These Revelations


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Scene Title These Revelations
Synopsis Seren offers a display of what they can do, and Rue offers one in kind.
Date March 3, 2020

Cat's Cradle: Upstairs Apartment

Rue: I heard you made it back to town. I’m at the Cradle tonight if you feel up to seeing me. Just tell Sassy when you arrive and you can come up stairs.

Rue hadn’t been sure that Seren would come, but she hoped she would. The room above Cat’s Cradle has been tidied up – the other sometimes-occupant hasn’t been crashing in a while and isn’t likely to for much longer still – so the space is all hers, without fear of interruption.

There’s a bottle of red wine from Argentina open on the small cafe table, left to breathe while Rue waits to find out if she’s drinking alone tonight. She watches out the window at the encroaching onset of twilight. It feels like it’s happening so much later already. Already they’re in the third month of the year. Time seems to move quickly sometimes.

The knock at the door jars her from her reverie. Rue tenses for a moment, tilting her head to one side as though she might be able to divine who’s on the other side if she just concentrated hard enough. Wouldn’t that be a useful power to have?

“Come in!” the redhead calls even as she moves to get up from the sofa and head toward the unlocked apartment door, in case her voice isn’t heard over the music from downstairs.

When the door opens, it's a slow thing. "Baird—" comes Seren's voice, a touch of strain to it. They struggle to keep the door shut, and are rewarded for their efforts with the sound of a dog's keening whine. "Baird, hold on—"

But there is no holding him back.

The nose of a medium-sized dog peeks through first before the door jerks open, letting loose a scrambling black-and-cream shiba inu with tawny markings. He whines plaintively, leading into an excitable bark when he sees Rue, rushing to meet her halfway. A red scarf is wound about his neck, spotted with white polka dots of alternating size. Black-backed tawny owl wings unfurl on his back to slow his collision speed, but that doesn't stop him entirely from jumping, paws meaning to rest on her thighs while his cream-colored puff of a tail wags excessively.

Baird almost never seeks contact with others, because his is an existence which can be seen through at that range. It's a defense mechanism both he and Seren developed to protect themselves when interacting with others. But Rue has always been one of those rare exceptions, because she engages him. She believes in him as much as Seren does, taking any psychosomatic effects of his being and making it seem real anyway. Either that, or she just accepts his half-realness and finds his existence valid anyway.

Seren's never really asked to confirm. They'd just been happy she accepted him at all.

They look less enthused than normal as they close the door behind them, seeing Baird's excitement at Rue and mirroring it in a weak, self-conscious smile. They've already unwound the red Raytech-logo-bearing scarf from around their neck, their leather jacket already unzipped downstairs. They're wearing a black tee underneath, jeans and converse to match. They were supposed to have dressed casual… right?

They weren't really sure. The tone of Rue's message made it hard know what to expect from tonight.

"I'm sorry—" Seren apologizes from the doorway. "I'm just really glad you're okay." It manifests in Baird, in his form and his excitability, even if it doesn't reflect visibly in them at the moment. They're trying to be more cautious— understanding, even, if something happened on her assignment that's caused her to not reach out until now, to act like everything was fine.

Seren forces a smile, and Baird finally relents in his jumps, settling down on the ground even though his tail is wagging furiously still. "When— um, when did you get back in town?"

Rue startles when Baird comes bounding through the door. “Oh!” She braces for the impact of his paws against her thighs, but it doesn’t feel how she expects it to. This causes her to relax fairly quickly with a breathy laugh at her own expense for her jumpiness. “Hey, buddy,” she greets the chimera, reaching down to pat his head. “Did you steal my scarf?” she asks in a playful voice. “I have one just like that!”

Her smile finds a little strength when she looks up at Seren. It seems they got the memo, because Rue’s about as dressed down as she ever tends to be. Tonight it’s a denim skirt over a pair of purple tights, a red sweater hanging off one shoulder. Her feet are tucked into a pair of black ballet flats.

“Yesterday,” she tells them. “I needed a minute to decompress, you know? Wasn’t really ready to…” Rue waves her hand nebulously through the air. She doesn’t expect Seren to know how it is. “Would you like some wine? I picked up a bottle of good stuff, not the house blend from downstairs.”

Seren finds themself smiling a little more on hearing Rue's laugh, their breath catching. It takes them by surprise, spurs them into action. They lean into steps forward, closing the distance between the two of them rapidly in order to catch her in a needy embrace, arms closing tightly around her. Unlike Baird, they're real, and bring with them all the force his jumps lacked.

For a moment they say nothing at all, their head buried to her shoulder as they lean into the hug. Before too long, they lift their head up and take in a short breath. "Wine sounds great," Seren says with forced brightness. "I could go for a glass for sure." They're not entirely unable to let go of their concern for Rue, and whatever else is weighing them down, at least not immediately– their hands cup the side of her face as they force a small smile before it and their arms fall away. Their eyes glimmer at the corners of them, but not with the silver of their ability.

The embrace is returned easily, Rue settling into Seren’s arms like she simply fits there. Like they were made to hold one another. It feels good to simply have warm, affectionate human contact after what feels like so long.

There’s a small nod of Rue’s head after Seren’s arms drop back to their sides. “I’ll go pour. Have a seat, okay? Make yourself comfortable.” Baird gets another brief pat on the head, Seren a squeeze of their hand, before she makes her way toward the small kitchen setup.

On her way there, she stops at the door and turns the deadbolt. “Wouldn’t want to get interrupted, would we?” she asks, tone light. Or… trying to be. There’s something still obviously wearing her down, but maybe that’s to be expected. She’d been so terrified before she left.

Two glasses of wine are poured out and Rue brings them both back to the sofa, offering one out to the illusionist with the ghost of a smile on her face. “It’s… It’s just good to be seen,” she admits.

Baird's tail sets to another series of wags when his head is pet, afterward looking up toward his summoner with a loll of tongue from his mouth. His emotional palate is simple, almost to the point it's at odds with Seren's own. He's effusing enough brightness for the both of them, perhaps.

Seren swings their jacket off and lays it over the back of the sofa before they sink down into a sit, grinding the side of their palm against the fabric of their jeans as they try to talk themself into calming down. Maybe the wine will help. When Rue comes back offering that glass, it's accepted with a warm flash of a smile in return.

"Listen, it's good to see you. I was worried about what you were heading into… when you would be back again. And I know I'd texted you everything was fine out in Detroit, but…"

Their hand closes a little more tightly around their glass, and they lower their gaze down to look at nothing in particular. "Well, that was before a lot of things happened. And then I didn't really know what to say, so I just… didn't follow it up." They take a healthy drink from the wine, eyes closing while they appreciate it, opening again to look back to Rue. "I'm just as fine not talking about it," they lie. "but it's weird being over here at Eve's when she's gone."

That doesn't sound like a stepped out kind of gone, either.

Rue doesn’t move to sit down next to Seren. Not just yet anyway. She paces a bit along the side of the couch and the coffee table. She sips from her own glass while they start to talk. “I mean… Maybe it’s because she’s just always seemed to be gone. It hasn’t… It doesn’t feel like forever, you know?” Rue says of Eve.

There’s a guilty sort of look that’s flashed Seren’s way when Rue doesn’t follow up about what happened in Detroit. What happened to them specifically. Like she doesn’t want to know, or isn’t ready to hear it yet.

“I’m just glad you’re back. Things…” It’s then that she takes a moment to reconsider, and presses on. “Well, they don’t look like they went as planned out there. Did you come face to face with Naidu? And…”

"And Claire." Seren provides this most helpfully, knowing the both of them are each distracted by their own weights. They nod and take another small sip of their wine, shifting it to their left hand so they can pet Baird's head and streak their fingers down through the fur on his back as he comes to sit next to their knee. "Yeah– it was just supposed to be a business trip. We were listening to someone from this bleeding-edge European company give us a pitch about something they wanted to partner with us on, and then the whole world started coming apart at the seams."

Literally, almost. It was a near thing, to have listened to some of the retellings about the hole that opened up in the sky.

"Claire punched him right in the face– Baruti Naidu. And I…"

They thumb the side of their glass uncertainly, posture shrinking. "Baird and I, we might've saved her life." But why does this sound like a bad thing? Seren just shakes their head, their pace rapidly quickening with nerves as they try to fill in those gaps. "When someone who looked like Eve showed up, Naidu knelt before her, and she brought Claire back to life after she'd been shot– and then other people showed up and tried to kill her– and then she started pulling this red light out of Claire– and…"

An uneasy breath slowly and thinly comes from them, over which they say, "And I didn't want anyone else to get hurt."

Rue listens impassively, her pacing having slowed to a stop at some point in Seren’s recounting. There should be more worry. More concern about her friend, the fact that she had died, apparently, but been brought back to life.

What had Rue seen in her own journey that allows (or forces?) her to remain so detached now?

“What did you do, Seren?” Ginger brows knit together in a variegated pattern of confusion, concern, and curiosity.

It's Baird who turns his head toward Rue, watching her more intently now. Seren, for their part, sets aside the glass of wine to fold their arms and lean forward onto their knees while they try to explain, and at the same time, try to ignore their gut regarding Rue's lack of a larger reaction. Maybe she's just reacting to what there is to react to. They'd been rambling, after all.

"I prayed that what had already happen to Claire be enough. I wished– with everything I had in me that Eve believed she had enough, so she might leave and everyone would stop fighting, and so Claire would be safe." Their posture shrinks even more as they nearly whisper now, looking up at Rue with wrinkles on their forehead from the conflict of emotions they feel themselves. "And it worked."

"Rue, I–" Seren breaks that thought off, realizing now that it'd be easier to just demonstrate, maybe. A ghost of a smile flashes past their lips in their nervous energy as their eyes begin to gleam silver around the edges of their grey irises. "Think about something for me. Think about something that makes you happy. Something you really want."

The corner of Rue’s teardrop shaped mouth ticks up, impressed. “You stared into the face of God and said not today,” she marvels.

How does she know that?

The smile fades from her face when Seren gives their directive, though. “Ser,” she starts with a shake of her head and an attempt to reclaim some of that expression that’s fled her. “You are what makes me happy.”

Seren smiles, weakly, and the silver in their eyes gleams a little brighter. Baird at their side shifts, letting out a whine of excitement and shifting his head to look at the space just beside Rue. He knows what's coming. He can feel it. Whatever it is, it's very important to Rue. He can't wait to see it.

And still looking her right in the eye, with a faint smile still on their face, Seren manifests her happy thought.

An abundance of pink suddenly dominates Rue's periphery. It's a familiar hue, belonging to a familiar face. One longed-for, one missed. One whose pink-glossed lips curl up in a smile when they turn and see her standing beside them.

It's Rue's wife, in the flesh.

Seren's throat invisibly works as they swallow hard, their eyes gleaming silver and white while they look on.

Oh. Oh, no.

Rue turns sharply and the breath leaves her lungs in a gasp. The exclamation that follows is involuntary. “Li.” Tears well up in Rue’s blue eyes as she tentatively tries to reach out to the woman next to her.

The most beautiful woman Rue Lancaster has ever met in her life.

“Hey, Rhubarb.”

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Rue presses her hand to her mouth, choking out a sob when she hears that voice. It’s been so long, she’d been afraid she’d forgotten the way she’d sound. In her heart, it feels like birdsong at daybreak. Beautiful and perfect.

Closing her eyes tight against the onslaught of tears, she finishes reaching out. Liza Lancaster’s fingers find hers halfway between the two of them, lace between Rue’s and hold tightly.

She’s exactly as she remembers. Her hand feels warm and soft. Rue feels the line of the ring she gave her on Liza’s finger. This… This is everything she’s been wanting since she arrived in this fucking backwater of a universe in 2011.

Almost immediately after the woman appeared beside Rue, Baird's wagging tail stopped mid-act, slowly sagging to one side. What Seren takes comfort from is that their imaginary friend radiates confusion, not hurt, even if it stands in such contrast to the emotions they intuit in acting as a conduit for 'Li' to exist.

The emotional reunion is devastating to witness, yet Seren can't bring themself to take this away from Rue.

They come to their feet silently, though, and step around to the other side of the couch. Distance exists between them and her now, but Baird hasn't moved at all. "C'mon," they mouth to him, brushing their fingers together like a snap to bring him closer. He only looks back, increasingly distraught. But that's Rue?

It's not, though.

Seren wipes the corner of their eye to rid it of tears, taking an audibly deep, ragged breath now that they have at least enough space they feel somewhat safer. They should say something, do something, leave, call the cops, maybe– but they can't bring themself to do any of that just yet.

Hearing Seren’s breath brings Rue back to her senses. She looks down to where her and her wife clutch each other’s hands, only to find she’s clutching at the air. Clutching through Li’s hand.

“This is my wife,” Rue says softly. “Or… She was. I–” It occurs to her now, she needs to start explaining this. Fast. “It’s been eight years, three months, and twenty-five days since– Since she was taken from me.” It’s ambiguities, but laced with specifics. It sets a tone. It paints a picture of a tragedy that’s very, very real.

Rue tilts her head and stares at her wife’s face, understanding now that none of it is real. She’s a victim here of Seren’s power. “I’m sorry… that when you– When you asked me to think of something that makes me happy… I’m sorry it was her.” She looks past the apparition of Li Lancaster and to the very real form of Seren Evans now.

“Please don’t be cross with me, Seren. She’s something I can never have.” And that makes her want to die.

Seren only shakes their head, another shudder of a breath leaving them. They run their hand over the back of Baird's head when he finally slinks over, the scarf around his neck vanished. He looks less for it, a stark visual representation that something is missing from him that was present before.

Rue played some of her cards close to her chest, but she never would have missed sharing this. …Would she have?

"I'm sorry what happened was something that made you sad, Rue." Because somehow, this was still Rue. How, they didn't know, but it just wasn't… their Rue. Right? "But…"

"I…" It hurts to have to ask. Shaking their head, they look down to Baird, painfully aware of Rue in their periphery, fingers still threaded with Liza Lancaster's. Even though she's not real, the memory of her made manifest still feels tangible so long as she doesn't look at it. She even behaves real, her shifts and little looks to Rue.

"Unless you can tell me what Baird's favorite food is, I'm going to make her go. And then I want you to go." Baird picks up on their pain and lets out a soft whine, his head turning to look back in the direction of the door. The locked door.

Then he looks back to Seren, a paw insistently scraping against the thigh of their jeans. He seems so real, nails loud against denim. Seren, he insists worriedly. Seren, think about what happened to Richard.

While Seren has been trying to figure out who this is, or who she isn’t, Rue has disengaged her fingers from her wife’s. She’s started to pace away from the illusion of her, too painful to look at. She doesn’t stop until she’s at the far side of the couch, dropping down heavily enough onto the arm of it that she rocks backward and nearly tips onto her back on the seat.

Her hand sinks between the back and seat cushions as she catches herself, holding there for a moment and trembling with tears in her eyes. She almost misses the question. Rue lifts her head and fixes her with a look of confusion. Baird’s favorite what?

Realization dawns on her then. “Oh.” She starts to push upright again, coming to her feet. “I see…” Rue smiles apologetically, “I really wish I could tell you, but…” Her fingertips trail along the back of the couch unseen as she starts to meander her way back toward the summoner and the door. “She didn’t write that in her diary.”

Now her hand lifts where it can be seen from where they stand. There’s a gun held in her grip, finger poised over the trigger. “Why don’t you sit down, Seren? It’s time we talked.

Seren's fingers curl into a fist by their side.

At Rue's side, Liza's eyes suddenly widen in alarm. She shifts her posture, starting. Her voice is piercing, filled with shock and reproach both. "Rhubarb!" she pleads.

You’re not real!” Rue shouts at the phantom of her wife, face turned in her direction, but not taking her eyes or her aim from Seren.

Liza might not be real, but the sob that comes from her sounds very much so. Her eyes tear up. "Rue." comes from her in that tone of voice that usually is followed by how could you?

And then she's gone.

Seren has their balled hand ground against the side of their hand to ensure it, only a sliver of one gleaming eye visible. "Fuck," they breathe, a curse… but an apology? "Fuck." This time, a proper expletive.

They lose their footing in a stumble, right as Baird's tawny shifts grey, his eyes the only thing about him now that aren't in monochrome. He lets out a keening whine as Seren stumbles a step back, one hand coming out to brace themself against something. It finds the corner of the cafe table instead of the wall, the likes of which can't bear their weight. "Shit." They know what's about to happen, but can't keep themself from falling over like a pin at a shooting gallery, taking the table out with them. The bottle of wine goes tumbling, landing end over end on the floor before rolling onto its side, spilling its contents. It's a series of small thumps to go right along with the crash of Seren's tumbling failure of a fall.

Their head is splitting. They manifested something real instead of something fantastic. And they almost couldn't stop it, not until they took control of the projection for themself. It doesn't feel like they're bleeding from their nose, but their head smarts of a sourness associated with nausea and vertigo, one that keeps them from getting back to their feet.

They don't need to in order to stand their ground. The amber intensity of Baird's eyes begin to glow as he slowly turns back to Rue, hackles raised. He stands in front of Seren at a protective curve, blocking her path.

He lets out a growl that builds into a snarl, blackened and pointed teeth bared.

There is a flare of concern from Rue when Seren goes stumbling. That is not what she was aiming for. She takes a step forward as if to assist, but stops short when Baird stands in her way.

You aren’t real either,” Rue insists, voice a low hiss.

But everything this Rue Lancaster knows about Seren Evans and their fantastic ability is filtered through the eyes and mind of the woman they love. Who loves them.

And that Rue believes in Baird.

This one takes a step back again, hand trembling. She lacks the nerves of steel of her counterpart. “I just want to talk to you.” There’s a tremor in her voice. She turns the gun toward the summoned creature. “I don’t want either of you to get hurt!”

Pushing themself up into a sit, Seren's hand paws the underside of their nose in a check for blood, eyes on fingertips that come back dry. "Then just put…" they start to counter in frustration, their voice raised to match Rue's.

That's when their gaze lifts to see the gun trained instead on Baird, and they freeze. Baird's threatening crouch deepens, the curl of his tail no longer white, no longer curled. By the second he grows more wolfish and dangerous, changing shape before both their eyes. His growl intensifies in a dare to show him aggression in return.

"… the gun down." The rest of Seren's meant phrasing finally comes from them, their voice soft, but still heard over Baird's growl. Their silver-gleaming eyes move from the gun to its wielder. Mentally, they reach for Baird, seeking to pull him back. He continues to stand his ground.

"R…. Rue, put the gun down," they request again with a touch of urgency.

The odds are being calculated in her head, but this is not Rue’s line. She doesn’t face down people for a living. She’s not a killer. She’s never actually shot someone in her entire life. The way this scenario plays out in her head… it doesn’t go well for anyone involved.

Well, all except one of them.

“Call him off,” Rue demands, backing up until she collides with the back of the couch. The bump startles her and she turns quickly to look, as though she might find someone behind her. But she’s looking back again just as quickly, waving her gun in Baird’s direction. “Do something!

Seren already is, as much as they can. Standing is probably beyond them, but they crawl on their knees the short distance between them and their imaginary friend, treating him with caution but without fear. "Baird," they murmur to him. "Buddy…"

His growl ebbs as Rue takes a step back, only for him to snap and snarl again with renewed intensity when she rounds the gun back on them both.

Not even Seren's arms wrapping around his neck and torso bring the beast to quiet, even as they sit on their knees, prepared to use all of themself to keep him from lunging. "Shhh…" they tell him, their words a hush. "It's okay, bud. It's okay…"

It's not, but the lie finally reaches him and he quiets, still very much tensed to throw himself at the perceived threat to Seren, no matter what their wishes about the matter seem to be, apparently. Their emotional register is all over, impacting their communication with him. They continue to shush him quietly. It's hard to tell at this distance that he's not real, even for all that he looks like a silently-snarling nightmare. His fur parts around Seren's arms the appropriate amount, and they lean into him just like he's actually there and needing physically restrained.

"Shhhhh," they tell him again, and their eyes close. They swallow hard. Maybe he's not convinced Rue means what she says just yet. Maybe that's why he won't settle.

"What did you want to talk about?" Seren asks, their voice strained at first like it wants to break.

Baird stands down, or at least seems to be considering it, so Rue starts to lower her weapon. She takes her finger off the trigger first, but holds the grip loosely in her other fingers, turning it sideways so she can set it against the back of the couch next to her hip.

She keeps her hand on it for now, but that may as well be to keep it from falling to the floor and going off accidentally.

Rue catches her breath shakily, gaze shifting off to her left briefly, deeper into the apartment while she seems to think about what she wants to say. When she turns back to them, she’s settled on:

“I want to help you, Seren Evans.”

A laugh tears itself from Seren without the opportunity to even reflect on it happening. "Help me?" they echo back, sounding weary. Exhausted. They are, which helps with that impression. They shake their head and lay their head against Baird's side as he chuffs in disbelief, but the baring of his teeth becomes less.

"You kidnapped my boss and pinned the responsibility for it on my partner. She went to jail because of what you did." Even if she was released after being held merely in lock-up. The distinction between that isn't that important for Seren at the moment. "How or why would you possibly help me?"

Their eyes stay closed, brow creasing in worry and anticipation. They don't realize the gun isn't trained on them anymore yet, pouring all their energy into calming Baird.

Rue laughs bitterly in return and shakes her head. “Your little girlfriend?” The tip of her tongue teases at the point of one canine. She's indignant and galled by whatever it is that’s on her mind. “She’s not who you think she is.”

Blue eyes roll. For all that she’s afraid of Baird, she’s apparently more annoyed by the existence of this world’s version of her. “Oh, gosh. Pretty little freedom fighter. So exciting,” Rue scoffs. “God, and she was so smitten with you from the beginning. You’d think she could manage not to fuck this up. I mean, look at you.”

The gesture is done with her off hand, rather than the one with the gun. Easy, Baird.

“You’re sweet, supportive, attractive. Everything that dumb bitch could want.” They may not be Liza, but Rue can see the appeal all the same, it seems. “Do you want to know what she says about you?” She laughs cruelly then, tilting her head upward as though there might be a script on the ceiling to prompt her.

Dear Diary,” she begins, “today I met the most gorgeous person I’ve laid eyes on in a hot minute. Their name is Seren, and I don’t even know what to do with myself.”

Seren doesn't seem to know what to do with that either. The surprise thread the conversation has woven its way to brings them to lift their head from Baird's coat, eyes opening and fixing on Rue.

Just what was she getting at…?

Dear Diary, today I realized I’m in love with them. Sometimes they’re all I can think about. The way they smile at me makes me feel like the way things were before the bomb. When the world was still normal, and I wasn’t an insignificant little speck in a sea of wonder.” One has to wonder if these are the actual words, or an exaggeration. But if anyone would know the way Rue feels in her heart, it would be her evil twin, wouldn’t it? Or… maybe not.

The air is dropped, no longer ‘reading’ journal entries now. “She loves you, she does. But love’s not enough for her.”

Suddenly, she’s smiling brightly and she looks so very much like Rue.

The one Seren knows.

Haaaaave you met James?” she trills sweetly, a juxtaposition of the way Seren was introduced at the Christmas party at the Wolfhound’s Bastion.

"That's enough." Seren answers in a tremble. They don't understand what this Rue is winding her way to, but they don't have to to understand it's meant to be hurtful. Their grip around Baird slacks, a result of beginning to sink back away from the words Rue wields as weapons sharper than knives, more piercing than bullets.

They don't need to be fully utilized in order for one to still fear their cut.

Their arm sits phased halfway through Baird's chest, not enough attention paid to realize they've slipped in presenting his realness.

This had gone so much differently in Rue’s head. It was supposed to be apologetic. It was supposed to be conciliatory. It was meant to be a friend sharing a hard truth with a friend, even though they don’t know each other.

But then they’d made her see Li. And misery loves company.

And company loves more.

No,” Rue counters. “It isn’t.” The fact that Baird is losing his realness is not lost on her. It’s allowing her to feel more comfortable. Safer. He’s just as unreal as her wife had been. That makes all of this a much more even playing field than she expected it to be.

“Remember? How she called him her partner?” Rue shakes her head. She’s taking delight in Seren’s pain now, she realizes, but only because she knows what it’s going to do to her counterpart. “She introduced you to her lover, Seren.”

Another unkind grin is cracked. “She writes about him in her diary, too.” Her chin lifts, as though to read that invisible script again. “Today Dearing fucked me into the wall. Then over the desk. I could spend my life with a man like that, I think. Rue Dearing doesn’t have such a terrible ring to it.”

Rue’s gaze comes back to settle on Seren, the amusement gone from her expression again. “Would you like to hear about Agent Diaz next?”

Try as they might to close out what Rue says, Seren cannot. Plausible deniability goes out the window when she carries on with just what partner means– and then delivers a stinger with that last line.

Seren's fingers feel as though they should be curling into Baird's fur, but they realize the semi-substantial texture is more shadow than creature. He begins to flicker like some dark flame, golden eyes turning to his summoner. Haven't they heard enough? Their hand lifts from him, shadow clinging stubbornly before sticking back to his form.

He's still for now, but only because Seren is still holding his leash. Making him stay.

They rock to their feet, hand bracing against the wall properly this time to help them as they stand. The tease that there's another, potentially, hurts. It hurts worse than the first stab, and all Rue has done so far is lift that particular knife. "Stop it!" they shout, flinching. Begging.

"What do you want?!"

Rue makes no attempts to stop Seren from climbing to their feet. There’s no twitch of her fingers to clasp the gun still under her palm. Seren’s no longer a threat to her. Not an immediate one, anyway.

“What I want? Is for you to hate that stupid bitch as much as I do.”

As far as Rue’s concerned, the other Lancaster is the evil twin. She is the good one. She doesn’t barrel through her own life, fucking up everything she touches on purpose. She wouldn’t look at something so good, so pure as Seren Evans and then go wandering.

“She’s poison, Seren. It’s time you knew.”

Rue's not poison. She's not.

Seren knows this, believes it with all their heart. Rue might be human, but she's not poison.

It's a belief that they cling to even as tears come to their eyes. They want, inexplicably badly, to slap the woman wearing Rue's face for daring to say such a thing.

"Why do you wear her face if you hate her so much? Why do you have her name? Why do you…" Seren's teeth grind into a clench at the back, a tight noise of discomfort coming from them pushing through to keep speaking. "Just who are you?"

The black flame of Baird's being flickers with grays in an invisible breeze as he holds in place. He doesn't look at either of them, waiting patiently.

Fingers curl around the back of the couch, using it as an anchor as she leans forward. The antagonistic woman’s face is stormy, eyes dark with her own frustration and agitation. “I’m February Lancaster.

There are so precious few people who can appreciate what she means without a long explanation that she isn’t sure she has the energy to give.

But she’s going to try.

“She is me, and I am her. She’s just doing a really shit job of it.” Rue reaches up with her left hand to rest her palm on her chest. “I kept my head down. My nose clean. I never got mired in that petty bullshit that she– She is a liar and a cheat!

As she goes on, her eyes grow wider and wilder. “She kills people! I had a quiet life. I never hurt anybody.” But here she is. She is the one who’s lost it all, while the Rue of this world gets to trample through the garden and still find adoration. “I didn’t know,” she starts, some of her anger abating, overtaken by shame, “what they were going to do to Mister Ray. That wasn’t me.”

But there’s guilt. She may not have realized anyone was going to die, but she had to suspect. Otherwise why not just make an appointment? Invite someone for tea? Surely there were easier ways to get a man’s attention. Even one as busy as the Raytech CEO.

But this isn’t about her, as far as Rue’s concerned. It’s about her. “Her parents call her every week. Every week. She never talks to them. Never calls them back. Waits until it’s the dead of night and leaves voicemails. Do you have any idea how badly I miss my mom and dad?” Tears start to run down her cheeks. The fight starts to drain from her.

All that’s left is a life she can never have. One that she’s been watching unravel at the seams for a while now. All she has left is to pick at the threads.

Seren has a vast imagination, but in this moment, they're having such trouble fathoming the truth of what Rue's saying. They're the same? Are they actual, literal doppelgangers of each other? Twins separated at birth given the same name by some cruel twist of irony?

A bubble of defensive anger reaches a bursting point finally. Their Rue is a liar and a cheat? "She fought!" Seren roars indignantly. "She fought so people like me would have a future we could be ourselves in. She fought so people like the Company, the Institute, would quit bagging and tagging us in the broad light of day– so the US government would stop classing their Expressives as second-class citizens!"

"She isn't even like us, and she fought for us!"

Baird's black, flaming form flares at the edges, fire stoked.

"Her allies betrayed her, she almost lost her life, and she still didn't give up on doing what was right!"

"You have no right to judge her life, to try and tear it apart like this…" Seren seethes, tears streaming from their gleaming eyes. "You aren't even living your own."

Words expelled, they finally remember to breathe again, their chest rising and falling and not retaining as much puff to it as it had before. For all their lashing out, they're still nursing a hurt; a betrayal they can barely comprehend, much less know what to do with. A long-overdue strangled note of a sob comes from them as they stand their ground.

Because if they don't fight for Rue, who will?

Certainly not Rue.

Either of them.

The one in the room with Seren right now breathes in slowly, wipes at her face, and exhales. “This isn’t for you,” she prefaces before she picks up the gun again, leaving the nose of it pointed at the floor.

“I’ve told you what you need to know,” she says numbly. “What you do with this from here is… up to you, I guess.” Rue turns her head and stares deeper into the apartment, like she’s listening for something.

Her anxious gaze returns to Baird’s form. “I’m going to leave now,” she insists, but doesn’t move for the door just yet. She’s too wary of the summon.

That the gun isn't meant for them is something else they might have a bitter retort for, but Seren's focusing on keeping it together, a fight that's gradually failing. Their projected strength is just that. Their breath comes heavier and less evenly, shoulders trembling. What were they going to do now?

Baird finally swivels his head back to them, feet shifting. Those limbs are distinct again, the inky flame surrounding him giving way to a gradually-reforming whole. Dark purples and greens wend their way through his form, navy and indigo spatters of him appearing as the flames begin to die down. They're all the color of bruises, darker than the one Seren will have on their hip in the morning from the harsh fall they took.

They can't even bring themself to look Rue's way as they plead in a broken voice, "Wait." It's soft, so soft they think it needs repeated louder, but they only make it as far as "W…" and in the death of that sound, a streak of messy maroon marrs the darkness on Baird's chest.

Seren's eyes shut hard, a new line of tears making their way down well-established rivers on their cheek. "Who..?" They never finish the question, though. Would it somehow make her easier to accept, knowing all her faults? Will it hurt more or less if it turns out Seren has no idea who this person is at all, this Agent… whatever his name was?

They don't know. They're afraid to know. Because the good that Rue did doesn't preclude her also from doing awful things. And what will knowing do but hurt?

With too much tension in their voice to properly speak again, all they can do is shake their head to try to banish the question away.

“It doesn’t matter,” Rue says, as if maybe she knows what the question is. “You know enough.” She slides the gun into the back of her skirt and pulls her shirt over the top to cover it with the loose fabric.

So, maybe she feels a little guilty. But they needed to know, she tells herself. Seren needed to know that their lover wasn’t what she seemed.

Finally, Rue starts toward the door. “For what it’s worth… I’m sorry. Sorry it had to come to this. Sorry I threatened you…” She looks to the empty space where the vision of her wife had stood. “I know,” she says, as if responding to some unheard question. “Let’s get out of here.”

Seren would like to imagine they're strong enough to keep this Rue from leaving. With Baird as their proxy, it could even be possible. But they slowly list to one side, hip against the wall before they turn and slide on their back down until they're sitting.

Rue has a gun. There's no way they can stop her if she really wants to go.

And they're sure she'll get away with smiling and waving on her way out because she looks just like their Rue. Why would there be any reason to suspect?

"I hope you find something less destructive to do with your time from here," Seren calls out bitterly. They pull their knees to themself, burying their head in the gap between them. Bruised Baird sits right by their side, leaning into the side of their calf with his head still turned in Rue's direction, gold eyes unerring in their watch of her.

“Well.” Rue scoffs. “That makes two of us.”

The door shuts behind her, leaving Seren alone to reckon with these revelations.

When Rue's gone, the silence isn't even silent, the music floating up from below in Cat's still a riotous cacophony. Seren continues to spill tears in silence for some time, comforted by Baird's hard lean against them, silent encouragement he feeds them through the tether they share. It may in the end all be from the same mind, but for them, it's enough.

They finally lift their head, rubbing a hand along the top of Barid's shiba head, his coloring returned, his scarf missing. Seren rubs across their cheek with the heel of their palm after, smudging away the spot that's slightly black from the eyeliner that's trailed along with it.

Feeling heavy, they pull their phone from their pocket. With the GhostNet's recent growth, they don't even have to wait for a signal– they're able to look up the phone number they're after right away.


Seren swallows hard while the line dials out, eyes closing to steel their voice as much as possible. It still sounds thin to them, even so. "Yes, hello? I'm– calling about the kidnapping case back from January. The, um– Richard Ray's kidnapping case."

"I just met the person responsible. I'd– I don't know, I'd like to file a report about that."

Their eyes open halfway, stare vacant while they listen to the other end. "Yes," they concede, miserable. "Yes, I'll hold."

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