elliot_icon.gif rue4_icon.gif wright_icon.gif

Scene Title Infected
Synopsis After a a difficult conversation with Marthe, Rue confronts Elliot and is sent to Wright for answers.
Date March 14, 2021

Red Hook: Elliot Hitchens' Townhouse

Rue’s had the drive back from Marthe’s to calm down.

She hasn’t.

Her keys jangle when she unlocks the door to the townhome, rather than her garden level apartment, and pushes it inward without removing them first. There’s a frustrated little growl when she tugs once, twice, three times before the tumblers align and relinquish the little piece of metal back to her grip. She clips the ring back to her belt, letting it announce her the way a bell on a cat’s collar might.

Elliot Hitchens!

That announces her pretty well, too. As does the bang! of the door slamming behind her. Her rational brain is screaming at her for flying off the handle like this, but the more she thought about the situation, the more it pissed her off. Now, it’s come to a head and the metaphorical kettle is whistling.

Rue’s arrival is initially met with silence. Looking around she can see that he isn’t on this floor unless he’s hiding behind the furniture. After a moment she hears a door close and lock with a key, then sees Elliot’s feet rounding to the top of the stairs from the direction of the unused bedroom.

He pads down the stairs softly, a look of concern on his face, or maybe confusion, or maybe fear. He slows as he nears the bottom, but talks without descending all the way to Rue. “What’s wrong?” he asks. Internally he performs a speed audit of everything he’s done and said in her presence in recent memory, hoping there’s something obvious.

She’d expected to surge forward and hit him. Slap him, scream at him, shove him. Instead, Rue stands there, her momentum arrested just past the foyer, with her fingers curled into fists and shaking. Only she doesn’t look angry, she looks betrayed.


It starts as a whisper, because it’s all she can manage. Rue’s face contorts in that way it does when he knows she’s trying so hard to hold back tears. “Why couldn’t you tell me? You— You can tell me anything, Hitch.” But there he is, emerging from the one place he will not let her into. There’s a metaphorical, emotional place that correlates to this physical one, she’s beginning to realize. It gives her the strength to raise her voice.

“I opened up to you. I gave you my most intimate moments — things I have never shared with anyone. I gave you my personal, my emotional vulnerability and my secrets, and I have to find out from her?” The blue eyes that it seems sometimes that only Elliot can make sparkle show as dull as they do when she’s on one of her benders. They close and she dips her chin down toward her chest. “I thought all of this was a two-way street.” The lament is self-deprecating, her voice quiet again. “Guess I’m the idiot, huh?”

Elliot keeps a straight face—doesn’t crumple inward with the terror of Rue knowing something—because he’s so very good at lying. He keeps his face looking concerned as she expresses her hurt, desperately trying to infer from what she’s saying what it is she found out. He transitions to guilt as the possibilities narrow; it’s close to what he feels on the inside, though not quite true either.

He looks down, nods while his mind races. Wright looks in out of sudden concern and plays back the memory of what Rue just said. She carries the weight of Elliot’s lies as well, and is feeling the effects of some of her own where she sits currently in a circle of chairs. It can only be one thing. Not dangerous. Fixable. He grips the stairwell’s handrail and sighs. It comes in a rush.

“Yeah.” Rue puts the cap back on the bottle and sets it aside for now. “Why are you crying?” Said with the same inflection she might ask who do I have to punch? With one arm wrapped around her midsection to hold the heating pad in place, she reaches out for Elliot with the other hand. “Talk to me about it?”

“It’s not—” Elliot begins, then just gestures at his face. “This is empathy overflow. I’m sorry. It’s hard not to spiral into Wright’s emotions while on painkillers. One quirk of the link collides with another quirk of the link.”

“Okay,” she responds easily enough, affect somewhat flat, but not dismissive. “So, do you want me to check on her?” If Wright is upset enough to upset Elliot… She doesn’t totally get how the link works, despite her best efforts, but she has concern enough for both of them. If Wright is sad, she’d like to do something about it.

“I appreciate that, but it probably wouldn’t help. And, unfortunately, I promised to not talk about it. To my detriment,” he acknowledges the last part with something approaching guilt, or bitterness.

He slowly lowers himself into a seat on the stairs, keeps eye contact with Rue to at least show he’s listening. “I’m sorry,” he says softly. “This is something you need to talk to Wright about.” She doesn’t feel surprised to hear him say it, just determined.

“No. What? No.” The answer comes in rapid fire succession, Rue lifting her head to stare across the space and to the stairs where Elliot sits. “No, no, no, no, no.” Normally, she’d have the courtesy of taking her boots off in Elliot’s house — her own floor is her own problem — but that would cut into her time now and just make it awkward if she decides to storm out later.

So those booted feet stride purposefully across the floor until they bring her to her beau and she can drop to a crouch to get level with him. “This is about you. It’s— It’s about us.” The latter part is a stretch, and she knows it. It’s about them only insofar as there’s splash damage from this grenade that’s landed at her feet. “Jesus Christ. You know I’ve— That I’m—” It’s one thing for him to see it in her mind, and it’s another to say it out loud.

“You know that I am in the worst unrequited love with Aviators.” God, that made her sick with shame to say out loud. “So why did I have to hear from Marthe that you’re in love with her?”

Elliot’s eyes cloud with frustration. He leans forward, thinking if he could touch his head to hers he could convey meaning. But this isn’t a time to travel further in. This isn’t the time to gaslight his lover. But he can’t. He tries reaching out to take her hands, but stops himself.

“This isn’t what you think is,” he says, voice breaking into a whisper. “I’m sorry. I promised.”

“You promised what?” Rue’s voice breaks too, but it breaks from a whisper to a frustrated growl on the emphasized word. “I already know. Why can’t you just—” She grabs the bannister with one hand to keep her balance without latching on to him. Without doing worse to him than simply latching on.

“She said— Why do I need to talk to Trace if the problem is your inability to separate what’s hers and what’s your own?” Rue’s face contorts with her misery again, but this time she can’t look at him. She turns her face away so she’s looking in toward the living spaces. “Help me understand.”

“Because this is Wright’s story to tell,” Elliot says. He realizes that this isn’t going to be enough, but the Rules are rules. “Is it okay if I tell her to call you?” He’s calm, maybe even relieved to get this off his chest. Even if he can’t be the one to lift it.

Rue nods her head slowly. “Yeah. She can call me. Anytime. Not like I’ve got a job to get to.” She stares down at Elliot’s feet on the step, roams her way up as far as his knees. Tentatively, she lifts her unoccupied hand and rests it there. “Am I competing with her?” she asks in a whisper, voice wavering.

“Love isn’t a competition, Rue,” Elliot says quietly. “It’s not a limited resource. You don’t have to decide to dole out only so much to one person to make more for another.” He lifts her hand from his knee to slide it between both of his own.

“How I feel about other people doesn’t detract from the love I have for you,” he tries to assure her. He loosens his grip on her hands when her phone chimes three times in quick succession.

“Call you” sure like it’s 1993
Anyway come pick me up at Benchmark
I’d rather not go home right now

Rationally, she knows that. After all, Elliot isn’t competing with Seren for Rue’s love. But it’s more complicated than this in ways she isn’t sure how to unpack. “We can talk about this later, right?” she asks him, a hopeful upward lift to her voice as she goes for her phone.

Some of us like to hear a voice.
And you weren’t even old enough to use the phone in 1993.
I’ll come get you.
I’d rather you talk to me before Marthe.
Sorry if that sounds bitchy.
I’ll have Elliot ping you when I leave.

“Are you mad at me?” It’s a question born of insecurity and vulnerability. It isn’t the first time she’s asked him and it won’t be the last.

“No,” Elliot replies. “It’s a frustrating situation. I understand why you’re upset.” He doesn’t comment on the fact that Rue’s conversation with Marthe will probably cost him a month without Marthe speaking to him. Always a possibility when she strays too near to the truth of it.

“I don’t understand it yet,” Rue admits, “why you…” She curls her fingers around his palm and just breathes. “It’s okay. We’ll talk about it later.” For now, she dips in to chase his lips for a kiss, soft and reassuring. “I love you,” she whispers against his mouth. “Moreover, I trust you. Even if I did go fiery redhead.” Another peck dropped, she doesn’t withdraw until after one more brush of their noses.

“Give Tracer a ping, okay? I’ll drop you a text when I get home. You can pop in if you want, or…” Not is implied with the shrug of Rue’s shoulders after she’s extracted herself from their entanglement on the staircase. She barged in on him once tonight. She won’t do it again.

Besides, letting Elliot come to her when he’s ready will provide much better intel than forcing him to talk to her. She makes sure she has her keys and her wallet before she heads out the door and to where her Jeep is parked at the curb.

Moments after the kiss, after the door closes, after the start of the engine and the dissipation of its song, after the rough rubbing at his eyebrows, the regret and resignation. “Partitioning,” he says.

“Petricor,” Wright responds.


The parking lot at the Benchmark is never empty, but there’s at least one spot near to the door for 15-minute pick-ups and drop-offs that Rue’s claimed in her vainglorious Jeep with the personalized plates that read RUEBICON. She nudges a toggle on her steering wheel to skip songs as the current one ends and before the next one plays.

«I am the passenger. And I ride, and I ride. I ride through the city’s backsides. I see the stars come out of the sky. Yeah, the bright and hollow sky. You know it looks so good tonight.»

Rue has a complicated relationship with Siouxsie and the Banshees. The band can put knots in her stomach sometimes, and while this falls into one of those days, there wasn’t going to be any salvaging today anyway. Not like one track introduced to her by one of the ex-girlfriend’s mixtapes was going to make anything worse.

There’s no need to flash the lights when she sees Wright come out of the building. It’s not like she doesn’t know which vehicle is waiting for her.

The engine doesn’t idle long. Wright opens the door, slings herself into a seat, buckles her seatbelt. Her jaw twitches in a way that means she’s angry, but she inhales deeply, turns to Rue with an impenetrable smile. “Fancy meeting you here,” she says, a deflection, something to put time between leaving this parking lot and being anywhere else.

“Fancy that,” Rue responds in a deadpan, turning the music down to a quiet drone of indistinguishable lyrics and steady rhythm. She waits only as long as it takes Wright to click the safety belt into place before she pulls out of the spot and heads out to the streets again.

“Do I need to, like, take us to the lawless frontier of Park Slope to find a sandlot to pull into so you can get a free shot or five in or what?” Yeah, Rue read the anger, but the question remains of whether it’s meant for her or not. “Because I’m willing to do that, to be clear.”

Wright turns to Rue to give her a serious look as her smile dissipates. "Rue," she says with a sigh, "you need to stop giving people permission to hit you." Her eyes linger for a moment to convey that she doesn't take the offer to be the joke Rue delivered it as.

"We can go wherever you want to talk," she says, eyes returning to the neutrality of the windshield and the buildings beyond. She doesn't appear overtly angry, though she's clearly frustrated. "Just not a bar."

“Hey. I’m just trying to be hospitable to a friend.” That part’s a quip, but the offer to let Wright hit her was one hundred percent serious. And, yes, it’s a bad habit of Rue’s to assume that other people solve their issues with their fists. It says more about her than the company she keeps.

As for where not to go, Rue manages a smirk without any humor to it. “Yeah. I got that much.” Which does mean she ends up having to redirect her course, because even if she goes back to her old digs above the Cradle, that’s still a bar. Shit. But a different location within Phoenix Heights…

That could work.

Neutral Grounds

Okay, so you can buy a shitty lite beer here, but does that really count? Nobody comes here for it or the coffee. Neutral Grounds is a place to talk. Paying for a drink is just the tax. Settling down in her seat with a cup of coffee set in front of herself and Wright, Rue wraps her fingers around hers for lack of anything better to do with her hands.

“Alright, so…” Apart from the barista, who couldn’t give a shit less, they’re alone here. “What’s going on?” Rue raises one hand from the table and rubs the heel of her palm against one eye.

Wright drinks her coffee just to have something to do with her hands for a moment. She sets it back down on the table, adjusts it with a short rotation, and squares her eyes with Rue’s. She doesn’t offer an answer. “What did Marthe tell you?” she asks, expression neutral.

Rue lets out a huff of laughter and looks down at the table. “Should’ve expected that one.” It’s a good rule of intel not to tip your own hand. Don’t show what you know and let them make assumptions, tell you more than you knew before in their haste to explain what they thought you’d already found out. Wright’s way too smart for that. And any other time, Rue would appreciate that.

“She said your family needed their own space. That the things that were supposed to be yours weren’t staying that way.” Maybe she’s paraphrasing a bit, but that wasn’t the part Rue got stuck on. “She told me Elliot’s in love with her.” With the words out of her mouth, even though she’s sure Wright already knew exactly that via Elliot, Rue finds it in her to lift her head again and look across the table at the blonde.

“She said it’s bleed over. That he loves her because you love her.” The more she thinks about the situation, tries to rationalize it, the more pieces she either breaks apart or remembers or thinks she remembers, and the logical part of her brain fighting for control of this situation knows she isn’t thinking rationally.

Wright’s expression remains passive, emotionless, as Rue recounts the details of what feels like the start of a very bad night. She’d come here with the mind to stay irritated. Wronged. But she sees in Rue’s eyes fragments of doubt. With it comes a resignation she wasn’t prepared for. The sigh preceding the truth.

Her jaw clenches, she scrubs her fingertips over her temples. “It’s worse,” she says. It’s not enough, but she doesn’t know where to go with it. Where to begin.

That was not the note to end that phrase on. Rue’s voice hitches when she supplies more context in the silence that she just can’t leave to sit. “He didn’t deny it. He didn’t say it wasn’t real. Just said there was enough love to go around.” As she’s playing unreliable narrator to her own tale, she looks fucking miserable, her gaze having gone distant somewhere along the recap.

Wright looks up with an expression of confusion, as though the subject just changed. She shakes her head, waves what Rue said away as unrelated. “Elliot had to promise not to talk about it,” she says, but leaves it at that for now.

Her fists clench, then fingers drum on the tabletop as she puts events in order. She can’t help but check around for eavesdroppers; all this time, these challenges to the Rules, it’s still difficult to break the promises she made. Those that they made together. “She’s not lying,” she says in a way that implies something worse. “She’s just…”

Her hands move forward and open in front of her, looking to give momentum that the words can follow on their way out. “Ten years ago,” she says, water beading in the corners of her eyes unnoticed, “I fell in love with Marthe because Elliot did.”

Her hand goes to her mouth as the tears suddenly mean something, her breath hitches, she inhales with a sad sound. “And he got it,” she tries to explain, “She wouldn’t love him back. Couldn’t. He got over it. He stopped. But I was drunk and I told her…”

“She was going to leave me.” Uptalk at the end as though it’s a question, but it’s closer to a helpless whine. Her shoulders shake before she can contain it. Before she loses the plot.

There is nothing anyone could have said to Rue that would have prepared her for this. Even though she had the doubts, had the misgivings… No. She would never have allowed herself to stray near enough to this answer to even brush fingertips against it.

Rue’s eyes get large as her lips part in shock. Her hand comes up to cover her mouth quickly, which is probably in the top three visibly least comforting reactions she could have to this reveal right about now. Before she can think about that or apologize for it or anything remotely resembling anything other than what she’s doing right this moment, she’s going to have to remember to breathe.

And she does, and when she does, it’s loud enough to be heard. Top three audibly least comforting reactions.

Can she go for the hat trick?

Jesus Christ.”

There it is.

Wright lets loose something between a soft sob and a fatalistic laugh. “It gets worse,” she says, barely above a whisper. She doesn’t look up to Rue, keeps her eyes shut beneath the pressure of her fingers, trying to hold back the dam while she breathes. Coalesces.

To her credit, Rue neither asks how can it nor does she try to make any attempt at humor by asking now you’re in love with me, right? Instead, she brings her hand slowly back down to the table, resisting the urge to let the other join it instead. “Take your time.” She’s had her cold water dunk. She’s a bit more acclimated to whatever comes next. Possibly.

There are more calming breaths than Wright feels this should warrant, but having buried these emotions is what’s calling the shots at this point. The breaths become slower, and eventually she can look up, though not at Rue. She settles on her coffee, curls her fingers around it but doesn’t lift. She sniffles, and gives a breath out of serious determination.

“There was,” she starts, but waves it away with the hand she almost used to lift her coffee. That hand goes beneath the table to hold the other, shoulders hunched, leaning forward. “A lot of shit happened in a relatively small period of time, a lot of which I don’t want to talk about. Ever.”

She shrugs, take it or leave it. “But yeah we were reckless with sharing and it did cause problems and we were in the wrong. But when I told her, after all that…” she waves again, over her shoulder, at the secrets she discarded. “Marthe had a kind of… solipsistic crisis.”

She finally raises her eyes to meet Rue’s, feeling defensive without meaning to, without really understanding why. “It was really bad,” she says. She clears her throat. “She wouldn’t believe anybody else was real, she started saying that everything was fake, that she was still in the network and couldn’t wake up.”

She shrugs with her hands, that’s not even how the network works, as you know. “That my love for her was fake,” she says, tipping dangerously back toward sorrow but catching it with irritation at her own wildly swinging emotions and bringing it back to helplessness. “She didn’t believe Ames was real?” The uptalk, and she’s lost it. Her hand clamps sharply over her mouth to contain a still-audible cry.

Wright gets defensive and Rue’s instinct is to go on the offensive on her behalf, but there’s nothing to go aggro on. Didn’t she cause this? In a roundabout way. But maybe the next girl to come along would’ve been as observant, as persistent. Maybe this conversation would be happening with someone less… Like them.

Rue swallows down an anxiety that she’s been building inside of her and refused to name. Her paranoia isn’t always unfounded. But this isn’t fair, is it? Sometimes she has trouble with the medium between a permissive blind eye and get them before you wake up with the barrel of a gun pressed between your eyes.

She breathes. Marthe said… “You never have to explain the old shit to me. You know I get fucked up shit that no one wants to relive.” But Marthe said… “I just want to make sure that I…” Rue’s brow pinches. “There’s a lot to…”

But Marthe said.

Slowly, the redhead leans back in her chair, face going pale as she comes to three different conclusions at the exact same time, and hating each and every one of them.

“Trace, no…” Rue slouches down in her seat and lets out a bark of a laugh that the both of them (Wright and Elliot) have heard from her when she’s trying not to think about something that upset her in a I can’t unsee that kind of way. A hand clamps down over her mouth to keep it to no more than that small sound in an unintentional mirror of her friend’s own posture. A fact she becomes conscious of quickly and mixes up by instead dragging her hand over her thick mop of curls, shaking it out for lack of anything or anyone better to shake.

“Tell me you didn’t.” A tear slides down Rue’s freckled cheek. “Tell me Hitch didn’t.”

Hitch didn’t…

“She took a grippy-sock vacation,” almost a whisper. Wright looks over Rue’s changing features with a confusion that doesn’t win out over what she had prepared herself to say. Hitch didn’t… “When she came back she made us promise not to talk about it, like it was just embarrassing to her that someone might find out she’d broken with reality. The moving out. The not talking about it. The not sharing. Putting it all in a box she could lock and kick under her bed.”

Hitch didn’t— “Elliot didn’t what?” she asks, just enough edge in her emphasis on Elliot to indicate that Rue’s nickname for him annoys her.

And there’s the landmine. Rue’s had this nightmare before, about a half a billion times, only it’s a literal landmine and she watches the dirt spray up between her and her friend as one of them is torn apart and the other is left staring at the sky through the smoke with blurred vision and ringing ears. This might be the more dangerous scenario.

“I’m suspicious by trade, Wright.” There’s just a half beat excess of silence in that comma before the use of her friend’s name. Rue doesn’t fall into the pitfall of using another nickname now. “And Marthe got under my skin. She had me rattled. Scared of what I was going to find out.”

Now Rue is terrified that she’s going to lose one of the best things she has going for her, because her mind made a leap toward the worst case scenario that she calls preparedness. “I was in lockup for a while last year — I promise I’m going somewhere with this — you probably saw it on the news or read about it in the Siren. Federal kidnapping charges. Fun for the whole family.” She scrubs a hand over her face to rid herself of her tears of upset. “Avi came to see me. I was scared then, too. I told him I just wanted to know he believed me…”

A shake of her head tells Wright that Avi almost definitely did not tell Rue he believed her. “He said he believes facts. So, that’s what I’m going to believe. I’m not going to let supposition or paranoia lead me around. If you’ll tell me the facts, I’ll believe you.” As Rue locks her blue eyes with Wright’s, she hopes she’s dismantled this mine.

“She’s in denial,” she says with a shrug, her best guess. “Or she repressed the memories instead of dealing with them. Every time she comes even close to remembering this my marriage basically disintegrates. She probably won’t speak to Elliot again for months.” She doesn’t sound angry when she says that, doesn’t blame Rue for the impending silence. All these secrets overlaid are their own poison. The foundations are already crumbling. Considering all of the relevant details, this is the fault of her own drunken thoughtlessness.

“I’m sorry,” she says, eyes closing in embarrassment. She opens them again, looking honestly remorseful. “A man I’m telepathically connected to at all times is a landmine I have to step around to keep my home life from falling apart. You couldn’t have known this, and I’m not angry at you for trying to fix it. I mean, I am, but I realise I shouldn’t be and it’ll go away in a minute.” She means it, it’s leaving the corners of her eyes, her mouth, already.

“But whatever you were going to ask?” she says, concerned, “Whatever she made you think, please tell me. I want so badly to fix this, but I haven’t been able to find a way in that doesn’t just set off another grenade.” Truth certainly hasn’t ever worked.

She sets her hands on the table, sliding them forward just past the point of no return, as though she was going to take Rue’s, but she doesn’t. “Please,” she says hopelessly.

Rue can’t look Wright in the eye. She’s sick with her own guilt and shame for having the worries she’s had, for what it says about her own internalized fear of this exclusive club she was part of and then suddenly very not. “I love him, Wright.” That preface is most important, while simultaneously maybe not being the most reassuring thing. It doesn’t come with a hesitant use of the blonde’s name, or with an implicit but tacked onto it.


“We were talking about you two, obviously, and Marthe mentioned your…” Rue lifts a hand and draws a little circle in the air with her index finger pointed toward the ceiling. Encompassing, not insinuating a lack of sanity. “Index code language. I said something about it not automatically being translatable to me even after having been in the network.” Picking up her coffee, she mutters against the rim, “Said I figured she already knew that, though,” like it’s an afterthought, rather than a heavy implication set between them. She takes a sip. The coffee’s terrible, but it makes things feel normal.

But nothing about this is normal, and Rue won’t do Wright the disservice of leaving her to read between lines and possibly draw the wrong conclusion, the way she may be doing right now, or to have to press and demand a more explicit answer.

The bottom of the coffee cup connects again with the table and Rue’s eyes connect again with Wright’s. “A person doesn’t have that kind of break from reality — doesn’t question if their own kid is real — just from hearing about the sort of things made possible by that ability.” There’s no hardening in Rue’s expression. If anything, it’s cracking around the edges.

Wright’s mouth opens, face caught somewhere between confused and stunned. As if she hadn’t already said that there were more events, that this was merely the straw. She lifts her hands in a gesture of I can’t believe this, drops her shoulders, stares at Rue in clear bafflement.

What?” she asks, still trying to make sense of what Rue just said. “What does… what does talking about how the Index works have to do with…”

Then, aghast, “What are you saying? You think Elliot telepathically broke her brain? That’s not something he can fucking do, Rue. That’s not at all how the network… What?” She places her hands on the edge of the table and pushes herself back a few inches, fighting an anxious need to pace.

No! That’s not what I’m saying!” Now Rue is agitated, and she knows that isn’t helping anything. This is Wright’s story, he told her, but she can’t help but wish Elliot were here right now to help her make more sense of any of this. “I’m not saying he did anything to her. He wouldn’t do that. Just so we’re on the same page, I don’t think ever that Elliot would intentionally hurt Marthe.”

There’s the word intentionally again. This time, as soon as it leaves her lips, Rue thinks she should have picked the other battle and left that one off.

“Let me just… take a breath here. I’m flustered, and I’m not saying what I want to say, okay?” Rue stares at the wall and finally starts to properly cry. “I didn’t mean for any of this to happen,” she whispers. “I just wanted to talk to her and find out why she acts like she does around him so I could make sure I didn’t accidentally make things worse.”

She sniffs hard and looks down into her lap. Here they are. “I’m sorry. I didn’t want this. I never wanted to upset you. I thought this was just about them. Or the polyam or… I don’t know why I thought it would be so simple.” Her voice lifts into a whine. “I can’t lose you.” And maybe it’s unclear if she means Wright or Elliot. It’s foolish to assume he isn’t watching this, or that he won’t be seeing the replay later on.

“You’re one of the few people who really gets it. I’m pretty sure I could count the amount of friends I have left on one hand if I was missing fingers.” Rue’s lips press together and she gives her head a hard shake back and forth several times. “I’m just confused and I don’t know— I don’t know a fucking thing.” Except for one intrusive thought that makes her hate herself immediately:

If she loses Wright, she’ll lose Elliot.

Wright hasn't made any of the signals that she and Elliot use to alert Rue that somebody else is watching, and going to Elliot for an emotional counterbalance would seem like the sensible thing to do here. But she's containing it, following the Rules to the very edge of the letter as there's nowhere in the spirit of them that can talk her out of this mess.

She curls her fingers into claws in the air at her own frustration, talking without thinking things through. Jumping to conclusions. But when Rue breathes to center herself Wright does too, fighting the urge to be awful to herself. Remembering that this is novel territory in an already confusing situation that she can't ever share in its entirety. She dabs at the corners of her eyes with a napkin, stops her mind from making connections without information.

"Rue," she says, sliding her hands back across the table in earnest for her friend's. She sits forward on her chair to close the distance she made without pulling the chair back with her. "I'm sorry, I let that get away from me because I was feeling a lot of self loathing before Elliot reached out to me. So I'll start where I should have. Months ago."

She doesn't wait for confirmation. "I'm an alcoholic and I haven't had a drink in almost two years," she begins. "My fucking parents are in town and I let myself get very petty in a way that's probably going to make it impossible to salvage what little there is for me with them. And they know how to make me want to drink."

"I shouldn't have taken that out on you. I know you're trying very hard to support your boyfriend, who is my lifelong partner. And you're trying to be good to yourself too, don't think I don't see that." It's all Wright asked for when they reconnected in the park for coffee not much better than this.

"So," she says, breathing in to dispel negative thoughts, "If you tell me what Marthe said to you, I can try to make sense of it for you. Keeping in mind that some of what happened two years ago was of a deeply personal nature that won't make anybody look good with the retelling." That fact being so much of what caused the problem to begin with.

Rue eyes the olive branch stretched out before her warily, but eventually takes it after she scrubs at her face with her sleeve. Her hands rest against Wright’s hands, waiting until they’ve been ensnared before she curls fingers in return. She struggles to keep her breathing even and fails at it more than she succeeds. Little shudders run through her slender frame.

“I’m sorry,” she says softly. “I can’t imagine what that’s like. Hoping you can salvage something with the people who are supposed to support you, only to have them seeming to want to bring out the worst.” Whether that’s the worst in Wright or the worst in themselves is irrelevant. Both are hurtful.

“Deeply personal shit rarely looks pretty in the light of day. That’s why we bury it deep.” It’s a commiseration of a sort. Rue takes a moment to breathe, to gather her thoughts, and recall what Marthe said to her. At this rate of emotional exhaustion, it feels like it was weeks ago already. “Okay, so she said a few things. We’ll go through them one by one.” There’s an upward lilt on the end of that, making it sound like more of a question than a statement. “I’m going to do my best not to tack on my own reasoning. I don’t want to muddy the water.”

Drawing in a deep breath and letting it out, audible on both points, Rue begins. “Marthe said you and Elliot shared in the spaces meant for her family. Emphasis and word choice hers. I don’t know what that means.” To forestall the response, she does add one thing. “The broad overview of what she means by sharing is fine with me if that’s what’s comfortable for you.”

"Yeah we were sharing pretty much constantly without doing anything to let other people know," Wright says. "It was definitely bad. With the war and before we retired there was always a reason to do it, but then we had nothing to occupy us other than raising Ames and… We wanted to test the extent of it, at first. What could be done with it. Figure out the limitations."

She shakes her head. She knows the reasons they used to justify it back then don't hold water. "Well we figured them out and never stopped. It can feel intoxicating, in it's own way. Feeling like you're in two places at once. But you aren't, you can't actually influence somebody else's body. Despite our best efforts, muscle memory just doesn't share."

Her hands stay in Rue's, but she doesn't squeeze them reassuringly, it would feel like a lie she couldn't get away with. "So yeah, Elliot was streaming me a lot in ways I was comfortable with, but we weren't getting consent from Marthe. All of the secrets, the quiet conversations, the hundreds of tiny day to day intimacies. Though nothing sexual. So that's Rule 1. Foreknowledge." Elliot's admission as soon as Rue agreed to date.

"So that level of sharing is probably not what you meant. But I appreciate it." She feels embarrassed by it, the childishness of how they'd let themselves believe that their codependence didn't need a reality check.

“This makes sense,” Rue responds quietly after a moment, Wright able to see the way her shoulders slowly inch away from her ears. “I guess there’s a big difference between the way that I just… accept anything I say to either of you might wind up known to the other than if it were actually confirmed.” Telling herself she’s okay with the possibility is a lie that she doesn’t realize yet is a lie. If she were to find out Elliot streams all their quiet moments directly to Wright like it’s some iteration of The Truman Show, Rue might react with the kind of upset she saw earlier from Marthe. But she admitted she didn’t understand.

Slowly, her head bobs up and down. Another puzzle piece is rotated, slotted into place. The picture becomes a little clearer. “She said she’d never been part of the network. That she’d never let Elliot link her in.” Rue bites down around follow-up questions to that. The fewer words tumble from her mouth, the safer they both are in this minefield.

Wright seems poised to say something, to give an assurance, but the words die in her mouth. She blinks, opens her mouth again and still nothing. Her hands go slack, and the shock becomes a gateway for feeling nothing in the way that feeling nothing still hurts.

“That’s,” she finally begins, only to choke on her words, the implications, “That doesn’t make sense. That’s new.” The composite memories she shares with Marthe are some of the warmest places in her mind. She can’t believe her wife would say that just to spite Rue. It wouldn’t make sense, it’s verifiably not true.

Which means Marthe has forgotten more. That the core of the problem has consumed neighboring ideas, annexed times in the early days before everything went to hell. Anything and everything that links back to the breaking point pushed down, stomped out. So like…

“I don’t know what that means,” she says quietly. She’s too shocked to cry about it now, settles for being pale. For the way her throat clicks around the barely-vocalized words. “It isn’t true. We have composite memories…” that only Wright remembers. She fears recalling them now, as though her current depression might forever alter them in the remembering. A tear leaves her eye, though she doesn’t seem bothered by it. She may as well move on. What had she been meaning to say?

That she won’t do the same to Rue. The Rules cover this. “Your secrets with Elliot are yours,” she says, life returning to her voice, happy to pivot away from that gnawing void of doubt. “Like I told you, I get his emotions, but unless he panics, I don’t look. He won’t break that promise to you and neither will I. If you want him to share something you need to give him permission to do it.” As easy as that. As much as it hurts.

“You don’t have to assure me of shit,” Rue insists. “I already trust you both. I knew… what you two are. Which sounds like one of the more assholish things I could have said in a hot minute, but I mean just… Know that I’m struggling with, uhm… Everything? Putting my thoughts into words right now, especially. And I only think the best of both of you, alright?” Her whole cherubic face screws up tight in frustration at herself. Her heel bounces up off the floor in restless agitation.

“I know you two are partners and communicate in a way I can’t ever really comprehend fully, and I accept that. I knowingly walked into this, understanding that you guys are my friends first and foremost and you aren’t out to fuck me over.” Fucking up is different, which seems to be the topic of the day. Rue steadies herself and continues. “That’s what I was trying to get at though, when I was talking about the Index. How I just get that it’s a you thing, and how the link doesn’t translate it, and how I thought she’d know that.

One of her hands extracts itself from Wright’s, while the other clutches tight to signify she’s not withdrawing. That newly-freed hand taps on the table quietly. “But this is what I was saying. This is why I couldn’t understand.” This is the Lancaster that put pieces of intel together and solved for x. “I couldn’t fathom anyone being in a relationship with either of you and not wanting at least a glimpse of what that’s like. Just to try and understand even a little bit. Even for a second or two. So, I figure she had to have been in at least once.” That hand turns out to her right, palm up.

“So take the comment about her having difficulty determining what’s reality and what isn’t,” is spoken with as much neutrality as she can imagine while she’s turning her hand over to the left, like flipping pages of a book. “Contrast that with her saying she’d never been.” In the network. “I believe you. I also believe she thinks she’s never been. What worried me was that—”

Rue stops, instantly knows she started down a path she doesn’t want to commit to. The regret settles into her expression immediately. “I’m not going to finish that thought, because it doesn’t matter. I think the best of both of you.” No matter what her worries may have been, in no universe is there an attribution of malice.

Wright uses her now-freed hand to rub at her eyebrow for a moment. “It certainly is a whole lot,” she agrees, wondering what to tackle first. “The Index is a bunch of memories tied to keywords. If you know the keyword you can use it to pull attention to the memory. Like when he uses keywords to find memories and sensations when forming the link.”

“I realize it can be isolating to be on the outside of that, and I’m sorry,” she says, trying to remember if they’d used the Index extensively in her presence. “I’ll talk to Elliot about it.”

“As for Marthe,” she continues, trying not to delve too close to the memories herself, “It wasn’t a long-reaching confusion. It was a day.” A long day implied. She looks to the side, running her free hand over her other arm absentmindedly. Inside she runs the math on how to fix this.

Rue clearly isn’t looking for actionable intelligence to use against Elliot. Wright has no reason to believe she’d use more sensitive information against them, but secrecy has been their bread and butter for years. It’s hard to say where the habitual obfuscation ends and the lies begin. So she takes a gamble.

“A couple years ago, Marthe was in the network. Bad cell phone reception day,” she explains, thinking about how everything would still be sunshine and roses if they’d had good reception. Sunshine, roses, general inconsiderate and invasive behavior, and alcoholism. “Elliot linked her in, but we weren’t hanging out together. She was at the Market, I was at a bar between errands of my own. Drinking in the early afternoon. Elliot was in the garden being terrorized by Ames.”

She inhales slowly and purposefully. Admitting this isn’t against the Rules, and the secrecy back then was the real lynchpin of the chaos that unfolded. “And then all three of us suddenly had visions of alternate lives. All at the same time. All three visions experienced by all three people simultaneously.” There’s no way to land that one softly.

“I don’t feel isolated.” The assurance isn’t delivered in that quick snap that Rue usually employs. That frenetic energy of hers. Instead, this is measured, even. It’s strikingly sincere for her, even in a serious moment like this. “It’s just a foreign language you two can speak that I don’t know. Don’t change on my account.”

With that insisted upon, Rue nods to indicate Wright should begin her explanation. She lets her grip loosen to something more companionable than vise-like. Her breathing comes in slow and even, like she needs to relax for what she’s learning, rather than tense and brace.

Then her breath hitches when she hears it’s the overlapping memories that caused trouble. “The aurora.” Rue nods her understanding slowly. “Yeah, that’s enough to fuck anybody up. My ex got a little… Yeah.” With a frown, concern draws lines on her face. “That had to be hard for everyone involved. I can see how that would cause someone to feel like something might be… Yeah.”

Wright fights herself to not, once again, say It gets worse. This seems like as good a place as any to taper off of the madness. Leave some lies to be unpacked at a later time. “It was a mess,” she says, giving Rue's hand a gentle squeeze that means You can let go if you need to. Not holding her hostage, but not drawing away. She takes a deep breath to precede a longer explanation.

The mess hits her for a moment and her brow furrows. That absolute shit-show of a composite memory is still a lot to take in even with the distance of time. “Marthe’s lasted the longest. Somebody had escorted her to a place to sit down, and when she was finally back behind the wheel everything was loud and a lot.”

“Back at the townhouse we all tried to make sense of it,” she says. “Ames had had a little meltdown because Elliot had been out of it and she was scared. I came back still buzzed and made another couple more drinks.” She and Elliot were on the verge of panic themselves, trying to decide if this was something they could just sweep under the carpet of lies that supported their lives.

“Marthe was already on the edge,” she says. “One of the visions was more… emotionally taxing than the others, and she started asking us questions about the other versions of us as though we had any more context. She was filling the link with panic, so Elliot dropped her.”

She shakes her head in regret. “Maybe keeping her linked could have let them help her better. The anchor we were for each other by default, we could have shared with her. We literally could have shared an Indexed memory that we still use to talk each other out of anxiety to this day. But that still felt private. So we didn’t. We isolated her.”

“Take all of that general panic and chaos and a screaming child,” she says, trying to deflect some of the hurt of the day with levity, “and then, caught up in the terror of the moment and in a fit of unparalleled stupidity, you tell your wife that of course the real Elliot doesn’t hate her. You’re only even married to her now because he developed an obsessive crush on her while she was bandaging up a bulletwound in yours truely, and then the emotions filtered through through a telepathic network to a stupid child with no capacity to understand what was going on back then, making you think those emotions were your own!”

There’s clearly no actual mirth here. She still hates herself for this. “Way back then we were both so new at it. We swapped emotions so frequently we brought out the worst in each other. It wasn’t until those emotions had actually taken root in me that we began to consciously recognize them as originating outside. I told Elliot she was obviously super gay and into me and he had to admit that he had already figured that out.” It was so much more of a mess than that, but it’s better left forgotten.

Thinking about how badly they handled it, she feels dispassionate in the remembering. There’s so much guilt tied to the memory, but she doesn’t want this conversation to spiral any further down the rabbit hole. “It was hours before we finally got her to the hospital, where she was put in an involuntary hold for a day. When she came back she just focused on everything else. Every single indiscretion we were rightfully guilty of came up, and she clinged to what we’d done in the Here and Now. It was easier than dealing with the existential horror. Then we made the Rules, and we’ve been trying to fix things where we can, little by little.”

But now she remembers even less, repressing things in the periphery. Wright’s heart breaks again, though it’s buoyed with a strange sensation: relief at having been able to tell the truth. Or something like it.

Not once does Rue even consider letting go. As long as Wright’s willing to hold on, Rue’s there to show she’s not afraid of any of it. That what she’s hearing isn’t going to make her run, to break away. She listens patiently, nodding through each terrible beat.

How awful must that have been? At least she only had to experience her own visions on her own. Liza’s suit is punctured, the inside of the visor is splattered with red and she hits the floor like a stringless marionette, the sound echoes. Darkness. Screaming, screaming, blood on the tissues, blood in the sink, blood on her hands, more screaming. Darkness. Gunfire, puffs of dirt in the air, arms around her, dragging her away from what’s left of her friend, screaming, warm blood spilling from her neck. Darkness. Klaxons, gunfire, screaming, the smell of earth as she huddles for safety with others. Darkness.

“I can imagine you and Elliot are entwined in any other world. Marthe’s probably in at least a couple. I can’t imagine being linked to someone you share strong ties with while being hit by those memories of yous that aren’t you.” Rue lets out a heavy breath and scrubs her free hand over her face. “I… Uhm. Back when the flu was going around real bad in 2011, a friend of mine gave me a vision of the future while I was in the hospital and they weren’t sure yet if I was going to die.”

There’s a strained laugh. “I’ll trade you a secret for a secret. A lot of my friends back in those days were from the future. And I know that sounds insane, but we already know Marcus is an asshole.” Which is to say that his self-stated reason for being alive in the here and the now was time travel, so maybe not the most outlandish thing ever. “And they were so connected to other people we knew. It felt like I was the only one who wasn’t… They knew so many people, and none of them knew me. All I ever wanted back then was to be known. I wanted to be famous. To find out I was nothing to people who seemed so… large to me…” Hanging her head with an appropriate amount of ruefulness, she admits, “It hurt my ego and my self-esteem a lot.”

There’s silence for a moment. Wright knows Rue well enough by now to know she hasn’t finished speaking yet. She’s just rallying her energy. “So, my friend gave me this vision, this dream of what my life was in their future.” That blue gaze slides away, goes hollow and haunted. “Turns out that I wasn’t anything to anybody because I was dead. The only reason I’m alive now is because I got the flu, and we didn’t end up running that recon on Pollepel.”

Which is a heavy thought. She traded one near death for a certain one. Rue rocks back and forth slightly, entirely unconscious of it, still thinking. “But in that dream, I died with a friend. Someone from here, who meant a lot to me. And in every other vision I’ve ever had of any other life, I’ve been with her, and I’ve died.” She repeats, “I’ve been with her, and I’ve died.” Again. “I’ve been with her, and I’ve died.”

Her full attention turns back to Wright then, but when she speaks, her voice is unsteady, like she’s shivering in the freezing cold of Vermont. “Sss-sss—s-sooo… I d-d-on’t– I don’t ss-ssspend time with her.” The last syllable hits the upswing hard, like she’s asking for Wright or maybe anyone to tell her why she’s done this thing. Finally indulging the tears seems to at least steady the trembling of her jaw and settle the near chattering of her teeth. “I just… I just cut her out. Because I don’t want to die.” The shame of the admission is instant.

“And I’m not dead yet.” Rue smiles sadly. “Only on the inside. So, there you are. A secret for a secret. We all do what we think is going to protect us, huh? Something about securing your own mask.” Her eyes roll ceilingward and she bites down on her lower lip briefly. “Or maybe something about having to be cruel to be kind.

Wright's eyebrows rise, not at the absurdity of time travel, but at the bad luck of being destined to die for the crime of meeting someone you love. The most existential fear she and Elliot currently have is that there might be other versions of them in the Root timeline. That somebody might see Elliot and know.

"I'm sorry you have to feel that fear," she says quietly, unsure what kind of condolences could even apply here. She doesn't want to say, It must be hard to stay separate from somebody you love because it would bring this conversation back to where it started. "I wish I could do something to alleviate it."

Wright sighs and leans back, grip on Rue's hand loosening but not letting go. "Though I feel the need to point out that people who are dead inside don't fight for love," she says, adding a smile, "as this conversation proves you're doing. I'm sorry for the secrecy and doing this all out of order, I know Elliot is too."

Rue shakes her head, dismissive of offers to relieve her of her pain as well as insistence that she’s owed any apology for whatever order this came out in. “You’re telling me now. In your own words, if not on the terms you wanted. I’m sorry for not being a better listener in the first place.”

Squeezing Wright once more before letting go, Rue wipes at her face with both hands, frustrated with herself for her tears, no matter how much she knows the subject matter is worthy of it. “What can I do from here?”

Wright uses her freed hand to take over the holding of her coffee cup, giving herself time to think of an answer with a long sip of the cooling liquid. “For obvious reasons, Marthe has no idea about the nature of our upcoming assignment. Staying away from any topic on that front would be appreciated. Also, unlike Richard, our NDAs will probably be enforced.” She presents it as though she assumes Rue will have further opportunities to speak to Marthe, she isn’t going to be shut out. Not any more than she already is.

Wright shakes her head with a grim smirk. “Aside from that?” she asks, pausing. “Don’t take it out on Elliot. He didn’t ask for any of this, but he’s trying to honor Marthe’s stipulations. In the spirit of avoiding future misunderstanding, is there anything else you want to know about our very weird lives?”

Rue frowns when Wright tells her not to take this whole mess out on Elliot. “I… I was only mad when I thought he was keeping something like that from me when it didn’t make sense to, you know? Out of context, being in a polycule and not knowing about someone else your partner’s into sounds like a recipe for– I don’t know.”

Slumping forward in her chair with her elbows on the table, Rue sighs. “I got scared is all. I saw a secret that I worried was a secret because it was meant to be a ripcord he could pull to save himself from this.” One hand lazily lifts from the table to give the most half-hearted sweep toward her person. A face pulled – tongue stuck out of one corner of her mouth and half-lidded eyes rolling – is meant to convey that, yes, she understands that there’s an argument to be made about how she’s maybe not a mess that anyone needs rescuing from. She’s too emotionally exhausted not to make jokes at her own expense at the moment. “I just didn’t understand why he felt like he couldn’t tell me, if it wasn’t a threat. I wasn’t thinking clearly.” Obviously. Considering all the other moving parts to this situation that would have to align for that ripcord to be deployed.

“I won’t say shit about anything else, of course. What you tell your family is your business. I’m not… part of it, so. Not my call.” Rue smiles, a strained thing. “Nick and I are planning to keep to our NDAs. Nick’s just sensible. I’m just this side of smart enough not to incentivize Marcus blowing my brains out.”

But she was offered the chance to ask a question, and she’d be a fool to squander that. “I do actually want to know something… When did you two discover you could do this? All the sharing and thought indexing and the like.” Rue props her elbow up on the table and rests her hand against the backs of her curled fingers.

Wright crosses one knee over the other, then hooks her hands around for good measure. “Yeah, you really don’t need to worry about Elliot leaving you for my wife,” Wright says with a smirk, “who is gay. She’s already got all this.” She mirror’s Rue’s self-deprecation, horrid expression and all.

She itches at her eyebrow, working around remembering something that’s unpleasant to remember in a lot of strange ways. “After Bannerman’s Lemonade and Funnel Cakes went up,” she says, spitting out another random name for a place that’s otherwise miserable without the usually cheeky smirk to accompany it. “Technically during it. It’s hard to remember clearly, there was a lot going on and I was shitfaced whenever I could be. And afterword we kind of fucked up a lot of our memories trying to get the hang of it. Very unpleasant to revisit.”

“I was spending most of my time in the infirmary. At least once a day, I’d be in there,” she shakes her head. “He was catatonic from the time he got pulled out of the culvert. Best as we can tell, he set the link while he was catatonic, and for whatever reason, he couldn’t break it even if he tried, which he did try to do.”

“It’s not something that comes up often, but it gets progressively more difficult for him to keep somebody linked into the network,” she says. “I don’t experience what the strain is like, only he feels it. It doesn’t share. And he can’t replicate what happened to me, obviously. The strain gets overwhelming about three weeks in and it breaks no matter what.”

She shrugs with her hands, then shakes her head with a short sigh. “So ten years this december,” she finally gets around to answering the question. “We only ever pretended we weren’t because we thought people would be afraid to link in before we figured out it couldn’t happen. Then it became easier to just keep up the lie. Marthe’s known forever, obviously.”

“Telling you at the beginning was one of the Rules we added to the list,” she says with her eyes elsewhere. “It would be unethical to keep that information from you, and super creepy. We want to do this right, and Elliot thought you were worth doing this right for.” Her eyes then rise to meet Rue’s, not in challenge but in ceeding intimate information.

Pointing out that she used to be a completely gay redhead doesn’t seem like the best way to offer any kind of assurance to anyone involved in this conversation, so instead Rue offers a quick and o b v i o u s inspection of the total package that is Wright Tracy and smirks with the facial expression equivalent of a shrug that conveys something between I see nothing to complain about here and okay, but I call next if there’s an opening.

But this tale is not the one for silly, snarky comments. It’s one for rapt attention and sombre understanding, even if there are parts of it she cannot understand. Maybe she at least comprehends them on the basest of levels. What makes Wright different? Was the catatonic state the difference needed? None of that actually matters. It affects the how, not the what is.

Instead, the only words that leave Rue’s lips when Wright’s done speaking is a soft and astonished utterance. “I love him.That isn’t the revelation. They’ve been exchanging those for months. What surprises her is the way that he’s treated her as… different in some fashion since the moment they began. Or that they reconnected, anyway. What Rue and Elliot have likely began sometime during the war.

Her cheeks color scarlet and Rue lowers her gaze so she can scowl furiously down at the table. “Go ahead and just play that one back to him like some highlight reel later, okay?” She waves her free hand to cut a horizontal slice slowly through the air between them, mouth pulled into a frown. “He’s earned it,” Rue says, softer. “It doesn’t matter how much work I put into me, he still puts a lot of work into me, too. He deserves to know when he gets a win.” And astonishing her to the point of breathlessness is a win.

Rue lifts her head again and her eyes across the table to the other woman’s. “Thank you, Wright, for trusting me, too. It can’t be easy. I remember what it was like having a voice in my head only I could hear. I remember what people treated me like when they found out.” It’s her turn to step around something unpleasant, while drawing from it for something important. “If you two… If that link’s ever broken somehow, and you need someone to talk to about what that’s like after…” Her head tilts, the invitation left out, the door open to a hypothetical future scenario.

They have to secure a future, first.

Wright doesn’t miss Rue’s playful inspection, but doesn’t respond with more than a slight quirk of her eyebrow. She smiles warmly at the admission of affection and her permission to pass it along. But she shivers in revulsion when Rue suggests she might someday be free of her link to Elliot. The movement is largely playful, but the anxiety about being separated is real at the root. “I can’t imagine how awful it would be for us if the link broke,” she says, taking warmth from her coffee with both hands. “Breaks can cause anxiety even for people who are linked only a little while. At three weeks it could be fairly gnarly. After ten years?”

She shrugs, her eyes widen in her attempt to show how the mind boggles. To purposefully forget the horror of their separation when Agent Castle’s wall went up between them. “But I appreciate the offer to talk about it, should it ever happen,” she says, adding with a manic grin, “You can come visit me in the white padded room I’ll have convinced myself is a bounce house.”

She shakes her head to clear out the silliness for a moment as something comes to her. “Are you okay with the fact that Elliot might never be free of me?” she asks. “We do try really hard to compartmentalize all of the relationship details, but some memories can slip through, or be composited onto other memories inadvertently. Memories of memories. The link doesn’t show any sign of breaking, so it bears repeating that even years from now I’ll still be linked and only ever a thought away from Elliot. I understand very well that it’s a whole fucking lot.”

Rue’s face conveys nothing but her sympathy when Wright works through her nerves. “I had maybe half as many years with mine… It was still tough for me to suddenly be more or less alone, even if I played it off.” And when her friend shakes it off, so does she. Or so she plays it. It doesn’t help to dwell, and Rue is good at pretending her traumas never happened.

With a dismissive laugh, Rue shrugs her shoulders. “Yeah, I mean, of course. I asked my partners to accept that I might never be alone, so I’d be a big hypocritical jerk if I didn’t accept it from Elliot.” The ginger smirks and gestures across the table. “At least I can actually see and hold a conversation with you. That’s more than anyone was able to do with my ghost.

Looking down at the table, Rue smirks faintly. “Maybe I should be more freaked out about it all than I am, but I’m not. I’m not real worried about you being weird about it. If you were going to be, I figure you would have been by now. We’ll just… keep doing what we’re doing, and we’ll all get more used to it as we go.”

Wright smiles hopefully and nods. “Take it a day at a time,” she agrees. She sets down her cooling coffee just as her phone chimes from her jacket pocket. She sighs, but doesn’t retrieve it immediately.

“I should go home,” she says gently. It’s already well past dinner time. “Try to talk to Marthe. Figure out where to go from here.” She doesn’t look accusingly at Rue, doesn’t show signs of holding a grudge.

Rue sets her coffee aside. The surly barista can clean up after them. “One day at a time,” she smiles in a manner she hopes comes off as encouraging. She glances away politely as the phone calls for attention.

Nodding her head, she gets up from the table. “If you need anything…” They know how that sentence ends, platitudes or not. “C’mon.” Rue cocks her head in the direction of the door, and where her Jeep is parked. “I’ll give you a ride home.”

“Let’s blow this popsicle stand,” Wright agrees. “You want to stop in for dinner?”

“Why? Did Marthe say she needed a roast?” Rue chuckles and shakes her head. “I appreciate it, but I probably need to go apologize to Elliot. I contributed dessert. It’ll be like I was there.” She winks, unperturbed by her self-imposed exile from the Tracy-Burgess home. “But say hey for me.”

Unlocking the Jeep so they can both climb in and settle, Rue takes a moment to just sit after fastening her seatbelt before reaching to turn the vehicle on. She lets out a sigh. Her head turns so she can look at her friend from the corner of her eye. A smirk kicks up, tired, but still full of that wry sass she’s known for.

“Good talk.”

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