“Erin?!” Rain scrambled to his feet as she staggered into her workshop. “Jesus, Erin! What-”
"M'fine," she mumbled, waving a hand. Just getting here had taken most of her remaining strength, and she had to lean against the wall to stay on her feet.
"You're very clearly not! What happened?!"
“You know what happened,” she snapped. The words came out muddled, wet and sticky with blood. “Same fucking thing that always happens."
Rain hesitated. "I assumed..."
"Yeah, we both did." Erin spat, getting rid of the blood that had been welling in her mouth. "And look where that got us."
She tried to push herself off the wall and move towards her desk, but her legs gave out, and she would've fallen if Rain hadn't caught her.
She'd never admit it to anyone, least of all him, but the sensation of his arms encircling her was… nice. Comforting.
He gently lowered her to the ground, propping her back up against the wall, then carefully removed her jacket. “I’ll get the first aid kit. Don’t move, okay?”
Erin nodded, and immediately tried to get up.
“Erin!” Rain snapped, then immediately cringed. “Sorry, I didn’t… just, please, don’t move, okay? You’re going to hurt yourself.” She shot him a look. “Hurt yourself more.”
Erin would’ve continued to try, but she wasn’t physically able to make herself do anything more than sit up slightly. Hell, keeping her eyes open was a challenge on its own. Judging by the way time seemed to blink and Rain was suddenly there with the kit, she hadn’t entirely succeeded.
“I’m sorry, Erin.” Rain’s voice was quiet as he got to work. Giving her painkillers and water to swallow them with, wiping away blood and cleaning out wounds, his touch gentle and hesitant despite the fact that she could barely feel anything anyway.
“Why?” Erin managed to mumble. She hissed as the burn of antiseptic on her forehead cut through the haze. “Not your fault.”
He shook his head slightly. “Just… I’m sorry that… that this is happening to you. That it’s happening at all.”
“I…” He lifted her hand, and Erin lost her train of thought. “...thanks,” she said, voice hoarse as he began to clean out the dirt from her skinned knuckles. “I don’t… you…”
“It’s okay,” he replied, not meeting her eyes.
Erin stared at him for a second, then began laughing. Almost immediately, it turned into a bloody, ragged cough that left her doubled over in pain.
“You…” Erin rasped. “You need to… get the fuck out of here, Rain.”
He shook his head. “If I leave you, you might actually kill yourself trying to get up.”
“Not… here.” She waved a hand at that. “Here. All of… this. The Fallen, your stupid-” she broke off into another coughing fit. “Your stupid fucking family, all of this garbage.”
“Why not?! What’s there for you here? You could... go right now, and no-one would miss you.” She saw the way he flinched. “Fuck. That’s a good thing, Rain. You really don’t think… the Veras wouldn’t take you in? They’re good people, and… and so are you.”
“...I’m not,” Rain whispered. “You don’t… before you came… you never saw me when-”
Erin splat blood to the side. “You were a piece of shit, I know. But now you’re not.”
“It’s not that simple.”
“It is.” She grabbed his forearm. “Just leave, Rain. What’s… keeping you here at… this point?”
Slowly, Rain looked up to meet her eyes.
“...Oh,” Erin said hoarsely. “Oh, Rain…”
He shook his head fiercely, tears welling in the corners. “I know-” he choked, took a breath. “I don’t… you don’t…”
Hesitantly, Erin raised her hand, cupping the side of his face. “You should leave, Rain,” she repeated. “There’s- nothing for you here.”
He barked out a laugh, empty and hollow, and her hand fell away with the movement, leaving behind a blood-stained thumbprint on his cheek. “That’s not your decision, Erin.”
They both fell into silence as he continued to clean and dress her wounds, the atmosphere too heavy, too loaded now, to allow speech.
“Help me up,” Erin rasped once he was done. Rain glared at her, and she met it with one of her own. “Help me up, or I’ll try and do it on my own.”
With him supporting her, she managed to get on her feet, and together they stumbled over to her workbench.
She waved him off. “Get me a stool, if you’re so worried.” The… moment, whatever it had been, had passed, and she found herself retreating back into their usual dynamic. Erin is a shit to Rain, Rain puts up with way more than he should. It felt a little hollow, now.
Once she had her stool, Erin got to work. She pulled out her crumpled pad from her jacket and set it on the table, tearing out pages and flattening them out with practised efficiency. If they were still readable, they went on a crowded cork-board - if not, they went in a pile to be restored. It was a good use of her bad tinkering days - she didn't have to come up with new ideas, just parse and copy over ones she'd already had.
And it wasn’t like she had a shortage of bad tinkering days.
She could hear Rain, off in the shop, hitting something metallic with something else metallic. Obviously, he wasn’t a cape, but Erin had been surprised to learn that he was a half-decent machinist and woodworker. He found it soothing, she was pretty sure, and it still let him feel ‘manly’ or whatever. Came in handy, whenever her well of space-alien engineering ran dry, or just decided that to fuck with her. And it was more of a puddle than a well, anyway.
Today, though… today was a good day. One of the best she’d ever had without the fifth day giving her coins to boost it, so of course it happened on the day she got beaten within the inch of her life. All she could do was try and make her notes as thorough as possible, and hope that she’d still be able to understand them when it came time to actually start making things.
She was startled out of her fugue by Rain’s voice, practically in her ear, and she jolted away for more reasons than one.
“Your alarm’s been going off for a few minutes now,” Rain pointed out, and she swore as the beeping faded back into her consciousness.
“Help me down,” Erin said, hurriedly finishing her drawing, “then get out of here.”
She let Rain support her and lead her down to the ground, arms warm and gentle. "Are you sure-" he started.
Erin waved him off, even as a small part of her missed the contact. "Go. Lock up on your way out and I'll be fine - don't want you getting bashed again for staying out." And, she didn't need to say, for staying out with her.
Rain was… very close to the bottom of the totem pole, as far as the Fallen were considered. Erin wasn't anything special, but she was still a cape, and that meant that she was a Better Class Of Person than him. She wouldn’t necessarily be punished for being his friend (and if she was, eh), but Rain would be. Had been.
“Do you need a pillow or something?” he asked, and she waved him off again, rolling up her jacket and tucking it under her head.
“Go,” she repeated.
He hesitated one last time, met her eyes, and then darkness swept over her vision, and she was gone.
Cradle’s night, his memories.
Fractured, faded. Erin hated him for it, how he got to have the faded faces and muted words, that he got to have that relief. He didn’t have to relive every detail of the worst night of his life in excruciating detail.
If there was any justice in the world, the others would hate him for that too - and maybe they did.
They just hated her more.
They all stood in their rooms. Erin made her joke, the others tried to murder her with their eyes. Just another night.
“Hey,” Erin said out loud to no-one in particular as she stepped through the debris towards the dias. “Do you think if I learned to juggle in here, I’d be able to do it in the real world?”
The injuries hadn’t carried over - she was exactly as she’d been that first night, black clothes and that stupid fucking demon mask and the hand-shaped bruise on her neck that the turtleneck didn’t quite cover. Mentally, though, she was exhausted and at her limit, and it tended to make her kind of… loopy.
“I mean,” she continued, “three tokens, hand tinkering, it just makes sense, right? We could’ve been juggling this whole time!”
Love Lost turned to stare at her as she grabbed her three chain links from the table. Another average day, but she’d already known it was going to be.
“How does it go, anyway?” The silence in the dream room seemed more physical than in reality. Thicker, more oppressive. Talking to herself helped, humming or muttering or scratching at her skin or gnawing on her thumb.
Anything that made noise.
None of the others responded, not that she’d been expecting them too. Snag and Love Lost leant on opposite sides of their barrier, foreheads resting against it. Love Lost had both hands against the wall, tension and anger in her posture, while Snag slumped, a single hand placed over one of hers.
Cradle was staring at her. Harrowed, raw. Even though he had it easy.
Erin bit her cheek until it bled and gave him a crimson smile. “You’ve probably tried it, right? What is it? One, two-” She tossed one of the links up, then a second one from the opposite hand, but she didn’t know where to go from there, and both fell to the floor with a dull clink. “Shoot. Guess that’s not it.”
She bent over to grab them, and when she straightened up, Cradle had moved right up to the barrier. Still staring.
Erin let her fake cheeriness slough off her face, let the links of chain clatter to the ground. Without breaking eye contact, she walked right up to the barrier - not as close as Snag and Love Lost were, but closer than would have been comfortable in real life.
He quivered with barely-suppressed rage, but Erin knew better by now. The rage was real, it was very very real, but underneath it there was something else. Something dark and cold and entirely familiar, because she’d seen it enough in the mirror.
Erin broke eye contact first, turning away and beginning to pace the border of her room. She hated seeing that, hated knowing it, but letting herself forget was worse.
It felt like an hour passed before any of them spoke again.
“Cradle. I’d like the coins before we run out of time.” Snag had moved to the dias in the centre, looking across at Cradle.
Without moving, Cradle flung out a hand, sending his coins flying into Snag’s space.
“Are you happy yet?” he asked. Not speaking to Snag, or Love Lost.
Erin turned to him and gave the broadest, fakest grin she could. “Feeling peachy,” she said through her teeth.
Cradle ignored her. “Is it enough?” he spat. “Have you hit rock bottom yet? Or are you going to keep digging, and drag us all down with you?”
Erin spat on the ground. “Fuck you,” she said, because it didn’t matter what she felt, didn’t matter if she agreed with him - she couldn’t back down, couldn’t give him an inch. “Get over yourself already.”
“We were good people,” Cradle snarled, slamming a hand against the barrier. “Snag was a hero, Love Lost was an officer of the law.”
“And I was a fucking fifteen-year-old,” she shot back.
“We all had our lives destroyed,” he continued, “we all suffered and lost, but you? You’re the only one who did it to herself. To us. To them.” He gestured out, into the void around the dream room, but Erin knew who he meant anyway. “You should have done us all a favour and just died at the mall.”
“The feeling’s mutual.”
“You should have done the world a favour and killed yourself before doing it again. Every single time, you should have killed yourself instead. Every-” he slammed his hand against the wall with each word, “single- time!”
Erin sat down on her bench, and began tossing a link up into the air.
“You were never a good person. Because a good person - a decent person - would have killed themselves instead of spreading fucking misery and destruction everywhere you go.”
“You want to be fucking redeemed?! Kill yourself.”
“You first,” Erin said.
Cradle slammed his hand against the wall again. “You’re already killing me! Killing us! Do the right thing for once in your miserable fucking life and kill yourself.”
The chain clinked as she caught it.
“Kill yourself,” Cradle said.