Full of Light and Life


rue_icon.gif seren_icon.gif

Scene Title Full of Light and Life
Synopsis For a moment, the world is exactly as it should be.
Date December 22, 2019

Safe Zone

New York City isn’t the picturesque place it once was at Christmastime. The destruction of Midtown in ‘06 saw the ruin of many of the city’s most iconic landmarks. That doesn’t mean that life hasn’t endured, however. New traditions have sprung up where old ones have passed away.

The skating rink is teeming with life. Cheery music plays overhead from large speakers, a mixture of Christmas classics and current pop songs. Young and old alike mingle together on the ice. Some have clearly never strapped on skates before, and some carve graceful figure-eights through the crowds.

Rue Lancaster is doing neither at the moment. She sits on the half-wall that encloses the rink, not quite ready to touch down on the ice yet. Not until she finishes the cup of hot chocolate in her gloved hands. “I’m from Illinois, you know,” she tells her companion. “I used to play hockey with the neighborhood boys. I practically lived on skates in the winters.”

The comment elicits a thoughtful hm from Seren Evans, elbow to elbow with Rue while they watch the more graceful skaters dance their way over the ice. “I’ve been skating a couple times…” they admit. “But,” is a necessary addition of a qualifier, filled with some self-doubt. “It’s been years. God, I was a kid, practically.”

Baird sits apart from them both by only feet, but it’s distance compared to his usual clinging. With the face of a barn owl, his amber eyes are alert, wide saucers set in the middle of tawny grey and brown plumage. He sits back on haunches from an indistinct animal, though his front paws are almost digited, somewhere between a paw and a hand— thick, furred knuckles bound together by a webby membrane. A long tail of feathers swish as he looks to what he can see, and what he can see isn’t the rink, just the people milling around it.

“Baird, do you remember the last time we went skating?” Seren asks him, looking down to where he sits. He doesn’t look up to give his reply, but emits a chittering all the same that they alone understand. Brows furrowed, his human supposes, “Well, me neither,” as they look back over the ice for another moment. Then, they turn to Rue entirely, nudging her with curiosity in their eyes. “So does that mean you can do some neat tricks? Put those figure skaters out there to shame?”

“I don’t know about to shame,” Rue chuckles. “But I think I can probably still handle myself okay.” She drains the last of her hot chocolate and tosses the cup into a trash bin a scant couple feet away. “Watch,” she scoffs, “I’ll fall flat on my ass the moment I touch ice.”

Threading a strand of her red hair behind her ear, she leans over and drops a peck on Seren’s cheek. “Can I ask a serious question? Only if you’re up for it.” It probably isn’t too heavy, given the locale, but perhaps it’s less fluffy than Rue’s usual fare of conversation.

Not to mention, she tries to butter them up for it with that peck.

It works.

Seren wears a smile that’s a touch warmer than it was moments ago, the wry humor replaced with something else entirely. Baird rocks his weight back and forth on his paws while he waits for them to make up their mind how to respond. “I think you’ll do just fine,” comes from them first, belated as it is revering. Rue had been talking the big talk! They had faith in her ability to deliver.

But onto the more important answer: “Go for it. I’m all ears.” Even though their ears are securely covered over by the red Raytech beanie they’ve taken to wearing in the winter.

“So, like…” Rue presses her lips together and scoots a little closer. “You and Baird.” A glance is given to the creature, a quick and reassuring smile. “Has that ever been a… I don’t know, a barrier?” A faint grimace. “I was in Midtown during the bomb,” she tries to explain. It’s hard for her to decide on her words or her method, apparently.

“My best friend and I were there, and we survived. For the longest time, we didn’t know why. We actually thought she had died, and that I could see her ghost. For years, it was like that. We thought I had manifested some ability to see dead people, but I could only see her.” Rue shrugs her shoulders. There’s never been a way to explain what happened to her that ever felt right. Or coherent.

“Turns out,” Rue continues, watching the skaters make their circles around the rink, “she could phase. Step out of sync with reality or whatever. Because we were together, I got pulled into it somehow. It’s how I survived the bomb. But it left me the only person able to see her until she eventually figured out how to… step back.”

Gloved fingers tap restlessly against her knee, worry is plain on her features when she looks back to Seren again. “What I’m saying is I appeared to have an invisible friend. I looked… People thought I was insane. It made it hard to make friends and establish relationships. Hell, it ruined most of my relationships.” Rue bites her lip a moment. “I guess what I’m trying to say is that if anything like that has happened to you, I get it. But I’m not going anywhere.”

Seren tries to hold their smile, but it fades in a stagger despite attempts to renew it, no matter how small they compromise in its being. Baird, a barrier? They look down to him, and he looks back up now. He leans forward on his short paws, monkeylike in his gait as he closes the distance between them both and wraps his arms around their pantleg. It’s a hard topic, and he buries his owl face into denim to avoid answering it. That one’s for Seren.

Who for a moment can only blink, the cold air a little sharper than it was before when they remember to breathe again. “I-I mean,” they manage out, blinking and looking down at where their arm is still pressed up against Rue’s. There’s little to be gained in understating it. “Yes.” Seren admits quietly, even though they’re a little uncertain what voicing it will actually do.

When one subject leads to another, it’s hard to find the link at first, but when Rue makes her point, tension they’d not realized had crept into their shoulders starts to ease. They look to Rue at their side, brow creased in sympathy, and then looks back town to their arms pressed side by side. Reaching across themself, they lay a hand on Rue’s forearm reassuringly. It takes them a moment to process, and when enough time has passed, their hand squeezes gently.

“Wow, you were right,” Seren marvels in a murmur. “This… was serious, wasn’t it?” They manage a smile even though their forehead is creased in worry. Seemingly without reason, their heart still feels like it’s sinking in their chest, and they grapple with determining the why. Their eyes half-lid, voice even quieter as they lean their shoulder into hers.

“Rue…” They realize their voice has taken on too grave of a dip, so they try to compensate with a flicker of that small smile again. “You know, you don’t have to say things like that. I mean, I had no idea you went through that, and maybe you’re uniquely equipped to understand these things in some ways, but…”

Seren arches their shoulders up in a small, helpless shrug. In a tiny voice, they admit, “I’ve just been trying to appreciate what time we have together, for whatever amount of time we have it. You know? If you get tired, if things lose their charm and stop being cute the thirty-fifth time we get a conversation interrupted in ways neither of us was expecting…” And they wince at that, the corner of their eyes stinging as Baird clings tighter onto their leg. “I can’t be mad. I can’t fault you for that.”

They take in a steadying breath. “So just… you don’t need to say things like that. All right?” The words come small. For a moment they look back to Rue and then have to look away again lest she become a blurrier image than she already was. “It’ll just make it harder when it happens. And you don’t need to apologize when it does.” Exhaling away the breath, they confess at a more normal volume, “I’ve been trying, though, hard— I mean really hard— to do anything I can to delay that happening. I’ve been trying to be more conscious. More mindful. To have more control. Because I like what we have between us, Rue. And if I can help it, I want it to last as long as possible.”

So very badly, Rue wants to wrap Seren and Baird up in a tight hug. But she hasn’t earned that right just yet. Not after what she’s dug up. Her pain is a faded memory. The circumstance of it no longer applies to her. Seren’s is ongoing. Her stomach clenches and she feels a little sick. This was not how this was meant to go, but it was - in hindsight - the only way it could have possibly gone.

“I’m sorry,” seems a good start. “I… When I’m around you, I get tongue-tied. I forget how to be cool and I say all the wrong things. I meant to be… I was trying to be supportive, but I really didn’t… do that.” Rue winces. How many times did Quinnie say some really stupid shit to her that she thought was totally supportive at the time. What goes around?

“When I’m with you, I feel like my old self again. Someone I used to be before all the fighting.” The death, and the destruction. “When I see you, I feel like there’s still so much good in the world. People like you are the reason I do the things that I do.” The reason she still fights. “I don’t know how to be a good partner. I mean, that’s probably painfully obvious right now. But I like you so much that I lose my senses.”

Now, her hand comes up to lay over theirs on her forearm so she can squeeze as well. Then, she reaches out toward Baird. A peace offering. “And I like you too, buddy. I mean, holy shit, you are the coolest thing I’ve ever seen. And I’ve seen some shit.” Rue lets out a shaky breath of laughter, bringing her gaze up to Seren again.

“Your ability? Is nothing short of amazing. It’s a part of who you are, and who you are is… so, so good. I wouldn’t have you any other way.” Rue brings her hand up to rest against Seren’s cheek now, tears in her own eyes. “May I kiss you, Seren?”

Seren starts shaking their head the longer Rue goes on, though the first impulse starts at hearing 'I'm sorry' come from her. No. No no. they insist quietly, calmly. Their shoulders sink a little further when Rue goes on, says that she likes them too. They feel unstable, but not in a shrinking way. No, this… this wasn't bad, just unexpected, and weighty.

But now they definitely can't see much at all, and they have to lift their hand away to scrape away the tears when Rue extends her hand out toward Baird. Seren lets out a small chuckle, incredulous and happy while they wipe their eyes. She could make any amount of overtures about Seren's ability, but reaching out to Baird and acknowledging him directly speaks more than that ever could.

While Seren focuses on not losing their balance or swooning, Baird's wide eyes blink with excitement. He scampers up the back of Seren's leg, clinging onto their jacket and dragging it down some with weight as he comes up to cling to their shoulder with one of his mitts and reach out to delicately touch Rue's hand with the other. She was being exceedingly nice— he didn't even look that pretty today. The grey on his face begins to change to a more mauve color as he pats her hand delicately and continues to cling to Seren to provide them support.

Rue's touch to their face brings Seren back to the moment, posture straightening. Right, right. They needed to put themself back together. But then they're laughing again, quiet and under their breath when Rue poses her request. "You silly thing, you already did," they tease her, smiling bright and wide. Their arm snakes around Rue's waist as they press a short, firm kiss to Rue, breaking it to rest their forehead against her cheek.

"Thank you." Seren murmurs, holding onto her tightly and swaying. Their eyes shut just as tightly, a streak of tears disobediently falling from them. “For accepting me, accepting us as we are. You didn’t do anything wrong and I don’t want you to think that. I just— I’m not used to good things lasting, Rue.”

If for no other reason than to bolster their own courage, they peck Rue’s cheek before they lean back enough to see her again, one hand curling around the edge of their sleeve to better assist with swiping at their face. “Not even my ability,” is a more breathy addition, and they shake their head as they look down at their sleeve. It’s black, so the eyeliner they’d put on isn’t really visible if it’s come off in any great amounts. “If I’m being entirely honest.”

“Yeah,” Rue says of having already kissed them, “but consent is sexy.” She’s trying to help lighten the mood some, after she’s sunk it like a stone. She presses another quick kiss to Seren’s mouth before pulling them in for a hug. One hand cradles behind their beanie-covered head, the other curls around Baird’s form. She cares for both of them. In some ways, she understands that they are both Seren. To not accept Baird would be to reject a part of them, and that’s not caring for someone. Not in her book, anyway.

“I’m not good at relationships, at all. I’m gonna screw up a lot. But I’m going to try, because you’re so, so worth it.” She draws back and helps to wipe away some of the smudges of eyeliner from Seren’s face, gentle and practiced. “Whatever comes, I’m here for it. For you.”

Blue eyes close as Rue rests her forehead against Seren’s, the tip of her nose brushing against theirs. “When I eventually mess up one too many times and it’s just not forgivable anymore,” she parrots back their earlier sentiment, “and you want to call it off, I’ll understand. But for now? I think things are going pretty okay. And we can just enjoy it while it lasts.”

Rue grins, wide and toothy, pulling away again so they can look them in the face. Her eyes are still glistening with tears, but she seems to be getting it under control. “Bet you twenty dollars it’s me that fucks it up.”

That’s a sucker’s bet.

Seren laughs again and leans into the hug. "You're right," they admit with a smile in their voice. "Consent is pretty damn sexy." They're totally getting the tears thing handled, at least until Rue starts being sweet again. It's a wonderful kind of hurt, to not be alone like this. Eyes blurred, they can't help but snort when Rue makes her bet.

"Oh, no. Don't make that bet, that's awful," they insist, waving a hand in the space between them. "Because then Orchid's going to think it's a dare and the next time she sees you she'll be more awful than usual. Like worse than 'pluck hair off your head and take it as a keepsake' awful." But Seren is giggling even as they say it, eyes still gleaming. They look back to Rue with a contented expression, despite all the tears and heaviness.

"I'm glad we're on the same page about the time we've got," they say, holding up a hand for Rue to take. Baird adjusts his grip on their back, plumage ruffled and paws shifting so he can peek over the other shoulder instead. If he had a chin right now, he'd surely rest it there. "I'll try to doubt myself less. Maybe you do the same."

"But in the meantime," Seren quips, brow popping in a knowing gesture. "I hear you're gonna show me how a Midwestern girl ice skates."

There’s a glimmer of delight and mischief in Rue’s eye when she takes Seren’s hand. “You bet your cute little ass I am.” Finally sliding down off the half wall and onto the ice, she steadies herself with one hand out to her side. Her feet work back and forth briefly, as if testing the surface beneath. Yeah, she can work with this.

“Look, Orchid and I struck a truce. When she comes around, I pile my hair up on top of my head. She gets a nest, and I get the most fabulous hair accessory.” Rue lets go of the wall and tosses her fiery mane over one shoulder. Then, she turns her gaze out to the ice, watching the ebb and flow of other skaters. “Here we go.”

Once there’s a break in the action, Rue pushes off the wall and glides out onto the sheet proper. She doesn’t wobble, though her strides aren’t completely confident at first. By the time she reaches the end of the rink and has to turn, she’s moving along to the beat of the music playing overhead. She holds herself with the dancer’s poise that Seren’s come to recognize in her.

With a flourish, she turns 180 degrees, skating backward so she can face Seren and reach out toward them with a serene smile. She’s a performer, and this is her stage.

When Rue lets go of Seren's steadying hand after hopping to the ice, they watch her find her own with a smile. Leaning forward onto the wall, they fold their arms against it and watch with wonder as she goes. "Baird," they murmur, and the creature adjusts his haunches as he sits on their shoulder and watches Rue just as fondly. "How'd we get this lucky?"

He chirrups his reply and Seren hums thoughtfully at it. After a beat, they add without taking their eyes off Rue, "I think she means it. I think she means every word of it." Baird's reply is to lean forward and nibble at their shoulder, prompting Seren to grin and wipe away the last of their tears. Rue's turn and outstretched arms prompt them to swing their legs over the side of the wall finally, sitting and taking a deep breath. The blades of their skates kiss the ice, gliding without settling in deep.

Exhaling and setting their chin, Seren asks of Baird, "Okay, bud. Ready?" His response is to ruffle his wings, starting to spread them. When they push away from the wall, he pumps his wings in a forward drive, pushing Seren ahead of him before taking wing. They let out a startled note, wobbling with their arms put before them to steady themself before standing upright and grinning again.

They try to carry themself with nearly as much confidence as Rue, shoulders high. Their movement is plain, but the path they cut across the rink is trailed by spiderstring lines behind that bloom into spirals of colored ice that end in snowflakes. It feels like magic being on the ice, so it is magic. Seren laughs and does their best to skate a path more aligned with Rue's, even if it's a slower one. Baird swoops past and closes the distance much more quickly, spooking a couple he floats right over on his way to her.

Rue turns a lazy circle in place while Seren gets their footing. Her arm lifts as she slows, held out so Baird has a place to land. “Careful,” she chides in a sing-song. Once he’s moved up her forearm and to her shoulder, she pushes forward again, gliding to meet Seren partway.

“You are so damn cute,” she tells them. Seren and Baird both, honestly. “How am I so lucky? Just look at you!” Rue’s knees bend so she can dip down with the emphasized word. Her feet bow out from each other, then tuck back inward as she slides to a stop in front of her date.

If Rue were blessed with Seren’s miraculous ability, she would have hearts in her eyes right now. She watches the colors spread out across the ice behind them, awed and pleased about what that means for Seren’s current mood.

Actual Disney Royalty Seren Evans.

Baird alights on Rue’s arm with only the lightest pressure on his landing, quickly folding up his wings to scamper up her arm and nibble at her hair once he’s found his perch hanging off her shoulder and back. He thrums with a purr as he settles in, happy to have found a comfortable place to see the sights without throwing off Seren’s balance.

They’re already having enough trouble on their own, letting out a tone of dismay as Rue comes to a halt before they remember how to stop themselves without it involving some kind of crash. Flatfooted, they narrowly dodge running into her and grab ahold of her arm as support while digging the pick on the end of their blade into the ice to halt them while their other foot curves them back around. Seren tilts their head back and laughs, all while bluish snowflakes crystallize under the point they’ve stopped at. “Look at me? Look at me fall, more like it.” they say breathily, looking down at their feet to make sure they’re actually still standing, then back up to Rue with a grin. It’s easier to see the silver gleaming in their eyes now, being closer.

“More like look at you,” they enthuse. Their hands wrap around Rue’s elbow to tug her along, fearlessly heading forward again. This standing still business was much harder.

One step, then another onto the ice to get them going again. Their glide leaves a trail of white-blue shimmer behind them once more.

But this time, behind Rue’s skates, a similar phenomenon blooms in her wake— with firey swirls the color of her hair and crystals tinged pink.

“Keep going!” Seren cheers her on.

Rue allows her elbow to be tugged, letting her arm slip through Seren’s grasp until they’re holding hands. “Hold on, Baird!” she nudges the chimera with her cheek. Continuing to skate backward so she can keep her eyes on them allows her to catch sight of the colors swirling in her own wake.

“I just want to kiss you, and kiss you, and never stop kissing you,” she declares, laughing at her own sappiness. The hand holding Seren’s switches as she effortlessly turns herself back around to see what’s ahead of the two of them again. It’s just a little bit too crowded to skate backwards for too long.

When did she become this person? Or when did she become this person again? Her hand squeezes theirs as they continue around the rink at a leisurely pace. Without the aid of Seren’s ability, Rue finds herself able to imagine the world full of light and life. Goodness. The world she wants to build, not the world she perceives herself as living in.

Keep it cool, Rue. You aren’t even drunk. Definitely do not say the first thing on your mind.

“You know, if we got married, he’d be the ring Baird-er.”

Damn it.

The risk of falling due to fear and anxiety causing them to freeze up is severely reduced with Rue leading the way. Seren beams right back at her up until she turns back around, at which point they join her in looking ahead— looking up. They swing up the clasp of their hands to press a kiss to Rue's knuckles. The air's cold, but next to Rue's warmth, they figure it's impossible to catch a chill.

When Rue makes her comment, Seren laughs immediately at the pun. It was a clever one, they can't help it.

Then the meaning surrounding the words hits and their rosy cheeks flush. Their world feels like it tips.

No— wait— it's actually tipping. They land flat on their back after a clatter of slipping blades, the breath more out of their chest than it was before. At least they're close to the wall to help them get back to their feet.

Baird crows from his perch on Rue's shoulder, fanning his wings in an attempt to help them both slow down and head over to Seren with better ease.

“Whoa!” The sudden shift in balance as Seren slips almost pulls Rue to the ground as well. Fortunately for her, unfortunately for them, they let go of her hand before that happens. Her arms stretch out to either side of her in an attempt to stay upright. Gliding forward a few feet before she can turn around, Rue casts a quick glance about before she doubles back to help her partner up off the ice.

“I’m so sorry! I should have caught you!” She assists Seren to the wall so they can both catch their breath a moment and feel more assured of their footing. “Are you hurt?” She catches their shoulders in her gloved hands and gives a squeeze that’s meant to reassure her as much as it is them. A look is spared for the little one on her shoulder as well. “How about you, buddy? Just ruffled?”

When Seren gets to their feet again, still blushing, they furtively glance up and catch sight of another skater watching them; peering from the spill to Baird and then quickly looking away. The white under their feet darkens quickly, gray to black while they get their stability back, holding onto the wall. It's a brief development, wiped away with a shake of their head and a hard shut of their eyes. Ice becomes ice again. Feet become feet rather than streamers of color.

"It was bound to happen," they tell Rue with a small smile, testing their weight on one foot and then the other to make sure they've not hurt themself. "I think I'm okay, though." A look is angled to Baird to determine if he's all right too, but his purple and brown face is still engulfed by those wide yellow eyes. A bike bell rings, seemingly coming from him, and Seren nods, reassured. "He's just worried I'll not get back on the ice," they explain for him. "Don't worry, bud."

Leaning back against the wall, they brace their feet just so, one arm wrapping around Rue's side. "And besides, I think there's an upside to this pause," they remark thoughtfully, bringing their face closer to hers. Baird leaps from Rue's shoulder to perch on the wall instead, huddling up against the side of Seren's hand and keeping watch for any other starers so he can glare them down appropriately.

"You were the one just saying you wanted to kiss me." Seren reminds Rue with a faint smile, nose brushing her cheek.

“Don’t have to ask me twice.” A sly grin cuts across Rue’s face as she reaches up from Seren’s shoulders to cradle their face instead, drawing in for a brief kiss. Then another. And a third, this one lingering as her fingers curl against the little wisps of hair at Seren’s nape that peek out from beneath the beanie.

Public displays of affection make people uncomfortable. Rue is well aware of this fact and has used it to her advantage before. This time, however, is just for her. Just for the fun of it. And she doesn’t care who stares or who Baird has to stare down. Ice skating doesn’t seem so pressing anymore.

“You’re my favorite,” Rue sighs against their lips when she parts for air.

Seren breathes out a smile on hearing the comment, drawing their hand up and down the small of Rue's back in tiny brushes of fingertips. If it weren't for Baird's vigilance being a subconscious extension of their own, it'd be easy to think Rue was their whole entire world, the rest of it forgotten with the way Seren regards her. They lift their head just enough to kiss the tip of her nose, very carefully maintaining their posture on the ice. No more swooning and falling, they tell themself.

"I think you're mine, too," they confide with a touch of wryness, their smile growing. "I'm not sure what gave it away."

Seren adjusts their grip around Rue to lay their head against her shoulder in a firm embrace, holding it until the sound of their heart beating isn't the only sound filling their ears anymore. The noises of the ice rink and the music playing from distant speakers finally filters back into them and the intensity of their hug lifts.

It still scares them, a little, how intensely they feel, and how tightly they want to hold onto it, and how worried they are they might break it if they do. But moments like these, affirming they're not alone with how strongly they feel about this relationship… it's relieving.

"Maybe we should quit hogging the wall," Seren suggests with a faint chuckle.

“Mm, maybe,” Rue acquiesces. Sliding her hands down Seren’s arms until she can take their hands, she slowly starts to slide backward away from them, encouraging them to slide forward with a tug. “A few more laps, then we go back to your place to… warm up?”

“Mmmm….” Seren’s equally uncertain about leaving the safety of the wall once it comes down to it, holding tightly onto her hand while being dragged out onto the ice. “That sounds like a solid plan,” they admit, still not sure. It’s not really being dragged, but their reluctance shows. Baird’s crooning from where he’s left behind, though, excited about the new developments. Movement! More adventure! Not giving into fear!

A note of unease leaves Seren as they start to move their feet again rather than let themselves be pulled along by Rue’s tug. Baird leaps from the wall to cling to Seren’s back, paws holding onto their jacket tightly while he peeks his head over their shoulder. The tightness in their chest eases gradually, and they nudge Rue back after half a lap around the rink, once they’re more certain in their footing again.

“What are you thinking?” they ask with a twinkle in their eye. “Hot chocolate? Movie? We could do an early Christmas— I’ve got your gift wrapped and everything.”

“That all sounds perfect,” Rue agrees. “Some popcorn, some cocoa, some snuggles…” She turns around and skates at Seren’s side again, resisting the urge to try and wrap an arm around them, lest she upsets their balance. “Way better than going back to my empty room at the Bastion.”

This is shaping up to be the best Christmas in a long time.

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