[tw for a very brief mention of rape]
“Your – your room!”
Cara’s shocked voice made Ayr spin around, dropping the bottle of Dettol which spun to the floor. He flung the rag onto the dresser and wiped his hands on his jeans. His side of the bedroom was, for the first time in years, spotless, and Ayr had been scrubbing the skirting boards for long enough that the cloying smell of pine was stuck in his nose.
“I can’t sit still,” he admitted. Cleaning gave him some sense of control, because seeing the finished product was an immediate hit of satisfaction. He could easily see how he’d made a difference.
Any therapist would have a field day with that, Ayr thought.
“But it doesn’t look like you live here,” Cara said, sounding wounded. Ayr turned to study it again, and shrugged. It didn’t bother him.
“Heard anything about Adam?” He asked only so she wouldn’t bring it up first, and wasn’t surprised when she nodded and settled down onto his freshly made bed.
“His mum said he’s acting more like himself and he’s gone to stay with her sister in Aberdeen.” She fiddled with the hem of her top but when he patted the bed, she acquiesced and sat crossed legged in front of him. “He’s, um, human again?”
“I guess. Law said it’d been sorted.” Ayr lay back on his bed and stared up at the ceiling, spying a dusty cobweb that had been there long enough to make the corner of his room look singed. “What’s up?”
Cara worried at her lip. She reached out to twine her fingers through his with a hesitation that he ignored. “I thought we could go for a walk.”
Ayr made a show of groaning. “Effort!”
“You’ve just cleaned your whole room,” Cara pointed out.
“Exactly. I deserve a break.”
“I wish I’d never met Adam,” she confessed.
Ayr groaned. “C’mon, don’t mention him when I’m trying to seduce you.”
“I was hoping.” Ayr fidgeted on the bed and didn’t look at her. Was she upset because this wasn’t going to happen between them, or because of what had happened already?
“Are you sure? I – is it really the right time?”
At that, he relaxed. “I was always waiting on you.” Ayr frowned at that. “Wait, that sounds bad.”
She poked him in the chest. “I know what you meant.”
“Do you have, um, any-”
“Aw shit.” At her look, he gave a sheepish smile. “I definitely do, I just can’t remember where I’ve tidied them away. Um, treasure hunt first?”
Cara giggled. “Where were they before?”
“In my drawer, but I was trying to KonMari my shit! Like, put things in boxes and stuff -”
Cara clambered over him and began looking in drawers. “You didn’t get rid of them?”
“No, they definitely bring me joy.”
“Oh my God,” Cara spluttered, squealing, as she opened a drawer. “What about this, does this bring you joy?” She pointed to the long, hot pink item, phallic shaped and sitting next to a pack of condoms.
“Oh, hell yeah,” Ayr said. He was grinning, and utterly shameless. “But only in the shower or when Quinn is out.” He reached around her to pluck a condom out and wiggled it at her.
“Okay, but we’re coming back to this later,” Cara said, snorting and sliding his drawer shut.
“I like the sound of that,” Ayr smirked, breaking into laughter when Cara realised the double implications of her words and hid her face against his chest with a humiliated squeal. His heart ached as he laughed harder, feeling better than he had in days, but resolutely he put the encroaching thoughts out of his head. It was not the time to be thinking of family, after all.
“I love cloud gazing,” Mia admitted. Quinn blinked out of his thoughts; it was the first time she’d spoken in an hour. They lay on a patch of warm grass, where overgrown clumps shadowed the nearby pond. In the middle the water was choked by duckweed, but Quinn hoped Chase would continue his familiarisation with gardening and take care of it. He couldn’t bear to see his mother’s hard work go to waste, but nor could he bring himself to touch it.
Quinn was out here almost every day, when the sun was out and the midges weren’t. Kian had started to join him with a book most mornings, saying nothing, just a reassuring presence. Quinn’s skin had deepened in colour starkly.
“What about it do you like?” Quinn asked, if only to keep the conversation going. He felt her shift beside him, tucking an arm under her head and shaking the pins and needles out of the other.
“I like how some of them go faster than others, like they’re in layers. Which I suppose they are,” she added after a thoughtful pause. “But no matter how calm it is here, they still move. I like tracking them across the sky.”
Quinn had to admit to doing the same thing that morning, even though his mind hadn’t been on the task. “Seems too whimsical for you.”
She snorted. “I have my moments of weakness.”
“Do you believe in – in an afterlife?”
Mia fell silent at the sudden question. Quinn almost regretted asking as she fidgeted awkwardly next to him. “Do you? It… It seems a strange thing for you to believe in, given how much of a science nerd you are.”
Quinn closed his eyes against the memory of Kian biting into his neck. “Life makes less sense than I thought.”
Mia chewed on her lip and finally turned on her side to look down at him. A warm finger reached out and slipped under his chin, nudging his gaze over. “I find it hard to believe that consciousness can die. But I also can’t fathom a way in which there’s some sort of heaven where people look down from and judge us.”
“I didn’t say heaven, I said afterlife.”
“Touche,” Mia said, inclining her head.
“What about supernatural stuff? Like vampires?”
A touch of amused confusion turned Mia’s lips up. “What kind of vampire? Dracula or Edward?”
“Just in general,” Quinn said, rather than responding to her joke. Her smile dimmed.
“How have they kept secret in the year of twenty-nineteen, where every move is watched through some sort of lens, and where the reveal of them would make some people very rich and famous?”
“Maybe they’re in the government,” Quinn said, throwing it out there.
“Where’s your tin hat? Earth is flat, the moon landing was fake, and space isn’t real.” At Quinn’s inquisitive look, she rolled her eyes. “I saw that one recently. We need to bring back some real natural selection.”
“What if they are real?” he pressed.
Mia blinked at him. “Then we stock up on silver bullets? Stakes? Ring up Buffy?”
“I’m serious,” Quinn muttered, turning away from her to glare up at the sky.
“I… Quinn… Is this you trying to find some sort of answer for… for what happened?”
He could have spat out the words they didn’t kill themselves. He could have put on a smile and agreed with her. But instead he sat up and looked down at her seriously.
“I want you to believe me. I just found out all of this – this stuff, about my family, about the world, and I have no one to talk to about it.”
Mia’s mouth opened, and then closed.
“Shanna’s gone, Ayr’s transformed into some manic housewife and Isabelle just glares at me when I try to bring it up.” And Quinn couldn’t bring himself to ask Kian, who could barely look him in the eye, or Law, who looked stretched so thin he was about to snap. But he also needed to share this with someone, and Mia… Mia was the only person he could think of telling without running away.
“Bring up… what?” Slowly she reached out, placing her hand over cheek. Quinn realised he’d been tensing his his face into a glare, ready for a negative response. With conscious effort he let it go.
He looked her in the eyes. “Vampires,” he said, very seriously.
Mia studied him. Finally, she nodded. “You can’t leave me on a cliffhanger like that.”
Law tutted and slid his phone across the counter in frustration, tapping his fingers on the still damp surface from where Ayr had washed it down not a minute before. Kian glanced up and over his shoulder, but after deciding the annoyed sound hadn’t been made in his direction, he went back to his cooking.
“Is he always so hard to get in contact with?”
“I never tried,” Kian said honestly. “We had a scheduled date and time that we’d meet up, and sometimes he’d drop me a text, but other than that…”
“So he just left a seventeen year old alone in a strange country, potentially in danger?”
“I’ve been alone for a long time.” Kian dipped a spoon into his sauce and brought it to his lips. “He’d know if I was in danger.”
“But you got bitten,” Law reminded him, perhaps too harshly.
“And I know why he couldn’t help me, and I forgive him.” A shrug, and Kian rinsed the spoon. “You don’t want to trust him, which I can understand. But he risked his life to save me and he’s never given me reason to doubt him.”
“Except when he let you get bitten,” Law muttered.
“As a consequence for making a decision that needed to be made.” A smell of seared meat made Law’s mouth water, and the sizzling almost drowned out what Kian said. “Why are you trying to contact him?”
“For an update on Shanna,” Law growled, as if it was Kian’s fault that he’d let his youngest niece go with the man. “And updates, in general.”
“He’d tell us if we weren’t safe.”
“Not if it was a consequence for making a decision that needed to be made.”
“You don’t want to forgive him.” Kian shrugged. “Your choice. But don’t argue with me about it.”
Law scrubbed his hands over his face. The kid was right – he was acting immature and that wasn’t helping the situation. He had followed his gut with letting Shanna go with Q, and now he had to stop second guessing himself.
“I’m sorry. I wonder what Echo and Lukas would think of what I’ve done, and I feel like I’ve let them down somehow.”
“I understand,” Kian nodded. “I think Q would understand that too, very well.”
Law pressed his lips into a tight line, considering the boy’s words. It was hard to feel sympathetic for a man he barely knew, especially one keeping him at arm’s length despite Law’s insistence to do things his way. Q was complicated and Law didn’t understand how he worked, but trying to figure it out at least distracted him from the hollow ache in his chest.
“Can I help, at least?”
Kian nodded over to the sink and Law got to work scrubbing dishes.
“You’re pulling your elbow out,” Dustin said, impatience beginning to curdle his words. Shanna bared her teeth with a frustrated grunt, the adrenaline of the fight giving her a feral edge and stoking the temper she carried with her now.
“Maybe if you were a better teacher then I still wouldn’t be making these mistakes.” Shanna didn’t know much about Dustin, so nothing she could say would really dig in deep. Not like the rare but relentless arguments she’d witnessed between her siblings (and her eyes burned).
“Maybe it’s just because you’re a useless eleven year old girl?”
Shanna saw nothing but red, but the ache of her knuckles told her she hit his jaw. The crack of his neck snapping back made her grin like a wolf. “Time for you to retire.”
She didn’t need to see his face beyond the red to know he was smirking. It was his in voice. “Lucky hit, mocoso. That was a freebie to make you feel better.”
Shanna gave a war cry and dove close, using her small stature to lift her knee directly into his stomach. He danced out of the way with a taunting laugh. Dustin didn’t move like Uncle Law did (she’d watched one of his matches when she was very young, and all she’d thought was what if I was that strong?), like it was dancing or breathing or a calculated science. But Dustin was still good for his age, she knew that, and could see it in the way he slid across the floor on the balls of his feet, all weightless like summer memories.
She threw a barrage of fists, lashed out with her feet, each move burning the muscles around her hips as she thrust her weight into each one. Still his laughs were just out of reach, and with each passing moment she felt the frustrated shame of being patronised burn its way through her veins.
“Enough!” she shouted, standing her ground and panting. Dustin danced away a couple of paces before coming to a stop, flashing one dark brow up. One day she would wipe that smug smirk off his face. “You’re just messing with me! How can I learn if you won’t take me seriously?”
“How can I take you so seriously when you’re so short?” Dustin asked, stroking his chin with a contemplative air. Shanna’s nails pressed into her skin so hard that it hurt, but that was good. She needed to feel grounded. Everything around her felt like it was floating.
“Why are you even here?” she snarled, sensing a potential vulnerability and diving for it. She didn’t admit it to herself in the moment, but it was a mirror of her own thoughts. The insults with the best insight usually were. “Who did you have die on you just so you could come here and act like tough shit to someone on the same side?”
His face went slack for a precious split second of a moment, and Shanna tried to latch onto it like she’d tried to pluck hot air balloons from the sky on her sixth birthday. It was covered by a blank mask. Something about that made her chest tight, her stomach fall, and her teeth grit so hard her jaw ached.
He pulled down his vest to make the Mark all the more obvious. “My abuela got pregnant with my papa at fifteen. Do you know the sorts of things people think about you, in a good God fearing town, if that happens?” He spat the words – offered them up to her and they were as visceral as open wounds. “They told her she’d asked for it, because that’s what they do to the women they rape. And then they didn’t even try to clean up the mess. She took the wrong job with the Council to keep herself alive, discovered things she shouldn’t have, and when she tried to do shit about it they took her son and her life. I’ve spent – I’ve spent my entire life in their prisons until Q came, and now I have to spend my freedom training and protecting some ungrateful mocoso when it would be safer for everyone if you were dead? ¡Dios mío! Eres un dolor en el cuello, eres inútil-”
“Ramirez! Suficiente. No desacreditamos a nuestro equipo y usted no está en posición de cuestionar mi comando. No vuelvas a decir las cosas con ira. Entendido?”
[Enough. We do not discredit our team and you are not in a position to question my command. Do not say such things in anger again. Understood?]
Shanna jumped when Q appeared. She hadn’t seen him through the haze of tears.
Dustin hissed air through grinding teeth. “Solo está viva porque es tu sobrina!”
[She is only alive because she is your niece!]
“Hablo español con fluidez,” Shanna smiled, achingly polite. “Solo para que sepas.”
[I speak Spanish fluently. Just so you know.]
Neatly she spun on her heel, but froze at Q’s soft reproach.
“Don’t leave the grounds.”
Shanna forced herself to breathe in slowly. A quick nod and she was on her way.
It was the quiet moments when Shanna realised she didn’t know who she was. She sat in the grass but she might as well have been drifting on the wind like the dandelion seeds. It hadn’t mattered, before, because her identity was her family, but now the only thing she could come up with was the anger. It choked her, but it was comforting all the same. Anything to keep her feet on the ground.
She puffed away another bout of dandelion seeds, watched them flutter as they were picked up by the breeze.
Shanna heard his approach, saw the butterfly he’d disturbed from the corner of her eye. “I know Q has made you come here to say sorry, or whatever,” she said, standing up and stretching the dull ache out of her legs. “You can tell him you’ve done your job. I can be civil.” Somewhere she was proud of herself for sounding so adult about this. She’d once heard very similar words on the TV once and thought they’d sounded aloof and cool.
But Dustin’s eyes took on a wounded light. “He didn’t.” He caught her unimpressed look. “He didn’t, Shanna. He just reminded me of a few things. We’re on the same side. And I don’t deserve to fight for this side if I believe in repeating the actions of the council.” His eyes lowered. “You aren’t better dead. No matter how angry I was, I should never have said that. I might have been raised in a prison but my papa still taught me better. He’d have been ashamed. And right to be,” Dustin added.
Shanna caught the past tense, but more than that, she caught the precious way he spoke of his father. The tone was exactly how she thought of her parents.
Wordlessly, she walked up to him. He tensed even when she pulled him into a hug, her chin resting on his shoulder. “My mum would have been horrified that I’d goaded you.”
Eventually, albeit reluctantly, David wrapped his arms around her waist. “Is that an apology?”
“Only if you don’t ruin it.”
At once both of them snickered, short as it was sweet, and pulled away. Shanna knew what was happening here, had heard her father talk about olive branches often enough. She thought about the clammy indoors and tugged David down to her seat. He considered the ground, then her, and with a shrug flopped down into the grass.
He plucked one of the dandelions from the pile. “What are you doing?”
“Making a wish.”
There was a blank look in her eyes that stole the breath from her throat. Of course – why would he know that? She reached for one and brought it to her lips. “You make a wish, in your head, and then you blow all the seeds away on the wind. And then you don’t tell anyone, because if you do then it won’t come true.”
“That’s stupid,” he said, eyes sparkling, and then he sucked in a deep breath, squeezed his eyes shut, and did it anyway.
Hey you ever uhhh not have much of a plan or backstory for a character and then it just sort of hits you out of nowhere? Yeah. BTW if there’s ever a random David in there, rather than Dustin, it’s because that was his original name and I wrote some things so early on that it was what I used.
Also big thanks to google translate for letting me speak Spanish. I’m so sorry if it’s horribly wrong or whatever. Blame the internet!