She knew something was wrong when as soon as she came home. Eleanor pulled back the curtain that served as their front door and the sickly-sweet smell of overripe strawberries filled the air. The thick desert air only made it worse and she nearly gagged when she peeled off her respirator and stepped inside, smearing a hand over her mouth.
“Little Miss Ella,” her mother called from the other room. The Remnant could barely hear her over the tinny sounds of the record playing on repeat. I need a fix cos I’m going down. Mother Superior jumped the gun. “Come see mama.”
She had a different name before, but now she was the Lady Madonna, alight in the warm glow of ascendancy as she cradled her son in her arms. He was barely four and Eleanor had only just turned thirteen, but she was old enough to understand the ugly little shooter that her mother brushed across the little boy’s temple as she held him. Happiness bang, bang, shoot, shoot.
“Mama,” Eleanor stuttered forward toward the Lady, her eyes wide. “Mama, stop.”
“Oh, Little Miss,” her mother chided, gentle as the dawn in spring. “You can’t feel it, can you? The Beat. It’s going to be okay, honey. You just let mama lead you.” The Lady pursed her perfect bright red lips in a smile that spoke with unending compassion and sympathy. “All together now–”
A voice came from behind. “That’s enough, Maddie.”
Eleanor hadn’t heard her father come in, but she felt his presence now: cool and still in the heat of the Vegasia summer, his shadow engulfing her and spreading forward into the room where her mother still sat. The needle slid off of the record and the two of them looked at each other for a long moment: her father, his face long and full of sorrow; her mother, who stared back, unblinking and empty-eyed. Eleanor didn’t understand what happened or why, but the Lady’s shoulders began to shake as the gun dropped from her hand, clattering onto the dirt floor. The child in her arms began to cry.
“Elle,” he murmured and settled his hand on her small shoulder. “Get your brother. It’s time to go.”
“It’s time to go.”
Bastion picked up her chin from where she leaned at the bar, staring into nothing. Brock stood on one side of her, silent and indecipherable while Ajax bopped along to the beat of a King that Bastion didn’t recognize, the both of them playing their roles in different ways and for different reasons, but the intent was all the same. She looked over her shoulder and found Alexa standing there with the hulking form of Stew just behind her, both of them wearing expressions that were carefully crafted. Time to go. “Okay,” she said quietly and finished her last drink. Ajax and Brock both followed suit.
The air was bitterly cold outside and hunger had sapped away her warmth as much as it did her strength. They were both quiet, but their separate entourages made up for the lack of it as they slipped into the morgue to await House. Beyond the makeshift bar where the recently returned tried to comfort themselves with a taste of hooch was a long dark hallway that faded into nothing, soaking up all sound, all light. Happiness is a warm gun, mama. Bastion looked at Alexa and tried to read the other woman’s body language, but the dark gave nothing away like it had before.
Fuck it. “Hey,” Bastion called out to her, startled by the sound of her own voice. “There’s a couple things about me you should know..”