So They Imagined


rue4_icon.gif seren2_icon.gif

Scene Title So They Imagined
Synopsis As soon as Rue gets back to town after her trip abroad, there's someone she's decided she has to see.
Date December 16, 2020

Red Hook

The text message had been a simple thing:

I have to see you.

A short back and forth later and Rue is waiting on the sidewalk out front of the townhouse she splits with Elliot, wanting to make sure she leads her guest to the correct entrance, rather than risk them knocking on her landlord’s door.

(Don’t tell Elliot she even thought the word landlord in reference to him.)

It’s Baird she spots first, because Baird doesn’t need to bundle up against the snow in the same way his summoner does. Rue pulls the knitted beanie off her head and lets her ginger hair act as a beacon to call them to her. Cap still in hand, she waves to her friend, feeling Seren is still far enough out that Rue feels self-conscious about lifting her voice in greeting.

Baird doesn't often spread his wings and go flying off on his own despite having them, but there are exception cases. One of them definitely was getting to see Rue again, no matter the tone involved with the message that was sent. The mauve, purple, and grey lynx-eagle gryphon thankfully bears the full face of a cat, making his reaction easier to interpret.

Save for the excited clicking chirping of an eagle as he angles for Rue's shoulder, looking too large to perch properly, and more like he's about to—

Seren's hand lifted in a wave falters, as does the smile they've given her from afar. With a softly-murmured, "Oh, god damn it." Baird collides with Rue's chest, the impact not what it could have been had he not buffeted his wings out at the last second. But the gangly, large-pawed creature lands paws on her shoulder, the rest of him on her torso, purring so loud as to be obnoxious.

His summoner leans forward into a jog to close the last of the distance. "Jesus, Baird, you're too big for that kind of hello!" Seren scolds him.

The smile falls away suddenly from Rue’s face, blue eyes going wide when she realizes what’s about to happen. “Oh no—”


Rue staggers back one step, then another, bringing her arms up quickly to make sure she can support the chimera from beneath, rather than inadvertently encourage the dig of claws into her jacket, or further. “Hey, buddy,” she greets with a quiet cheerfulness. “Good to see you, too.”

Her eyes come up when the sound of Seren’s boots on the pavement grow close enough to indicate they’ve reached conversational distance. “Hi.” Rue breathes out, an uncertain sort of smile curving her lips. “I’ve got a fire going inside. Shall we?”

There’s not a scenario she envisions in which the answer to that question is no, so she starts leading the way down the steps in front of the building, to a mag locked gate that stretches from the concrete floor to fit neatly against the molded arch overhead. It requires a code for entry. Rue shifts Baird to one arm so she can tap on the keypad silently, only a green light and a soft click to indicate that the sequence was accepted and entry is now granted.

Over the back of Rue's shoulder, Seren meets their familiar's eyes in a disparaging narrow. The gryphon meets their gaze with a pleased narrowing of his own eyes. And they said he was too cumbersome to be held today. The stares break off by the time Rue turns back, the grey-eyed summoner straightening with a small smile while Baird's nubby tail with its grey tips flick in satisfaction.

The black iron is nudged open with one boot and Seren is waved through before Rue follows, leaning back on the portal to ensure it’s latched before she steps past the empty planters and fuchsia bicycle that occupy the covered space outside the entrance to her garden level apartment. This door she left unlocked, so it’s with a twist of the knob that she pushes it open and leads the way into…

A very sparsely decorated living room. It’s better than the situation she had at Cat’s Cradle, but there’s still a stack of milk crates sufficing as a dining table for one, a laptop stand or end table in front of a sofa that — while not secondhand — is nothing special. Just a basic three-seat, beige upholstered thing that will look ten years old in about a year.

But true to her promise, there’s a fire burning in the hearth, and that part is cozy. “I’ve only been in this place for about a week and a half, effectively? I haven’t really had a chance to decorate yet. I bought the cheapest couch just so I’d have something. Try not to judge me too harsh?”

At least it’s not a desk, a double bed, and a pair of chairs at a cafe table in a concrete room. The open kitchen and dining area must be well-lit in the daylight, but the overhead lights do well for it, too. From there, there are five other rooms. Two doors are closed — likely utilities — while a third shows a peek of tiled floors and walls, and the fourth carpeting and clean white paint. The fifth door stands ajar at the end of the space, partially obscuring her bedroom and where it leads out to the entrance to the garden out back.

Baird gets set down on the couch in front of the fire. “Settle in here if you like,” she tells him. “Or you can head out to the back yard, if you want to explore. I just need to talk to my favorite sorcerer over here.” Rue flickers a nervous little grin to Seren.

On the verge of making biscuits into the couch in a space he definitely shouldn't be making himself at home, Baird's golden eyes twinkle at the thought of exploring. He chirps in a way that's neither quite cat or eagle, looking to Seren. They arch their brow at him.

"Go on, then," they wave him on, and he needs no further encouragement. Off Baird goes bounding, out for the back, through the door.

Whatever mess he gets into out there padding around is silent, unseen. Even to those onlooking. Seren's shoulders slump slightly in relief, looking back to Rue. At least they get to have this chat alone.

"I'm— really sorry about him," they apologize quietly. "We've just not really gotten out much since…" Trailing off, the grey in their eyes seems to darken before they flick down and back up. "So he's just— excited. Glad to see others."

Glad to see you.

Seren blinks away before they can put their foot in their mouth, gesturing to the fire and the sparse furniture. "Hey, you're doing better than I was a week and a half after I moved… and Raytech provided all my furniture," they joke. A forced smile later, they're sure, "It won't take long to turn this place into a home, I'm sure. And I'm glad you've got somewhere, now— somewhere that's not…"

No, there goes their foot after all.

"Y-you wanted to see me?" Seren hastily asks to hand things back to Rue decisively, trying to reright the poorly distribution on the conversational ebb and flow.

“You literally never have to apologize for Baird,” Rue assures with a shake of her head. “He’s great, no matter what form he takes or how many times he might just about knock me over or try to build a nest in my hair.” After all, he’s part of Seren, and what about that isn’t worth welcoming into her heart?

Bringing a hand up to reach under the bushy mess of her curls, she rubs the back of her neck, smiling sheepishly. “The place was furnished, but I couldn’t just… I wanted to start from scratch for once. I wanted something that’s mine. So, I had everything put into storage and started fresh.” Rue grimaces. “In hindsight, I should have replaced everything piece by piece? But it was so much more economical to have it all moved at once.”

None of that is here or there, though.

Rue’s face falls along with her hand at her side. “I do want to see you. I—” What follows is not the most considerate move, it isn’t wise and it isn’t fair. All the same, Rue reaches out for Seren, to cup their face as though it would serve as an anchor point as she draws herself in and presses a desperate kiss to their lips.

With a shiver, Seren's shoulders slope and they lean into the kiss with only a fraction of the longing they've felt all this time. As much as they've missed her, kissing her softly seems more important, lifting their hands to—

But then they remember something very important.

"Rue," Seren breathes out as they turn their head away and down. Their hand is planted firmly on her shoulder as a brace between them now. "You're dating someone." The light in their grey eyes flickers between stances to take on this, but ultimately they stick to that. Their other hand lifts to brush over her bicep in a gesture of comfort rather than to assist in shoving her away.

"What's wrong?" they ask, trying to chase her gaze and still keep her close. "What's happened?"

Something must've. Mundane or Wolfhound-related or something else entirely, Rue had kissed them like her life depended on it.

“Ssshhh. No,” Rue whispers. “No.” Again, she leans in for a kiss. This time her cheeks are damp with tears cried otherwise silently. This time it’s softer. Her forehead stays resting against theirs, brushing noses. “Elliot knows,” she says quietly, unsure of how else to explain that.

“Seren Evans, I love you. I love you still. I haven’t stopped. I don’t think I can.” Somehow, they need to understand this. That even though Rue has been terrible to them in the past, it’s never been because she didn’t love them. Her being a shitty person has nothing to do with them.

Rue whimpers when she draws away just to take in the sight of them. “God,” she breathes out in awe, blue eyes shining with more tears that fall when she blinks. She admires the silver of Seren’s. “You are stunning.

The second time Rue kisses them, Seren doesn't reciprocate. Remembering where things lay between them rather than how either of them feel came first. Had to come first. But neither can they push her away. Not then, not when Rue professes she still loves them, and not when she pulls back, tears in her eyes.

Their brow furrows, conflict visible in the suddenly mundane greys of their eyes. They lift their hand from her shoulder to wipe at her cheek with their thumb.

"Rue, please, what's wrong?" The last time she acted like this… Seren frowns at the memory, their voice gentle and quiet, meaning to carefully point this out rather than rock the boat: "The last time you acted like this was your birthday. Before you left and were scared you wouldn't come back."

"I'm not here to sleep with you," they hate to have to clarify. No matter if Elliot knows, whatever that even means. "But I'm here for you." One hand finds one of Rue's, holding on to the back of it gently, fingers wrapping around hers where there's purchase. "Talk to me."

The rejection — rejections — hurt. But Rue knows she deserves it. Her chin dips toward her chest, face turning away slightly, but not shying away from the way Seren wipes away her tears. “I’m… I—” Her eyes close heavily. A deep breath is drawn in as she lifts her head again, this time ceilingward before she opens her eyes.

“The whole fucking world is going to end.”

It’s an awful thing to say, and Rue regrets it immediately. They’re better off not knowing, aren’t they? Isn’t it cruel to let them in on a secret like this?

“I mean…” Quick. What does she mean? “I just… I have an assignment, and if I fuck it up, things… Things won’t be good.” So it makes her sound a little dramatic. Rue doesn’t care. “I’ve been volun-fucking-told, and I’m afraid I won’t fucking do it. That I’m just going to—”

After a shuddering breath, she shakes her head. “If I didn’t tell you, I’d never forgive myself. You deserve to know how much you still mean to me.” Although Rue’s starting to second guess herself on that point as well.

When Rue says the world's going to end, there is no fading of the light from Seren's eyes. No loss of hope, no fear, but especially—

No confusion.

They sit calm and patient while Rue scrabbles to backtrack and cover over once more the giant bandage she's just ripped off. When she gets it all out, Seren lifts a hand to cup Rue's cheek, and they just hold it there for a long moment, looking at her while their eyes show they're elsewhere, lost in thought.

Their thumb brushes her cheek idly.

"I never told you what I saw, in Detroit," they murmur, the words themselves fragile. Spoken so softly like to not break the delicate peace within themself. "How the sky opened up. How I saw the end of the world. How a terrible nightmare I had once was suddenly unfolding. A black snake in a dream had whispered The Resurrection is coming, Rue. And I saw it happen."

For just a moment, they struggle with the summary. "I intervened in it— in what was happening," they admit, not sure how to put any more words to it than that. Their hand slips from Rue's cheek to fall by their side.

"And the hole in the sky didn't consume the city," Seren whispers. "And Eve died, but the thing in her didn't. The thing that made that happen… didn't."

They suddenly smile, trying to not focus on that as much. Instead, they reach for Rue's hand. "I always knew you were special, Rue. You're capable of so much. And I knew you love me. The same way I hope you know I'll always hold a candle for you."

Seren's brow begins to furrow. "But Rue— even if someone volunteered you for something… you can always say no. If you want to." Gently, they probe, "Do you want to?"

The explanation of what happened in Detroit has Rue transfixed. She’s heard Eve’s tale of it, but it’s always been a rambling, incoherent thing, obscured by smoke and red tendrils that made her shrink away. Her own alcoholic haze didn’t help matters any. None of it seemed real to her ears. It hardly seems real now, but… But.

Seren, even for all that big, beautiful imagination of theirs, wouldn’t come up with something like that.

“No, no. Don’t say that,” Rue begs when they grab her hand and tell her she’s special. “I’m not. I’m just a nobody. I don’t know why I was chosen for this. I…” She may not know why, but she knows there is a reason, and possibly she even knows what it is, if she’d dig for it. “I can’t say no.”

Tipping her head to one side, squeezing that hand in hers, Rue’s lips twitch in a brief smile. “I can’t trust anyone else with this shit, can I? I have to try. Because— Because if I don’t, and this all fails? If there’s even the smallest shred of a chance that I could have done something…”

There’s something fearful in her eyes. But the end of the world should be frightening, shouldn’t it? “I’m so not even remotely qualified for this,” Rue insists. “But I have to try. I have to. For…” The softening of her expression, the way her posture shifts, it finishes that thought for her.

For you.

Seren's eyes sting to the point they have to look away. A shallow breath comes from them as they remind themself to breathe.

A hard exhale finally expires breath out again, even though they haven't seemed to breathe in in that entire time. "I wish— you'd let me love you when you needed it most, Rue. I wish you hadn't pushed me away."

It's not fair to bring that up now, maybe, but life isn't fair. And it wasn't fair to them in the first place that Rue hadn't fought for them.

Their free hand comes up to wipe at the corner of their eye with a knuckle. "Because what can I possibly do with this now?" They try to smile, but stubbornly it refuses to come. "I want to support you, I want to be there for you, but we're not together anymore, and you're with somebody else. And I've never just wanted to be your friend."

"And I just—" Seren blinks hard again before they're wrapping both arms around Rue's shoulders, laying their head against it as they hold on with a desperate tightness. A frustrated tear of breath parts from them as they try not to cry, silver ringing their hidden eyes once more. "Fuck," they say afterward, on a rueful laugh.

Because what else is there to do at the situation and the way they see it?

“I couldn’t even love myself, Sere.” Rue hugs her former paramour back with just as much strength. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry for everything. For all of it. For hurting you.” Cradling Seren’s head to her shoulder, she simply cries for a time, gently swaying back and forth with them.

Taking in a ragged breath, she finds her voice again. “Sit with me, okay?” Slowly, she doesn’t quite extract herself from their arms, but she shifts so that she loops her arm around their shoulders and leads them over to the couch in front of the fire. She sits facing them, her legs tucked up criss-cross in front of her.

“We… don’t have to be just friends,” she proposes cautiously. “And I don’t mean sneaking around. Elliot and I are… open.” Rue feels the heat in her cheeks as she flushes pink at the admission. There’s embarrassment, but also a worry that Seren will condemn her. Judge her and find her wanting.

The concept of an open relationship isn't foreign to Seren as a concept. Just… foreign as it applies to them, and confusion mounts in their expression as they sit. They neither lean in nor draw back.

A scratch of a clawed paw sounds at the back door, along with a chuff of noise. Blinking rapidly, Seren turns their head in that direction, calling out, "Gimme a minute, Baird," without their eyes leaving Rue. It's only after that they find themself unable to look at her, unable to know what to do or what to say.

Their want for a second chance at them is nothing in the face of the confusion of feeling second even still, and their eyes water again as they try to find a way to put words to that. Each time they think they find some, their eyes sting further, shoulders pulling in to make themself smaller.

A shuddering breath finally comes from them as they look down at the fold of their legs on the couch, the pinch of their thumb and index finger pulling at the stitching on the side of their jeans.

If she was special, like Seren says, she could do something miraculous now. She could read their mind, maybe make rain fall from the sky to suit the mood. Or maybe she’d just know how to heal their broken heart(s).

“No, no.” This isn’t going at all how she hoped it would, although Rue would say she abandoned hope a long, long time ago. “Please don’t cry. It’s— It’s complicated, but it’s not like—” Not like what? “I never should have pushed you away. I was so scared. I was so scared that if you stayed close to me, you’d get hurt. I didn’t know what else to do.”

Rue closes her eyes heavily, more fat tears falling. “I was so worried about someone else hurting you that it turns out I am the only one who’s doing it.” Her heart sinks. She wants to shrivel up and die on the spot. “I hate myself for what I’ve done to you. I hate that I don’t know how to fix this.

She hates that she knows there’s no way she can.

Seren only shakes their head, hearing how Rue's voice breaks off. Their breath catches, and words still fail to come, but they shake their head more firmly and reach out for Rue. Inch by inch they shift themself closer until they're practically in Rue's lap, arms looping around her waist, head sinking forward onto her shoulder.

She tried, just now, to invite them back into her life. Maybe she can forgive this bit of closeness despite the complexity of their answer. Maybe it helps her, maybe it helps them. Either way, they leave their head on her shoulder.

Baird pads slowly back into the room, paws browned with mud. His gait is graceful as he comes back into view, wings folded but not quite nestled to his sides. He stops as he sees the two on the couch by the fire, then with a sinking of his head makes the rest of his way to the couch so he can set his chin on the cushion, nose against his summoner's thigh, eyes flit up to Rue's.

Seren's hand comes away from Rue's side to find his head, fingers burrowing in the down and fur on the back of his neck.

“I’m the worst,” Rue admits. “I’m no good for you, or for anybody.” She can practically feel the weight of Elliot’s reproachful gaze on her back, even though they aren’t linked right now. This was far too intimate a thing to allow for that sort of bleed back to him. “But I want to try to do better, be better, love you better than I did. I don’t know how to explain any of it. Any of this.”

The vocabulary to explain neither of you is second choice, you’re both first choice, just in different categories, and both categories are great doesn’t exist for her. Beyond, well, that inarticulate mess of nonsense.

One arm loops around the back of Seren’s shoulders again while the other hand reaches out to rest on Baird, quietly providing assurance to the summon while also hoping for the same in return.

“Tell me what you need.”

When Rue tries to downspeak herself for her foibles, Seren responds just as wordlessly, but more direct than they have been. They pinch her side in a nudge of two fingers, conveying their lack of acceptance of her self-negativity.

They finally sigh hard, knowing they can't hide from reality forever. Can't hide their face in Rue's shoulder forever.

"I really just need time to rewind," they admit in a hoarse voice. "And I don't know how far, I just know if we could go back— even to March…" But Seren trails off and lifts their head. They rub the side of their face against their own shoulder to rid of errant tears.

"But maybe you understanding why your suggestion is such a painful one is more in the realm of reasonable. Because it hurts, Rue." Their voice is small, their eyes yet to lift. "In ways I didn't know I could still hurt about us."

Rue squirms uncomfortably, but she knows she deserves that, too. “Me too,” she says of the rewind. There’s so much she’d do differently, take back. How is it fair that she knows others who got to fix things, but she has to live with the weight of her mistakes?

Everyone lives with that, no matter how they may manage to course correct a timeline.

“I wasn’t ready to be loved. I didn’t want to be. And when you found out about…” Rue withdraws somewhat. Her hands come back to herself and she seems to shrink up smaller than her frame should allow. “When you found out that I’d been screwing around, no matter how hard I’d tried to tell myself the whole time it was because we’d never drawn the boundary lines clearly, I just…”

Didn’t think she deserved it.

“I don’t know why I think any of this should be different.” The admission comes in a quiet whisper, strained from the outpouring of emotion. “I guess some part of me thought if I could just be open about what a fucking piece of shit I am, that maybe it would…” Make it okay? “I don’t know.”

Baird lifts his head off the couch to chuff at Rue, teeth nipping at her jacket in a distraction attempt.

Seren lifts their head properly to look at her. "I need you to stop calling yourself that. In all its forms." This request is stronger, accompanied by a reach for her withdrawn hand. "Just…" Their eyes close before they reiterate "Please." as they open them to look at her again.

And for a long moment, that's all they can do. Look. Finally they murmur, "How long before the world goes to shit?"

“I’ll try,” is all Rue can promise about not disparaging herself. She hasn’t been broken of it yet and she isn’t sure she ever can be.

When Seren lapses into silence, she lets them. For once, Rue doesn’t try to fill the silence for fear of it. What it represents or how it leaves her feeling her own thoughts are too loud and overwhelming. But when they speak again, she lifts her head, blinking and reaching absently again to ruffle Baird for comfort. “A couple of years at best. Less than that, probably, if this op doesn’t succeed.”

With a shake of their head as though the question they asked wasn't actually the question they meant, Seren asks another. "How long until you go?"

Meanwhile, Baird tilts his head into Rue's hand, neck arching up into her palm. Maybe his distraction tactic worked, and it's lead to this. He thinks himself very wise for all of this. He'll help guide the conversation his own way. A therapy lynx! Yes, that sounds wonderful.

Then a moment later some important piece of information gets flagged in Seren's brain and brought to the surface, a sudden urgency to their voice. "Who knows about it? You shouldn't do this alone, or at least— after Detroit, Mr. Ray admitted he was worried about this kind of stuff. Wanted to do something about it. Rue," they insist with earnest unknowing. "We should really talk to Raytech about this."

To the first question, Rue shakes her head. Had Seren meant to imply that the world will have gone to shit when she leaves? No, surely not. She’s reading too much into it. Reading into it what she wants to. Especially given the way she feels at this moment that the world would be a better place with her out of it.

“Mister Ray already knows.” She doesn’t have an answer for the first, so it’s the second portion she launches into, all the while continuing to show that absent affection to Baired that she can’t give to Seren. “An old friend from the Ferry will be with me. He’s CIA, so he’s actually had legitimate training to do the things that I used to do. None of that battlefield education bullshit like I had.”

There’s a glance given ceilingward, an unconscious thing, like she could see Elliot through the floorboards and acknowledge his role in molding her into the spy she became. Her mouth twitches into a smile briefly as she considers the way shared trauma brings people together.

“They’re sending—” Rue’s throat gets tight again suddenly, her eyes coming back to Seren and her brows knitting as she forces herself to keep looking at them. “They’re sending Elliot away, and… he may not come back.” Her lower lip rolls under, captured momentarily between the rows of her teeth as she wills her eyes to do no more than shine with the threat of tears.

“I’m not special,” the ginger insists again. “If I were, they could have sent me instead. Or… in addition, maybe. But I’m… not.”

Rue lets her eyes close and her chin dip. “You’re not a consolation prize, so don’t even start to think that. That’s not why I’m here with you right now. That’s not why I— It’s just not. Elliot leaving and my telling you I want to be with you again are unrelated things that just have the dumb shit luck of happening at the same time.”

Richard already knowing about Rue's mission is both confusing and disappointing. The news isn't bad, just— is the only thing Seren could think to offer to somehow help her, and it's not been of use. They're glad, at least, she won't be alone for whatever this is.

Whatever the hell it is.

Rue closes her eyes and apologizes, and Seren sits for a moment quietly, everything too much to really process on the spot. But…

Their lips graze Rue's in a soft kiss.

"You didn't tell me how long we've got," they remind her quietly enough they can barely hear themself speak.

“I don’t know,” Rue admits in a soft whisper, having leaned into that kiss and desperate to do it again. “Maybe I get the call to leave tomorrow. Maybe I get the call next week, or a month from now. Maybe more. I don’t know.” She looks up at them, helpless even as she smiles, troubled, and laughs, scared.

“The guy running this show is a real asshole.” An asshole who supposedly had praises for her. Just… behind her back. Rue shakes her head and lets out a heavy sigh.

Seren lifts their hand, setting it on Rue's shoulder first, but it quickly comes to cup the side of her neck. "That's stressful," they acknowledge sympathetically. They start to lean back in once more, but pause, hesitating when they let conscious thought dictate their actions rather than what's simple. What would feel nice now, even if it lead to something opposite later.

Because what if— what if

But Rue never lied to them before. Just omitted the truth. Still, they can't fear that somehow they'll be made a fool of. They try to remind themself of what she said, but it's hard. To do anything now feels wrong.

So instead, they shift their seat. They clamber around Rue's side to lean their back against the arm of the couch, and open their arms to her. "C'mere," they murmur, leaning forward to draw her against them, to pull her close. Baird jumps up on the other end of the couch, drying muddied paws and all.

What’s simple would be lovely, it’s true. It’s what Rue wants so badly. Just for the acceptance from this person she holds so dear. And it comes, just not in the form she thought she wanted.

Fitting herself against Seren, settled in the nest of their arms, that feels right. This is simple, too. This is acceptance, too. “I’m scared.” Her hand rests against their arm and rubs absently. “Scared to fail. To die.” The next one is worked out in the moment, surprising Rue. “Scared to fail and live.

Baird’s muddy paws are welcome.

"You've already done that one once," Seren murmurs as gently as they can, leaning the side of their head against the back of Rue's. "I have a feeling you'd manage. Maybe not well, but you'd manage."

Baird is there to soothe the ache of that tough love, padding forward to begin a spawl of paws in Rue's lap, legs agangle as he first leans back in a streeetch before lifting his mauve and grey head to sniff at her, amber eyes curious.

"You've got lessons you've learned from. Haven't you?" Seren's arms curled around her shoulders tighten. "You're not as helpless as you think, so long as you do more with your failures than flagellate yourself with them." Eyes closing, a long breath of something like relief leaves them. Baird, large cat that he is, lays down only partly across Rue's lap to avoid squishing her— but he too seems content.

Rue's here. They're talking. They're working through their distance. Seren's approaching it head-on, and to be doing that instead of just imagining it…

There's nothing bitter in their voice. If anything, they sound grateful they get to say this at all. "Mistakes are the foundations for greater success. You know what not to do next time, no matter how hard the first time hit you."

“Did it look like I managed well the last time?” Rue looks away, biting down on her lip. “In a lot of ways, I feel like I didn’t survive the last time. I’ve just been a ghost wandering through my own life. Trying to drink myself into the grave I’ve already got a foot in. Or convince someone to shove me into it so I can say it was out of my hands.”

There’s a soft sound that signals the start of new tears. Rue curls up tighter against Seren. This is such a side of her that never came out before — apart from their last night together. And even that wasn’t like this. She hadn’t had that failure yet. She hadn’t realized how horrific that could be. How much it would blight her very core and cause the rot to eat her from the inside out.

Right now, all she wants is Seren’s arms around her. The weight of their familiar in her lap is a comfort as well. “I want to rewind the whole last year,” she whimpers miserably. “I want them back. I want them all back.” Like maybe if she just had her team, if she hadn’t left Wolfhound, maybe this wouldn’t be so overwhelming. She’d have her pack to support her.

“Is this the last time I’m going to see you?”

Hearing that Rue acknowledges the way she's been leading her life is at once heartbreaking and a relief. Seren's glad she can see, at least, the way she's been running herself deliberately into the ground and calls it what it is. They lift a hand to place it on the side of Rue's head, pulling her in close.

"I wish we could take it all back, too," Seren murmurs, and Baird noses his way more firmly into Rue's lap, one of his wings lazing its way open to drape over her knee like a blanket. "But you didn't lose everyone, and you don't have to shove them away. Not now, not ever."

They lift their head at Rue's question, the corners of their eyes softening. "Of course not," comes as just as gentle a murmur as before, accompanied with a kiss to the side of her head. "I'm here for you." Forget what their head warns them about the matter. Their heart has won the day, now, battlescars worn but not weighing them down. "I'm here as long as you need me. As long as you'll let me stay."

“Stay forever,” Rue whispers hoarsely, clinging tighter to them, shaking with the force of her crying. For a time, it’s all she can do. Just lay there, vulnerable and open wide with her heart on display. All the feelings she doesn’t let herself feel. Or show. All those years pretending to be stoic, impassive and immovable as a stone wall… That dam was bound to break eventually.

“I don’t want you to go away again.” Even if she knows she will have to walk away. Even if she knows it’s unkind to ask Seren to tether themself to her when she’s about to embark on something so dangerous. When she may not return.

Fingers curl into the fabric of Seren’s clothes. “Please,” she begs. “I’m sorry. For all of it. For sleeping around and not being honest with you. For not protecting you better. For- For—”

All Seren does is hush Rue gently, rocking and shhing her while they continue to hold onto her. Their eyes close as they lean into her, too, providing comfort as well as receiving it, even if this is an exchange of unequal dosage. "Hey," they chide her, even as their heart hurts. "Hey." Getting her calm was paramount, but they suppose it's also important for her to understand, "I forgive you."

They let out a heavy sigh after that, full of weight. "I never wanted to leave in the first place. I wanted to work things out." Their brow furrows, their voice kept even by keeping their own eyes closed. "Things are different now… but I never stopped caring about you, Rue."

"Okay?" When they lift their head to look down at her, Seren's eyes are gleaming not just because of their ability. One hand snakes free of their embrace so they can brush tears off of Rue's face, one hemisphere at a time.

“I know,” Rue acknowledges. “I just… I wanted you to be safe, and I didn’t think that could happen if you were near me.” Slowly, the tide of tears is stemming. “I didn’t want to face the consequences of what I’d done. I didn’t want to see you hurting… I didn’t want you to see me hurting.” This kind of moment is exactly the thing she’d been hoping to avoid.

“I don’t think I deserve to be forgiven, still.” All the same, Rue’s head stays nestled against Seren’s shoulder, feeling a sense of calm here, with them. “But I— I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know how that’s supposed to work. Don’t forgive me but take me back but also be okay with me having a boyfriend that I’m totally open about because that’s somehow better?” The sentence is run-on and she hates every word of it after it’s left her lips.

YOLO, as the kids say.

"It's not, for the record, better," Seren admits in a quiet laugh just this side of bitter. They close their eyes and wrap their arms around Rue more tightly anyway, afraid for the lack of her presence. "It's still super shitty. Should I act differently? I— I don't know. I don't know, I just…" Their embrace loosens just slightly as they let out a difficult sigh.

Baird chuffs quietly in Rue's lap, rolling over onto his back looking up at them both with his head still pushed against her thigh, broad, dried-muddy paw flexing in the air.

"I just don't want you to hurt. I don't want to hurt." They blink their eyes open, leaning back into the couch finally as they let their arms loose to settle around Rue's waist while they continue to sit beside or behind her depending on how she turns to follow. "If things had ended because you were done, because it all got to be too much, I could've handled that. This?" Seren struggles for a moment to put words to it, but they, too, decide yolo. "I couldn't. It wasn't fair, and I didn't want to accept it. I'm doing… better, but…"

It takes a lot to not draw Rue in close again, but no matter what happens next, they'll have to eventually let go. Perhaps they should get used to it sooner rather than later. They brush their forehead against the side of her head before leaning back, admitting in a whisper, "I'd rather be with you."

The admission is followed by a broken ghost of a laugh, one that jars tears from their eyes and brings their cheeks to color with frustration over their existence. Baird's colors warm, greys shifting to scarlet to match.

“I— It wasn’t— I didn’t actually mean—” So sarcasm is about ten thousand percent lost under the layers of her thicker emotions, but she deserved that jab anyway, so Rue stops trying to stammer her own defense. The tightening of the embrace is a comfort at first. Like maybe things haven’t spiraled so far out of control… But it eases soon enough and her heart sinks again.

Fitting herself against them, her back against their chest, feels good. It feels like where she belongs. So close to their heart. Her fingers stroke absently against the side of Baird’s face. She hasn’t forgotten about him, either. He’s where he belongs, too.

When those tears fall, however, Rue is shifting carefully so she can telegraph to Baird her intent to move, to flip over. A knee is settled on either side of the summoner when she turns to face them. “I’m not worth crying over, Seren Evans.” Gently, she starts to thumb away their tears. “I’m not worth pining over. I’m not sure I’m worth loving.” Her head shakes quickly to indicate she knows there’s an argument about that, but that’s not the point.

“I can’t be the person I wanted to be for you,” Rue admits. The self-inflicted knife to her gut twists. “I’m not the person I thought I was. You— Maybe I’m just not ready to be, and maybe I will be someday, but…” Her hands are trembling where they rest against Seren’s cheeks. “But the current reality of me is messy. It’s a mess I don’t want to burden you with, but it’s not a mess I’ll talk you out of trying to sort through, either. That’s… That’s your choice to make.”

She can warn them, but it’s ultimately Seren’s decision what to do with that.

You know, Seren wants to warn her in return. If you keep insisting you don't have worth, one day people will stop fighting you to see what they do in you.

But they can't bring themself to say it.

Instead, they blink hard to clear their eyes and look into Rue's own. They fight to keep control of their expression when she cups their cheek. "Don't you first and last name me, February Lancaster," they choke out in an attempt at teasing. The chuckle that comes after is a strained one. "I'll believe what I want. You can't stop me. The Company couldn't, the end of the world won't either."

Laughing and bravery lain aside, they quickly solemn up. "I'm not saying we can pick up where we left off. But you're worth having in my life, Rue. I… I want to try, okay? And maybe it doesn't work out, but I don't want things to end because we gave up without fighting to at least try."

Seren's brow furrows. "Is that selfish?" they ask quietly, unsure. The question might not have a clear answer, and maybe it wasn't meant for Rue to hear at all, but it comes from them anyway.

“You do believe what you want. That’s… one of the plethora of things I like about you.” This is all bittersweet. Rue wants to laugh and kiss away all of Seren’s tears, to act like things are going to be okay. But she doesn’t know. “I want to try too. And I just… I know that it can’t be how it was. Because how it was was broken.” She shakes her head, “I was the broken piece.”

Resting her forehead against theirs, Rue closes her eyes. “It’s not selfish. If it is, then I am too.” Maybe that’s a given. “I don’t know how this is going to work. If it can work. But I don’t want to just let what we had wither and die anymore. It… It’s hurt so much.” It was never a clean break, the damage could never begin to mend. “How do I begin?”

She really does mean that, doesn't she? Seren's heart races with hope, their lips pressing to Rue's cheek. "Don't hide things from me anymore," they suggest in a murmur. "The good, the bad, the ugly— I was ready for all of you, Rue." Two more kisses pepper their way onto her while they speak, a third one meeting her lips. "You took the first step. You already did it."

Their hand slides up Rue's side, trying to find her cheek. It's a clumsily done thing. "Don't decide things for me anymore. Don't decide you're not worth fighting for. I'm the one who gets to decide what I want to do." There's fresh tears down their face again even as they smile into her, lips brushing hers while they whisper. "Okay?"

"The rest, we just…" Eyes drifting shut, Seren leans into the next kiss.

The rest, they'll figure out as they go.

Rue only hopes she can create enough good for Seren to balance out all the bad and the ugly that comprises her world. Her breath leaves her in a shaky exhale. Ready for all of you. How could that possibly be? Any argument she might try to mount is abandoned in favor of meeting that kiss and returning it, no matter how brief Seren keeps it.

Their requests, the things they ask of Rue, all of it is reasonable. It’s all things she should have been doing in the first place. Seren’s capable, smarter — Rue thinks — than she is. Of course they’re able to decide for themself. If their roles were reversed, Rue would be furious to be in the shoes she put them in. “I’ll try,” Rue whispers against Seren’s mouth.

The next kiss, feels like falling.

Falling over and off the couch.

Falling high up into the sky.

Falling among the stars.

Falling in love.

The fire is warm in front of them both. Stars glitter in the velvet skies above them— white and silver like the color of Seren's eyes as they open. Glittering like the sparkling constellations that are beginning to draw themselves into Baird's coating where he lies on the floor now, trying to give them both space.

Their eyes soften as they look her over, marveling at her closeness, taking comfort from it. Fog like clouds settles over the darkened room, the couch cushions the top of that bed. They swear they can hear the rhythm of their hammering heart.

The complications— the reality of their situation is put aside wholeheartedly in favor of living this moment and savoring it. That feeling, that desire is sealed with another long, tender kiss, the hand cupping Rue's cheek slipping away at the end to brush her hair back behind her ear.

"I missed you," Seren whispers, like all the other times they've said it have never mattered. In a way, they never did— not like this does now.

Technicolor ribbons streak across the sky that is their surroundings. Everything seems to become a little more vivid, more saturated. Loving Seren Evans and being loved in return is nothing short of magical. Rue can’t conceive of anything more fantastic than what ambiance enfolds them, but she can at least color their world.

“I missed you too.” Tomorrow, it may all fall apart. They may wake up from this daydream in a couple of hours and decide it was a mistake. But for now… There’s this. Rue grasps the back of the couch for leverage as she shifts her position to sit with a knee on either side of Seren, leaning back in to kiss them again with a passion that conveys her sorrow at it having been so long since the last time, and her delight that they have this time at all.

It's Seren's turn to feel like they're floating. Colors continue to abstract, the world outside their darkened little corner of it bright and uncaring, carrying on without the slightest bit of awareness for the magic taking place here.

Arms a loose cage around Rue's waist and hips to keep her close to them, they find themself unable to part from her long enough to confess they still love her.

But they imagine she knows. And if she didn't before…

Now she does.

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