The First Age

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Rune drew her legs up under her and laid her forehead across her arms. Weren’t there Atharim doctors that didn’t ask questions? She always heard of them, but she was too low on the totem pole to know how to find one. These women were connected, though. She remembered Jacinda (she always called her Jackie in her own head) – maybe it was because of that one time she called her Runehilda and Jackie was a sort of retaliation.

Finally after Rune conquered her favorite game app about sixteen thousand times, she peeked downstairs to see if Amelia was awake yet.
Jacinda was only half sleeping, so when Amelia stirred and let go she woke up immediately. Of course the meds made the girl loopy. But Jacinda remembered earlier (yesterday? Last night? How long had she slept?). Space. Amelia did not like being trapped.

Which Jacinda totally got. Have to look out for yourself. Not that she wouldn't accept help. That was the kind of stupid independence and pride you carried when you were young and thought yourself immortal. She knew that all too well.

Let her hit her mid 30s and she'd be singing a different song. Take help when it is offered. You aren't obligated or trapped by the concession. You can still walk away anytime.

There was a reason Jacinda was still around kicking ass at nearly 46. She learned from her mistakes. And she didn't overpromise what she could do.

Amelia was all of 20 maybe. Ok, maybe 22. Hard to tell exactly. She still had baby fat on her cheeks for fuck's sake. Burning away, true. Jawline was definitely maturing. But a kid for all of that.

Still, kids were badass in their own right. No idea of what they should fear. New perspective. Jacinda smiled. This could be fun.

Even as she backed up and gave her space, a noise caught her attention. What was a smile became a grin. Rune. Looking better already. Gone was the bratty twelve year old. Ehh....she was being too hard. She'd never been bratty. Just had a mouth. Spoke her mind. What'd she expect, with Seth raising her.

Truth be told, she liked it. Loved that fire, even.

"Well that's much better. Rune." She went to the girl- still short even after all these years- and enveloped her in a wide embrace.

Strangely, it felt nice. Like going home. Or touching the past. Letting go, she looked her over. Yep, still that playful look in her eyes.

And then she raised an eyebrow when something tugged at her memory. It had been so long ago. "Or
..was it...Runey? No. I think Seth called you that. Damn....what was it I called you that set you off like a cat thrown in water? Runocerous? Runilicious?"
A smile to show it was all affectionate.

She put her hand on her shoulder and squeezed softly with a smile. "You know I joke."

Amelia was still stirring and looking around trying to make sense of things so Jacinda said, "She's good. The equipment down here is top notch and she knew what she was doing, as loopy as she was. Just needs fluids and rest now. The pain meds have made her groggy, though. And be warned. She definitely needs space. So don't crowd her."
[[Tenzin's story continues here]]
Rune scowled, “Runehilda, Jackie,” she scoffed. It was her true born name, Runehilda. “Uncle Seth was so emo back then.” She crossed her arms, biceps bulging with the motion, and flipped a strand of hair that fell into her eyes. The color was so bland. She missed her hair-dyes, but things just weren’t the same without him around.

Rune squared her jaw and let the humor die down. If Jacinda could scare off ghosts with an awkward sense of humor, she would be the greatest hunter alive. The pat on the shoulder made her pull back a little, but only because the touch was unfamiliar. Uncle Seth wasn’t a hugger.

“I only met Amy that night, you know.” Rune said, looking around Jacinda’s shoulder like she might spy Amy from the corner of her eye. “I didn’t know she was atharim. Guess that means we’re doing a good job keeping our covers. I tell people I’m an exterminator.” She shrugged, “it doesn’t even feel like a lie.” 

It did feel awkward carrying on this small talk like long lost besties. She barely knew Jacinda. Uncle Seth and her were both the same age of old, maybe they had a thing back then? Ewe. Nevermind.
All the humor dropped from Jacinda's face as she caught Rune's mood, her flinch. Not that they had been close. Not at all. No. Rune was....Seth's neice. And while she and Seth might have had just a casual, nsa fling, it didn't mean she didn't like the guy.

She had been reserved with all men. Period. Fear. Protection. Whatever. A blindspot, as it turned out. Jill had driven right through that hole and into her heart.

Jacinda had learned her lesson. Keep everyone at arms length. Friends were fine, in the casual sense. Generally camraderie of a temporary team. Of brothers and sisters. But never let 'em near your heart.

Mentally she shook her head. And STILL, she'd done it again, this time with Ten. It wasn't Jill, no. There weren't butterflies. No clandestine looks or brief touches. But there was trust. And partnership. And Jacinda was happy with that balance.

Relationships were overrated, in her opinion. Or maybe, they simply weren't worth the hurt. 15 years might sound a long time. But it really wasn't. Not at all.

But Seth...he had been a good hunter. And fun. And she'd enjoyed his company. Her voice dropped, filled with concern. "You said 'was'." And suddenly it clicked that Rune had been living as a homeless person, like for reals. Her heart clenched.

She stepped forward, eyes filled with intensity and compassion, her voice a whisper. "What happened to Seth, Rune?"
Her face was dragged down into the depths of the grave she refused to dig for Uncle Seth. She shook her head and all the emotion buried beneath the surface bubbled red rings around her eyes.  

She couldn’t say it though. She refused to believe it.

“We were in the tunnels,” she started, arms crossed. Seth was the best. He couldn’t die. It was like it was immortal. “I’ve seen him be stabbed, possessed, shot, impaled, and crushed. He always comes through. We just got separated is all.”

Then an idea came to her. She turned back, rubbing at her eyes with her sleeve. “Hey! You can help. You’re a veteran Atharim. All kinds of experience from your many, many, many, many years on the road. You can help! You’re like a legend.”
Jacinda looked at Rune- really looked at her. Red eyes. Fierce determination. Hunger. She was desperate to believe. She needed it. Fuck! Seth had been her foundation.

It was too familiar. Jacinda felt something crumbling. Mirror much?

But Rune hadn't had to watch and listen to Seth burn to death, somehow believing it was the right thing. Knowing it was right.

No. Seth was as good a man as they came. Strong. Honest. Fearless. Arrogant. Funny. In another time and place, Jacinda might have been happy to have been a team with him. And, damn, but Rune would have been awesome to be with. A badass chick like all these others.

There were no oddities in Seth. Nothing recognizable to her. Rune didn't carry that shadowed look, the careful assessment of mood; the need to guard her words; the underlying fear Jacinda had seen everyday growing up. As if looking at reality through warped or bubbled glass.

You know what she remembered? Julie walking with her dad back to their hotel room, there at the end. No fear. No worry about secrets. Pure freedom of a daughter safe with her dad. Trust. A distant memory for Jacinda, but she knew it all the same.

It had been the thing that told her she had been right. Her instincts were right. As painful as it was, Regan needed to die.

That was Seth and Rune.

And something, the last vestige of protection, the last shred of wall finally shattered in Jacinda's mind. The contrast. Regan. Seth. Night. Day. Because try as she wanted, Jacinda wouldn't save Regan. The reality she hid from herself all those years. A reality she had still hidden even up to and including until now.

How very fucking fucked up he had been. The walls that allowed for cognitive dissonance shattered and broken, allowing her finally to see the reality. And rage and anger threatened to consume her.

But Rune looked at her, dashing away tears, trying to put on a brave face. Not now. Rune needed her. Now.

Rune wanted her father back. Nevermind he was her uncle. She wanted her father back. And Jacinda was buffeted by a storm of emotion, realizing that she had wanted Regan back for familiarity; for direction; for someone to be in charge; for comfort; out of fear of the unknown.

Laughable, now that she saw it. She had stepped off the cliff alone into the world at 20 and had survived. Thrived. She was a million times a better hunter than he ever was. She had done things he'd never imagined. She remembered now. It made her laugh. All the easy kills. The slow drawn out deaths. The old rougs and dreyken nests.
Fucker was all about control and power. He was a joke.

Just like he couldn't get a woman. He needed a child to groom and control. To abuse and manipulate. Her. A twelve year old girl. Twelve. Years. Old. Hatred and anger hit her like a wave.

And a lifetime of contempt whirled through her, seeing things clearly, finally, after all these years. Sand scoured her insides, as if to strip her away. And Jacinda said no. Fuck no. Not now. Not ever. She hadn't done anything wrong. Not a goddamn fucking thing.

And everything flipped. He screamed and it brought a smile. He sang those screams, singing screams. Each one a payment she placed in her soul. In her mind, it was an eternity. And that was good with her. Those screams as he burned that night finally fell silent. But only after she laughed at how appropriate it was for him. Burn, bitch. A perverse pleasure stole through her at the memory of his wails.

As fucked up as she was, he was a million times worse.

But not Seth. Only a good man could tear at Rune like Seth's going missing did.

She put out her hand carefully- she had realized Rune shied from contact, but she wanted it to be clear- onto her shoulder. Her voice came from somewhere calm and at peace. Odd. She didn't feel peace. And yet, she felt whole. Finally. "You listen to me, Rune. We're going to go and try to find him. Together. I promise you. I won't give up on him." She smiled fiercely, showing the bravest face she knew. Seth was resiliant and strong. But he was mortal. Still, Jacinda wouldn't stop. Not for Seth. And not for Rune.

And not for Julie or Jacinda. Good people were worth going after.
She held little hope, shrugging instead and turning away wordlessly.
Nika had missed the telltale beeping of the med cuff earlier. The tones indicated the pending administration of drugs. She was out again without knowing or having heard anything said to her and when she woke again it seemed as though months had passed. She felt sorry without knowing why. It was as though she'd disappeared from something and abandoned people who were very important to her with little explanation. It was a curious feeling. Sorry. She was so sorry.

The tones sounded again even as she lay blinking at the ceiling. Awareness was on her side this time and she ripped the cuff off with perhaps more force than strictly necessary.  She swung wooden legs off the bed and levered herself upright. Food. Her mouth was cotton from the pain meds.  Oh how she hated those.  Better to grit it out than dull the senses. Thankfully the stuff she'd been given wore off quickly. Fog dissipating, Nika licked her lips and cast her wary gaze about for another human.
Jacinda watched Rune leave. She didn't follow. It wasn't her place to insert herself into the girl's life. They knew each other but not as friends. She'd said what she said and she meant what she said and she'd do what she said.

And that was all a woman could do. Right?

Anyway, the girl had obviously been having a rough time of it- including being homeless and hungry and alone- and the plea was one swing in one direction and the response in another. She needed her time to find balance. But Jacinda would help her when she was ready.

Not my place. She sat back down to watch Nika drift back off. Hours must have passed because the girl woke again. Not moving as fast, so whatever she had taken had worn off. At least, she wasn't as keyed up as before. Hunted and feral and animal.

Jacinda watched her for a moment, let herself be seen and noticed. Finally, "I'm sure that goo was delicious, Amelia, but we have actual food upstairs. If you want it."

A glance at the clock. The early morning. She wondered if Ten was up. She was an early riser. Times she headed down for coffee to find Ten had gone on a run already. She'd shake her head. The energy of youth.

Course Jacinda still had energy to spare. But getting up early to run had never been her thing. She slept until she didn't have to and then needed her brain to wake. Being physical (for exercise, anyway) came later in the day or even early evening. Unless there was a hunt, of course.

Strange, all these women around her. Odd. Alone for so long. And somehow, she was in a house full....and she liked it. Wouldn't last of course. They all had lives. But Ten had said she'd stay. Partners.

She vaguely remembered the desire for a partner once before. A long time ago. Idly she wondered if Jill was still alive. Had she married? What had been that girl's name? She couldn't remember. Academic, anyway. She carried no torch. Funny how fires that burned so hot, burned out so completely they left everything around it dead.

Thinking of Jill brought neither pleasure nor pain, sorrow or wistfulness. Another life and another time. Regan had held until the last threads had withered away last night. Jill had been burned out long ago.

She headed to the stairs and turned back. "You coming?"
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