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“Hi, boss,” Kenzie said as she entered the room. Cute, but it made Ashley uncomfortable in a way she couldn’t quite put words to. 

“I’m glad you could make it, Ashley,” Mrs. Yamada said, and Ashley gave a respectful nod in return. Yamada, Jessica, was one of the very few people she’d allow that courtesy to, one of the very few people who deserved it by not being mind-numbingly incompetent. “I’ve spent the last minute or two going over the basics, reminding others about the aims of the group and how confidentiality works in a group session.”

“To fill in our guest?” Ashley asked. She’d noticed the new arrival upon entering, of course, but had avoided giving her a proper evaluation until she had a better sense of how Yamada viewed her. Another courtesy, rarely extended. The near-constant dryness in her throat flared up again, and she walked around to the water table on the side of the room, pouring herself a cup.

“Yes,” Mrs. Yamada replied. “Her name is Victoria. If you’ll take a seat, I’ll bring you anything else you need, but I’d like for everyone to be seated so I can continue.”

The coin spun in the air, but she caught it before it came down, and bit down on the instinctual reaction to being told what to do. Taking a sip of water to cover the moment’s hesitation, she walked back around the circle to her seat. Which, coincidentally, placed her directly opposite their guest. 

‘Victoria’ was a young white woman, maybe a year or two younger than Ashley. She was attractive, but not exceptionally so - heart-shaped face, button nose, clear skin and slightly rosy cheeks that didn’t appear to be the product of makeup so much as measured care and routine. Straight blonde hair fell down past her shoulders, parted in the middle, and framed a long, slender neck. Combined with her outfit (a white dress with a black hood that had been thoroughly soaked by the rain to hint at the black bra underneath), it was a look that would’ve normally fallen under ‘cute’, but the word didn’t quite apply. It was the eyes, Ashley decided after a moment, as her gaze travelled back up and found them meeting her own. They were a clear, piercing blue, but just under the surface there was something darker roiling, a storm just beyond the horizon. A weight that belied her appearance, belied her youth and beauty, the same weight that she saw in Byron’s eyes sometimes, in Riley’s.

In, she admitted, her own.

Victoria broke eye contact first, glancing over to Mrs. Yamada, but for whatever reason, the victory lacked its usual frisson. Perhaps it was the increasing certainty that the other girl knew who she was, the burgeoning awareness that she was at a disadvantage. 

Another coin flip, another last-moment save, and she settled for grinding her teeth. 

“Use your own discretion when deciding what to share,” Jessica continued. “You’ve all agreed to participate, knowing the risks and difficulties inherent. I’m hopeful this will be a positive set of exercises. I think that more or less sums it up. I suspect Victoria’s presence and the fact you’ve all had a week to think about what we talked about last session means you’ll have some questions.”

“It’s pretty late to be bringing her in,” Ashley said, and it felt like a tiny victory when Victoria looked back at her again. “Is she joining the group?”

“We hadn’t planned on her joining, per se,” Mrs. Yamada said. “I invited her because she’s exceptionally well equipped to address the topics that came up last session. We’ll build on it and you can decide what you’re willing to share here. During our next and final session, depending on your comfort levels and how much you want to carry on today’s discussion, she may or may not be in attendance, or not for the full duration.”

“Is it really an ‘issue’?” Tristan asked, making air quotes, and Ashley shot him a glare. Don’t undermine yourself by acting like a petulant teen.

“I think it could be. Victoria can expand on why, shortly.”

“Are we supposed to know who she is?” Ashley cut in, a little sharper than she’d intended.

Victoria didn’t react to the slight, simply glancing at Mrs. Yamada. Getting permission, Ashley thought with a sneer.

“I’m Victoria Dallon. If you study Parahumans, my family comes up, because it’s a literal textbook case of powers running in families. I… believe you’ve run into my family, Ashley.”

Flashes of an abandoned building, of a monster towering on the horizon. Then, later and clearer, red hands in a white room. “Have I?” Ashley lied, testing the waters. “I’ve met so many capes it’s hard to keep track.”

“Do you know New Wave?” she asked. “White bodysuits, symbols in colors?”

“I know a few people like that. I didn’t always pay attention to names.” 

“Would’ve been in Boston. The slang term in the ‘scene’ was the Boston Games.”

Ashley smiled for the first time. Maybe Victoria wasn’t a complete waste of attention after all.

Chapter Text

There was the characteristic creak of hinges that indicated the door opening, and I glanced over to see R- Fall entering, with Kenzie dancing around her legs.

"...and and and," Kenzie was saying, "I can make you a makeup projection like I did for Ashley's costume, and I can do, uh. What else can I do?" No smile, but she was practically vibrating.

Fall hesitated, brushing a strand of hair out of her eyes. It was obvious she was tempted. "...thanks, Kenzie, but you're doing plenty already." She was wearing a t-shirt and jeans like she usually did, but the jeans were higher-rise, the shirt a different (and more flattering) cut. 

When I'd seen her in the prison the first time, I had thought that she looked like a weight had come off her shoulders. Looking at her now, it was clear I'd been very wrong, because that didn't even begin to compare to how free she looked now. 

"No, no, I can do it!" Kenzie insisted. "I'll just repurpose the design I made for Ashley! It'll take an hour, max!"

I could see Fall wavering, and I decided to save her the guilt. "Kenzie, are you absolutely sure? You're not going to stay up late working on it?"

She shook her head vigorously. "I'll do it right now! If I get the others we can do it even quicker!"

"Let her do this for you, Fall," Ashley added with a warm smirk. She was curled up in the armchair with a cup of tea, blanket draped over her legs. Entirely too far away, in my opinion. We'd agreed to take things slow and keep our relationship private for now, but logic was a cold comfort when I wanted her curled up against me, sharing a blanket, feeling her words vibrate through my chest-

I flushed, trying to think about something else. I had it bad.

Chapter Text

“If you want me to stop,” Chastity murmured into his neck, “all you have to do is say so.”

“I’m- I’m not a guy.”

Chastity blinked. ...oh. Oh!

“I’m not a guy,” Rain repeated. “I’m a girl, and I didn’t want you to think that…” she ran her hands down her face with a frustrated growl. “I didn’t want to lie to you

“Okay,” Chastity said, stepping back and taking her hands. “Is that a yes or a no?”

Rain’s flushed slightly. “You… 

Chastity rolled her eyes. “Rain- is Rain still okay?”

She nodded mutely.

“Good. Rain, I appreciate you feeling safe enough to come out to me, so I’ll be honest with you; I haven’t gotten laid in way too long. I still think you’re cute-” she bit her lip, considering. “Actually, I think you’re cuter now that I know, but the point is, the offer is still open.”

Hesitantly, Rain nodded. “I haven’t...” she whispered, “...before. Not just- ever.”

Chastity let a feline smile curl across her lips. “Then I would be honoured,” she purred, leaning in to nibble at the other girl’s neck. “Don’t worry; I’m an excellent teacher.”

-----

Erin leant against her shoulder with a sigh, and Fall revelled in the touch. Not even in a romantic or sexual way - just the sheer joy of being able to touch someone she cared about, to feel their presence, to casually be in contact without it meaning anything. 

“...Fall?” Erin asked, glancing up at her. “Is everything…?” She gestured to her own eyes, and Fall realised with a start that she was crying.

“I’m fine,” she said quickly, voice choking up. “It’s just-” The tears were flowing freely now, and she didn’t try to stop them, the grin on her face stretching so wide it almost hurt. “Thank you,” she choked out, squeezing Erin closer. “Thank you.

-----

(Victoria POV)

She turned the mask around, presenting the front to me. It had the same design, the circuitboard mask in blue and white with the break across the center, but now the cracks had been filled in with gold.

“Oh, wow.” I nodded approvingly, genuinely impressed. “That looks great, Fall. Kitsurigi?”

Fall flushed, and nodded. “Ri- someone was telling me about it, and I really liked the concept. The, uh. The idea.”

I could see that, yeah. It seemed to fit her, somehow. “Are you making many other changes?”

“Mm,” she wavered, turning her attention back to the mask. “I kind of want to… well, I know it’s stereotypical, but I was kind of thinking I could extend the panels around the waist, make a sort of skirt?”

I did my best to visualise that in my head. “How would that work?”

Fall gestured me over, pulling something out of a drawer. “I thought if I did overlapping panels on a framework like this, it could still provide some protection without getting in the way too much?” The sample she had reminded me of roofing tiles, almost, the same kind of overlaid pattern, but the rectangular plates of metal shifted back and forth instead of staying in place.

“Could get kind of loud,” I noted.

She nodded. “I was thinking some kind of padding on the underside of each ‘scale’?”

“That could work, yeah.” A thought struck me, and I pointed to the slight lip at the bottom of an individual scale. “What if you painted the underside of this the same gold as the mask? That way, it wouldn’t be visible normally, but you would get glimpses of it as you moved.”

Fall’s face lit up as she considered it, and I chuckled as I saw the characteristic tinker eye-glaze. “I’ll leave you to it.”

-----

“Uh, hi.” Fall stood awkwardly on the threshold of the room. “Is this… I’m looking for Riley? Riley Davis?”

The girl glanced up, revealing a pair of piercing blue eyes. “You found her,” she said, voice slightly muffled by the surgical mask. “Give me a few minutes, sorry. I’m not supposed to talk to people while I’m working. Apparently it’s ‘disconcerting’.”

Considering her arms were elbow deep in a corpse, Fall was inclined to agree. “S-sure. I’ll just…” She trailed off, stepping backwards through the door and letting it swing shut. Through the little window, she could see that Riley had already returned to her work.

Chapter Text

No-one is supposed to know about the apartment, Chastity.” Every second Aisha spent dealing with this was a second she risked getting shot, and the irritation was bleeding through into her tone.

“I know,” Chastity cut in. “But she’s here, and she’s asking for you.”

“Who the fuck goes looking for a mercenary at a random safehouse apartment?”

“...not Imp-you. Aisha-you.”

The words are innocuous, but something, something in her gut, some unknowable feeling, makes Aisha freeze. No-one knows outside of the Undersiders knows that name anymore, except maybe a few masterminds that wouldn’t be at her door. “What- what does she look like?” Why is her heart hammering against her ribs? Why does she feel faint?

“Uhm,” Chastity says. “White, early-20s? Curly brown hair, kind of a wide mouth, and I think she has a prosthetic arm-”

-----

Aisha stumbles into the living room, and there she is. Sitting on the couch, drinking tea, like it was the end of the school day and they were in the Loft. Like the world had never ended, like nothing had changed. 

Except everything has changed.

She’s taller, taller even than she was when she returned from the Wards, but she doesn’t have the same lean, tight muscle, for the first time Aisha can remember. She’s not large, still the same twiggy frame and sharp angles, but she’s… soft. It should look strange, but it doesn’t. The arm, too, should stand out, but even now, her poise, her composure, makes it seem as natural as any flesh-and-blood limb as she raises the teacup to her mouth, taking a quiet sip as she looks up at Aisha.

And for the first time since they stood together at the end of the world, their eyes meet.

“You changed your hair,” Taylor Hebert says with a smile. “I like it. 

Aisha doesn’t even remember moving but in an instant they’re wrapped around each other, holding on to the other like their lives depended on it, tears streaking down their faces and spilling to the ground.

“You fucking asshole,” Aisha sobs into Taylor’s shoulder. “Two fucking years, we thought you were dead and the first thing you say is you like my hair?!”

Taylor squeezes her tighter. “I missed you too, Aisha.”

Chapter Text

I picked out a short-sleeved white blouse, a pleated black skirt with a faint grey houndstooth pattern, and plain black tights. It was still warm enough that I wouldn't have gone with tights ordinarily, but without them wearing a skirt was a dicey proposal, and I wanted to look professional. You only get one first impression, and the idiom was even truer for me than most. 

Ashley walked by my open door as I was slipping in my shoes, a pair of black Mary Janes I'd found in a thrift shop and polished back to like-new condition. 

"Good morning," I said, only glancing up for a moment before returning my attention to my shoes. Leaning all the way over was bad for my back, so I had to lift one leg and cross it over the other, put one shoe on, put it down and repeat the process with the other leg. I could have done it using my legs alone, but even something that mundane would have left them all but useless for the rest of the day. 

"Good morning," Ashley replied, after a delay. For some reason, she was still hovering in the doorway, wearing her nightgown and an odd, inscrutable expression. "Do you need a hand?"

I was sorely tempted to say yes, but I'd seen the way her hands had been shaking last night. "I've got it. Thanks, though." With a grunt of effort, I dropped the first leg back down and lifted the other. “I’m sure it’ll get easier at some point, right?”

-----

Missy gestured, and I leaned in close.

“No dice,” she whispered, looking mournful. “Red hair is gay, but I’m still sounding out black hair.”

“Should you… be telling me that? Outing him?”

Missy shrugged one shoulder. “He’s wearing a pin that says ‘swag is for boys, men is for men’, and he mentioned it within thirty seconds of talking to me, so I don’t think it’s exactly a secret.”

“...he’s wearing a pin that says what?

-----

“This,” Ashley ground out, “is my twin sister. Ashley.”

The other girl smiled, sharp and cold. “Charmed.” Her voice was the same as-

“Hold on,” I said, as my brain processed the words. “Did you say-”

Ashley sighed, and the other girl gave an exaggerated laugh, holding one hand in front of her mouth. “Oh yes,” she said, smirking, and stuck out a hand. She had ridiculous fake nails, almost two inches long and sharpened to a point, and it grated that she made it work. “Ashley Stillons. Pleased to make your acquaintance.”

“I’m… confused,” Sveta said.

“We were both given up for adoption,” Ashley - our Ashley - said. “Two twin girls, given to different homes, but both with a birth certificate that said ‘Ashley Stillons’.”

“That…” I was at a loss for words. “Was it... intentional? Or…” I didn’t even know what would come after that.

“If only,” the other Ashley said with a smirk. I was getting the impression she said everything with a smirk. “No, to the mighty United States Government, there has only ever been one Ashley Stillons. I’m sure you can imagine the inconvenience that caused for us. Well, for me.” The last bit was directed at our Ashley, venom coating the words.

“Oh, of course,” she shot back. “I did it all intentionally, to make life difficult for you. Nevermind that I had no idea you existed, and also the fact that I was a fucking child.”

“When did you find out?” I interrupted quickly, trying to avoid this deteriorating into a public fight. Based on the impressions I’d gotten of both sisters so far, that would be a disaster of unmitigated proportions.

“Senior year of high school,” our Ashley said.

-----

“Ah,” I said, caught off-guard and feeling oddly exposed. “Hi, Ashley. You look nice.”

It was an impulse comment, but she really did. I hadn’t actually seen the dress she was wearing before; black (of course) and satiny, it had an asymmetrical cut that stretched below the knee on one side but rode scandalously high on the other. It was backless, showing off her shoulders and collarbones, and when the light caught it in a certain way I thought I could make out a faint floral pattern embossed down the length. Her makeup was flawless, which was especially impressive knowing that she’d done it herself, and a complicated silver bracer wrapped around one forearm, the style vaguely Gothic.

Ashley blinked at me. “...Victoria, good evening.” It almost seemed like she was confused as to why I was here, but with her cheeks flushed red by the brisk wind, it was hard to read her expression. “You look- nice, as well.”

I tried to smile, but in the context, it came out slightly strained. “Thank you.” I hesitated, but I guess I’d had slightly more to drink than I’d thought, because before I could second-guess myself I was opening my mouth again. “Are you… okay?”

“I’m fine,” Ashley said, arms clutched tightly around herself.

I sighed, then pulled my hoodie out of my bag and tossed it at her. “Of course,” I said as she caught it with her forearms. “But I’ll worry, so would you mind putting it on for me? Just for my peace of mind.”

She smirked at the obvious lie, but didn’t refute me. “For you.”

-----

I left it at that. “How was your date, then?”

“Mm. Similar, I think.” Ashley glanced over at me for a second, and I could see her reach some kind of decision. “She was… more interested in an idea of me, I think, than the reality.”

...oh. Oh. In hindsight, a few things suddenly made more sense. “I’m sorry,” I said, trying not to let my reaction bleed through in a way that would be offensive. “I can relate to that, I think.”

Ashley arched a thin brow. “Can you, now?”

“Mm-hm,” I said with a nod, ignoring her scepticism. “If I say the term ‘chasers’ to you, does that mean anything?”

“...it does, but I suspect not the same meaning you have.”

I wasn’t sure what that meant, but pressed on regardless. “People who fetishise disabilities, essentially. It’s… really gross, and I won’t go into details, but yeah, I think I can relate to people being more interested in their own version of you.”

“...I suppose you can.” I figured that was as close to a concession as I was going to get. 

Chapter Text

“Hi! I love your chair!”

Standing in front of me, her head almost level with mine, was a young girl. She was black, with frizzy hair bound back into two tight, neat buns, and a neutral expression that belied the spark in her eyes. Her clothing was almost too perfect - neatly ironed and perfectly coordinated, a pink blouse and a light gray skirt over stockings, shoes shined to a polish, and matching heart-shaped hair clips at her temples. 

“Hi,” I responded cautiously. “Thank you. It’s very-” I tried to lie and say something positive, but the words caught in my throat. “Expensive,” I finished instead. 

“Cool! I’m Kenzie, by the way. Kenzie Martin.” She stuck out a hand, and I was bemused enough that I shook it.

“...Victoria Dallon. I don’t mean to be rude, but, um. Are you supposed to be here?”

Kenzie smiled. “Uh, yeah. Where else would I be?”

“...at school?”

She rolled her eyes, but didn’t seem bothered. “I am at school, silly!” She held up the book she was holding, and I realised it was a textbook - Optics: Light and Refraction by Camden Ito. It was almost the size of a phonebook, and was very clearly collegiate-level.

“Oh, okay,” I said, because it seemed the only appropriate response. “That’s very impressive, congratulations.”

The smile didn’t reappear, but Kenzie gave a little bounce, so I assumed she was pleased. “Thank you! I want to go into optics, but I have to do a general physics course first and it’s sooooo boooooooooooorrrrriiiinnnggg.” The juxtaposition of the childish mannerisms with the subject matter was… novel, to say the least.

“I can’t even imagine,” I replied honestly. “I’ve never been particularly skilled at any of the sciences.”

“What do you study?”

I held up my own textbook with a smile. “Psychology. It’s- important to me.”

Kenzie nodded gravely at that. “I understand completely.” Oddly, I kind of believed her. “Why do you have to use a wheelchair?”

The bluntness of the question, and its abruptness, left me flailing, until an unexpected voice came to the rescue.

“That’s not a question you ask, Kenzie,” Ashley said from over my shoulder. 

-----

“It’s so good to see both of you,” Jessica said, giving my hand a little squeeze. “I can’t possibly exaggerate how much it means to see you both here.”

“Thank you,” I said with a smile. “I think I speak for both of us when I say you were a major part in that.” Sveta gave a teary-eyed nod in confirmation, and I pulled my hands back so I could spin slightly and see everyone at the same time. “Everyone, this is Dr. Yamada. I mentioned that Sveta and I met in physical therapy, right? Dr. Yamada worked there.”

“As a psychologist,” Jessica clarified, “not as a physical therapist. Ashley, it’s good to see you again as well.”

I blinked in surprise, glancing back and forth between the two of them. 

“Jessica,” Ashley acknowledged with a small tilt of her head. “It’s a small world, it seems.”

“Isn’t it just,” Jessica said with a chuckle.

-----

“I was…” the words caught in my throat, and I had to stop for a second. “You’ve met my sister.”

Ashley didn’t blink at the seeming non-sequitur. “Only in her professional context, but yes. She was there for the main surgery, the one that returned most of the range of moment I have.” 

I nodded. “She- she’s the only reason I’m as abled as I am. But. She’s also the reason I was disabled in the first place.”

It was actually becoming easier to speak as I went on, the increasing disconnection from my body suppressing the emotional reactions. 

“I was- hurt. Badly. Because of her. It wasn’t her hands that did it, but it was. She caused it to happen.” Unconsciously, I ran one hand around my neck, dipping down to touch the very top of the scar. “My spinal cord was severed, just between the seventh and eighth vertebrae. Everything below the neck was left completely numb and unresponsive, and moving my face and neck became extremely difficult.”

-----

“Two years. Two. Years. And then- I’m waking up from a routine surgery, essentially a stop-gap to keep things from getting worse, and- she’s there. Just sitting there next to my bed like she has any right to-” I paused, taking a deep breath. “She’d showed up, in between me going under and the actual start of operation, and gotten herself in the room, I still don’t know how. And instead of a routine procedure, she did- something. Without my permission, without my consent, again-”

I didn’t realise Ashley had taken my hand until she squeezed it tightly with her own, the touch oddly soothing. 

“So, yeah,” I said hoarsely. “And I could feel my limbs again. I mean, they were atrophied from two years of disuse, and my legs were still kind of unresponsive, but I could feel them. I could move them. And that, more than any other moment, was when I truly hated her. Because she couldn’t even- it would almost be easier, you know? If all she did was hurt me. But then she came back, and fixed one hurt while making all the others so much worse, and she’s still the only reason I can move under my own power and-”

We sat in silence for a moment.

“It would be easier if she hadn’t fixed me,” I finished. “Not because I hate her less now. Because any piece of shit can destroy your life, but you can only break it and put it back together if you control it. Because every single day that I get up, every step I take, they’re hers. Because she took my life from me, and then acts like she gets to be the one to give it back.” My voice had been steadily dropping away, until it was barely more than a whisper. “Because she thinks I’m something she gets to have. Because she’s right.”

I wasn’t crying, because crying would have been cathartic. I just felt… hollow, emptied-out.

Chapter Text

“Don’t fucking move,” the voice snarled.

Rain froze. “...Erin?”

There was a moment of silence. Then, “Oh, you have got to be fucking kidding me.”

The pressure at Rain’s neck disappeared, and he spun around to see-

Erin. But also… not?

It was definitely her - her face, her eyes; there was no world where Rain wouldn’t recognise those in an instant. She looked different to the Erin he knew, though - for one thing, her head was shaved, down to a fine black stubble. Her ears were un-pierced, her eyebrows were untamed and rough, and she’d clearly spent a lot of time in the sun - her skin had a faint golden tan, and a smattering of freckles across the bridge of her nose that he knew his Erin had always covered up with makeup when they appeared. She was leaner, too - simultaneously fitter and more emaciated, hungrier, like she’d sharpened herself against a whetstone. 

Her clothes, too, were wildly different. A dark red t-shirt with the sleeves ripped off under oversized grey overalls that had been belted in at the waist, baggy and obscuring but still somehow appropriate, for this strange mirror of his… friend.

While he’d been sizing her up, she’d clearly been doing the same. “Since when the fuck are you a tinker?” she demanded in Erin’s voice, harsher and sharper than she would ever be in conversation, but achingly familiar all the same.

“Then die, Rain.”

It took a second for him to process her words, but sure enough, when he glanced down, he was wearing his tinker arms over his civilian clothing. “Oh,” he said, lifting his arm up to inspect them. “I guess since the prison I’ve been wearing them enough that it just feels natural?”

Not-Erin blinked. “You were in prison? Wait, you were in the prison?!” 

“The… one Goddess attacked? Yeah.” He took in the way she reacted to that, the way she almost unconsciously started to bite at one of her thumbs as she thought. “I’m guessing,” he started, “that neither of us is really the person the other thinks they are.”

“Yeah, no shit,” Erin muttered, the casual profanity catching him off-guard. “You’re a fucking cape, for one.”

Something in the way she said that… “You are too?”

She barked out a laugh, and it felt fundamentally wrong. That’s not how Erin laughs, none of this is how Erin acts. “‘Too’? You’re not a fucking cape, Rain, you’re the fucking kid with the puppy-crush who almost got married to his cousin.”

This- she was starting to get on his nerves. “Yeah, well, you’re not a fucking asshole, and yet here we are!”

She blinked at that, then sighed. “Fair, I guess. This is some multiverse fuckery, right?”

“Could be cluster fuckery,” Rain suggested. “They were getting bored with the dream room, so they’re trying something new.”

“Cluster? Cluster as in the mall cluster?”

“...yes?”

“Love Lost, Snag, that piece of shit asshole motherfucker Cradle? You’re part of that cluster?”

“Yeah,” Rain confirmed worriedly. “Wait, are you saying…”

Not-Erin began to laugh again, bitter and hoarse. “Oh, I fucking get it. Let me guess, Seir dragged you along, told you to watch the door?”

“...yeah.” The truth was too complicated, too uncomfortable to reveal to this familiar stranger.

“Oh, god,” she laughed again. “So wherever the fuck you’re from, you ended up triggering instead of me, huh?”

“Wait,” Rain said, finally connecting the dots. “Instead of you? You were- why were you at the mall?”

She spat on the ground. “Seir, why the fuck else?”

“Seir?!”

“Yeah? What, does he not want to fuck me in your universe?”

“I mean… not specifically, I don’t think? Besides, he’s… not around anymore.”

That seemed to surprise her. “Huh. Didn’t think you had it in you. Guess some stuff is constant, though.”

“...are you saying you killed your Seir?”

“Are you saying you didn’t?!”

“No! Of course not! He went to prison, and then he ended up with Teacher after Goddess came! You killed him?”

“Yeah, I fucking killed him!” she shot back, getting up in his face. “And if I never get another fucking wink of sleep in my life because of it, it’ll still be worth it.”

“That’s…” Rain shook his head. “Erin, what happened to you?”

She seemed to deflate. “Lots of fucking things. You want to go first, or should I?”

-----

Once they’d finished sharing their respective stories, they sat in silence for a moment, each in their own segment of the dream room. Rain sat in his chair, and Erin sat cross-legged in the back of a ruined van. 

“So,” Erin asked at last, and the hint of mischief in her voice was achingly familiar. “You take Chastity up on the offer?”

That certainly hadn’t been what he’d been expecting. “I… what? No!”

“Oh, she did do that with you too, then. I was wondering.”

“...too?”

Erin rolled her eyes. “Yeah, asshole. They don’t have bisexuality in your universe?”

“You know that’s not what I meant.”

“Yeah, but that’s none of your business.”

“You just asked me about it.”

“Should have told me to butt out then,” she grinned.

“...you and Chris probably got along, huh?”

“...yeah,” she said, with a flicker of melancholy. “We did.”

Neither of them said sorry, but it hung in the air.

“I didn’t,” Erin said eventually. “Take it, I mean.

“You don’t have to-”

“Didn’t feel like it was about me at all,” she continued, talking over him. “I was just the nearest warm body, y’know?”

“Yeah. That was pretty much why I didn’t either. That, and…” 

He remembered a second too late who he was talking to, but Erin just rolled her eyes again. “God, get over it. You’re a fucking big-shot superhero now, aren’t you? Move on with your life.”

“Hey,” he shot back, “I’m sorry, but I’m not your Rain, and you’re not my Erin. You don’t get to speak for her and act like you’d know.”

She shrugged. “Eh, apart from the powers, you’re pretty similar to my Rain. Bit more of a spine, though.” 

-----

“Precipice.”

She considered that. “Okay, yeah, I don’t hate it. Fits with the motion-stop thing, I guess. Mine’s Fetter, even if honestly I’m not that fond of it.”

“Fetter? Do you do traps, then?”

“Yeah, kind of. My stuff is sort of like… modular gauntlets, I guess. Bunch of different pieces that I can fire off with my power, make them grab onto stuff and lock in place or start squeezing or whatever.”

“Wow. That sounds… I think your tinker power is way better than mine.”

“Don’t be too sure,” she replied sourly. “If I try to make anything more complicated than a microchip, it ends up being so fragile it’ll break in a light breeze. The gauntlets aren’t even really tinkertech, just a bunch of basic mechanism controlled by magnets. The gloves underneath have all the tech, and I have to replace or repair them like once every few days to keep them from completely shitting out on me.”

“At least you can make complicated stuff,” he grumbled. 

-----

“Ohh!” she crowed. “You have a crush on Victoria, don’t you?”

Rain folded his arms and refused to answer. 

“You do.” When he continued to stay silent, she rolled her eyes. “Fine, you big baby, I won’t tease you about it. That’d be hypocritical, anyway.”

Rain shot bolt upright in his seat. “Wait, you- you said you turned down the offer.”

“Uh, yeah, cause I don’t like being treated like a walking pair of tits." She paused. "Wait, are you saying you’re not some kind of gay? Cause then you’re definitely not like my Rain.”

Unbidden, images of Theo in the prison, and Ter at the train station, flashed through his mind. “...I don’t know,” he admitted.

“Aww, buddy. You’ll get there eventually.” She actually sounded genuine, for once. 

Chapter Text

“Anything else?”

Victoria glances up from her phone briefly, clearly still miles away. “...scones.”

Sveta blinks. “...scones?”

“Scones,” Victoria confirms, already back on her phone, tapping away. “The frozen ones.”

“...okay, then.” Sveta begins steering the cart towards the frozen foods aisle, keeping an eye on Victoria to make sure she doesn’t bump into anything. “I thought you were cutting carbs right now?”

“I am,” Victoria says distractedly. “Shortcut, I swear to god…” Ah, that explains that, then.

“Then why,” Sveta prompts her after a few seconds, “are we getting scones?” Why am I getting scones, more like.

“Not for me,” Victoria mutters. “I am going to beat him over the head with a dictionary until he learns what ‘cooperation’ means.”

Sveta chuckles as she grabs the first box of frozen scones she sees.

“No, not those ones.” Victoria’s actually looked up, and reaches over to snag the box and put them back. “She won’t eat that brand,” she explains, putting them back and grabbing a different one.

“I didn’t think Kenzie was that picky?”

Victoria blinks. “Oh, no, not Kenzie. Ashley. She has a specific brand for every product, and refuses to use anything else.” 

Then, before Sveta can even begin to process that, she's gone again, stalking towards the checkouts and muttering angrily to herself.

Sveta looks down at the shopping cart, at the startling variety of brands and products inside, then back up at her friend.

“Hm,” she says.

Chapter Text

“Swansong, Swansong, Swansong.” Damsel snapped her fingers like claws as she paced closer. I pushed Kenzie away, rougher than I’d have liked, but Damsel ignored her entirely. “You truly are obsessed with my dear, deluded, departed sister, aren’t you, Vicky.”

“Damsel.” I didn’t know how to handle this. This wasn’t our Ashley, this wasn’t even the Damsel that our Ashley had reverted to. This was… I didn’t know what this was. “This isn’t-”

“Isn’t what, Victoria?” She kept saying my name, like it was supposed to make me uncomfortable. “Am I not being helpful and mewling and pathetic enough for you? Do you want me to cut my hair and wear her clothes so you can pretend?”

“We had a deal, Damsel.” Why this, why now? She’d seemed calmer, without her audience - we were making progress, we were being productive. What had set this off?

“Oh, but whatever will you do?” She made an exaggerated cutesy face of despair. “Tell me off? Run to mommy and cry because Damsel isn’t being a sycophant like her sister?”

“That wasn’t-” Kenzie protested. “We-”

“You what?” Damsel was right up in my face now. The wide-eyed, tiny pupil look of Ashley on the edge, but manic, almost- happy? Her claws were at her side, not tensed. “You liked her? You trusted her?”

“Back off. Last warning.”

“Ha! You really think that she cared about you? Thought you were friends?” Damsel paused, as if savouring the moment. “She just wanted to fuck you, Vic.”

I snorted. I’d actually been worried for a second there, but she was just lashing out, going for any button she could reach.

Damsel blinked, then snickered. “You think I’m lying.”

“I think you’re lashing out. Using the little scraps of knowledge you have and trying to set me off by making things up.”

“Oh?” She smirked. “Then explain all these fascinating memories I have. Where do you want me to start, dear? With the ones where she’s dreaming about you, or the ones where she’s touching-”

The slap echoed through the room as A- as Damsel staggered back. I looked down slightly at my hand, and a second later the sting across the palm arrived.

“Shut up.” My voice was hollow. I felt hollow.

Damsel straightened up, rubbing at the red mark on her cheek. I’d just hit her, and she still looked like the cat that ate the canary. Like she’d won.

Chapter Text

"You're sure?"

Defiant nodded calmly, as Dragon gave a little exasperated sigh.

"Sadly, yes," she said. "The barriers Scion set up are still impermeable to us. Whatever Teacher did to Scapegoat's power must have allowed him to slip through somehow, but we can’t replicate it.”

“I was under the impression that Aleph was the only world close enough to have some of the same people? But you’re saying that she,” and I gestured to the woman lounging on the couch, “is from another Earth, despite the fact that the point of divergence shouldn’t allow that?”

“She’s not from another Earth,” Dragon explained. “Not in the way we normally mean it, with Bet and Gimel and so-on. What we think of as a ‘world’ is actually a large grouping of mostly-identical worlds with very slight differences, which is what the powers use for things like Breaker states that shunt mass or create ‘ghost dimensions’. It’s more of a… cluster of offshoots and branches, from our ‘primary’ world’s tree.”

I glanced over at the reclining figure. “And she’s… from one of those worlds?”

“Think of it as an alternate timeline,” Dragon said.

“It isn’t one, to be clear,” Defiant added.

Dragon rolled her eyes affectionately at her husband. “Yes, but Victoria isn’t a tinker, and it’s easier to frame it that way than to explain the nuances of an interdimensionally actualised multiversal probability space.”

“I’ll stick with ‘alternate timeline’, thanks,” I said. I glanced over again, my eyes drawn back in some kind of morbid fascination. She wasn’t there, though, and I had to stop myself from flinching as an arm flung itself around my shoulders.

“So,” a familiar voice purred in my ear. Intimately familiar, you could say, because it was my own. “I heard you read my diary.”

Chapter Text

“If you’re talking about my cousins, they’re never ‘okay’,” Chastity said. She was seventeen or so, with wavy black hair and makeup fully on point. The level of cleavage she was showing seemed wholly intentional with her wardrobe choices, a low-cut top worn with a scarf and coat, unzipped enough that a strategic triangle was visible.

For whatever reason, she was walking close to Fetter, who was resolutely ignoring her, rigidly staring straight ahead.

-----

“You can help,” Candy said. “My dork of a sister needs to get laid.”

“Can’t help you there,” I said, trying not to sound as uncomfortable as I felt.

“Eh, whatever. Fetter?” Candy raised her voice.

What.

“Uh.” Fetter seemed just as caught off-guard and uncomfortable as I’d been, if not more.

“Please? She gets more annoying and immature every minute she doesn’t have anyone, and I’m the one who has to deal with it.”

“Uh,” Fetter said, again. I’d never thought of her as awkward before, but I suppose her time with the Fallen must have left some stuff she was still dealing with. She looked at Chastity. “Sorry.”

“No need to say sorry,” Chastity said, touching her arm. To my surprise, while Fetter pulled away, almost immediately, it wasn’t violent like it normally was. “My sister put you on the spot. But if you did want to say yes, you could count on my discretion and a complete lack of any strings.”

“Just don’t fall in love with her,” Candy said.

“Yeah, don’t fall in love with me,” Chastity said.

“Do you… do you understand why this is weird?” Fetter asked. “Like, do you think this is normal? Or do you know and not care, because you’re…”

Heartbroken. Heartbreaker’s.

“The latter,” Chastity said.

“The former,” Candy said at the same time, then made a face at her sister. “I would have thought you were sympathetic, Fetter, coming from a bad place.”

I looked down at Candy. “Tattletale told you?”

“Uh huh.”

“That’s not great,” I said.

“We don’t mingle with society or have a lot of civilian friends,” Aroa said. “We aren’t going to leak your secrets because we stick to our own.”

“You literally just met me,” Fetter was saying to Chastity.

“Back out, Fetter,” Parian said. “Drop the topic, walk away.”

Frankly, I was surprised she hadn’t already. Something was definitely in play here. “If Parian has advice, it’s good to take it,” I advised her. I wanted to reach out, make a bit of reassuring contact, but I settled for words.

Fetter seemed to be conflicted, from what I could glean of her underneath the costume. Morbid curiosity, maybe?

“I get a sense of people around me,” Chastity told her, continuing like we hadn’t said anything. “It’s clear enough for me to know proportions, and I like your proportions.”

I sighed, loud enough to be sure she heard it. My breath fogged in front of my face.

Chapter Text

The smell hit me as soon as I opened the door to Crystal’s apartment, a wet, heavy musk that immediately brought back memories of patrols through certain areas of Brockton Bay.

I wrinkled my nose, and stepped inside, closing the door behind me.

“-oh, hey.” Crystal gestured at me vaguely with her blunt. “Shit, I forgot you were coming back.” She was sprawled out over the couch, head resting in her friend’s lap, wearing an oversized sports jersey and booty shorts. The friend in question was a curvaceous brown-haired woman with small, dark eyes and a faint smirk, wearing a baggy hoodie and sweatpants that had been cut off at the knee. She seemed familiar, but I couldn’t place her.

“It’s fine,” I replied slowly. “Carol said to tell you she won’t be coming back tonight.”

Crystal smacked herself in the forehead with her palm, eliciting a soft snort from the other woman. “Carol, shit. I just completely blanked, geez.”

“Should I go?” the stranger asked. I definitely recognised her voice, but couldn’t quite pin it down. 

“Nah,” Crystal said immediately. “S’cool, right, Vic?”

I was sorely tempted to say no. It had been a long, miserable day, shuffled from one administrative meeting to the next instead of being out there, helping, and I really didn’t want to have to police myself here as well-

-but Crystal had been looking after Carol for a while now, and I was staying at her apartment. Sitting there, on the couch with her- friend, she looked as relaxed as I’d ever seen her,

“Nah,” I said. “It’s fine. I’m going to use the shower?”

“Yeah, no problem.”

“You feeling better?” It was the other woman, and it took me a second to realise the question was addressed at me. She gestured vaguely towards her lower face, and it took me a moment to connect the dots.

“Uh, yeah. Better now, thanks.” I avoided eye contact and left the room as quickly as I could without looking like I was running, but not before I saw a hand idly stroking Crystal's hair.

From behind me, I heard soft murmuring and Crystal giggling. Then she fell silent for a few seconds, before releasing a deafening series of coughs, which garnered faint snickering from the other woman, who I was now almost certain was Etna.

I sighed, and headed towards the bathroom. It could be worse - Crystal’s last partner had gotten her into screamo metal.

Chapter Text

Subject: Your Nilles University Application

August 21st, Y1

Dear Applicant (Point_Me_@_The_Sky@mail)

We are excited to inform you that your application for post-graduate study has been accepted!

Congratulations!

♦ Private Messages from Glitzglam:

Glitzglam: Friend said emails out today

Point_Me_@_The_Sky: I got mine this morning.

Glitzglam: And? ? ?

Point_Me_@_The_Sky: ksj875jfm02.i

Glitzglam: VICTORIA DALLON

Glitzglam: HOW DARE YOU NOT TELL US RIGHT AWAY

Point_Me_@_The_Sky: haha

Point_Me_@_The_Sky: I’m sorry

Point_Me_@_The_Sky: It just doesn’t quite feel real yet

Point_Me_@_The_Sky: I was waiting for it to sink in

Glitzglam: i want you to know im punching the air and yelling

Glitzglam: so fucking happy for you hon

Point_Me_@_The_Sky: thanks

Point_Me_@_The_Sky: that really means a lot

Glitzglam: when are they sending out the sign-up emails and stuff

Glitzglam: do you know

Point_Me_@_The_Sky: email said next week

Glitzglam: aw boo

Point_Me_@_The_Sky: It’s fine, honestly

Point_Me_@_The_Sky: gives me a chance to get used to it

Point_Me_@_The_Sky: + talk to work

Glitzglam: have u told everyone?

Point_Me_@_The_Sky: No, not yet

Point_Me_@_The_Sky: if you want to you can

Glitzglam: i DO

Glitzglam: i WILL


 

Faint smells aside, I could draw in a deep breath and feel muscles from shoulder to calf relax. This was more of that seventy percent part of the seventy percent fit where the job suited me.

That thirty percent, though. I wouldn’t stay here forever. I’d hoped it would look good on college applications, and apparently it had, or my application had been good enough regardless. I wasn’t going to stay, but I’d miss the seventy percent.


 

I was caught up in checking recent events online when there was a knock on the door.

Gilpatrick.

“Shouldn’t you be handing out guns to kids?” I asked. “Or giving a hard-assed speech that sends them running?”

“I wish,” he said. “Can’t give them guns until later. Give me a week, we’ll see how many of them I can get rid of. Can you show your face downstairs for me, so they know who to look for?”

“Did you tell them-”

“Yeah, yeah,” he said, waving a hand. “I let them know that you’re abandoning us for the ivory towers of academia, so they should get in quick.”

“Harsh,” I said. “Especially when you consider that I get paid here but not there.”

“Sure I can’t convince you to stay?” We’d had this conversation multiple times, since I’d gotten my letter of acceptance to Nilles a fortnight ago. “I can’t promise you a promotion or a raise, but I’m definitely willing to double the amount of blatant favouritism I give you.”

I chuckled. “Let me get organised and I’ll be right down.”

He didn’t step out of the doorway. His arms remained folded, and he had paper in one of his hands, held where I might not notice it.

“…Actually,” he said.

“No,” I said. I gave him a stern look. “No. Don’t ‘actually’ me. Please.”

“Do you know anything about Fume Hood?”

I raised one eyebrow, keeping that stern look otherwise in place. “Fume Hood? No.”

“She apparently went by another name, a while back. Poison Apple?”

“Then I do know stuff. She went by Bad Apple,” I said. “And a few other Nom De Pommes. I know some of her story. She was controversial.”

“She’s a hero now,” he said. “She’s getting announced as one member of a new team today.”

I nodded slowly, taking that in. “That could be bad.”

“It’s looking like it will be,” Gilpatrick said. He revealed the papers. “Can you brief my seniors? Fill them in on who she is?”

“That I can do,” I said. I approached him and took the papers.

He didn’t let go of them. He opened his mouth.

“No,” I said.

“I’ve got too many new kids,” he said.

“No, Gilpatrick.”

“My hands are full. I don’t have enough seniors to manage them all. I don’t want this to be fun or even tolerable and that requires more supervision.”

I let go of the paper, backing up. “No.”


 

He went on, “And if you could captain a squad of some new guys I’ve got from another school, let me know if they’re decent and trustworthy, and just do a bit of standing guard, giving advice and information to the officers at the scene, it would be a massive help.”

I gave Gilpatrick my best angry glare, hands on my hips.

“I won’t force you,” he said. “Superiors are pressuring me to handle this. If you say no then I’ll figure something else out.”

“Gil,” I said flatly. “I gave you my two weeks. I’ve already signed all of the forms. That wasn’t even my job in the first place - is it even okay for me to be doing that in the first place?”

“It’s… complicated.”

“I can’t do this, especially not now. Do you know how competitive college admissions are? How easy it would be for me to lose my spot?”

“I know. You’ve gone about it enough.”

I shook my head. “I’m not joking, Gil. I’m sorry, but I can’t do this.”

“I really didn’t want to use Jasper. He was joking about my speech, so I’m going to make him deliver it to the recruits,” he said.

I smiled, despite myself. That would be partially my fault, for reminding Jasper.

“Can you do the briefing, at least?” Gilpatrick asked.

“Yeah,” I said. I dropped my hands from my hips. “She really called herself Fume Hood?”


 

“Students, if you’ll turn around to see the young lady on the stairs…”

The students did.

“…She’s our resident cape expert. She’ll be leaving us shortly for a position at Nilles, but in the meantime, if you’re sticking with us, her door is open. She knows her stuff. If you’re not sticking with us and her door is open, you can go ask her questions and we’ll let you cut to the head of the line. You’ll find her office upstairs and to the left.”

I hadn’t heard that part before. Priority to people who weren’t part of the club. I smiled.


 I glanced over my shoulder and through the door. I saw Gilpatrick with Jasper and the kids.

Damn it, Gilpatrick.

“Excuse me for a moment,” I said to the squad.

Gilpatrick saw me coming, and stepped away, a hopeful look on his face. “You’ll do it?” he asked.

I wanted to. Or, not ‘want’, but I felt like I should. 

At the same time, I wasn’t willing to be frontlines, not when I was already on my way out the door.

“No.” 

He sighed. 

“But. I’ll come along, in a purely advisory position.”

Gilpatrick considered that for a second. “You’ll still kit up?”

I nodded. “Give Jasper command, he can handle it.”

“You’re okay with reporting to him?” he asked, a little surprised.

“As long as he doesn’t try and order me to like his tattoo.”

Gilpatrick chuckled. “Alright. Thank you, Victoria. I really mean it.”

“Write me a letter of recommendation and we’re even.”

“I already wrote you one of those.”

“Another one, then,” I said, as I turned back to the squad. “A better one.”

I heard Gilpatrick sigh. “I can’t believe you’re my favourite.”


 “Oh, how the tables turn,” Jasper said smugly as I approached. “The student has become the teacher.”

“Don’t push it,” I warned him affectionately. “You’re driving?”

“We’re not supposed to crash the buses, so yes.”


 “I think we should talk to the capes,” I said to Jasper, who nodded.

“Please,” the district rep said.


 “I’m Jasper, squad captain. This is Victoria Dallon, our cape expert.”

Tempera narrowed her eyes at me. Thanks for throwing me to the wolves, Jasper. “Is that a cape who’s an expert, or an expert on capes?”

“The latter.”

“You sure?” Fume Hood asked. “Dallon, that was one of the... First Wave families, wasn’t it?”

“New Wave,” I corrected automatically, realising too late I’d effectively outed myself. I glanced around, making sure that Jasper was the only member of the patrol group close enough to hear. He already knew, had for a while. "But yeah, that's my family. I'm retired now, though, so it's just the latter."

Tempera’s look was more thoughtful now.


 “Retired, huh?” Fume Hood asked.

I toyed with my glass. “Not entirely voluntarily,” I admitted. “But I didn’t try and get back on the horse either.”

“Yeah, I get that. I was doing the same for a bit.”

“What made you change your mind?” I asked.

She shrugged, tossing the glass back and forth between her hands. “Dunno, really. I missed it, I guess, but I couldn’t- didn’t want to go back to what I’d been doing. Got out cause I was tired, spent some time in prison. Then the world ended, and I realised I’d stopped but I was still tired, so it clearly wasn’t what I thought it was.” She shrugged again. “Or something.”

I nodded slowly, digesting that. I hadn't made the connection, but she'd been a cape for a while. Not as long as my parents, but a street-level cape, a street-level villain, having an almost-decade long career and, apparently, still going strong? 

I wasn’t sure why, but that made me feel… better, somehow. More hopeful. 


 “I am keeping an eye on things, but mostly by accident. I’ve been helping with the construction. I like getting my hands dirty,” Tempera said. She smiled as she held up one hand, which was covered in wet white ‘paint’ down to the elbow, the paint turning black before transitioning to her light brown skin. “Look at you, though. You look tidy.”

Tidy. It was an amusing choice of words, when Tempera looked anything but. I smiled. “Looking around to see if any teams are looking to fill positions.”

She gave me a strange look, a smile with something else mixed in. “And?”


 Her tone was light, almost amused. Tempera had said Fume Hood was hurt on an emotional level, but I didn’t see a sign of it. I could remember how Tempera had acted on my first meeting with her, how in tune with her team she had been. I was willing to put a lot of stock in her take on things.

“Victoria, what I was going to say, before deciding I’d rather say it here, was that it’s starting to look like the team might not be able to stay together."

“Longscratch is already gone,” Crystalclear said. “But I don’t think he was ever going to stick around on a permanent basis.”

“Yes,” Tempera said. “Which is a shame, but it brings me nicely to my main point.” She crossed her arms behind her back, turning to me. “We worked well together at the community centre, I thought.”

“I felt the same way,” I replied, a little caught off-guard by the sudden change of topic. 

“Glad to hear it. The reason I was sounding you out about teams earlier is that, well. We wanted to do something good with this team, and I’d rather not give up on it if I don’t have to. So we talked it over, and if you’re interested, we’d be happy to have you on-board.”

I blinked, taken aback. “I… wow. I have to admit, I wasn’t expecting that.”

“It’s alright if you don’t have an answer right away,” Tempera said. “I know its a lot to spring on you out of nowhere.”

My mind spun, turning the idea over. A team. A new team, unburdened by- by everything that had brought my family down, a team I’d already fought alongside. Even if I didn’t know them very well, there was that reassurance that we could work together under pressure. 

I should have thought it over more, taken the time to plan things out.

“You should know,” I said, “that I’m starting college next week, so you’ll have to share me with that.”

Tempera grinned, as Fume Hood made a hoarse whooping noise and pumped her fist. “We can manage that.” 

She reached out an arm, and on instinct, I clasped her forearm in a soldier's grip instead of a handshake. The paint was cool and smooth under my fingers.

"Welcome to the Norfair Neighbourhood Heroes."

Chapter Text

“Hey.”

It takes a few moments for Rain to register that the voice is addressing him. He glances up from his phone, and sees a boy - guy? man? - sitting on the opposite end of the bench, arm rested casually over the backrest. He’s… solid, kinda chubby if Rain is being honest, with short-cropped black curls and a wide, easy grin. He’s also dark-skinned, and Rain hates himself for noticing it like it’s a thing, but is he supposed to not notice it, ‘cause he knows that’s not better, and ‘I don’t see race’ is an easy cop-out and he cuts himself off before he can properly start spiralling down that train of thought.

“...hey?” Rain says. He’s not sure why this guy’s talking to him - he definitely hasn’t met him before, because he’d remember it if dammit, Rain, no.

The guy laughs, and it’s surprisingly melodious. “Sorry, didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable. I just wanted to say I like your shirt!”

Rain glances down, at the faded band t-shirt he’s wearing. ‘Kite Weather’, it says, along with a stylised illustration of a person flying a kite on a cliff’s edge in a storm.

“Oh. Thank you, then. It’s not mine, though, if you’re a fan.” 

“Ah.” He grins, waggling his eyebrows. “I get it, don’t worry.”

Rain laughs, surprising himself. “Not like that. It’s just a- friend’s.”

For whatever reason, the guy perks up at that. “Oh, sure. Sorry for implying.”

“It’s fine,” Rain says, and doesn’t think about sweatshirts. 

“They’re pretty good, though,” the guy continues, gesturing at the shirt again. “Kite Weather, I mean. If you ever feel like giving them a chance.”

“Sure,” Rain says, surprising himself with how much he means it. “I’ll give them a listen some time, then. Haven’t really had much of a chance to find new stuff for a long time.”

“Oh?” He slides slightly closer on the bench, but Rain finds he doesn’t mind. “Sounds like a story, there.”

“A long one,” Rain confirms.

“Maybe another time, then.” He sticks out his hand, and Rain takes it. It’s soft, and warm. “Gabe.”

“Rain.”

Gabe nods appreciatively. “Cool name. It suits you.”

“Not gonna ask?”

Gabe grins. He’s got a crooked tooth at the front - it’s charming, a little bit rakish. “Nah, I’ve heard weirder.”

“Don’t say that until you’ve heard the full thing,” Rain grumbles.

Gabe studies him appraisingly for a moment, the continued attention making Rain feel like he’s pinned in place. “You sound like you’ve got lots of interesting stories, then.”

“...you could say that.” 

The rumble of a train breaks Gabe’s concentration, and he stands up from the bench. “Well, that’s me. Nice meeting you, Rain. Maybe I’ll see you around?”

“Yeah,” Rain says, and finds that he means it. “See you around.”