“Erin!” Lauren said as she entered the kitchen. “You’re going to be late!”
“Nope,” Erin said, walking over to the counter and pouring a glass of water from the tap. “I already am late. Big difference.” The water was brackish, and slightly brown, tasting of earth and metal. Out of all the things she thought she’d miss from New York, from Bet, the taste of the water never even crossed her mind, and yet here she was.
She chugged the rest of the glass, conscious of Lauren’s eyes on her.
‘Mom’ and ‘Dad’ didn’t feel appropriate anymore, hadn’t since world ended, and in the last year Erin had given up the pretense entirely. Their parents had died on Golden Morning, leaving Erin and Bryce in the care of an entirely different Lauren and David Whitmore, ones whose care and affection had been so fractured and twisted that it could only be expressed through control and fear. The walking corpse of Lauren Whitmore had grown gaunt, hair prematurely white in a twisted mirror of-
“Young lady,” her mother started, but Erin had already dropped her glass in the sink and turned to leave. “Erin!”
“Thought you didn’t want me to be late?” she shot over her shoulder.
“You-you haven’t even eaten!”
Without turning back, she lifted a hand to show the muesli bar she held. “Bye, Lauren.”
It was easier, if she played the part of a moody, rebellious teenager. Lauren’s mind was grasping for comfort, for easy narratives that satisfied her worries and vindicated her fears. David, on the other hand...
She reached for the door, but it swung open on its own, nearly smashing into her face as she jumped back, and there he was, one hand clasped around a surly Bryce’s forearm.
David Whitmore had grasped for much simpler ways of feeling in control of his life.
“Erin,” David said.
A slight flare of the nostrils. “Erin, I’m sick of having-”
“I’m late for school,” she interrupted, moving to push past him. “Sorry.”
If she was smarter, she’d manage him like she did Lauren, giving him something he could work with, but Erin had run out of patience with contorting herself for men.
Even when it would be easier.
David prevented her from leaving, even his slight frame enough to fill the doorway. “Take Bryce to church.”
She stared up at him, willing herself not to flinch away, subtly resting a hand on Bryce’s forearm. “One, why? Two, no.”
David’s face tightened, almost imperceptibly. “Mr. Jean says he’s been spouting insults about- Mr. Mathers.”
Erin almost laughed at that, reaching out to chuck Bryce under his chin. “Hey, nice going, squirt.” He blew a raspberry at her, and she reciprocated in kind.
“Erin,” David snapped.
“David,” she shot back, mimicking his tone and expression. Then, to Bryce, “Come on, squirt. We gotta get going, cause I’m late.”
When she pushed past David this time, he let her pass, and oh how it grated that she needed him to let her. A small, vicious part of her fantasised about shoving him out of the way, about using her powers or her fists or the boxcutters hidden at her waist and ankle to hurt him, to bring him just a little bit closer to understanding what her life was like-
But she didn’t, because it had been a stupid, naive fantasy for as long as she’d been having it - for her whole life.
“We’re going to talk when you get home,” David said, as she led Bryce down the driveway and onto the road.
“No, we won’t,” Erin said.
Lauren appeared behind him, and he turned to speak to her in hushed tones. Erin’s stare bored holes in the back of his head, and she took a vicious little comfort in the knowledge her aura had been slowly soaking into him the whole time. She’d started keeping it on constantly around the compound - most people couldn’t even tell it was there, and if it made it even a fraction as unpleasant for them to be around her as the reverse was for her, good. In a perfect world, she’d give someone a heart attack or aneurysm.
“Erin?” Bryce asked. “Let go, please?” She was still holding him by the forearm - her power didn’t affect her, and she could extend that to a certain degree to someone she was touching. She’d never tried it with anyone else except him, though, so maybe the shard just got confused by their nigh-identical DNA. Lord knows there’s precedent.
“One sec,” Erin sighed, turning off her aura. It took a while to turn on, and in turn slowly faded out instead of disappearing instantly.
“Erinnnnn,” he whined, tugging at his arm.
“Bryyyyyyyyyyceeeee,” she mimicked, letting go once she judged it was safe. “You fucked up, squirt.”
“All I said was-”
Instantly, Erin slapped a hand over his mouth. “Don’t,” she hissed urgently. “Don’t tell me what you said, just- you have to be careful, Bryce. You have to think very carefully about the things you say, okay?”
He glanced away, sullen, but she pulled his head around to meet her eyes again.
Hearing Rain’s voice always elicited a complicated mix of emotions in Erin, and now was no different. She looked back to see him half-jogging to catch up with them, an expression of concern on his face.
Erin didn’t dislike Rain. Well, she did, but only to the degree that she disliked everyone. He was… fine. Good, even. He’d been good to her, helped her out - she’d never have been able to meet with the group without him running interference, and providing a ‘chaperone’. Even though she was the one with powers, she still needed someone responsible (read: male) around, right?
She knew she hadn’t been fair to him, that she wasn’t being fair to him. The last two years had been… uniquely horrifying, and while it wasn’t the exact same, he’d been dealing with that for his entire life. For him to be even marginally well-adjusted was an achievement; hell, it was almost laudable he hadn’t turned out worse.
Every time Erin looked at him, though, she didn’t see any of that. It wasn’t his fault that he was a reminder of all the worst times in her life by association, of course, but it happened anyway.
Add that onto his irritating crush on her and, well. Like she’d said to Tristan, he made a better ally than he did a friend.
“You’re… late for school," Rain said.
“...what do you mean? School’s already started.”
“Being late,” Erin said, “implies that you had planned and or were obligated to show up at a particular time, and have arrived later than that. So, I’m not late until I actually show up…”
“...which you’re not going to,” Rain finished, biting his lip. He was… a little bit cute, she had to admit, when he did things like that. “Erin-”
“Hey, Rainy Day, you’re not there either, so I think it’s a bit rich for you to get on my case.”
“You’re not going to school?” Bryce asked her from up ahead. He’d found a large stick, and was dragging it back and forth through the dirt.
“Nope. And you ain’t going to church either.” ‘Ain’t’, Erin? That’s what you get for spending two years living with hillbilly rednecks.
Bryce considered her words, then frowned. “I wanna go!”
Erin let out something that could only generously be described as a laugh. “No, Bryce. You really fucking don’t.”
“Yes, I do.” He pouted, folding his arms.
“Why are your parents sending him to church?” Rain asked.
“Lauren and David are sending him cause he was dumb enough to shit-talk where a teacher could hear him.”
Rain frowned. “Erin, you really shouldn’t swear around him so much.”
“What,” she replied with a snort, “cause he won’t hear it anywhere else?”
If there was one thing she could say for Rain, it was that he knew when to back off. “Are you going to work today, then?”
“I wanna go to church!” Bryce interrupted, stomping his foot petulantly.
“Yeah,” Erin answered Rain, as he bent over and scooped a protesting Bryce off the ground. The cries died out, though, as Rain swung the younger boy up onto his shoulders, holding him steady by the ankles.
Okay, two things.
“It’s a good day,” she continued. “Need to wring as much as I can from it.” She didn’t have an actual job, obviously; ‘work’ was her workshop, where she kept most of her assets, both tinkered and non-.
“I- well.” He laughed awkwardly, sticking his hands in the pockets of his hoodie. “Guess it would be hypocritical of me to worry about your attendance record, huh?”
Erin chuckled. “It really would. What’s up, anyway?”
What else? “Still trying to get you hitched with your cousin, huh?”
His lack of response was telling, and she hissed through her teeth in sympathy. “Hey, look at it this way - you’ll never have to stress about meeting the in-laws.”
Rain made a noise halfway between a cough and a laugh. “Jesus, Erin.”
She grinned. “Silver linings, man.”
The rumble of an engine interrupted them, and they all stepped off to the side of the dirt road to allow the pickup to pass. Instead, though, it slowed, until it was keeping pace with them.
“Rain-man! Erin!” Jay stuck his head out the window, grinning broadly.
“Hey, Jay,” Rain replied.
Erin rolled her eyes. “‘You’re gonna be late, Erin’," she muttered to herself.
“Y’all want a ride?” Jay asked, thumbing the already-packed bed of the truck.
“We’re good,” Erin replied flatly.
“I wanna ride!” Bryce protested from his perch atop Rain.
“You’re coming to school with us?” Rain asked, and her brother blinked, suddenly reminded of what was at the end of the ride he wanted so badly. “Yeah, thought not.”
Jay shrugged. “Your funeral. See you later, sweet-tits!”
“Jay-!” Rain protested, but the truck was already pulling ahead.
Erin blasted the back of the truck with her power, causing it to swerve slightly. She'd been aiming for the back right tire, but the way her power was currently, she was just happy she'd hit the truck at all. Some of the kids in the back yelled at them, but she flipped them off with a sneer.
“Guessing you’re not actually going to school?” she asked Rain, once they could hear each other again.
He shook his head, but didn’t elaborate.
“Great. Do me a solid and take care of the squirt today? I’m not letting him soak up any more of that bullshit than he already does.
Bryce perked up. “I get to hang out with Rain?”
Rain looked reluctant, but Bryce’s excited tone cut off any protest he might have made. “...sure.”
“Sweet.” She punched him in the shoulder, and he winced. “Make sure he doesn’t eat too much crap, yeah? Or, you know. Not more than you do.”
“I don't eat that much crap,” he protested.
Erin reached up and pinched her brother’s cheek, eliciting a squeal of protest. "Sure you don't." She split off from them, heading off the road at an angle.
“Erin?” Rain asked, and she paused, turning around. “Do you really think you should be… you know, flaunting your powers like that?”
She rolled her eyes. “Rain, are you seriously telling me not to use my powers to put myself ahead?”
“It’s… not right. Making it a show of strength or whatever.”
“Do you know something else the fucking Fallen will respect, Rain?”
He looked away.
“That’s what I fucking thought.” She turned back and continued walking. “If you’ve got another way to get them off my back at least a little, I’d love to hear it.”
Again, the silence spoke volumes. “...stay safe,” Rain replied instead.
She sighed. “...not exactly like it’s up to me.”