Rose sat at the very end of her garden, staring at the house. She tried to remember what it looked like just a few weeks ago.
Tassle hanging from the windows, a little banner reading 'Happy Birthday, Rose.'
Taylor sat on her mommy's lap, reading a book about some dumb PRT stuff. Dad watching them with a smile on his face.
And Mommy watching her as she and Emma danced around the garden.
It felt so distant, now. She had been so happy.
Rose was young, but she wasn't stupid. She knew this pain wouldn't go away. Wounds like this didn't heal. She found herself wondering if she'd ever be happy again.
As she was lost in thought, she didn't notice someone approaching until they were sat down next to her, an arm over her shoulder. She flinched and tried to move away, but the arm stayed firm.
It took her a second to realise, from the silky sheen of the black hair spilling into the corner of her vision, that it was her older sister.
"Tay, I—" she tried to speak, but she couldn't find the words.
Taylor pulled her into a hug. "I'm here, Rosie. You don't have to be sad on your own."
As Rose cried and screamed and wished it was her mother here comforting her, she couldn't help thinking maybe she'd be happy again someday after all.
From above, Brockton Bay looked like it was from a different world to Los Angeles, I thought as our helicopter-aeroplane-tinker-bullshit-whatever-the-fuck-it-was started to make its descent. The difference in size and scale was the most obvious thing, but even from up here one could sense a different mood to the city. It was grey. Dreary. I couldn't tell if that was my pessimistic view on the state of the city or the rainclouds we'd just passed through.
Either way, Brockton Bay did not look as inviting as it had two days ago.
Convincing mom hadn't been difficulty, really. She was more than happy to get me out of Los Angeles, so that part was easy. When I said I did not, in fact, want to come with her to Washington, but wanted to visit my Father and Sister in Brockton Bay, well… for once, she'd seemed caught off guard. Maybe even a little hurt.
Maybe I was finally hitting my rebellious phase or something, but I couldn't bring myself to feel bad when I saw that. It wasn't like we'd spend much more time together if I went to Washington anyway. At least in Brockton Bay, I'd have Dad. And Rose, assuming she'd be cool to skip school and hang out with me.
I was sure she understood it, but that didn't mean there was a bit of tension in the air. Even if she would never show it.
As we got closer to the city, the PRT building became visible, sitting resolute and imposing among the Bay's relatively few skyscrapers. Beyond it I could just about make out the ship graveyard Dad apparently spent half his time rambling about.
I could see Mom curling her lip as she looked out the window, taking in the sights, and I couldn't blame her. The city got uglier and uglier the closer we got.
"Coming in for landing now, ma'am," the pilot said over the comms. Mom nodded and settled back into her chair, and I did the same.
We landed without issue; only the best pilots for the Chief-Director. Mom was first off the plane-helicopter-thing, into the pouring rain as an assistant chased after her with an umbrella. Another assistant tried to do the same for me, but I waved him away and took the umbrella for myself. Mom paused to wait for me, then continued as I fell into step beside her.
A small crowd of PRT officers, and the heavyset director herself—identified by the little badge on the chest of her jacket—were waiting to greet us, but mom exchanged the bare minimum of greetings before breezing past them into the building, eager to get out of the rain. Once we were in the dry, mom turned on her heel to face the director.
"Emily, good to see you."
Director Piggot stood to attention, grey eyes fixed on her superior. "Likewise, Chief-Director, though I am curious about the reasoning for this suprise visit. Will you be conducting an inspection?"
"I suppose it wouldn't hurt, while I'm here," Mom said. She gestured towards me. "You remember my daughter, Taylor?"
Piggot raised an eyebrow, but said nothing.
Mom sighed. "Ah, yes. It wouldn't been Director Brandish last time she was here. My apologies."
I looked at her. Mom never forgot anything. What was that about?
"Well then, introductions are in order. Emily, this is my daughter, Taylor Costa-Brown. Taylor, this is Emily Piggot, Director of the PRT East-North-East division."
"Charmed," Director Piggot said.
"Nice to meet you," I said, a little awkward since I already knew who she was. I'd read up on the higher-ups of the PRT so much it felt like I already knew her, which was a bit creepy of me.
"Taylor has family here in Brockton Bay," Mom continued without missing a beat, "and will be visiting with them for a little while."
Director Piggot's lips twisted as comprehension dawned. I felt nauseous.
"You want us to babysit?" Director Piggot asked icily.
"Not at all. She has her own bodyguard detail who should be arriving shortly, two of whom are Parahumans, one Protectorate, one Ward, and will be more than capable of looking after her when she's out of this building. Otherwise, I would like her to stay here for the duration of her stay, if at all possible."
I felt decidely awkward here, a spectator as my fate was decided for me. It was only through force of will that I wasn't fidgeting like a scolded child.
A bit of tension eased from Piggot's expression. "I'm sure that wouldn't be a problem. You'd want her in the Wards area with her Parahuman guards, then?"
"If they're willing," mom said, leaving the question unspoken.
"I'll speak to them about it," Piggot said. She looked me up and down before turning her attention back to mom. "If there's nothing else, Chief-Director?"
"That will be all for now, Emily. I'll be getting on with my inspection and reviewing your request for more capes shortly."
Piggot nodded stiffly, then turned on her heel and strode away, half a dozen PRT officers peeling off from the group to follow behind her.
Mom turned to me. "Cafeteria?"
I could only nod.
One of the local PRT officers led us through a bunch of hallways and doors I lost track of instantly, down a set of stairs, and through a bunch more corridors. Somehow, we ended up in a cafeteria, complete with round tables and plastic chairs and a buffet-style selection of food. It felt like a high school room, except the cafeteria at my school was actually considerably nicer than this, which said a lot.
The room quietened noticably when I entered, then almost fell silent when Mom came in behind me.
Mom sat down at a free table without even going for the food. I was a little hungry, but I felt too awkward to go to the buffet myself when so much attention was clearly on us. I sat down across from mom, fiddling with my scarf as I found a really interesting stain on the table to look at.
I heard mom sigh. "Taylor, I am not angry at you."
"You're not?" I looked up at her. She was as proper as she ever was in public; back straight, perfect posture, hands folded in her lap. But her eyes only showed warmth.
"I understand that you don't want to sit around at our Washington house all day," she said. "It's not a place you're used to, god knows you're hardly ever there, and I'm not going to pretend I'd be at home much." There was a little twitch below her right eye, which was the closest mom's expression ever got to pained. "And I'm sorry for that. I know you've been… unhappy, lately. I want to do more for you, Taylor."
I sighed. These kinds of conversations were getting kind of old. "It's okay, mom. Really. I get it. Your job is kinda important."
Mom let out a breath and shook her head. She was always good at taking the hint, reading the mood. "Have you met the Wards here?"
"Not in a long time." I winced. "It's been too long since I've been in Brockton Bay."
Mom nodded. "Daniel has not dealt well with the death of his wife."
Who does deal well with the death of someone they love? I wanted to say, but didn't. No point spoiling what little time I had with mom before she jetted off back to Washington to save the world or something with an acidic comment like that.
"Neither have I, I guess," I said. "I didn't know what to say to them, how the hell I was supposed to comfort them about something like that. I still don't, really."
"You just have to listen, empathise," Mom said.
I shook my head. "If I tried to empathise over something like that, I'd just break down myself. I couldn't imagine losing—" I cut myself off, my cheeks burning. "Well, yeah. You know. I'm just not good with that kind of stuff."
Mom's lips twitched upwards before she schooled her expression. "You're much better with that kind of thing than you think." She rolled up her sleeve and looked at her watch. "Let's get you somthing to eat, then we'll go meet the Wards."
Shrugging, I got to my feet. I'd read all their files, they seemed like good people.