Bernadette was used to people disappearing from her life. Her mother had never been in the picture and her father was rarely around because he worked so much. When he went missing, Bern knew how to take care of herself. The little house they lived in was remote enough that no one found a fourteen year old living alone.

Not until Muirenn moved in next door.

The Flynns were…weird. Bern was used to quiet stoicism, she and her father hardly spoke to each other but there was no need to because they had nothing to say. Muirenn was loud and brash and wore her heart on an armored sleeve. She never reported Bern to social services and never questioned the fact that she lived alone, another weird thing that made Bern wary of the lady.

It wasn’t until she left for Temperance that Bern realized that Muirenn had something to hide. Berserkers were a hot topic in Temperance due to a recent disaster involving a Berserker, and the idea of a ‘trigger’ was one that suddenly clicked in Bern’s mind. Muirenn was crazy, but she was frighteningly careful about keeping herself and her daughter from spilling any blood. Bern always cleaned her own wounds but Muirenn flinched at the sight of bandages and grew cold at the mention of injuries. Bernadette never asked for a confirmation but she knew that Muirenn suspected she knew. That had to be why the Flynn woman never questioned Bern’s life.

Muirenn signed all of Bern’s papers with forged signatures and answered phonecalls with a scarily gruff voice that fooled anyone who came looking for Bern’s father. In return, Bern would watch little Aisling Flynn over the summers. 8 year old Ash was as loud as her mother but was far more obnoxious. At least Muirenn knew her limits.

Well, she mostly knew them.

Bern was 18 and freshly graduated from Temperance. Aisling was 12 and had gone to bed early with a fever. Muirenn wasn’t one to miss a party so although she had skipped out on the graduation ceremony, she insisted that the two of them drink to Bern’s success.

It was the first time she’d gotten drunk. It was also the first time she’d been kissed, and the first and only time she’d triggered Muirenn into Berserker mode.

It had been a fairly innocent kiss, Muirenn had only meant to peck Bern on the mouth. But like the lovestruck teenager she was, Bern took it too far. In her drunken haze she’d bitten down on Muirenn’s lip and swore loudly when she tasted blood. Muirenn had frozen up. Then she’d screamed, holding her head as though trying to block noise, and Aisling had screamed from upstairs and came running down with tearstained cheeks and a box.

“You have to knock her out!” Aisling begged, and she was so tiny for a 12 year old that Bern could have sworn she was 8 years old again. The heavy metal clasps on the box felt like they were welded shut but it could have been the nerves as Muirenn thrashed around the kitchen, screaming obscenities at unseen foes and wielding a chair like a weapon
Bern hadn’t escaped the situation unscathed and she wore a black eye for two weeks to prove it. Muirenn kept a box of tranquilizers in Aisling’s room, and that’s what Bern had so desperately worked to open. She’d never injected something with a syringe in her life but for some goddess-forsaken reason there were blow darts, and Muirenn had dropped like a fly. Bern had held Aisling for hours afterwards, cradling the girl and rocking her to sleep as though the Berserker rage they had just witnessed had only been a nightmare.

Muirenn had closed up after that. She became what Bern’s father had been, a quiet and emotionless person with wore their hearts inside of stainless steel cases. Bern left with regret on her lips that tasted an awful lot like blood.

She cried when Muirenn died, but didn’t return home for the funeral despite Aisling’s pleading letters.

Aisling was fourteen, just as Bern had been when her father disappeared.

Aisling would be fine.

But she hadn’t been fine. After graduating she disappeared just like Bern’s father, into thin air without a trace, and in terror Bernadette left to find her. She swore not to let her go, swore not to break the promise she made to Muirenn a decade ago, swore she would keep Aisling safe. Things would be fine. It’d be fine.

Bern had a habit of lying to herself.

It would be fine, she thought, and when Aisling disappeared with a torn-out tooth as a clear message (don’t look for me I don’t want to be found), Bernadette didn’t cry.

Bernadette was used to people disappearing from her life.