Of Her Eye


kellar_icon.gif bf_rue_icon.gif

Scene Title Of Her Eye
Synopsis An unexpected reunion sparks hope. Terrible choices are the tinder.
Date February 16, 2020

Safe Zone

Bloody tissues line the bottom of the waste basket. The last tinges of pink have washed away down the sink. February Lancaster looks up at her face in the mirror, water still dripping off the end of her chin. Her lips press into a thin line as she seems to struggle with keeping her breathing under control.

A voice in her ear has her turning her head slightly in that direction, as though it would help her hear better what’s being said. She sniffs wetly, staring past the mirror and at the indistinct shapes in the dark over her shoulder. “I’m fine,” she insists.

She isn’t.

Turning abruptly to stalk through the fucking hovel she’s been calling home the past month, she scoops her phone up off the kitchen counter. Movement out of the corner of her eye causes her to pause. The phone stays in her left hand while she grabs the neck of an empty cider bottle in her right. She brings it down onto the counter — atop a fucking cockroach — hard enough that the glass shatters on the third time.

Fuck!” she shrieks and staggers back from the debris. After that, she stands perfectly still. Well, it’s not like any of her neighbors are going to come to check on her out of concern. That’s exactly why she’s in this place.

Rue tosses the remains of the bottle into the kitchen sink and paws at the receiver in her ear before dialing a number from memory into her phone finally. She listens to it ring, panic swelling in her until the other end crackles to life.

“It’s happening again.”

The voice on the other end of the line is silken smooth but oily like a mechanic’s rag. «Cherry Pie,» he says with an oversaturation of feigned concern, «that doesn’t sound good. Now, I’d ask the doctors here to whip up a nice tonic for you, but they seem to be short one ingredient.»

The voice becomes more oily. «How’s that coming, by the way?»

Rue makes a frustrated sound in the back of her throat. Whether it’s due to the nickname, the missing ingredient, or the fact that it’s being made clear that she’s on her own here is not readily apparent. “Not as well as I’d been hoping,” she’s forced to admit. “Can’t you send someone else to support this?”

All she’d gotten back from Val was a single text message that said sorry.

There’s no need for a lecture about how she put herself in this position. In all her haste to snatch Richard Ray where it was most convenient to locate him, she put herself on the radar. She’d meant the heat to fall on her double, but she hadn’t counted on her to have a solid alibi she’d be willing to cop to.

Why, oh why did this world’s Rue Lancaster have to pick then to be with the one person she’s willing to admit she’s sleeping with? Go figure.

“Mister Kellar, please.”

«Please what?» Kellar smoothly asks. «Snap my fingers like a fucking genie and undo what you were warned would happen? Sweetheart, the genie is still in the bottle and you’re supposed to find her.» She can practically feel Kellar’s voice through the phone.

«Just because you completed your other assignments doesn’t mean this last one is a mulligan.» Kellar pauses. «That’s a golf term. It means… uh… it doesn’t matter. If you don’t find Kravid’s girl, well… you’ll never get to know what a mulligan is. Among other things.»

“I know what it fucking means!” Rue snaps, voice shrill with panic. “We have golf there.” Her head suddenly turns to look at the darkened window that shows the world outside her ramshackle apartment. With her lights on, she can’t see through it, but she can see herself reflected back at her. Can see the way her chest rises and falls with short gasps.

There’s still one ace up her sleeve she hasn’t resorted to yet. Hasn’t wanted to. “Okay,” Rue murmurs quietly before he can scold her for losing her temper. Repeats, “Okay.” She nods to her reflection, understanding now who her only partner in this is. “Can’t you at least send some money? For bribes or whatever?”

Rue swallows back a sour taste as she reminds him, “I’m not like her, you know. I’m not going to trade my body for secrets.”

«It’d certainly be cheaper,» is Kellar’s cold jab into Rue’s side. «But I suppose if this is some sort of sugar daddy arrangement, I can make it worth your while. I mean, aside from saving your life.» There’s a beat of horrible silence on the other end of the line, followed by a few clicks and electronic stuttering noises.

«I’ve wired funds to your discretionary account. Do be mindful not to spend it all in one place.» At least in that, there is some relief.

The granted respite causes Rue’s shoulders to sag visibly, even if that relief is only visible to her. “Thank you,” she is sure to offer in response. Charity from Claudius must be recognized and accepted with gratitude, lest she be reminded the next time — and she hopes maybe to whatever god it is that Mazdak seems to worship that there doesn’t need to be a next time — that she was ungrateful, and have her request denied.

All the same, she’s checking her balance on her phone just to make sure it isn’t some sort of sick joke on his part. “I— When I find her, I’ll call you again.”

«You better. Wouldn’t want you to start looking like a melting candle.» Kellar’s laugh is a hurtful one that he hangs up in the middle of.

Rue presses the back of her hand against her mouth after the call cuts off, doubling over with her opposite hand braced against her knee like she might like to start retching her guts up onto the floorboards. Instead, it’s a thin, strained sound that passes her lips, angry and mournful at once.

Again, she finds herself looking at the window. The hand against her mouth migrates along her jawline, adjusting the piece in her ear. “I’m fine!” she shouts suddenly. Like she’s trying to convince herself. Her fingers are shaking when she lowers her hand again, straightening up to her full height again.

“I’ve gotta go.”

I want a girl with a mind like a diamond
I want a girl who knows what’s best
I want a girl with shoes that cut
And eyes that burn like cigarettes

Rue Lancaster was greeted on arrival not by the middle management she expected to be escorting her to the Mount Natazhat Pinehearst Research Facility, but by an old friend.



I want a girl with the right allocations
Who’s fast, thorough, and sharp as a tack
She’s playing with her jewelry
She’s putting up her hair
She’s touring the facilities
And picking up slack
I want a girl with a short skirt and a long jacket

Upon arrival, she was shown to her quarters and given a chance to unpack and prepare for her inspection of the facilities. Out of the thick traveling clothes and into the armor. Lipstick, mascara, pearls, and an orange-red sheath dress under a tan trench coat that stretches longer than the skirt’s hem. All these things protect her as she arrives in the conference room some time later.

And the flask, like a Talisker talisman, tucked into her pocket, of course. “Tell me about this project of yours, Erica. I’m very excited to hear about how it’s going.”

I want a girl who gets up early
I want a girl who stays up late
I want a girl with uninterrupted prosperity
Who uses a machete, to cut through red tape

Because it hasn’t been going according to schedule, and the Powers That Be — namely Mister Petrelli — want a good fucking explanation as to why that is. The clipboard in Rue’s arms is adjusted as the pair of women walk down the hall. As Kravid speaks, she jots down notes, humming periodically to indicate that she understands what’s being said, or glancing up with lifted brows when something needs to be explained to her on the level of an eager high school science student on a field trip.

”We have a coolant leak,” Erica explains, voice smooth and crisp. This is just a matter of fact, and it’s nothing to be concerned about. “I have my people on it. Once we’re able to stabilize things, we’ll be able to begin today’s test.” The warmth has been slowly leaving her tone, replaced by the professionalism that the people working under her have come to expect.

With fingernails that shine like justice
And a voice that is dark like tinted glass
She is fast, thorough, and sharp as a tack
She’s touring the facility and picking up slack
I want a girl with a short skirt and a long, long jacket

By the time they arrive in the cafeteria for coffee, Rue’s colleague and friend Erica has been firmly deposed and replaced by Director Kravid. She notes the way people smile and nod greeting and acknowledgement, and how none of it is terribly warm. Rue finds a secret amusement in this fact even as she follows along, weaving through tables with a coffee in hand.

I want a girl with a smooth liquidation
I want a girl with good dividends
At City Bank we will meet accidentally
We’ll start to talk when she borrows my pen

“Mrs. Lancaster,” Kravid stops at the farthest table in the lunch facility, turning to acknowledge the redhead at her side. Then, she nods her head to the blonde woman seated at that last table, a plate of breakfast in front of her. “I hope I’m not interrupting.” Said in such a way as to not leave question about whether or not she doesn’t care if she is. “This is February Lancaster. She’s been sent to review our progress.” Then she looks to Rue again, gesturing to the blonde, “I’d like you to introduce you to—”

She wants a car with a cup holder armrest
She wants a car that will get her there
She changing her name
From Kitty to Karen
She’s trading her MG for a white Chrysler LeBaron
I want a girl with a short skirt and a long jacket


“Kara Price.”

Rue Lancaster is faced with a ghost from her past. The music overhead has always been present, even as she zoned out in line at the counter, waiting to order her food from the hole in the wall diner, lost in her own memories. But now everything else is there, too. Like Kara Price seemed to just be there when she turned around with her tray of breakfast. It’s all much too loud. She swears she can hear the klaxons again. The ringing in her ears.

Strides just as hesitant and uncertain as a young fawn learning to walk, on legs that at times seem just as improbably long, carry her from the counter to the table where the blonde woman is seated, just as the first time they had met. A lifetime ago.

Kara?” This time the name is spoken with the intent of being heard now that Rue has closed the distance between her and the far table. “Oh my god. Is it you?

Kara Prince should have started going by a name other than her own a long time ago. It's a character fault that was bound to catch up with her sooner or later, and later has finally come in a way she never could have expected. She looks up from her food at the sound of her first name out of reflex, freezing when she hears the surname that follows.


As much as she tries to wade immediately in the opposite direction, Rue's approaching presence, their location, the way Kara is sitting, what she is doing all drowns her in an inescapable sense of deja vu. Noise swims in the back of her mind, present and foggy past overlaying themselves as she looks up at the unfamiliar woman who approaches her and calls her by a dead name.

For a moment, all Kara is externally able to do is stare up at her with a semi-dazed expression, someone who's trying to make sense out of seeing something impossible. She doesn't even hear herself as an inquisitive, quiet intonation of "… Lancaster?" escapes her, hinting at just how dizzied she feels by the woman's presence, by the implication of being called that name.

She's just as off-guard at this crossing of paths as Rue is, but hesitates to make a show of it. Instead, Kara gestures to the seat across from her with a bewildered expression. Sit, before someone starts to stare. She sets down her silverware, appetite vanishing rapidly. Even through the static that washes out most recollections of a time lost to her, the symmetry between past and present allows Kara to fully appreciate this chance encounter for all its worth.

It enables her to look up at Rue with something like clarity in her eyes as she realizes, for the first time, perhaps she wasn't the only one that survived Natazhat by traveling sideways.

"How?" comes from her in subdued astonishment.

For a moment, Rue panics. Worries that maybe she’s crossing paths with a spectre of her other self’s past. But how is an encouraging response to a discouraging reality. Her tray of eggs and bacon is set down on the table so she can drop into the seat across from Kara, a big smile spreading over her face, astonished and afraid to believe. “It is you.”

This could be it. This could be the support she’s been looking for. A voice in the back of her head tells her she’s putting the cart before the horse. “I thought you died,” she confides in a hush, trying unsuccessfully to temper her enthusiasm. “When Erica and I didn’t—” Rue swallows dryly. “I don’t know how. Something about what you all were testing there. One minute I was there, and the next I wasn’t in Kansas anymore.”

There’s only a brief pause for breath. “Holy shit. You’re alive. Did anyone else— Was there” Deep down, Rue knows there was no one else. That’s probably a kinder fate anyway. Nothing good has come of her time in this world. “How did you get How did you survive?” If the transport hadn’t arrived when it did, she and Kravid would have frozen to death. They had been lucky.

Kara sinks back into her seat, looking Rue over as she explains, seeming tired down to her bones suddenly. There's an odd, deep sense of relief that comes from considering the woman across from her, a relief she's had only once before in her entire time stranded on the other side of the looking glass.

It takes her a second to find her words again when her question is redirected back onto her, her head shaking slowly. "I… I don't know." It's mostly true.

"One second, I…" Kara trails off, looking at nothing. Her posture squares again as she fishes for an explanation. There's not words for it, none that she can find. "And then…" Her head tips slightly to the side, silently indicating a change in circumstance. She looks back to Rue, brow furrowed.

"I got hit by a car in Washington." So very far from Alaska.

Kara frowns. "And the world started coming apart at the seams."

Washington?” Rue repeats with disbelief. “But we came to in Alaska.” It only makes sense, doesn’t it? A direct one-to-one transference. Not… that Rue is well-versed in such areas. That was always where Erica shined.

And now Erica’s gone, just like everything else Rue had ever known. Until now.

“I’m so glad you made it,” she says, somewhat shocked with herself to realize she means it, too. It isn’t as though she had made friends with the other woman, beyond some casual chatter over coffee while she asked gentle questions about the project they were working on at Natazhat.

There’s relief when Rue manages to smile again. “What have… Where’ve you been? How did you wind up here?” Even she had ridden out the war in California. But all roads seem to lead back to New York City for people like her. Maybe people like Kara, too.

Rue's disbelief at Washington being where Kara landed leads to a twinge in the Marine's expression. "At first, I think I was, too. But then…" Her features change, hardening in a moment that passes with the punctuation of a sigh. She's only begun to escape the quagmire of hazy memory Rue's presence has caused, and only just starting to experience a racing of thoughts herself.

"Even though I wound up in a living hell, I couldn't just stand by and let it happen. I didn't feel like I fit in anywhere, but what was happening was wrong, so I began to smuggle people across the border to Canada. Half the time, none of it felt real, still, so I was fearless in a way a lot of people weren't, back in the war. Met a lot of people that way… Became tied up with the Ferry. Crossed paths with a group of people who call themselves the Guardians." She smiles for just a moment at remembering that, looking down with a distance in her expression. "After the bombs, I didn't go back to civilization. I stayed… out in Snoqualmie, Sedro-Woolley… started to build a life for myself. For others. It helped me feel like I had a place, helped me feel sane, when I was alone and wondering if…"

Looking back up as she realizes something critical, Kara shares with an insistent energy, "But we're not the only ones, February. A small group passed through after us, in Colorado in 2017. They came to Sedro, I met them, recognized their armor couldn't have come from here, realized where they'd come from… and I've been with them ever since." Surely she can understand why, even without further context. "They came East out here on business of theirs, and I was going to remain in Washington when I thought one other was staying behind with me, but…"

Slowly, her shoulders curl in a small shrug as she tries and fails to find an explanation for it. They'd come out here, obviously. She segues with a furrow of her brow, "We stand guard over a settlement a few hours' drive from here, out in Jersey. Providence."

Settling back in her seat again, Kara admits wearily, "I don't know what the hell I'm doing half the time anymore. I thought I had more, but I feel like I'm back to just making it from one day to the next… do the right thing in the process, when I can." Her thoughts return to Noah in particular, the quest to find his daughter the most noble venture she's heard of in ages. Distractedly, Kara forcibly removes her thoughts onward by speaking again. "The Prince from here died last November, so I don't have to worry about running into her, at least." Cutting a look to Rue, she gestures at her with a tip of her chin. "What about you? Know where yours is?"

Her other.

As Kara recounts her tale of survival, Rue can’t help but swallow nervously. There’s guilt that swims in her stomach. Kara had seen what was happening in the world and she wouldn’t stand for it. Rue stuck with the familiar. Just like she’d never managed to do the right thing in her own world. Take her wife and leave Pinehearst. It should have been the simplest choice. And yet…

But maybe that was the difference between the two of them at that point. Everything was painfully real for Rue then. Everything changed overnight and she was faced with few options beyond adapt or die. She isn’t so sure she likes the person she’s adapted to become.

“I was holed up in a bunker in California until… Sometime last year, I guess.” It’s glossing over the details, but if Kara ran with the Ferry, she probably wouldn’t take too kindly to knowing that Rue fell in with the Institute remnant. But the revelation that there’s more of them leaves her breathless, mouth having fallen open in a soundless ‘o’ of disbelief.

Finally, she laughs softly, little more than a particularly emphatic exhale. “Providence,” she repeats. All this time, there were kindred spirits so close, and yet so far away. “Amazing.” Rue turns her head away, staring distractedly off into space for a moment. She’s thinking. Listening.

At the question of her double, she turns back again. This time, Rue’s laughter comes as more of a bark. “Oh. You really don’t get the news much out there, do you?”

Kara watches Rue go through the realization with a small smile on her own face. The shock of seeing her is passing, making a transition to something that's just accepted instead. She shakes her head to herself, still hardly able to believe it, picking up her fork and stabbing through the pancake she'd abandoned. California, though. They'd been so close, yet so far, arguably. And now, even closer.

Rue's laughter and the tone of it makes her pause, though, halfway to taking a bite. "No, not really," Kara admits, tines scraping against her teeth a moment after. Chewing, she lifts her head to gesture at Rue. "Hit me. I've got dead astronaut going for me. What're you working with?"

Her brows arc as she makes a vague circling gesture to indicate their surroundings. "Nothing that messes with … whatever it is you're out here for, hopefully."

Wolfhound,” Rue responds, like she hopes Kara at least knows what that means. She doesn’t bother explaining it anyway. Not unless she’s asked. “And it’s catastrophically screwing up my life.” That’s an admission she maybe shouldn’t have made. “She just got herself arrested for kidnapping last month. I had to hide in my apartment for — Well, for a while.” She’ll just conveniently neglect to mention the fact that her double was arrested for her crime, thank you.

There’s a brief wince and a pointed look toward the wall Kara and Rue’s table is nestled against. “I’m… actually in a lot of trouble.” Rue glances back then. She doesn’t look as scared as she feels, but the visible concern is real. “I’m looking for someone in the city. If I… If I don’t find them—” She shakes her head, brows pinched together. “But you aren’t even from around here, right? So it’s not like you’d be able to… Not like you’d know anything.”

Taking a drink of her coffee to give her more room to speak with, Kara looks across the table again with a more solemn expression than before. Her advice would have been to get out of town as soon as possible, given so many significant issues that could arise if someone recognized her on the street, if it hadn't been for this business keeping her in town.

Even so: "What's more important than your own safety? Her name and face in the news, this isn't anywhere you should be. Whoever it is, whatever it is, it can't wait?"

“Ordinarily, I’d agree with you.” Rue picks up her fork now, if only to pick at the eggs on her plate. “I’d just get the fuck out of this place. Maybe go find your people in Providence? Sounds like it must be nice.” It has to be better than what she’s doing now, doesn’t it? Even she isn’t sure what that is any longer.

It’s harder to admit the reality of things, but she does the blonde across from her the courtesy of meeting her gaze. “I’m dying, Kara. And this person I’m looking for? Erica’s girl? She’s the only one who can save me.”

Kara's brows lift at the news, breakfast forgotten about again. This is an entirely different shock than the one that had happened when Rue first appeared, something slower still. There's a puzzle that's been laid before her, one that she had more pieces to than she could have thought possible, but even in lining them up, she doesn't go as far as connecting them and laying them plain just yet.

"Erica… Kravid?" she asks instead, refusing to assume.

Because… it couldn't be, right?

“Yeah,” Rue breathes out. It doesn’t occur to her that there’s more context required, not right away at least. This mission has been her singular focus for a month. And the events of the morning brought the need to step up her time table into stark relief.

“In this world, Erica Kravid has a daughter. And there’s something special about her,” Rue tries to explain. “I have a degenerative condition. What’s in her blood? It can stabilize me. It’s the only thing that can.” That’s maybe an oversimplification of what’s at play, but she thinks it’s enough words with enough weight for the importance to be conveyed. “I need to find her, or I’m going to—”

The redhead’s face tips downward slightly, overcome with emotion suddenly. Her chin dips in toward her shoulder and she leans in slightly with her cheek. “I haven’t told anybody. There hasn’t been anyone I could tell.” Rue lifts her head again reluctantly. “I guess at least one person will know I lived here, in this place and this time. And what happened if…”

She trails off, unable to finish that thought.

The words in this world being used directly instead of vague allusions or things that could pass for something else being Kara to glance quickly around them to see if anyone's listening. It means her immediate emotional reaction to what Rue's said to her is delayed, buying her a moment to process without her sympathy being a primary driver.

Still. Shit. Shit.

Looking back and seeing the look in Rue's eyes rocks Kara's resolve anyway, removing indecision. "February, I'm so sorry," she says, laying her hand across the table, palm up to Rue. To be suffering like this, to be alone and dying when there was something that could help only just out of reach… it moves her to a threshold.

"It's just her blood you need?" she asks calmly. "Or…?" Kara's brow pinches together for a flicker of a moment.

The outstretched hand is looked at for a long moment, like she doesn’t believe in what it represents. But then she takes it and grips it in her own two hands like she’s a drowned woman clinging to a life preserver. “I— I don’t know.” The answer is an honest one from Rue. “I’m not sure how it’s supposed to work. I just know that when she was around… People weren’t dying.”

Kara grips Rue's hand just as firmly, jaw tense. They didn't just need Taylor's blood, they needed her. She shakes her head and keeps her hold on the other woman's hands.


She feels like she can't be wrong about this by this point. That the coincidence was too much otherwise.

"Listen, did— is this related to an ability? One that was given to you?" There's an unmistakable sadness to her as she asks. This is what Sharrow— what Freyr had tried to lure Kara into? No wonder both men passed. Emotion she doesn't fully grasp the depth of yet begins to well in her. "Did they say things like there'd be minimal side effects, and then suddenly…"

The Rue Lancaster of Kara Prince’s world does not have the poker face her counterpart possesses. Certainly not in the face of all the fear she’s been holding in her chest for so long. There’s no mistake that Kara has the right of it when she asks about the younger woman’s condition.

“There was no sugar coating with me. I’d seen what happened to— What happened to the others.” Rue’s focus is suddenly a thousand miles away. Four-hundred-two days ago. “It was this, or an axe in the face.” Slowly, she comes back to the here and now. “It wasn’t a hard choice to make.”

Kara has to adjust the position of her arm to hold back onto Rue's hand with all the support she means to. "I ran across someone selling snake oil, trying to write that degenerative condition off as side effects, ones they promised could be mitigated if… if Kravid's daughter was found."

Which wasn't untrue. But there's a stark contrast between side effects and what Rue is going through, in her mind.

"This world…" Kara growls like it's a swear.

Instead of letting her disgust show, she shoves it down. February Lancaster needed help, not just sympathy. "I'll try to find her." Not for her own sake, any longer. If she had her way, it'd not be for Shedda's sake either.

But there might not be any choice.

There’s surprise plain on Rue’s face. Her fingers curl more tightly against Kara. “You mean that? You’ll— You’ll help me?” It isn’t the help she’s questioning, apparently, but that she would be the one worthy of such charity.

It’s a struggle not to cry with relief. “Oh, god. Thank you.” Her voice quavers like she might fall apart, but she doesn’t. Rue has seen a lot since she’s come here, and although many cracks now exist in her mask, she still has it in her possession. She holds it together. Her grip starts to slacken, though she doesn’t let go. It’s up to Kara to withdraw her hand, but she has the option now.

“Don’t take it. It’s not like it was where we came from.” Most people aren’t supposed to know that there was anything like this where they came from. But there were rumors. Petrelli’s people seemed to have a knack for coming into power. Once, she’d hoped to include herself among those ranks.

That wish aged well.

“She fell off the radar after Wolfhound got her back. I could—- I could try to get into their archives and see if I can find something…?” Because this is her struggle, and she’s going to contribute. Kara can’t be expected to carry Rue on her own.

Kara does let go, if only to finish eating her breakfast with more hurry to it than before. She'd been kicking her feet previously, and this was motivation to get back and wait in front of that house. She'd seen Taylor in that car. She knows it.

So Rue's offer to go rooting around as her other draws a hard look. "No. Don't put yourself at risk like that. I…"

The Marine looks away, pretending she's taken with the pancakes momentarily, stabbing roughly with her fork. "I already had a lead," is as much as she's initially willing to explain, guilt in her gaze as it flits from the food to across the restaurant. "So honestly, the only thing I can hope for to make this slightly better, is that she doesn't have to end up back in their hands."

Now she looks back to Rue, the weight of knowing what she'll do visible in her eyes. "If you can find some way…" Kara suggests slowly. Then she stops to think about it, brow furrowing. "Or…"

Maybe she's got an idea?

Rue’s own hands slither back across to her side of the table. She picks up her fork again and finally starts eating her scrambled eggs. She’s not even the least bit hungry anymore, but she needs to eat. How many times had Erica reminded her of that?

“She’s gonna save lives,” Rue insists quietly. Like it’s a sacrifice they should both be willing to accept. Like it’s one Taylor Kravid should be willing to accept. But she knows it’s an unfair ask. “There’s not a lot of choice here. Who else is looking for her?” Because whoever this is? Is not on the kickball team Rue was picked for.

Being alone does things to people. It's only been a few weeks, and she's not been as solitary as Rue has been, but what's happened drove her to even tentatively accept Sharrow's offer. The sense of camaraderie Kara finds with Rue plasters that ache over with the armor of caution she'd normally wear.

So she doesn't bother guarding her expression as she lifts her head, peering at Rue. "Else?" Kara echoes, like it makes little sense. Her voice carries in an undertone. "The people calling themselves Shedda Dinu aren't the people who twisted your arm?"

She begins to frown slowly. "A Vanguard remnant calling themselves the Sentinel had a change of heart here and found themselves proselytizing the superiority of the Evolved. They've been poking their noses around Providence since last spring. I argued with their old man, Sharrow, a lot." The explanation brings another twinge to her frown before she shakes her head. "I argued I was enough without an ability, but… then the woman I loved was shot." Kara thumbs the side of her coffee mug. "And then I had a moment of weakness, and they pointed me to these Shedda Dinu, who they said had her previously, before Wolfhound…"

That being as much as she knows, she sees no harm in trailing off then, looking to Rue to see how much her story differs.

“Sssssort of,” Rue says of the organization responsible for her current predicament. “I mean, yes. They did,” she admits, trying to piece together a trauma she’s tried so hard to bury. Trying to figure out how to explain its complexities. “I guess I just hadn’t realized you were being courted,” she recovers. To admit there’s a schism in the ranks now could be fatal. Especially if it gets traced back to her and Claudius Kellar finds out about it.

She doesn’t imagine what he’d do in retaliation would be swift.

“I didn’t know you were like me.” Rue’s voice is quiet, the words delivered between mouthfuls of egg. Gay, non-evolved. She doesn’t specify which of those she means. “I always wanted to be special. For years, I thought I was. But… Not like this. Not like now.”

Rue’s eyes lift from the middle distance she’d been staring at past Kara’s left shoulder and back to Kara herself. “I can help you. Whatever you need, I’ll do it.”

"I didn't exactly lead with it," Kara says of her being courted. "And I'd never have brought up what I was doing in town at all if you hadn't…"

Only belatedly does her expression mellow and she better minds her words, settling the tines of her fork back down on her plate again. Her gaze only comes back up to Rue when she's looked back at in return, nodding stiffly. Eyes close hard before she sighs, a swear hidden somewhere within it.

She's gonna save lives. Rue had said.

Kara wishes that gave her the ability to do this with a clear conscience. But that's never the person she's been.

"What I'll need is a way to get in touch with you," she states, voice laden with how heavy a topic this all is. "And…" Kara's features twist briefly with distaste, voice lowering even further. "A tazer, if you have one. I think I might know where she is, but… I need to check, first. And I'll reach out to you once I know."

A smile slowly spreads across Rue’s face. It isn’t warm, kind, cold or even cruel. It just is. There’s been a messenger bag slung across her body while they’ve been speaking. Maybe Kara recognized that already, understood the need not to unloop it from her frame and simply set it down. With her fork settled on the plate, Rue instead pulls open the flap and digs into the bag.

The taser is set on the table between them. “A woman alone in New York? Yes, I have this covered.” She needed it, after all. But she’d rather disarm herself in this way to make sure Kara is equipped to help her. Then, she pulls out a notepad and scrawls a number in her neat script, tearing the page out and sliding that across with the taser, too. “That’s my burner. If you make sure you text me right away, I’ll make sure I contact you if I have to ditch this one and get a new one.” So they’ll manage to stay in touch. Hopefully Kara will see results before she has to move on from this contact. She isn’t sure how much time she has left anyway.

“I can handle the hand off,” Rue offers, tone cautious. “If you can find her, and tell me where you are, I can arrange for the extraction.”

Because if Shedda Dinu gets their hands on Taylor Kravid and not Mazdak, Rue imagines she’s just as good as dead as if she hadn’t found her at all. If the former organization discovers she’s alive after all these months, they may be disinclined toward anything but executing her for betrayal.

That nuance is lost on Kara, but the fact that Shedda wasn't the only group searching for her wasn't. "Who is it that strong-armed you, if not Shedda Dinu?" she asks quietly, reaching across the table with her free arm to slide the tazer to herself and slip it into the pocket of her coat. Only after does she reach for the number, flipping it open to look at it. She mutters, "I've got some … brick of a satellite cell. It's a shared phone, one I don't normally really have. But I did bring it with me."

She sighs, looking up and over at Rue as she folds the paper over again, passing it to her other hand and putting it in her other pocket.

“No, it was… It was…” Rue finds it hard to spin a lie for Kara. “It was a splinter of Shedda. My involvement was very… quiet.” It has enough truth to make it easier to lie, but enough lie to shield her from the damage the truth can cause.

“Thank you for this.” She frowns, concerned about what it means if things don’t go well.

Kara lets out a disaffected grunt of acknowledgement at hearing it was a splinter of Shedda. They seemed like the type to suffer from those kinds of issues, between their morals and their aim. "With any luck, this'll all be over soon. A few days tops."

She takes a moment to think back to her other earlier thought, jaw working. "What if we were able to look into finding an answer that doesn't involve Shedda? Would you be willing to leave that all behind? Come with us back to Providence?"

A few days tops. Rue tries to smile at that, but it doesn’t make it past a twitch of her lips. “If… If you could, I’d like that,” she admits. She doesn’t want to see Taylor exploited any more than she already has been. She wants to believe that if the two women’s roles were reversed, Taylor would advocate for Rue being left alone. But Rue is terrified. That does things to a person. It makes them do things they never thought they were capable of.

“I’d be afraid, though. Of what they would do to you if they found out.” Rue shakes her head, “And you don’t have the decades of research that they have. Even if you find her, even if you hide her…”

She’s still as good as dead.

Kara sees that hesitation, that flicker in Rue's smile, and tries to weigh things for herself. Her fork hovers back and forth between the scrambled eggs on her plate, an unintentional indication of her split decision. She glances back up at the other woman only a moment later. "How much time do you think you have?"

It'd be different if Yi-Min were still here. She'd be more confident that between her— maybe between her and Zachery Miller— that they could do something. Hull and her way with computers might be able to help them do it faster. If they were able to work with a virus and figure out how to make it attack something in particular, she had confidence they could figure out how to unmake whatever was happening to Rue.

But both were in the wind. And even if they weren't…

Rue’s gaze slips into that unfocused state again, as if she needs to eliminate the visual stimulus to calculate. If her earlier phone call was anything to go off… “Not long. I don’t know. Maybe I still have a month or so? I… I have some treatments left, but they aren’t going to last long.”

She sniffs loudly and admits, “Each treatment works less than the one before it.” And that realization hits like a fist to her chest. The horror of her predicament plays out on her face for the space of two or three seconds before she reins it in again. “You have the luxury of doing the right thing. I’m not sure I do anymore.”

Kara looks more crestfallen with each additional bit of context added after that initial answer, her appetite gone entirely now. She looks off for a moment, fixing the wall with a stare like it might somehow change how incredibly unfair this was. How it felt like it was too late to do anything meaningful.

Retrieving Taylor likely wouldn't magically fix the extent of Rue's deterioration, after all. Would it?

"Do you even know for sure that they'd help you? What's to say they'd not…"

It feels unfair of her to ask, given Rue's said what she just did about Kara's ability to choose versus her own lack of options.

Rue’s teardrop shaped mouth purses. “I have only one guarantee. If I don’t find Taylor Kravid, I’m dead. That’s the only thing I know for certain. Everything else…?” She leans back in her seat then, pushing her half-eaten breakfast away just a little bit. That’s a fight she’s willing to give up on. “No, I have promises made to me that they’ll save me. I know I’m still useful to them. I just have to hope I’m more useful alive than I am dead.”

That was difficult to say out loud. How long has that been true? Since Erica dragged her out of the snow? “They lose me, they lose my ability. And my ability is still…” She lets that go without finishing the thought, tapping her nails restlessly against the surface of the table now. Until she looks over as though someone called her attention and her hand stills again.

“I’ve seen that her blood can stabilize people. There are people alive because the process works.” A shrug. “So, yes. They could decide I’m not worth saving. But…” Rue shakes her head. “Shedda’s days are numbered. Now that they’re squarely on Wolfhound’s radar? They won’t stop until they’re rooted out and dragged into the light of day. I’ve seen what they’re capable of. They’re rabid dogs and they will not stop.”

There are missing chunks of context for this that become apparent to Kara the longer the discussion continues. It's teeth-gritting. If it was Wolfhound that found the group that had Taylor before, it wasn't Shedda… was it? More relevant, though: would this group Rue was beholden to even have enough time to make use of Taylor again, if Wolfhound was again on their tail?

Did that make it somehow easier, knowing someone else should be on an intercept course which would see to Taylor's rescue again? It seemed like everyone might win a little, with that knowledge. Everyone except the girl caught in the middle.

A slow exhale comes from her, heavy and long.

Kara doesn't return the taser back to its owner.

"Don't suppose your ability is something that could help us find a better path than giving her back to the people who've screwed you over?" It's a last-ditch ask. An afterthought. Her posture's already shifting with all the movements of someone who's mentally checking they have everything they need before they go.

There’s a wry smile at that question. “I can’t see the future, Kara.” The tip of Rue’s tongue presses against one canine briefly. “Not sure I’d want to even if I could.” She’s saying too much. Has said too much. But maybe this is her only chance. Maybe Kara Prince can take this terrible choice out of her hands. Rue knows she won’t die with grace or dignity, or anything remotely resembling a clear conscience, but maybe she can avoid this black mark on her soul.

“Hindsight’s a bitch enough.”

It's an opaque answer, but Kara doesn't seem to hold it against Rue as she comes to her feet. A tented twenty is left on the table to pay for her food. She looks to the door for a moment, then back down to the other woman. "It is," she agrees in a terse reply, looking lost in thought.

Then she shakes her head. "I'll be in touch, February." Kara smiles to seal that promise, placing a hand on Rue's shoulder.

Rue reaches up to rest her own hand over the one Kara’s laid on her. “I’ll be waiting.” She squeezes Kara’s hand, then lets her fingers slide up to her wrist briefly before withdrawing. “Good luck, Kara. Whatever happens.”

She refuses to say goodbye.

Whatever happens, Rue says. It twists Kara's stomach, but she nods, letting go and heading for the door without looking back.

It's felt this whole time like she had been walking on a tightrope, liable to fall one way or another without meaning to. The chance encounter has given her a counterbalance to hold onto, something to steady her and make her decision by. Whatever happens now, it won't be by accident. When she leaves the rope, it'll be with a leap.

A choice.

One not centered around her own needs or wants. And there's something of a blessing to be found in that.

The bell on the door jangles again as the wind slams it shut behind her.

It’s only after that bell chimes that Rue’s shoulders finally sag with a heavy exhale. Her heart is so heavy in her chest. Surely Ammit would devour her.

Reaching into her bag again, it’s her phone that Rue retrieves this time. She puts one hand up to her ear and presses against the ever-present receiver, waits a beat.

“Follow her.” Her head tilts, listening to the response. She glares daggers into the space Kara previously occupied. “Did I stutter? I don’t need a babysitter. I need you to find her. I didn’t think I’d need to remind you what happens to you without me around.” Rue’s lip curls in a sneer. “Don’t you darken my doorstep again until you find Taylor Kravid.”

Turning her attention to an untouched glass of water on her tray, she watches her distorted reflection. The wavy impression of her in the textured glass feels like a glimpse of that future she claims to be unable to see.

Rue props her elbows onto the table and buries her face into her hands.

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