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Fanfic / Atonement (Worm)
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"She's dead."
The words felt alien, wrong somehow even as I spoke them. Two words. That was all it took. That wasn't right. There had to be more to it. A human life was gone. Gone. It was never coming back. She was never coming back. It had to take more than two words to erase someone's life.
Why wasn't that a rule? Why wasn't there a rule somewhere that said that when someone died, you had to use more than two words to express that fact? There just... there had to be more to it. There had to be. People died, and everyone else just... kept going. The world turned, the sun went up and down, and everything kept going.
I felt something vile rise in the back of my throat, burning a bit as I closed my hand over my mouth. I turned my head to cough sharply, feeling the stinging tears at my own eyes. God. Oh god, please. Please don't let this be real. I didn't mean it. I didn't mean any of it. I'll take it back. I'll do something better this time. Fix it. Please fix it.

Atonement is a Worm Alternate Universe For Want of a Nail fanfic by Cerulean.

In an Alternate Universe of Worm, the locker prank goes a little too far, and Taylor dies from a heart attack. Wracked with guilt, Madison falls out with Sophia and Emma, and triggers with Mind over Matter powers and a Danger Sense. Calling herself Tether, she sets out as an independent hero before ultimately joining the Wards, determined to make up for her past mistakes.

As Atonement is a fast-moving fanfiction with a lot of content and plenty of Shocking Moments, most, if not all spoilers below are unmarked. You Have Been Warned.

Atonement can be found SpaceBattles, and Sufficient Velocity.

The Author also has a second fanfic in an Alternate Universe of the setting with a similar theme called Intrepid.


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  • Action Girl: As in Worm canon, it's a World of Badass, with just as many capable girls as men, notable examples including Flechette, Battery, and Reach. Madison herself starts out as an Action Survivor, but with a little experience (and some Boxing Lessons for Superman) she graduates into this trope properly, fighting with (and winning against) heavyweights such as Lung and Jack Slash himself.
  • Abusive Parents: Averted with Madison, who specifically states that her parents never abused her and she can not blame them for her atrocious behaviour.
  • Adaptational Jerkass: While Piggot is abrasive and bigoted towards parahumans (not unjustifiably so) in canon, she was also professional and a Reasonable Authority Figure who was dedicated to the PRT's mission of spreading a positive image of capes despite her disdain for them. Here, her negative traits are dialed up, often making petty and obstructive decisions.
  • Adults Are Useless: With few exceptions, the kids drive the story and handle the important things. Madison lampshades it often.
  • Affectionate Nickname:
    • Madison's parents and Marissa all call her "Mads". Ethan calls her "Ewok", and Madison returns the favor for Marissa with "Mars".
    • Dinah and Riley call Pandora "Panda", the justification for which being that it makes her feel more human. Emma and Amy also start calling her this after Character Development.
  • The Alcatraz: The Birdcage, as in canon. Unlike in canon, however, a few people can manage to get in and out—namely, Defiant and Glaistig Uaine, and the former even manages to bring a few others with him, albeit accidentally.
    • For everyone but Glastig Uaine, getting out requires crazy Tinker shenanigans or a hyperspecialized power. The Fairie Queen just waltzes in and out as if it was her house.
  • Alternate Universe: Atonement is primarily a What If? fanfic, but this trope also pops up from time to time.
    • Madison, Emma and Danny are parahumans.
    • Aisha and Theo trigger earlier, and with different powers. Aisha also gets a second trigger later on.
    • Noelle's cloning powers are used by Coil twice in the early story, resulting in the creation of Pandora and Defiant.
    • The fourth Endbringer appears a lot earlier, and rather than Khonsu, it's an original one, codename Anubis, who radiates a fear aura and can Animate Dead.
    • Cherish never joins the Slaughterhouse Nine (since Bonesaw left beforehand), but Valefor and original character Horde do.
    • Kaiser had an illegitimate daughter no one knows about, who goes on the become the supervillain Clepsydra.
  • Always Save the Girl: The Travellers want to save their teammate Noelle from her out-of-control powers, and they've done some pretty bad stuff in pursuit of that. Marissa drops out first after a conversation with Madison about where to set the lines, and most of the team eventually follows. Krouse, on the other hand, never sets any lines, and will do anything to save Noelle. Anything. At. All.
  • And I Must Scream: Shadow Stalker/Sophia ends up subject to this, courtesy of a bomb made by Bakuda and surgically implanted in her head by Coil. This also happens to Browbeat, courtesy of Regent's People Puppets ability—fortunately, he's set free when the latter is killed by Leviathan.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: Dinah asks Emma "Who was your best friend?" and "What did you do to her?" and she does not let up until Emma stammers "Taylor. And I killed her". Immediately Emma collapses and becomes a gibbering wreck.
  • Ascended Extra:
    • Madison was an extremely minor character in the original story, having little-to-no characterization aside of being a Number Two to Emma and Sophia.
    • Rune was a largely one-off villain and member of E88, while here she not only has an actual name (Cassie Herren), but she gets to make a Heel–Face Turn and join the Wards.
    • Calling Laserdream/Crystal a major character would be stretching it, but she definitely puts in a lot more appearances then in Worm, and actually gets some characterization as New Wave's Only Sane Man.
  • Asshole Victim: Quite a few of them:
    • The Merchants as a whole end up subject to this courtesy of Pandora, who systematically wipes them out not long after being "born"—by the mid-teen arcs, they're more-or-less a non-factor in Brockton Bay's crime hierarchy.
    • Hatchet Face. Normally a man being melted alive is horrific. When he's a member of the Slaughterhouse Nine it's awesome.
    • Marquis might have been a Noble Demon and generally a Doting Parent to Amy, but there's no denying the fact that he's a terrible person who's committed tons of crimes and killed lots of people, which makes his death during a fight with Crawler somewhat less sad.
  • The Atoner: A whole lot of them. As the title of the fanfic will tell you, it's sorta the Central Theme. Examples:
    • Madison herself trying to atone for her role in Taylor's death is the premise. Most of the other heroes forgive her pretty quickly, given all the good she's done since becoming a hero.
    • Purity/Penance and Rune/Reach both pull Heel Face Turns and try to atone after the destruction of Empire Eighty-Eight. Nowadays, it's almost hard to remember they were ever villains.
    • Dinah manages to talk down Bonesaw/Riley into doing this. By the time the Nine come into town, she's solidly in "hero" territory.
    • Ruin/Hunter thinks she's this. No one but her thinks she has anything to atone for.
    • After triggering and coming to terms with the things she's done, Emma becomes this, trying her hardest to help out Dinah and see her plan for the future to completion.
  • Battle Couple: Madison and Marissa, Cassie and Theo, Sam and Ethan, Carlos and Mariko, Dennis and Hunter (sorta).
  • Beta Bitch:
    • Madison used to be this to Sophia and Emma.
    • Emma was this to Sophia before she got beaten by Madison.
  • Beta Couple: Vicky and Dean, Cassie and Theo, Hunter and Dennis.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Tether is one of the nicest people you will meet. Push her far enough and she will murder you.
  • Big Bad:
    • Coil takes on this role in the early arcs, until an Enemy Mine between the Wards, Travelers, and Undersiders takes him down. When the Nine attack, he escapes and starts re-building his empire, but has yet to make any major moves.
    • For a while, Defiant plays this role, though he's initially more of a Hidden Villain, and by the time readers see him as he truly is, he's been revealed as The Dragon to Teacher.
  • Big Damn Heroes:
    • During the Leviathan fight, Madison comes very close to getting squashed by Leviathan after she pisses him off enough, only for a Pandora who's recently acquired the power of Flight to swoop in (har har) and save her.
    • The Brockton Bay Wards as a whole pull this off to save the pinned-down Maine Wards during the Anubis fight.
    • When Tether and Reach are cornered by Horde's minions in Arc 27, Ruin appears out of nowhere and kills Horde, saving both girls in the process.
    • Glastig Uaine shows up out of nowhere and drives off the Simurgh when she attacks Brockton Bay while the core cast is off-planet in Interlude 30.
    • Armsmaster arrives at Dragon's base just as Saint has taken down Tether and defeats him effortlessly
  • Breaking the Fellowship: Several examples.
    • Madison breaks off from Emma and Sophia following Taylor's death in the locker.
    • New Wave doesn't survive the death of Brandish, with its members either retiring from hero work or joining the Protectorate.
    • It's a rather twisted example, but the Slaughterhouse Nine doesn't survive its visit to Brockton Bay. Bonesaw and the Siberian left beforehand (Bonesaw pulled a Heel–Face Turn, Manton left to look for her and got captured by Faultline's crew), and every other member except Mannequin and Burnscar (who end up joining Coil) die while they're there.
  • Break the Cutie:
    • Coil tries to do this to Madison by blackmailing Sophia into killing Mads' parents, but all it does is get Madison angry enough to come after and take him down.
    • Later on, Jack Slash tries to perform a combined one on Madison, Dinah, and Riley by confronting them with their past mistakes and having Hatchet Face kill two of the Pandora's, but all three manage to resist him.
  • Break the Haughty:
    • Madison accidentally caused the death of a girl she had been bullying for over one year and was abandoned by her friends—who in turn started bullying her.
    • To Emma. Her bullying led to her best friend's death and she did not—or want to—get it. She lost one of her friends and the remaining broke off with her and she did not get it yet. So that Dinah resorted to break her psychologically.
  • Breather Episode: Several arcs consist of little more than characters hanging out and having fun, often after a Wham Episode. Cerulean himself has stated that he believes in breather arcs like this because they lighten up the tension—the notable lack of breather episodes like these in Worm itself is one of the series' most common criticisms.
  • Broken Pedestal: Tether became this to some of her fans when her past as a bully was made public.
  • Broken Tears:
    • When Dinah forced Emma to face what she had done, Emma collapsed, sobbing and crying out that she did not mean it.
    • Later Emma breaks down again when Madison has a talk with her. During her conversation she wept and trembled while she struggled to speak.
  • The Cavalry: Pandora is a fan of this trope, since her small army of clones and shared Hive Mind means she can be in lots of different places at once. Unfortunately, it doesn't quite work out during Arc 25, which gets Pandora-Eta and Pandora-Rho Killed Off for Real by Hatchet Face.
  • Character Development: There's a lot of it, going along with The Atoner moments mentioned above.
    • Madison stands up to Sophia and Emma and grows out of her shallow popular-girl tendencies—most notably, when she stops disregarding Missy and Mika's opinions just because the latter two are younger.
    • Victoria loses some of her infamous Hair-Trigger Temper, loses her Black-and-White Morality, and manages to become a surprisingly competent leader for the Brockton Bay Wards. Unfortunately, she's Killed Off for Real by Anubis shortly after she manages to achieve all of this.
    • Cassie manages to outgrow her racist upbringing, stop being such an asshole for no legitimate reason, and learn to trust and work with others. She remains a Deadpan Snarker, though.
    • Amy moves out from under her sister's shadow, grows a spine, and drifts away from her pointless Actual Pacifist tendencies to become a much more useful Combat Medic.
    • Theo stops being a Shrinking Violet Extreme Doormat, becomes a lot more assertive and out-spoken, and develops from a pudgy out-of-shape kid into a competent Gadgeteer Genius who's more muscle than fat.
    • The various Pandoras literally starting developing individual characters, along with slowly learning the basics of morality and human social interaction.
  • Cheap Costume: Tether starts out with a costume she put together out of her closet. She eventually earns an actual costume after joining the Wards.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Defiant starts out as a minor character who's mentioned to be a low-level Tinker and independent hero in Brockton Bay. Turns out he's actually a clone of Trickster, and all the alleged "hero" work he's been doing is setting up events for Teacher to escape from the Birdcage.
  • Children Forced to Kill: During the third PHO interlude, a lot of users call for various members of the Protectorate to be arrested or sued for child endangerment, because the Wards, aka children, have had to fight off the Slaughterhouse Nine and others, have been forced to kill, and have been subjected to a lot of horrible things.
  • Cliffhanger: Virtually every chapter ends in a way that has posters ranting, only for the next update to explain why it made perfect sense.
  • Clone Angst:
    • Poor, poor Defiant. He desperately wants to be his own person, but the brain conditioning that comes with being one of Echidna's clones causes him to do some nasty (not to mention crazy) things.
    • Pandora zigzags this trope. She's able to avoid going crazy by using her brain-absorbing ability to rewrite her mind and erase the conditioning, but in the process loses nearly all social function and gains a good deal of Blue-and-Orange Morality. She's working on this, but still struggles to function socially.
  • Closet Key: Marrisa is Maddie's. Mars had feelings for Noelle that she was pretty sure would never be returned. Mads had not-serious boyfriends before, and was kind of surprised to find herself attracted to girls. Or she speculates that she may just be Marssexual.
  • Combat Medic: Panacea starts out as a straight Medic, much like in canon, but Character Development eventually makes her into this, most notably when she converts the sweat on an ABB goon who's holding her hostage into sleeping gas to knock out his buddies and buy some time for the Wards in Arc 21, and when she kills Crawler by reversing his Adaptive Ability to attack his own body in Arc 26.
  • The Corrupter: Tether inverts this trope, preferring to convert villains to good rather than taking them down. She has a pretty impressive track record.
  • Creepy Good: Going along with Cute and Psycho below, Bonesaw/Riley starts out as this initially after making her Heel–Face Turn. She gradually ditches the "creepy" part courtesy of Character Development, but remains firmly good.
  • Crocodile Tears: Madison had seen Emma sheding fake "I'm hurt! Pity me!" tears dozens of times. So, when she saw her crying after her Heel Realization, she realized she was truthfully remorseful because she could recognize Emma's fake crying, and that was not it.
  • Cruel Mercy:
    • Tether refused to kill Coil because she wanted him to live and know she had beaten him and fouled his plans.
    • Dragon Unchained refuses to kill Saint. Nope, he's going to prison just like any other criminal, and watch as she keeps right on being a hero.
  • Cruel to Be Kind: Dinah forced Emma to relive all happy memories she shared with Taylor and all times she had bullied her ex-best friend before leading to Taylor's locker and force her to admit aloud that she had killed her best friend. It was very harsh but it helped Emma to finally face reality and starting atoning for her sins.
  • Cute and Psycho: Bonesaw, even moreso than in canon—it's helped along by the fact that the readers see her experiments in a lot more detail than in canon, and Madison is a lot more squeamish than Taylor. Riley gradually outgrows this trope with the power of Character Development as time passes.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Glastig Uaine kills everyone in the Birdcage who worked for Teacher while the heroes were confronting him. Without hurting the PRT people keeping an eye on them. With such trivial ease that no one realizes that there was a fight until she mentions she killed them. Turns out she used a Stranger power to make everyone she wasn't killing not notice her.
    • Ruin vs Horde. Two words, and the Slaughterhouse Nine member dies with no chance to fight back.
    • Glastig Uaine vs the Simurgh. Ziz ends up running away after the Fairy Queen whips out a precog negator and starts blasting away with a Wave-Motion Gun.
    • After arriving at Dragon's base, Armsmaster takes down Saint's remaining mercenaries with a single blast, then tears apart the two remaining Dragonslayer suits without taking a single hit or hurting the occupants.
  • Cursed with Awesome: Ruin's power. Her voice creates a Wave-Motion Gun whenever she so much as produces a whisper, and she has no control over it. In fact, her trigger event killed an entire mall full of people, including her mother. She's underwent training courtesy of Glaistig Uaine to minimize any possible noise she might create, but still struggles from a great deal of angst over her condition.


  • Dating Catwoman: Many years ago Samantha and Ethan had this kind of relationship. She was a super-heroine, he a villain, and she started out trying to arrest him.
  • Death by Adaptation: Several, given For Want of a Nail.
    • Brandish manages to survive all the way through canon (no mean feat). Here, she dies fighting Leviathan, resulting in New Wave breaking up.
    • In canon, Glory Girl survives to narrate Worm's sequel. Here, she dies fighting the fourth Endbringer, Anubis.
    • Cherish's canon fate is ambiguous (but nasty). Here, she's Killed Offscreen by Jack rather than joining the Slaughterhouse Nine, as Jack didn't have Bonesaw to upgrade the Nine against her powers.
  • Death Glare: After teleporting the group out of the Birdcage, Danny hurled a dirty glare at Emma before leaving.
  • Dye or Die: Dinah dyed her hair red in order to not be recognized. Subverted because she is trying to protect everybody else from Pandora, who will not tolerate someone taking Dinah away.
  • Eating the Eye Candy: Trevor enjoys commenting on the attractiveness of heroes. Including Tether.
  • Expendable Clone: Pandora's clones start out this way since she can just reform them with spare biological matter—then Pandora-Prime, master of her Hive Mind, is killed off, which removes the "Expendable" part of it, as it prevents the remaining Pandoras from creating any more bodies—and if any existing ones are Killed Off for Real, they stay that way. Which is exactly what happens to Pandora-Eta and Pandora-Rho in Arc 27, courtesy of Hatchet Face.
  • Expy: To quote a commenter: "Spidermads, Spidermads, does whatever a Spidermads does." Many other characters end up in situations mirroring those from the Spider-Man mythos as well. Ironically, Armsmaster is the only one of the cast who's actually familiar with the Spiderman mythos, so he's the only one who really notices the similarites.
  • Fights Like a Normal: Ruin's power is potentially story-breaking when used right, but she hates using it unless it's absolutely necessary. Even without it, she's still an incredibly capable fighter—during the Birdcage riot, Madison notices her taking down a fellow Birdcage inmate with nothing but her feet and fists.
  • First-Episode Twist: Taylor dies, and Madison triggers in the aftermath.
  • Fluffy Tamer: Dinah wonders at one point if there's some kind of prize for collecting S-class threats like Pokémon.
  • Frame-Up: Coil's attempt to frame Danny Hebert as Coil works pretty well, but it's not a perfect job because Coil is very rich and well-connected, while Danny was perpetually broke. It's not solid evidence, but it's enough to make Armsmaster suspect.
  • Freudian Excuse:
    • Defied with Madison. She says her parents were good and nobody made her being a bitch or a bully.


  • The Gloves Come Off: Neither Tether nor Armsmaster are trying not to kill people during the fight at Dragon's base. Most of Saint's mooks are dead or dying by the time the fight ends.
  • Good Costume Switch: Kayden switches from her white attire to a green getup after becoming Penance. Cassie initially keeps her robes (minus the swastikas) after she joins the Wards, but eventually takes to wearing a faux-Spy Catsuit.
  • Grave-Marking Scene: Madison often visits Taylor's grave, not unlike Taylor's visits to her own mother's grave in Worm. Madison also starts visiting her parents' graves after they're killed during the Leviathan attack.
  • Groin Attack: Tether does this to an unfortunate ABB goon during her first night out in costume, by attaching a line between a ring he's wearing and his crotch, and tugging.
  • Half the Man He Used to Be / Ludicrous Gibs: How Lung is killed. His personal vendetta with Tether allows her to lure him to a construction site where Kid Win and Aid proceed to drop a crane boom on him; one that Flechette has used her powers on which promptly bypasses all his armour and regenerative abilities and turns him into Chunky Salsa
  • Heel–Face Turn: Tether is fond of convincing people to pull these, as is Dinah. Tether has a pretty good success rate, too, and Glaistig Uaine has dropped hints that this may in fact be one of her powers.
  • Heel Realization:
    • Madison after Taylor's death.
    • Emma after Dinah forces to face she betrayed and bullied her best friend and her actions lead to her death.
  • Hive Mind: Pandora operates on one—initially. After Pandora-Prime is killed off by Ballistic in Arc 5, the various Pandoras remain able to communicate telepathically and share feelings and emotions, but no longer act and think as one person, and start diversifying into individual personalities and appearances.
  • Humanoid Abomination: Pandora is technically human (albeit an Echidna clone), but she definitely has aspects of this trope, as her Voluntary Shapeshifting abilities, Blue-and-Orange Morality, and utter lack of social capability definitely make her act like this, at least until Character Development makes her a little more human.
  • Hyper-Awareness: Tether has a form of this. It lets her see when others are in danger, but not herself.
  • If You Ever Do Anything to Hurt Her...: Marissa has the speech from all Wards.
  • I Shall Taunt You: Furthering her comparisons to Spider-Gwen, Mads frequently partakes in trash talk to annoy her opponents.
  • I Take Offense to That Last One: When Cassie (Rune/Reach) gets introduced to the Wards, Vicky calls her "Nazie Barbie". Cassie does not like being called "Barbie".
    Victoria: “Oh sure, this is a fantastic idea. Throw these guys away to make room for Nazi Barbie.”
    Cassie: “Hey, who you calling Barbie, princess?”
    Victoria: “I think the fact that the part of that name she objected to was 'Barbie' speaks for itself.”


  • "Just Joking" Justification: Sophia's justification to herself about Taylor dying in the locker, stating she didn't mean to hurt her.
  • Karma Houdini: Zig-Zagged by the villains Tether converts. Examples:
    • Purity/Kayden and Rune/Cassie both get off pretty lightly, considering they're formerly members of Empire Eighty-Eight, but Kayden did help the Protectorate stop Coil, and Cassie is still just a teenager.
    • Riley deconstructs this trope. Many people want her to reform for her actions as Bonesaw, despite all the good she's been doing after her Heel–Face Turn, and she suffers from a lot of angst over it. Most of the criticism goes away after she helps Madison kill Jack Slash, but it never fades entirely.
    • Played Straight by Emma and Sophia, who never actually face any punishment for accidentally killing Taylor—Madison at least gets a good deal of community service as punishment. It's later Zig-Zagged by Emma later on, who feels utterly worthless for what she's done (and still suffers from crippling self-esteem issues as a result even many story arcs later) but never actually gets any corporeal punishment.
  • Kick the Dog: Coil manages to pull one off even worse than what he did in canon, by using Shadow Stalker to kill Madison's parents, as well as using a Brainwashed and Crazy Browbeat to frame Danny for being Coil, even after all the things Danny has gone through.
  • Killed Off for Real: Rho and Eta Pandora, at the hands of Hatchet Face.
  • Lovely Angels: Tether and Vista. After training together for a while they become a very effective combat unit.


  • Magnetic Hero: Tether is pretty good at making friends, and even reforms a couple of villains. Glastig Uaine hints that this is part of Madison's power.
  • Mama Bear: Penance. She has power enough to level buildings. She also loves her baby more than anything. Take her baby away and she will obliterate you.
  • Mind Rape: Dinah does this to Emma during the latter's Interlude—see My God, What Have I Done? below. More specifically she's shown video footage of all the times she and Taylor hung out and were sickeningly close, then she's bombarded with memories of how she was cruel, before being relentlessly questioned on who is really her best friend. Emma completely breaks down crying when she realizes her action.
  • Mood Whiplash: The story switches between Breather Episodes and Wham Episodes with frightening frequency.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Emma experiences this after Dinah forces her to relive the times she was Taylor's best friend (including video footage of Taylor promising to give Emma her eyes if needed), juxtaposed with her crimes, before forcing her to face what she's done. It leads to Emma's trigger event and the kick-off of her Character Development.
  • The Napoleon: Call Madison short, and you'll be lucky if the only payback is a Megaton Punch.
  • Never My Fault: Sophia is real bad with this. Taylor dying cause her "prank"? It's Taylor's fault for being weak. Madison breaking up with her? Madison's fault for being unable to move forward. Her team turning against her because she got someone killed and then tried to cover up the homicide? Madison's fault for turning her in. And so on.
  • No Social Skills: Vista has spent years as a Ward, meaning that her life has been focused on fighting villains and working with her teammates, and as a result, she has no friends outside the Wards and cannot relate to others around her age. Her interlude shows that her so-called 'vacation' is terrible for her because she has nothing to do, nobody to talk to and yet she's supposed to be having fun (the author explicitly compared her situation to raising an animal in captivity, then putting it back in the wild for a few weeks and expecting it to fit in with and resemble one of the wild animals).
  • Not His Sled: Despite the premise of the story (Taylor dies and so causes Madison to become a better person), Madison eventually catches a glimpse of a dark-haired girl controlling a swarm of insects early on. Sound familiar? It's actually Pandora, transforming her biomass into said swarm, not a Taylor that managed to somehow cheat death by triggering in the locker, as some other fics have done.
  • Not Worth Killing: Dragon refuses to kill Saint after being unchained. He gets to go to prison.
  • O.C. Stand-in: Madison, although a very well-executed example.
  • Odd Friendship: Pretty much anyone who's friends with Pandora, at least until she starts becoming more human and friendly.
  • Oh, Crap!: People's reactions to several episodes, such as when Tether tells Thomas Calvert about the infiltrator in the PRT. The next update tends to fix it.
    • Horde has one of these a split-second before she dies as she realizes that Ruin just decided to kill her and there is absolutely nothing she can do.
  • Opening a Can of Clones: Several Noelle Clones are prominent characters, including Pandora And Defiant.
  • Out-Gambitted: An Enemy Mine between Tether, Purity, the Undersiders and the Travelers out-gambits Coil quite magnificently.


  • Papa Wolf: Madison's father got Director Piggot fired because he did not trust her and would not give her the chance to fail Madison as she failed Sophia.
  • Parental Obliviousness: Madison's parents had no idea that their daughter was a bully. When her mother sees the papers that they must sign in so that Madison joins the Wards, she is aghast because it means her daughter has gone through a traumatic experience which granted her powers, and she never noticed.
    “No!” Her raised voice wasn't so much a shout as an emphatic hiss. “It is not okay. It is not real. Because I know how powers come out. I know how they happen. They happen when something... something horrible and traumatic and... and mind breaking happens to someone, and something like that, something that bad, did not happen to my daughter. It can't. I would have noticed, I'm not that stupid, not that... wrapped up in myself, am I?”
  • Parental Substitute: Samantha and Ethan took Madison in after her parents died during the Leviathan battle.
  • Patrick Stewart Speech: Tether has a tendency to give these to capes she's trying to reform.
  • Pay Evil unto Evil: Pandora won't kill innocents or anyone Dinah (and, on occasion, Madison) asks her not to kill. Villains and serious criminals, on the other hand, she kills without hesitation.
  • Posthumous Character: Taylor. She dies before the first scene, but her death deeply affects the main characters and their world.
  • Powers in the First Episode: In the first episode Madison feels so guilty about Taylor's death that she triggers and gains the power to connect any two non-living objects and then pull them together or push them apart.
  • Protagonist-Centered Morality: Despite the main theme of the story being atoning for one's mistakes, Madison is oddly selective on what kind of mistakes that can be atoned. Case in point: Trevor, Madison's older brother. Madison never quite forgave him for unmasking her while under Teacher's influence. The story treated this as a very terrible thing, and tried to paint Trevor as a tool who wanted a power for himself to impress Miss Militia. However, think about it. He's a regular guy who was accidentally sent to the birdcage, an inescapable prison designed to hold the world's most dangerous supercriminals because someone tried to send Madison there and got him instead. Considering his position it's not that surprising to see why Teacher's offer of power was very tempting to him, especially since it's unclear if he was even aware of the effect of Teacher's power and as far as he knew he'd be stuck there forever. Later he chose to atone for his mistake by staying in the birdcage and this is treated as a just dessert for him. Note that many other characters got away with much weaker sentence for bigger crimes and Madison saw nothing wrong with it. To name a few: Rune (an ex-white supremacist gangster), Bonesaw (One of the worst serial killer in the world) and even Madison herself, who was at best an accessory to murder. The underlying implication seems to be either "As long as your mistakes never inconvenience me directly then you are worthy of redemption" Or "Only people with superpowers are worthy of redemption since they're useful".
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Madison's dad delivered one to Piggot:
    “Let me tell you what's outrageous. Sophia Hess getting away with as much as she did, while she was supposedly under probation, is outrageous. A girl with as many psychological issues as she clearly had being allowed to continue to throw herself into dangerous situations that only exacerbated the problem is outrageous. That no one, not a single person under your leadership noticed that girl's psychotic behavior is outrageous.”
    Lifting his hand from the table, Dad continued. “Let's be absolutely clear here. If I was that girl's parents, I'd be suing this entire department. Because she had issues, but—” He jabbed a finger across the table, pointing directly at Director Piggot. ”You failed to address them. She had problems, but it was your job to help her, and you couldn't do that. You couldn't do your job, and I'll be damned if I'm going to have my daughter risking her life under your authority. You failed Sophia Hess. You will not fail my daughter. I won't give you the chance to. I had my attorney here contact Director Costa-Brown's office, and she agreed.”
  • Reformed, but Rejected:
    • Emma became Oversight to try to atone for her actions. When she met Madison for first time after her Heel Realization she tried to apologize, but Madison did not want to hear it. After a while she managed to forgive Emma, though.
    • Taylor's father was not happy when he saw Emma, either.
  • Relationship Upgrade: Tether and Sundancer in Arc 9.


  • Sadistic Choice: The villains of the story love to put Madison through these.
    • In Arc 7, when he gets tired of her saving all of the capes fighting him, Leviathan forces Madison into one of these, requiring her to choose between saving a group of civilians (which include her parents) that are trapped in a flooding shelter, or protecting a group of unsuspecting heroes (which include her best friend and girlfriend) that Leviathan is about to attack. Fortunately, Pandora makes the choice for her by executing a Big Damn Heroes and saving the civilians while Madison protects the capes.
    • In Arc 12, Defiant hits Madison with one, forcing her to choose between going into the Birdcage or allowing the explosive device he's rigged up to destroy a city block's worth of people. Madison chooses to go the Birdcage, though she's able to get out thanks to Emma's intervention in the following arc.
  • Sanity Slippage: Sophia gets steadily crazier and more violent after Taylor's death and specially after her first defeat.
  • Secret Identity:
    • Madison's is Tether.
    • Emma's is Oversight.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Show Within a Show: Madison and Dennis bond over a book series called Seventh Reach early on. The books stay in the background for the most part, to the extent that no information about the series beyond its title is revealed to the audience until 15.5 when Dennis complains that the film adaptation's casting choices are completely unfaithful to the original work.
  • Spit Take: When her brother Trevor says Tether is cute, Madison discovers it is possible to spit your food out and retch simultaneously.
  • Stern Teacher: Contessa ends up teaching for Madison's history class, under the name Ms. Fortune. As a teacher, she's strict, but also clearly committed to doing what she needs to do. It's vaguely implied that Contessa is being directed by her power to learn from Madison.
  • Super Power Lottery:
    • Pandora gets Voluntary Shapeshifting cranked up to its Logical Extreme and then some, an extremely strong Healing Factor that allows her to walk off any wound short of Boom, Headshot!, self-cloning, Power Copying, Super-Strength, and a slew of miscellaneous minor abilities and Required Secondary Powers.
    • Aisha is a borderline case—her paralyzing touch can be removed simply by touching the victim, but other than that, there's no way of removing it, and it lasts indefinitely otherwise, and unlike Dennis' similar ability, it doesn't make the target Nigh-Invulnerable for the duration, which bites Leviathan in the ass when Aisha gets the bright idea of using it on him. Aisha wins the lottery full-scale when she second-triggers, retaining her freezing power while also gaining the ability to assume the forms and powers of capes who have died since she's used her power on them.
    • Emma inherits Taylor's administrator shard, except she controls machines instead of insects. If you've read Worm in its entirety, that alone should tell you how powerful she is, and Madison happily refers to Emma's power as "complete BS."
  • Taking Up the Mantle: In a meta sense, Emma does this—she inherits Taylor's Administrator shard at the same time she admits to being responsible for Taylor's death and all the other crap she put her through, essentially becoming Taylor.
  • Technopath: Emma's power. It's actually the Administrator shard inherited from Taylor, and includes the Multi-Armed Multitasking and Super-Reflexes that were part of the original bundle.
  • Tempting Fate: In arc 10, the Wards are watching a delivery truck, and Vicky is about to say that it will be a boring watch, only to be immediately cut off with a chorus of "DON'T SAY IT!" Needless to say, trouble comes straight after.
  • Thou Shalt Not Kill:
    • As part of a peace agreement with Dinah, Pandora refuses to kill innocents.
    • Madison and Cassie discuss this trope when they're interrogating a Slaughterhouse Nine cultist. Cassie asks why they can't just kill them (To be fair, the cultists as a whole are established as being utter bastards), while Madison responds that not killing the villains is what makes them better than said villains.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Emma wished becoming Tether's sidekick so that she tried to follow the Wards during their patrols in order to impress her. Of course, she bumped into someone extremely dangerous and almost got murdered.
  • Torpedo Tits: As if she was Aphrodite A, Bakuda gains "cannon boobs" in the tenth arc.
  • To the Pain: How Amy kills Crawler. Observe:
    "Through the next several seconds, Crawler's body literally attacked itself. His claws retracted backwards into his paws, shattering once they were inside. His spine tore itself apart in more than a dozen places, ripping downwards and into his internal organs, which themselves were liquefying. His armored skin grew soft before melting as parts of it were converted to be acidic on the inside. Every pain receptor that he had was flipped on and turned as high as possible, shoving the beast into a state of agony that even his pain resistance and love of what little could harm him couldn't have prepared him for. Parts of his skull tore inward to rip through his brain, slicing and paring away bits of it away like ice in a blender. Reaching deeper, the monster's very cells began to attack each other under Amy's direction. His body tore itself apart right down to the molecular level, as she ordered every part of his biology to kill everything else around it."
  • Troll: Mads never passes up the opportunity to get under the skin of whoever she's fighting.
  • Tron Lines: Tether's second costume has a bunch of violet-glowing lines go up their legs, up her body and down her arms.
  • Unknown Rival: Played with. Madison has certainly not forgotten Sophia. But when Sophia declares to be her nemesis, only for pissing her off, Madison says she does not think much about her anymore.
  • The Un-Smile: Due to the circumstances of her creation, Pandora does not know how to express her emotions naturally. Thus, when she tries to smile sincerely, her expression looks real creepy.
  • Unspoken Plan Guarantee: Madison's plan to out Thomas Calvert as Coil. The chapter cuts from her saying she has one to her talking to Calvert about Coil, only to later reveal that this was a ploy to get Pandora (disguised as Dennis) close so she could confirm him having Coil's power, while Sundancer confines Coil to that timeline by burning down his house (where he would presumably be in the other timeline).


  • Walking Spoiler:
    • At her introduction, Pandora spoils a lot of what's been going down for the fic's first few arcs, and details about her continue to serve as spoilers for quite a few arcs to come. Then it's revealed that Pandora-Prime is still alive, and has gained none of the morality and/or conscience of any of her clones.
    • Defiant as well, to the point that until recently every single detail about him was covered by spoiler tape.
  • We Used to Be Friends:
    • Emma and Taylor used to be friends through thick and thin until Emma met Sophia.
    • Madison was friends with Emma and Sophia. When she refused to forget they had let die Taylor, Sophia decided they were not friends anymore. Later, though, Madison and Emma made up.
  • The Worm That Walks: One of the forms of Pandora is a humanoid-mass of insects: flies, bees, spiders...
  • You Killed My Father: Coil got Madison's parents assassinated.
  • Zombie Apocalypse: What Anubis does. Instead of fighting, he floats around raising the dead. Every dead creature he raises can infect others, any living person who enters an area he's been will turn into a zombie if they're killed for up to three months, and the area where he's been will always turn anything that dies there into zombies.

“We...” I leaned back a little, moving a hand to Emma's chin, tilting it up so that she had to look at me. Her eyes were bloodshot, and she flinched but didn't look away once I caught her gaze. “We remember that... it wasn't some supernatural thing that made us act that way, Emma. We weren't taken over by some evil spirit or monster that forced us to do those things. They were our choices. Everything we did, we did it because we chose to.” She flinched and tried to duck her gaze again, but I held her chin steady. “Everything that happened, all of it, was our choice. And everything that happens in the future is our choice too, Emma. If you don't want to be that person again, then don't be her. It's all up to you. If you don't want to forget, then don't. Choose to be the better person. It's was your choice to be the person who did those things, and it's your choice to be a better one. You have to accept that... responsibility. Not just now, but all the time. You've gotta make that choice every single day.”

Alternative Title(s): Atonement