Another Year Older


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Scene Title Another Year Older
Synopsis Seren makes it through a dreaded anniversary without incident, but the morning after is another issue entirely.
Date February 28, 2021

Seren's Apartment, Raytech Industries Campus

They don't remember what they'd been dreaming, but they surely must've been. When Seren's eyes flicker open it's with all the awkward stutter of having been jogged from a particularly deep sleep.

But they can't recall what roused them, and as their grey eyes open, tracing invisible patterns into the ceiling above them, silence reigns in their mind for trying to grasp at it once more.

Their brow begins to furrow. "Hey, Baird—" they whisper, and roll their head to the side.

A white stoat curled up on the laundry chair next to their bed lifts his head, amber eyes peering back. A dark-tipped tail lifts and flops back down in a signal of interest in the movements of the recently-roused, but Seren's stopped moving entirely. They regard their familiar almost as if they don't recognize him, for how odd the sight of him is, eyebrows belatedly returning to the process of union a moment later.

Baird meets their eyes, and in return, Seren meets his, but theirs lose focus, distracted.

"Just one thing today, bud?" they wonder with library faintness, trying to not rouse the redhead curled up against their side. Baird keeps his silence on the matter, only returning Seren's look. They blink slowly and adjust the angle of their head, listening better. They hear only a faint whisper.

An old fear slithers its way down their spine and into some unknowable place in the center of their being. "That's okay," Seren is sure to tell him quickly, the lock of knit muscle on their forehead breaking apart. "You can be whatever you want to be, Baird. You always can be. We always can be."

They don't notice the thing that shifts the sheets, creating a whisper of fabric. Something that starts at their feet, winding a serpentine path up the outside of their pajamas. They mistake the raising of the skin on their abdomen for simple fear, one that—

When the hidden thing makes its way up to Seren's torso, brushing over the top of Rue's arm with a soft belly and the goal of nearing their heart, that's when Baird moves. With a fierceness his calm little body should not possess, his colors flare dark greys and browns and he hisses as he leaps from chair to bed, tiny weasel hands reaching and sharpened, if small, teeth bared to bite.

"Oh my god—" Seren starts with a gasp and a jolt that runs the length of their whole body, completely unaware of what they've been protected from as the unseen snake under the sheets vanishes with the weight of Baird's being suddenly sinking down onto it. Alarmed and not knowing what to do, continued wordless notes of startled fear come from Seren after, their chest heaving. They scramble to wrap their arm around Baird and cradle him to their chest, anxiously shhing the creature as they hold him close.

Baird's paws are splayed against Seren's chest as he pushes back against them, trying to worm his way out from their grasp only for them to tighten their cling onto him in a way that might smother him or otherwise injure him were he substance rather than secret. Seren gasps out a breath and begins to rock themself and Baird along with, tears stinging their eyes. "Shhh, shh shh…"

And by the time anything can be seen of him, he's a thing as snow white as the linens again.

While Seren struggles with Baird, the lump next to them on the bed has rolled off to the side once, then a second time, until she drops to the floor, with a grace that’s as catlike as many of the summon’s forms. No tangle of sheets or limbs, just a crouch and a swipe of her palm against canvas and satin. When the redhead springs up again, it’s with her slim sidearm in hand, fished from the overnight bag she left half open on her side of the bed as though she might simply be careless.

Blue eyes bright and alert, Rue Lancaster sweeps the space, weapon held in front of her in a steady grip, a quiet intensity to her that’s void of panic or fear. Her chest rises and falls as she faces toward the doorway, where any trouble might enter from. “Everything okay?” she asks for confirmation before she’ll stand down.

Seren doesn't— can't recognize the weapon for what it is immediately in their own panic, lacking any of the urgent clarity that Rue has. They cradle Baird to their chest, knees tenting to help them better rock the two of them to a sense of calm. Their eyes are mostly shut, unfocused besides. They realize, belatedly, they need to answer.

"Nightmare," they choke out, and Baird stills in their arms. Is it a lie? Or is it the truth?

It's near enough it doesn't matter. His clawed paws stop digging at and through the oversized tee they've worn to bed, calming. Baird's attempts to crawl away become a nosing thing closer, tentative sniffs given for the upset their summoner bears.

"Just— a nightmare." With the words being said, all the rest of their breath leaves them, shoulders sagging. But they seem calmed by how Baird embraces them back finally, tiny head with tiny ears curled up against their neck.

With the confirmation, Rue flips the safety back on and lowers her arms to her side. Her bare thigh does little to disguise the fact that she’s holding something, but she doesn’t waste time sliding back down into a crouch to tuck the gun away again, either. Something tells her Seren wouldn’t appreciate the way their girlfriend finds safety and security in the world.

Or the fact that Rue would be the first to admit there’s precious little of it, when she’s actually given toward honesty.

Climbing back up onto the bed, Rue slides under the covers with her paramour again, adjusting her shorts and the hem of the matching lilac cami as she settles in. “I’m sorry,” she says quietly. She doesn’t move to wrap them up just yet, however. There’s an important question that needs asking first:

“May I hold you?”

Instead of answering, Seren turns their face into Rue's shoulder— all the better to hide their embarrassment and confusion over what really just happened. Baird is finally let loose to descend back to lap height, his tiny body worming its way over into Rue's domain before slipping past her to her other side entirely to make room for how Seren turns to wrap their arm about her waist.

"It was awful," they say about the dream that wasn't a dream. "I couldn't hear Baird."

Baird's stout little paws rest over his summoner's arm as he stands upright and peers between them both. The tiny dot of black on his forehead twitches with thought.

“Hey, it’s okay.” Rue slips her arm around Seren’s shoulders and rests her cheek atop their crown. Her other hand finds Baird, as always making sure he knows he’s welcome. “It’s okay to be scared or sad or freaked out after a bad dream. To feel anything after any dream.”

The content of that dream, however…

Rue turns to give Baird a look-over. He’s not… as Baird-like as she’d expect him to look. “Is this true, buddy? Did you go all silent protagonist on this wonderful unicorn of a person? That’s not very nice.” The chiding is without teeth, and it masks her own worry. “I have… some of the worst nightmares sometimes.” That’s not news to Seren, having shared a bed with Rue enough times.

“I would think you of all people would be wildly susceptible to having their dreams feel very, very real, even after waking.” In other words, Rue isn’t directly calling Seren out on whether or not this is actually a dream they’re discussing. A hypothetical scenario that doesn’t exist in the waking world. “And I…”

Rue sighs. “Can I be frank with you, Sere?”

Rue's continued treatment of Baird as a part of them, not a thing to be regarded warily, brings relief to Seren they didn't know they needed. The tears stinging the corner of their eyes finally break free, and when they pull their arm back to wipe them away, their cheeks continue to burn but catharsis settles in at their shoulders and begins to seep down.

They feel like they can breathe.

Baird, meanwhile tilts his head and lets out his best approximation of a scoff at what Rue teases him over. His immediate look over at Seren, though, chips away at the thought all might be well. He's attentive, listening as hard to them as they try to him.

The question posed to them feels like a loaded one, and they look away from it. Their mouth parts to answer, but it's a thing that takes a moment to work its way out. "I don't know—" Seren says without looking back up, without moving at all. "Will it help, or just hurt?"

That hurts Rue. But the question isn’t an unreasonable one, and so she falls quiet and introspective, letting her hand brush up and down Seren’s bicep gently while she considers the situation. Her instinct is to draw back, give distance. Maybe just leave. Not in any way to punish Seren, but to punish herself for being the sort of person that Seren has to ask these questions of.

But this isn’t about her.

“I think,” Rue begins carefully, “it shouldn’t hurt. If it does, I just… hope it’s not much. I’m not trying to hurt you. I hope that I’m helping here.” But she can’t help if she doesn’t spit it out. “I know you don’t like birthdays. You don’t like getting older, feeling like you’re become a grown-up.” Her nose wrinkles when she says that, like she hates the idea herself.

“Thing is… Yesterday was any other day. I don’t know much about motherfucking science and shit,” she’s properly awake now, “but I know that just because this is how we mark the date of a solar resolution” — revolution, Rue — “doesn’t mean that it’s actually the anniversary of anything. The world’s tipped and junk, and that makes it wobble and time is a social construct.

She definitely read that in someone’s pamphlet at the market last week.

“My point is, you aren’t going to wake up one morning and suddenly not be you.” Rue gives Baird a quick ruffle before she reaches up to cradle Seren’s face in her hands. “Wonderful, stunning, fantastic, marvelous, loving, you.”

Oh no, there go the tears they'd hoped would calm down. No, Seren really does not like the concept of getting further away from who they were more comfortable being, bridging further out into a reality that's less certain— filled with more changes than they'd ever thought they might face. In the world, in themself.

A small shake of their head is given to protest to Rue's insistence yesterday was just any other day, but hadn't that been what they'd emphatically insisted to her when she had first excitedly approached the idea of celebrating it? Instead, their eyes are drawn back up when Rue summons their attention with her touch, and they meet her gaze openly if sheepishly.

"No," they whisper to her with all the quiet weight of their fears, their worst nightmares. "It doesn't just happen one day. It's all the little days that add up. One small thing happens, then another, then another, until you finally end up … wondering what happened to you. Wondering where your friends have gone, and why you can't bring them back. When if you try to force it, it just…"

They clam up, that pain too much to tread. Seren's ability use has always seemed second-nature— effortless save for the world-altering or otherwise extravagant cases. Now they do shake their head again, cheek leaning into Rue's palm while their eyes dip. "I know," they try to insist, to move past that moment. "I know what you mean."

Rue listens in silence. Every time she has the urge to interject and offer an assurance — and there are many such times — she takes a breath instead. Or lets one out. Wherever she happens to be on the cycle of breath, that’s what she does instead of speaking. These are Seren’s feelings, and Rue’s particular brand of logic, such as it is, can’t change that.

For someone who refuses to see a therapist except socially, she’s started to learn how to do and be better for the sake of others, if not for her own. “But you’re also right. It adds up. I didn’t wake up one morning and decide to throw in with the Ferry. I… It was a lot of little rocks stacked up on top of each other, until I realized I was sitting on the wall, and it was time to decide which side of it I wanted to land on.” That had been the easy part for her. The analogy isn’t a perfect one.

“I get what you’re saying, too. And I… I fucking hate that I don’t know what to say or do to fix it. I want to be able to say just the right thing that makes you look at me and say holy shit, you’re right and then you’ll be fine forever.” There’s a small break on the last syllable that Rue tries to hide by just clamming up, as if that doesn’t just highlight it.

Shaking her half-tangled mane of curls out with one hand self-consciously, Rue rolls her tongue over the front of her teeth as she thinks, until she catches the tip of one canine and toys there for a brief moment. “I’ve never,” she says cautiously, “heard of someone growing out of an ability. That just… isn’t heard of. If anything, people tend to get stronger as they get older and are more familiar with it.”

Rue frowns in that way that she does when Seren knows she’s about to say something they aren’t going to like very well. “Somebody’s got to know something about this shit, right? Specialists, scientists, fuckin’ tarot readers and witches and shit? Somebody knows how to look into abilities and can tell you something about yours.” Slender shoulders shrug. “We can think outside the box?” Casting her gaze down to the bed, her hand finds Baird again. This time, it’s for her own reassurance. Suddenly, there’s far too much on her mind, even with Seren at the forefront.

Seren looks up again when Rue admits the impossible, yet totally reasonable thing she wants. Their grey eyes soften— eyes that lack their usual sheen— and they reach out with one hand to set it on her thigh.

For all the near-panic behind it, it's an indication of Rue's willingness to fight for them… even if she's not sure how.

"Most people don't manifest as young as I did," they argue back without energy behind it. "And there's plenty of people who get… burnout, sometimes burnout they don't recover from." They roll their tongue against the inside of their cheek, wiping their face with their other hand before they let their posture cave back against the wall and lean into Rue's shoulder, head resting there.

Baird is roused from his own distraction at Rue's touch; silken, slinky self easing his way into her lap. "After we broke up last year, Rue— I lost Lark, and that was the last straw. I talked with someone at work, and I underwent treatments." This is probably something they should be looking at her while saying, but the comfort of her shoulder isn't one they want to abandon.

"Gene therapy. I worked remotely for the better part of three months. When I went out for the Fourth, it was one of the first times I'd really been out since working on building up my immune system again. But it had worked— it wasn't hard to do things the way they'd started getting to, after that." Tired from the sleep they'd only halfway gotten and a dozen other things, their eyes start to close as they lean into Rue more needfully. "It was a huge, ridiculous relief. It didn't bring anyone back, but it gave me the ability to interact with the world again… the only way I know how."

Seren shifts their head slightly, finally lifting it partly up again— maybe because of the crick in their neck that was threatening to ache.

"Maybe part of it's just me, my fear. But even when I wasn't afraid, things had already started slipping away."

Rue is fine with holding her tongue and keeping her expression a placid mask of sympathetic concern while Seren explains their manifestation and their worry about how they just may not be like other Expressives. It isn’t until they inform her of the loss of one of their other summons that there’s a proper reaction.

It’s a sharp gasp. “L- Lark?” She’d press a hand to her chest, but that would mean breaking contact with Seren or Baird, and that’s not an option. “Seren, I had no idea.” Without forcing their head back to rest against her shoulder, Rue brings her hand up to brush over their short shorn locks. “I can’t even imagine how that’s gotta feel,” she admits.

“I’ll never know what—” Her voice catches again. It’s all so much more serious than she thought, but it also brings her back to when she thought she was special, too, and what it felt like to have that piece of something she’d grafted into her identity torn away. Only in her case, it had always been a lie. Seren knows their ability inside and out. The two situations don’t compare.

“I think part of it is you, no offense. I’ve seen how your fears can color your imagination just as much as your love does.” The day she’d pulled off the road because she was sure she would drown in her car was a confirmation of that much. “So you’ve turned to science, and it helped. Now maybe we go holistic?” Her eyes open a little bigger and she leans in a bit closer. “New age crystals and shit.” Eve Mas would be proud. More if it involved weed.

Rue resets and smiles, even if it’s still a slightly fretful thing. “No matter what happens, what you decide to go for, if you decide not to try anything, I just need you to know…” There’s a pause in which she studies Seren’s face. If she had an ability like theirs, what sunlight can penetrate the curtains would illuminate them. The whole room would grow brighter, warmer. The color saturation of the space around them would grow in intensity.

Breath is stolen from her for all that she adores them. “Even if your ability left you by breakfast, you are still amazing. And if it suddenly surges and you become the greatest illusionist that will ever live, you will be just as amazing.” Rue doesn’t know if she has enough words to explain her feelings. She hopes those are enough. “You are not your ability. Your ability is not you.”

The comfort Rue provides is welcome, even when she starts to claim she has no idea how Seren would feel. Their eyes flit up to her again, remembering a story she'd once told about the time she thought she'd had an ability. It's not the same, but isn't it? To lose something you thought made up you?

It's the only reason Rue is someone able to get away with saying Seren isn't just their ability. They thought Rue was just fine without one, after all, that she turned out okay even though she lost something uniquely hers.

Baird watches this, hears this all with worried thoughts that swivel his head back and forth between the two. A noisy grumble of a bear comes from Rue's lap, a demand for attention. Seren turns to scoop him up into their hands, small and huggable as he is.

"I dunno, bud, what do you think about crystals and shit, huh?" They lift him up above their head with both hands, peering up at him. The stoat just yawns, bearing his tiny teeth.

"I think so, too," Seren answers and sets him back down on their chest, turning to Rue. "Let's get some more sleep while we can." After all, just because it was a Sunday didn't mean that…

They blink, stopping midpull of the covers back over them. Their eyes alight on Rue. "Hey you," they realize suddenly, like they're seeing her for the first time. They lean forward to peck a kiss onto her cheek. "Happy Birthday."

Rue’s smile gains strength when summoner and familiar seem to reconnect after the shaky start to the morning. But the smile drops when Seren turns their attention back on her when they were in the middle of a different activity entirely.

The kiss takes her by surprise. There’s a breathy laugh that escapes her, like the relief valve has been thrown at least some. Rue gives a cheeky grin in return. “Thanks. It’s not for another three years.” Leap Year birthday humor. She grabs the covers to resume what they had begun.

“But I’m always up for celebrating early and often.

Seren slips horizontal again, chuckling to themself as they get comfortable, and Baird opts to nest closeby instead of engaging in napping at any kind of distance. While they pull the blankets up to their shoulders, they murmur, "Well, we'll start with breakfast after the sun's up a little more," they suggest, half-teasing. For now, they really were going to try to grab a few more minutes of shut-eye.

They sink back into the pillow and their eyes drift shut, relishing in the closeness of the two most close to their heart. Everything'd be fine now. They'd just get some rest, and when they'd wake up again…

But suddenly, Seren's brow furrows and their eyes blink open just slightly. "Rue," they wonder with complete innocence, turning their head slightly to her.

They murmur with suspicion, "Was that a gun?"

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