Twelfth Night


elliot_icon.gif rue4_icon.gif seren2_icon.gif

Scene Title Twelfth Night
Synopsis In an attempt to test the waters of their renewed relationship with Rue and its new dynamic, Seren takes the leap of inviting both Elliot and Rue to a late Christmas dinner.
Date January 5, 2021

Seren's Apartment, Raytech Industries Campus

When the knock comes at the door corresponding to the text that preceded it and the buzz at the lobby that followed that, Baird imparts a sense of calm upon Seren.

Despite that best effort, grace doesn't become them anyway. They completely become distracted from what they were about at the stove, head turning. "Shit."

When they nearly misstep on the floor from tension in their hip from having stood still from so long, it's with a hiss that they reach for the soothing compassion Baird radiates from the countertop. "Ah, fuck," they whisper to themselves, as such swears are good only for pain relief and not for honest mention into the world at large. They cup the sides of their familiar's face between both hands, placing a large kiss on top of his furry head.

He preens, evergreen with paws of gradient bluish-purple, front legs ending in talons rather than clawed paws. A lion cub bearing the cape of a monarch tied about his neck, he looks as regal as he does positively unreal, chuffing quiet encouragement at his person before turning his head in the direction of the door.

"What if it goes wrong?" they ask him in the faintest of whispers. Baird doesn't break his stare from the door for a long, contemplative second. Then he looks up to them, amber eyes conveying so much more than any few words could ever.

Seren shudders with the last of an exhale and straightens their shoulders. They're wearing a black turtleneck and navy jeans, feeling ridiculous for wearing a bow of green-colored tinsel about their neck even as they remind themself why they've bothered donning something slightly flashy for as understated and comfortable as the rest of them is. "You're right," they answer, even though they don't have to, then stride around the corner down the entryway to the front door.

"Okay," they tell themself before unbolting the lock. They summon their best attempt at a hostly countenance. They pull the door open.

Rue's there— and they smile— but then almost in the same instant they are keenly aware of the fact she's not alone. And somehow, Elliot's familiar face being the one standing with Rue, standing there, while they're all here, all preparing to—

"Excuse me for just one second," Seren tells them breathlessly without their smile faltering.

And then they shut the door again to give themself a moment to panic.

When the door suddenly closes, Elliot’s carefully crafted, slightly distracted-looking and casual smile widens into a full grin. He quietly chuckles to himself while Seren works up the nerve to open the door again. “Do you think it would help if I stood further down the hall?” he asks Rue.

He’s dressed in black jeans and an unbuttoned black dress shirt under a thin, knit gray and purple sweater. Cradled in one arm—a distraction and peace-offering both—is a gift basket. Not just some prearranged assortment of cheese and sausage kept in place with thick cellophane, every snack item within was hand picked for a perfect blend of flavor and aromatics.

“Oh, I think that went better than expected, actually,” Rue quietly assures Elliot with a pat on the arm, even if her expression is sympathetic rather than amused. “You just stay put.” Now the corner of her mouth is dragged upward slowly. “Wouldn’t want to spook them.”

Her offering is concealed inside a tall gift bag that does nothing to disguise the fact that what’s inside is a tall bottle of something. In this case, its contents are pale gold and bubbly.

The temptation existed to match Elliot’s color scheme. It’s the hazard of living in the apartment below one of your romantic entanglements. It’s very easy to just pop up a quick sec and collaborate on outfits, rather than just organically converge on a location, separately, wearing whatever had happened to be independently chosen. And if that had happened to be purple, in this case, then it would have been by coincidence.

However, Rue is very conscious of not sending a message to Seren that somehow they are the third wheel in this arrangement of theirs. It means the mid-thigh length dress she wears is a shade of evergreen that contrasts with the color of her hair. The dress falls to mid black stockinged thigh, has a heart-shaped bustline, its sleevelessness hidden by her black moto jacket. A belt cinches her narrow waist. The hardware — buckles, zips, snaps and the like — are all silver. Her booted foot taps against the floor soundlessly. “In three, two, one…”

Out of sheer stubbornness, perhaps, it takes a few beats past the countdown for the door to open again. "Sorry, I'm still just finishing up," Seren apologizes, opening the door in and making room for both of them to enter rather than standing in the doorway for any kind of prolonged greeting.

This is the better tack, clearly.

"Come in, come in— kick off your shoes if you want, land on the couch, we'll um…" Seren looks back to the door with a smile quickly, rescued from immediate direct interaction by a birdlike scree of beep, beep, beep noises from the kitchen. A look of oh shit distinctly passes over them before they scramble on socks on the wood-panel.

"Ah, sh— hold that thought," they say, lifting a hand as they go jogging back for the kitchen. "Yes, thanks Baird, I did just completely walk off with the stove on like a right crazy person, didn't I…" They round the corner back into the walled-off space, leaving visible where the hall opens up into a comfortable living space.

A purple cover is drawn over the L-shaped couch which faces a hanging television on an outer wall next to a wide window. Between the couch's back and the half-wall providing view into the kitchen is a dining room table with seats for four, a covered cake platter set in the center of the festive cloth spread over the top of it. On heading far enough down the hall to peer into the kitchen properly, Seren can be seen fussing in front of the stove with two pots, the contents of which they're about to plate.

"The wassail might be just a little strong, it looks like it reduced a bit, but that's fine," they pronounce, lifting one of the pots to pour the contents into a sturdy, opaque pitcher. "Made it with cider instead of ale, so…"

Baird is waiting for the moment Rue walks past, reaching out with a front paw to bat at her arm. Yes, he would like to say hello. He's seated on the edge of the kitchen counter, peering at her with amber eyes, and then Elliot after, wary but curious. This was such a different context than any of the times they'd run into each other previously. He looks back to Rue, attempting to dote on her as much as seek being doted upon.

Seren finishes pouring off the contents of the pot, cinnamon sticks and apples and all going into the pitcher, keeping the interaction in the corner of their eye.

Elliot is happy to kick off his sneakers, black high-tops embroidered with a floral design, upon entry into the apartment. He maintains a loose orbit of Rue, not wanting to drift too far into the living space alone. He does marvel at Baird from a comfortable distance, only closing in to set his basket on the counter. He does give the eidolon a smile and a nod of pleasant recognition.

“It all smells wonderful,” he says, watching Seren wrap up their preparations. “If you need any assistance, I’m handy in a kitchen.” It looks like they’ve got everything relatively under control, but it seems polite to offer. Generally when he’s preparing a meal for more than two people, Wright is there to weave around him, borrowing his expertise. There aren’t too many cooks in the kitchen when one can feel where the other is moving without looking.

It takes a moment to untie and loosen the laces on her combat boots, but soon she’s slipping them off and stepping into the apartment properly. The bat to her arm catches her attention — as if she could possibly have missed him! — and she grins wide. “Let me just set this down so I can greet you properly, buddy.”

Behind the counter, Rue’s fingers find Elliot’s wrist and wrap around it to offer a brief and surreptitious squeeze of encouragement. She’s going to scout ahead here, clearly, and make sure the coast is clear. The bag is taken to the table and set down there so she can turn and scurry back on her wool-socked feet to where the chimera waits.

“Hey, you!” Fur gets ruffled affectionately. “Are you aware of how extremely good you are?” she asks him. “Of course you are. Silly me!” With a last mussing of the tuft of a mane atop Baird’s head, Rue moves on to her host. “Sere,” she comes around the counter and announces her intent to dispense a proper greeting. “I love the bow.” Blue eyes sparkle as she says it. She’s as taken with them now as she ever has been. Even with Elliot nearby, whom she is also quite taken with. Perhaps especially with his skill in the kitchen. “Handy is just selling himself short,” she opines.

The offer for help is one that brings Seren to let out a soft "Oh." while they blink at the line of four dishes on the countertop already. "Yeah, if you don't mind helping move those out to the table, that'd be great. I've just got the green beans left heating and that's it now." They smile quickly back to Elliot before setting aside the empty pot on an already-cooled burner to better lean their hip into Rue's and hug her from the side when she approaches.

"Thanks," they murmur with something like relief. "Figured I'd wear something at least a little festive." It's not as loud as the outfit Rue wore to the Christmas party a year ago, but it just might be a nod, however small.

Baird on the counter shakes his head to clear the muss from his soft scrabble, deciding he's sufficiently greeted and been greeted. He crouches to build up energy, and then leaps with all four paws for the other counter— excuse him, Elliot— except he keeps on going past when gravity dictates he should fall. He sails over the half-wall separating the kitchen and living space, reaching with talons to grab the back of the dining chair nearest to him and scrabble up onto its thin back in some semblance of a perch.

The chair wobbles on the ground as Baird shifts his weight here and there trying to find the sweet spot which won't cause it to topple. It may be a futile cause.

Elliot doesn’t watch as Baird sails past with the calm practice of somebody who's used to operating in the area of effect of a five year old. He pushes to the side a touch to give ample space for the launch, and steadies the target chair with one foot before walking past into the kitchen as though nothing transpired.

While Seren and Rue greet each other he smiles politely and gives them space. He brushes along the side of a casserole dish with his fingernails to check the temperature before scooping the dish up onto perched fingers, waving a hand over another before deciding to come back for that one. There’s a brief pause where he centers himself in the room’s complimentary scents before passing back past the two lovers without intruding.

It’s a nod that Rue noticed. She smiles affectionately at Seren, dropping a small kiss, a press of lips to lips. A display of the fact that she’s not afraid to show her love for them. And here she dressed a little more subdued so as not to be quite so extra. She remembers well the way Seren talked her out of wearing her hair up and wrapped like a Christmas tree in tinsel and ornaments. She’s not even wearing a petticoat this year.

Breaking away with a small reluctance, Rue moves back toward the counter. “Allow me,” she murmurs, taking one of the dishes herself to bring to the table. She brushes shoulders deliberately with Elliot as she passes. His respect is seen and appreciated, but he need not keep his distance from her. “I’ve never done a twelfth night party before,” she admits conversationally as she places the dish on a waiting trivet.

The three of them in one space, without the need to necessarily directly interact, seems to be doing wonders for Seren's anxiety. Tension built up unconsciously begins to unravel. "It's not a big to-do for me— just a staple. Family gets together every year to tie Christmas off. I kept the tradition up when I went to university, with Axel and some friends, and now that I'm here…"

Seren grins for a moment before rubbing their hand on the side of their neck, peering down into the oven through its tinted front. "I don't know— it felt weird not doing anything last year." They decide the last dish is done enough by studying its browned top, pulling the door open to slip out the crumble-topped casserole of green beans after nabbing a gripper to safely do so with. Setting it down carefully on the stovetop, they promise, "Nothing crazy going on here except with the cake. I did bake in the customary pieces, and I did it blind in the batter so I'm hoping two didn't end up in the same slice."

They turn to look at where Baird has adepted his perch owing in no small part to Elliot's deft steadying, and his tail flicks from side to side under his kingly raiment. It's suppertime, Seren, he seems to impatiently remind them. It brings them to scoff in his direction, "Baird, you don't want any of this anyway, you just calm down over there."

Between them, the dishes and pitchers make their way to the table, plates, bowls, glasses and silverware already set. Seren walks carefully with the casserole dish, mindful of the weight they put on their hip as much as they worry a regular amount about not dropping what they carry and making a fool of themself. When it's set safely down on the last padded place left for it, they sigh "All right!" with some relief.

Seren sits down in the chair next to Baird's claimed one, and he clambers down to sit in front of his empty plate, the both of them with their back to the kitchen. Ham, green beans, corn, bread, mashed potatoes… they nod to themself. It seemed like a good spread of things. "Dig in," they encourage the other two. "And… hi. Properly." Finally.

They apologize for that with a self-conscious grin.

“Hi,” Elliot replies happily as he pulls out a chair for Rue before seating himself. “Thank you for the invitation. I’ll be honest, I never knew that the twelve days of Christmas were anything other than a story about somebody being gifted increasingly alarming quantities of birds.” With the invitation to do so he begins to serve himself from the closest casserole dish.

"I'm guessing the cake pieces are not food items?" he asks. "Something like the prize in the figgy pudding?" The entirety of his knowledge of Christmas traditions may have been gleaned from pervasive exposure to holiday music more so than participation in holiday traditions.

This Christmas day was the simplest and most relaxing in memory, except for the sudden spike of panic from Wright. He didn't intrude there long, keeping himself present with Rue, warm and happy by the fireplace. No holiday fanfare, though Elliot had been honestly surprised how nice it was to not be alone on Christmas.

“Hey.” Rue just has to be contrary, but her voice is soft. Not quite shy, but maybe unassuming or disarming. A quieter thank you is murmured to Elliot when he seats her before himself. “This is really nice,” she comments with a bit more volume. “I’m used to either the big Wolfhound gatherings,” of which she is very fond, “or being by myself. This is low key. I like it.” For once, she didn’t feel obligated to decorate and throw her own party just for the joy of companionship. Spending the day-of with Elliot and a lack of expectations had been wonderful as well.

The redhead smirks in response to Elliot’s question. “I was going to say a box of Cracker Jacks. Your way sounds more on brand.” Small portions of each dish are put upon her plate. She might be saving room for cake or just sampling everything to decide what she wants to load up with on the second pass. “We’ll do our best not to chip any teeth,” she teases.

"There's a prize in figgy pudding?" Seren blinks their eyes wide before they remind themself Elliot's probably just joking. They let off a nervous chuckle, taking the serving spoons one at a time after Rue's fixed her own plate, realizing only once they've completed the round… "Oh my god, Rue, please, take more or there's gonna be leftovers for days." The laugh this time is more well-meaning, looking up at her with a smile to ensure she knows it's fine to take more than what she has. To that effect, they snap up a second strip of ham off the pre-cut bulk of meat, showing they're taking more, too.

"Here," they say to Baird at their side, taking a nibble off the side of the slice and offering that bit to him by leaving it on the plate. When their hand draws back, the figment suddenly possesses a full plate of his own, meal entirely different. Purple pancakes with dark syrup and berries, the ham offered expanded to a slice. "You eat up, too. Merry Christmas."

Seren looks back up to Rue then, belatedly acknowledging her acknowledgement that what they've done is enough. They hope so, the reasons for it being many. With a renewed nervous flicker of a smile, they look back down to their plate.

"I'm given to understand you have to be from a certain upbringing to do the whole twelve days, these days," they sympathize to Elliot. "It's less widely cultural, more specifically religious." They wrinkle their nose as they shrug one shoulder, stabbing greenbeans onto fork. "I think it's great, though— any reason you can come up with for having a big get-together is just fine by me."

Elliot pauses in reflection, fork loaded with ham halfway to his mouth. “You know,” he says, “I’m not actually sure about the pudding now that I said it. I might have made a composite memory out of a couple unrelated Christmas facts. It’s a real mess in here.” He chuckles, gesturing to his head with his empty hand before eating his ham, which he enjoys.

“One of the perils of being raised in the system,” he says after he’s eaten it. “Christmas traditions come from whoever’s house you’re in, if any. For me most of them were in the group home. Troublesome child, I’m led to understand.” Not that Wright’s post-adoption Christmases were any better. Consistency in exchange for a generally miserable time.

He’s fascinated by Baird’s meal, though he wouldn’t spoil the magic by asking how it’s accomplished. He does ping Wright for a moment, feels her slip in to witness the scene and leave suitably impressed. “I agree though,” he says, turning to Seren. “I’m a fan of big get-togethers. Food is usually enough of a reason to have one, though I’ve hosted them for less.”

For a moment, Rue is captivated by the plate in front of Baird. It isn’t the illusion of it that draws her in — obviously she’s well inured in Seren’s fantastical aura by now — but just what it is. “Purple pancakes,” the redhead murmurs under her breath, lifting her gaze to Seren then, a small smile curling at the corners of her mouth.

Baird’s favorite food.

For the moment, she’s content to bow her head and sample each thing on her plate while the other two converse about traditions and who celebrates what and why. The only interjection she makes, spoken around a not-quite finished bite of food — because it’s important to slip in there while it’s relevant, damn it — is to remind Elliot, “You’re not a mess.” It’s delivered with that stern sort of voice that sometimes comes out and betrays her Chicago roots, but impossible to mistake for a lack of fondness.

The revelation regarding Elliot's past takes a second to process for Seren, jaw continuing to silently show indications of mastication. It's only the slightest pause that gives away their surprise— their lack of immediate knowing what to say to that— before they shake their head. "In real lucky circumstances, you might end up with… ten different cultures of references under your belt, with a situation like that."

Baird turns his head to Seren to observe them as they otherwise smoothly sail through feeling like they're walking on a social tightrope they've not trained enough for. They pull a small smile before pulling apart a roll to smear a touch of butter into it. Their eyes turn up again to meet Rue's, to see her smile.

"What about on your end?" they ask curiously. "Any peculiar holiday traditions to speak of?"

Elliot replies to Rue’s kindness, overly charitable though it may be, with a wink. He fills the space after Seren’s hopefulness in silent reflection behind an easy smile. With the scent of an electric heater beside the same plastic christmas tree, same red plastic globes. Different children, becoming younger than he on average every year. White wax of a pencil-thin candle guarded with a circle of paperboard.

But also sitting on her father’s shoulders, too close to the press, ecstatic despite the heat. Watching the statue’s slow progression through the crowd from one sacred space to another. A memory that survived the sharing unbroken, clung to like a liferaft since. That joy, the colors, the ferver. The deflection becomes that honest happiness, letting the sting of childhood loneliness vanish in the warmth and intention of this meeting in the here and now.

Somehow, Rue seems almost surprised to have the question brought around to her. Like the mundanity of her formative years would be so boring as not to require comment. She waves it off with a swish of the toothless knife in her hand before depositing a third or fourth pat of butter onto her potatoes. “Nah. Just the usual stuff. We’d go around to look at the lights. Mom would take me skating. Dad would take me to see the Nutcracker ballet.”

It’s rare that Rue ever talks about her parents beyond mentioning that she’s sending a call to voicemail. Again. It’s not all that hard to notice the current that runs beneath the casual surface of her conversational tone. It perhaps becomes a little more apparent why when her smile becomes a wistful and distant thing.

“If I got really lucky, Auntie Adie would be around to visit. It only happened a handful of times, but that’s what I remember best. Adrianne would take me out for cocoa.” There’s tension in her brow, in the muscles of her throat when she takes a sip of water before continuing. “She’d put cinnamon in mine so it would taste like hers. It was our little secret.” Rue lets out a breathy laugh that carries too much pain to let her get away with the composure she thought she’d been holding onto pretty well. “When I was a teenager, she let me put just a liiittle bit of that Fireball into mine, just to taste.”

The grin that cracks after that is as genuine as can be. As sad as it is, hard as it is, to talk about a loved one she’s lost, the memories don’t only have the capacity to break her heart. “Fucking legend.”

Elliot's lack of a follow-up regarding any memories of his own, verbally anyway, leads Seren to put on a small smile of their own in return before it's tucked away along with the bread. Almost the same time, in a blink when no one's looking at him directly, Baird's food visibly diminishes, bites that were never actually taken— were they?— visible in the sides of the pancakes.

Rue's contribution of her own Christmas traditions is nothing but a happy thing, something they won't let be just a mourning for something that's lost. "That definitely sounds like favourite-aunt-making material, for sure," they observe gamely. "Really nice."

Swallowing hard to clear their throat so they don't choke when a chuckle escapes them a moment later, Seren turns their eyes down to their plate, focusing on cutting the ham rather than anything else. "Apart from this, we've got a few traditions we've come up with on our own. Baird'n I'll read the Night Before Christmas story sometimes, right around midnight. I'm not much for going to Mass or anything, so that's what we do. And there's these Christmas lots that they've got down in Park Slope— the kids go and see Santa— we've helped out there the last two years."

"This year was kind of hard— I did more sitting than standing— but Baird makes a great Rudolph." Their nose scrunches as they shoot a small grin to the raimented figment in the chair next to theirs. "Don't you, bud?"

Baird signals his agreement with a pur, licking his chops.

“Huh,” Elliot exclaims, torn between the illusion of Baird’s meal and the thought of his and Seren’s contributions to Christmas theatre. “Kids must really love that. I never would have thought to do it. My ability isn’t showy. Which is too bad, I love unexpected pops of bright colors. Mostly I just use it to provide less-visibly magical experiences for Wright’s daughter Ames. Or to cheat at cards.”

He sets his fork against the rim of his plate in order to take a sip of the wassail. Despite all of the flavors he’s experienced personally, vicariously, or through his own imagination, spiced apple cider is a bedrock of his favorites. “That’s delicious,” he says, raising his glass in salute to the chef.

Seren inclines their head in silence to receive the compliment, a short renewal of smile accompanything their latest bite of food.

The grey haze of the former Hound’s mood lifts. “God, you must wreck Francis,” Rue laughs at Elliot’s comment about cards. “De—amn near almost got torn in two one time for being terrible at it.” Cheating. A wistful sigh covers for the near slip, or so she hopes. “I miss poker nights with my boys.” If anyone can look at the men of Wolfhound and refer to them as her boysand get away with it — it would be Rue Lancaster.

This time, it’s her fork that she wags in the air to signal that she’s still got more to say. “Now, I’ve said I don’t really have traditions, beyond throwing a party or sitting alone and very little in between, but let me tell you about one of the stupidest Christmases I ever spent with someone else after I moved to New York.”

The sleeves of her jacket are tugged up a little. Obviously, this is serious business now. “So, this had to be about… Oh-Nine? Ten? I’ve been living in the city for a little while and I’ve landed my first steady girlfriend — Quinn.” A roll of Rue’s eyes says buckle up.

"So, Quinnie takes me up to Boston one year to meet her mom. Charlotte Roux was an artist. A fucking peach of a woman that this world did not deserve." There's a little wince after she says that. "Anyway,” she carries on quickly, “we were killing two birds with one stone. Quinnie got invited to play some big Christmas Eve bash, and I got to go along with her. I was so proud of her. Starstruck by my hot rockstar older girlfriend." Making an appearance, a smile turns so sour so quickly, signalling why this Christmas was, apparently, stupid. "I watched her flirt with some nobody DJ all night while I sat at the bar, so fucking humiliated that I wanted to die."

Rue laughs, a raspy yet delicately feminine thing, full of bitterness. "I couldn't even drink. I only got into the place because I was with her. Charlotte came and picked me up, and we killed a bottle of wine together at her place while we waited to see if Quinnie would even remember her girlfriend was supposed to be there." And somehow, Robyn Quinn-now-Roux still remains one of Rue Lancaster's closest friends.

After all these years, Rue’s learned to let those particular hurt feelings fade quickly. Instead, she glances around the table fondly, at the people who surround her now and treat her with care. “Have I mentioned lately how much I love both of you?”

The comparison between Christmases, confirmation that this is a much better one whether it was meant to be or not could, should, and would be a relief to follow up on, but something about Rue's follow-up stills Seren. They seem to freeze, finding that slip of space again where they fail to know how to feel.

Long enough Baird glances at them, sheens of lighter color than his festive boldness skipping across his torso and face like a burst of wintry wind.

It snaps Seren back to the moment. Right, the appropriate thing to do here is respond. So they breathe in, as one does to offer a reply. Not, however, as one should do with half a mouthful of crumbs.

Their hand flies to their chest, then their mouth in short order as they immediately cough. Reaching for their own glass of wassail, it's a short task clear the current sensation from their throat with a better-pleasant one. "Sorry," they say with a rasp of their own once that's done, apologetic and earnest at once. "What I meant to say was I'm glad this has been a better year."

Seren presses another quick smile, this one more anxious to not have their own uncertainties called to the forefront of things. Baird's silent transformation settles, the dusting of white-flecked swirls across his coloring stilling in snowflake-like patterns.

Elliot’s response to Rue’s question is delayed by Seren’s reaction to it, pausing to dig in Wright’s brain for a refresher on how to perform the Heimlich maneuver. It alarms Wright, but her attention here is brief. Satisfied that Seren isn’t in immediate danger of choking to death, he returns his attention to Rue. “Not both of us at the same time, no,” he responds, “That is a first.”

He’s reluctant to draw any more attention to it than the deflection he’s already given. Seren is clearly uncomfortable grappling with it, at least when they’re not prepared for it. He catches Rue’s eye, face still calm and content. He briefly opens his left hand straight out, palm down, to convey delicate touch. Spycraft certainly, but a sign baked into both of them from the war and its cleanup.

It doesn’t take a psychic connection for Rue to realize she’s just fucked up in a very big way. She sucks in a breath and holds it in her chest. How is it that social situations with people she cares about are far more harrowing than anything she faced during the war?

Letting go of that breath again, she sets her napkin on the table in front of her. “I’m going to go open up that bottle I brought.” And think about just walking out the door and not coming back. “I’ll pour us some glasses. Sit tight, okay?” Rue pushes back from the table and heads for the kitchen, mentally directing a stream of impressively blue-shaded language at herself.

Seren's turn for guilt now. "Sure thing," they try to impress as understandingly as possible as Rue goes around the corner. She's not as invisible as she might like to be, a window to the kitchen still provided by the gap between cabinets and countertop, but it's a small one. There's still a wall. It gives her privacy.

Leaves Elliot and Seren alone together, too, but that's not nearly an awkward thing so long as they don't— think too hard about it.

But they can't avoid it, not unless they want to keep running into situations like this. After another drink to make sure their airways don't betray them, Seren shoots a look to Elliot out of the corner of their eye, Baird looking up to him at the same time. Unlike them, he's cool as a cucumber, licking his chops.

"Have you ever been through anything like this before?" they ask on the edge of a murmur. It's so vague yet specific. The worry and uncertainty in their knit brow speaks to just what it is. "I don't know what to… do."

If anything, though, it's clear any complex feelings about the topic are not directed resentfully in Elliot's direction. Perhaps not anyone's.

Elliot tries to relieve some of Rue's worry with a smile, taking her hand only enough to let it slide through his fingers as she stands. He watches her as she leaves the room, but turns back to Seren as they speak. He leans back from his food to adopt a more casual posture.

"Wright and I go all the way back to the group home, and she's married now," he says with a laugh. "That took some adjusting to. I experienced a lot of jealousy, which is completely normal." As much as his experience of Wright's relationship could be called normal considering what was then a brand new, permanent telepathic link to his life-long companion. Considering the truth of it all.

"Transparency, boundaries, and open communication are a must. And honesty," he says, "Honesty is key." The shame never reaches his face, doesn't betray him. Do as I say, not as I do. The Rules are rules. He takes a moment to sip his drink, setting it on the table with care as he allows the guilt to bend and slip away.

“I get that it can be a lot to absorb all at once,” he assures them. “But I’m invested in Rue’s happiness, and you make her indescribably happy. So if you have any questions I would be very happy to answer them.” There’s no lie in it, his face conveys only his love for Rue as he peeks at her through the opening between them.

Uncertain, Seren can only shake their head. They turn to look for Rue too for just a moment before they let their head settle, hands fiddling together in their lap. Wright and that relationship is a new thing— new context for them to take in. In short: Yes, Elliot has some kind of familiarity with this.

Or he's in another relationship? That wasn't a conclusion they drew initially, when Wright had been drawn into Elliot's dream.

They let out a shudder of a breath as they attempt to process it again. Yeah, it's a lot.

"It doesn't mesh well with— with my own issues, I can tell you that," Seren admits quietly. "H-having a relationship at all isn't something I— I mean…" Rather than finish that thought, they only let out a helpless, hopeless kind of laugh at their own expense. "Look at us, you know?"

Them and Baird. And the table, which is abruptly ornate and wooden, legs thick and carved with curved designs; the tablecloth velvet and embroidered with gold. The lighting overall shifts warmer yet darker, flickering slightly like fire from a hearth serves as its source. The green tinsel about their neck shifts, becoming a stole speckled with those light-catching shades. Baird, too, becomes a more noble thing— at once a tawny beige all over, still wearing the raiment of a purple cape.

Elliot himself is not exempt from transformation, his vest expanding to a doublet the purple and grey colours of its true form.

Rue herself in the kitchen is not spared from fancy, either. A soft yellow-orange glow thrums its way into existence beside her. A mostly-formless tangle of humanoid lives in the muted light, hands clasping together in charm at her, feet stuck out in glee. It unclasps its hands and reaches for the moving one of her own, placing a light touch of both hands to the back of her broadest knuckles, a pointed dress sleeve peaked at the back of her middle finger almost brushed by the touch. It almost seems like it's smiling at her in her sudden gown, a silent giggle shaking the tiny creature's shoulders.

"This is pretty tame," Seren whispers, a crook of a smile at the corner of their mouth. "If I'm having a bad day, it's a lot less fun than this. And— expecting anybody to put up with that is too much to ask. So it's— I can't reconcile it. It's either you're with someone, or you're not, and the idea of there being more than one someone ever, it just…"

In a hush, they suppose, "Maybe it's a thing for other people, but I don't think it'll ever be a thing for me." Still, they rub at their collarbone uncertainly with the tips of two fingers, eyes gleaming with silver. "I don't want to tell Rue what can or can't be, though. I want to just— to just enjoy what time we have. H-however little that might be left, if…"

They dither into nothing, and only then seem to notice the extent of everything that's changed, looking down at their gilded silverware before looking to Baird and receiving a cocked head and knowing squint of eye in return.

Elliot dazzles in the magic of the changes; the possibilities. He moves his arms as his sleeves become something he’d banish to ideas of maybe, some day, going to a renaissance fair. He looks for Rue for confirmation of the meaning of this magic, then to Baird and Seren. In the spectacle of it he’s delayed, and worried, and then frantic, though any of that is just a brief flash amongst the magic of this. He feels grateful for it and doesn’t hide it.

He sees the worry, he knows it. His own worry surfaces enough to draw Wright’s attention despite the boundaries, and he indicates his request for help with the pad of his right thumb flickering against the inside of the second knuckle of his index finger. There’s nothing to lend here, nothing to improve with better processing power. Just her understanding and support before her attention fades back to where she belongs.

Because if he has any true hope for Rue’s happiness, it’s with Seren. Every fiber of his being knows his time with Rue is limited. By their separation by assignment. By his unlikely return. By the end of the world. He knows that all of this pales in comparison to the mess he is; if he’s having a bad day.

He clears his throat, fingers pass from the sensation of coarse cotton to softer, modern thread. He nods, understands. He gestures beside his head, behind him. “I get that,” he says. “All of this. Like I said earlier, it’s a mess up here.” He can’t show them the horror that is all of this. The stepping backward into depression, the assumption that he isn’t worth loving if he carries this with him. He’s keenly aware that if there’s anybody Rue should love, it isn’t him.

He brings himself back from the edge of that abyss. “One of the benefits of non-monogamy is that when we—” he pauses, doesn’t exactly gesture between the two of them and what about them isn’t always so tame, but it feels indicated nonetheless, “Is that when one of us isn’t shining our brightest, the others are still glowing. I don’t expect someone else to step in for me when I’m a lot less fun, but it’s always good to know someone can.”

His eyes flick back to the kitchen. Because he is, occasionally, a lot less fun, but he can be better. Could he show them? Would it be a terrible idea? Can he say, out loud, that if only one of them can love Rue it would better be Seren? “If this is all too much, way too fast,” he admits, “I will understand that. We can tone it down, space it out. Work it out. But I want to believe it can work. That we can share this.” The hand to his heart denotes love, not some other abstract or more physical form of Rue.

First, she checked all the drawers. Then she double-checked them. Every drawer except the right one — and she knows exactly which one is the right one. With a nearly inaudible note of triumph, she laid the corkscrew out on the counter. Now, the entire process could be repeated with the cupboards and the quest for the champagne flutes. All the while, she’s been pretending she doesn’t hear a word coming out of the other room. Not just to grant the others an illusion of privacy, but to pretend that she has some of her own.

She should’ve excused herself to the restroom, sat on the edge of the tub, and cried like a normal person. Or thought about crying and not cried, like a normal person would have done. Christ, Lancaster, a normal person wouldn’t be doing any of this at all. And does it even matter? Because you’re about to be sent overseas, where you’re probably about to—

A flash of movement catches the ginger’s eye and pulls her away from that spiral staircase she’d been attempting to descend quicker by sliding down the bannister. “Lark?” she asks in an astonished whisper. Maybe she’s got her familiars mixed up. Is it rude to assume anything fey-like must be Larkspur? Rue’s a little too preoccupied by the way her dress morphs and changes, becoming something fantastic. Stop defending me! I don’t deserve it! had been on the tip of her tongue before this transformation.

In the end, she still cries, biting her lip and keeping her back to the others at the table as the first fat tears fall from her eyes. This way, however, is not about her self-directed anger and instead comes from the outpouring of love from Seren and Elliot.

She turns back to them finally, not bothering to hide her tears. It’s her turn to fire back. “You are plenty bright even in your dark. After all, you keep managing to find me when I’ve gone and gotten lost, and I still find you every time. Don’t reduce yourself to your trauma, Elliot Hitchens.” He’d say the same of her. He has. He’s not getting away without hearing it himself. “And you,” Rue turns from her beau to her paramour next, “just because small-minded fuckwits couldn’t wrap their unimaginative brains around your absolute genius and the fucking brilliance of you does not mean you aren’t worthy of love, Seren Evans.”

Rue laughs, and it’s a pained sound. “Both of you love me somehow, and I am a goddamned mess!” She bites the inside of her lip and looks down while she wipes the tears from her face. “I love both of you, and I’m just… not going to be ashamed of that. I’m not going to pretend it isn’t happening. I’m not going to lie about it.” Her head lifts again after a steadying breath. “I don’t know who I think I am to ask for your love. I’m not good at it - loving or being loved,” she confesses, “as though that’s not really obvious by now. But… I’m trying. And I know both of you are, too.”

She wants to tell them they only have to pretend to put up with her a little longer, but, for once, she doesn’t fall into that trap.

Elliot can't help but smile at Rue's outburst. He certainly has used that line on her before. He feels good about it even though it isn't true. His trauma is bigger on the inside; it's Foundational, Relevant. But he lies to her so often he doesn't feel bad about lying to himself for a brief moment of happiness. "Thank you for the reminder," his warm response.

Turning and seeing Rue, noting for just a moment the soft golden light at her hand before it disperses entirely, brings Seren to momentary speechlessness. Sure, she'd been on her thoughts, too, but her transformation is a surprise.

A welcome one, one that brings a more honest and earnest smile to creep over them. It persists, fond and faint.

"Are you actually gonna bring that wine in here, or hoard it with you in the kitchen while you shout heartfelt things across the apartment the rest of the evening?" they tease her. A hand is waved to encourage her to rejoin the table. They don't know how else to thank her for refusing to lie, no matter how complicated a situation it's introduced them to— or how to properly show they're grateful for how Rue will never see them as a bother or a burden.

For this one, they'll just have to take a leaf from her book, and deflect just a little. Just this once.

"Let's get back to this dinner, then, all of us here trying our best," Seren proclaims, surreptitiously scooping another small dollop of potatoes onto Rue's abandoned plate before settling back down. "There's cake to be had yet, and royalty declared. Let's not keep this food waiting."

Rue stands there for a moment, just sniffling, overwhelmed still by everything. “It’s not even real wine!” The admission comes in a squeak of a voice that sounds so ridiculous that she can’t help but laugh at herself. Pressing the pads of her fingers under her eyes for a moment longer, she nods her head. “Yeah, okay. I’ve got it.”

She returns to the table with the open bottle and three glasses, setting everything out carefully. “There. It’s never a party until I’ve made an ass of myself, so now we can officially begin.” Rue fills a glass for each of them, her own last, which she holds up in a toast. “Cheers to us. Whatever we decide us is.”

Elliot watches Rue enter the room with a smile, not a hint of a smirk, proud of and happy for her. He sits up from his casual posture as Seren reminds them there is dinner and also cake. He raises his glass as soon as its offered, chuckling softly at Rue’s self-depreciation.

“To our gracious hostex,” he adds, “And this wonderful meal.” He means it wholeheartedly. Food doesn’t always have to be cutting edge or insufferably weird. He feels so relieved that this dinner didn’t fall apart that Wright gets his attention just long enough to high-five herself in the bathroom mirror.

Even Baird's of a lifted mood, clawed paws shifting on his seat so he can lift his head and let out a puppylike croon— a howl to declare his agreement with Elliot. Seren blinks and looks to him bewildered over his noise when so often he's quiet, peering even though their creation outright ignores them. At least, until he looks haughtily to them to demand a translation.

With a rough laugh, they take hold of their glass and lift it. "Baird says 'hear hear', and that it took us long enough to get here, the scamp."

Seren smiles warmly, leaning their glass forward. "To us."

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