rue_icon.gif seren_icon.gif

Scene Title Truehearted
Synopsis A welcome face is waiting for Rue once she's released from lockup.
Date January 8, 2020

Red Hook

The midday sun is bright enough to cause Rue to squint when she steps off the ferry that allowed her to leave the confines of Fort Jay behind. A stray tear from the sunlight runs down her face and she wipes at it with a sleeve still stained with the other day’s mascara and eyeliner. She frowns and shoves her hands in her pockets once she finds solid ground again. Her phone is a cold brick in her right pocket, battery having gone dead while she was in custody.

Rue sighs. She’s going to have to take the bus home to the Bastion, unless she gets lucky enough to find a cabbie hanging around the docks off rush. She needs a long shower, she needs her own bed, and she needs a drink. Not necessarily in that order. Scouring the parking lot, she’ll find none of those here.

No, but she will find a familiar face, a familiar vehicle.

The sight of Rue's jeep being parked in the lot might be a source of cognitive dissonance made only slightly more understandable by Seren Evans' proximity near it. They're facing away from the docks during this particular drop-off, holding a red ball in one hand. "Come on, bud, you can't keep giving people the evil eye. You're scaring them. Someone's gonna call someone on us, and that would suck. So let's play for a bit. All right?"

The wolf laying on all fours by their feet has had his attention captured by the ball, though, even though he'd normally balk at such an obvious distraction tactic. It's even being explained to him and he's still falling for it. He sits perfectly still, amber eyes on the ball rather than Seren, his pitch black form without clearly textured fur tense. Featherlike spears lacking proper definition flare away from his haunches and forelegs, veins of dark red visible in them. Seren observes his dark form tiredly, holding the ball up. "Ready?" they ask without enthusiasm, and he pats his front paws on the ground, all enthusiasm.

Arm arcing back, Seren grunts with the effort of their throw and the ball goes sailing, a greyish-black stream fleetingly visible around it from the force it goes off with. Off Baird goes next, a pool of shadow which streaks off after the ball, attention directed away from the ferry and its persons.

Only once that's done does Seren chance a look back over their shoulder.

The redhead coming down the dock immediately catches their attention, and their breath. Thin brows rise up to meet the bottom of the Raytech beanie clinging to their head, the chain strung through and hanging from their earlobe glinting as they start.

Rue stops in mid-step when she spots her own vehicle in the parking lot, brows furrowing in confusion as her eyes follow the large print RUBICON stamped down the hood. She checks the plate to be sure it’s hers, and sure enough, it checks out. Then she lifts her gaze to the person standing nearby. To—

“Seren?” Rue’s reaction mimics that of her paramor’s. Breath fills her lungs in a sharp gasp and is held there while butterflies make a habitat in her stomach. Rue has just realized something else she needs, and it’s something she can get here, in the middle of this parking lot.

A hug.

Rushing forward, hands slipping out of her pockets again in order to aid her balance, the redhead throws her arms around her unexpected visitor, tipping her face down to rest against the top of Seren’s head as she squeezes them gently. “I thought I wouldn’t see you,” Rue confesses. “I thought I’d get a text message dumping me once I got my phone back online.”

Rue draws back then, but keeps her hands on Seren’s shoulders. “Oh no. Are you dumping me in person?”

At the sound of Rue's voice, Baird's ears flick back and he pulls his head out from under the car his ball had rolled under. His head snaps in the attention of the two, their embrace. Rue! Over Seren's shoulder, the large hound of shadow and smoke begins to bound in the two's direction. The moment Seren's eyes begin to water, cinders snap to life around their summon, a ribbon of flame starting at his nose and rushing down his form to his tail. Growth noses its way forward from his outline, blooming into tiny white and pink flowers. Black smoke becomes blackened earth that recedes into clusters, brightness returning to him in the most visible way.

Seren returns the hug given to them fiercely, hands resting on Rue's hips in case she needs steered away from running off. They let out a laugh, not even bothering to wipe away the wetness in their eyes. "You think I'd bring you your car just to break up with you?" they chide her, a laugh bubbling up.

They're just so happy to see her.

"I was so worried— I got a call confirming we'd been together out at Niagara, and I saw the news, and my boss's boss is missing and…" Seren pauses to shake their head, looking up at Rue. "Are you okay?"

They hear the sound of nails on concrete and turn. "Baird, it's okay—" they interject quickly over their shoulder, raw nerve threaded in their voice. "It's Rue, buddy. It's…"

And then their eyes widen to see the blooming, happy creature that bounds up to them. No longer a dark wolf, but a pale labrador covered in spots of earth that bear flowers, including from his mud-soaked paws. Branches bearing more of those tiny flowers grow from his legs instead of the fearsome spikes now. His tail is wagging furiously, an image of simplistic joy.

"We were worried," Seren corrects themself. "We tried to get in to see you but they wouldn't accept any visitors."

Rue laughs at the apparent silliness of her question. She looks exhausted, and it doesn’t take an imagination as prolific as Seren’s to guess at why. But whatever else she might have been about to say about it is derailed when the wolf-turned-bulbador comes bounding up to the pair of them. She presses a kiss to Seren’s cheek before turning to crouch down and give the figment some attention. Rue’s never had a hard time reconciling that Baird is just as real as his architect.

Reaching out to ‘pet’ the very good boy, Rue laughs happily, letting tears run down her face. “Good to see you too, buddy. You been looking after them, boy? Good. Good, I’m glad to hear it.”

Tithe paid to the guardian, Rue rises to her feet and turns again to her partner. Her head tips to one side slightly, gaze misty. “May I kiss you, Seren?”

That’s a callback.

Seren's reply comes in the form of another tight hug, accompanied by a firm kiss filled with gladness. They're doing everything out of order apparently, only answering "Always." after they come back down to the flats of their feet, figment circling them both protectively while his tail wags.

Rue didn't answer their question, but Seren didn't need a spoken response to see it in the way she carries herself. "Do you want to talk about it?" they ask with concern, lifting a hand to wipe away tears on one of her cheeks with their thumb. "Or do you just want to go home? I can drive. We can go back to my place if you don't want to go face everybody yet. I wouldn't blame you, the way there were all those cameras before. Honestly, I…"

A flash visible on the other end of the lot draws Seren's attention, making them trail off. A camera flash. They blink, their arm staying looped around Eye's side while Baird's head perks up to attention. Seren narrows their eyes to a squint, trying to determine if this was just their imagination or…

Seren drops back to a flat-footed posture and Rue dips down after them to claim their mouth with another hard kiss that denotes just how badly she missed them. How worried she’s been the past two days. How much everything has been getting to her. And it’s no wonder.

“I’d like to—”

Rue’s head snaps to the side at the flash, her happiness at seeing Seren instantly gone from her face. There isn’t anger left in its place, though, just a neutral mask. She should have seen that coming. Should have noticed the reporter waiting in his car.

Her hands find Seren’s face, thumbs brushing over cheekbones. Protective. “You and Baird get in the car. I’m right behind you.” There’s a glance given to the chimera, warning and serious, before she breaks off from the reunion to march toward the reporter.

She stops, not anywhere near penetrating the man’s personal bubble, and jabs a finger through the air at him. It’s as close as she comes to showing aggression, because she keeps that expression of hers calm. There will not be reports of Furious Lancaster Attacks Press if she can help it. “You tell Frady,” because if this isn’t an agent of the Safe Zone Siren, she will eat her damn hat, “that if he wants an exclusive? My number’s in the phonebook.” The phonebook is essentially a metaphor in this day and age.

She gets another picture snapped for her trouble, but she has the good sense not to flip the bird at least. “If you follow us,” she says in an even voice, “I will call the cops and have you charged with harassment. You’re a journalist, not the paparazzi.”

The reporter likewise has the good sense not to pick a fight with the redhead. Maybe Quentin warned him that she’ll mess him up. Maybe he told him she’s a stone cold killer, like all of Wolfhound is in his book. (He might even be right about that one.) Or maybe her reputation speaks for itself. Whatever the case, the camera rolling on her back is the only response she gets from him when she stalks off to her waiting vehicle so she can climb into the passenger seat.

Seren doesn't get in the car right away, though. When Rue breaks off, Baird is cowed into staying in place by the look she gives him, but nonetheless adopts a posture of alert and protective, a rumbling of a tiger's growl coming from somewhere within him. His summoner lays a hand on his raised hackles, trying to smooth his fur down even as he leers at the reporter Rue stalks in the direction of, the black mud crawling up his paws and legs again.

"Baird." Seren protests quietly at his growl. When they stand, the chimera shifts yet again, his form rising with their hand— embiggening by grades. "I know," they tell him quietly, looking back with a worried glance to the reporter, the edges of their grey eyes coated in a gleam of silver. "But this isn't going to help."

Baird's darkening form is nearly anthropomorphic before Seren's hand glows white on his chest and they shepherd him back to the Jeep.

By the time Rue pulls the door shut behind her, the both of them are in the car as they were the last the redhead looked at them. The only visible difference is there are significantly more pink blooms than white to the labrador than before. A black tongue hangs from his maw while he pants.

"If we go back to the Raytech complex, there's security that'll run guys like him off," Seren decides more than offers up, picking up where they left off in the conversation. A strong if quiet murmur of "Asshole." punctuates what they feel about the incident. They put the car into gear, mean-mugging the direction of the photographer before paying attention to the road ahead.

With more calm and brightness than they actually feel, they segue, "Are you hungry? Maybe we pick up something on the way back." Seren smiles briefly, glancing up to the rearview for only a moment. Their grip on the wheel tightens, and Baird lays his head on their shoulder from the back seat.

Rue immediately bursts into laughter at Seren’s suggestion, but is quick to press a hand to her mouth. “Oh, love. Raytech Security isn’t going to let me anywhere near that facility.” Not that Rue wants to tempt fate by setting foot on the campus anyway. “But it really was a nice thought.”

Tipping her head back to rest against the seat behind her after she buckles her belt, Rue groans with frustration. “Nah. Let’s go to the Cradle. Sassy will throw molotovs if anyone tries to fuck with me. It’ll be fun.

She’s joking. Probably.

“Food would be very good.” Cat’s Cradle has food in addition to booze. Honestly. Rue reaches back into the back seat and asks, “Who’s the best boy? Huh? Who’s the best boy?” With no idea whatsoever what he may have looked like moments before she turned around. Then again, maybe she does know. Who can say with her?

It takes Seren a moment to realize just how much of a fallacy their suggestion had been, and when it hits, they try to keep from it showing in their expression. It's a failing effort, as they're unable to keep from a moment of anguish showing plainly. "This is so fucked up," they murmur, reaching for the first most comforting thing they can think of saying. It's not their usual optimism, but these are unusual circumstances. "I can't believe this is happening. Whatever happened, it wasn't you! They made all that fuss, and you had an alibi, even, and…"

Their hand comes off the wheel before they flex it around the leather and grip tightly again. Ten and two, Seren. Don't lose your cool.

Forcing their tone closer to upbeat, they break even. "I could go for some Cat's. Fried food, something to smoke…"

Baird closes his eyes in a distinctly catlike gesture as Rue ruffles the side of his face. The projection of texture is slightly off, given Seren's split attention. There's a sense of pushing on something not quite fur, and when her hand curls around the side of his head, the drag of her fingers feels as though it's going against grain, a sharpness encouraging a lack of rough pets. All the while, the figment and summoner both remain oblivious to the fault in his fuzzy appearance.

He opens his amber eyes and purrs, pleased as punch to be near his favorite people.

“Yeah,” Rue agrees about it being fucked up. “It sure as fuck is. I don’t… I don’t know. I don’t even know what the fuck. Apparently someone’s going around town and wearing my face?” There’s a note of concern there that actually doesn’t have to do with the fact that the topic at hand is legitimately fucking concerning and pertains more to the way that Baird isn’t responding — tactilely speaking — the way Rue expects him to. She’s known Seren long enough to know that means they’re at odds with the front they’re presenting.

“But I’m okay, though,” she insists, finally answering that previous question. “SESA seems fairly convinced that it wasn’t me. So… I just… have to figure out who it was.” Rue withdraws her hand from Baird then, twisting back around to sit in her seat properly while she closes her eyes and instead buries her hands in her own hair, nails scraping over her scalp as though it might stimulate her brain. Which feels a bit like mush right now, frankly.

“It’s going to be okay. I’m absurdly fucking good at this.” Rue opens her eyes and peers at Seren out of the corner. “You… don’t feel like you’ve been around a me who isn’t me at all, have you?”

What a question. Seren's brow knits.

"No," they answer plainly, earnestly, eyes still on the road. Their look of concern shifts. "The only time I've ever felt like… like something might've been off was right around the Christmas Party." It's an uncomfortable admission, one they wish they could breeze right past if not for the red light that metaphorically and physically locks them in the moment. "You had that thing happen at work, you got hurt, you got… really distant, and then at the party you just were drunk and you did things I didn't expect, and…"

They jiggle the stick in neutral possibly more as a nervous tick than to confirm the gear they're in just before the light changes.

Seren ducks their head forward, clinically checking both directions before heading into the interaction despite the green giving them right of way. "But trauma affects everybody in different ways, and something clearly happened the night you got hurt. So I just wrote it off and gave you your space, and then we had a really great Christmas and you said you wanted to stick it out with me, so I thought… whatever it was, it'd just been temporary, and you handled it."

There's a strain in their voice as they ask, "Unless it wasn't you that night at the party? Those days after? I don't…"

They don't think so, and they hate to have to question it like this. "I'm sorry, Rue," they voice, a whining tone emitting from Baird as he lays down on his paws, sniffing at the branches growing from his legs.

In asking that question, Rue had never fathomed that she was just asking for a critique on her behavior in a relationship. But here they are, and Seren is right on all counts. “No,” Rue says quietly, “that was… That was all me.”

She wants to close her eyes again and hide from the moment, even as she’s fully prepared to continue to address it. It’d just… be much easier if she didn’t have to see their expression. Hearing the concern in their voice is painful enough as is.

“I…” She doesn’t keep her eyes shut, though. Because Seren deserves better. Rue turns in her seat. She could wait until they get to their destination, but frankly she’d rather not have this conversation in the bar, where someone can see or overhear it. “My job is very stressful. Things… I just… I’m not making an excuse. I did exactly what you say I did. I withdrew, and I… I didn’t keep up with you and I just… Fuck, I was afraid I’d die on you and break your heart.”

She’d been up front, she thinks, about the way she’d probably flit in and out of Seren’s life. Rue can blame it on work all she likes, but it has less to do with that and more to do with her inability to commit.

Which would be painfully evident if Seren realized that part of Rue’s coping mechanism involves sleeping with people who aren’t them.

“I’m not good at this, Ser’,” Rue admits easily. “I don’t know how to be a very good partner. I’m — trying, but…” Her tongue slips out briefly to wet her lips, which she smacks together in a vocalization of her frustration with herself. “Yeah, all of that bad shit was me.

How nice it would have been to be able to say it wasn’t.

Seren's shoulders droop when Rue shares what she's been worried about, about what she thinks of herself. All they can do is shake their head. "Hey," they say encouragingly. "I'm new at this too, Rue. We're both learning. It's okay." They look away to her for just a moment to stress that, no signs of overactive imagination glimmering in their eyes. "I can't even begin to imagine that stress, okay? I don't know what I would have done if I'd been in your shoes. And it's not fair of me to judge and say I would."

They shake their head. "I don't want you thinking I'm saying anything just to say it, either. I'm not… saying it to make you feel bad. I mean it. I know I've not been perfect, either. I get scared constantly that you'll turn around and realize what's going on with me isn't always magical and fall out of love with it, and I know sometimes that that— manifests." Seren puts on a weak smile. "We're both allowed to get scared, though. New things are scary."

"This is scary," they tag on with a faint laugh. "Someone running around with your face? I'd flip."

Seren tucks their chin in a moment of thought. "Should we come up with a codeword, just in case?" Like in the movies.

“God, no,” Rue is quick to refute, wanting so badly to reach out to grab Seren’s hands. But Seren needs them to drive, so the two of them don’t crash. “You are— You’re as close to perfect as I’ve ever known.” Not that Rue’s known much. For all the things she’s seen in her life, love’s not one she’s encountered often.

“You’re right, as usual,” she insists with a smile. “I’ll give myself permission to be scared. Where you can see it.” Maybe that’s a big step forward. Maybe it’s not enough. Only time will tell, won’t it? But Rue smiles, because it’s something. And because Seren is very clever. “You’re right. We should come up with a codeword. What’s something you’ll remember? It can be something significant to us, but it has to be something we wouldn’t tell anybody else about, either.”

For the same reason as why using your mother’s maiden name as your security question with your bank is an asinine idea. “Or it can be something completely off the wall. Like… Purple pancakes!”

Seren grins, finding that particularly clever. "I'll ask you what Baird's favorite food is, and if your answer's anything but that, I'll know it's not you." Baird is lifting his head off his paws, wondering at them both. Flicking a look back at him in the rearview, they assure him, "We know that's not your favorite food, bud. It's just to trick the fake Rue."

The Jeep slows as Seren lets it roll into the lot across from Cat's Cradle, mindful for anything that looks like it could damage the tires before they settle the vehicle into park. Now, stopped, they let themselves blush at everything Rue's said.

"You're the best," they assure her earnestly. "Thank you for trusting me." They unbuckle their seatbelt only to lean forward and peck a kiss onto Rue's cheek. "You ready to eat?"

Rue grins, blushing faintly at the kiss she receives as the seatbelt is hissing and slithering its way up, over, and off her body to finally quietly clunk against the frame of the door. “Sounds like a plan to me.”

Cat's Cradle

“Oh, these look amazing.” Rue says of the appetizer that’s been set down in the middle of the table. “I’m warning you right now,” the redhead says, waving the chip she’s just picked up in her hand to gesticulate and encompass the plate between she and them, “if you don’t help me with this, I’m going to stress eat all of these nachos.”

"Sorry, I can't hear you over this sizzling mozzarella," Seren juxtaposes that comment, rustling the basket of eight sticks before them. Baird sits on a third chair around the table, which occasionally rocks on uneven legs from the force he wags his tail with. Seren grins at him.

"But we'll figure it out somewhere between us," they suppose, voice light and airy. It's mid-afternoon on a Wednesday, so it's not like there's too many people they could potentially make new friends by offering their shareables to. There's a guy asleep at the bar, for whatever that's worth, and another pair keeping quiet to themselves on the wall-side seating. "Or we just take home leftovers, god forbid, and have great food for later, too."

There's still an awful lot of 'we' in those sentiments. Seren bites off the end of a mozzarella stick rather than acknowledge that precisely, offering the stick out to Baird so he can delicately nibble a bite off the end, long strand of cheeze stringing between them. They spool the cheese back around the stick and then pop what's left into their mouth wholesale. They take a moment to glance at the door, as if expecting it to open with that photographer from before at any moment.

Their discomfort with the entire situation Rue finds herself in, and their subsequent discomfort they can do nothing to fix it, continues to manifest in small indicators like that.

“I’m doomed,” Rue laments. She can’t compete with mozzarella sticks. Leftovers it is, then. Unless she really does make good on her threat/concern of demolishing the entire plate of blue corn chips, melted cheese, pico de gallo, guacamole, and seasoned beef in front of her. When it’s put like that, it sounds pretty damn tempting.

The silence is occupied by crunching and munching. It isn’t as though she hasn’t been fed, but food in lock-up sure is not great, and Rue is feeling particularly famished. A beer is tipped back to wash down a mouthful. “I’m lucky I was with you when all this happened,” she tells Seren, as if that weren’t already pretty plain. “If I’d been… being my usual solitary self,” like she’d been after she was injured, “I wouldn’t have anyone to vouch for me. Wouldn’t have anyone who would…”

Believe her?

Rue feels immediately guilty for implying that Seren might have thought her guilty of the things she’s accused of. “During… During the days just before the war broke out, someone betrayed the Ferrymen on Pollepel Island.”

This is not an easy story to recount. In fact, Rue can’t remember the last time she ever spoke of it.

"Listen, I'm glad, too. Between me and the receipts, it's super clear you were nowhere near possibly responsible. Now if they could just go back and apologize and clear your image…" Seren tapers off when Rue begins her segue, mellowing. Tepidly, as a sign of support, they reach across to snag one of the nachos after all.

"I've only ever heard about that in really distant terms," they admit, chomping the nacho down in a single bite. No leftovers for Baird this time, not that it seems to matter to him. The branches affixed to his side sway in an unseen breeze, a handful of petals drifting away from the table and across the bar while he pays attention to Rue's tale.

Rue smiles faintly, sort of glad that Seren has a blank page for her to scribe this story to. “It started with our illusionist. She was able to make the island look uninhabited. She protected all of us.” Somewhere in the middle of that sentence, Rue’s gaze grew distant, even though she keeps eating as though this might be the most casual conversation a pair of people could have with one another.

“Amtullah.” It’s a name she’s committed to memory after all these years. Because the woman had been a hero, and her life had been stolen from her. “Someone killed her to give away our position to the government hunting us. Smothered her with a pillow.” She could have spared the how, but it matters to Rue how that woman was murdered. It matters because she knows so well how hard it is to kill another person with one’s own hands. How long it takes to force someone to stop breathing. And how much longer is required to keep them from ever breathing again.

“We were scared,” she admits. “Back then, I was nobody. I was just a… A model trying to make it in New York City. I didn’t have an ability. I only had my friends and my convictions that standing up for people with abilities was what was right.” There’s a little bit more hereness in Rue now. Admitting to who she used to be isn’t as painful. “But I only had a few people to vouch for me. My ex-girlfriend and an old friend of mine from our party days. Even then, I don’t think either of them could have vouched for who I really was.”

She waits then, to see if Seren has any questions for her so far. It’s already a lot.

The longer they listen, Seren becomes more engrossed with the story. Their attention on the food fades in favor of attention given to the recounting, taking especial pause at the name of the memorialized. Their brow pinches together in sympathy at hearing what happened to the island's guardian.

Sympathy, and maybe something more. They feel the need to look to Baird and give him a solemn pet on his head, fingers scritching under his ear without particular energy.

Having an imagination which gets ahead of them, they often try to guess where stories go next. It's an impulse that's just as hard to shut down as other facets of their ability, and this time, it leads them to a concerned place. When Rue emphasises how few people were able to vouch for her…

Seren's brow knits back together in concern as they look back to her. "Rue…" they echo back at her as supportively as possible. They have a bad idea where this is going.

“I trusted people then,” Rue continues, without letting the sympathy sink in past her skin. It bounces off the armor she’s created for herself after all this time. “My friend and mentor, Jensen Raith, he told me I had a face for intelligence.” She smiles at that, both fondly and bittersweetly. “I think he meant that I wasn’t good for much else than looking pretty and making stupid men talk to me.” Which Rue is well aware is a valuable skill, despite the way she downplays it. Downplaying that is all part of the act she maintains, even while she’s attempting to be wholly honest with Seren.

She lets out a breathy chuckle. “He filled my head with a notion, unintentionally. I wanted to be a spy. He’d been a spy. Avi had been a spy. My aunt had been a spy…” What role models she’d had. “So I started seeing how much I could skulk around the castle without being seen. Of course, you get seen doing that a lot when you’re starting out and you aren’t terribly good at it. And people start to wonder what the hell you’re doing.”

Again, she laughs, this time contemptuously at her past self and the ridiculous games she played while trying to be someone. Someone worthy. “I made the most convenient target. There was a man,” whose name she refuses to speak after all these years. Let his legacy not be one of infamy, but one forgotten, “who saw my antics and knew it wouldn’t be a hard sell. He stabbed Kaylee Ray,” she expects that name’s not lost on Seren, “and framed me for it. Framed me for what he’d done to Amtullah.” She pauses then, surprised to realize this doesn’t make her angry anymore. Not with him. Not with herself. Not with anyone.

“And they believed it.”

Seren frowns at hearing Rue might think herself nothing more than a pretty face, via her assumption about what other people think of her, but they keep their quiet throughout the explanation. She was owed that courtesy, for all that she was baring her soul. They look away for only a moment to check in on Baird, who's stopped his panting, interest attuned to Rue. He returns their look for just a moment and receives a fleeting smile in response to something that passes in the link between the two before Seren focuses on the story again.

Their eyes widen to hear Kaylee Ray had been stabbed. Clearly she was okay, but this was someone that Seren knew. It takes any potential abstraction of the story— any distance they might be able to still claim from it— and puts it wildly in perspective.

Their hand sets on the table, palm up between them both. It's the only sign Seren can think of to show their support without it somehow sounding pitying. Rue didn't deserve that. "How'd you get your name cleared?" they wonder, because maybe it might hold clues for how it can happen now.

“I didn’t.”

The answer is so very simple and so very sad. Rue smiles faintly. “Some people still think I’m the one who turned the Ferry over to the government. The non-Expressive with nothing to gain from helping people who weren’t like me.” Apart from her soul, maybe, if one is inclined toward such beliefs. “Most people think it was Eileen Ruskin.” That part seems to sting more than the accusations levelled against her personally, if the frown on her face is any indication.

“Others think we were in it together. But the people who really matter? They know the truth. That’s all that matters to me.” The frown takes some time, but it fades into a small smile. The person next to Rue is someone that matters. “The man who framed me is dead. Has been for years.” She shakes her head, “But not by my hand.” In the end, an old friend had spared her from making the choice she couldn’t take back.

“They were going to hang me.” Her tone manages to stay even. “Eileen, she came down and told me. And I accepted it. I told her it was worth it if it would bring people a sense of peace. If it would cause those people to stop distrusting their friends and family.” It maybe isn’t a stretch for Seren to imagine Rue seeing the nobility in an unjust death. “But that isn’t what she wanted… Eileen wanted me to get angry. And to stay angry.”

Years of pain and sadness seem to be dropped away from Rue’s face and posture with a snap of her fingers. Like she can just bury it all on a whim. She probably does, and frequently. “So I’m angry. Angry that it’s happening again and that people seem to want to believe it.” For all that she looks perfectly pleasant right now, as she pushes another loaded chip into her mouth.

Baird lets out a quiet, growl-like chuff of agreement. Seren sits, taking another bite of their own, cooling food with a pensive expression. This was awful on more levels than they even knew at first.

"This is like a living nightmare. That somehow this could happen again…" They look away, frowning. This isn't something they can fix, it sounds like, as much as they'd like to. If it were in their ability, they would. Their lack of being able to impact the situation or offer meaningful advice is something that visibly bothers them more each moment that an aha doesn't hit them.

"You have every right to be angry," Seren says, unable to conceal their frustration. "You're a good person and the people who believe anything different are just surfing to make a scandal. How dare they. How…"

On their lap, their hand balls tightly. Baird barks and it takes them by surprise, turning back to him. His paws are padding on the chair, attempting to draw either or both of their attentions. He's not a fan of how stressful this is for either of them. His head swivels back to Rue, another rumble of noise coming from him.

The bark has Rue jumping in her seat, shoulders hunching toward her ears. It takes two breaths before she manages to start to relax her posture again. She reaches out to the conjuration to bury fingers in his fur. But it’s Seren she looks to when she starts speaking, “You need to relax. This isn’t your problem. I’m glad you’re upset on my behalf, but…”

The smile is put on again. “It’s going to be fine. I’ll get it figured out. I always do, you know?” She doesn’t believe it herself any more than she did the last time she was in this situation, but one thing Rue has become adept at over time is selling a lie. “I’m not afraid of what the press thinks. I’m not afraid of public opinion.” Her hand lifts from Baird’s fur and comes across to grasp Seren’s hand instead. “As long as I have you… I’ll be fine.”

That, too, is a lie.

It's a comforting one. Maybe it's what helps Seren accept it as a truth, even if it's a disarming one.

They smile in return, touched and humbled. Rue's hand is accepted with a firm grasp. "I love you. I'll try to get less riled up about it. It's your fight, your thing you gotta face. But… if there's anything I can do, just let me know, okay?" Their brow knits together for just a moment in concern before they let it smooth away. "I'll be there for it, night or day."

There’s a hollow feeling in the pit of Rue’s chest that doesn’t diminish the light in her eyes as she squeezes that hand back. “I love you, too.” That much, at least, is true. Even if there’s so much else that makes it a painful truth.

“Just… Do me one favor.” Rue looks down at the table. She’s more vulnerable now than she usually allows herself to be. That is by design. “If it gets to be too much… If it’s overwhelming or it’s dangerous or…” She looks up again. “For any reason.”

Cupid’s bow and teardrop part gently while large blue eyes plead with the one who holds her heart. “Walk away. You don’t owe me anything. Your energy, your time, an explanation… Nothing. If the choice is your wellbeing or mine, I choose you. Every time.”

It's clear that Seren struggles to know how to address that, the grey of their eyes flitting back and forth between Rue's blues. Finally, all they do is shake their head with a confused smile, squeezing her hand in theirs. "Okay," they agree, but the hollowness in it is plain. Walking away without a word is not a thought they'll consider.

Not now. Not today. And hopefully, not ever.

"You still need help with those nachos?" they ask instead of letting those thoughts linger, their smile becoming a little more sincere.

Seren can't help with most of Rue's troubles. But at least they can help with those.

Movement in the mirror behind the bar distracts Rue. She peers at a place over Seren’s right shoulder, squinting faintly at something that never quite comes into focus. It only lasts the briefest of moments before she’s turning back to them and smiling brightly.

“Fuck, yes.” Releasing Seren’s hand, Rue gestures to the plate of nachos. She lifts a chip and turns to survey the pub casually, brows coming just a little closer together almost imperceptibly as she doesn’t see what she expects to see. A quiet chuckle banishes the paranoia that threatens to sink hooks into her mind. Maybe another fucking photographer. Probably nothing.

“Save me from myself.”

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