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Cyroa

Consolations and Remembrances (IC)

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James sat on the bench under the star, looking out across the campus, just thinking. It was all coming to an end. His time here. His childhood really. He wasn't exactly a good student, certainly didn't really care about the school in that way. But this is where his friends were. This is where he started that whole 'growing up' thing and finding his own 'responsibilities' bit had started for him. For that, he'd miss this place. He missed his friends already, though much of that was simply from his being so busy lately. Yeah, he was still part of the team (as far as he knew0 but that didn't mean he'd really seen people a lot lately. Heck, when was the last time he'd even hung out with Erin for more than an hour? Weeks maybe? And while he enjoyed her company quite a bit, an hour a few times a week sucked was all he'd been able to give her lately. There was just so much to do; he was overloaded and knew it. But damn he missed his friends.

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Just as he thought that, he caught sight of a dark shape racing towards the campus, leaping across rooftops and racing along the top of the handsome brick wall that surrounded campus. Before he could move to intercept the intruder, he recognized the runner as Erin. She was moving fast and wild, seeming heedless to her surroundings. She certainly didn't notice him. Near the main gate, she dismounted from the wall and ran to one of the big old live oaks as though she were reaching base in a game of tag. Resting an arm against the trunk of the tree, she hid her face in the crook of her elbow and caught her breath for a minute.

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James raised an eyebrow for the brief moment that was wasn't in motion. Erin winded and almost panicy was not a normal sight. He flickered, appearing on the other side of the trunk. "Erin?," he asked softly as he slowly stepped around the tree. He trusted her implicitly, trusting even in her training, to not lash out and strike at him him if appeared to close. He could take it, that wasn't a problem. But she looked extremely unsettled. The last thing he wanted was to make her feel worse. Stepping around tree, he stepped into conversational (ie swinging) range. "Erin? What's wrong? What happened?" It was obvious that something was wrong so he skipped right past that one.

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Erin jumped as he said her name, tensing but not swinging. She jerked her head up straight and tried to compose herself, embarrassed to be caught like this, even by a friend. Even in the chancy light from the streetlights, it was obvious she'd been crying as she ran. She wiped the palm of her hand over one cheek, then the back over the other. "Had a bad night," she managed. "I should've known better than to go off campus. Sucks out there." It was meant to be a joke, but it fell entirely flat from the weight of too much truth.

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James had no idea what was going on. All that really mattered was Erin was more upset than he'd ever seen her. He took another step into normal talking range now that she knew he was there. "I'm very sorry to hear that. Are you ok?" That was what mattered most to him at the moment. "Do you want to talk about it? I'm here for you if you need me, even if you just want someone to listen, vent or blow off steam. You know that, right?" He knew quite a bit about her, but not everything. He never pushed or dug if it could be helped. Not with his friends. He was here if needed, no matter what it was for. It just sucked that he hadn't been around as much as he wished of late. The price he paid for finally having responsibilities and a purpose it seemed.

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"I don't know," Erin admitted, pushing away from the tree and standing with her arms held rigidly at her sides. "It's hard... I went out to that citywide training skirmish, like we were talking about. There was someone there who reminded me a lot of where I came from." She pursed her lips, looked away, and was silent for long enough that it seemed as though she were done talking. Finally, though, she said, "I totally lost it. I snapped right back to my old world, to the old instincts. Phantom's boyfriend had to pull me off and send me running out of there with mind control powers."

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James nodded a little. "I remember, yes." He didn't push; letting her get to it in her time. He could have talked it out of her months ago but, as mentioned, he didn't do that to her. So he was patient. "Oh damn. I'm sorry," he said softly, as comforting as he could. Both for her loosing her precious control and for Avenger's intervention. Oh, stopping her had probably been a good thing. But James knew Avenger and the guy wasn't exactly Mr. Nice Guy. His fellow teammate (Midnighters team this time) probably came down hard on her. Nor was he expecting her to have killed anyone, not with Avenger there. He hoped anyway. "Who was it?"

He stood just a few feet away watching her, wishing he could help. But she wasn't exactly like most girls. No hug and a cry to get her past this. Instead, he waited a long moment and met her eyes. "You want to talk about it? You've been carrying this burden for a long time Erin. I just want to help."

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"They called it Dead Head, like it was some kind of joke," she told him, her voice a soft monotone. "But it was a zombie. Maybe it is just a joke when there's only one of them, but it's different when there are millions of them, when they're people you used to know. I've walked through Freedom City where creatures like that were the only thing besides me that moved anywhere. And I killed them when I found them. There was nothing else to do with them. Even if they used to be human, they weren't anymore, and all they knew how to do was kill and eat."

She took a deep, shuddering breath. "They killed my mother and I never even found most of the pieces, because they were eaten. There aren't supposed to be any zombies in this world. But this one was different. It had some kind of intelligence, some kind of mental power. After I shook the mind control and came back, I wanted to talk to it. I had to find out if there were more. It dug into my mind somehow and made me relive everything, like it was happening again for real, while it watched. My whole family, everyone I ever knew. I don't know if I destroyed it. I wish to god I had."

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James watched Erin for a long time as she talked. "So that's what happened at home? The serum? Damn," he said, saying the seldom used word, "I'm so sorry to hear that. It explains a lot but I'm still sorry. I, we, your friends, we're all here for you. You've been there for me when I needed it. You don't have to carry that burden yourself anymore. We're family. A wierd one, relatively speaking, but still."

He paused. "I know quite a bit about abouve zombies and other 'creepy' stuff. There are no zombies here that can infect others to my knowledge. A few supernuturals can, like vampires, in certain circumstances. And Erin, zombies do exist here. Just not nearly as scary as the ones you're familiar with."

He watches her face a long moment, weighing what to say before going with the truth. "As for killing, permenantly anyway, Dead Head...I doubt you did. I've met him, know him and even know a good deal about him though I certainly wouldn't call us friends," he said gently. His voice grew stern, angry. "He shouldn't be using powers on you at all, no matter what he intend." The fact that DH had likely caused all of this because he'd been too curious about her to let it dropped really ticked him off.

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"It wasn't the serum, not the one I got," Erin told him. Now that the door was open, the words seemed to pour out. "There was another one, a vaccine that some of the greatest geniuses of the world came up with to try and stop the flu that was killing everyone. Everyone was supposed to take it, hundreds of millions of people did. Tons of metahumans did, because the flu was killing them too. We were going to get it, my mom and sister and I. My dad... he was already gone by the time the vaccine was available. But my uncle, he was this genius who lived out in the middle of nowhere on a big desert compound, he wouldn't let us. He said it was poison and it would be worse than the disease. And he was right. Everyone who took the vaccine turned into a zombie, and the ones who didn't got killed by them or died of the flu. He made a new vaccine, but by the time it was done, the zombies were right there, and the vaccine made us all sick. We didn't have a chance, and Megan and I only survived by hiding in a compost heap so they couldn't smell us. They all died, but it turned out the serum worked, at least for me, and so I survived in the whole empty world."

She looked a little dazed by her own tumble of words. "I just... I can't keep thinking about it if I want to be able to live here at all. Seeing a zombie here, and having all of that jerked right back up to the surface..." She stopped, swallowed hard a few times. "I don't know what to do with all of it."

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James had visited hell so was familiar with some pretty horrible things. But Erin's story ranked damn high up there on that list of horrors. "Hell," he said softly, using the other seldom-used word, "I can imagine..." He knew the answer but he had to ask. She needed to get it out. "Meagan was your sister? What happened?"

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"She was only seven years old." Erin turned to look at him, her eyes full of pain even as she struggled to keep her voice even. "She couldn't have a full dose of the serum, so she didn't get powers from it like I did. We couldn't stay on the compound, we started to run out of food even though I didn't eat much anymore. We started driving, heading for Freedom City. I thought if anyone was still alive, they'd be in Freedom City and trying to fix things. I didn't even know how to drive, but I practiced for a few days and we took off in this old jeep. We traveled for weeks, maybe months. It's hard to remember. I fought off the zombies that tried to attack us, and we took food from stores and houses and stuff. We camped, because it was summer and it was horrible to be in buildings for long. The smell," she added, as if that should've been evident.

"I had her gather firewood and stuff, and one day she fell. I should've been watching, but I was trying to put the tent up. She fell over this little cliff, probably ten feet, and she hurt herself. If we could've taken her to the hospital, maybe she'd have been okay. But there weren't any doctors. I drove into Albuquerque, to the hospital, but it was just full of zombies like all of them were. She lived three days, but it was hurting her so much. I gave her the painkillers I found, and she died. And then there wasn't anything left to do or anywhere to go, so I just started killing zombies."

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James listened, just watching, as she dug out the most painful memories she had and laid them out. He wondered how deeply she'd buried all of this and was just as sorry she had to relive it. Maybe he could help her get some peace at last. There weren't really words. He reached out with one hand to lay it on her shoulder. If anyone in the world needed a hug, Erin did. At least he couldn't be crushed by hers.

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After a minute, Erin reached up a hand and put it on his, but she wouldn't or couldn't reach out any further than that. She stood with her eyes closed and tried to pull herself together, at least enough that she'd be able to go further onto campus without waking Alex and having to go through all of this again. She didn't know what she would do when she got there, since she didn't trust herself to train and sleeping would be an awful idea, but at least on campus she felt safe. "Summers is going to hear about what happened tonight, I'll probably end up in detention again for awhile, or at least extra sessions with Dr. Marquez. It'll eat up some time this summer at least, I guess."

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"You're not going to get detention. As for the summer...we'll, I've got idea you might be interested in. But its something that can wait," he said quietly. It was something he'd been considering for a little while now. As for the detention, he would be damned if he let them punish her for something beyond her control without speaking up or doing anything about it.

James stepped in towards her to wrap his arms around her in a gentle hug. Beyond just giving comfort, he didn't imply anything on it. Her certainly didn't have his powers up; that'd probably throw her off entirely. He might have wanted something more, but his friendship with her was too vital to risk. For now, just wished he could take her pain away. He squeezed her gently, lightly, ready to release her if he wasn't wanted.

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She sighed and leaned into the hug, putting her arms around his waist and hugging him back. Hugs didn't solve anything, but it felt good and eased the sharpest edge of the pain. "I'll be okay," she told him, hoping it was true. "But if I see that zombie again, it had better hope it sees me first. It's not worth getting kicked out of school for, but I might forget that in the heat of the moment." Talking about the night's embarrassment was far easier than dipping into the past, for all it wasn't any more fun.

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James nodded a little as he attempted to gently rub/massage some of the tension out of the muscles on her back. Gently being a relative term when her skin could deflect a tank shell. It required some of his demon born strength just to do anything. "You'll be fine. Whatever it takes, you'll be fine," he said with conviction. He just hoped she'd start to heal on the inside. "And I'll make sure he gets the message," he muttered softly. "Don't let this build anymore ok? You have people who care for you. We'll always be here whenever and wherever you need us, no matter what."

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"I know you are," Erin told him, "but it's hard to talk about. It's hard to think about. If I don't leave it behind, I'm never going to have any kind of life here." She let go, standing up on her own and taking a deep breath. "Dr. Marquez keeps reminding me that I've only been here eighteen months, but I don't like giving it time. I have too much to do here." Erin looked around, testing her own mental balance, and decided she'd do for the moment. Still no sleeping, but she could probably train off the leftover emotions and adrenaline. "Thanks for being there," she told him sincerely.

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He nodded. He might not come from a hell world, but he could relate. "I can understand I think. It's hard." He flashed her a warm smile. "I'll always be here for you. No matter what." He shrugged one shoulder. "I get that it takes time. But if you want to move forward, I heartily support you being happier. Maybe working towards 'fixing' problems will help you come to terms with it all. Saving others and all that," he said. If so, he might have an idea. Well, he'd had it a for a little while now; it was just a rather sizable undertaking.

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"Hope so," she replied with just the ghost of a smile. "We're getting pretty good at doing that. And... well, I won't say I haven't ever thought about it as saving people I couldn't save in my own world. Maybe if I make enough of a difference, I'll find the reason that I lived and nobody else did. It's a thought, anyway." She sighed again, looking towards the dorms. "I think I'm going to go in for the night. See you later?"

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James nodded. He didn't know much about psychology but even he knew that one. He just hoped it actually helped her get through it. "Yes, yes we are. Get some rest then," he said, doubting she'd be getting any sleep. "Of course. I'll be around. Call if you need anything," he said with a half smile. He had things to do, but he intended to make sure he stayed in cell phone range at least. He doubted she'd need anything but he wanted to make sure.

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