Coffee Connection


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Scene Title Coffee Connection
Synopsis Sometimes a catch-up coffee date is good for the soul.
Date September 21, 2020

Phoenix Heights

The sun is shining.

Birds are singing.

Children are squealing with joyous laughter.

And Rue Lancaster hates all of it.

Sitting on a bench with a tall cup of black coffee in her fingerless-gloved hands and a mirrored pair of gradient grey-to-amber aviator shades, she surveys the park for signs of the woman she’s waiting here to meet. It’d be a beautiful morning if she hadn’t worked until 3 o’clock in the morning, and if she wasn’t hungover.

But she’s got her face on. Freckles and dark circles alike hidden under porcelain concealer. Blush deceptively portraying rosiness instead of pallid cheeks. Mauve lipstick has been reapplied since she initially sat down, replenishing some of what’s been left behind on the lid of her coffee.

One combat-booted foot taps on the strip of pavement under the bench, restless. Thick wool socks peek out over the folded over tops, layered over black sheer tights worn under high waisted denim shorts in a shade of blue technicolor sky. An ivory shirt is tucked into the waist, grid-lined in contrasting black, and a cozy knit cardigan hangs off her shoulders, left unbuttoned. The rust color of it matches her long curls. A black infinity scarf warms her neck, substituting for a jacket.

There’s a rapid patter of shoes crunching on gravel as a small blonde missile rushes past the park bench, heading in the direction of the playground. “Boog, wait!” a familiar voice calls as the girl loses her footing, falling flat and drifting a few feet further in the dry wood chips surrounding a jungle gym. She pushes herself from the ground, looking over her shoulder and cackling.

“Jesus Christ, Boog,” Wright calls, rounding the bench, “Please don’t die in front of company!” She sits beside Rue on the bench as Ames picks herself off and brushes wood chips from her clothing unceremoniously before darting toward a swing set. Wright directs her gaze toward Rue as she throws an arm over the back of the bench, shrugging. What are you gonna do.

She crosses one leg over the other, black jeans and combat boots, though unmarked by combat. She wears a white button-up embroidered with faint blue birds. She raises an eyebrow, shifting the white and cyan eyeshadow fanning out from black eyeliner. Raises a paper coffee cup in greeting. “Hey,” she says. “Long time no see.”

Rue startles at first when she sees Ames fall down, like she’s about to launch herself to her feet and go check on the kid. But… she bounces right back, the way kids are meant to do, and she relaxes back into her seat again by the time the mother comes to join her.

“Hey yourself.” The redhead turns so she can better regard her former colleague. “You’ve got a kid now. That’s a thing.” She shakes her head. “It’s almost like civilian life agrees with you or something.” Rue cracks a grin, but it fades before very long. “How’ve you been, Trace?”

“Oh, you know,” Wright says, looking across the park to where Ames is frantically building up speed on a swing, “Alternating between the most rewarding and terrifying experience of my life. Ames is a living pinball.”

“It’s been good though. We’ve been in the new place for a few months, Ames is in school, Marthe’s a nurse there. I finally had nothing to do and Avi had to come ruin it with a job I desperately needed. Honestly I’m looking forward to it. Though after going in this morning I’m still not sure what I’ll be doing there, other than fucking with Avi.” A mischievous smile as she sips her coffee.

“But that’s just a teambuilding exercise.”

Rue snorts a breath of laughter at the description Wright applies to her child. “Looks like it.” She takes a sip of her coffee and wishes she’d poured something into it earlier. She was making room, though, and didn’t leave herself enough time between then and polite company.

A chuckle escapes her next, stronger than the note of amusement before it. “I’ve been trying to fuck with Avi for years,” Rue jokes. “Nothing gets under that skin of his.”

The good humor fades as she watches Ames pump her legs to force that swing higher in accordance with her whims. “You sure you want to get back into that game?” Rue asks, slanting her attention back to Wright. “I know I don’t have to tell you this, but… Shit’s dangerous.” She understands that now in a way she only thought she did before.

“I am,” she replies easily. “I wasn’t, for a while. I was thinking about just getting some shit security job. But I’d be wasted there. White businessmen don’t need protection. Expressive kids do.” She’s adamant about this.

“Of course now that I say that Avi’s going to get us a job bodyguarding some shitty billionaire and I’m going to have to not shoot him on principle, which sucks.” she sighs.

“I did run into Brynn, one of the Lighthouse kids, last month.” She sets her coffee on the ground between her feet and momentarily lurches forward as Ames rockets from the swing and somehow sticks the landing. “Christ fuck, Ames,” she laughs in a maniacal way.

“Anyway, seeing Brynn and learning about the shit she went through this summer made it pretty clear. Bad people are still doing bad shit and not being held accountable. And if there’s one thing I know I’m good at, it’s being a Bad Fucking Day to people who thought they got away clean. There really is nothing like the look on the face of some bunker-fucking war criminal when he’s being dragged into the sunlight.”

Rue groans. “Ugh. There was this one time at the World’s Fair?” She rolls her eyes skyward. “I mean, even rich assholes deserve not to get shot in the street, but can’t they hire their own damn security to do it?” Her nostrils flare as she mutters, “Fuckin’ NYPD contract.”

But Wright is, well, right. The reason she’s cited for wanting to rejoin Wolfhound is the reason Rue stayed with Wolfhound all those years. There are people out there who deserve to be protected. Rounding up war criminals was one way to do that.

When Ames leaps from the swing, Rue tenses up again. While Wright laughs at the girl’s antics, Rue pinches the bridge of her nose. “I am clearly not parent material. I would have had an aneurysm by now.” There’s many other reasons why Lancaster isn’t parent material that have nothing to do with the amount of concern she has for potential injury.

Her head tips to one side, considering for a moment. “I mean, yeah. I guess it’s hard to argue that logic.” It sounds like there should be a grin on her face from her tone of voice, but it remains absent. Rue nods her head, deciding that maybe this situation is alright after all. “I guess you have thought about it. As long as you aren’t just bored.

“Don't get me wrong," Wright says, "The boredom is definitely setting in. But it's not that. I'm not looking to relive the glory days or anything. And we're almost out of war criminals anyway.” She takes a moment to enjoy her coffee while Ames takes up running through a play structure.

“I’m beginning to realize there may not have been any glory in those days at all.” There’s a bitterness to the woman’s tone that belongs to someone decades her senior, but Rue’s seen a lot in her thirty-two years, and most of it very recently. Still, she waves it off. “Coffee hasn’t kicked in yet,” she says dismissively.

There’s a quick gasp and Wright swivels toward Rue, crossing her legs and leaning against the back of the bench. She rests her chin on her hand and puts on a playful face. “So,” she begins, giving Rue a quick tap on the arm with one finger, “You and Elliot.” She leaves it at that to let Rue follow the thread.

That coffee drink is almost spat out at Wright when she asks her question. Instead, Rue swiftly turns away and does her sputtering in the opposite direction, thumping a hand against her chest. Her face is flushed scarlet by the time she’s got her breathing back under control.

Why she feels embarrassed, Rue isn’t sure. She values her privacy at least as much as anyone else, sure, but she’s never been shy about her sex life — even when she’s hiding details of it and keeping it secret. “What do you already know?” she asks tentatively. “He told me you weren’t doing your Vulcan mind meld thing, but I know he’s just as capable of gossip as the rest of us.”

Wright takes in Rue’s crimson hues with a tighter, more mischievous grin. “I have, for the sake of propriety,” she assures, “not pressed for information. We can kind of tag memories in a way that alerts the other it’s off-limits. The only info I received was what came through the empathy link, which I’m sure he told you can’t be deactivated.” She gives a shrug which still conveys her happiness for both Rue and Elliot. “It’s not ideal but, from a data-transfer perspective, it isn’t entirely dissimilar from thin walls in a shared apartment.”

“It helped that the missus and I were–” she pauses, allowing herself a moment of faint embarrassment, “Likewise engaged in the act. I was focusing on my own emotions. Though, I can say with reasonable certainty that he was very… attentive.” Her smile implies conjecture, not certainty.

“Did he treat you well?” she asks. “Are you willing to go on the record, miss Rue?” Her relaxed posture conveys that ‘going on the record’ is entirely optional.

Attentive only makes Rue blush more. She reaches up with one hand and rubs at the back of her neck under the wrap of her scarf. “Yeah, he told me all that about the empathy thing. I’m still… ah, wrestling with that a little.” Her nose wrinkles a moment. “I’m not upset or put off by it or anything. It just means I know you’re gonna show up at my door to deliver a beatdown if I hurt his feelings.”

There’s a look in her eyes that conveys a grin that doesn’t make it to her mouth. Because she’s kidding, but also kind of not kidding. Wright could almost certainly give her a run for her money in a fair fight.

“He, uh… Yeah. He even made me breakfast in the morning.” Rue doubts Wright is surprised by that. “He really had a thing for me all those years ago?” she asks, squinting with her scrutiny. If anyone would know, it’s the blonde.

“Elliot isn’t the type to request feelings-revenge,” Wright assures her, smiling at the blush, “So don’t worry about that. He holds very few grudges.” She watches Ames come down a slide upside down and on her back, landing in a reverse cartwheel, and is seemingly unfazed by it. “I certainly would not enforce it on his behalf.”

“But yeah,” she says in answer to the question. “He was fucking hopeless back then. Well, not entirely hopeless. Just super bad at communication. I like to think I’ve been a good influence.” She nods knowingly, perhaps in a self-congratulatory way. She pauses before throwing in a, “Though I’ll take little to no credit for how good he is or is not in bed. He’s pretty good at feeling his way through something until he picks up the melody, if you catch my meaning.”

“Is there anything you want to know about the empathy link that might make you more comfortable? Or anything regarding the network that you’d like clarification on? Establishing boundaries is healthy, though I don’t have the best record of setting them myself. It’s an ongoing process.” Her demeanor is friendly but not humorous, staying honest and open to critique.

“Oh, I figured you’d just take it upon yourself,” Rue says. It’s an agreement that Elliot doesn’t seem the type, to her, for that particular brand of revenge. They save that for assholes who deserve it. Not human mistakes. “I broke a guy’s nose once for hurting my best friend back in high school.” Can’t be that different, right? But she’s kidding more than she isn’t.

Rue starts to say something about how Wright should definitely take credit for Elliot’s improved communication skills when she segues into melodies, and Rue goes scarlet again, hiding a good portion of her face in one hand. “Yep,” she confirms in a strained voice. “He is definitely that. Good at it.” A frustrated sound of abject embarrassment follows.

She’s grateful for the subject switch, laughing off some of her nervousness. “I don’t know. Uhm… I guess…” Nope back to being flustered. “Are you always gonna know when he and I are getting it on?” Rue’s face scrunches up a bit at that, obviously self-conscious. “That feels super unfair to you.”

“I’ve certainly displaced some cartilage back in the day when we were in school together, though that was just straight up vengeance against bullies.”

“And, in regard to knowing about biblical knowing, kind of?” Wright says. “I mean, sex itself isn’t an emotion, so it’s not like I’d immediately know what sex position he’s in or anything. And I can kind of put it on the back-burner. There’s occasionally difficulty with feeling each other’s emotions along with them, which we call empathy overflow. But that’s not much different from pulling out of a depressive spiral when it starts. With practice you notice it and can separate yourself from the feeling. We’re,” she pauses and shrugs, “Getting better at it.”

“Honestly though,” she continues, “It’s generally just good to feel that Elliot is feeling good. And it’s a two-way street, so I wouldn’t call it unfair. He also feels what I do, so he also feels what I do more frequently. Not to brag,” she brags shamelessly with a wave of her hand.

“So, like, you don’t know that he’s banging, you just know he’s having a good time, whether that’s sex or romcoms or video games?” Rue seems to relax at the explanation, and smirks at the assertion that Wright definitely gets it more than Elliot. She nods slowly. “Okay… Okay. I can handle that.”

Rue sighs quietly, her shoulders slumping forward a bit as she holds her coffee between her nylon-clad knees. “I am almost definitely gonna hurt his feelings at some point, you know. I’ve warned him about this, but he… wants to give it a shot anyway.” She’s preemptively sorry for when she inevitably fucks up. Not just because everyone fucks up, but because she, in particular, is a fuckup when it comes to relationships.

“He really seems to have his head on straight, you know?” Rue offers a wry smile with a shake of her head. “You both do. I mean, look at her.” She gestures toward Ames’ current location, almost afraid to actually look at the kid and see what mischief she’s gotten herself into now. “Been trying to tell him he’s way too nice for a shitbag like me.”

“I’m sorry but if Ames is your reference for how level-headed we are I am mildly terrified,” she says with a chuckle, her eyes wide. “I had to fish that little weirdo out from between the couch and the wall yesterday.”

The child is eyed for a moment, then the redhead shrugs. Hard to argue that.

“And just because we seem to be all even-keeled now says nothing about how we used to be. Elliot was kind of a shitbag for a good long while. I almost beat him up over an ex or two of his. We’ve both got better with effort. I punch fewer people for sure. Off the clock, that is.” She settles back on the bench to track Ames through the park and sips her coffee.

“Also, we both want to make the world a better place for other people, yeah?” she says in the way Rue knows neither she nor Elliot ever use the word right. Facing away from Rue to not make her feel like she’s under a spotlight. “It’s ok to also make it better for ourselves, and to make ourselves better for it. Elliot really is understanding, and if you try to be good to him, and to yourself when you’re with him, he’ll accept that.”

“We’ll see about the being good to myself part of that equation.” With tacit permission granted to look away, Rue takes it, turning to watch the way the light plays through the leaves of a tall oak tree.

For a moment there, she’s just content to listen to the breeze and the other less quiet sounds of life, which have gradually become less irksome as time has gone on. “Maybe…” Rue trails off, unsure of how she wants to complete or even begin that thought. Instead, she turns back and slants the faintest grin to Wright. “How soon d’ya suppose is too soon to call him? I don’t wanna appear desperate, you know.” Deflecting from whatever more serious thoughts she may be harboring. She’s always been good at that.

Wright relaxes in the moment of silence, checking to make sure Ames isn’t in mortal peril before closing her eyes. Momentarily opens one eye to double check, just in time to watch Ames dangling by one hand from a single gym ring, pivoting madly and cutting wide circles in the mulch with her shoes. Wright sighs lovingly.

“It’s been a day and a half,” she says, “Whenever is fine.” She turns to Rue with a mischievous glint in her eyes, “I could get his attention right now if you want to talk to him. Right now on the spot. He’s not doing anything important.” Mostly joking.

Rue fixes a wide-eyed look on Wright, color touching her cheeks that has nothing to do with the slight chill in the air. “What? You wanna put him on speaker and listen to him laugh while I stammer?” It isn’t like her to not be confident in her interpersonal interactions. But it also isn’t quite so common these days for her to care so much about them.

She laughs, though, because it has to be a joke. “Maybe I’ll call him after I get home.” Or maybe she’ll get cold feet. Fortunately, no one’s able to read Rue’s mind in this situation.

“Well,” Wright says with a shrug, “You are very cute when you blush.” She smiles deeply and turns back to look at the playground. “I wouldn’t actually pull him in though, that would be mean. Calling him is a good idea.”

She takes a sip of her coffee and sighs contentedly in the brisk air. Watches Ames get a tetherball up to speed only to spin around and headbutt it back in the opposite direction. “What have you been getting up to for fun these days?” Wright asks. “Other than Elliot and non-Elliot tusslin’.”

If Wright was hoping to make Rue blush harder, she’s succeeded. Uncharacteristically bashful, she glances away again. Silently, she’s marvelling at the resilience of small children. Rue knows how to deliver a headbutt, but she sure didn’t at Ames’ age.

Turning back to Wright, Rue shrugs a little. “Fun and I aren’t really well acquainted these days,” she admits. “It’s much the same shit I’ve always done.” Since they’ve known each other anyway. Which means drinking. It’s unlikely she’s getting much sparring in these days, without having the pool of Hounds to draw from. “Now that I’m out of the brace, I get to start dancing again, so I’m doing some of that at Cat’s.”

“That’s good news!” Wright says. “I can’t dance for shit, but if you need an exercise buddy, let me know. I keep trying to make Elliot work out with me but he is a potato. Planning on playing a lot of basketball in full AEGIS and then beating the ever-loving shit out of the Wolfhound heavy bag. Right now I'm mostly running and lifting weights at home and the like. Gotta stay stronk.”

There’s a look of intrigue before she continues. “Does Cat’s have a dance studio inside I didn’t know about, or are you mostly pirouetting between customers while holding a drink tray above your head? Or are you a go-go dancer? I don’t actually know what go-go-dancing is but I like to assume it’s risque.”

Rue’s brows lift as Wright lays out her workout plan. Then her expression shifts. “You are so hot. I am totally up for being workout buddies.” Now she is definitely picturing certain members of the Hounds shooting hoops in full armor, and it is both amusing and totally epic in her mind.

The question about where she dances, exactly, is met with a sideways glance that betrays a slight bit of awkwardness and a slow inhale. “I dance on the bar,” Rue answers succinctly. “I don’t strip or anything. Well, my jacket or whatever, but it’s not Showgirls up there. I spin some bottles, do some moves, do some shots. People just eat it up.” She shrugs. “The tips are great. I’m not exactly swimming in cash since I left.”

She waves away any need for embarrassment. “Work is work, and you’re very tipable,” she says casually before shifting to a more serious tone, “But are there any safety rails up there? Does OSHA know? Slip-resistant shoes seem like a must.” She smiles again to dispel the mock seriousness.

“God I miss drinking sometimes. And going out to bars, the whole nightlife. Coffee is still allowed thankfully.” She inhales the scent of her coffee and vibrates in satisfaction before taking a sip. “Blessed focus juice.”

At that, Rue takes a sip of her own coffee, savoring it a moment. “I’ve been working on upping the cocktail game at Cat’s, trying to make it a little less divey. Less well, more second-from-the-top shelf.” She smiles at that, pleased with herself in a way she hadn’t expected to be.

“Which means,” she continues, “that I should have some great mocktail options, if you ever decide to come visit. And worst case scenario, I toss you my keys and you go hit up the coffeemaker in my apartment and then come sit at the bar like a hipster.”

Wright laughs. “If you need any weird, fancy, spirit-free drink ideas Elliot has been going to town trying to create them now that fruit exists again. Not mocktails really, they’re not trying to replicate existing drinks. Some of them taste good, others I can only stomach if I pull his weird sense-memory while drinking. My pallet is far less refined.”

“But I’d love to stop by the bar sometime. I feel like I could lend the location an air of hipster gravitas it wouldn’t otherwise have.” She tries to pose dramatically on the bench but giggles.

Rue can’t help but follow suit, tipping forward a little as she laughs. “That’d be nice,” she admits as she straightens up again. That smile of her fades, but only a small amount, and her gaze goes a little distant.

“I… can’t really remember the last time I’ve had fun just talking to someone like this.” She’s self-conscious about that, but figures it bears laying out. “It’s been really good to see you again, Wright.” Reaching out to squeeze the other woman’s shoulder briefly, her hand drifts a little further down to squeeze the bicep next. “Jesus Christ, your arms.” She retracts her hand and sighs like she might just mean to swoon. “I gotta step up my game. Maybe we can spar together sometime soon.”

“It’s so good to see you too! We’ll have to converse more frequently. And we absolutely should spar, I always enjoy a good tussle. We’re around the same height so there’s no real reach advantage. And while I do have glorious guns I’m worried you could cut me in half with a kick. You could really ballet into me.” She grins shamelessly at her pun.

Ames get down,” she suddenly stage whispers across the park. Ames freezes, then indignantly lowers herself back off of the play structure roof she’d been climbing onto.

Wright turns to Rue with a manic expression, laughing anxiously. “Not all future hangouts will require repeated instances of sudden panic, I promise.”

The pun sees Rue groaning, but laughing at the same time. “That was a good one,” she commends. “Haven’t had that one leveled at me before. Bravo.”

The call out to Ames sees Rue jumping a little, turning her head sharply to see what she wasn’t paying attention to. “You’d think all those years of being hyper aware of my surroundings would give me that eyes-in-the-back-of-my-head thing, but. Wow, would I make a terrible mom.” That’s mostly a joke.

“Don’t worry about it though, okay? I’ll hang out with you whether or not the kiddo’s in tow.” Rue eyes Ames for a moment longer, then suggests, “We probably shouldn’t teach her krav maga, though.”

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