One More Night


rue4_icon.gif seren_icon.gif

Scene Title One More Night
Synopsis The weight of these revelations may be too much to bear.
Date March 11, 2020

Rue's phone wasn't a thing that could be trusted, not after what happened.

Maybe Rue herself couldn't, either, but that was beside the point.

Days went by, following the emotional assault at Cat's Cradle. Days since the report to SESA. Days since she should have been back, and no Rue. Had she made it home safe from the mission? Had the Other Rue done something to her once she had? Despite the wound from the revelations they carried with them, it wasn't like a switch was flipped. They still cared, and they had to know.

So, Seren went to the Bastion, banged on the door until someone opened.

Francis Harkness' face had fallen when they'd asked after Rue's wellbeing, and their stomach had sank. Even before he finished rubbing the side of his neck, figuring out what words in what order he wanted to say to explain just what it was that had happened, Seren cut in with their demand.

"Where is she now?"

Kansas City VA Medical Center
Kansas City

March 11th

Their heart feels like it's crumbling inside their chest. Forward movement has kept it in one piece somehow, but now they've stopped— directly in front of the room she was supposedly in.

And based on what Francis had stammered out, they had no idea what to expect of Rue's condition.

Barely able to walk were the words he'd used. He didn't know specifics, because he'd returned back to New York. But he knew where she was.

The information was— good. There was that. Seren hadn't just dropped everything and flown halfway across a country that's not even theirs to show up to very confused faces. No, the name Lancaster had lead to a room, and they'd been allowed to be signed in as a visitor because none else had come for her today.

If only they could just…

"Si— ma'am?" A nurse has stopped some feet away from Seren, confused regarding much about what they're seeing here. Head turning, the gleam of their silver-limned eyes clue the nurse that something stranger than they know is afoot here with their presence. Their hands remain shoved into the pockets of the black leather jacket they wear, and the creature clinging to their bicep remains where he is. An owlish head turns on a dime to look at the nurse, amber eyes nictating closed while rabbit ears perk up in interest. "You can't have a pet in here." the nurse stammers out, uncertain what else to call the abomination hanging off of the visitor's arm.

"O-oh, I… uh…"

It takes them off-guard. Their hand starts to slip from their pocket to raise in a polite gesture asking for attack to be held off. Their voice raises slightly in embarrassment as they fumble to put together any of their usual explanations, ones that have slightly fallen into disuse from being in as Expressive-friendly an environment as New York is. "No, he's not— um…"

A light in the hall outside a nearby room grabs the nurse’s attention. Whatever it signifies, it must be more important than making sure the service animal policy is being enforced. “Just— Make sure you take your— Uh— Take it outside,” the nurse stutters before hurrying off to respond to the call.

With that obstacle out of their way, there’s only a few feet left between them and the door left ajar to the room occupied by Lancaster, F. If there’d been any question as to whether Seren was in the right place, it’s quashed when they hear a low wail of pain and sadness and fear coming from the room ahead.

Seren’s heard that mournful sound before. The morning Rue drove them up to Niagara Falls.

That sound puts their heart in their stomach, sets their feet into motion quickly. Baird holds on tightly as they push the door open just slightly so they can head in, their anxiety forgotten. There's no thought given aside from trying to soothe that sound away. It's instinctive, impossible to turn off.

They don't even process fully the state of her as they rush to her side. Their bare hand worms its way into her palm, thumb linking around hers to hold on and avoid the monitor attached to her fingertip. Their other hand clasps around the back of her hand, attempting to impress comfort down through their palm.

"It's okay," they murmur, brow knit fretfully and their eyes creased with worry. "Rue, it's okay."

Rue doesn’t have her eyes open when Seren arrives to comfort her. She’s being held rigid by a brace around her neck and one around her torso, making sure she doesn’t contort herself in any way that might aggravate her injuries. It can’t be comfortable at all.

“It hurts so much.” Her voice is a strained, hoarse whisper. Fat tears are rolling down her cheeks. She hasn’t yet registered that it’s not a nurse that’s come to her side, but someone far more familiar. A glance up at the board on the wall, listing her care schedule, shows she’s due for another round of medication very soon, but Seren has a feeling that Rue’s pain isn’t a physical sort.

Finally, those blue eyes open as she reaches up with her free hand to paw at her face and rub away the moisture. Rue glances down first at the hand in hers, then up to see who it belongs to. “Se- Seren?

They smile, brow knitting even more tightly together. "I beat that kid from the Christmas Party up until they told me where you were," Seren confesses, even if it's a bit of an exaggeration. Their thumb rubs along the top of her hand, dancing over the ridges of knuckles. "I was so worried."

On their shoulder, Baird clings to their jacket tightly, uncertain if it's safe to jump down. He doesn't want to hurt Rue, after all. She looked like she was hurting enough.

"I'm— sorry I didn't come sooner. I didn't know."

It might've saved them a lot of heartache if they had, but they don't have the willpower to bring that up right now.

“I didn’t want you to,” Rue admits, starting to get control of her sobbing. Whether she means she didn’t want them to know where to find her, didn’t want them to know the state she was in, or didn’t want them to come is open to interpretation. Her fingers curl weakly around Seren’s.

A tired look is given first to their friend, then to chimera. “If you’re real careful,” she tells him after a loud sniffle, “you can warm my feet up, buddy.” She can tell how badly he’d like to come join her. “Did you leave Francis in one piece?” Rue jokes, even though no humor finds its way onto her face.

Seren chooses to believe that of the possible options, not wanting them there wasn't the reason. If anything, in the state she's in— and the pride she has— it might've simply not been possible yet. They take a moment to look down to her hand, pressing both of theirs around it.

Baird accepts the duty he's been given with ginger excitement, crawling up Seren's shoulder and across the back of their neck— making them duck their head forward in the process— so he can unfurl his wings and flit down to the end of the bed, claws clattering on plastic as he lands away from feet at first. There's practically no weight as he carefully steps onto the light blanket drawn over Rue's legs, but after he settles and curls in, head butting against her shin in a nuzzle, there's comforting warmth.

Seren weakly smiles, joking back in return despite the flat affect of it, "He caved before I had to pull out the instruments of torture. Don't worry, there's not cops piling up outside waiting to deport me." One hand lifts from the clasp, gently brushing back hair to the frame of Rue's face. "I can stay as long as you need me to. If you need anything, I'll get it. If there's anyone you don't want to talk to, but want to let know you're safe, I'll handle it."

"Okay?" It's only that last note that shows hesitance, uncertainty. They try to blink away sudden moisture from their eyes.

Rue breathes hard, but smiles through her attempts to control a fresh wave of tears. “I missed you. I thought I was never going to see you again.” And for that, she looks desperately sad. “As long as you’re here,” even if she never wanted them to see her this broken, “I don’t need anything else.”

Her thumb brushes over their hand, worry showing on her face now. “Hey. Hey… I’m gonna be okay, alright? They said I’ll walk again. I’ll recover. I’m just gonna miss bikini season is all.” There’s no light in her eyes despite her reassurances and her joking. Whatever happened, it’s done more than physically damage her.

Seren lets out a small laugh at the show of humor, and that's what undoes the last of their composure. Tears streak down their face in their worry made manifest, even as they try to smile through it. "You don't need to walk to sunbathe," they try to tease her but it comes out flat. Then they're laughing at themself for their failure to be particularly reassuring.

They sink down into a chair by the bedside, still holding onto her hand tightly. "I missed you, too." Baird's weight on the blankets increases as he burrows in. "God, I wish I'd have known—"

Every pang of anxiety at the thought Rue might not come back from her mission, the worries they'd tried to insist were unfounded, suddenly are all too validated. It's just Rue's work, it'll be fine isn't a valid argument when that work is this dangerous.

Shaking their head, Seren promises, "I'm not going anywhere." They wipe at their tears with their other hand, shoving down the complicated knot of emotions in their chest. None of that matters. Not right now.

The corner of Rue’s mouth ticks up in a slightly easier smile than before. “I’m really glad I spent that night with you instead of going over plans with my partner.” That squeezes her heart hard. She isn’t even sure if it’s the truth or a lie. She’d blamed everything going wrong on having broken the ritual, but how could she regret spending time with Seren?

“Told you it’s not easy being with me…” That’s kind of an understatement at this point, given what the other Rue has revealed.

At the mention of the night before she left, Seren's hand suddenly slacks, a shift in their look coming over them they're not even aware of. Their heart is on their sleeve, their thoughts worn on their face. The use of the word partner stings more than it did before, but it's not just that.

Their head shakes slowly, breath growing painful as that hurt in their heart spreads. The tips of Baird's rabbit ears shift silently to a grayed color. "I—"

Silver-limned eyes glisten as they meet Rue's. "I love you," Seren stresses, struggling with knowing what else to say. Had their presence ruined preparation for the events that almost killed her? They weren't sure their love held the same weight as the consequences of that distraction. "I'm sorry." The words come automatic, without regard given to whether or not they should be said. "I'm really sorry."

“What? No. Nothing… Nothing we could have gone over would have prepared us for—” How many times have people told her that since the op? Rue’s throat gets too tight to continue that train of thought. She’s still convinced that it’s her fallibility that got James Dearing killed. “Don’t be sorry,” she says firmly after the tightness abates.

It’s then that she notes the state of Baird, and what that says about the state of his summoner. “Seren?” Rue’s eyes drift back up to the one she calls her paramour. “What is it?” It has to be more than the guilt they wear on the surface, doesn’t it?

Does it?

Seren's eyes close and they lean over the side of the bed. They've never been the type able to conceal things for long. Baird continues to give them away, his color palette shifting and darkening. He keeps his shape, but the harebird with cat's paws remains still. Owlish eyes blink open to return Rue's look, even though his summoner can't. They take a moment to cry, head bowed.

"This is just harder than I thought it'd be," Seren admits once they feel they have enough control of their voice. "I wish I could just rewind time, for the both of us— but it doesn't work like that."

They take in a sharp breath, uncertain what to do with their emotions. "Where's your partner so I can go punch him?" they ask, a little more bitter and aggressive than the question should have the right to be. But fuck him, anyway, for not being here with her.

They know.

Rue’s face goes even paler than it already is. Her blood feels like ice water and her stomach twists into impossible knots that make her feel sick. It was inevitable, and she’d always told herself that, but she’d gotten by with it for so long, she’d started to believe it maybe would never happen. Especially if she just broke it off with him. It could all be ignored. Like it never even happened at all.

She’s been staring vacantly since Seren asked their question. Layers of guilt that weighed heavy before now feel crushing. Rue manages to lift her voice only to a whisper. “He died.” That makes this twist of fate all the more cruel, doesn’t it? One way or another, the affair was over. It could have gone unmentioned. Rue sniffs hard and finally manages to refocus her gaze on Seren.

Seren's expression twists in anger first, then into something more torn before they look down. Yeah, if only it could have gone unmentioned. Unfelt. But no, someone had to throw an ax at the carefully maintained board of illusions Rue and Seren had been operating under, both in their own ways.

"Shit," Seren breathes out. But this time, they can't even bring themself to offer up the most basic of condolences. Baird remains curled up tightly, a very visual representation for how his summoner is trying to keep it together. When they look back up at Rue, their eyes are filled with sorrow. Not over him, but over what he did. What Rue did, knowingly.

"I wish we could rewind that, too," they say, but their tone falls short of consoling. At the moment, they only wish Dearing was here for selfish reasons. Not that getting angry at a human brick wall would help, anyway.

For that matter, whatever happened must have been terrible had it managed to kill him.

"Rue…" Seren looks at her, tone careful as they go on trying to hold onto what's already been shattered. "I'm—" They try so hard, but it's messily done, the cover-up of their hurt. They'd rather just pretend they didn't know, but it weighs hard on them.

"I— I know what he meant to you. And I love you, okay?" There's a silent still slipped somewhere in that.

For Rue, it’s another example of how she ruins everything she touches. Hurting Seren had never been on the agenda, but that doesn’t matter. What she did was hurtful. She knows that Seren isn’t glad Dearing’s dead. They simply aren’t that kind of person. She wouldn’t love them if they were. The lack of condolences don’t make that aspect of their personality ring any less true.

“I loved him too,” Rue admits, unable to look at Seren anymore. “I loved him, and I love you, and…” And none of that makes any of it any better. “All of that started before I met you, and… I just never stopped.” Part of it is a relief, to have it out in the open. The guilt of lying remains, but now it will always remain a guilt for a past act. That’s a better kind of guilt, somehow.

“I don’t have an excuse.” The redhead exhales hard and stares up at the ceiling without really looking at it. “I’m a shitty person.” There’s no other way to look at it from where Rue’s sitting. “I don’t deserve you. I never did.”

Seren doesn't have the energy to fight her at the moment. They walked into the room with every intention of shoving down their own hurt until later for Rue's sake, if not their own, and yet here they were anyway.

They want to insist they can fix this. To move past it. But they can't summon those words, either.

"I don't care," is what they insist instead, shoulders sagging as they dig in. "I'm not leaving you to deal with this alone. I don't want to feel any different. I don't want to let her win. She said she wanted me to hate you, and I-I don't… I won't."

Seren's brows crumple together as they wipe their face, summoning their will. "I still love you. This— this is supposed to work." Because that's how it does in fairy tales, right? Two people love each other, and they can conquer anything? Any hurt, big or small.

Rue swallows hard when Seren professes to love her still. It’s undeserved, and she might argue that again in a minute, but for now, she just shakes her head lightly, followed immediately with a wince. “Life’s not a storybook, Seren.” There’s no particular sharpness or venom to that bit of pragmatism. “It just… doesn’t work that way.”

A sharp inhale serves as precursor to renewed tears. “You are never going to trust me again. Every time I walk out the door, you’re going to wonder if I am where I say I am. If I’m with who I say I’m with.” This is a thing she knows from her own experience, which only makes this situation that much worse.

Then it occurs to her: Seren said she. Rue figured it had to be Francis who ratted her out, but there’s no woman she can think of that would have done that to her. Not unless Dearing had a jealous girlfriend Rue never knew about. He didn’t seem the type. “How did you find out?”

Seren picks themself up into an upright sit, a small, sad smile on their face. They shake their head as they look to Rue. They don't have the venom in them to throw what happened out into the air carelessly. "She showed up," they explain quietly, their voice clear. They fuss briefly with the sleeve of their jacket. "And she didn't know the code we set up."

Eyes falling to the blankets, they take a moment to ensure they leave emotion out of the telling. Baird stays where he's curled, his eyes on his summoner now. "She pulled a gun to keep me from leaving. She says she's you. Like a— like a doppelganger. I don't know. She said she wanted to make me hate you, so she— she stood there with the gun and just kept talking until I screamed at her to stop." Their eyes close hard, and when they reopen, they don't lift.

"She said she read your diary," Seren offers up faintly. "She texted me from your phone number to— to lure me to Cat's."

With a weak smile and an even smaller huff of laughter, they share miserably, "She's married. That's how I knew for sure she wasn't you. I asked— I asked her to think about what makes her happy. She lied and said it was me. And then— I made her real, the way I make Baird real." Arms pulling into a fold that's more like a self-hug, they finally glance up to Rue. "She tried to explain it away, so I asked the question, and then…"

Well. She knows the rest.

At first, Rue’s confused. Who is she? But once Seren mentions the code, the blood drains from her face again. The impostor. The only thing keeping her from spiralling into a full on panic is the fact that Seren is here with her right now. She knows this story doesn’t end in the worst way imaginable.

It just doesn’t end well, either.

“Oh god,” she breathes out when they finish. “I never— Never wanted you to get caught up in any of this.” Now Rue has to reckon with the fact that she couldn’t protect them. That this person — this other her — knows enough about her to… ruin her life like this.

No. That’s not true. The only one that ruined this is Rue herself. Not some double.

“I’m so sorry, Seren.” It’s not nearly enough, but it’s the only place she knows how to start. “I’ve done such horrible things to you. I’ve put you in a terrible position. I’ve put you in danger.

Seren shakes their head, trying to find Rue's hand again. To hold on tightly like they fear if they let go, somehow she might slip away. "No," they try to argue. "It… I know you'd never want to hurt me." Even though she had.

"It…" It was different, right? It wasn't intentional hurt, what she'd done.

She'd just hoped they'd never find out.

A stress of breath leaves them abruptly, and Baird shifts in his nested spot. "Give us a minute, bud," Seren asks of him before he can even finish coming to his feet, leaving his amber eyes to look repeatedly between both humans.

“It doesn’t matter what I intended.” Rue doesn’t attempt to pull her hand away, but nor does she squeeze back, as much as she might like to. “Just associating with me put you in danger. I— I couldn’t live with myself if something had happened to you.”

She can barely live with herself now.

Rue is devastated. She stares off at nothing, an emptiness behind her eyes, but also pain. “You’re better off without me. You’re safer without me.” Her focus goes back to Seren. Now, she’s pleading. “If she wanted to hurt me so badly that she— If she sees us together, still… What if she hurts you? Like, really hurts you?” She’s terrified of that.

All Seren can do is shake their head, pulling her hand to their mouth to press a kiss to her knuckles. They want to argue. They want badly to say that wouldn't happen. But…

"I don't want to give up on you. I don't want to give up on us," is the extent of what they're able to express. But there's not challenge in it— not a desperate holding onto. That becomes clear when they look back up at Rue directly, forehead creased with sadness on top of the other complicated emotions they're feeling currently. "… Can I at least stay for the night? I can't— I couldn't leave you alone here like this."

It's a selfish request, maybe, but they don't shy from it. It's not the other Rue they fear in this moment. It's losing all the good they have with this one.

Seren’s acceptance makes this easier and harder all at once. The kiss to her knuckles is met with more tears shed from Rue. “I know… You’re too good to want to give up.” But that doesn’t mean they can make it work, either. With the trust Rue’s broken and looming threat of her double… This is the right thing to do.

“One more night, huh?” Rue asks quietly. “Yeah, okay.” Now, she manages to squeeze their hand. “Sorry I can’t make it a good one.”

"Could be worse," Seren supplies gently. "Could've said no." A flicker of a smile is the most they're able to manage. "And we had plenty of good times before this."

Their hand holds on tightly to hers now. It's clear they're doing everything they can to not jeopardize this fragile limbo they've entered into. The bargaining for just one night more is the only thing letting them accept, on the surface level, Rue's signal they should decouple.

It'll be harder tomorrow. Much harder. And not to mention the days after.

So intent on putting on a brave face, they don't notice Baird's tiny hops up the side of the bed until his now-blue nose snuffles against the side of their hand clasped with Rue's. His appearance gives Seren the comfort that at least they won't be alone when they leave. Not entirely.

They sit upright, seguing with a forced bright, "I'll do anything to make today not terrible, at least. I know 'good' is off the table, but…" With their free hand they wipe their tears away again. "Is there anything you want here you don't have? A book, music…" For just a moment they shift a look to the TV, taking in breath to ask if she wanted that on, but something in their gut tells them if that were the case, it'd already be done.

It will be harder for both of them. Rue has to convince herself — has, for the most part — that this is the right choice. That it’s going to hurt, and hurt like hell, but it’s what’s safest for Seren. Seren is what’s important to Rue right now. Their safety. Their happiness will come to them again later. It has to.

Even now, they’re trying to comfort her when Rue doesn’t feel she deserves it. She sighs softly and gives her head the barest shake. “Just you, Seren.

“Just you.”

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