[CW: Implied threats of sexual violence, violence with sexual undertones]
Erin never left her van in the compound, so the last leg of the journey was always on foot.
She’d gotten into the habit of sketching while she walked, a cheap pad and chewed-up pen serving as the main vector for the conceptual side of her tinkering. Dipping into the tinkering fugue helped keep her grounded, helped keep the worst of the panic at bay, and after the day she’d had, she’d needed that more than ever. Once she had the ideas, she could execute on them consistently, but the inspiration was fickle, and she scrapped five ideas for every one she used.
Still, she’d had her powers for a year now. Even the ones started to add up after a while.
The ligament she’d seen that morning had yet to reappear, but when she’d been watching Ashley’s hands earlier, they had sparked something, and it seemed to have stuck, because she was beginning to see the shape of it. Something to do with… magnetics, she was fairly certain, on a micro-scale, perhaps to allow for extremely fine movement? It wasn’t within Bonesaw’s specialisation, but from what she’d been able to see of her work, that didn’t stop the younger Tinker much.
Her cast-offs were proving useful, though, so Erin couldn’t bring herself to complain.
She weaved between trees, head bowed, mutilating the pen’s cap with her teeth as she worked. The forest backed onto the compound, even enclosing certain areas, so it wasn’t suspicious or particularly noteworthy for her to walk in or out of it. All she had to do was always leave through it, regardless of where she was actually going, and it had quickly become the norm, just what Erin does.
For better or worse, a lot of things were that way these days.
The sun was halfway set, casting dim orange beams through the trees, and so she held a pocket flashlight between her teeth as she worked, adjusting it occasionally to swallow. It was doing hell on her night vision, but she was close to home - it’d be fine.
Almost immediately, as if the universe had decided to punish her for her hubris, there was the crunching of dry leaves from behind her, and a drumming noise that Erin had learned to recognise in her bones.
One: push her aura up to its max. Two: drop the flashlight into her hand. Three: spit off to the side, as loud and foul as she could manage.
Four. “Fuck off and die,” she said, not turning around.
There was a low, hoarse chuckle. “Nice to see you too, sweetheart.”
Erin tucked her things back away into her jacket, then finally turned around. “I’m sorry, Timothy, I don’t think you heard me clearly. Fuck off. And die. Preferably screaming.”
“Aww,” Seir smirked. “Y’always say the nicest things.”
Erin clenched a fist, nails digging deep into flesh, but forced herself to remain calm. She met his eyes, and imagined, as vividly as she could, tearing his neck open with a knife and watching him bleed out and choke on his own blood. She made no attempt to control her expression, and although Seir didn’t visibly react, she saw the tiniest flicker in his eyes.
“Why are you here, Timothy?” Erin asked, her voice flat. The full name was one of the few things she’d found that actually got to him, and she deployed it as often as possible.
He grinned a crooked, yellow grin, flicking out the blade of a pocketknife. “What, I can’t just want to see your beautiful face?” Erin ignored the knife - if he was going to hurt her, it wouldn’t be with a blade.
“No. You can’t.”
Casually, Seir began using the knife to scrape the underside of his nails, flicking the debris off to the side. “Well, sweetheart, we’re gonna be doing another little home visit tomorrow, and I thought it’d be just wonderful to have you along. After all, you’ve always been so… eager.”
The way his gaze dragged down her body made the double meaning all too clear. “You know that’s not the fucking deal, Timmy-boy,” Erin snapped, suppressing the bile rising in her throat. “I’m handling my cluster, remember? You don’t get to drag me along on whatever two-bit, hillbilly, psychopathic bullshit you’re pulling this week.”
“Oh, is that what the deal was?” He wasn’t even trying to lie convincingly. “Must have slipped my mind.”
Without breaking eye contact, Erin spat on the ground again.
The smile slowly seeped off of Seir’s face, like plastic melting in a fire.
“‘Parently, you ain’t been to visit her in a while,” he said.
Erin winced at his words, one hand clutching briefly at her upper arm. “...like I fucking said. I’m busy.”
He grinned. “Too busy for your-”
The blast of rust-coloured light hit the ground in front of Seir’s feet, showering him with dirt.
“...okay,” Seir said slowly. “I see how it’s gonna be, then.”
Erin stared him down, trying not to let her panic show. Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck. Today, of all days? Today, when she was at her most useless, when she was already worn out and tired, this happened today?! Of course it did, her mind immediately reminded her. Because he’s been watching you! Because he knew that you’d be vulnerable today, because you got sloppy.
You made this bed, Erin.
Step the fuck up and lie in it.
Every single time this happened, it was the same. Every single time, for the last year, he backed her into a corner and got off on it. It was a no-win situation for her. Do nothing, and he gets the satisfaction of controlling her. Fight back, he gets the satisfaction of brutalising her. Give in, and he-
The point was, if Erin had to go down, she was going to go down kicking.
The stampede-esque noise of Seir’s power began to ring out, shadows springing up out of the ground, but Erin was already moving, dashing forwards to the original. One of the shadows tried to grab her as she passed, but a blast sent it reeling backwards before it made contact.
Seir grinned as she approached, and Erin bared her teeth - not a smile, but a warning, like a wolf. As she drew close, she blasted the ground again, creating another spray of dirt, and used the brief moment of obstructed visibility to throw herself forward, lunging for Seir’s legs. He swapped out just in time, and it was a shadow that Erin bowled over instead of him. She scrambled to her feet, recovering before the shadow, and buried her knife in its head.
“Ooh,” Seir mocked, as two more shadows rushed her. “That knife make you feel big?”
The shadows, Erin knew from experience, were dangerous, but not particularly clever. Funny, that. A blast delayed one while she stabbed the other in the chest, black smoke billowing out as she dragged the blade down and the shadow collapsed. The other one had recovered, and Erin pointed her hand at it-
-then fired a blast from her other hand at Seir.
For a second, she actually thought it would work. She’d caught him off-guard, the bolts travelled quickly, and once she’d landed a hit-
Then the hope was gone as quickly as it had arrived, as the blast arced in the air, slamming harmlessly into the ground.
Seir’s laugh echoed through the trees, and Erin growled in frustration as she grabbed the shadow by the wrist. It tried to punch her, but she took the blow on her shoulder as she yanked it forward onto her blade. Another shadow grabbed her from behind, and she elbowed it in the stomach, but then a black cord hit the ground in front of her, and the new shadow grabbed her by the throat and lifted her into the air.
“Almost got me that time.” Seir circled into Erin’s field of vision as she kicked and flailed, clawing at the meaty arm that held her. Then, in an instant, it was Seir himself, grinning up at her behind his unkempt, greasy hair. “Don’t worry, you’ll get it eventually.” One finger stroked along her jaw, but drew back as she snapped at it. “After all, we’re gonna be spendin’ a lot of time together real soon.”
Erin spat in his face.
It was stupid, reckless, baiting the man who quite literally held her life in his hands. But as she watched the sadistic humour drain away, leaving him snarling and vicious, she couldn’t bring herself to feel anything but satisfied at finally getting to him.
His free hand clamped over hers, crushing her fingers against the handle of the knife and dragging the blade up towards her face. The glint of steel as it drew closer to her eye, her efforts to push it away futile, called back memories, bands around her chest, sweat and tears and snot dripping from her hands, the glint of light off of metal chains-
Except this wasn’t the same, was it?
It would never be the same.
Grabbing her other hand had forced Seir to pull her closer, and while he was distracted with the knife, Erin brought her leg up in a wild kick. It didn’t quite connect properly, nicking the edge of Seir’s jaw, but he jerked back in surprise anyway, pulling Erin closer still as his arm curled instinctively.
With a feral snarl, she slammed her free hand into Seir’s head, open palmed. Before she even made contact, he was replaced by a shadow copy, just in time for the blow to send its head whipping back with a flash of rust-coloured light. The shadow staggered, dropping Erin as it disintegrated away into smoke.
Her landing was rough, neck and hand throbbing with pain, and in an instant Seir was there again, towering over her, face twisted in a vicious scowl.
No time to get clever, not when he was right there. Erin activated her mover power, feeling her feet snap onto the ground. Bracing herself as best she could, she pressed both hands together and channeled as much power as she could through them. The light that shot forth was larger and messier than normal - but, unlike the smaller blasts, it didn’t curve, and it persisted, a bar of energy and light the size of a tree trunk.
Seir swapped out with one of his shadows before it hit, but hitting him hadn’t been the point. The recoil of her power was manageable in short bursts, barely noticeable, but when she sustained the effect, it was enough to knock her off her feet.
Or, if she braced right and her mover power was active, to act as propulsion.
Erin shot backwards, struggling to keep her balance on the uneven ground. The dirt wasn’t a problem (though the sensation of her feet sticking while moving up and down was a little disconcerting) but the tree roots were. Tripping at 20 mph and going headfirst into a tree wasn’t the worst way to die, but it certainly was one of the more humiliating.
She cut the beam after a few seconds, and kicked one leg out to spin herself around, bleeding the momentum for a moment before hooking her arm around a tree and deactivating her power with a short hop, letting it pivot her straight into a low run.
As much as she wanted to, running wasn’t an option. Seir had made that extremely clear the first time around. Well- everything wasn’t an option, but that one was worse than most.
Options, options, what are my fucking options? She’d had her aura up since the start, of course, but it was a useless piece of shit so that didn’t help. Her power hadn’t worked, and she wasn’t about to slide or tinker Seir into submission-
Her hand flew to her pocket, and the weight there.
...only one shot, Erin. Then again, it was one more than she’d had seconds ago.
The shadows were lashing out faster now, their movements more feral - which was saying something. One lunged at Erin from behind a tree, but tripped over a root and burst apart before even getting close, and she had to suppress a snicker. The next two that came at her, though, she let herd her backwards, hearing the drum of more shadows forming behind her. She had to-
There. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see one of the shadows had gained definition, becoming flesh and blood. She pretended not to notice as she let herself be surrounded, hand clutched tightly at her side.
“Been gettin’ a little cocky, Erin.” Oh for fuck’s sake, learn the element of surprise, you walking pile of smegma. She turned to face him. “Forgettin’ your place.”
Witty banter wasn’t her thing, and even if it was, she wouldn’t waste it on him. “You’re going to die slowly, Seir. Screaming.”
“That so?” he spat.
Erin met his eyes. “If it’s the last godforsaken thing I do,” she swore.
He growled, low and ugly, and one of the shadows leapt at her, but Erin was already moving. She stepped to the side, letting the shadow crash to the ground, and spun around behind her, just in time to catch Seir appearing there. She fired a blast at him, and a shadow sprang forth to take the hit, but as it burst apart, she used her power again, from the hand at her side this time, and with a meaty thump, Seir went staggering backwards, clutching at his head.
The gauntlet she’d had in her pocket was basically useless as tinkertech - Erin had only had it on her because it was a burner.
As a projectile, though, launched by her power?
It worked just fine.
Blood was streaming from Seir’s nose, and judging by the way he was clutching at it and grunting, the blow had broken it, which Erin felt just terrible about. She kicked him in the stomach, and the reverberation in her bones was the best thing she’d ever felt.
Seir tried to grab her ankle, but she kicked him again, in the face this time, and he went crashing back to the dirt.
“What did I say?” she hissed as she crouched, grabbing him by the hair and pulling him up to expose his neck. “Screaming.”
This time, the glint of the blade was hers, as she held it against his throat.
Seir gurgled something, and she pressed the blade in slightly. A single bead of crimson rolled down the metal. “Sorry," she simpered. "Didn't quite catch that."
“Bryce,” Seir gurgled out.
"Didn't think-" Seir continued, so smug despite the blade at his throat. "-thought of it?” He let out a choked laugh, and his hand grabbed hers at the wrist, pulling the blade away. “Nice try, though, sweetie.”
Erin did nothing, his hair falling free of her limp fingers. She did nothing as Seir got to his feet, as the drumbeat of his power sounded out over and over. They’d done this routine enough times that she knew better. Not when it was her brother’s life on the line. Her- Lauren and David’s.
And so she did nothing, as the blows started to fall, as Seir and his shadows kicked and spat, biting down on her lip to force herself from crying out.
Eventually, the assault ended, and Erin found her head being lifted off the ground, a hand along her jaw. Through her bruised and bloodied eyes, she saw Seir looking down at her, looking like- “Soon,” he murmured, stroking her cheek in a twisted mockery of affection. “Soon, you and I’ll have all the time in the world.”
Then, with the sound of drumbeats, he was gone, leaving her beaten and bruised and bleeding and alone in the dark.