Rumor and Imagination


rue_icon.gif seren_icon.gif

Scene Title Rumor and Imagination
Synopsis With uncertainty looming on the horizon, Rue seeks a distraction in Seren.
Date February 27, 2020

The Bunker

Rue: We’re wheels up in 19 hours. I don’t know when we’ll be back again. Raincheck for my birthday? I love you.
Message Sent: 18:32 February 27, 2020

Seren: Hold tight. I'm bringing you a cupcake.

Never in her wildest dreams did Rue expect that Seren Evans would make the drive up to Rochester from the Safe Zone in order to see her off before an op. They have their own plans for the weekend. Seeing each other for her birthday on Saturday was never a given. Now it’s almost certainly out of the question.

It’s after dark when the car pulls up outside. Much of the nearby area is still cordoned off by law enforcement of this branch or that municipality. Rue is out the door of the Bunker like a shot to meet her paramour at the curb, throwing her arms around them and pulling them in for a deep, passionate kiss.

"Hey! Hey." Seren protests against Rue's lips, rocking from side to side to better absorb the impact from her barrelling collision. Grinning, they press one last quick kiss to her. "Easy there, you. Gonna knock me all the way back to the Safe Zone at this rate." They lift their hands to cup the sides of Rue's face fondly before looking past her to the outline of the Bunker, their smile fading a bit at seeing it. They lean their hip into the driver's door again to confirm it's really shut, then pick up their night bag and a brightly-colored cake box off the hood of the car.

"You think I'd really let you run off without celebrating your birthday?" they ask, turning back to her. That smile returns with all its earlier warmth, uncertainty and out-of-place-ness regarding their proximity to the Bunker completely overshadowed by Rue's presence. "If we can celebrate it late, we can celebrate it early. You're just lucky my flight's not until tomorrow morning."

Very early, in fact, but Rue doesn't need to know or worry about that.

Rue smiles shakily, but in the way that shows she’s overwhelmed with the good kind of emotions, when Seren touches her face. It takes her will to allow them to slip free from her embrace, but it’s February (the month), and it’s warmer inside. Plus, February (the woman) isn’t 21 anymore, and making out on the hood of a car just doesn’t have the same appeal it used to.

“You didn’t have to come,” Rue says with a note of apology about how tired she knows Seren is going to be for their flight in the morning. “But I’m glad you did.” She takes the cake box from Seren and tilts her head toward the building she ran out of, starting in that direction.

Once inside, Rue leads Seren to the kitchen-plus-lounge so she can set the box down on the counter. Then, she encourages them to lower their bag to the floor so she can reach for them again.

The mood in the Bunker is… odd. It’s likely Seren hasn’t really been in this sort of command center before. It’s like there’s an oppressive tension in the air. There’s obvious activity happening further down the halls and behind closed doors, but none of it’s visible. It’s both somber and frenetic at the same time.

Or perhaps that’s just Rue.

It's not just her, she doesn't think. Sure, the Bastion in New York had its own distinct energy, but this place?… this place was different all in its own way. With a small smile Seren reaches for Rue's waist to settle their arms round her comfortably. "I didn't bring a candle," they confide in an undertone. "But I do have a lighter. Think that'll do in a pinch?"

Still murmuring, their brow arches up. "You've gotta make a birthday wish. Those are the rules."

They might've made them up, but hey, maybe they exist in someone else's rulebook too.

Seren does their best to mind only that, and not the odd tension that surrounds them and binds them together at this very moment. Pleasant distractions only— another rule they decide on in this moment.

Rue cups Seren’s face in her hands and leans down to kiss them. It’s not like the other times. Even in their most heated moments, Rue is tender. Gentle. This is not that, but it isn’t rough or hard, either. But there isn’t that loving element to it. As Rue’s fingers curl against the back of Seren’s head, it’s a desperation that they feel from her.

You,” Rue whispers against Seren’s mouth when she parts to allow them both to catch their breath. “I wished for you.” And then she’s pressing in again, her right hand slipping down to Seren’s neck, her thumb along their jawline to nudge up as she seems to need to devour them.

The need in that kiss brings surprise to reflect in Seren's eyes when they open again, left breathless by it. Their cheeks have flushed with warmth, their lean back against the counter more supportive than it was a few moments earlier.

A Japanese woman seated in the adjacent lounge clears her throat, looking up from the laptop she's curled up with for just a moment before returning her attention down to it.

Seren lets out a soft murmur into Rue's cheek, the hands set on her hips firming in their grip in a passive attempt to slow her down. "Maybe we skip blowing out the candles, then," they suggest quietly. "And straight to opening up your present?"

"Not here, though?" is whispered with a tinge of nervous energy to it, thumb brushing Rue's side.

Well. Rue stares over the top of Seren’s head after she’s pulled away, silently as mortified as she suspects Seren feels right now when she hears that throat clear behind her. How had she missed that someone else was already in here? That isn’t like her. There’s a sinking feeling in her gut that she’s gotten sloppy.

But if it’s only the Bunker where she lapses, among her allies, then that will be acceptable. Letting out a slow exhale of a breath she’d been holding for several seconds, Rue slowly disengages from Seren. “Cake will still be here,” she promises. She does not glance back at the lounge’s occupant, doesn’t offer an apology. She just gestures toward the hallway and keeps her gaze fixed straight ahead and she leads the way toward her quarters.

The corridor walk is tense in an entirely different way now. It's not the tension of others— of the atmosphere— that informs their own. Seren walks with an arm around Rue's side through the halls, pace hurried. They walk with their bag slung over their shoulder only for it to be dumped as soon as they reach her space. As soon as it's tossed aside, they're more than happy to push the door shut behind them both to give them a slice of quiet and space all to themselves.

"You want to talk about this at all, or…?" Seren wonders, feigning idleness to their purpose. They press a soft kiss to the curve of Rue's neck while letting her decide. "Because I'm okay with either. Or we can just move straight to the unboxing."

Because that was definitely a vibe Rue was putting off. No way they were imagining that.

Rue doesn’t answer with words but by pushing the coat off Seren’s shoulders and reaching for the hem of their shirt to pull up. Once they’ve managed to wriggle them out of it, she pushes them up against the door, kissing hungrily again. Like she might as well be drawing air from Seren’s lungs into her own.

It’s not just lust, though. Seren can feel it. Rue is scared and this is how she’s choosing to deal with it. To distract from it. There’s a shift in her stance, a knee pressing lightly against Seren as she trails kisses now along their jaw and up to their ear.

For Seren, it's impossible not to feel that tension, the nerves in it. They respond by being slow and firm with the roam of their own hands, for all that Rue rushes. Even so, their breath heavies with the way Rue leans into them, with her knee, her hands, her mouth…

Abruptly they abandon course and push back in to her, directing them away from the door. Less-skilled hands begin to draw Rue's shirt up, tossing it aside to leave both of them in nothing but their undergarments above the waist. Seren doesn't bother to undo the binding around their chest, devoting their attention to Rue instead. Pushing her back in the direction of the bed, they nudge their bag along with the tip of their foot so it follows them over.

Only once they're closer do they murmur, "Lie back, love," while streaking kisses down her torso, her belly. They gradually drop to a knee to unzip the night bag they've brought with them.

They'd thought to bring more than just a change of clothes, given the occasion.

There’s a small surprise at Seren taking control of the situation, but it’s a control Rue easily relinquishes to them, allowing them to guide her backward toward the double bed on the far side of the small room. When the backs of her knees collide with the mattress, she drops smoothly to sit. While they trail kisses, she does undo the fastenings at her back and tosses her bra away like she’s making a freethrow. It lands with a quiet rustle on her desk on the opposite side of the room, and a louder thunk when it knocks a picture frame down onto its front.

Good at accepting orders, Rue leans back until she can prop herself up on her elbows on the mattress, then lowers herself the rest of the way flat. She takes the moment to catch her breath a little and look up at the ceiling while she tries to banish her jumbled thoughts and live in this moment. This moment that might be the last she has like this.

Not being in a similar rush, not fully appreciating the thoughts that need run from, Seren's pace leaves plenty of room for such thoughts to take place, at least in the immediate. Despite that, her need is clearly understood. What was retrieved from the bag is set beside Rue in favor of unfastening her pants instead, pulling them down if not off entirely— not yet. The trail of firm kisses down her body find hip, then thigh, then…

"Maybe we leave it just at your birthday present," Seren murmurs out, a tremble in their voice and their hands as they lean back from Rue slowly, careful only now after the frenzy has subsided. A breathless laugh passes from them as they lean on one hand on the mattress.

Then, with a lazy turn of their head back, they climb up onto the bed itself, sliding over Rue's slumping form. At her shoulderblades, their head dips to kiss gently all the way up to her neck before they lay down atop her, one hand finding the back of hers and lacing their fingers through hers from the top. They lie their head in the space between her shoulder and neck, certain their heart must be thumping right through their chest to the point their partner can feel it. "So that was new." finally comes from Seren in a warm, timid whisper, their head turning just slightly to kiss Rue's neck and nuzzle into it. They arch their back for just a moment to adjust the settle of their bound chest before easing their weight partially back down on her. They chuckle, adjusting the lace of their fingers with hers.

"Hopefully it was enough of a thank-you for the gift you got me," they wonder softly, like speaking too much louder runs the risk of piercing the veil of privacy they'd tried so hard maintain since slipping back to Rue's room. "And I hope it's not cheating that I enjoyed it as much as you did."

If anything, it had seemed like Seren was going to be the one to be the one to crack and fail to keep their voice down.

Rue is perfectly content to let Seren talk while she slowly stretches out into a sprawl across her bed, splayed out on her stomach and catching her breath. “Mmhm,” she murmurs absently, turning her head against her pillow, facing away from her partner for the moment so she isn’t panting (however softly) in their face.

Then her eyes snap open as she realizes —

Oh, shit.

Today is Seren’s birthday.

She’d been so wrapped up in the plans for her own celebration that she’d entirely forgotten. To be fair, they had never told her, but Rue is an investigator. If her public records search hadn’t turned anything up — and it did — then the time she checked their ID while they were in another room did it.


“I was gonna plow you for your birthday,” Rue admits, turning her head again to look at Seren now. She’d prop up on her elbow for a better view, but they’re still laying on top of her, and she’s kind of okay with that. “I… didn’t get you anything else.” So what are they talking about? And should she be concerned?

"I didn't think I'd told you, anyway, so… don't worry," Seren assures, kissing Rue's shoulder before untangling their fingers and propping themself up onto their forearms to let her readjust. They slowly tip to the side, a telltale indicator they might give up on their bridge and just lie down beside her very soon. "But a package came today— this really ornately-bound book of fairy tales— and I thought it'd come from you. It was a very sweet gesture. There was no name, so I thought it was you, but…"

And there Seren goes, plopping beside Rue tiredly, one arm bending to create a pillow for them out of their forearm while the other drapes over her side to keep her close. Knee nudges its way between knees to hook a calf around hers, continuing to snare them both together. "I guess now I have to figure out who else knows about my terrible secret," they say, voice a little too heavy for it to entirely be a joke. They sigh, nestling their head in and leaving bared the side of their neck adorned with scripted tattoo and two faded parallel lines.

It takes them only a moment to decide they don't want to linger on the topic. Rue's birthday and the celebration of it was fine, but their own is a subject fraught with complicated emotions they'd rather just bury. Instead, they let their eyes go back to Rue's. "You okay?" Seren softly asks, the tips of their fingers tracing up and down her spine in gentle motions. "Or… okay now, I guess I should ask."

“I’m mad I didn’t think of that myself,” Rue admits when Seren tells her about their anonymous gift. “Well…” She’s already trying to puzzle out who the culprit might be. This is the sort of thing she just does. “It could be Mister or Miss Ray? They’d have your birthdate on file from HR.” She’d like to think it’s something innocuous like that, and not a stalker whose ass she’s going to need to kick when she gets back from the coast.

If she gets back from the coast.

Rue shakes her head slowly. “Not really. But… It’s not for lack of trying.” She smiles and nudges forward to kiss their lips gently. “Better than I was, but not better completely,” she clarifies. “I’m always… Always a little nervous before a big op.” Okay, more like a lot nervous. “I try not to let on. The others need me to lead.”

She tucks one arm between the pillow and the mattress under her head and snakes the other under Seren’s elbow to rest on their hip. Just to be this close to them is good. “I’m glad you’re here tonight.”

Seren's lips flicker back in a ghost of a smile. "I'm glad to be here. Not sure I can do anything to make you feel better aside from promise to be here when you get back, but… I'll do my best." Their brow is the next to twinge, earnest concern visible before it melts away for lack of judgment to take its place. "If you need to be vulnerable for a minute, you can be. It's just the two of us." Hand resting low on her back, they pause in their trace to give her an encouraging tap. "And then you'll button it up and be the brave bitch of a leader you need to be." It's strong language, but Rue's a strong woman.

They're unable to consider her return as an if. Not now. Maybe not at all, if they can help it. But the looming threat of it alone, properly acknowledged or not, is enough for them to shimmy on the side of their arm just an inch or two closer to her, that much closer to nose-to-nose proximity.

"Little glad Baird stayed at home," they admit softly, like perhaps if it can't properly be heard it won't be a reality, much less one they're acknowledging. "Even if this is our first birthday apart, it was… really nice to have this time just the two of us."

“It is a little strange seeing you without Baird, I gotta admit.” And while she regrets saying those particular words just about as soon as they leave her lips, they’re a marvelous deflection from everything else she doesn’t want to talk about. “But… I’m glad it’s just you and I for once.” She’s quick to assure, “You know I love Baird. And there’s no but attached to that. I love Baird. Baird is part of you, and I love all of you.”

This time she does catch herself before saying something stupid. Something like it must be nice to be able to just leave a part of yourself at the door. It doesn’t really work that way, and Rue knows it.

“Did half-expect Orchid to make an appearance, though.” Rue grins and scoots a little closer. “This is exactly the sort of party she’d love to break up.” Pointing her toes as she stretches her leg out for an anchor, she arches sideways with that tucked-under arm bracing her from the top side so she can rap the knuckles of her other hand against the wood headboard.

Peskipiksi pesternomi.

Her hand flutters back down to Seren’s face as Rue relaxes her body from its stretch again, leaning in for a kiss.

An involuntary, weak smile comes to Seren this time at the mention of the summoner's pixie friend. "Yeah…" For just a moment their eyes flicker silver, but they shut them hard and work to clear their mind, to control their ability rather than let it control them, for once. The muscles on the side of their neck shift the script tattooed on the side of it ever so slightly as they endeavor to hold that peace after opening their eyes again.

That distraction of a kiss doesn't help, unfortunately. How nice it would be if it were so simple, but they aren't off the hook there just yet.

"She's trying out a new name right now, too, so she's extra fussy when people get it wrong currently," Seren asides with a small smile.

After, they lift their hand to gently brush Rue's cheek with the back of their knuckles. They've not forgotten the earlier topic, they mean to remind as gently as possible.

“Hey…” Rue recognizes Seren’s struggle. “You never have to hold back for me.” Except maybe if it’s going to result in her thinking she’s about to drown. Then a little attempt at restraint would be appreciated. But that’s only ever happened the once.

Her hand starts to roam down Seren’s side slowly, but stops at their hip, when she feels the gentle probing of the soundless current of their words. Her eyes lock on theirs while she debates how badly she doesn’t want to talk about the burden of her soul. It shows in the way her hand starts to crest the curve of their hip, poised to travel down the valley between their two bodies, but she stops.

“I don’t like to be vulnerable,” Rue admits finally. “Vulnerable for me, in my line of work, is weak. And weak is dead.” She sniffs sharply, leaning back just before she does. Not out of any desire to lessen their proximity, or to accentuate some metaphorical divide between them with a physical one. Her hand wanders back down the opposite side of that hill, settling in at the base of their spine and then moving up just a little further. Like where her hand might have settled for a high school dance, while the chaperones are watching.

When Rue tries to reassure them, Seren only shakes their head. It's fine, they try to convey, but they might be fooling themself. At least she understands and gives them leave. The tension leaves them, their head sinking back into their arm and their shoulder relaxing while they listen to the sound of her silence, waiting for the words to eventually come.

By the time they do, Seren's side has grown soft with moss, the trail of Rue's fingers leaving behind tiny blossoming growth in their wake. The smallest of flowers nest in the moss, the growth warm to the touch when it's grazed again.

They simply wait patiently through it all, no attempts made to disguise the manifestation those light touches elicit— and no attempts to hide them.

"I understand," comes from them in a soft whisper. "But that's then, and that's them. And this is now… and this is us." Seren lets their thumb brush her cheek before letting their hand fall to rest between them, curled loosely between their hearts while they don't break gaze on Rue.

“I don’t know how to do it.” There’s a sad little smile from Rue at that. She takes a moment to focus on and appreciate the moss and the flowers that appear on Seren’s skin. This beautiful manifestation of their contentment. This proof that even if she is unable to put herself at ease, she can at least do that for them.

And the two of them are so very different in that regard. Slowly, Rue strokes her thumb back and forth over Seren’s skin, marveling at how she feels the correct texture, but also doesn’t. It gives her something for her mind to wander over and through while organizing her thoughts.

“Avi sees it in me.” Of this, Rue is certain. There is one person in this world she is vulnerable with, and it’s only because she knows she can’t hide it from him. He knew her before. Knew her while she was still a frightened girl. He knows what it looks like when that part of her tries to come out again. “That’s bad enough.” Even if she’s comfortable with his knowledge of her weakness.

Ginger curls whisper against the pillow case with a slight shake of Rue’s head. “Telling you is worse.” Her fingers trail slowly and lightly up the length of Seren’s spine. “I wanted… I’ve always tried to let you believe that I’m fearless. That I’m convinced I’ll come back every time.”

But she doesn’t believe it.

“I’ve outlived— I wasn’t supposed to live this long.” Rue swallows uneasily. Her hand lifts from Seren then to press against her own throat, massaging at it with her fingers. Fingers which, until they make that contact and establish that pressure, tremble visibly. “I should be dead, and I’m not.” Living her own death, even in a dream, has left a profound impact on her.

“The bomb should have killed me. The flu should have killed me. I should have been hanged by my friends. I should have died in the attack on the castle. The war should have killed me.” Rue meets Seren’s gaze. This time, she doesn’t hide her fear. Her lips press together, roll against each other between the blunted press of teeth from the inside, pushing back the onslaught of further emotion than she’s already allowing. “My luck is bound to run out. Each time, each mission, each op… That scale shifts closer to sooner than later.”

It’s a revelation then to say, “But I don’t know any other way to live.”

Seren's chest rises and falls with even breaths while they listen, their attention free of judgment of any kind. They wait until it's clear Rue has finished what she means to say before offering up gently, "Change can be just as scary, maybe scarier than whatever situations you face here. Your normal is your normal, no matter how traumatic it might be."

Whatever fear that rises in Seren at seeing Rue acknowledge the danger she faces is firmly kept in check, covered over with a calm expression. The hand between them turns over, the curl of it loosening to expose their palm in a silent offer for her hand.

"I'm here for you, scared or brave, good or bad. I cherish every moment with you for all my own reasons, and you know that. And I…" Seren's eyes half-lid, the silver gleam around their eyes still visible as their gaze resettles to Rue again. "I won't push you toward any path, but selfishly, I want to shroud you in four leaf clovers, horseshoes and iron, and sevens and eights, sayings and rainbows. I want your luck to never run out, and to be able to hold onto you forever. I want later to never come."

"You'll come back. I know you will." Their lips pull back in a small smile before they confess, "I can't imagine it any other way, Rue." Carefully, they lean forward to kiss her again.

“You are… so good,” Rue murmurs, just before pressing her lips to theirs. She takes the offered hand and curls her fingers loosely around it, eyes closing. “I don’t deserve you,” she insists when they part. “I really don’t.”

“If I didn’t have this… If I didn’t have my work… If I wasn’t trying to save the world?” Rue shakes her head. “I don’t know what I’d do. I’d feel like I’m not doing anything. Or not enough.” She sighs quietly. “Hopefully my hand won’t be threes and sevens tomorrow.”

With a peck of a kiss to the tip of Rue's nose, Seren assures, "It won't be. Positive thinking. You'll kick some ass."

Whoever's ass that happened to be.

This time when their head sinks back down, though, it's with an especial heaviness to it, their brow starting to furrow. Something starts to weigh them down, the wondrous silver fading from their eyes and their skin becoming skin again. "I… should probably think about hitting the road, though. Maybe we have time to blow out candles still, or we could just…"

Their hand squeezes hers gently. Or they could stay like this. Just a moment longer.

Rue opens her eyes again to fix Seren with a sad look. They’re right, they should get ready to get on the road again. But Rue doesn’t want them to go. And she, in turn, does not want to leave tomorrow. Not if there’s a possibility that they may stay in her bed.

“This… You were exactly what I needed tonight.” Their hand is squeezed tightly. “Even if I’m still scared… I still feel better, because you were here.” Maybe tomorrow will go better than she fears it will. It usually does, after all. Maybe she can be positive herself for a change.

Well, she is positive that everything’s going to go pear-shaped tomorrow. Does that count as positivity?

“I don’t know when I’ll be back,” she reminds, “but I’ll get in touch when I can. Leave me a voicemail when you get back from Detroit if you haven’t heard from me by then, okay?” Reluctantly, Rue starts to push herself up to sit.

"I will." Seren promises, even as they sigh and lean down on their arm, beginning to gather themself together. Their nose wrinkles at the thought of the drive ahead, the flight in the morning. "Man…"

But there's the positives, after all. They shake their head. "You know what?" Words meant for no one but themself. "It was still worth it. One hundred percent." Ambling off the side of the bed, they snatch up their undergarments and pants, sloughing them back on and fastening the buttons. They pause, still shirtless, to smile at Rue.

"I got to see you, after all. And let you know you're gonna do great." Cupping Rue's face in their hands, they nod with serene knowing. "You got this."

Slipping away, Seren collects their undershirt and works it back over their head, shoving the rest of their clothes and the toy back in their bag before grabbing their coat. Anything else, they're not sure what to say. They wanted to go through the motions of preparing to go without actually leaving, though, visible in their disappointment as they look back to Rue and realize they're basically ready.


"You know…" they suggest with false innocence, mischievous hope to it. "If you're not satisfied yet, though, I could fix that before I go." The offer is made with a quirk of their head and a lift of their brow.

While Seren starts to redress, Rue scoots to sit at the very edge of the bed, resting her hands on her thighs while letting her toes touch the cool floor below, and watching. Each article of clothing is another step closer to the door and it’s a bittersweet thing. But she smiles when Seren cups her face and delivers their assurances. The pep talk has been a good one. Helpful and necessary.

But the rest of their things are packed and Rue glances away for a moment, as if that might make it easier for both of them to let them go. She should pull on a robe or something and walk them to the door, rather than expect them to sort of… walk of shame their way out. Hell, she should be strutting her way through the halls with her head held high, a victory lap of sorts.

Instead, Seren places the ball in her court, offering to delay the inevitable. The correct answer is to promise that she’s fine and to insist that her paramour make their way back to the Safe Zone to try and get some sleep before their early morning flight. But fuck should.

Rue’s hands slide down her thighs, mirroring their expression with an impishness of her own. She spreads her knees apart.

Seren tosses their coat back to the ground, a small grin coming over them in tandem with a rush making its way under their skin. "I was hoping you'd say that," they admit.

This, the forwardness and boldness, was still new and carried with it exhilaration with every movement and every word. They hope it won't fade.

It's a small, wonderful example that not all change is bad.

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