouted, his voice a snarl.  “You don’t get to play that card when I have backed you up!  I have gotten in fights for you because they kept saying shit!  Gaylord, gaylord, gaylord, back in seventh and eighth!  Gaylord, gaylord fucking faggot gaylord!’

“Shut up!”

“Sucks to hear, doesn’t it!?  But you know I was shutting them up, back then!  I took the harder path so you’d have it easier and it doesn’t matter!  You don’t care!  It never counted for anything and you even used it against me!  You were the one who called me a pussy after I told them to shut it on the ‘sissy’ shit!  You just take!  You have to win, you make this a competition!  Except when I win, if you can call it that, I don’t get anything except normal, and when I lose I lose people that I care about!”

He pushed Tristan onto his back, and in the moment Tristan put his hand back to push himself to a standing position, Byron moved forward, pinning the arm under one knee.

Both of his free hands fought with Tristan’s free one.  He hit and deflected.

“I.  Lose!  Katie laughs at me!  Rob and Jem call me weak!  Mama and papa talk to you more than they talk to me!”


“You first!  Back the fuck off!  Stop taking!”

“I’m not taking!”

“You are!  Why can’t you listen?  Stop talking and listen to me for the first time in your shallow, selfish life!”

“It’s not on purpose, you moron!  It’s life!  You’re quiet, I’m loud!  You’re lazy, I’m actually out there talking to people!  So they listen to me more!  Nature and school fucking politics and fucking logic favor those who do and say stuff!  Now stop fucking hitting me or I’m going to hit you back!”

“I’m saying give me a chance,” Byron said.  The volume was going out of his voice as the emotion shifted to something else.  “You don’t have to speak up, you don’t have to butt in!”

“Give yourself a chance!”

“Shut up and listen!” Byron couldn’t get anywhere with the arm, but Tristan was lifting up his head.  With a shove, Tristan’s head cracked against the floor in the basement.  Seizing the opportunity, Byron gripped his brother around the throat, still kneeling on one of his arms.

Tristan’s reply was choked, a non-word.  His one free hand groped, while Byron hunched over, denying him anything he could get much of a grip on.

“Shut up for one fucking minute,” Byron said, calmer than he’d been, though his voice was warped by the effort.

Tristan made a longer, strained sound, trying to get a word out and failing.

“You’re not even capable of shutting up.  Learn to step down.  Learn to give some ground, any ground, okay?  Please.

Fumbling to break Byron’s grip, Tristan was scratching now, groping for weak points.  He wasn’t putting up half the fight he had been.  He hadn’t even been choked for that long.

“All I want is my own space.  Give me room to figure shit out,” Byron said.  “I’m not asking for the world here.”

Tristan’s hand fell to his side.

“Just… nod, okay?  Nod, agree.  Or tap out, show me you can tap out.”

Tristan moved his arm.  Byron felt a piercing pain.

He’d been stabbed.

What followed was nonverbal, almost animal.  His grip tightened, because there was no other way this would end in his favor, because he was worried that Tristan would keep stabbing with whatever he’d just stabbed him with.

An impulse or thought ran through the background of it, he knew it was unrealistic on a fundamental level, but he couldn’t afford to lose this last one time.  He’d already been beaten down so much, people he’d once liked had turned ugly, turned on him.  ‘Ribbing him’.

If he lost here, he wasn’t sure he wouldn’t break.

Tristan’s stabs, more aimless, caught on the underside of his arm.  A worse cut than before, but it didn’t seem that much worse.

The blood, though.  What followed was a ridiculous, outright scary amount for the size and depth of the cut.

In desperation, he maintained his grip as best he could, fingers digging into flesh.  Tristan flailed, a flash of gold and black, a sharp point dragging against and puncturing skin.

He felt his own consciousness slip, and it wasn’t because of the blood loss.

He saw silhouettes, paired.  Human, with something to them that he recognized on a fundamental level, or because the vibrations in the background of it all spoke to him.  Warrior and scholar.

Another pair of silhouettes.  Not human.  Not a warrior and a scholar, but a creator and a destroyer.

Another pair…

He opened his eyes.  They widened a bit further as he saw the amount of blood soaked into the carpet.

Mama and Papa were going to be pissed.

He coughed, and in that small action, everything felt wrong.

He coughed again, and when his hand came to his mouth, it wasn’t because he wanted it to.

His lips moved and pronounced a single hoarse word.  “Fucker.”

His vision swayed.  His limbs moved.  He found a standing position, before coughing again.

He hadn’t bid any of these actions to happen.  He was… an inside observer, viewing through eyes, feeling sensations, hearing the hum of the fan upstairs.  He could smell the blood.

He felt cold horror of an almost alien sort as he began to absorb what this might be.  The horror didn’t extend to gut, to the dilation of eyes, to breathing.  The coldness of the emotion was at stark odds with the heated, breathless “Fucker!” that passed through his lips.

Through Tristan’s lips.  The horror welled.

Byron watched as the eyes, not his, moved across the room.  Looking for- for him.  Searching for some sign.  They moved to the blood puddle, then scanned the surroundings, tracing a line up the stairs, zig-zagging in a search for a trail of blood.

Every movement of the eye felt like someone was taking his eyes, wresting them to one point of focus, then to another.  Muscles fired into action, felt alien around the edges because the configuration was right, but the scale and pattern was that one percent to ten percent different.  The muscles forced the body into movement, into balancing to stay upright.

There were more coughs as Tristan rubbed his throat.  He made his way up the stairs, into the kitchen, then wandered through the house, hands running through hair, around the neck, fidgeting.

Byron wanted to struggle, to push out, to find a way free.  There was nothing.  He could feel, he could think, and he could sense what Tristan sensed.  There was nothing beyond that.

Having finished searching the house, checking the small bedroom for Byron, Tristan made his way back to the kitchen.  He took a seat at the kitchen table, and buried his face in his hands, coughing once or twice.  His throat hurt, and Byron felt the hurt.

With every second that passed, not even able to control the focus of his vision or sharpen his awareness on any point within the eye’s field of vision, Byron felt his thoughts growing more confused.  There was nothing here, only void, and everything in thought and emotion bled out aimlessly into that void, with no perspective, no grounding, no action he could take.

Please no, he thought.  Whatever this is.  Please.

Emotions welled, but without a heartbeat, a stomach, muscles, and breathing to give substance, they were like blots of watercolor, bleeding out and into one another.

“Tristan?” Papa asked.  He put down his bike helmet, stepping into the kitchen.  He was sweaty from his ride back from work.  The biking was because he was trying to lose weight, but he was only part of the way there- everything about him from mustache to build were heavy and thick.  Heavy eyebrows furrowed in concern.  “What happened?”

Tristan stared off into space.

“Tristan?” Papa asked.  He seemed to see something that alarmed, because he turned toward the front hall.  “Anita!  Come fast!”

Mama came into the kitchen, still wearing her own biking outfit, her long hair damp near the scalp.  It was Tristan’s eyes, not Byron’s, that searched out the little details that made her her- the shock of white hair by one temple, the twin moles that Tristan had called ‘vampire bites’ as a child.  Byron had felt bad about that, even being the observer to his brother as Tristan unwittingly evoked a look of faint hurt on their mama’s face.

Help, Byron thought, as they turned their attention to his brother.  Please help me.  This is hell.  It’s already hell.

“Byron flipped out on me,” Tristan said.  He coughed, forced the cough, then touched his throat.  “He was upset because I took Katie to the movies.”

That wasn’t it.

“I told you not to,” Mama said, her voice soft.

“He strangled me.  Scratched me.  Punched me,” Tristan searched his arm, pulled back his t-shirt sleeve with one hand to see where Byron had hit his shoulder.

“That’s too far.  That’s too far and then some,” Papa replied.  “We’ll talk with him.  Where is he?”

Please help.  Please notice that something’s wrong.

“Um,” Tristan said, sounding very disconnected.  He wasn’t looking anywhere in particular.  To an outside observer, it might have looked like a thousand-yard stare.  “He stormed out, I think.  I looked through the house.”

“Look at me, Tristan,” Papa said.

Tristan did.

See me in here.  Isn’t that how it works in the movies?

Tristan’s eyes watered.  “Something’s fucked up.  A lot of things are fucked up.  I’ve been sitting here trying to process, but my thoughts are sparks and I can’t think straight.  When I can think straight, I’m worried I have brain damage because it’s really intense.”


Tristan stumbled through, not stopping.  “And I’m worried he’s going to the cops or something-”


“Because I got scared when he was strangling me and I couldn’t even hear anything except the ringing in my ears.  I stabbed him with the pen I had in my pocket to try and make him let go, and he was so angry.  So angry.”

Tristan dropped his eyes.  The thousand-yard stare again.

“Tristan.”  Papa took Tristan by the shoulders.

Tristan made eye contact again.

“He wasn’t making any sense,” Tristan said.

I made sense, you weren’t hearing it.

Their mama rubbed Tristan’s shoulders.  Their papa gave him a kiss on the top of the head.  Byron felt it all and he didn’t feel better in the slightest.

“We’ll get this figured out, mi hijo,” Papa said.

Please help.

“I don’t know,” Tristan said.  “I feel like something broke inside of me.  I can’t think straight- I think in…”

The orange-red light flared between him and Papa.  A will-o-the-wisp from a video game, The diffuse light of a tinted lightbulb without the glass to encase it, condensed into a ball a couple of inches across.

“…sparks and lines.”

Dios mio,” Papa said.  He stepped away.  Mama’s hands dropped from Tristan’s back.  The lights traced thin lines through the air, just as intense as the lights were at their center, but without the diffuse glow around them.

Byron might have been the least surprised of all of them.  Deep down, he’d realized something like this had happened.

Tristan seemed to belatedly realize what was happening.  He pulled away, and the lights and the lines drew together into something solid – a tangle of metal that had been twisted and bent, with razor-thin strips twisting and branching up and out.  It crashed into the kitchen floor, and Tristan nearly fell from the stool in his haste to move away.

In the retreat, Tristan receded.  Byron felt the void he was in fill up, pushing him out-

Byron emerged, and the metal growth exploded into a spray of steam with no heat to it, only a sharp chemical smell.  His parents backed away to the far end of the kitchen.

Byron gasped, much as if he’d surfaced after being held underwater for a very long time.  He found his breath, and then he screamed.  Neither parent could do much more than stare.

“My boys,” Papa said, his eyes wide, his voice filled with heartbreak.  “What have you done to yourselves?”

He felt the void he could slip into so easily, more a sentiment than anything he could touch.  It was as if he was standing with his back to a ledge, an impossibly long drop below that ledge.  With that knowledge came the realization that Tristan was inside him.

Nausea and shock overwhelmed him, and he vomited onto the floor.

Danger.  How much risk do we face?  Is there a chance we get hurt?  What’s medical care like?  Does it involve fighting Endbringers?

Organization.  How many people in the group?  How are arguments resolved?  Is there a human resources department?  Manager?  Team leader?  How is that stuff handled?

Secret identity.  How many people will see our faces?  Know our names?

School.  What do we do about school?

For that matter, what happens schedule-wise with holidays?  Church?

Ask, damn it!  Ask or swap so I can ask!  You’ve only talked about money and costumes!

“Any more questions?” Mr. Vaughn asked.  The man had  shaved head, light brown skin, and both a mustache and beard that were trimmed down to a series of lines, the beard being little more than a narrow arrow that pointed down.  His jacket hung on his chair, and the sleeves of his button-up silk shirt were rolled up, showing only hints of the tattoos at the upper edges of his forearms.

Byron knew because Tristan kept glancing at the guy’s arms.

“Nah.  No more questions,” Tristan said.

“Some,” Papa said.  He hesitated.  “But this is a lot to take in.  I need a moment to get my thoughts in order.”

Mr Vaughn smiled.  “Instead of that, why don’t you hold onto any questions you might have, go home, sleep on things, and you can email our department any time.  We will answer any questions- if you want to send us a hundred, it won’t be a problem.”

No.  There’s a big difference between what they say to our faces and what they say if they have time to compose an email and word things carefully.

“I think we covered most of it,” Tristan said.

“…Yes,” Papa conceded.


“Great!” Mr. Vaughn pronounced, with a smile.

Byron had to bite back his annoyance.  Danger, management, secret identity, school, schedule, holidays.  It was a mantra he mentally recited, so he could fire off the questions when he had the opportunity.

Mr Vaughn leaned back.  “Tell me, what do you think?”

“I’m very interested.”  There was no hesitation in Tristan’s reply.

“I’m not sure,” their Papa said, sounding hesitant.  “To be honest, our number one priority is getting this whole situation fixed.  The PRT has resources.”

“The PRT absolutely has resources,” Mr. Vaughn said.  “I would say they’re above average in what they can offer.”

“Alright,” their Papa said.  He looked at Tristan.

What’s the pitch?

“If you look into it, however, you’ll find they’re strictly above average.  They’re exceptional and consistent at holding things to that level.  You won’t get the exceptional wages, service, or attention from them.  The people at the top have been in the PRT since before Tristan was born.  There’s something called upward mobility, how many promotions you can get or how high you can rise in the hierarchy.”

“I know what upward mobility is,” Papa said.

“Then it should please you to know that when it comes to Tristan and his brother, we can give them mobility, and we can give them something the PRT won’t.  We can give them exceptional.”

“With more risk, I’m guessing?” Tristan asked.

“Yes,” Mr. Vaughn said.  “Being on a corporate team is like being in sales, except you’re selling your own brand.  We’ll pay you handsomely, and you stand to gain much more if you hit our reward points.  You’ll get extra for media events, a stipend for holding higher rankings on the right sites on the internet and any cape ranking lists in magazines.  You’ll get a thousand dollars for every headline you net, five thousand if you get a positive headline in a major paper.  But it’s more work, and not everyone’s cut out for it.  If you don’t think you can sell and you can’t handle the risk, then the PRT is a safer bet.”

“I’m a risk taker,” Tristan said.  Byron could feel his brother’s face stretch in a smile.  “And I think I’d be a good salesman.”

I’m not a risk taker.

“I get that impression,” Mr. Vaughn said, smiling back at Tristan with something resembling a twinkle in his eye.  “It’s why we’re so willing to reach out here, if you’ll excuse the pun.  Costume, starting salary, branding push.  You hit all the marks and then some.”

“Marks?” Papa asked.

Tristan shifted, almost as if he was uncomfortable with their Papa’s participation in the conversation.

“He’s the right age to match the others.  He’s hip, attractive, he has a background in drama, good presentation, and a visually interesting power.  Byron brings a different attitude, good academics, and their interplay is an interesting twist on an established formula.”

Damned with faint praise.

I don’t want to do this.

“I’m excited to do this,” Tristan said.

“We need to consider Byron,” Papa said.  “Don’t jump to making a decision, okay?”

“Of course,” Tristan said.  “I think he’ll be down for it.”

I’m not down for this, but you saying that makes it harder to say no.

I’m still going to say no.

“Let’s hope,” Mr. Vaughn said.  “He can hear me, right?”

“He can,” Tristan said.

“We draw big money.  We pay it forward.  The PRT labs are very good, but every cape under their umbrella needs power testing at one point or another.  It’s in their requirements.”  Mr Vaughn leaned forward.  “Byron, with the contacts we can provide and the money we can pay you, we can give you more help, and you won’t spend years in a queue after getting your requisite, everyday power testing appointment.”

Years.  It was horrible to think about.  A month had been hell.

He hated to admit it, but just the fact that Mr. Vaughn had said his name, addressing him directly, it meant so much.  Only his parents really did it when Tristan was out there. Yet when the tables were turned, he didn’t miss that Tristan was so often addressed directly, with the odd person speaking right past Byron.

But he wanted to say no.

“Come, I’ll show you the facilities,” Mr. Vaughn said.

They all stood.  Mr. Vaughn walked around his glass desk, opening the door to let them out into the main offices of Reach.

“We should let Byron out,” their papa said.  “He needs a say.”

“After?  Please?” Tristan asked.  “He had all yesterday. I’ve barely had today, and I spent a lot of it in the car.  I’m so restless.”

Byron was left to wonder why he had such a horrible sinking feeling at that.

“Okay,” their papa said.  “But he gets a say when we’re done the tour, after you’ve stretched.”

Tristan’s face stretched in a smile that didn’t match Byron’s feelings in the slightest.  This was the hell.  If there were bars to this cell, Byron might have grabbed them, shaken them, screamed.

But there were no bars.  To react like that and be in that state when he emerged was something that pushed others away, which made it impossible to enjoy the time spent with family.  It made them fret, worry.

Danger, management, identity, school, holiday schedule.  He held onto his list of questions.

“Would I be staying here?” Tristan asked.

“Reach travels.  You’d have nice accommodations if you were out of town.  We accommodate your parents if they wish to chaperone.”

“Oh man,” Tristan said.  “I love you, Papi, but-”

“That might be a problem,” their papa said.  “I have work.”

Byron was aware of Tristan’s faint exhalation of relief.  He’s thinking like this is a done deal.

“And your wife?”

“We work in the same office.”

“Ah, I envy you,” Mr. Vaughn said.  “I’m sure we could work something out if we needed to.  Come, let’s walk. Tristan, you should wear this mask, temporary, to protect your identity.”

Tristan pulled the mask back on.

“And Mr. Vera?”

“I might as well.  I feel ridiculous.”

The walls of the entire building were decorated with a stylization of Reach’s logo, a symbol that was clearly meant to strike a middle ground between a flame, the loose silhouette of an outstretched hand, if that hand were drawn with a very limited set of swooping lines, and an arrow.  The symbol stretched diagonally across walls, separating the bold color on the bottom half from the white on the top. Tiles on the floors had whatever colors were on the walls at one edge, dissolving into less and less squares. It was the kind of thing that could have been tacky, but so much of the rest of the building was high quality, with high resolution images on framed posters, benches, railings, and other things in striking designs.  It looked more like an art museum than an institution.

They’d been to the institution, the PRT offices.  Past the lobby, there hadn’t been a lot of polish.  The room where the staff worked on computers had smelled like stale coffee and printer ink.

But Byron was wary of things that presented a polished facade to hide their flaws. He knew well enough because he was inside a living embodiment of it right this moment.

Mr. Vaughn waved to a musclebound man who was standing beside a computer in a gym.  The man waved back.

“Gym.  Free to use.  We have one staff member who is there at all times, professional trainer, and between nine and four there’s a second person in the building who can turn up in five minutes, if the man on call is busy with someone else.  You look like someone who hits the gym.”

“I am.”

“What sports are you into?”

“Right now it’s rock climbing, mostly.  Some snowboarding, some surfing, but that’s only doable if we’re in the right place at the right times.  I was into football in grade seven, but I got injured, had to sit out for the season, and lost interest.”

“A lot of injuries,” papa said.  “Too dangerous.”

Byron felt Tristan’s eyes move over papa’s face.  No doubt worrying as Byron was hoping.

Ask.  Danger!  What’s the risk?

But their Papa was silent.

“There’s a pool as well, if you surf, you probably swim.  It’s a very, very nice pool.  Some of the members of Reach will use it as a place to take selfies or, ah, ‘selfless’ shots.”

“Selfless?” papa asked.

“Another kind of selfie, papa, don’t worry about it,” Tristan said.

“For heroes,” Mr. Vaughn explained.  “They will have social media. The face is hidden, shots are taken from behind, or below the shoulders only.  It teases the fans, gets them thinking about the person beneath the costume. The boys and girls will take these ‘selfless’ photos by the pool, or while standing on rooftops.”

“I’m not sure I like any part of that,” papa said.

“I’m sure you raised Tristan and Byron to be smart about these things.”

Papa laughed, abrupt, which looked like it surprised Mr. Vaughn.  He looked at Tristan. “I think you might have misjudged my son.”


“He is very smart, but not about that sort of thing.”

Byron felt Tristan turn his head to look at Mr. Vaughn, felt the heat in the face, the clench of a hand that indicated emotion more than anything in his voice betrayed it.  “I think what my dad is saying is that if it sells, I’ll probably end up doing it. But if it’s about modesty or… whatever other issues my dad has with it, yeah, it’s probably not me.”

“Why would you want to get people to think about who you are under the mask?  Keep it secret, Tristan,” Papa said.

“I will, I’ll just… tease.  Misdirect.”

“All posts to social media are held for a short period of time and run past our staff,” Mr. Vaughn said.  “Each will be scrutinized to make sure there is no danger, nothing that can be misinterpreted.”

“See?” Tristan asked.

“I do see.  I see so much of my younger self in you,” papa said, one hand cupping Tristan’s chin, shaking it.  “And this is why I’m worried.”

The longer this goes like this without me getting a say, the more likely I am to say no.  Not that I’m sure it’ll matter.

Danger, management, identity, school, holiday schedule.

“I love you too, papa,” Tristan said, reaching up no to push the hand away, but to fix the mask.  But as they rounded a corner, he pulled back a little, breaking the contact.

“The cafeteria,” Mr. Vaughn said.  “And… the young members of Reach.”

Byron was forced to look where Tristan looked.  He’d seen the images in passing, enough to know the names.

A helmet that consisted of a face-shaped plate at the front with chiseled features, hinges at the brow, the back and sides of the helmet fashioned to look like rolling locks of hair- all ivory and silver.  The bodysuit of the costume wasn’t skintight, but a material thick enough to hold the armor plates that were worked in rigid. the armor’s edges and the pattern along the suit’s chest and down the legs echoed the rolling waves of hair.

The white of the costume’s face was supposed to draw the eye, but Tristan’s eyes touched on the face, then shoulders, arms, chest, down the side of the body, as if noting silhouette, then pausing for a tenth of a second on the package between the guy’s legs before moving and across to the person just behind the teenage guy.

Figurehead, Byron thought, with a bit of exasperation.  The glances were something he’d had to get used to.

Tribute was taller, and again, he had a high quality costume, sleek and form-fitting down the body.  A decoration extended up from a disc at the chest, like a raised collar, but gold, and with nothing joining it to the shoulder.  More gold and more disc motifs decorated belt, mask, gloves, and formed a pattern on the inside of the fabric that draped down from the belt to the ankles.  The skin that was visible was a cool black. Byron would have thought Tristan would pay more attention to the guy, given his apparent fitness, height, but no- Tristan’s gaze paused for that tenth of a fraction on Figurehead’s mask as it cut across again, to the man standing to the other side of Figurehead.

Then there was Boundless, all angles, athletic, muscular, but in a lanky way, like a basketball player.  His mask and the pattern on his bodysuit weren’t shaped like anything, but instead had a pattern that started from a ridge at the center of face or chest and swept back in sweeping lines.

Another person Byron couldn’t identify, hadn’t seen in marketing.  Newer, maybe.  Lean, skinny, and fidgety.  Her mask was like a cat’s, with ears that were worked into the side, sweeping back.  Chain links ran down the black-bodysuit-covered neck and draped over the shoulders and over a flat chest.  More chain decoration extended down the hands to oversized claw-gauntlets, which dangled from the elbow, leaving her hands free.

Steamwheel was a girl tinker with a mask that was hard metal, starting at two rectangular frames and extending down, leaving the forehead uncovered and mousy, greasy brown hair free.  Short, flat-chested, maybe young.  In full costume she was a titan of metal with a dramatic wheel mounted on it.

Then, more eye catching, there was a another girl, with a veritable mane of silver hair, a bodysuit that clung to the body, styled in a complex weave of jet black and silver locks that made it look like her hair was worked into her costume- the harlequin-ish design had one arm covered in the metal molded to look like hair, with blades extending up and sweeping back from the rigid structure.  Tristan didn’t look, but Byron knew from pictures that she had a very generous chest. Coiffure.

And, beside Coiffure, the last member of the junior team.  Raven-haired, wearing a dress-ish costume that she wouldn’t have gotten away with in the Wards, her legs long and slender.  Like the others, fine molded metal was persistent across the design, and hers had crescent moons and discs with crescents worked into it, extending up from shoulders and from her mask in a diadem or crown style.  She could have played a princess in a movie.

Her mask left more of her face exposed, enough that Byron could see her lips, painted with lipstick. For whatever reason, Tristan noticed it, focused on it, and Byron was treated to a view of the slight smile.

When he had been looking at photos of the team, he hadn’t even paid much attention to her.  Seeing that small smile? He was paying attention.

“So this is the guy we heard about,” Figurehead said.

“Is he joining?” Tribute asked.

“I’m tempted,” Tristan said.

“Discussion is pending,” Papa said, firmly.  “And I have questions about things like school, other things I’m apparently supposed to email about.”

The adults left.

Let me out.  I should meet them too.

Tristan approached the group, all smiles, shaking hands.  There was a brief demonstration of his power.  The newer member was introduced as Furcate.

Let me out.

It was everything that had happened with his prior friend groups.  Tristan bullying his way into things, elbowing Byron out.  If Byron knew them first, Tristan knocked him down a peg on his way into the group dynamic.  If Tristan knew them first, Byron never had a shot.

I’m going to say no, you asshole.  I’m going to veto.  I’ll ruin this any way I can, if you fucking don’t give me a chance to get to know these people.

“We’re going to have to adjust tactics, with Boundless leaving in a few weeks.  Less mobility on the team, more stand-in-place-and-mess-them-up types,” Figurehead said.

“I’m pretty mobile,” Tristan said.  “You get in fights then?”

“We’re supposed to be careful about how we go about it,” Coiffure said.  Then she winked.  “We have a lot of ‘accidental’ run-ins with villains and crooks.”


“If you want food, by the way, we’re totally stocked.  There’s a microwave too,” Figurehead said.

“Oh man, thanks,” Tristan said.  “I’m ravenous.  It was a long car trip, and we grabbed gas station food.”

“Figured,” Figurehead said.  “I’m going to grab something too.”

Byron’s anger mixed with disgust.  Eating was a singularly unpleasant activity when one had zero control over their body.  The mastication of food, the involuntary nature of the movements, the acute awareness of how the mouth felt different, the food dissolving into slurry.  Byron’s tastes were slightly different from Tristan’s, too.

The entire team ducked into the cafeteria.  Tristan got a sandwich loaded with cheeses and deli meats, and had Tribute show him how to use the panini press to heat it up.

With every chew, Byron felt his patience tested.  He couldn’t see what he wanted to look at, couldn’t ask what he wanted to ask, couldn’t rejoin or add an anecdote as he saw the moment, watched it pass, and left it well behind.

He would get his turn, right?  He’d be able to meet these guys for more than a few moments?

He talked about sports.  He talked about movies, and shows, and the team talked about heroics.

“It’s a bit of a head trip, when you get your head around how the corporate side of it works,” Figurehead explained.  “You hear about the ridiculous money they bring in for having us show up for a company’s event or putting on a show at a convention, right?  Six figures, and we only get six thousand each?  That’s what took me the longest to adjust to.”

“I don’t really care about the money,” Furcate said.

“That’s because you’re weird,” Moonsong said.


“We’re a corporate team, hon.”

“Reach had the best costume design,” Furcate said.

“That was the deciding factor, huh?” Coiffure asked.  When Furcate nodded, Coiffure shrugged, before using one hand to flick her hair over one shoulder, to better expose the silvery waves and whorls along the shoulder.  “Well, it’s not like you’re wrong.”

Tristan extended a fist toward Furcate, “I think you and I are going to get along.”

Furcate hesitated, then slipped one hand into the oversized cat’s-paw gauntlet, before tapping it against Tristan’s hand.  “I’m going to get something else.”

“Eat something that isn’t shitty candy,” Figurehead said.

“I’m going to get seconds,” Tristan said.  “That was the best sandwich I’ve ever had.”

Byron hadn’t even noticed the taste, he’d been stewing over being trapped within, too busy trying not to think about slick tongue rolling through masticated food.

The realization that Tristan planned to take the time to make and eat a whole other sandwich -not even a small one- made him want to scream, to lose his mind.

His thoughts were a storm of fuckery, of vitriol and plots to get his brother back, to maybe finally get through to him and score one win, when Tristan realized that his selfishness in this moment had cost him a chance to sign up with this team.

Meanwhile, oblivious, Tristan made another sandwich, then put it in the press.  He plated it up, grabbed some napkins, got another drink, and then sidled up to Furcate, who was grabbing what looked like lemon drop candies, of the sort grandmothers might buy and keep in a ceramic bowl, collecting dust.

“Do you have a preferred pronoun?” Tristan asked, voice quiet.

“Hm?” Furcate asked.  Her entire posture was immediately more defensive.

“Sorry if I’m totally wrong.  I was listening to see what they said, but they dodged around it.”

“They,” Furcate said, guarded.  They looked over at the group, then added, “I’m saving the ‘she’ for when I feel done.”

“You know if I have a shot with any of the guys on the team?  Figurehead?”

The tension in Furcate’s neck and shoulders relaxed.  The response was a head shake.


Tristan returned to the table.

“Welcome back,” Coiffure greeted him.

Tristan held up his sandwich, like he was toasting the group.  Byron knew that if he tried to do the same, it wouldn’t work, somehow.

“I was remarking to the others, you look very interesting to my power,” Figurehead.

“Ah,” Tristan said.  He sighed a little, almost resigned.

“Is there a story?  Does the boss know?”

“The boss knows.  I’m kind of a special case.  Literally, I think there’s a label for it.”

“Fifty-three?” Coiffure asked.  “Is it only obvious if we get your clothes off?”

“Ha ha,” Tristan said.  He winked at her.  “Hate to disappoint.  No.  Case seventy.”

“I don’t know that one,” Figurehead said.

“I share a body with my brother.  He would be joining the team too.”

“Yeah?  Shouldn’t we meet him then?” Moonsong asked.  “Come on out, brother.  Don’t be shy.”

“I have to let him out, just like he has to let me out.”

“Then what the fuck is wrong with you?” Moonsong asked.  She moved her hands dramatically.  “Let us meet him already.”

Byron was so stunned by that line that he had trouble processing it.  He felt only confusion as Tristan held up his sandwich, pronounced, “Goodbye sandwich, I’ll miss eating you,” with dramatic flair, and then stood from the table.

Tristan took off his mask, turned his back to the group, and tossed it up, before releasing Byron.  Byron only barely managed to catch the mask.

He put the mask against his face, holding it there as he turned around, still putting the cord back behind his head.

He saw Moonsong smile, red lipstick, almost pleased with herself, or pleased with him, and he felt his heart skip a beat.

He realized he’d been looking at her, just her, in a way that would have been very obvious.  He dropped his eyes.  He looked at the others.

“So.  You interested?” Tribute asked.

The list of questions he’d meant to ask had already flown from his mind.  With them went his reservations about joining the team, his anger, and the intent to stick it to Tristan.

“I think I might be,” he decided.

The team was dusty, battered, and bruised, with a few cuts here and there.  Nice costumes were damaged, and where they weren’t damaged, they were soaked through with sweat.

Tristan walked them through the door, limping slightly.  Steamwheel clunked off in the direction of the garage.

Reach’s staff was waiting for them.

“Injuries?” Mr. Vaughn asked.

“Nothing serious,” Figurehead said.

“Event report?” Mr. Vaughn asked.  “It’s late, so make it a short one.”

“Do you want to hear how the fight went or how the media’s going to report on it?” Coiffure asked, one eyebrow arched.

“Time spent asking that question could be spent telling me both.  Then you can give your costumes to the design team for repair and go to bed.  It’s been a heck of a week, let’s rest when we can.”

“We did okay,” Tristan said.  “Scritch, Scratch, Snicker and Snack all got away.  We got one of the other powered ones, Hell’s Belle, and the civilians didn’t get a scratch on them, despite her attempts to pull some hostage stuff.  I think the cameras will be kind, when they report the news in the morning.  Extra kind if they get surveillance video from inside the building, because that hostage stuff was some of the best caping I’ve seen.”

He put out a hand.  Furcate tapped their cat’s paw to his gauntlet.  He moved his hand in Coiffure’s direction, and she did much the same.

“Anyone disagree with the assessment?” Mr. Vaughn asked.

There were head shakes here and there.

“Good.  We’ll see if you’re right about the media tomorrow, Capricorn.”

“I always am.”

“You’re getting cocky.”


“So far.  Not that I don’t like that.  Mr. Bigs loves you for it.  Anything else?  Questions, any resources you need to request?  If there are disputes about the team or issues you can’t bring up here, you bring them to me or the appropriate staff member.”

With a sweep of the hand, Mr. Vaughn indicated the other staff- trainers, spin, social media, design, and accounts.

“Tristan’s taking over as leader,” Figurehead said.  “Someone’s going to mention that.  I’m not bothered, though.”

“He’s the least experienced member here,” Mr. Vaughn said.

“He’s good.  Really, I don’t mind.”

“I hate to admit it, but he’s good,” Moonsong said.

“Why do you hate to admit it?” Tristan asked her.

“Enough,” Mr. Vaughn said.  “Get costumes to design as soon as you’re back in civvies, then rest, do your things.  It’s been a tough few weeks.”

The team began to break away.  Tristan hung back to unstrap his armor, where a blade had cut through pauldron and the entire length of the arm.  He handed it the guys from design.

“How’s the power?” Mr. Vaughn asked.  The others had left.

“Metal and rock,” Tristan said.  “More rock than before.”

“I want to set you up for another appointment with the lab.  We should stay on top of this.”

“Not going to complain,” Tristan said.

“It’s working okay for you?  Things aren’t harder.”

“Well, they’re harder,” Tristan said.  “Ha ha.”

Mr. Vaughn smiled.  “Puns don’t do well in front of press, online, or anything of our other marketing battlefields.  Don’t you dare do that to the team.”

“I won’t,” Tristan said.  He smiled behind his helmet.  “It’s fine.  Easier to be cautious, avoid hurting people.”

“And Byron?”

Tristan gave his armor a once-over, then passed over control.

Byron was even more ragged and battle-damaged.  His costume was trashed.  Funny how that worked.

“Almost entirely water now,” Byron said.

“And putting aside the power things… how are you?”

Byron had no idea how to answer the question.  “I’m- things are better than they were.  The schedule helps.”

It was only after the words had left his mouth that he realized the lie.  Did Tristan sense the lie, feeling the slight changes in body language?

No.  For Tristan to notice, Tristan would have to pay attention to him.

“You know where my office is,” Mr. Vaughn said.

Byron nodded.

He made his way to the showers.  He took off his costume, rinsed off, and experimented with his power.  Sprays of water.  When he contrived to get some in his mouth without spraying himself, it didn’t have that chemical smell or taste to it, like the suffocation gas had.

Rather than give the damaged pieces, he decided the entire costume needed attention, and deposited the whole suit of scale mail with the design guys.  They would be pulling an all-nighter.

On his way back to the dorm rooms, he saw and waved at Figurehead.  Then it was back to his room.

He couldn’t sleep.  More accurately, he couldn’t bring himself to lie down in the bed, couldn’t bring himself to give up the time he would spend unconscious.  It wasn’t supposed to count, but-

Suffocation gas, the thought crossed his mind.  It was hard to breathe, to swallow.  It had been a heck of a week, as Mr. Vaughn had said.  Something practically every day, whether it was fights or showing up at an event for law enforcement.  As fun as the cape stuff could be, with the banter and the team interplay, the emotional highs and lows had their cost.

And he had so very little available to spend.

He made his way to the desk he shared with Tristan.  Homework.

He felt like if someone said one mean word to him, he could burst into tears.  Homework felt just masochistic enough to punish himself for not going to bed.  Just enough to not break down into sobs.

At least with homework, he could tell himself that the time he spent in the here and now was time that he was freeing up later.

While the questions were easy and mindless, it was a good distraction.  But they weren’t all easy.  There was a paper he needed to write, and he was supposed to frame a thesis.

Try as he might, he couldn’t think to put the thoughts into action.

Pen tapped.

Frustration welled.

Pen jabbed.  Stabbed his thigh.  The pain was a shock, like a wake up call.

There’s something wrong with my brother, like the piece that can get him to compromise and understand just isn’t there.  And I’m stuck with him.

The pen jabbed again, near the same spot.

There’s something wrong with me.  I felt like I was going to lose my mind from all of this months ago.  Things haven’t gotten better.

In a fit, like he wasn’t in control of his own body, he brought the pen down ten times in half that many seconds.

He released his hand.  The pen fell to the floor.  Rather than pick it up, he kicked it.

He jumped, hearing a knock at the door.  He hadn’t shut it.

It was Kay.  Furcate.  They wore pyjama bottoms and a t-shirt, hair tousled like they’d just woken up, rather than like they were just about to go to sleep.

Byron’s hand pressed over the spot where blood was seeping into his pyjama shorts.  “Something up?”

“Can I come in?”

“I’m not really up to company right now,” he said.  “Is it important?”

Kay nodded.

“Okay,” Byron said.  He swallowed hard, then nodded.

Kay approached, until they stood behind him.  “Open.”

“Wha-” Byron started.  A hard object was pressed between his teeth.

One of Kay’s old lady lemon candies, that tasted like menthol, citrus, and ass.  Kay’s favorite.

Just as he was coming around to the idea that this too could be masochistic, he felt Kay’s arms around his shoulders.  A hug from behind, Kay’s face smushed against the side of his head.

His fingers gripped the fabric of his shorts, tight around the oblong spot of blood.

They gave him a pat on the shoulder as they broke from the hug.

“Good work tonight,” Furcate said.

Then they were gone.

He didn’t let go of fabric, find another pen, or even think about much as he sat there, trying to summon up the strength to- to what?  Go to sleep?


His feelings leapt into another paradigm, where they shuffled around in confusion.  He twisted around to look.

Brianna, at his bedroom door.  She was wearing clothes, not nightwear.

“Want to get some fresh air?” she asked.

He nodded.  “I need to change.”

“I’ll be waiting by the front door, then.”

She shut his door as she left.

He released the fabric that he’d clutched in his hand for long enough that the blood had stuck to his palm.  A bandage covered it, and from there, he was quick to get his clothes on, fixing his hair with his fingers.

Fresh air was… very much what he needed, when being where he was felt so suffocating.

Jacket on, boots on, and… yeah.

They left through the front door, and then they walked.  It was late enough that there could be trouble, a good hour for muggers.  Silly to think about, when they were as capable as they were.

“Kay sent you?” he asked.


“They stopped in for a minute.”

“I think Furcate checked on everyone.”


At the center of the little park was a fountain, and around the fountain were stairs in concentric circles.  Brianna sat on one stair.  He sat down on the step her feet rested on, his shoulder near her knees.

She slipped down one step, so she sat down beside him.

“I want to talk to you, not the back of your head.”

He smiled.  “Alright.”

“Thank you for agreeing to come for this walk.  If you’re half as tired as I am, you must be dead on your feet.”

“Too tired to sleep.”

“Yes,” she said.  She smiled, red lipstick parting to show white teeth with the bar of a retainer across them.  He felt that emotional jumble again.  “Yes, exactly.”

“I can’t promise I’ll be a very good conversation partner.”

“No,” she said.  “Me either, probably.  When I joined the team, Mr. Vaughn was on about how I was the daughter of a politician, I should be very good at the speech and the presentation-”

“You are.”

“Yes, but there’s pressure!  And even now, there’s pressure, you know.  I invited you and now I’m obligated to not make you regret it.”

“We could sit here for two hours, keeping each other company without saying a word, and I wouldn’t mind,” he said.

Words he immediately regretted.  Words he wouldn’t have said if he weren’t as tired, as emotionally raw.

“Good to know.”

Her shoulder touched his as she leaned a little closer.  She turned to look the other direction, and her hair brushed his ear.

The entirety of his focus, every inch of his being, was consumed in that oval-sized point of contact, where her shoulder shared its warmth with his.  His head swam with the smell of her shampoo.  Something like tea, but refreshing.

“I’m going to suck and say something that might be really lame,” she said.  “Then you’ll think less of me.”

“I don’t think that’s possible.”

“I think you’re really strong.”

He shook his head.

“Really.  You’re managing despite a situation that would drive anyone crazy.”

“I’m not managing,” he said.

“Aren’t you?” she asked.

He shook his head.

“Is there anything I can do?”

“This,” he said.  “This is nice.”

She reached out.  Her fingers worked their way between his.  She clasped his hand.  “Like this?”


“Do you want to talk about it?”

“I wouldn’t even know how.  I’m not sure what I’d say.”

“I can’t imagine,” she said.  Her voice was a whisper and it sent tingles through to the core of his body.  Like the stab of the pen, it sent a shock through his body, as sure as anything.  It reminded him that a girl this pretty and this amazing was sitting with him, so close that she could whisper and he could hear in that nuanced a way.

“I’m glad you can’t.  It sucks.”

“That it’s your brother, that can’t make it any easier.”

He allowed himself a slight laugh.  “Oh man, you have no idea.”

“I have some idea,” she said.  “I’m pretty sure everyone has some idea.”

“Now you’ve lost me,” he said.  He wasn’t sure she had, but he didn’t want to be right about his initial take on the statement.

“He’s doing the whole gay thing, because he likes to be bold and out there and-”

“No, Brianna.”

“-it’s weird.  It’s creepy!  That’s all I’m saying.”

He pulled his hand away.  He saw the look on her face, like he’d slapped her.

“What’s wrong?” she asked.

“No,” Byron said.  All of the warm, fuzzy emotions, everything that made everything feel okay was now something black and bitter.  Disappointment was the predominant feeling in that stew.  “That’s- I have a hundred issues with Tristan.  But that’s not one.  I think I’m going to go.”

He stood.  Brianna grabbed him by the wrist.

“And he’s listening.  He sees everything I see and hears everything I hear,” Byron added.  It was intended as a way to get her to let go, to break this and- and…

…To go back to that room where shorts stained with blood were lying in the corner.

She didn’t let go.

“Stay,” she said.  “Fuck him.  Just… stay?”

“I can’t betray him like that.”  I have to live with him.

“I worry about you,” she said.

I worry about me too, he thought.

“…And I really enjoy your company,” she added.  “I would like to sit for those two hours in silence.  If- maybe we could?  And that way there won’t be problems?”

Byron turned his thoughts over in his head.  He was so tired, so heartbroken.

“The only way…” he trailed off.


“Give Tristan a shot.  Try to be open minded about his being gay.  Okay?”

“It matters to you?”

“It- I think really highly of you, Brianna.  You’re good at so many things, you’re smart, you’re stylish, you kick thorough ass.  But this makes me think less of you.”

He could see the hurt on her expression.  He was stunned, bewildered that she cared enough that she could even feel hurt at all.

She tugged on his arm, as if to get him to sit again.

“Yes?” he asked.

“If it matters to you.  Yes.”

He allowed himself to be coaxed to a sitting position.  She took his hand like she had before.  She leaned into him more than she had before.

“Tell me about your family,” she said.  “Tell me everything about you.”

Everything is a lot.  That would take a very, very long time,” he said.

“Perfect,” she whispered.

They talked until the sun was rising.

“I thought for the first time that I was legit going to lose my mind!” Tristan’s voice was raised.  He paced.  “Holy fuck.  Holy fuck!”

To experience Tristan like this was to be in a plane with an erratic pilot.  There was no way to wrest control, to change the course, to pull up from a nosedive.  There was only remaining in the seat, helpless.

“Like the most boring movie in the world!” Tristan said.  “Nothing happening for hours!  You can’t- no!

Had Byron been possessed of blood, that would have been a moment that his blood had run cold.  Had he had eyes, they would be widening.

A moment of realization.

In the wake of last night, spent with Brianna, the issue wasn’t that Brianna had been homophobic.  Conversely, the fact that Byron had stood up for Tristan wasn’t even a point of data in this moment.

It wasn’t even the time spent.  Yes, Tristan was mentioning that, but Tristan had gone days with even less happening.  Days of silence, when Byron had been almost nonfunctional in the first weeks, the two of them trying to find their way.  Tristan had given up control at their Papa’s orders.  Byron had spent hours just staring at the television, at repeats, nothing going on.  Then Tristan had retaken control and without comment he’d taken care of the eating, resumed his day with only the periodic freakout.

Tristan had been able to deal with that.  In this, something was different.

For the large share of those hours, Byron and Brianna had talked about themselves.  Byron had done most of the talking.  He’d even tried to keep the topics relevant to Tristan’s interests when he could.

That was the issue, in the end.

For his brother, listening to him was so impossible that it was literally harder than doing nothing at all.

And with that, a realization of just how insurmountable the obstacle was.  The fact that Tristan might never understand, because he wasn’t even willing to begin trying.

That was what would make blood run cold, eyes widen, if Byron were anything more than a watercolor splotch diffusing out into a void, along for the ride.

A half-dozen hours of listening to Byron explain his perspective had Tristan more on edge than Byron had ever seen him.  Byron had ran out the remainder of his day, deferred control a couple of hours early… and Tristan was seemingly unable to get over it.

“I can’t,” Tristan said.

Tristan shucked off his bodysuit, and then donned civilian clothes, with a clear intent to go out.

The plane with its erratic pilot dipped.  Tristan made his way out of the building.

“Capricorn,” Coiffure said, noticing him as she entered.  She was costumed, and she looked like she’d just come off a patrol shift.  “Everything okay?”

“Nothing’s okay.  I’m losing my fucking mind.”

“I can get the boss.”

“No,” Tristan said, stopping in his tracks.  He fidgeted.  “I can’t do this, but- that would spoil things.”

“You’re supposed to run a patrol tonight,” she said.

Byron could feel the emotional impact of that realization rolling over Tristan.

He felt his own, really.  Tristan wasn’t one to lose track of the team stuff.  On the usual day, at a snap of the fingers, Tristan could probably recite the next month’s schedule and then produce an essay on what it meant for team strategy.

A slight exaggeration.

“I’ll cover your shift,” Coiffure said.

“You’re sure?” Tristan asked.

“Yeah,” she said.  “Just… do what you’ve got to do.  We all have our bad days.”

“You’re the best hero I know,” he said.

“You’d better believe it,” she replied.

“A week ago,” he said.  “We crossed paths with some of the other local heroes.  The Wards, the guys from Haven.  There was talk of a thing.”

“A thing,” Coiffure said.  She glanced up at the security camera.  “I’ll text you from my personal phone.  To yours.  You’re not going to be doing anything in a Capricorn sense, right?”

“Right,” Tristan said.

The thing.  Byron connected the thought.

It was late.  Nearly twenty-four hours from their patrol last night.  In crossing paths with various teams, there had been talking about just how intense things had gotten, with teams breaking up, villains banding together, and crime spree following crime spree.  The various kid heroes had talked about needing a break, a chance to cut loose.

And Tristan, it seemed, needed to cut loose.

Tristan had dialed for a ride before he was the rest of the way out of the building, and he moved with the speed and assuredness of someone with an enhanced physique.

The message appeared on his personal phone.  An address, and a note.  Kay was already there.

The ride showed up, and Tristan climbed into the back.  He provided an address on the same street.

“Want to earn some extra cash?” Tristan asked.

“Maybe,” the driver said.

“Grab me a drink from the store,” Tristan said.  “I’ll make it worth it.”

“I dunno,” the driver said.

“I have a lot of cash,” Tristan said.  Leaning forward, he began putting bills down on the console between the driver’s and passenger’s seats.  Byron couldn’t track the amount because Tristan wasn’t bothering to.  “And I really want to get drunk.”

The plane with the erratic pilot spiraled.

Byron felt only the experience of suppressed panic akin to imminent suffocation, bleeding out into the void where his body and physical sensations should be.

No more than ten minutes later, with a paper bag tucked under one arm, Tristan was walking up the driveway of a house.  There were guys sitting on the porch.

“Got someone who can vouch for you?” a heavyset, twenty-something guy asked.

“Kay,” Tristan said.

The guy twisted around in his chair, opening the door and leaning in.  “Kay?”

There was a pause.  Then Kay appeared at the door, wearing skinny jeans and a top so small Byron suspected they’d have trouble breathing.

“Hi,” Kay said.  They held the door open.

Tristan stepped through.  Into his medium.  His world, of throbbing music and crowds of teenagers.  He put the paper bag onto the counter of the lake house’s kitchen, then removed the two bottles- tequila and whiskey.  People cheered, they jostled him, and his face stretched in a smile.

What followed was a roller coaster ride with no stopping or option to get off, a series of scenes that was soon blurred around the edges, as Tristan drank.

Kay danced with abandon, with boys and girls, and when nobody else was dancing, they continued on their own.

There were jokes, conversations, all loud, spoken over music.  Tristan watched but didn’t participate in a drinking game.

Byron saw faces and many were familiar, or on the bounds of familiarity, though the haze of drink didn’t help.  Capes he’d met.  Haven.  Wards.  Young protectorate members.  There were times, though, when he thought he might have pegged one or two, only to see what had to be a sibling or cousin.  This had been planned as a chance for the young capes to get out, to cut loose, but they’d brought enough others along that it was safely anonymous.

“Why do you look familiar?”

It was Tristan’s voice, but Tristan’s addled senses were Byron’s addled senses, and it took him a moment to realize the fact.  Another moment to recognize the look of alarm in the face of the person Tristan was talking to.  It was one person out of twenty or thirty Tristan had talked to in recent hours, and Byron was tuning much of it out, focusing on tolerating all of this.

But this- the look of alarm, it made this significant.

It’s a party of semi-anonymous heroes.  We aren’t supposed to bring up secret identities.

The guy Tristan had addressed was blond, wore glasses, and had a metal stud below his lower lip.  At the ‘v’ of his v-neck t-shirt, the top of a cross was visible.  Tattooed on, not worn.  A skinny nerd type more than anything.  He glanced over his shoulder.

“I think we met briefly, a few months ago,” Tristan said.  “At the… airport?”

“Ahh,” the guy said, before smiling.  “All hands on deck?”

“All hands on deck,” Tristan said.

“Had a, uh, sports injury,” the guy said, leaning in close enough to speak into Tristan’s ear.  “Been a while since I’ve been out there.”

“Understandable,” Tristan spoke in the loud, overly clear voice of someone trying to be heard in a cacophony.  “I didn’t figure you guys for the partying type.”

“Feast and famine.  Some of us are as pure as the driven snow.  The rest of us need regular breaks from those guys and girls.”

“The girls too, huh?” Tristan asked.  “Your girlfriend here?  I don’t want to keep you.”

“No girlfriend,” the guy said.  He paused.  “You can keep me.”

The lingering eye contact made the meaning of that clear.

“You saying that just made my month,” Tristan said.

Subtle, brother.

I can deal with this.  I can deal.

Fair’s fair.

It didn’t help shake that feeling, of being a passenger in an out-of-control plane.


“Nate.  Want to step out?”

Tristan got a refill of his drink.  As a pair, he and Nate stepped outside onto the expansive back porch.  A set of stairs with lockable gates led down to the beach, which was more pine needle than sand.  Byron could have interpreted Tristan turning his attention away from couples who were sitting in the shadows as being polite.  He felt trepidation, all the same.

“You’re… a fan of goats, I’m guessing?” Nate asked.

“Yeah.  Good guess.”

“Figured I had a one in two chance.  I know most of the other faces.”

“And you’re the… you’re Reconciliation.”

“Just Nate is good,” Nate said.  “The names are something you sort of learn to live with, working with those guys.”

“Hey, not judging,” Tristan said.

“You’re judging a little, I’m sure.”

“A little,” Tristan agreed.

“It’s fine.  It’s a cost of doing business.  We have to deal with the crummy names, you have to… I don’t even know.  Wear tight athletic shirts on social media?”

“You’re getting judgmental on me, now?”

“I’m not saying I don’t like it,” Nate said.  “I’m… well acquainted with those pictures.”

Byron was aware of every muscle firing, of the movement of Tristan’s arm, the contact, fingers running through the coarse hair of Nate’s forearm.  “Limiting it to just seeing it seems like it would be a shame.”

Nate was silent.  Tristan’s fingers made their way down to Nate’s hand, which he maneuvered to his stomach.  Nate’s hand ran up across muscle and skin, to collarbone.

Tristan kissed him.  Byron felt the contact, felt lip brush against sandpapery skin where faint stubble was growing back in, find purchase on smoother lip.

He hadn’t wanted to see or experience this side of his brother.  He’d become too intimately acquainted with Tristan, with the physiology- that was unavoidable.  But this?

“Where have you been for the last four months?” Tristan asked.

“I spent a few of them in the hospital, after running into Paris.”

“Paris,” Tristan said.

“He’s a lunatic,” Nate said, his voice a whisper.  “Steer clear, you know?  He’s dangerous, and he came after me.  He came after Long John.  A little less successful then, but I think Long was spooked.  He was making noise about going after Furcate, toward the start of the year.  They ended up benched, waiting for Paris to get bored.”

“Asshole,” Tristan said.  Acting more drunk than before, like he was drunk on Nate, he kissed Nate’s neck.

“He’s kind of the reason I’m taking my time putting the costume back on again.  He could go after you, so be careful, okay?”

“Okay,” Tristan said.  “Thanks for the warning.  I’m sorry you had to deal with that.”

Nate ran his hand up and down Tristan’s upper body, exploring the muscles, finding the lines of the ribs.  This time, he kissed Tristan.  Tristan returned the favor, and pressed in.  The kiss became a makeout session.

Byron floated in the void.

He tried to turn his thoughts away.  To be happy for Tristan.  If he just had to endure this for an hour- if he had to accept that in the future, kissing Brianna might require the same tolerance from Tristan- then he would accept this.

That acceptance was gone the second he felt Tristan’s hands reach down, meeting at the buttons of Nate’s jeans.

Nate’s hands clasped Tristan’s firm.

“No,” Nate murmured, practically saying the words into Tristan’s mouth.

“No?” Tristan answered.

“I’m not that kind of guy.  I’m not even usually this kind of guy.  I’m really happy to meet you-”

“Oh, I can tell.”

“But I’m not… going to do that.  I want a husband, kids, a nice house, dogs.  I want those things and other things, and us doing this on the first night, or the third, or even in the first few months, it feels like it would put all of those things further away.”

Tristan pressed his forehead against Nate’s neck.  “You might not be this kind of guy, but I’m not sure I’m that kind of guy.”

“There aren’t many of us out in this neck of the woods, Tristan.  If you want to take some time, figure it out, I’ll probably still be here.”

Tristan nodded.

Byron could feel the guilt, the disappointment, surging through a body that wasn’t his.  He had little doubt the emotions had absolutely nothing to do with him and his own part in this.

With that, he felt anger.

“You’re two of my best capes,” Mr. Vaughn said.  “It was one mistake.  I don’t want this to be a problem.”

“It was not a mistake,” Byron said.  “No.  If cooler heads hadn’t prevailed, that would have been something much worse than a mistake.”

Mr. Vaughn gestured, fingers extended, moving in a tight circle.

Byron shook his head, pacing across the fancy office with its fancy colored tiles.  He switched, forcing himself to dive into the void, to displace Tristan and give Tristan a body.

“He’s making a big deal out of nothing,” Tristan said.  “He does this.  Gets unreasonable.”

“It doesn’t sound like it’s nothing to him.”

“Not many things are nothing to him.  The difference between him and me is that when I have a feeling, I feel it.  When he has a feeling, he bottles it up.  then the bottle cracks and it fires off steam in some random direction for some random excuse.  He hung out with a girl for hours and hours at a detriment to me.  I kissed someone.”

“What were you doing?  What was your mindset, Tristan?”

“For just a couple of hours, I wanted to get reasonably drunk, and forget… everything.  Forget that I had to worry about my brother, forget the power issue, that I’m living half a life.”

“And did this forgetting extend to forgetting about your brother as you pursued… potential relations with a partner?”


Mr. Vaughn gestured.  Tristan switched.

Byron was free.  “Yes.

“You can’t know what Tristan thinks or plans, Byron.  I think you’re being a little bit unreasonable.”

“I live in his body and look out of his eyes more than a hundred and eighty days a year, Mr. Vaughn.  He doesn’t pay much attention to me, but I pay a ton of attention to him.  Because I have to.”

“We’ve enforced some loose rules that keep a balance between you.  These aren’t sufficient?”

“No!  No, not at all.  I want- I need something more.  That keeps things like last night from happening again.  Until this situation between us is fixed, there need to be restrictions.”

Mr. Vaughn gestured.  Byron stepped into the void once again.

“We talked to you, we established rules,” Tristan said.  “Now he wants to change the rules?  No.  I am not cool with that.”

Another gesture, another change.

“Is there no room for compromise?”

“Compromise?” Byron asked, incredulous.  “I don’t see how you compromise on that.  I thought I was being pretty cool with tolerating the extended touchy-feely make-out session.  What are you thinking the compromise is?”

“I don’t know,” Mr. Vaughn said.  “But my issue is that it seems very unreasonable to expect total abstinence for the indeterminate future.”

“That’s insane.  It’s not that.  It’s that he wants to go have sex or do whatever with randoms, and I have a front row seat.  I have to see it.  I have to feel it.  And that’s- you can’t change that.  You can’t make it not the case.  I know you’re not a stupid man, Mr. Vaughn.  You have to understand this.”

“I…” Mr. Vaughn said.  “Find myself in a difficult position.  On a certain level, I very much agree.  Where I’m leery is that we have had attention from the Youth Guard.  Gender freedom, freedom of expression, sexuality- they are touchy subjects.”

“So is me being subjected to that!”

“Byron,” Mr. Vaughn said, his voice firm.  “My concern is that if I take a stance or take a side, I am opening myself up to issues, no matter what I do.  I suspect you are right, though you may be acting unreasonable or operating on too many assumptions when it comes to your interpretation of your brother’s actions.”


“I don’t know,” Mr. Vaughn said, less of an admission of ignorance and more of a statement of direction.  “Probably not.  You’re probably right.  But I don’t and can’t know.  I don’t want to abandon you either.  If I wash my hands of this and say it’s between the two of you, I think I know the outcome.”

“Oh yeah,” Byron said.  “I think so.”

“Before it comes to that, before I’m forced to make a choice that hurts my relationship with one of you, or before I make a choice based on things I can’t know, I would like for the two of you to talk.  Discuss.  Let me step out of the office.  I’m going to go to the cafeteria, I’m going to grab my dinner, I’ll come back, and if you have found a resolution, my respect for the two of you will redouble.”

“And if we don’t?” Byron asked.

“Then…” Mr. Vaughn said.  “We will discuss.  And we will make hard choices.”

Byron nodded.  Mr. Vaughn stood and left the room.  Byron tried to think of what to say, what argument he could make.  But before that, he had to know.

He had to confirm his suspicions.

He switched to Tristan.

“I can’t believe you brought it to him,” Tristan said.  Switch.

“No choice.  We needed a mediator.”

“He’s the boss, and he’s not stupid.  When you talk about me having a partner, he can connect the dots.”

“You did it first.”

“You’re so demented, By.  Seriously.  I was already having a shitty day, and… God.”

“Is this about Moonsong?”

“I really don’t give two shits about Moonsong, By.”

“Are you sure?  Because you went off rails and made a beeline to that party right after I talked with her.”

Byron switched out.  Tristan had the body, but Tristan didn’t respond.

His finger traced his leg, at the thigh.  “If she makes you happier, then whatever.  She can say whatever she wants about me if she keeps you in one piece.  I just- I really despise the fact that you’re not understanding that this is what I need to keep myself in one piece.”

“Tristan, he doesn’t want to sleep with you.  This isn’t the hill to die on.  Date him.  Kiss him, stick your tongue down his throat if that’s what you want, if you can do it while being aware your brother is there and watching and feeling it all.  If that’s what you want… I’ll deal with it.  But I have to draw the line at anything that goes under the underwear.”

“No,” Tristan said.  One word, curt, and then switching out.


Byron switched.  Tristan switched back a moment later.

“You fucking child,” Byron snarled the words.  “You can’t even justify it.”

He switched.  Tristan switched a second later.

Byron was left standing in the office.  He knew Mr. Vaughn would arrive soon.

“You know he’ll back me.  I think that’s what kills you.  You know you’re wrong, and what you’re wanting here is unjustifiable and unreasonable.”

He switched.

There was a long pause.  Then Tristan switched back, not a word spoken.

“Tristan,” Byron said.  He hesitated.  “Tristan, I have to draw the line here.  Tap out.  Give.  Accept my terms.  Or I’m going to reach out to Nate, and I’m going to tell him everything.  That I was there, that I could see him- I’m pretty sure he didn’t even think that was possible, because he’s an actually decent human being and he would have stopped you well before, if he’d thought of it.  I will tell him, and he will think you are completely and utterly fucked up.  Which I’m pretty sure you are.”

Byron let those words hang.

Then he switched.

Tristan was very quiet and very still.  That motionless silence lasted the remaining three or four minutes before Mr. Vaughn returned.

“Did you make a decision?” mr. Vaughn asked.

Again, a pause.  Long, as if Tristan was having to rewrite his priorities, and find a way to act and form words when everything was reset to zero.

“I agree,” Tristan said, his voice soft.  “Nothing beyond kissing and holding hands.”

“I can’t tell you how much I respect you for coming to this compromise.”

“I just wanted hope,” Tristan said.  “I wanted to be a regular teenager for a couple of hours, and feel like there were silly, stupid, good things over the next horizon.  I didn’t- I wouldn’t have done anything.  I just wanted to be able to pretend it was possible.”

“I thought it might be something like that.  But you got close enough in your pretending that you spooked your brother,” Mr. Vaughn said.  “I admire you for agreeing to this, for his benefit.”

Tristan shook his head.

In a sea of doubt like watercolor bleeding out into endless darkness, Byron counted his first real victory against his brother.

There’d been no fixes.  The power labs had scratched their heads.

For half of his waking hours, portioned out in four hour chunks now, existence still resembled a kind of hell.

For the other half, however, things were good.  Moonsong sat beside him, her hand finding his, giving it a squeeze.  Off in the corner, Coiffure and Furcate were being silly.  Furcate had been weaned off of their shitty lemon candy and had now adopted strawberry flavored drops, still of the grandmother’s candy bowl variety, but without the lingering taste of armpit.  Their arm was in a sling, but they seemed to be doing okay.  Tribute and Figurehead were chatting about team rankings, and they seemed happy enough with where Reach stood.

But mostly it was Moonsong.  Mostly it was finally having an equilibrium.  Rules had been set, reaffirmed.

Figurehead’s phone rang.  The conversation was short.  Figurehead paused to think after hanging up.

The chatter of the team stopped.  Everyone looked, sensing the gravity of the moment.

“We found that asshole Paris,” Figurehead said.  “He went after Furcate once, after Long John twice, and he got Reconciliation from Haven a second time, just a week ago.  This is an all hands on deck thing.”

There was no discussion or thought really needed.  Byron reached out for Moonsong’s hand, and he gave it a squeeze.

This was Tristan’s fight.

He passed control.

Immediately, he was aware that something was wrong.  Aware, and unable to act on the fact.

“Whatever you need,” Moonsong murmured to Tristan.  “We’re with you.”

Tristan was silent, not responding.

When he stood, heads turned.  Something in his energy, in his expression.

When I get mad, I bottle it up, it releases explosively, indiscriminately if the person is a moron like my brother who can’t see how things add up.

But it was different for Tristan.

Tristan… when he got mad, he became unreasonably mad.  There was no upper limit, and the usual boundaries seemed to slip away, much in the way that led to him stabbing at Byron multiple times.  When he set his mind to something, he got it.

And when the two coincided?

Byron had a gut feeling it was worse than a vehicle with a reckless pilot at the helm.  This pilot knew what he was doing and he was on course; he just didn’t give a damn about the damage he’d end up doing.

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197 thoughts on “Gleaming – Interlude 9.x”

    1. “Puns don’t do well in front of press, online, or anything of our other marketing battlefields. Don’t you dare do that to the team.”

      anything -> any?

      1. ‘The entirety of his focus, every inch of his being, was consumed in that oval-sized point of contact’

        – ‘oval’ describes shape, not size.

    2. Wildbow is there some way we can get a premade and collapsible typo thread? Or collapsible comments? Or at least a line down the top level comments so it’s easier to scroll past without having to carefully watch the alignment?

      1. Please yes. I don’t want to complain about people giving the author feedback, especially because typos are obnoxious. But when I try to read the comments and get to the discussion, it can be quite annoying trying to get past an extremely long thread of people not discussing the chapter. It’s a minor thing, but a little frustrating, especially on phones, and doubly especially when someone hijacks one of the earlier comments to make a typo thread in the replies.

        There may not be a solution at all, in which case, not a big deal at all, but it would be nice to see the (admittedly useful) typo thread contained.

        1. There is no solution. This silly comments game has all the inertia. At least it’s entertaining when people sometimes provide “corrections” to things that are already perfectly correct 🙂

    3. hold the armor plates that were worked in rigid. the armor’s edges and the pattern along the suit’s chest and
      -rigid. The

      pausing for a tenth of a second on the package between the guy’s legs before moving and across to the person just behind the teenage guy.
      -moving across

    4. “for a year!” Fueled with adrenaline,”

      “stupidest fucking movie! it was”
      “bottles it up. then the bottle”

      1. The funny thing? While things got worse it just felt to me like the fundimental nature of their relationship didn’t change at *all*. That’s… Kinda horrific.

        1. That’s not entirely true. Byron found one person who didn’t gravitate to Tristan at the first opportunity, and an authority figure who listens to his side of the story.
          …But the important stuff hasn’t changed. Byron can’t stand Tristan, Tristan doesn’t think twice about Byron.

    1. Wow, plantsbeans. Thank you. I needed something to cheer me up after this chapter, and you, Sir and/or Madam, have delivered!

      1. Grammatically, what Wildbow has written is correct in British English. American English… Eh. Could go either way, but it would be very jarring to anyone used to British English to read it.

  1. It’s kind of interesting, given how we normally see things, to see that Tristan is…basically a dick? Like, at his core, just kind of an unreasonable dick.

    1. Worse. He’s the kind of dick who thinks being a dick while being socially outgoing and appealing is how you get ahead in the world, and can’t understand and respect Byron for not wanting and being able to pull off being a dick right back at him.

    2. I’m sorry, WHAT? Tristan did basically nothing wrong, Byron is a psychopath who tried to choke his brother to death for going out to a movie with a girl Byron liked. I find it really hard to blame Tristan for any small acts of assholery he may have committed to his brother when that brother is as deluded and sociopathic as someone who thinks Tristan trying to defend himself while getting CHOKED TO DEATH is being “unreasonably mad.”

      1. No, they’re children. They’re 15 at the oldest, possibly younger. They joined Reach pre-Gold Morning and they’re 17 in the story proper. He also wasn’t choking Tristan over a girl, even though the boys heart leads him astray a lot in this chapter. Byron seemed to be choking Tristan over being a suffocating presence in his life that damaged his relationships with everyone around him, not just his crush, and the inescapibility of having someone show up wherever you are. Basically frustration. That latter bit is actually something I hear a lot about from the few twins I’ve met, and a couple do have stories like this where one just snapped and they beat the crap out of each other. And then they patch things up when they can get away from each other, later in life.

        And even though he is wrong to attack his brother, Byron’s right to be frustrated with him. Tristan is ignoring any attempt at actually understanding or communicating with his brother in any real way, simply dismissing his concerns and hiding behind what Tristan sees as the appropriate social rules. Tristan doesn’t seem to have any real concern for his brother throughout this story, either, but I can’t really blame him all that much given the start. On the other hand, when told that any sex act he undertakes would involve a third, entirely unwilling partner and that means he shouldn’t do it, he fights to do it anyway.

        1. I knew some twins when I was younger. I never knew any other family members that fought that much without someone being arrested for homicide.

          1. I am one of four brothers, we are all now happy well adjusted human beings with lives and careers and we all have a great relationship with each other. I can also honestly say that I have pulled a knife on two of my three brothers. One has hit another with a stone club. I’ve been threatened at the tip of a drawn bow and I’ve been bound so tightly ive passed out. Family squabbles can go to crazy lengths when youre a teenager, doesnt mean youre homicidal.

        2. Conjoined twins in real life do tend to make accomodations for each others’ sex life. Weird, but just a fact of life for them, preferable over mutual lifelong abstinence.

          1. I think you are severely underestimating the fact that in this case, both having a different sexual preference makes everything much worse.

      2. I think it’s pretty unfair to Byron to say he was chocking Tristan to death. “Just… nod, okay? Nod, agree. Or tap out, show me you can tap out.” Tristan had the option to back down and concede to listen to his brother, instead he chose to stab him.

        1. To be fair to Tristan, he might not have been lying when he told his parents that all he could hear was the blood rushing in his ears. Being chocked can be scary as fuck. It is entirely possible that Tristan was panicking and no longer in a state where he could actually parse language, and was thus unaware that he didn’t need to stab Byron.

          Of course, I can also 100% see the Tristan of then hearing, comprehending, and simply being unable to accept defeat. Especially while pissed off.

          I give it a coin toss as to which one happened.

      3. This is a comment written by someone with no empathy.

        You’ve never introduced a friend to another group of friends only to have that person dunk on you because they know you?

      4. Tristan did a hundred thousand very small wrongs.
        And then refused to listen when Byron told him.

        Byron’s not a fucking sociopath. A fucking sociopath woulda killed his brother, AND gotten away with it. Byron cares too much about other people to be a sociopath.

      5. Was this comment written by Tristan himself?. It wasn’t just the going out with the girl, this was the the drop that spilled the glass.

        1. Byron is a completely unreliable narrator, anyone who reacts to percieved social slights with murderous violence is. It more seems like he has serious anxiety and insecurity issues, and then acted on the warped view of his relationships with extreme violence towards his brother. Tristan may be a dick, but nothing he did warranted attempted murder, and the fact that people here are waving it off with “he said Tristan could tap out!” is a little pathetic and shows how many of you are empathizing with Byron because he is an introvert with anxiety and insecurity issues sticking it to the “””bully”””.

          1. By thought he was giving Tryst a way out.
            WHETHER OR NOT THIS WAS TRUE, it’s an indication of his mindset.
            This was not “Ima kill you” — this was “shut the fuck up, Or I make you shut up”

      6. @Viri unbelievably ironic to call Byron a psychopath. Byron is CHOCK FULL of empathy! He is literally not a psychopath. Tristan, on the other hand, is showing lots of concerning psychopathic tendencies…

    3. I think he’s changed since when he was in Reach. We know he went to therapy, and I know there have been times he showed concern over what Byron wants.

      I think he is still a bit of a dick, but he is working on it.

      1. It’s only cause Byron won a few. People like Tristan don’t respect anything but they’ll be more careful if you can make them experience consequences.

        1. That tristan can LET Byron win a few is significant. At the start of this, he doesn’t seem capable of backing off for love or money.

          1. Miles,
            Yeah, he’s choosing not to have sex. That’s a choice, and it’s the choice Byron wants.
            That byron needed to get someone bigger involved… eh. Tristan at the beginning sounds like he’d just have plunged forward, no cares away!

    4. Perhaps. It’s important to remember that we’re viewing him through Byron’s eyes in this chapter. Byron thinks Tristan is a dick, so that’s what he looks like from Byron’s POV.

    5. My read:

      Byron is depressed. Tristan is a narcissist.

      And I can’t think of a worse fate for an introvert than being trapped in the body of a narcissist.

    6. He’s not a dick at core, just unreasonable. Most people don’t think he’s a dick, he’s generally nice to people, but it’s impossible to reason with him. Byron often needed to reason with him, both before and after the Wonder Twin powers, which was a bit of a problem.

    7. I have this feeling that if this had been a Tristan interlude we’d think Byron was the dick. I mean, I understand why Tristan upset him, but at the same time when it comes down to it Byron’s problem was that Tristan treated mutual friends the way Tristan treats friends. So while Tristan should have cut back on teasing Byron, he does have the right to interact freely with Byron’s friends.

      Their interview is the only part where Tristan is fully in the wrong, hence Moonsong immediately calling him on it and the corp team imposing the schedule. But even that’s understandable; what Byron clearly hasn’t internalized is that switching out is at least as hellish for Tristan as it is for him. Like when he was grumpy out Tristan checking out the guys and then he narrates the relative hotness and bust size of the girls. Fair is fair, man. Tristan wasn’t bored because he hates listening to you; he was bored because he hates listening to heterosexual flirting.

      1. “Their interview is the only part where Tristan is fully in the wrong”

        You mean other than when he is fighting for the right to existentially rape his brother, right? Some would consider that pretty wrong. Even present day Tristan recognizes that he can’t cross that line.

        1. He was fighting for the right to ever have sex with anyone in his entire life. A right he eventually agreed to give up because there was no way to exercise it without essentially raping his brother.

          1. Really, Mr. Vaughn absolutely nails it about both that specific situation and their situation as a whole.

            “Byron,” Mr. Vaughn said, his voice firm. “My concern is that if I take a stance or take a side, I am opening myself up to issues, no matter what I do. I suspect you are right, though you may be acting unreasonable or operating on too many assumptions when it comes to your interpretation of your brother’s actions.”

            That is basically this interlude condensed to one paragraph.

          2. Also the avaliable resolutions in this case were all going to be bad because of their incompatible orientations; there is no overlap in who they want to have sex with so there is no situation where Byron would consent to sex Tristan would want to have. If they’d matched there’d be at least some chance of finding someone and getting the consent of all three and there’d be a clear-cut correct resolution.

  2. Man, yet another chapter with the tension turned up to 11. What a screwed up sibling relationship, and powers just making it worse. As is the norm for Team Breakthrough, I suppose.

    They are both screwed up, but Tristain seems like much more of an asshole than Byron here. I’m hoping we get another interlude from Tristan’s POV which will of course make him seem sympathetic at the same time as exposing Byron’s asshole actions. Then we won’t know who to hate.

    1. The funny thing is, that’d be Tristan doing exactly what Bryon says he does…

      But then again I’m kinda imagining that when Byron is in charge it sounds like the adults talking in Charlie Brown cartoons to Tristan.

      1. Well the actions would be the same, but we’d get to see what Tristan is actually thinking about in the process, rather than just the actions. I think it’s likely that Tristan barely pays any mind to Byron’s wants or needs while doing his thing, but a specific Tristan POV will confirm whether he’s as much of a dick as he seems.

        1. One should, actually, somewhat forgive a kid for saying, “I need a goddamn break” and trying to get one.
          If, in those moments, he’s not thinking of his brother?
          That Was The Point.
          … it’s actually everything ELSE that he does that’s more of the problem.

  3. I’ve always felt like if we got to see Byron’s perspective on things we would come to have a lower opinion of Tristan. And looks like that’s the case. I mean wow. Talk about self-absorbed, he doesn’t even care about his brother’s feelings unless Byron’s threatening to share them with people. That’s just not a healthy relationship for two people sharing a body.

    1. To be fair, this may be “Tristan doesn’t want to leave the group he’s in, and he knows Byron won’t want to either.” Tryst is upset because By is endangering things they’ve both wanted.

    1. Well, either Tristan is going to apply all of that obliviousness to pursuing Goddess’ goals instead of his own…or he’ll break out because Tristan is only really capable of caring about Tristan.

    2. Goddess seemingly defused the Tristan rage bomb when Byron switched back, so with a bit of luck it will stick long enough he won’t do something too dumb.
      Ha ! Can’t believe I typed that with a straight face.

  4. I’d just note that it appears that Byron is coping with the pressure and stress of his situation by engaging in self-harm, an act that Tristan also feels. And neither of them appear to have mentioned this to their superiors…

    1. I wish there could have been a trigger warning for that, tbh. Some things are just hard to experience in first person. I didn’t need that today.

      1. The Wormverse has a standing omni trigger warning. Stuff that’s a trigger for someone happens so often and in so many different ways, plus often in unusual variations that hit people who’d normally be fine with the general category, it’s not really practical to provide individualized trigger warnings.

  5. There are several cases of misgendering Furcate going on here, including immediately after their preferred pronoun is revealed. I’ll list what I can, there may be others:

    * “They,” Furcate said, guarded. _She_ looked over at the group

    * He put out a hand. Furcate tapped _her_ cat’s paw to his gauntlet.

    * Furcate had been weaned off of their shitty lemon candy and had now adopted strawberry flavored drops, still of the grandmother’s candy bowl variety, but without the lingering taste of armpit. _Her_ arm was in a sling, but _she_ seemed to be doing okay.

    1. It’s possible that’s intentional, reflecting that it’s something the PoV character cares about but has to put conscious effort into.

    2. I mean, Furcate p much admitted being a trans woman, and just saving the ‘she’ pronouns for after transitioning. Flashback POV is fucky, maybe this is Byron thinking of Furcate as he got used to thinking of her after the transition, you know?

    3. In 0.2 Moonsong uses ‘they’ for Furcate in the official statement but ‘he’ in the private Reach chat. Tristan is understandably pissed off about that.

      Byron seeing them as female is not the bad sort of misgendering here.

    4. I think the last two the ‘her’s are inteded; earlier Furacate said that the ‘They’ pronoun was temporary, until claiming female pronouns felt right.

      Then we get a little time skip where By goes through a ton of testing and Paris pulls a few more hate crimes, and By starts referring to Furicate as ‘she’ which makes me think that Furicate has made the swap to HerShey pronouns

  6. So, was that a house party for Capes that had… actually I don’t know what to call it.

    Outside the norm considered by society? Furcate (who wants to be referred to as “they”), Reconciliation (who may be closeted) and Capricorn.

    Reconciliation caught my eye. As a catholic, I’m interested in team dynamics with Haven, which as I recall was a catholic (or predominantly catholic). Generally, gay acceptance in Catholic Church is considered the norm and I suspect moreso with Legend leading the charge in openness.

    1. I thought Haven was bible belt? Which would mean not Catholic, and tend to be less accepting of homosexuals.

      1. Yes, Bible Belt mostly, although that doesn’t necessarily mean Not Catholic. However, it seem likely that the majority of the member were some brand of Protestant Christian. Not being Catholic (or a practicing member of any faith) and knowing only lapsed Catholics, I don’t know how those two groups would interact.

  7. This was………really hard to read. Superbly written, but devastating to experience. You managed to really flesh out Byron, whom we never get to see, while also setting up just how BADLY things are about to go in the prison now that Tristan is in Rage mode. I’m guessing that this interlude ends right before the mission where Capricorn murders someone (likely Paris considering the previous mention and Tristan’s state of agitation).

    This spells……bad things for Breakthrough coming up.

  8. Unreliable Narrator, much? We’re seeing Byron’s POV, so the focus is on Tristan’s selfishness, but let’s look at a list of Byron’s failings for balance:

    1. Byron strangled Tristan. After Tristan tried to get him to stop by stabbing him with a pen, Byron responded by strangling him even HARDER. If the trigger hadn’t occurred, Tristan could easily have died.
    2. Byron stabbed himself with a pen. Either he forgot that Tristan could feel it, or he was intentionally causing pain to Tristan. These alternatives are arguably just as bad as what Tristan did with Nate.
    3. Byron broke the schedule in order to spend the entire night talking with Moonsong when he should have been sleeping (I assume that sleep is something that applies to both bodies).
    4. Byron is extremely self absorbed. He might tell himself that he understands Tristan better than Tristan understands him, but it seems to me that the opposite is true. Whenever an issue occurs, Byron jumps almost immediately to recriminations without giving Tristan a proper chance to explain. And when Tristan does try to explain, Byron is too worked up to actually listen.

    1. 1. Byron was TALKING while doing that. He was ready to stop, he ASKED Tristan to stop if only he was willing to acknowledge that he heard what Byron was saying. INSTEAD, TRISTAN STABBED HIM. Like, I do agree that strangulation is not a reasonable response to the situation, but Tristan absolutely had an option of doing something else, too???
      2. Yepp. Fucking self-harm. Notable: nothing’s stopping Tristan from bringing it up with their therapist and setting boundaries, too. But gee, that would require acknowledging that his brother isn’t doing well…
      3. Yep, the sleeping thing was bad. He ceded to Tristan early in recognition of that. But was that Tristan’s problem with the situation? No, it wasn’t. It was Byron taking time and space to himself to TALK to someone that was. Tristan is aggressively informing Byron that he is nauseatingly boring, and just… wow. Whatever reason he had for saying that, it’s not a good one. (Also, Byron not being able to sleep p much folds in with the previous one. Self-harm to a shared body)
      4. It’s entirely possible that Byron is wrong about many of his interpretations of Tristan’s behavior. However, we’ve seen him stand up for Tristan, and for the moment I don’t doubt that Tristan did NOT stand up for him, or he would have noticed 😡

      1. Your later two points are fair, but Jesus Christ if your first two aren’t reaching like he’ll. Firstly, of course Tristan isn’t going to be super rational and reasonable when his twin brother is strangling him! And regardless Tristan being an asshole doesn’t fucking excuse assault at best and potential murder at worse.

        And secondly, Byron stabbing himself is objectively harmful to Tristan, and just because Tristan can take actions to prevent future harm doesn’t negate the harm that already happened.

      2. “Byron was ready to stop.” Dude, what the fuck? How does him being “ready to stop” at him doing it in the first place? He was strangling his fucking twin brother! That’s assault at best and attempted murder at worst! Of course Tristan would use a weapon and fight back! He’s not just gonna calmly sit there like “Hmm, my brother is preventing oxygen from reaching my brain and causing me too die, I should really talk to him about this sort of thing”.

        1. Thay,
          We don’t really know how hard “strangling” is.
          Remember that hoary old study with the knife and the alley?
          If you’re disagreeing with someone, make sure that the knife’s the same length at least!

          Strangling can be “to the point of blackout”, or it can just be “hard enough that you can’t talk”
          (Although, to be fair to BOTH sides, neither one seems to know enough about fighting to be aware of how hard By is being. So, even if By was being “least harmful while strangling” I still fully support Tryst’s fighting back HARD).

        2. Thaydean:

          Liliet did not say that Byron was justified in choking Tristan. In fact, Liliet said that it was NOT a reasonable thing to do.

          But I think it is interesting that Tristan did have a choice. He could have nodded and tapped out like Byron said, instead of going straight to stabbing Byron.

          Again, I am not saying that Byron was at all justified in choking Tristan. But Tristan had a choice there, and I think the choice he made says a lot about him.

          Another interesting thing is that the situation Byron put Tristan in is a physical analogue to the social situation that Tristan put Byron in. Tristan essentially socially assaulted Byron (by joining his social groups and then turning people against Byron) and Tristan said that all Byron has to do to get it to stop was to be more assertive and outgoing. Byron was physically assaulting Tristan and he said that all Tristan had to do to get it to stop was to nod or tap out.

          1. That is incredibly insightful. Tristan basically said “I’m gonna keep acting this way, even if it hurts you, until you compete on my level and make me stop.”

            That is an inherently unreasonable position, and one which basically invites someone to say “Ok. Those are the rules that you have decided. The rules are that we can unilaterally impose awful, hurtful, serious situations on each other and say that that’s just how the game is played. Cool. This is my countermove. If you can physically prevent me from strangling you, then you deserve to breathe.”

            Otherwise…look, the inly way that Byron was ever going to be free to just live his life, absent powers and trigger and case 70 status, is if they separated and lived in different cities, different states. On some weird level, Tristan appears to not be able to stop himself from cannibalising Byron’s life and turning it into a contest.

            Obviously Byron murdering his brother is fucking terrible, and I’m glad that it was prevented (even by triggering in a shitty way)…but it is possible for a person to deserve to live and be happy in the future, but to deserve an ass kicking right now.

          2. What guarantee was there that Byron would stop choking him if he tapped? Why would Tristan believe anything Byron says when he’s in a deranged violent state, if he could hear him at all in a fight or flight mode?
            The self insertion onto Byron in these comments is really sad.

          3. Bigcrawlerguy:

            It seems like you are trolling, but I will respond anyway.

            I did not say that there was a guarantee. I said that Tristan had a choice. He could stab Byron immediately. He could nod and tap. If that did not work, he could still try stabbing.

            Tristan chose to go with stabbing first.

      3. regarding 1:
        Yes, because “agree with me or I kill you” is in any way reasonable or balanced behaviour tha should be defended.

        1. “Learn to play the game my way and *make me* stop, or else I will never stop cannibalising your life and using my charisma to turn your social circles against you, because I turn literally everything I do into a contest to be won.”

          Tristan absolutely did not and does not deserve to be murdered. He absolutely had an ass kicking coming, though.

          1. Lee,
            Again, it’s quite possible that Tryst isn’t being nearly the dick that Byron thinks he is.
            Some people actually heal with humor, ya know? Soothe rough edges.

      4. Lilliet,
        Nah. If Tryst is standing up for Byron, it’s in ways that Byron doesn’t even -realize- are helping.
        Tryst may very well be using humor at a more advanced level to integrate Byron into things.
        … I’m not saying he is, but Byron wouldn’t understand someone teasing him as a good thing if it bit him on the ass, and that goes DOUBLY SO for his brother.

        Byron comes across as a very sensitive kid, and I know from experience, that sometimes teasing can rub them really raw, even if it’s meant kindly enough.

    2. I think you’re giving Tristan too much of a pass. Byron’s drowning and Tristan refuses to compromise. Tristan is dismissive of his plight any time it gets brought up. You’re right that Byron isn’t exactly a paragon of virtue here but his biggest failings seems to stem from desperation rather than selfishness. This doesn’t excuse Byron but by the same token, Byron’s actions don’t excuse Tristan’s failings. They both have a lot of problems and are pretty terrible for each other. I also think you might have missed two important lines though I could be wrong:

      “A half-dozen hours of listening to Byron explain his perspective had Tristan more on edge than Byron had ever seen him. Byron had ran out the remainder of his day, deferred control a couple of hours early… and Tristan was seemingly unable to get over it.”


      “Byron could feel the guilt, the disappointment, surging through a body that wasn’t his. He had little doubt the emotions had absolutely nothing to do with him and his own part in this.”

      The first quote makes me think that Byron gave up control early. He’s coming apart at the seams to the point of self-harm, gets a life-line, and still thinks about his brother enough to try to be accommodating. The second quote may rely on Byron’s interpretation of the events but it, along with other actions by Tristan, suggests that Tristan either lies to himself or just to everyone else when he starts making excuses for his behavior. Basically, Tristan’s explanations may not be trustworthy.

      1. I’ve actually been in the sort of situation with a sibling like these two them just out of sheer frustration that they wouldn’t listen or make any attempt to understand or even pay any attention to my feelings. Not nearly as ugly, no blood was shed, and to be fair my 15 year old brother was twice the size of 10 year old me…

        The thing is the two brothers are just so different. Tristan is agressive, and Byron is passive. One’s an extrovert, the other and introvert. Byron felt just talking, looking at the moon, and being near Moonsong was one of the happiest things in his life. Tristan was utterly bored so quickly, he failed to get all the important things his brother was letting out. His idea of a great time is get wasted at a party, and pick up dudes. Think about how utterly different they are.

        Tristan’s viewpoint is that if Byron wants to keep his friends and not be forced aside Byron should act more like him. Byron’s is that Tristan should stop forcing him aside.

        1. Was Tristan actually bored? Or was he jealous of the intimacy that his brother can connect with, and finds the conversation with moonsong infuriating for different reasons?

          1. If that’s the case, Tristan chewing out his brother was not the healthiest way to express that.

            I mean, Tristan being jealous because he doesn’t have a main squeeze, sure. I can see that and I’m sympathetic. But that’s not what he *says.*

    3. What do you mean by “unreliable narrator”? You mean Byron’s wrong about his interpretation of Tristran’s motives, or that Wildbow’s flat out lying about what happened? I don’t think Wildbow generally does that, and all of Byron’s assumptions seemed pretty reasonable.

      Like, Tristran gets almost strangled to death by his twin brother, and instead of considering any of the things the brother was screaming while strangling him, he brushes it off as him being upset about some girl. It matches what Byron thinks about him being self-centered and incapable of compromise. Sure, it’s possible that Tristran knew exactly why Byron tried to strangle him, and was deliberately lying to his parents to make it look like he was not in the wrong, but that’d just make him a different kind of bastard. What kind of person would DELIBERATELY wind his twin to the point of manslaughter, and what would his end goal be?

      1. Soad,
        In the final scene of this, we get Tryst saying that Byron bottles up emotions. Either that’s something he’s learned while at Reach, in which case, Tryst is really improving… or it’s something he’s always known.

        If the latter, then he might be minimizing Byron’s reasons — but, I mean, get real here, he’s getting his twin in Some Trouble. He’s not getting his Twin Kicked out of the House.

        1. Well Trystan pretty much told Byron in the most “fuck your feelings” way to get on his level and be like him instead. Can you even imagine how horrible it is to have to share a body with someone who’s your polar opposite, then get told you have to be like that person otherwise you deserve the misery you’re feeling?

  9. Wow, Tristan is a total dick to his brother, and I guess this is the kick off to the event that caused the history issues we heard about Capricorn from before Team Breakthrough.

    Also, does the general cape world know that Capricorn is really two different people, or to everyone is it one person with a bunch of powers? What about the general public, I can’t imagine their situation is supposed to be well known.

    1. Cape Seventies are rare. Most capes probably assume- on a casual encounter of Capricorn, meeting them in costume on the field of battle- that they’re a breaker of some sort, with two states- Rock, and Water. That’s actually true, it’s just that one state is Tristan and the other is Byron.

      General public… Would depend on the individual. The ratings, cape names and types of power is openly accessible information, like the different types of car. Most people can probably name some capes and maybe even what type of power they have, but only the true enthusiasts know the top speed of an E-Type Jaguar or how many people can sleep in a Dormobile mobile home. Capricorn’s secret identities are just that, secret. I’d say his Cape Seventy nature is not commonly known, based only on the fact that Victoria didn’t know it, even though she was able to identify Tristan as Capricorn the first time she met him, based solely on casual discussion.

      1. I think they qualify as Changer rather than breaker; both of them have normal bodies where Breaker forms violate physical laws. Though it’s also important to remember that the PRT category system is really about threat characteristics and is not based on inherent properties of Shards. Presumably their shard creates and manipulates matter and can do it in far more diverse ways than they’ve ever done, and the swapping is an application of the dimensional manipulation that underlies most Shards.

        Hell, if she weren’t a Cauldron cape I’d think Sundancer might have a bud of the same Shard. Rather than water in a normal phase or rock or metal in solid phase, she generates and manipulates plasma, and rather than swapping herself with a twin she swaps her surrounds with the corresponding portion of another universe where there is not a ball of plasma.

        1. I’d say Breaker rather than Changer because from what we’ve seen of Breakers is their transformation tends to be rapid, a flip switch from human/not human. Changers tend to be slower, with a gradual alteration of their body rather than a flip from one body to another (there are exceptions; the bloke Damsel fought in Brockton who teleported between mutations comes to mind; even then, that might be technically Breaker).

          Neither Tristan nor Byron’s body breaks physical laws, except when the other twin has control. Tristan’s body is more muscular and stronger than Byron’s, as Tristan works out. When Byron is in control, Tristan’s body stops existing, and Byron’s body starts existing again. What they do is what Night does every time she’s alone in a room with somebody that keeps blinking, except Night’s body heals up when it doesn’t exist. I don’t think that happens to Capricorn.

    2. Their hero identity is shared; even their teamates refer to them as a unit in costume. And their name is an astrological sign and not Gemini aka the Twins. So it seems pretty clear that their public persona is as one person, Striker/Changer. And people who interact with them regularly, frequenr opponents, and Tattletale, probably have a general idea, but prying into who’s behind the mask is Not Done so no one is going to share or openly acknowledge it in costumed interactions. And Dragon probably disappears PHO posts.

      After all, there’s not many pairs of male twins of a given age in a city, and damn few you never see in the same room.

  10. So we learn indirectly about the murder that Tristan committed that estranged him from Reach… In his defense, it’s of a serial hate criminal villain who maimed at least one hero. But the last sentence strongly suggests premeditation…

    1. Didn’t Moonsong say that he put a hit on a TEAMMATE at some point? It’s entirely possible that we’re seeing just a beginning of a bad, bad downward slide.

      1. Given what we learnt a couple of chapters ago, it’s entirely possible that the teammate was his brother…

        1. Not really? In 0.2 when Byron tells Moonsong about the deal with Barcode (even if in a roundabout way), she APPROVES. But then again, she has to live with the fact that the boy she likes is permanently attached to the boy she’d gladly kill if she could get away with it…

      2. I’m pretty sure Moonsong is in some way overstating matters. Ordering a hit on a teammate is the sort of thing not even Tristan is likely to have been able to talk his way out of unless there was some massively extenuating circumstance; the arrangement at present involves unique factors and while Victoria is likely to repeat her post-Dinner course of action just as soon as Goddess has no immediate need for her services “ordering a hit on a teamate” isn’t really how people would summarize it.

        I’d expect some sort of defection or corrupt dealing, such that most people would describe it as extrajudicial execution; the sort of thing where he goes to prison until Golden Morning but not the sort of thing where he’s a pariah even post-amnesty.

    2. “But the last sentence strongly suggests premeditation…”

      Not like Tristan doesn’t have plenty of time to just think…

  11. So we’re not getting Tristan’s POV on this, which is entirely reasonable since he’s been the dominant force on the team >_>

    I figure he really did convince himself he wasn’t going to go any further when he said that to Nate…

    1. Amy can’t generate tissue out of nothing. Do you want two mini-twins ?
      Anyway, Amy would desperatly need Riley’s help in this procedure. She could tinker-clone enough to feed Amy’s fleshcrafting, plus she’d help with duplicating the shard and activating their coronas properly (Amy’s one try at it ended up a bit… unmanageable, unlike Riley’s successes).
      And also she’d keep Amy stable enough to pull through without getting sidetracked and adding anything extra.

      1. Bonesaw keeping Amy stable enough to pull through? Alright, pack it in. Time to accept the world is doomed.

        But Amy and Riley might be able to fix it. Or they could make it worse. If she clone then both you might have two clones with only the memories the shard hands out, and the originals in the same situation. Or the shard might try to combine them all. Or it might work perfectly.

        1. Or they get split in two according to plan, but their powers change again and instead of creating stone and water, they create permanent clones of the other one. They become known forevermore as Capriclone.

  12. I think the message here is that Tristan simply cannot deal with putting the interests and benefits of others before his own. He’d rather stab Byron than concede, run when he cannot deal and hide when cornered about it. If Case 70 dimensional fuckery resets Bianca’s control, Tristan will be murderous since her power made him put her interests above his own (what he hates above all else, since everything should be about himself), he’d walk right up to her with a sharp rock and STAB.

    1. >He’d rather stab Byron than concede

      Oh come on. He was being STRANGLED, and he seems like the type of person to come down solidly on ‘fight’ in fight-or-flight mode.

      The rest I completely agree with though.

      1. Eh. He’d get a pass for stabbing if he hadn’t clearly driven Byron to the point of snapping in the first place.

        Really the only thing you need to judge who’s at fault here, is Tristan telling Byron that all his problems would go away if only he’d change himself and be more like Tristan.

        1. Gaslighting doesn’t cancel out victim-blaming, IMO.

          I’d offer to agree to disagree, but looking at some of the other comments I worry that someone might threaten to choke a bitch 😛

          1. I wasn’t really talking gaslighting. I’m saying that telling a person to just change their essential nature will fix their issues with you shows clear intolerance and lack of empathy. It’s a very common problem extroverts have when trying to deal with introverts. They simply refuse to see the introvert’s perspective, and assume that introversion is a problem which needs to be fixed.

            Tristan’s statement there… To me it indicates that there is almost certainly a long, long history–probably a lifelong history–of him ignoring Byron’s needs because they’re different from his, and having no tolerance for the differences in their characters.

            That’s emotional abuse. And while people tend to mentally shelve emotional and mental abuse as less severe than physical or sexual forms of abuse, the actual fact is that emotional abuse is the most damaging form of abuse, and affects how a person develops, often creates issues which are impossible to ever fully eliminate.

            Which is to say… Byron choking Tristan out here is wrong, but it’s a situation Tristan created. There is no such thing as a person who cannot be pushed to violence or even murder. And there’s a point beyond which a person who’s been systematically emotionally abused will break, and at that point there are multiple possible results of that breakage, but one of them is a violent lashing out to attempt to eliminate their abusers, particularly if they are unable to actually flee the situation, as is inherently the case for a minor being abused by a family member.

            When this occurs… Yes, the “victim” of the assault or even murder is very much to blame for the resulting physical damage to their self.

            No matter how strong willed you may believe you are as an individual, *everyone* has a breaking point beyond which you are unable to cope, and beyond that point you are no longer in control of your actions. *Anyone* can be driven to violence or murder with the right stresses. The types of stresses necessary and the duration to which they can be withstood differ from person to person, but there is no one who could not be made into a murderer.

      2. These things aren’t comparable. Byron immediately starts worrying and asking if he’s okay when it seems like maybe he had gone too far with the strangling (which unless I misread I thought of as a “arm around the neck” thing that isn’t exactly uncommon in brawls like that) the moment it seemed like it might have been too much, and then Tristan immediately starts literally stabbing him.

        I could sorta see coming away with a “both are wrong in different ways” impression if someone only read the first part of this chapter, but the later parts reveal that Tristan absolutely doesn’t give a shit about what his brother thinks and that everything Byron said in the first part was 100% true.

  13. It would be really interesting to see a 9.y that’s the exact same events, but from Tristan’s point of view. I wonder how it would change things to know all the motivations behind Tristan’s actions first hand, rather than just hearing Byron guessing about them.

    1. Cubed,
      We do get some of the motivations “mostly” first hand. Tryst wanting to cut loose and forget for a while…
      (This, while perfectly understandable, should have been communicated to By FIRST).

  14. I like Moonsong so much more after this interlude- seeing her try and be a lifeline to Bryon was really a good thing. I’m hoping she gets/got over her LGBT views…

  15. So…. that was really intense… and possibly even the hardest chapter so far (for me, what can I say).

    The sense of claustrophobia was insane.

    I can see why Byron likes Moonsong… I don’t think we’ve seen enough to see what in particular she likes about him.
    Furcate is Adorable

    Lots of people in the comments are saying the Tristan is a jackass but… well I mean there isn’t really anything here that we didn’t already know. And to be fair like… T went off the rails and drinking and make outs BEFORE FINDING OUT the this was an issue for Byron. He didn’t ask, and they should have, and its weird that he freaked out so much about the moonsong talk… but the rules hadn’t been defined yet.

    Also, if the only person he tries to kill is Paris, then this would actually raise my estimate of him (had previously assumed he had paid a hit for the sake of Pride, career, etc, straight up selfish reasons, not anger, fear for the sake of people he cares about.).

    Also, Mr Vaughn actually seems pretty cool, dealing with a VERY delicate situation.

    1. The hit on a teammate was probably an early version of the Barcode Solution. Or a straight up attempt to see if getting Byron killed or comatose would mean Tristan could swap put permanently.

      My first read had Byron freaking out more because Tristan was about to maybe force himself on a reluctant partner.

    2. nine,
      Yeah, I see Tryst actually paying attention to By afterwards to be a positive thing.
      And I think Tryst shouldn’t be blamed so much for wanting to forget, for one damn evening.
      (It’s other things he does that are worse, probably…)

      1. I don’t think anyone would Blame Tristan for “Wanting” to forget the crummy situation.

        but there’s a big difference between Wanting to, and DOING it.
        its the same difference between being angry at someone and wanting to hit them and HITTING them.

        The moment either of them forgets their brother is there, experiencing the whole thing, they throw them under the bus. and Byron is considerate of Tristan, even when Tristan seems to not care, and Tristan forgets about Byron until someone else pushes hard enough that Tristan Cannot ignore it w/out admitting what a self-absorbed jerk he’s being.

        Granted, the flashback shows where they come from, and Tristan really is making strides if you compare all the situations with Breakthrough. but the reason they are demons is because they keep poking their ugly heads out time and again.


        1. Ambly,
          Yes, Tristan does something that By isn’t terribly comfortable with (and that some thought might have given “maybe I shouldna do this”).
          For whatever godforsaken reason, Trystan was uncomfortable/upset with By talking for a whole night with his teammate.

          I’m not sure how considerate By is of Trystan. It’s hard to be considerate when you hate someone.

  16. Hello, long time lurker and…I’ve come out of shadowy depths to applaud this chapter.

    It is perhaps the best and scariest chapter I’ve read in all your works, and I think it’s more so because even devoid of powers the conflict makes sense. A rivalry between siblings, the eternal conflict between the introvert and the extrovert, and the inability we have as humans sometimes not being able to understand the other. It spoke to a real place that I think most of us understand at least in a capacity.

    …well, just props, guy, you really do good work.

  17. How? How does WB do this? It’s almost like relieving some of my own experiences, literally. Obviously without the case 70 powers, and thankfully without some of the drama, or the murderous bits. But the broad strokes and some of the specifics.

    Twins. Brothers. One gay, one straight. Ideology. Temperament. Personality. Conflict. Favouritism. Some of the arguments, and words exchanged are almost carbon copies of things I’ve said, or things friends who are also twins themselves have divulged.

    I think I almost lost myself in Byron’s POV because of how much I sympathized with it, until I drew back some and reflected on the flawed aspects of his reasoning. Fortunately my twin and I resolved so much of our issues, we’re actually almost a diametric opposite of Byron and Tristan’s situation now. But much of that took DISTANCE, and the freedom to live our own lives, something these brothers might never have, I don’t see this ending without one or both of them killing the other.

    What a chapter, WB. It was haunting. Bravo.

  18. What a horrible way to share a body. I thought they were trapped in a sort of void with the ability to see out through the eyes, but they are right there, right beneath the skin, forced to feel their body being used by their brother.
    It’s an interesting shard that have affected them, scholar and warrior, creator and destroyer. Was the shard specifically seeking to combine two people, or could it have potentially imprinted on just one person, giving them the power to switch between two modes?
    The scholar and warrior is obviously Byron and Tristan respectively, but I’m not so sure about the creator and destroyer. At first glance I would say that the scholar (Byron) is the creator and the warrior (Tristan) is the destroyer, but their powers does not match that way. Tristan have the power to create objects, Byron have the power to destroy them. Of course they both have the power to create, and Byron doesn’t really destroy Tristan’s creations, they just change element.
    Maybe the shard is more about finding opposites and not strictly about a warrior and a scholar, a creator and a destroyer. Yeah, I think that’s it; opposites.
    What an interesting chapter, I enjoyed it a lot.

    1. Don’t read too much into trigger visions; they’re all memories of the Entity it came from. Scion is the Warrior and Destroyer, Eden is the Scholar and Creator. The vision relates to what the Shard is actually for, which in most cases is very hard to extrapolate from a given powerset. Jack Slash’s attack power was an application of Broadcast, for instance.

      So this vision probably means the Shard relates to interactions between the two Entities. But since they’re multidimensional beings of enormous size and great sophistication, probably the external abilities of Capricorn are only vaguely related to how the Entities themselves use them.

      Huh, I just realized that in sick irony probably born from faulty Manton Effect coding, Byron and Tristan’s hell is probably courtesy of a Shard meant for sharing and teamwork. The way their powers shift and relative strength ebbs and flows means something; maybe that’s what the Shard is for. Maybe it’s the Shard Scion used to swap Shards with Eden. It was a tool for a pair of opposites who worked in harmony; now it’s a curse on a pair of opposites who work at cross-purposes. And because it screwed up and mistook two people for one person, it just made their conflict even worse.

      1. I took it as the shards looking instinctively to create conflict, and “thinking” the best way to create conflict would be to force these two together.

        1. I doubt it; the real aim is to set Shards against each other and see how that plays out. Capricorn seems to just have the one Shard, so I think fusing them is a recognition glitch. The Shards aren’t real bright so it seems plausible it just got confused by twins grappling and figured it’s one person.

          1. Sure, the shard likely isn’t interested in self-conflict. But that’s fine, because people don’t focus their aggression solely on the person who incited it. People are messy bags of chemistry, and they tend to spill their fluids all over the place. Forcing Byron and Tristan together makes them volatile, increasing the amount of conflict they get into with others well beyond what they’d otherwise have.

            And to be fair to their shard, identical twins do start off as a single zygote, meaning that from an alien viewpoint with little concept of individuality, a pair of twins could reasonably be seen as two independent halves of one creature. In fact, the split their zygote suffered could be viewed as a tragic injury or disability. That viewpoint would have been enhanced when the two halves eventually turned on each other, not unlike cancer or an autoimmune disease.

            So, during the trigger event, maybe their shard helpfully glued the broken human back together into a complete whole. It’s not perfect and you can still see the line where it broke, but the poor human isn’t killing itself anymore. Now it has to direct all that tasty conflict out at the world instead.

    2. Their situation being described as a “case 70” hints that probably there are others like that, and body-sharing is not specific to their shard. Probably it’s a power glitch for any of the reasons stated here, or maybe fusing two very different people together, forcing them to interact constantly and watching how they deal with it is a way for entities to refine their own modes of interaction with each other (hence the vision about paired and different-themed silhouettes).

  19. I see a lot of people taking sides based on this chapter, and I honestly have to give my input into it… And my input is that they’re both assholes. There’s literally no good side here.

    I think they’re both selfish, self-absorbed, except Tristan is selfish in a narcissistic way, where he needs to be the center of attention and will stop at nothing (not even bullying his own brother) to get to be important. He also engages in high-risk behavior, but that’s more of a teenage thing, just with the added bonus of having a literal passenger in his head unable to do anything but suffer.

    And Byron is self-centered in a paranoid way. He assumes everyone is against him, he believes his parents love Tristan more, he thinks everyone likes Tristan more than they’ll ever like him, but he refuses to see that it’s not the case. He strangled Tristan! He self-harms!

    Neither of the Capricorn twins is good and you guys need to stop picking a side, when they’re both clearly selfish and self-centered. I think current-time Capricorn is better though, we’ve seen Tristan talk about Byron’s needs and Byron has been acting more open these few chapters… But it’s still jarring to see their old attitudes.

  20. What a pleasant surprise! I haven’t commented for the last couple days because life’s got to me. I didn’t expect you to update a bonus chapter right today, right before one very important day of my life. It’s like opening a present, which leaves a very warm feeling for me to prepare for tomorrow.
    For that, Mr. John, thank you so much!

  21. After reading all the comments so far, I still find myself more sympathetic to Byron because I’m very similar to Byron, and I’m not like Tristan at all. Of course, both of them are screwed up but I wonder if the commenters who are relatively more supportive of Tristan are also more like him?

    1. Personally I think they’re more or less mirrors and both want reasonable things and also are being hurt by the actions of the other, while not realizing how their own actions hurt the other. Before triggering, Byron was understandably upset by how Tristan impacted his relationships with his friends, but was also basically demanding Tristan cut off all contact with their mutual friends; Tristan brushed off the hurt rather than promising to stop making mocking jokes but pretty reasonably refused to stop talking to a bunch of his friends. It’s not like there’s any indication he’s doing it to torment Byron rather than actually liking Byron’s friends.

      Post-triggering, there’s a direct inverse relationship where either they keep the other in a hellish limbo or are trapped in a hellish limbo themselves. Tristan was wrong to lock Byron out of the interview, but on the other hand he does agree to and abide by a fair deal, and he does agree to the addition of a pretty strict limitation on his behavior.

      Ultimately the case 70 trigger guaranteed a huge dose of misery to split between the two, and Tristan agreed to a relatively fair one.

      Also I kinda hate Moonsong now; she’s basically doing to Tristan what most people do to Byron, only the reason most people do it to Byron is that Tristan is usually the one talking and I’m pretty sure the only times we saw Byron for the first several arcs was tactical swaps and when someone specifically demanded confirmation he agreed with Tristan’s decision. So doing it to Byron is a hell of a lot less likely to be an accident. I mean, she insults Tristan’s sexuality to Byron’s face knowing he was listening. And considering that the default response to saying anything bad about gay male capes is pointing at the nearest poster of the Triumvirate while glaring, that is unusually notable.

      1. Byron’s complaint went much deeper than the fact that they had mutual friends, and was subtler than asking Tristan to cut off contact. His complaint was that no matter what he did, Tristan insinuated himself into his friend group. Tristan has friends, Byron only has mutual friends. Byron wanted friends that were his alone, and no matter what he did, Tristan couldn’t let that happen. Doing that doesn’t even require Tristan to give up any of his friends, just adjust how close he is to them.
        As to whether Tristan was doing it intentionally, it doesn’t matter. Byron was pretty sure that it was because of Tristan’s competitiveness, and honestly I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt here.
        “he does agree to and abide by a fair deal, and he does agree to the addition of a pretty strict limitation on his behavior.”
        ??? The first part is literally the bare minimum someone has to do, and from what we know about them we know Tristan pushed that deal as hard as he could. As to the “strict limitation,” he was prevented from essentially committing rape-by-proxy on his brother, and no one in that situation was going to side with him.

  22. I am lovin’ these comments. People are arguing passionately that (Tristan/Byron) is ABSOLUTELY OBJECTIVELY in the wrong while (Byron/Tristan), while maybe a little clumsy in his handling of the situation, is BLAMELESS and to argue otherwise is ABSURD

    The point of this chapter was to present two people with essentially irreconcilable personalities forced, either due to familial proximity or supernatural intervention, to coexist, and the inevitable clashes that result. Neither of them are wrong or evil, neither are either of them right. If you identify with Byron he will be more sympathetic (the perspective of this chapter helps with that also) and vis versa. It’s good writing is all!

    1. The problem for me is that they’re *not* irreconcilable personalities. Tristan doesn’t *try* to understand Byron or make allowances for their differences. He just says “Brah, if you’d stop bein’ such an introvert pussy an be an alpha like me you’d be fine! It’s your own fault for being a beta and betas get what they deserve!”

      He’s being the typical “alpha bro” douchebag, basically.

      1. I would agree with that; the flip side is that Byron also doesn’t try to understand Tristan or make allowances for their differences. Tristan refuses to acknowledge that he should change his behavior at all, Byron refuses to acknowledge that he’s asking Tristan to change his behavior too much, and at the beginning there was no Mr. Vaughn around to tell them that.

        Also Byron’s initial problems are really mostly his friends’ fault. Tristan doesn’t have a Master power; he is not in control of the actions of others. Nor is there any actual evidence that he’s waging some concerted campaign to persuade people to back him against Byron categorically; he is trying to make friends with Byron’s friends (and insofar as he’s trying to make friends with Byron’s friends specifically we haven’t seen any indication there’s anything more to that than he encounters them in social situations more often due to them being Byron’s friends) and it is their reactions that are what’s hurting Byron. The thing Tristan really does need to stop doing is making hurtful jokes about Byron, but that is not the sole factor and would not by itself resolve the entirety of the issue. Tristan could also go to his and Byron’s friends and tell them they need to pay more attention to Byron, but really that probably wouldn’t improve matters; feeling ignored in favor of his brother isn’t really worse than feeling like he’s getting attention because people are humoring his brother.

        1. Also the case 70 trigger made this state of affairs partially inherently permanent; there is a much smaller window between what’s sufficent for one and what’s too much to ask of the other, and to be honest most of the time there’s complete overlap. Hence why I respect Mr. Vaughn so much; considering that solving the problem is literally impossible he’s clearly done a hell of a job. The agreement balances Byron’s and Tristan’s needs as well as I think is possible.

          Not only that, his onscreen problem solving was in the best way possible; he made it clear that this dispute needed to be resolved and he was not going to just take one’s side, then gave them an opportunity to resolve it themselves with the clear implication that if they couldn’t present a resolution that satisfied him he’d have to impose one. That placed them under pressure to reach a compromise, and reduced how much they’d resent said compromise. If he’d had to make the call, it’d probably have ended up similar but they’d both have resented it more. And while it does apparently relatively closely proceed Tristan flipping out, after the dust settles, the world ends, and Capricorn doesn’t work for him anymore, the terms stand pretty close to unaltered.

          Mr. Vaughn is the Yamada of hiring managers.

  23. oh damn.
    this has got to be up there on my list of favorite interludes so far. of all the nightmare-fuel things in Worm and Ward, Byron’s situation is one of the most unnerving to think about. this chapter has me wanting more on Team Reach, the seem like a fun bunch to follow, especially Kay, mark me as a member of the Furcate Fan Club.

  24. The thing is…. most of the commenters are the kind of people who have spent the past few years reading

    1) a non illustrated story about superheroes 3 times longer than War and Peace, 2) A story about a misunderstood guy who summons demons in Canada, 3) A story about a psychotic child living Mary Shelley’s fever dream of America, and 4) The sequel to story 1.

    So it’s obvious that we’re 50/50 introvert/extroverts… right? Right?

    We’ve been reading a story about superheroes on the internet for years. We are all Byron.

    1. As someone who’s got a bit of Byron in them, I do have to say that it’s VERY POSSIBLE Tryst has been standing up for him, a lot, and Byron’s just been taking it badly.

      1. No – if there was any doubt about this, it should have been eliminated by the later scene where Tristan loses his shit just because Byron talked with Moonsong for a few hours (plus stuff like not giving any Byron any input into joining Reach or letting him talk with the members until they brought it up). Tristan is absolutely a huge narcissist and there isn’t any doubt that he was acting selfishly.

        Tristan also doesn’t even attempt to listen to Byron’s point of view. It’s not a situation where they discussed it and disagreed; Tristan just immediately rejected Byron’s perspective.

        1. Why would Tristan be sympathetic to Byron in the wake of Byron’s attempted murder that resulted in their case 70 hell? Everything about their dynamic from the start of the scene goes completely out the window when Byron gives Tristan the best reason in the world to hate him.

        2. Zach,
          Tryst could be better in social situations (extrovert) than Byron.
          People all talk about having empathy to introverts forced into extrovert situations…
          Well, Tryst is an extrovert forced into an introvert situation, and clearly didn’t like it.
          (This is not to be super defendy of him. )

          Tryst’s “hyperfocus competitiveness” is why he’s doing the whole thing with Reach — he wants to look good for them, thinks Byron won’t be as good looking, etc etc etc. Yes, this is sorta selfish.

          I could honestly see Tryst using humor to actually help his brother… and still coming out ahead. People like funnymen.

          1. > Well, Tryst is an extrovert forced into an introvert situation, and clearly didn’t like it.

            Right. But when Byron tries to understand and tolerate Tristan’s needs in similar situations, the only exception being him drawing a line regarding sex – Tristan clearly does not. “BOOOO, so insufferable and boring, I was going to lose my mind!!” and so on.

            > I could honestly see Tryst using humor to actually help his brother

            Well, I could honestly see him *thinking* that he is using humor to help Byron (even though he did not express such a motivation yet, as far as we know), but failing and not noticing it because by doing that he succeeds for himself.

    2. I’m pretty sure that Oynxr qbrfa’g npghnyyl fhzzba nal qrzbaf. Ur ovaqf na vzc, rneavat uvz gur gvgyr bs Qvnobyvfg, ohg ur qbrfa’g pnyy hc nalguvat qrzbavp. V guvax gur jbefg guvat Oynxr crefbanyyl fhzzbarq jbhyq or Terra Rlrf, naq rira Ebfr frggyrq sbe guvatf yvxr Pbeivqnr naq Zvqtr.

    3. I actually have trouble identifying with Byron. My instinctive reaction is that a lot of his problems (before the trigger) would go away if he was tougher or acted stronger. I don’t think ‘cracking’ excuses Byron for strangling Tristan and, while I could imagine it sucks to have trouble making friends, blaming his brother being a socialite that sidelined him and expressing it via passive cues and then an explosion of violence makes me view him as someone I would’ve had trouble getting along with as well. There are a huge amount of avenues for addressing social problems that don’t involve strangulation and getting stabbed. That said, Tristan is a bit self-centered and drives a lot of issues simply by not giving Byron space. The kind of person who says this:

      “I’ve been trying to make a point! You need to walk your own path!”

      to someone having a breakdown isn’t someone I’d particularly like either. I’m extremely competitive and I can see some parallels in that regard to Tristan. I definitely hope that they don’t stretch into his other flaws because that kind of obliviousness wears thin when you’re older.

      1. Thing about that sentiment (“You need to walk your own path!”) is that it is abundantly clear that Byron has tried to do just that, and more than once Tristan has responded by following him along that path, finding the social situation on it, and turning it against Byron, *because* Tristan is an outgoing, competitive, social butterfly, to the point of being honestly quite narcissistic.

        Tristan pretty much comes right out and says that if Byron can’t step the fuck up and force Tristan to back off, then Byron deserves whatever happens to him. So….if Tristan says to Byron that he only deserves to live his life without Tristan fucking things up for him if he can force Tristan to back the fuck off, and Byron responds by kicking the living shit out of Tristan, I would argue that Tristan actually, literally asked for it to happen, yes.

    1. Which Tristans do you have in mind? Taylor and Blake are decidedly Byrons. Trickster is probably the clearest Tristan with an extended POV, but while I enjoyed his arc I did so in a “really cool how WB shows how all kinds of brains are on the inside” way, not a “hell yeah THIS character” way.

      (Sy defies classification IMO, he’s a Tristan on the outside but something else altogether inside. He manipulates people like crazy but not to raise his own social status)

      1. I… don’t understand what you mean at all. By saying Trickster is the only Tristan in Worm it seems like you’re characterizing any sympathetic character as a Byron, no matter how outgoing, aggressive, and connection-making they are, and characterizing a ‘Tristan’ as a villain (I know Trickster has more to him than that, but ultimately he’s probably the worst person in Worm who isn’t an out-and-out villain).

        I think Taylor is a lot more a Tristan than a Byron, what with her aggression, impulsivity, the way she instinctively makes connections and gets parahumans on her side (Queen Administrator, it’s just what she does) and unwillingness to compromise once she’s decided the right way forward. If you think she’s ‘decidedly’ a Byron I think we’re thinking about these characters too differently to agree.

        1. Maybe Taylor is a Tristan who takes the time to consider Byrons? That’s the smart move; the Byrons are clearly appreciative.

        2. No, I think Taylor was a lot more like Byron. I mean, focus on scenes where Taylor didn’t have a tactical goal; how many people did she talk to for fun? At the start of the story she literally had no friends, and then most of her voluntary social interaction was teammates or minions. If she’d been Tristan’s twin I’m pretty sure all of her friends would have become his friends. Though definitely there wouldn’t have been the trigger event as it went down. The confrontation probably wouldn’t have happened because Taylor wouldn’t have minded being second-favorite twin, and when she gets angry enough to attack people she doesn’t take half-measures.

          1. Taylor is a Byron who gets lucky to be paired with a reformed Tristan who listens to her and respects her boundaries. Tattletale is essentially a lot of Tristana narcissism turned into a superpower.

            The difference is that her trigger was about not listening and not being mindful of her introverted brother in pain. But because the brother hurt himself and not her, she didn’t get conflicting lessons from it and was much more mindful of Taylor’s feelings.

          2. Yeah, if we’re rating on the Tristan-Byron axis that’s pretty much dead on.

            One thing they both have in common that both Byron and Tristan lack is a fair degree of self-control. I mean, they’re hardly emotionless, but can you imagine non-concussed Taylor throwing a punch because she’s mad, unless she forsees it ending well? When she loses control of her emotions and lashes out it’s with shocking violence, because if she’s not mad enough to kill someone she’s not too mad to think straight. Which is a contributing factor in why despite the fact that Breakthrough has a lot more direct combat power it always feels like they’re on the back foot in a fight while with the undersiders that starts at a Cliffhanger and usually lasts maybe five paragraphs. Because no matter the situation Taylor’s planning her next move.

            Her early decision to attack Lung was pretty impulsive, but that was set off by thinking he was going to attack innocent civilians very soon; before that she’d been weighing the odds and deciding to hold off. We also know she made a similarly ill-considered attack in an alternate timeline, but that was at the ideal moment to try to sweep both sides of a villain fight; she just misjudged Lung’s threat level. And hell, even with those she was careful enough that in the one we saw she’d have inflicted a ton of damage and gotten away without a scratch if Lung hadn’t had an unexpected power.

  25. The way I see the situation, Tristan is an immature dumbass dick who cares a lot less about his brother than his brother cares about him. But on the other hand, Byron is prone to reading malice into lack of forethought, and basically assumes that his brother makes decisions the same way he himself would have, while it is Extremely Not Accurate. “Why can’t you be reasonable while I’m strangling you” is a perfect example of Byron’s favorite fallacy.

    Tristan is still a dick tho, no question there

    1. Lilli,
      Byron’s also been shown as extremely sensitive (possibly only to Byron’s form of teasing).
      It’s possible Trystan thought he was helping, being good, and Byron was just taking it All Wrong.

    2. Repeated lack of forethought, after having it pointed out to you again and again, IS malicious. It is literally someone telling you “you are hurting me by what you’re doing” and saying “your pain is not enough reason for me to change what I’m doing”.

      1. Where are you getting that this is repeated? The trigger event seems to be the first time he’s saying anything, judging by how incredulous Tristan is. As established and agreed by Byron, he waits a long time to express his emotions. It’s also in line with his power especially the original manifestation of explosive SUFFICATING gas. Byron is someone with pretty serious mental health issues (depression, anxiety, inferiority complex) exploding in the start of this chapter. He literally was going to kill his brother.

        1. Big,
          Nope. Byron doesn’t have the armstrength to kill him via choking.
          There’s a reason people use garottes!

          This is emphatically not Byron holding Tryst under water until he drowns.

          The scene Pretty Clearly would have ended when Tryst lost consciousness. Eyes go back, Byron gets reality check.

  26. Bow, you have outdone yourself. Almost 14k words on a Thursday?? Well played.

    I want to see what’s happening in the main story, buuut… I wouldn’t be sad if we got part 2 of this on Saturday.

  27. Tristan refuses to let Byron have a say and brushes him off constantly. I love moonsong yelling at Tristan for not letting Byron out on the tour. Byron is a bit sensitive but it’s understandable being a teenager with a narcissistic brother. Byron shouldn’t have choked his brother though. That really only made it worse.

  28. I think Byron is largely accurate regarding Tristan’s faults, because we’ve seen him display those faults in ways Vicky and others around him notice. On the other hand, the opening scene of this interlude, if not for trigger interrupt, would have been Byron killing Tristan in a fit of rage even if he didn’t realize that was what he was doing at the time. So I can’t view Byron as an entirely reliable narrator and source of information. Byron himself notes that there is something wrong with himself, right after thinking that Tristan seems to lack the ability to compromise.

    1. Dead,
      It may surprise you, but some people do know their own strength. And choking someone to death is a LOT harder than restricting airflow to unconsciousness. At some point, you get the gut reality check, “he’s out.”

        1. How often is this a move used in MMA? I’m not saying it won’t cause brain damage (and bless you for pointing that out!!)… But death is a pretty big un.

  29. Maybe this means I’m somewhere on the spectrum, and sure T is obnoxious, but this is an extraordinary situation. I think if your brother’s about to get laid, you’ve got to take one for the team. Learn to meditate or something. “It passes through me and doesn’t touch me. Om.” They have separate bodies, so it’s not like B is going to get an STD this way or anything.

    1. Meditation works by calming down your heart and controlling your breathing, from the little I understand. Byron doesn’t have any control over either of those things, since the heart and lungs he feels are Tristan’s. And calming his heart and controlling his breathing is NOT what Tristan will be focusing on… And if it is, I don’t think Nate’s having a good time.

      As for STDs, alcohol transfers over- Byron was feeling a little drunk, or was at least feeling the effects of being present in a drunken mind- so there’s no real promises there. Depends on if colds and other diseases transfer.

      1. Diseases and/or wounds may not transfer to the other twin’s body, but when they’re in the backseat they get to experience the other twin’s sensations, without any way to meditate or whatever unless the active twin is meditating accordingly.
        Imagine all the horror of having locked-in syndrome except your body is doing a bunch of stuff you’d never do and forces the sensory feedback onto you.

        ‘And I must scream’ doesn’t even begin to describe that one.

    2. Over the long-term, I agree with you. But they’re at most 15 during this flashback. It is completely understandable for Byron to be freaked out. He might not even be ready to have sex himself yet, let alone with somebody counter to his orientation who he barely knows while having absolutely no control over the body he’s in. It’s not unreasonable to expect Tristan to keep it in his pants for a few years while they look for a solution.

      Of course, try telling that to a teenager. 😛

    1. There’s people who’d say that about certain things with Tristan, and I don’t think he’d be cavalier about being told that.

  30. My take on Byron and Tristan is that they’re both pretty much equally in the wrong. Byron sees how Tristan hurts him but not how much he hurts Tristan and vice-versa. Tristan isn’t uncompromising; he gives up a hell of a lot in the agreement and again in the revision. But he also doesn’t really take Byron’s complaints seriously enough. He’s willing to give up his own time for Byron, but it shouldn’t have taken a third party to make him switch in the interview even without an explicit agreement. Which is why the agreement is so rigid and kinda sucky; Tristan can be trusted to make concessions to Byron but he can’t be trusted to make judgement calls about what’s appropriate.

    Hence the four-and-four split. It is unquestionably fair. But it also kinda sucks because life isn’t a matter of discrete four-hour chunks. But Tristan can’t be relied on to dynamically balance their time so they go 15min, 30min, 20min, 5min, 40min, etc. So except for power-related swaps it’s four then four and any deviations must be negotiated.

    It should be noted that in this interlude only Byron breaks an existing rule.

  31. >be me
    >read to go out with some friends
    >twin bro grabs me and starts ranting about how I’m ruining his life, stealing his friends, completely out of left field
    >tell him we’re all friends and that I’m sorry he can’t handle a bit friendly banter
    >he starts to grab me, wreck my clothes
    >give him a little tough love, tell him that he needs to be more assertive if he’s going to get what he wants in life
    >responds by yelling about how I’m gay with our parents in the next room, effectively threatening to out me to our parents, or actually actively attempting to do it
    >try to break out of his grip
    >psychopath responds by shoving me to the ground and strangling me
    >starts ranting about how I have to admit defeat just this once
    >I’m not letting this motherfucker kill me
    >feel a pen in my pocket
    >desperately stab him to break his grip at first but when it won’t I do it to save my life
    >black out
    >when I come to my deranged brother is gone
    >look around for him, I want to make sure I didn’t kill him
    >dad comes home
    >gets what happened out of me
    >suddenly I manifest a superpower
    >and suddenly I’m drawn within my brother’s consciousness, trapped
    >mfw when pencil neck virgins online consider ME the asshole

    1. You got some issues lad. Tristan is an asshole. The way he acted at the party, his unreasonable anger during Moon and Byron’s discussion, and his little bitch act while they were trying to compromise after the party scene is evidence enough. Tristan getting strangled doesn’t excuse his sociopathic and narcissistic behavior.

      1. So everything that happened AFTER his own brother tried to murder him and, big thing you missed here, trapped him in a hellish prison? Yea people generally become unhinged after shit like this.

        1. his brother did not try to murder him. sibling squabbles can get really fucked without either side actively wanting to kill the other. my sister stabbed me with a pencil in an argument over a remote control when i was a preteen. i then pinned her too the ground and told her i wasn’t letting her up till she fucking calmed down. ive been punched and slapped, and ive punched and slapped my siblings, ive been bullied and tied up and had all kinda of fucked up stuff happen, but now, a few years later, i love all my siblings. even back then, i wouldn’t have wanted anything bad to happen to them. Their fight was a little on the extreme end, but I dont believe for a second that Bryon would actually have killed Trystan

  32. The team manager for Reach said it best: Taking one side over the other is going to cause issues down the line, and it’s evident enough from the comments alone that anyone who thinks one brother is right and the other is wrong must be wrong and must be disproven in an aggressive take-over competition. That’s not right, that’s stupid.

    The obvious verdict is that they’ve both committed terrible things to one other and if they could both hear each other out and be more sympathetic of each other’s issues, they’d get along easier. It sure as hell ain’t easy sharing bodies. This interlude and Freaky Friday should easily communicate this proof.

  33. I honestly think that this series would be so much better if it were written from the perspective of either Bryon or Rain. For some reason I just really don’t like Victoria. I think shes a boring character and I just don’t identify with her or understand her motivations. As the quiet and socially anxious sibling in a family full of loud outgoing people, Bryons whole thing about having friends stolen is something i really understand, since it has happened so many times, and I can really empathize with his situation. Like Rain, I was raised in a cult (not quite as bad as his one but still) so I see a lot of similarities there as well. Taylor from worm, as the bullied quiet kid, also really struck a chord with me, and I think thats why worm is my favorite book while ward is kinda just….alright? Victoria is too much of a goody-two-shoes. yeah she went through some traumatic, fucked up shit, but in the end she just became a white hat and its just really annoying how “pure” and “heroic” she is as a main character.

    1. On the other hand, it’s good to have a change in the protagonist’s operating mode. Not “doing wrong things for right reasons” this time, but “trying to do right things for right reasons while being restricted by law and publicity”. This is a different kind of challenge.

    1. And if a gay person doesn’t consider “gay” to be an insult for him, what’s insulting about him being called a gay lord? 🙂

  34. Just…wow. I like Wildbow’s writing and characters in general, but this chapter is him surpassing himself, I think.

  35. Christ, that was awful. Like, good chapter, but this was the first time reading a book that I actually felt like shit. I mean, jeez. That’s a kind of hell I would never, ever want to be in.

    Anyway, I feel Byron before the trigger. Being overshadowed whenever you’re around people? I kinda get that.

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