The Offer to Help


rue4_icon.gif seren3_icon.gif

Scene Title The Offer to Help
Synopsis When they want to track down the Good Samaritan that saved so many lives, Seren turns to someone who made a promise to them.
Date November 22, 2020

Raytech Industries Corporate Housing

10:59 pm
Rue: I know I’ve been a ghost, but please let me know if there’s anything I can do to help while you’re laid up.

Seren's thumb runs over the glass of their phone, right over the words of the message, and they settle their mouth into a thin line. For the third time today, they try to find a composition of words that would make up a suitable, month-late reply. They're not in the hospital anymore, but if Rue's offer to help still stood…

But it just felt so wrong. To only text her because they needed something. But why else would they text her at this point? It was out of bounds to reach out because they thought of her, or saw something they thought she'd like. What better reason was there to reach out than to accept an offer earnestly extended?

Seren remembers a fog of a moment, the look on Rue's face as she stood horrified in the doorway of the hospital room–

They shake their head quickly, looking back to their phone. With another determined purse of their lips, their thumb floats upscreen to the contact header, rather than the message box. They tap Rue's name. And they initiate a call to her.

Warily, they draw their phone up to their ear, looking up to Baird who sits on the coffee table in front of him. His plush, red-panda-ferret figure radiates a comforting presence to them. He nods his head firmly, they think. They wait three rings until the line clicks, hopefully because she's picked up.


There’s an immediate rush of background noise. A quiet din of voices and music. The technology of the phone does a lot to drown it out once the person on the other end actually answers. “Seren?” It’s like she’s confused to hear their voice, but there’s no mistaking Rue’s. No ignoring the shaky exhale that washes over the microphone unintentionally.

“Hey,” she recovers as smoothly as she can manage, given the rockiness of their situation in the first place. In their mind’s eye, Seren can see Rue’s hesitant little smile. The one she wears when she forgets for just a moment that she means to be sad and closed off.

Purple pancakes.

For a moment they're confused, blinking into Baird's face as they struggle to recall why she would say something like that. And then they feel immediately foolish– because they promised they wouldn't forget, and there goes Rue, looking out for them.

Seren's head dips forward, face burning. "H-hey," they manage to eke out at least that much sound, sounding sheepish all the while. "Um…"

How are you? The words are right there, begging to be spoken. Beginning to be, even, until they come to their senses. Their eyes close hard to lend themself some casual ease to their voice that they don't actually feel.

Rue almost does it herself. There’s the telltale sign of an intake of breath, but nothing follows. Maybe one of those voices in the background was vying for her attention.

"Hey, um, I wanted to touch base to see if you might be able to help me with something. It's related to the explosion. I, um… there was someone there who saved me– saved a lot of people– and I can't track them down. SESA isn't really being helpful," and their tone implies they find that to be a huge surprise, sarcasm intended, "but there's got to be some way to find out who it was and get in contact with them. Whoever they were, they blurred the sky this glowing green and rewound time. It saved me from this explosion that…"

Seren blinks their eyes open, realizing they're saying too much. Far too much if they're supposed to be keeping their distance. "A-anyway, I didn't know if you might be able to help. Or if anybody from Wolfhound might know and be able to tell you. I heard they were there that night, so they might know more than… me."

It sounds so silly when they say it out loud like that.

Not to Rue.

“Rewound time?” Sounds like some Odessa Price bullshit if Rue’s being asked. And, she supposes, she is technically. Still, she keeps that to herself. It’s easier to carry this conversation on the more Seren talks. It gives Rue the excuse to slip into her old persona. This can be work, and that makes this whole exchange safe.

“Do you have a description of the person at all? Height? Build? Color of their hair or eyes? Ethnicity or–” The words catch a moment where Rue has to reframe what she was about to ask, because reframing it is important. Not just for Seren, but as a new habit to develop. “Any apparent gender?” She grimaces immediately and Seren knows the tone and the sharp noise of her breath to see it like they could that smile. “Masculine or feminine? Sorry, I– You know what I’m trying to ask. Help me paint a picture of this person. You saw them for yourself? Did you get a name?” That might even be more helpful than most of the physicality.

This is where Seren lets out a distressed sigh of their own, looking to the side. "I don't know– I don't know anything. I remember staring at the sky, so I saw the green, but it came from beyond the vehicles that exploded. I wasn't able to move, anyway, this whole group of people had to work together to help me t'…"

The way their confidence in themself and the topic drops is palpable. "It's … I'm sorry, this is probably going to be impossible. I didn't see or hear anything about who they were."

“It’s okay,” Rue is quick to respond. “Seren, it’s okay. Nothing’s impossible, alright? There were tons of people there. A bunch of them are people I actually know. And there are a lot of cell phones out there.”

She starts to ask another question, but catches herself. “Do… Would it help if we… If we met up?” The offer is hesitant, but not for her own sake. “If it’s easier for you to do this over the phone, that’s fine. I just want to do what’s going to be of most help to you. I want to help you track this person down. And… I’m confident I can.

It isn’t often Seren’s heard Rue speak of her abilities like that. She doesn’t necessarily talk down about herself when it comes to the things she’s done professionally, but she’s often very dismissive of her talents as no big deal. There’s always someone who’s got an edge on her anyway, so why get an ego about it? But this is different, somehow.

Baird's interest perks up visibly when the offer to meet is made, while Seren's expression slips to a blank one. Their lips part to offer the reply their heart wants and doesn't want, their head preventing them from answering.

Cautiously, they ask instead, "Would you be okay with that?"

“For you?” Rue’s breath hitches the moment the words leave her lips. They’d been so instantaneous, blurted from her heart and not her head. But she commits. “Of course I would.” She can justify it by saying it’s the least she owes them, but… It’s like she can feel Elliot’s reproachful gaze on her, the one that says stop beating yourself up. So, for once, she doesn’t play it off. They can just have this one at face value.

However much that’s worth to them.

The brown-red of Baird's fur turns a deep maroon hue in the shade of a blink. Seren notes it, and if they weren't blushing before, they sure are now. Their head turns to the side, the weight of their nerves pulling unsuccessfully at the buoy of their excitement. Their smile is small, like maybe if it's faint enough they can hide it.

Baird lets out a clicking croon to get their attention, paw and nails scratching the surface of the coffee table. Seren looks back at him in surprised with an arched brow. Don't give me that! they mouth at him in a rush. You're the first to lose your composure every time we see her.

There's been a verging-on-awkward pause now.

"Sorry– Baird was telling me something," they explain gracelessly. "When would be good for you? When are you free?"

Beans 'N' Bagels

Sheepshead Bay

One of the coffeeshops off-campus seemed like a neutral-enough ground for their reunion. After an awkward tango of I'm good to meet whenever you are, they resolved to see each other later the same day. Both to just get the event over with, and also because it seemed silly to wait when it was a topic near to Seren's heart that would take time to investigate.

Velvet-soft Baird with his ringed tail of deep red and white is curled about Seren's shoulders while they stand outside waiting, bundled against the elements. They had peeked in and hadn't seen Rue, so they opted to refrain from ordering until then.

It's hard to tell that almost a month ago they were fighting for their life. They favor one leg over the other, leaning hard to one hip, but other visible signs are hard to see with them bundled in a black winter coat and black jeans, hands shoved in coat pockets. If they were thinking more clearly, they might've asked Baird to change his coloring to match the Raytech red of their hat and scarf, to coordinate and pull off the illusion of being just fine, better than ever, but there was no chance he'd shift.

He's calm, long body draped around their neck, red panda face poker except for his dark amber eyes, looking down the sidewalk with just as much bated breath as Seren is.

Rue steps around the corner from where she parked around the block. Maybe Seren could have blended in if there were people milling about. Even then, however, Baird would be unmistakable. There’s a flood of relief to see them. To see them both. That Baird is with them means that things are not as dire as they were in the hospital. Physical injury was bad enough. Rue worried that their ability may have suffered as well.

There’s a smile on her face once the approach is a properly happening thing. It doesn’t lack warmth or sincerity, but it’s tempered with uncertainty. It’s an uncertainty Rue was sure would carry her through this greeting and into the shop and through a good portion of their initial conversation.

Instead, Rue stops in front of Seren, distance conversational, but close. “Oh, god,” she whispers. “Come here.” Reaching out suddenly, she winds her arms around Seren’s shoulders, conscious of Baird’s positioning to not just avoid dislodging him, but also to include him. “I’m so glad you’re–”

Alive. Safe. Here.

Seren doesn't hear the footsteps nearing, so Baird doesn't turn his head a moment in advance of them how he normally does. It takes a look in the wrong direction for too long for them to finally glance the other way down the sidewalk and see Rue closing in. Their breath almost visibly catches, and Baird turns belatedly, his head perking up off of their shoulder.

They should say something. They should say anything at all. They even take in a breath for it. Seren sees Rue's lips move with that whisper without being able to understand just what's being said. But the arms opened to them speak loud enough, and suddenly their face is against Rue's shoulder, and they can feel and hear what she's saying better now.

Every shred of composure they have goes clattering to the concrete as they lift their arms to return the hug just as fiercely. They stand that way for a long moment, not knowing what to say, and not wanting to let go. After standing there for too long without so much as breathing, a shudder of an inhale is taken, stinging eyes blinking and streaming tears down their face. It comes over them so suddenly they let out a shock of surprised breath a moment later. They start to let go, hesitate, and then finally draw their arms back to themself.

Well, one of them. The other still is halfway wound around Rue's back while they wipe their face, glad they hadn't opted for any eyeliner today. "Sorry, I just…"

They blink roughly, unable to look at her. "Me too," Seren admits in a small voice. On their shoulder, Baird's kept his distance, letting the two embrace without self-inserting, or more importantly, invading privacy. But now that space is being granted, his head lifts a little, black nose wiggling as he scents Rue and leans forward just in curiosity about her.

“Don’t apologize,” Rue is swift to admonish. She similarly disengages one arm to wipe at the tears that have been spilling freely down her freckled face. Hers do have traces of brown eyeliner, but it clears up easily enough. Not nearly so stubborn as black kohl.

It feels like giving Seren a moment to compose themself as Rue shifts her attention to Baird. “Hey, buddy,” she sniffles quietly. “I missed you, too.” She lifts her free hand to let him scent first before she ruffles the fur on the back of his neck gently. “I forgot how soft you can be,” she murmurs, astonished.

While Rue pets Baird, he croons his head up to make sure she gets a good spot, then chases her hand with a butt of his forehead, warming quickly to her. There's more to his movements than there used to be, more force behind it. Headstrong attempts at attention feel more like it, rather than the gentle effects previously. He lets out a string of curious chitter at her, and Seren turns their head with a short laugh at him.

"He's glad," they clarify, a bit mystified by his genial behavior. Hadn't they both walled off their hearts, said they wouldn't make more of this than it was? So quickly are those walls crumbling now.

Once their eyes are clear of sting, Seren rights their posture. "We should head in, get out of the cold. Do you want anything to drink with your bagel?" It'd feel remiss to not buy something if they were going to be taking a table. Afterward, they remember with a hesitant, "Ah…" and look back to Rue. "I'm sorry if I ask you to repeat anything. My hearing kind of hasn't been great since what happened."

From Rue’s perspective, Baird is always affectionate with her. That’s just his nature. That affection from the chimera helps break down Rue’s walls. She had meant only to give them hugs and then get back into a professional mindset. But… she can’t.

And maybe that’s okay.

“Normally I’d balk at you offering to buy, but I work for tips now, so…” Yes, Rue will let Seren buy her a coffee, even if she’s being teasing about it. She nudges them gently with her elbow only after she finally gives Baird one last pat and lets her hand drop to her side. “Don’t worry about it, okay? I’ve been there.” A good portion of her conversations for a month following the operation at Fort Irwin were her shouting what?! in response to anything said to her.

Pulling open the door to the shop, she gestures for Seren to step inside first, then follows. Once they have their orders, she settles in at a table that allows her to have her eyes on the entrance and her back to a wall. Some habits don’t die. Reaching into her coat, she procures a notebook and a pen with purple ink.

“Okay,” Rue nods, tapping the ballpoint to the paper. “Whenever you’re ready.”

Hands cupped around a paper cup of vanilla and cinnamon-scented coffee, Seren's expression shifts to something uncertain. Baird in their lap peers up at Rue and her pen, and only after he rests his tiny paws against the side of the table are they able to get their thoughts together in any kind of order. "So, I don't really have a frame of reference for wherever this person was at. I didn't see them, and I didn't really get the chance to talk with anybody else who was at the hospital. I was there for a while, but a lot of people left sooner than that. There was only one other victim from the festival near my room, and I never saw him awake or I'd have gone and talked to him."

That out of the way, they look at Rue, but not at her, their thoughts elsewhere. "But the bomb went off, and I was hurt. Knocked back and down. Coyotl had been there with me, but I couldn't see him anymore after the explosion. Someone came over to help, and I was looking at the stars. There was this– green sheen that went across the sky, that passed through all of us, almost like a forcefield. After that, I couldn't see the sky anymore. After that happened, like I said– I started to smell the gas more strongly, and whatever was leaking caught fire. I saw it flare, I saw the van next to me go up in flames, I felt it shake the ground, and then… then there was nothing."

Seren's said none of this before, actually. They're misremembering, maybe on purpose, maybe on accident. The story is easier to tell if it isn't the first time.

"After I don't know how long, I could breathe again. I blinked, and I saw the stars. The green was gone, and the people who were helping me got me up and out just as we started to smell the gas again. We got really far away from the van, but I still felt it shake behind us when it happened again. Whoever did it– it had to have been an ability, and it messed with time. It rewound it– it rewound us, but we still remembered. We got out of there and out of the way of danger as a result."

Breathing out a heavy sigh, Seren demures, "Nothing's really clear after that. It was hard to stay awake. But whoever it was, I never saw them. Never heard a name. And when I asked SESA, even making clear I just wanted to extend thanks to whoever it was, they either didn't want to help, or just couldn't." They purse their lips together, trying to hold their opinion on which of the two they suspected it to be. They look off rather than at Rue, even after the story ends. "But then I heard that Wolfhound had been there, and I figured… maybe they'd know more. Your friends. You, maybe…" Their grasp around their drink firms.

It’s hard to listen to the story. As Seren lays it out, Rue realizes the gravity of what happened at the festival. Obviously – obviously – she knew. She saw what Seren looked like after the attack. Knew what Elliot looked like. Read the reports, saw the news… But this really highlights it.

There’s a horror in knowing what really happened to Seren. Rue grips her pen tightly and keeps her head down while she writes her notes.

green sheen
no sky
reversal of time
no reversal of memory
blasts repeated
SESA mum
Another agency?

“Who was near your room?” That’s the easiest question for Rue to ask. “You said you didn’t get to talk to them, but it seems like it’s someone you know? I might be able to interview them and see if they have more information. If they saw this person, or if they saw someone else that I could speak to.” And if they saw someone else, who saw someone else, who saw someone else… Sometimes this is just how these kinds of investigations go. The thread is followed through the rumor mill.

An unconscious smirk kicks up the corner of her mouth briefly at that thought. Rumor mill.

“And you believe SESA knows exactly who this person was?”

Seren wobbles their head back and forth before taking a sip of their drink. "The man in the room nearby was a SESA agent, I think. T. Cooper." They look back up to Rue. "Really, he wasn't ever awake before I got discharged… he might've been in a coma. But there were agents who stopped by, people who stood by his door. Someone who I think was his daughter was by a lot." With a small smile they shake their head.

"And I don't know, I just figure… SESA has to know, wouldn't they? They were there. Someone has to know."

“Someone has to know,” Rue agrees. T. Cooper is a name she recognizes, for multiple reasons. Not the least of which is that she made it her business to know who’s who at SESA after she got busted in the Zeitgeist sting. “I can reach out to some contacts and see what I can uncover on that front. Either Agent Cooper, or… I’ll find someone who’ll talk to me.”

She may not be a Wolfhound anymore, but Rue still hears the whispers, the susurrus that runs through the Safe Zone. someone’s always got a story to tell, and this is a hell of a tale. Someone will want to talk about it. And sure, it’ll be sensationalized and embellished to hell and back, but ask enough people and the bigger picture will start to reveal itself.

“I’ll talk with Elliot, too. He can chase down some of the Hound contacts and see if anyone there knows anything.” Rue smiles encouragingly, reaching across the table to pet Baird. “We’ll figure it out, Seren.” If for no other reason than Rue needs to thank whoever saved them, too. She has no problem admitting to herself that it would have destroyed her if Seren had been killed. That they got as hurt as they did at all makes her soul ache.

“Sere, I…” At first, Rue doesn’t take her eyes away from Baird. It’s like addressing them directly, but without the onus of having to actually look at their face and see their expression. “I’m so glad you’re alive. I’m glad you reached out to me. I’m glad to see you again.” Now she manages to look up at Seren properly again. Because they deserve her assiduity. “I’m glad you’re here.”

With her. Right now.

Baird is still at first, but leans into the pet before it ends, melting into the touch. Seren's expression's a more troubled thing for multiple reasons. There's a hollow that's formed in their chest when Rue talks about reaching out to Elliot– because who's Elliot?– but a small voice whispers to them just who it is.

Axel had warned that she'd moved on.

It's a thing made more confused by the fact that Elliot is a name resurfaced in their own memory ever so recently, owing to a dream that wasn't a dream.

But they look up to Rue rather than address any of that, trying to smile. To at least be cordial instead of just… sad.

"I've missed you. I missed you a lot." Admitting that much doesn't seem the worst thing they could do, and they tent their shoulders in a small, unapologetic shrug before looking down at Baird. They rub their middle fingertips over the crest of his small head. "I heard you were working at Cat's now, but I never got up the nerve to come by. Not after how things went on the 4th of July." They let out the rest of their breath before it can be filled with too many words, or ones that aren't suited well for the situation. Even so, they manage to finish, "I'm… I'm glad you're doing okay."

It had been such an off-handed thing to say on Rue’s part. As easily as saying she’d talk to Devon (if she were… talking to The Person Who Thinks He’s Devon) or Lucille. But it does have a significance she doesn’t let on about. The heaviness in Seren’s heart is justified.

“I’ve missed you, too,” Rue admits easily, resisting the urge to reach out to them. As if lavishing attention on Baird wasn’t exactly that. But the chimera as an intermediary feels safer. “A lot.”

I still love you is far too cruel to say to them, even if it’s the truth. How can she still love them and not allow them to be together? This isn’t like it was with Quinnie.


“What happened on the 4th of July?” Rue’s brows come together with her confusion. She hadn’t heard anything through the grapevine, so it must not have been a world-shaking event, but…

"Oh." Seren's face suddenly burns with color, their eyes more intent on a spot somewhere between Baird's head and the table. "You, uh– you were kind of soused, weren't you." They pet the chimera's head more firmly, his maroon deepening to something silkier yet, the red-brown of him becoming more pronounced. "U-um…" Their eyes flutter shut and they shake their head once, smiling abruptly broadly. "It's fine. If you don't remember showing up at Robyn's, it's… I mean it was months ago."

All the more silly them, huh?

They take in a short breath to move on.

“No, n-n-n-no.” Rue shakes her head quickly, drawing circles in the air as a signal to rewind that. “Go back. You saw me at Robyn’s on the 4th of July?” She’s very concerned suddenly about what that means. “I was one hundred percent at work all day, pouring shots, practicing my bottle tricks, and raking in tips. It was a great day for it.” Sassy will vouch.

"O… oh."

This time the light fades from their eyes entirely. Seren struggles with the multiple layers of this realization by shutting down. For a brief moment they look away, the beginnings of panic taking hold just before their shoulders slack. Even so, their jaw trembles before they manage to speak. "I-I'm gonna need time before I'm able to talk about this."

Their fingers sink into the fur on Baird's side, and he lets out a coo as he peers up first at Seren, and then across to Rue. His red has darkened further still. His browns have become grey. Seren's breath trembles before they find their voice again. They numbly assure, "I'm going to remember to ask for Baird's favorite food next time. I won't forget."

“So, she went to Robyn’s 4th of July party and convinced everyone there that she was me?” It starts as incredulity, but then a heavy exhale banishes it and leaves behind only her own feelings of numbness. Rue’s shoulders sag and she works her jaw to one side, staring just off over Seren’s shoulder at nothing.

“Well.” Rue’s mouth twists into a self-deprecating smirk. “I suppose that says a lot about what people think about me.” Given that Seren just said that they thought she was just drunk, and found it very easy to assume that was all it was. That Rue simply didn’t remember being at a party with them, because she’d been so bombed.

Then her self-pity and beratement fade, because there’s something more important than that here. Rue reaches out across the table to grasp Seren’s hand. “Don’t do that. Don’t go there.” She tries to bring them back to here and now. Back to her. She can only assume that Marlene didn’t hurt them, or this would have been a drastically different meeting. Everything about it. “Whenever you’re ready to talk about it, I’m here. I’m ready to listen. But don’t beat yourself up. Whatever it is she’s doing…”

Shaking her head, her fingers curl around Seren’s fingers and squeeze gently. “I don’t know how she keeps doing it, but she’s good. That’s not your fault for not catching her at it. This is how she’s gotten away with it for so long. She knows people want to assume good in me. She knows people are afraid they’ll offend me if they ask, and ask for proof. She’s using the social contract in order to continue this game of hers. And I don’t know what she wants,” Rue admits helplessly.

It’d be so much easier if she did.

"I don't either," Seren admits in a small voice. Their hand stays limp even as Rue squeezes it, unable to shake the feeling they failed somehow despite the reassurances. It's not immediately they'll be able to shake off the sense of violation at how this other Rue not only felt entitled enough to try and pass as her, but managed to. Their eyes half-lid, trying to focus on literally anything else aside from the way they know their emotions are impacting Baird.

"I don't get her game. She hates you, but wants to replace you? Slip into your life as though it were hers? I don't– I don't understand where she even came from in the first place. How someone like her even…"

Seren shakes their head. "I-I mean, she looks just like you. Sounds just like you, acts just like you right up until the moment…" Their eyes close. This isn't moving on from the topic. It's not even why they were here. But still they intone, "This isn't fair. You don't deserve to have to deal with this bullshit. To have to look over your shoulder, to have everyone second-guess you."

"I hate this for you," they murmur.

“That means the world to me, Sere.” And it does. Rue hadn’t realized how badly she needed someone to hate this the way she hates this. Sure, others hate the situation, but they don’t necessarily consider the way it’s disrupted Rue’s life and her ability to trust and be trusted.

She shrugs a little helplessly, trying to help Seren make some sense of the madness. “She acts like me because she is me. Just… One that took a different path.” Troubled, she lets out a nervous little laugh, holding fast to Seren’s hand as though it would give her an anchor. “I don’t know how she’s here. But she is.

This next thought twists her guts in knots and bereft of good feelings. “Do you remember our last night together? How I told you I had outlived every single thing that was meant to kill me?” She doesn’t wait for the confirmation. If that night isn’t burned into Seren’s memory like it is her own, Rue would be shocked. Tears sting at her eyes for the second time today.

“I’ve seen myself die. When I was in the hospital with the flu that went around ten years back, somebody gave me a vision of what was meant to happen to me.” Rue’s voice is strained as the tears start to fall. “I was shown how I wasn’t important to history, because I didn’t live to see it.” She does nothing to hide how this affects her. And how couldn’t something like that affect her? “And then last January when the aurora was in the sky and people had all those freaky visions?”

Rue bows her head, letting the tears drop from where the twin rivers form a confluence and crest at the tip of her chin. “I died again.” Taking a moment, she just let her breathing come back under her control again. “I’m sorry. We aren’t here to talk about my bullshit.

Seren begins to curl their hand back around Rue's, brow furrowing in confusion as they try and fail to wrap their mind around the concept being presented. Her… just one that took a different path? The reality of that situation is not in their usual wheelhouse of fantastic imaginings, one that they cycle back through and fail to find an answer for.

Fantastic abilities are what they are, but genesis of an entire second person, a complete doppelganger with their own thoughts, feelings, memories, and experiences … that felt implausible. So how…?

But she moves on, and reluctantly so do they, nodding to show they're following at least this. They recall the auroras, even if they hadn't yet been in New York. Baird slips from their lap and onto the table directly, it wobbling as the creature slinks across its surface to find Rue's lap and sit in it to comfort her instead for the moment. Space freed between them, Seren scoots to the front of their seat and lifts their other hand to brush aside tears on her cheek without hesitation.

"It wasn't," they confirm softly. "But I'm here for you anyway. There's always room enough for…" Seren manages a small smile, shaking their head and withdrawing their hand to reach into the pocket of their coat and produce a travel-pack of tissues, offering it across the table to Rue. "You're okay." While they stress this to her, Baird curls up in her lap, pressing the side of his furry head against her chest.

Rue makes little hiccupping sounds as she quells the last of her crying – which threatened to begin anew when Baird moved to her lap – plucking out two of the tissues out and turning toward the wall to blow her nose as discreetly as possible. “I don’t deserve you,” she insists, shoving the used tissue into her pocket before scritching Baird with both hands. Her chest still hitches with little attempted sobs, but she keeps them at bay.

“I never, ever did. You’re just… Seren, you’re everything good in the world. And the world really sucks, so it’s like it used it all up on you?” Her lip quivers as she admits, “This got away from me. I don’t know what I’m saying anymore.”

Seren lets out a snort of amusement as they fold their arms on the table, leaning on them. "Then let me fucking share some of it with you," they tease her, smiling. Then, only then do they remember themself and quickly let their smile lapse to qualify that with: "Once in a while."

Rue presses the back of one hand over her mouth and under her nose, overwhelmed by Seren’s continued kindness in the face of the hurt she inflicted on them.

Biting on their bottom lip for a moment, Seren glances down and then back up. "Just…" Where to go from here? A good portion of them wants to comfort her more directly in her upset, but that's not their place anymore. It deters Baird none, though.

They pull their hands back to themself, clasping them in their lap. "If you can help me find this person, whoever they are, it'd go a long way toward saying sorry for everything that happened. You know?" Their earnestness is tempered by their caution, their fear to speak out of turn somehow, by acknowledging the wrong that was done.

Rue wanted so badly to be held responsible for her behavior… helping them like this was by no means punishment, but maybe it'd suffice as atonement. It might be a good start.

All the while, Baird leans his head into Rue's hand, little claws and paws flexing on her pantleg. He's warm, and his fur is incredibly soft– nothing at all like the vague sharpness it used to be when her hands got too close to discovering his incorporealness. Now he feels practically real. Whole.

Rue marvels at the feel of Baird’s fur under her fingers, and she brings her other hand back down to make sure she’s lavishing him with all the attention he deserves for being so affectionate and comforting in the face of her own pain. To her, he must have always felt this way, right? She’d just forgotten after months apart.

"And then maybe… after that we could start talking about who deserves what." Seren suggests quietly, glancing at Rue but not at her before they pull their cup back to them for another sip.

Looking up from the little fluff ball in her lap, she meets Seren’s gaze. Or, well, she would if Seren had wanted it to be met. It’s enough for Rue, regardless. A nod signifies her tacit agreement. “I’ll do everything I can to track this person down for you. I’ve got a very specific set of skills in my wheelhouse, and I’m very good at what I do.”

There’s a brief moment of laughter at her own expense. “I may be shit at being a functional human being, but I can track people down.”

Even if it's at her own expense, it's still… valuing herself in some way. It sounds confident instead of bitter. Seren smiles faintly for it, looking to the creature in Rue's lap being lavished with attention. "I appreciate it." They take in a deep breath after setting aside their cup, pensive. It breaks with their hand patting their lap once. "Baird," they bid him.

He barely has time to look to Seren before he vanishes from where he was, softness disappearing from under Rue's palm. He reappears in his summoner's lap instead, and they console him on the abrupt shift with a rustling pat of his side. With less certainty to their smile than before, they finally look back up to Rue directly. "I'll look forward to hearing back from you. We should probably go, though."

"Unless … there was anything else you needed?"

The retrieval of Baird by his summoner serves as a warning for what's coming, giving Rue enough time to shove down the sadness and muster a smile of reassurance. "No, this is enough to go on."

She busies herself with tucking away her notebook and pen, finishing off her coffee. "I'll get in touch as soon as I have an update. If you think of anything else in the meantime, you know how to find me."

Uncertain whether they should leave first, Seren finds they feel the decision is made for them when Rue begins to gather herself together. Maybe they're better off staying, taking their time with what's left of their own coffee. Everything at once feels both slow motion and too fast, especially in all space pertaining to Rue.

They swallow needlessly against the air, mustering a small smile again. "I do," they assure. "It was good to see you, Rue." Baird dips his head almost in a nod before sniffing curiously at the air, tiny nose wriggling. He, too, thinks so– but in a way he's always been a sign of Seren's heart on their sleeve. His curiosity and concern for Rue continues unabated, even for the distance between her and them, even for how Seren tries to guard their heart again by looping an arm around Baird loosely to encourage him to stay firmly with them.

The urge to reach out and give Baird one last affectionate pat is squashed. For all that she forgets herself at times, the way Seren recalled him and now holds him to them has reminded Rue that he is a manifestation of them, and not just the most fantastic pet a person could hope to have. While it’s good to be kind with and to someone’s heart, encouraging affection is not always the kindest thing.

So, she offers a brief smile. “Good to see you too.” Rue dips her head to indicate Baird. “You look after him, alright?” Be gentle with your own heart. “I’ll talk to you soon.” She waves, darkened screen of her phone curled against her palm. “Bye.”

Ever one for those Midwestern goodbyes, it’s only after that fourth sign-off that she finally heads for the door, leaving Seren to their coffee and their thoughts.

Their cup goes untouched for some time as they look across the table at the empty space left behind in Rue's absence. They imagine, one by one, all the other things they wish they would have said. By the time they get to a point of false emotional catharsis through hypotheticals, their coffee is lukewarm.

That's when Seren pushes back from the table. "C'mon," they bid the creature with them. A shake of their head might be more for them than him in the end. "Let's go. No use stewing about it."

There'd be opportunity for more second chances soon.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License