Erin stands at the window and watches the clouds roll overhead. There hasn't been a drop of rain, yet, but this overcast weather is a good sign. When Abby wired earlier that she had activated the scrambler remotely, Erin almost expected water to just gush down from the sky. She tends to have expectations that are too high, she muses. She nibbles on her lower lip and listens to Holtz messing about her with microwave. The device will never work quite the same way, since Holtz took a select few parts for her inventing, but she hopes that it will eventually heat food without causing any fires.

"Maybe just a bit of smoke," Holtz assures her. "I promise nothing I build explodes. Well, unless I want it to."

Erin smiles at her companion and joins her on the couch. Their knees knock together, and Erin thinks about the night before. Her cheeks color, and she looks away. "About last night–"

"It's okay. Totally okay."

"I'm sorry."

"Don't be." Holtz elbows her gently. "We all move at a different pace. I don't want you to feel pressured."

"I'm just really stressed," she admits. With everything that's happening, she just can't relax enough for the sort of physical intimacy that had sprung up between them. She wants close contact, but her mind is too busy to let loose completely. Knowing that Holtz does want to have sex while she doesn't makes her nervous. She hopes she's not a complete disappointment.

As if reading her thoughts, Holtz taps her knee cap and leers at her. "Even if you never want to have sex, I like you, okay?"

"Never?"

"Okay, so I'd be a little sad that I didn't get to bring you Sex Town, population you, but it's not a big deal."

Erin brightens at Holtz's beguiling smile. "Thank you."

"Yeah, I know. I'm the greatest."

"When do you think it'll rain?"

Holtz shrugs and resumes tinkering. "Could be soon, or it could take a while. I mean, we assume it'll rain, but honestly, we have no idea what'll happen without the mob controlling the weather. Maybe they already fucked everything up so bad that nature can't go back. Maybe this is how life is now."

Erin frowns. "I don't like that."

"Neither do I, but we have to keep things in perspective."

"You're right." Erin sighs and slouches. She's been dreaming of a life without rations–she could shower whenever she wanted, for as long as she desired; she could guzzle water until she felt sick; and she could cook lavish dinners that actually made her feel full. Hell, simply washing her hands in the sink without worrying would be divine.

"I think I got it!" Holtz slams the microwave shut, beaming and pointing. "Want to try it?"

"Not until we have something to heat up."

A moment after she speaks, there's the sound of something loud exploding in the distance. Erin drops down and covers her head, fear constricting her lungs and clouding her thoughts. Something has gone terribly wrong, and they're going to be killed. Holtz hits the ground beside her and wraps her in a hug.

"You're okay, Erin. I promise."

"But–"

"Don't you remember?"

She blinks slowly and struggles upright. "Remember?"

"That sound."

"No."

Listening, she closes her eyes and tries not to tremble at the noise. She does recognize it–but she can't place where. Then, after the third crash, she remembers hiding under her blankets while rain pattered on the roof. She scrambles to the window and stares with open awe at the first few droplets of rain dripping down from the clouds.

"Thunder," she says in a tone both shocked and reverent.

"Don't forget the lightning." Holtz stands and slips her hands around Erin's waist. She rests her chin on Erin's shoulder and grins. "Very, very frightening."

"Oh, hush." Erin doesn't mind the playful teasing. She can't feel much other than unmitigated happiness at the moment. They've done it. There's still a fight to be had in removing the corrupt powers controlling the city, but at least the rain is falling. She watches people flood the streets, their heads tilted back in wonderment, before nodding. "We should get our message out."

"Mm. You decide what to say, yet?"

"Yes."

Holtz guides her to the wire and sits her down. After tweaking a few knobs, Holtz gestures for her to speak. Awkward at first, she announces that she's a citizen of the city with sensitive information. Because it will be easy for anyone to track down the address from which she's transmitting, there is no use in hiding her identity. The group agreed prior that she was the best figurehead for their project, given her rather safe and law-abiding history. Holtz would look like a maniac, in contrast, while Abby and Patty could easily be depicted as rebels with a violent, dissenting history. Erin has followed every rule ever invented, so she won't be as easily smeared.

"This is rain, for those of you who are too young to remember. It used to happen quite a bit, but then Thomas Bradley and his family designed a machine to stop the rain completely. Because of them, water became a commodity. If you're like me, you can see the injustice in this–as well as the negative ecological impact. In order to gain power, they sacrificed our health, our rights, and our freedoms, as well as the planet's well being. They cannot be allowed to continue."

Holtz grips her shoulder and squeezes. Erin gains confidence and speaks more steadily.

"We've done our best to stop their interference with the natural order. Enjoy this rain today but remember that tomorrow they may find a way to take it from us again. Don't let that happen. Don't let tomorrow's children grow up in the same world you did. Fight back."

Holtz presses a button, and the message zips out to every available device. There are so many nearby that Erin can hear her voice split over multiple sites, talking in unison, repeating her plea. Holtz grabs her hand and tilts her head toward the door.

"Want to go feel it?"

"Oh, yes." Erin needs no further prompting. She gets ahead of Holtz and darts downstairs. As soon as she's in the street, she mimics everyone else: she tilts her head back and feels the water on her face. A laugh burbles in her chest, and soon, she can't tell if it's rain on her cheeks or tears.

0000

Erin steps in a puddle and laughs with delight. She hasn't seen a puddle in much too long, and she can't resist the urge to jump in the water and splash everyone around her. One of the other people on the street glares at her, but the rest follow her example. Holtz grabs her arm and spins her around. Holtz's yellow hair is soaking wet and plastered to her forehead, and some of the pins holding the strands in place jut up at odd angles. Despite the dishevelment, she's beautiful, and Erin cups her cheeks.

"We did this."

"I know!" Holtz holds her wrists. "Together! Me and my nosiness, and you and your big, beautiful brain!"

"You did a lot more than just be nosy."

"Okay, I also broke your microwave."

Erin shakes her head. Rain dribbles into her eyes and makes seeing difficult, so she wipes the back of her hand across her forehead. When she was four, she had an umbrella–bright yellow, with large white eyes and an orange bill jutting out the front. She'd named it Ducky, much to her mother's consternation. Looking back, she's not sure if her mother's disapproval stemmed from the asinine name or her desire to ascribe personality to an inanimate object. Ducky had gotten thrown away some years after the last rainfall, and she'd cried. She supposes that Ducky would be too small to protect her now; instead, Holtz notices her plight and strips out of her shirt.

Erin accepts her shirt with a shy smile and drapes it over her head with one arm, trying her best not to look down at Holtz's toned stomach and pebbled skin. She especially doesn't notice the nibs of Holtz's nipples, which prod against the thin material of Holtz's bra. She swallows with an audible gulp and flushes bright red. Holtz winks at her and takes her hand. As their fingers tangle together, she decides that she'd really like to finish what they'd started the night before.

"Holtz–"

"Did you see people are bringing out bowls and buckets?" Holtz points excitedly down the street. "They think this is a one time thing."

"It might be," Erin replies. She hopes not, however.

"Should we do that, too?"

"We don't know how clean the water is, and we don't have a means for purification. We could boil it, but I'd rather we didn't take any chances until everything is settled."

Holtz nods, a bit glum. "You're right. You always are."

"Not always."

"Name one time."

"In fourth grade, I got an eighty-nine percent on my language arts test."

"Ouch."

"Mrs. Arms thought I could do a more thorough job with my journaling." Erin laughs. "She knew I was just skating by."

"My girlfriend, the genius."

A moment passes while Erin processes. Being Holtz's significant other wouldn't be so bad. She grins. "Yeah."

"Yeah?" Holtz squeezes her hand.

She kisses Holtz slowly, allowing the rain to mingle from her nose to Holtz's. Holtz grips her elbow and leans into the embrace. The sounds of euphoria and pounding rain surround them, and Erin feels like she's in a safe, warm bubble of happiness. When they break apart, she rests her forehead against Holtz's.

"Can I ask you something?"

"Yeah, for sure."

"When you found out about the mobs and the weather, why didn't you just run?"

"What do you mean?"

"I know plenty of people who would have wanted to flee and save their own lives. But you stuck around and tried to change things. Why?"

"Would you believe that I just really love rain?"

"No."

Holtz shrugs. "I grew up in the system. People only took me in for the extra rations, and you can bet I didn't get any of those portions. It sucks, Erin. This whole system sucks. I'd rather die setting the world free than live at all."

Erin tugs her close. "I'm sorry."

"You shared with me," Holtz whispers. "That's when I knew I loved you."

They collide together with more intensity, and Erin is just slipping her tongue into Holtz's mouth when they're yanked apart. She glowers at the woman restraining Holtz before realizing that her own arms are pinned behind her back.

"You are Erin Gilbert and Jillian Holtzmann."

It's not phrased as a question, but Erin nervously answers anyway: "Yes."

"Come with us."

"I don't suppose we have a choice, do we?" Holtz gets a cuff to the head for her impertinence.

They are shoved none too nicely into the back seat of a sleek black car. Vehicles like this mean only one thing: the Bradley mob. Erin drips on the leather seats and tries to keep her knee from bouncing nervously. She regrets not sleeping with Holtz because apparently they'll never get the chance ever again. Holtz touches her thigh and smiles at her.

"It's okay."

It isn't, Erin wants to say. Just because Holtz is willing to die to free the world doesn't mean she is, too. She cringes at the thought–not of death, per se, but of the pain that will most certainly precede and accompany her demise. The mob will not be kind to them, and she thinks once more of the prisoners she watched on the wire.

"Erin."

She focuses back on Holtz, who peers at her closely. "Yes?"

"Look, whatever happens, I'll do my best to protect you. It's my fault you're in this mess."

"Maybe, but I knew what I was choosing when I agreed to help." Despite her terror, she isn't going to let Holtz die alone. She scoots a little closer as the car lurches forward and rests her head on Holtz's shoulder. "At least we made it rain."

"There is that. And I know it was a bit of a joke before, but it's true–I really do love the rain."

"I'm glad we got to see it before…" she clears her throat. "And I'm glad I got to know you."

"Me, too."

Erin closes her eyes and takes long, measured breaths to slow her racing heart. She feels the bounces in the road, but mostly, she concentrates on Holtz's warm hand on her leg.

0000

They're dragged out of the car and marched into a gray building that Erin can't identify. She lingers close to Holtz, unable to hide her fear. At the end of a hallway, they're guided into a lavishly decorated room, where a small, dark-haired man sits at a large, hardwood desk. He toys with a sharp letter opener while he waits for their guards to thrust them forward. Erin stumbles a step, but Holtz nabs her elbow and keeps her upright.

"Ladies," the man says slowly, placing the opener down and folding his fingers together. His hair is slicked back, and his wide, blue eyes appraise them from top to bottom. He's flanked on both sides by men in suits, one Black and the other white. These guards are stiff and unmoving, and Erin doesn't hope for any help from them.

"Dickbag and company," Holtz replies.

Erin nudges her and jerks her head. This is not the time to antagonize their captors. Thankfully, the man doesn't seem perturbed by Holtz's attitude. He merely stares at them until a bead of sweat builds on Erin's temple and trickles slowly down her face.

"I'm a busy man, so I'll keep this short. You will provide us with what we want to know, and perhaps, we can arrange for you to leave here alive."

"Never." Holtz musters a bit of saliva and spits on the floor. "You can kill me, if you want. I won't talk. And this one here doesn't know anything."

The man waves his hand, and someone drags Erin from the room. She struggles against being separated from Holtz, but her wrists are quickly bound. Escape becomes a far-away dream as she's slammed into a metal chair and roped down. She squirms, but the friction of skin on rope is painful.

"Dr. Gilbert," a voice greets from somewhere behind her. She cranes her neck and spots the white man, although his suit has been traded for a white smock. "I have a few questions for you."

"I don't know anything." Her neck aches, and she returns her gaze forward. She listens to the neat snick of his well-shined shoes and follows his movements around the room. There's the sound of metal grating on metal, and she fights a wave of panic.

"That can't be true. You're an expert in your field, aren't you?"

"Well, yes."

"So, let's start simple. Did you see the plans Dr. Holtzmann stole from her lab?"

Cold steel slides against her thigh. She trembles, glad that the flat of the blade is all that touches her. She's also glad that she can answer the first question honestly. "No."

The blade turns and dips against her skin. Erin blacks out.

She wakes up an unknown number of minutes later. Her leg hurts, but she's not brave enough to look down. Instead, she clenches her eyes shut and paces her breathing to keep from vomiting. A hand lands on her shoulder, and she flinches.

"You don't strike me as a bad person," he says calmly. The pressure on her shoulder is warm and almost comforting, like he's her father. "In fact, you being here isn't right, is it?"

"No," she whispers. Her voice shakes.

"No," he agrees. Very gently, he squats beside her and applies a numbing balm to her thigh. He cleans up the blood, and since the wound is shallow, he uses a simple adhesive bandage. "I really didn't like doing that to you, Dr. Gilbert, because I know that you're not the troublemaker here. I've looked into your records. You've got a very fine academic background and a career that's proven very useful to the country."

She sits silently, uncertain as to where this is going. He stands in front of her and folds his hands in front of his waist. They look one another over, and she thinks she sees some form of empathy in his gaze.

He continues, "You aren't the problem, and you don't deserve to die."

Implicit is the understanding that if she isn't the problem, Holtzmann is. Erin wants very badly to protect the blonde, but she isn't sure she's strong enough.

Teeth clattering, she admits, "I don't know what you mean."

From behind him, he withdraws his delicate steel knife and twists the handle between his palms. "You're too smart to play dumb, doctor."

Her heart hammers, and tears well in her eyes. He places the metal against her skin again, and she blurts out, "I helped with the calculations! But I don't know where anything is or how it functions."

The blade presses a little harder, not quite breaking the skin. She panics anyway. "Please! I can replicate my work. I don't want to die!"

"What–"

A banging on the door interrupts his question. Much to Erin's relief, the knife disappears as the man stalks to the door. She can't quite hear the conversation, but she can hear footsteps leaving. When nobody comes back to help or hurt her, she surmises that she's alone. Ashamed of how easily she cracked, she dips her head and sniffles. Some rebel she's turned out to be. The tears dribble down her nose and splatter onto her lap.

Her thoughts drift to Holtz, who is likely being grilled much more intensely than she is. She bets that Holtz didn't say anything, and she stews in her failure once more. Holtz is strong and brave–and everything Erin is not. If Holtz had gone to literally anyone else for help, the country might have stood a chance.

The door bangs open, and the man stands before her again. His hands are curled into tight fists, and he glowers down at her. "We'll pick this up again in an hour or so."

He hefts her up, drags her down the hallway, and throws her into a small, dark room, where she crumbles to the ground and draws her knees to her chest. The action stretches the tender skin of her thigh, but she needs the comfort the position provides. The day started out so well, but rather than cuddling in her apartment, enjoying the rich scent of the first rain, she's stuck in a windowless cell that shrinks with every passing moment. Just as the walls seem to be caving in around her, a quiet but familiar voice comes from a shadowy corner.

"Are you okay?"

0000

Scrambling across the space, Erin makes her way to Holtz's side and immediately checks Holtzmann for injury. She expects to find Holtzmann a bloody mess and is relieved that there is no physical damage to the blonde at all. Her heart slows from its hummingbird rampage to a more consistent jackhammer. Holtz grips her shoulders and kisses her.

Erin sighs, her anxiety tamed for the moment. "I'm so glad you're alright."

"I'm sorry."

"I'm sorry, too." She closes her eyes and builds up a burst of courage to admit: "I–I talked. I told them that I helped you, that I would recreate the math for them if they wanted. They only hurt me once, and I just gave up. I'm sorry. I'm sorry–"

"I know."

Erin draws up short and stares. "You know."

Holtz nods and trembles. "I was about to tell them everything, too."

"But I didn't think any kind of torture would work on you."

"They made me watch what they were doing to you. I could make it all stop if I told them everything. They'd even let you go home." Holtz ducks her head. "What does that say about me, huh? That I'd give everything up just to save you some pain."

Erin ducks her head. "If anything, it's because you know I wouldn't have been able to take it. I should have been stronger. I shouldn't have broken so easily."

Tears dribble down her cheeks again, and Holtz hugs her closer. "No. Seriously, no matter how stone-faced or stoic you were, I would have given up. I promised to protect you."

Erin snorts as she cries and manages a wobbling smile. Although she's petrified, she whispers, "Don't tell them anything. Make me a new promise, Holtzmann. Promise that you won't say anything, no matter what they show being done to me."

"I don't think I can do that." Holtz shifts back, but Erin grabs her hands.

"You have to. This is bigger than me. If we give up what we know…" She thinks of Abby and Patty and frowns. She won't reveal that there are others wrapped up in this plot, not even if that man pushes a blade into her skin again. "We just can't, okay?"

Holtz meets her gaze and seems to understand. "I'm not comfortable with this, for the record."

"I know."

Grabbing Erin's hands, Holtz shakes her head. "I don't think you do. Erin, I would die for you."

"I don't want you to. I don't want anyone to!" Erin stands abruptly and pins her temples with her fingertips to counteract the sudden tunneling of her vision.

"Er, just sit down. We haven't eaten in a pretty long time, and you're coming off a bit of adrenaline." Holtz eases her down again and kisses the crown of her head.

They sit together in silence for endless minutes. Erin tries counting in her head but quickly halts when she realizes there's no point. Every once in a while, someone walks by the door to their room, but it never opens. She wonders if this is a form of torture in itself. Holtz eventually drifts into an uneasy sleep, something that is impossible for Erin. She can't draw her eyes away from the door, as she's afraid of what will happen when neither of them are paying attention.

Her patience is rewarded the moment the door squalls open without preamble. She wobbles to her feet and pushes her hands out in front of her body, in a vain attempt to protect herself. Instead of a black-suited mob member, she finds herself in front of Abby, who immediately wraps her up in a tight hug. She must be hallucinating. She rubs her eyes, blinks, and shakes her head, but Abby is well and truly standing in the doorway.

The effect is rejuvenating.

Erin laughs and hugs her again. "What are you doing here?"

"After you sent out that message, people were out in the rain celebrating. But the rain didn't last forever. They saw you get taken and where." Abby seems unwilling to let her go. "We hoped we weren't too late."

"No, we're both alive. Holtz is sleeping."

"Well, the mob got taken over by a mob. I'm not sure we're in any better shape than before, honestly, except that this mob is unruly and lacking in leadership." Abby stares at her. "You do know you're gonna do that, right?"

"What?" Erin jerks back.

"You're the voice on the wire. You're going to be the one people look to for guidance."

"But it was Holtz's idea."

"I build things," Holtz says, breaking into the conversation with a yawn and a smile. "I'm not really the leading type."

"And I am?"

"Heck yeah, you are."

Erin doesn't believe either of them and folds her arms over her chest. "Abby, you're more personable. You do it. Patty's a great strategist. She can do it."

"They want you, Erin." Abby claps her back. "Come on, leader of the free world."

Erin sputters but doesn't fight as Abby and Holtz each take one of her arms and pull her out into the hallway. She finds better words the closer they get to the sounds of mob activity, but neither woman listens to her complaints. She's thrust into a room of raucous people, all of whom fall silent when she enters. She lifts a hand, hesitant.

"Hello." All eyes land on her, and she continues, "Um, I'm Erin Gilbert. I sent you that message before? About the rain?"

A cheer sounds, and Holtz's hand slips into hers. Once again, she draws strength from their connection.

"I'm super glad you came to get us–" she pauses to let them roar again, "–but I think it's time to discuss what comes next. And I'd really like whatever is on the horizon to be peaceful. We've lived too long being forced around and abused for stepping out of line. I don't want to be worse than them. I want to be better. Don't you?"

The crowd claps instead of screaming, and Erin folds into Holtz's hug. She's exhausted, and she just wants to go home.

0000

Guarding her eyes against the sun, Erin peers out at the rows of sprouting crops. The season is still young, but she's hopeful that this year will yield a more hearty harvest than the last. Abby assures her that people will grumble about everything, but that doesn't stop her from feeling personally guilty about the lack of food the winter prior. She turns her attention to Patty, who stands beside her.

"Are we all set out here?"

"Yeah. Some of that fertilizer I read about is doin' its job. Man, if they could make that shit without the rank stench… It's awful. And it doesn't lighten up at all."

Erin laughs. "Then let's get back inside with the good news. I think everyone could use a bit of that."

In the scant year and a half since their first shower, too much has changed for Erin to actively comprehend. The corrupt government had fallen at the feet of its people, and Erin had grudgingly taken up the mantle of temporary leader. She's aware that her duties will likely extend beyond her initial expectations–a year or two, tops–but she can't just abandon the new order she was instrumental in creating. Moreover, the storms she helped return to the world have wrought havoc. The infrastructure of the old government was ill-prepared for the sudden onslaught of downpours.

Creeks, once almost devoid of moisture, over flowed. Ancient sewers backed up, clogged, and flooded. The streets wouldn't drain, and a milieu of unforeseen social problems erupted as a result. The people needed someone to yell at, and she had a good deal of experience in that realm. Despite decrying her ineffectiveness, nobody has challenged her position, so she thinks she's not totally failing.

In any event, Holtz tells her every night that's she's doing a good job. This sometimes feels like she's a trained lion desperately seeking a hunk of raw meat for a trick, except she's performing complex political tasks instead of roaring at a crowd of disinterested tourists.

"Thank the rain you're back." Abby grabs her hand and drags her to second floor as soon as they're back in the old firehouse they've converted to a head quarters. Since the rampant heat has given way to regular storms, there's been less of a need for the service, and the building suits their needs nicely. "Tell Holtz she's not allowed to use explosives in any of her inventing. She won't listen to me."

"You think I can control her?" Erin gazes fondly at her friend, who huffs.

"You more so than anyone else."

"I'll do my best," she promises just before being thrust into Holtz's work space. She sidesteps a teetering pile of scrap metal and avoids stepping on something that appears sentient. Spotting Holtz bent over a work bench, she approaches and tickles the back of Holtz's neck.

Holtz squeals and tosses her tools. "I didn't do it!"

"Really?"

"Of course not." Holtz turns and winks. "What's with the surprise attack?"

"Abby tells me you're trying to blow up the building."

"Not this building. But a building, maybe."

Erin props her hands on her hips and looks suitable aghast. "Holtzmann!"

"Look, we have a lot of worn down buildings that consume too much energy. We can either waste a ton of hours and power on breaking them down, or I can come up with a safe and efficient method for demolition."

"Oh." She straightens and rubs the back of her neck. "I guess that doesn't sound too bad."

"Also, I like when things go boom."

"Holtz…"

"Erin, you know I'm not gonna destroy anything without your say-so. You're the boss lady." Holtz takes her hand and kisses her knuckles.

Erin flushes. Even after such a long time, Holtz has the power to fluster her completely with nothing but a simple touch and a kind word. "Thank you. It's been a bit rough today."

"You went out with Patty to see the fields, right?"

"Yeah."

"They growing okay? None of the wilting from last year?"

Erin shakes her head. "It's still too early to tell how many are going to survive and produce, but you know we're going to have a crowd in the lobby tomorrow demanding answers. Which, may I remind you, I don't have."

"So, tell the truth."

"You make that sound so easy."

"Erin, they're not looking for a two-hour long dissertation defense. They're just looking for hope." Holtz squeezes her hands. "And believe me. You're the right person to give it to them."

"Why, though?"

"Because you are them."

"Oh, please. Don't get poetic."

"I'm an artist at heart, my love," Holtz teases. She wraps her arms around Erin and pulls the taller woman onto her lap. "While Patty was smuggling goods, and Abby was building disruptors, and I was stealing plans, what were you doing?"

Erin hangs her head, disappointed by her answer. "Nothing."

"Exactly!"

"That's not really a glowing recommendation."

"To them it is. I promise. You were living just like they were, and then, the opportunity to change the world dropped into your lap. You did everything you could to help because you knew it was the right thing."

"I guess…"

"Okay. Pity party over. Get moving, sweet cheeks. I got some explosives to build."

Erin heaves to her feet and points a stern finger in Holtz's direction. "Don't you dare test those anywhere near this building."

"Oh my. I like it when you take charge. Gets me all hot and bothered."

Snorting, Erin turns to leave. "Well, you'll have to wait until later. I've apparently got important leadership decisions to make and some hope to dispense."

"Don't make me wait too long, okay?"

Erin tilts her head to catch Holtz's eye once more. The oddly dressed inventor is physically the same as the first time they met, but there's a gentleness to her smile and a few new smile lines around her eyes. Although she's gone through a gamut of trials to get to this point, she wouldn't change any of it.