When It Matters Most


rue4_icon.gif seren_icon.gif

Scene Title When It Matters Most
Synopsis You've got to show up.
Date October 24, 2020

Fournier-Bianco Memorial Hospital

Yesterday, this ICU was hit with an influx of those needing critical care. Medical helicopters ferried those from an event in Jersey both to Elmhurst and here, wherever space was indicated midflight. The terrorist attack on state park grounds brought in numerous types of injuries.

Several were quickly stabilized and put into a step-down unit for observation, but Seren Evans remains in the same room as they arrived in, save for being wheeled out for surgery to their hip to remove shrapnel. Tubes are threaded through their nose, a respirator affixed over their face while they rest. Wires monitoring their condition spiral from their chest to standing machines, along with an additional tube that drains fluid off their lungs.

Their eyes flit back and forth under closed eyelids. No fantastic images nor beasts are conjured while they dream— one of the medications listed on the board opposite the bed include zodytrin.

Under their hand rests a plush stand-in for Baird, a brown-colored dragon, or maybe a dinosaur? It's hard to tell from the door. But it looks handmade rather than store-bought.

And it wasn't there when Rue was last here.

Seren breathes in sharply in their sleep, brows pinching together in pain. "N—" Or maybe, fear. "No," they whisper pleadingly, moisture pooling at the corner of their eyes while the monitor at their bedside indicates a spike in heartrate.

The quiet reverie Rue intended to indulge in a lean against the door is abandoned when Seren starts to speak. Her heart feels like it stops while Seren’s takes off at a run. A palm against the doorframe applies force, propelling her forward into the room at a clip. She checks their hand for an IV line before reaching out to grasp at it.

“Seren,” Rue whispers quietly, desperate to break through the nightmare and reach them. “Seren,” her voice lifts in volume. “I’m here. It’s okay. You’re okay. You’re safe.” She’s begging for that to be true. For the danger of Seren’s injuries to be past them now. For this to be the first paving stone on the path to their recovery. Tears sting at her eyes as her grip firms.

The grasp to Seren's hand rouses them at least partly, eyes opening to slits. It's unclear if they've heard her at all— but the touch is something they recognize. Between the fog of sleep and the medication they're under, everything looks a little off, to boot. But there's a light of recognition that dawns in their eyes for that brief moment they're open.

"Nix?" they whisper hopefully, breath clouding the mask over their face. Their fingers tighten around Rue's then, and the comfort of her warmth— her realness— is a surprise.

Seren means to speak, some clarifying thought halfway to being aired before their eyes slip shut again, hand still loosely clasped about hers.

There's a shift from the corner of the room unseen from the door, where a thin man can no longer hold his half-risen pose. He shifts to a stand, the chain of a wallet clipped to his jeans settling in a shift of metal links. He clears his throat, gesturing loosely and vaguely in Seren and Rue's direction. "You've got it," he acknowledges, a touch uncomfortably.

"I'll just—" And despite having just come to his feet, he goes right back to sitting in the chair. He looks a little frazzled, eyes going back to Seren. He's dark of hair, thin of frame, maybe 5'9" when he's standing. He's in a grey cable-knit sweater that lends him a look of serious adult the rest of his getup does not— worn-down jeans and converse paired with spiked hair and 10-gauged ears.

He shifts a look back to Rue belatedly, lost for how to approach her. He very clearly races through his thoughts in his quick study, trying to figure out if he should know her.

“Sshhh…” Rue isn’t sure who Seren is mistaking her for, but it doesn’t matter. All that matters is that they aren’t feeling alone and scared. Anything else is secondary and can be dealt with later. “You’re okay,” she repeats in a hush.

The movement in her periphery causes the ginger’s head to snap up and in that direction, immediately assessing for a threat. The intensity of her gaze fades quickly when she quells instinct with sense. “I— I’m sorry. I didn’t realize anyone was in here.” She’d been so concerned, she hadn’t even bothered to look. She curses herself inwardly. It feels like she’s slipping, when really all it means is that she’s finally growing comfortable with being a civilian and not treating every interaction like it’s part of an op.

Slowly, she relinquishes her hold on Seren’s hand and turns to face the man, realizing her lips have been parted in surprise this whole time. Adrianne would have warned her that she’d catch flies. “I’m— I’m Rue.” Her heart sinks in a way she hates herself for when she looks the other visitor over.

With a self-conscious, if knowing smile, the man pushes himself back up to his feet. He keeps his voice library soft in an attempt to avoid rousing the restful. "I'm Axel, one of Seren's friends. It's… good to meet you, Rue."

Axel is a name Seren had brought up previously. Someone from home. And it's easy to make that connection now that he's said more than a few words— his accent sounding similar to theirs, his pale complexion with dark hair and even his sense of style echoing Seren in some way.

They'd been thick as thieves growing up.

"I'm out in Toronto, which— it's a lot closer than Halifax. Her parents called me, got me a ticket out here to make sure she—" It's the second time he realizes his mistake, blinking hard. "Fuck." Gracelessly, he bulldozes forward. "That they had someone here for them."

His brow knits together, shooting a look of apology to Seren themself. "I'm usually better about that. But it's…" With a shake of his head, bewildered, he remarks, "This…"

It's a stressful situation.

"They, uh, the docs were saying they'll be all right. They were watching for breathing complications, and I mean, so'm I— they're hoping they won't have to add any more tubes into the mix. But that— that it'd be temporary. That the worst is past, now." Axel draws his hand up to his neck, looking back to Rue. Surely, if she were here, this would be information she's after.

He hesitates on asking anything else, though. With a silent narrow of his eyes in thought, he mentally brokers with himself the idea of wondering how Rue found out Seren was here, but he can't bring himself to do it.

"I'm glad someone else is here," he says instead.

“Me too,” Rue is quick to assure with a short-lived and shaky smile. “It’s nice to meet you.” Her voice similarly stays low, a glance of consideration given to Seren to ensure she isn’t disturbing them. “They’ve told me about you.” The smile sees a brief return. “All good, I promise.”

Fuck. At least she can remember how to be charming. At least she hopes there’s still some charm left in her.

Her eyes roam over the equipment hooked up to her former lover. It’s awful to see them like this. This is the very situation she wanted to avoid by keeping her distance. Before she can let herself stray further down that dark path, she looks back to Axel. “Can I get you a coffee or something?” She isn’t sure if he’ll feel comfortable leaving the room himself, so the least she can do is offer. A way to repay this vigil he’s kept over this piece of her broken heart.

Axel shakes his head. That part's easy, that answer. "No, I'm good, really." His shoulders arc up in a shrug. "I got here not that long ago, so I'm good for now … it's dinner I'm worried about here in a bit, but it's not the first time I've had vending machine fare for dinner, won't be the last."

It's his turn to smile at his own expense, now.

"They told me some about you, too. How good you were with Baird. With all of them. And, uh…" His smile fades, corner of his mouth quirking. "About how they hated how things between you two ended."

With a slow shake of his head, he remarks more quietly than before, "Seren called the other day— them and Nix. Talking about what they were both going to do for Halloween. They seemed like they were doing okay. Like they were getting their feet under them pretty well after going through those treatments in the summer."

“Oh.” Rue kind of wishes Seren hadn’t said anything about her. At the same time, it means they really did mean something to each other, that they had wanted to tell their friends about her as much as she had enjoyed telling her friends about them. It’s affirming in a way, but also painful.

“Well,” the redhead admits, “that makes two of us.” She isn’t sure what else to say to that. How much had Seren said? Did they leave it to she cheated on me and then broke up with me when confronted about it or did the explanation extend into the fact that she’s got an evil twin out there somewhere? Regardless of which slant was put on the story, it’s a complicated one.

“I’m sorry, but I… have to ask,” Rue begins cautiously, eyes narrowed faintly in her confusion. “Who’s Nix?” That’s not a name she recognizes.

Rue's question brings a small, if bittersweet smile to Axel. The look he gives Seren is only passingly apologetic as he mulls how to answer that, thumb rolling against the underside of his index and middle finger for want of a cigarette to hold between them.

"If I had to guess, I think she's supposed to be you. I see the resemblance, anyway." His murmurs are extra quiet in case Seren chooses this moment to rouse, or rather that the universe opts to conspire against him like that. "I'd never seen her before in my life until after the breakup. Seren went through those treatments to salvage their ability, and they were lonely. Hurting." It's only with the slightest pause to attempt grace in the explanation that he goes on, "And you weren't there, so…"

Axel looks back to Rue, quickly elaborating, "I mean, she's not you. She's not real, not like that. She's human, but she's a bird. Like that Zelda game, you know? They call her Phoenix. Nix for short. She's got this red and mauve coloring, and her eyes…"

The corner of his mouth pulls back in a knowing, almost sad smile. "Well, I told you, she looks a little like you."

Rue’s heart drops straight into her stomach when Axel explains who — what — Nix is. “Oh…” What can she possibly say to that? It’s awkward and it fills her with such a strong sense of guilt. She hurt Seren so bad that they manifested a surrogate for her.

A Rito surrogate.

She brings a hand up to rub at the back of her neck while she looks down at Seren’s prone form again. “Wow, I must be the biggest bitch in the universe,” she murmurs softly, then looks back up at Axel. “You must want to throw me out a window, huh?”

Axel lets out a quiet huff of a laugh, his hands sliding into his pockets. "No," he says, but it's clear he's got opinions regardless. His shoulders pinch up into a shrug before sagging back down. Looking back to Seren, he clarifies, "That's a little extreme." It takes him a moment to decide what it is he wants to say next, like he's carrying on a silent consultation.

It breaks when he sighs out, "You didn't come here looking for a guilt trip." His hands settle deeper into his pockets, like a creature coiling into a more defensive position. "And it'd be different if Seren felt— you know— different."

Great orator, he is. And he's aware of it, giving a small shake of his head.

"If they woke up right now, they'd not care about what happened. They'd probably only care you're here now." Axel glances up at Rue out of the corner of his eye. "And that's what matters most, right? Fuck what I think, I'm only here one day out of three-sixty-five."

He starts to look away, and then back to Rue, "But also, I'll probably never get the chance to say it again, so fuck you for hurting h— them." He shifts his weight, looking like he feels only marginally better for saying as much. But he's done it. "They're not handling it well, and that's on them, but they trusted you. More than they should have, that's for sure."

"But you're here," Axel acknowledges, edging his disgruntle back to a dull roar. "And that's something."

Clearly I did, or I wouldn’t be here, is probably not the thing to say in response to whether or not she came here for a guilt trip. But it’s true in its way. If Rue wanted to avoid her guilt, she’d avoid Seren. But how could she let them sit here alone? It should have occurred to her that someone would come to see them. Seren has plenty of friends — who could meet them and not love them? — and a family that almost certainly gives a fuck. A family they haven’t pushed away the way Rue has her own, probably.

Axel being here might be proof of that much at least. “Yeah,” Rue agrees quietly. “Fuck me, right?” Nobody feels worse about what she did to them than she does. “They deserve way better than me. And I know you aren’t about to argue with me about that.” In case he thought she might be fishing for reassurance. She knows this is not the place for it, nor does she want it.

“Seren is the brightest light I have ever seen in this world,” she admits in a quiet voice, looking back at them with tears in her eyes. “And I dimmed that. I’ll never get over it, and I don’t deserve to.” Rue lifts her head again, stepping closer to Axel. “If you wanna hit me… If it’ll make you feel better…” She spreads her arms out in open invitation. “Go for it.”

Axel lets out a scoff of a laugh, astonished at the suggestion. His brows arc up high, disappearing under the long sweep of his bangs. Really? He can't believe it. His hands slide from his pockets as he begins to shake his head, knowing literally no good can come from this.

His hands lift in a gesture of calm or surrender or whatever—

But then his right flexes.

"No," he says to himself as much as her, jaw tight. "That just gives you what you think you deserve— and honestly?"

Apparently he doesn't want to give her that satisfaction. His arms swing back down by his sides.

"I'd rather know what you're doing," first. "What your plan is." Axel's weight shifts back to the other foot. "Are you planning on staying, or walking back out again before they even know you were here?"

He’s right. It would have been what she wanted him to do. At least it seems he hates her for what she did, even if not totally. At least someone does, if Seren won’t. Knowing she isn’t about to get socked, Rue rolls her jaw from one side, then to the other, considering how to respond.

“Well, I thought there’d be no one here, so I was planning to stick around.” Her shoulders come up in a shrug. “But you’re here, so… They don’t really need me here, do they?” She winces as soon as she says that. “I just mean… Maybe three’s a crowd? I’m worried my being here would do more harm than good. I was worried they wouldn’t have anyone, and in that respect, I’m better than nothing. But… not better than you,” she insists. To the best of her knowledge, Axel hasn’t broken Seren’s heart.

“I’m… gonna defer to you.” Rue slides her hands into the pockets of her jeans. “Whatever you think is best for them.” She looks down at her shoes. “I’m afraid that my being here will be like stringing them along. That’s not what I wanna do. I’m not here to fix things, because they can’t be repaired.”

Lifting her head again, she looks out the window. “I can at least buy you dinner to thank you for being here, whether I stay or go.” The idea of him having to eat out of the vending machine tonight doesn’t sit well with her. “I can’t stay all night, regardless. My boyfriend was at that fucking shitshow, too. I gotta get back to his place eventually to take care of him.”

The idea that Rue is somehow getting along just fine when their absence in Seren's life wrecked them metaphorically to the point they're still reaching out hoping to find her there… Axel finds out it turns out he's not above hitting her after all.

He's not exceedingly fit, but a suckerpunch to the gut isn't pleasant no matter how it hits you. And he throws as much energy into it as he would to have physically hauled her out of the room.

It feels better than he thought it would. But maybe he just needed that last push, intentional or otherwise.

"You're right," he remarks, it taking effort to still speak in that library quiet. "It probably would lead them on if you stayed. You wouldn't want them to get the wrong idea." Axel might've offered her a hand up before after getting it out of his system, but not now. Now…

"You should go."

With her attention turned away, she hadn’t seen it coming. Rue lets out a sound of surprise that’s the equivalent of choking and having the wind knocked out of her all at the same time, doubling over and bracing her hands against her knees to prevent keeling over entirely. She still winds up having to press fingertips to the floor to keep from going down.

There’s no protest. No what the fuck or grumble. Only a thin sound of pain after she catches her breath and starts to straighten up. Rue nods shakily. “Yeah,” she agrees, “okay.” She lifts her arm to cough into her elbow once, then braces it around her midsection. Looking up to meet Axel’s gaze, she leaves her guilt and her regret on full display. “Look after them for me, please.” She shakes her head, “I know I don’t have to ask you to do that. — Thank you for doing it.”

Rue turns toward the door, staring hard out into the hall. “Take care of yourself, too. They need you. ‘M sorry… About everything.” Proverbial tail between her legs, she starts to limp her way out.

Unlike Seren, their friend has no difficulty in visibly struggling and visibly reacting to the mixed signals Rue puts out. It's not like he's ever been in a like situation, but he's unable to reconcile how someone could both care to that extent and still walk away.

"You know," Axel says to her shoulder, his voice more at a normal speaking level. Seren continues to sleep regardless. "You deserve every bit of scorn you get, but the only one who thinks you and them can't be fixed is you." His head shakes once in frustration. "They'd take you back in a heartbeat, I'm sure; against all warnings, against all sense."

"But that's fine," he scoffs in the tone of someone who feels the precise opposite. "Go on. I'm sure you're being missed." His arms tuck into a fold before him, his position shifted to place himself between the hospital bed and the door.

Rue stops and listens, because she owes him that much, and because she does deserve every bit of scorn. She’ll let him hurl it at her as much as he needs to. Let him get it out of his system before Seren wakes up and he needs to be supportive and pretend she was never here at all.

“You’re right,” Rue agrees to all of it. “They absolutely would take me back. And I’d be an even bigger asshole than I already am if I asked them to do that. I am really shitty at loving someone.” Which is patently obvious, given the way everything has shaken out. “I can’t risk fucking up with them again. They deserve… Seren deserves the entire world on a string.”

When the first tears start to fall, Rue is grateful she hasn’t turned back around. “I know they’re hurting. I know I hurt them. But they’ll get better. They’ll find someone better than me. I can’t put them in danger again.”

Axel's frustrations boil over as he challenges, "Do you even listen to yourself?" One of his hands lifts from the fold of his arms in his emphasis. "Way to put it on them. They shouldn't have to try to find someone else, you shouldn't have been sleeping around in the first place. And to use your job— conveniently— as an excuse only after you were found out?"

"You're a fucking malfunction, and you ran away from really owning up to what you did. You slapped a contrition band-aid on it, and tricked yourself into believing refusing to face them somehow makes you a bigger person for it. Get over yourself, Rue."

He's completely neglecting the volume of his voice now, staring a hole in the back of her head.

Rue whips around, forgetting her own intention to keep quiet herself. “I’m not the bigger person! I’m a huge fucking asshole!” she shouts back at Axel. “Why should I ask them to take me back?! I cheated on them the entire time we were dating! What kind of self-centered, cocksucking piece of shit would I have to be to expect that to be okay?!”

"The kind that doesn't opt to self-destruct when faced with the prospect of fixing something they broke!"

The alarm on the monitor behind him stops Axel from saying more, the raised voices finally having pierced through the muffled din that makes up Seren's world. Their eyes are halfway opened, heartrate spiked. Between that and the shout, a nurse with sharply slanted brows enters the doorway, looking to Rue and then to Axel.

"I'm going to have to ask you both to leave." The nurse pushes past them, ignoring them for the moment in favor of reading the alarm directly, then glancing at the oxygen levels that accompany it. Axel looks momentarily bewildered, then humbled, mouth opening to apologize, but she shakes her head firmly. "Sir, get your coat and go, or I will have someone remove you. This is an ICU, not Jerry Springer."

It's defeatedly, with a sense of dread they might not later let him back in that Axel slinks for his coat. And when he looks back to Seren, their head is turned, eyes fixed on Rue.

“Oh, no,” Rue’s voice is mournful. “Nonononono.” She shakes her head at the nurse emphatically. “Please let him stay. This was my fault. He won’t do anymore shouting once I’m gone. Please let him stay with them. They need him. Please, please, please, please,” she begs without shame.

“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” To the nurse, to Axel, to—

Seren.” Rue catches their gaze and it’s like all the wind is knocked out of her lungs again. “I’m sorry,” she says again, “I’m sorry.” She takes a step backward. Another. Then she turns and runs from the room.


Seren's emphatic plea is stripped of sound at its end. It's hard for them to determine why, if the tubes make it hard, or if it's just hard, but Rue's retreat is all the more distressing because it comes with that bad dream sensation of not being able to call out to her when it matters most.

Axel, coat in one hand, sees what her retreat does to them and it arrests his own. The nurse, focused on her patient rather than forcing the visitors out, is moving away to unlock the chest of medicine kept in the room when he sweeps back to the beside, taking Seren's hand in his free one.

"Hey," he says to them, voice light and encouraging. Still, their eyes remain on the door. He lifts his voice a few decibels in the hope it might make its way through better. "Starry Eyes, look at me." Regardless of whether the content does it, they finally give up on the door and look up at Axel with tears gleaming at the corners of their eyes, ones lacking the silver ring that makes them starry. "It's gonna be okay. It's all right." He holds onto their hand tighter.

The nurse shoots Axel a look out of the corner of her eye as she reapproaches the bed, peeling back the container for a syringe of clear medicine of some kind. He doesn't give ground, eyes on Seren, who tries to begin to explain what he needs to do, eyes tearing up in pain physical and emotional. He only shakes his head. "I know," he says, with all the comfort of someone who really does. "I know, but it's going to be okay. You've gotta calm down. You gotta breathe. They're worried about you breathing."

Seren's hand holds onto his all the more tightly as they close their eyes, trying to do just that. Everything which isn't uncomfortable, which doesn't outright hurt, is still foggy to them. They focus on their breathing, and they slip into that encroaching fog. The nurse unsnaps the plunged syringe from the IV line and seals it again with a small frown, watching the numbers on the monitor the same as Axel does. They wait, together, through beats of silence.

She looks to him once she's satisfied with the results, with Seren's restfulness. He'd been able to help calm them quickly, hadn't he. She lifts her head before telling him, "I'm still going to need you to step out. At least for a while. Let them rest for a bit."

Reluctantly slipping his hand from Seren's, Axel nods. He lays their hand over the top of the plush on the bed, hoping if they wake again while he's gone, they'll feel less alone for it. "I understand," he says in the quiet he'd had previously. "If I were in your shoes, I'd do the same thing, too."

She relaxes, shoulders untensing with a sigh. Most people don't sympathize like that. Looking back to Seren, she nods. "Don't worry. They'll be just fine here."

Axel tries to tell himself that as he slips out the door and heads for the waiting room himself, less anxious about being ejected permanently, but not exactly about everything else. Everything he'd just said and done is catching up to him, and he reckons with it silently.

The waiting room isn't empty when he gets to it, so he keeps moving. The elevator ride is a short one. He swears the cafeteria ought to be on the first floor, but it's directionlessly that he heads off from the landing.

Beyond the main doors of the hospital, there’s a honk of a horn.

In the parking lot, bathed in the electric light of a sedan, Rue can be seen through the windows of the hospital, turning her head to glare at the vehicle that she stepped out in front of in her haste to get to her own. The horn honks again when she doesn’t move, like she’s an animal that needs spooking to get her to cross and clear the path again.

Axel's pace slows as he watches the near-miss unfold. Inserting himself into the situation probably wouldn't be helpful here, but…

Rue turns on slams her hands down on the hood, posturing aggressively. From inside, her shouting is indistinct, but it’s not hard to imagine that it’s something like fucking hit me, then! One booted foot comes up to shove against the front license plate bracket, but of course she’s just one emotionally distraught woman against a vintage sedan that could also be described as a gunboat, so all it does is is put her off her own balance and send her staggering back a step, arms flailing out at her sides briefly to catch her balance.

"Okay," Axel mutters to himself, picking up his pace again to angle for the front doors. "Yeah, that's— enough of that."

She shouts again, one last slap to the hood before she starts stalking further into the parking lot to find her own vehicle.

Before she can make it far, a voice calls after her, "Rue!"

Because apparently there's not been enough shouting tonight already.

Axel stands under the well-lit awning of the hospital with an awkwardness to his posture. He's lost his earlier bluster, uncertain what to say at all now, but after watching her nearly get hit by a car he's fully retracted his wish that she would.

Dark retribution rarely nearly takes place right before your eyes, and he's decided he's against it after all.

In his loss for additional words, his arms lift from his side in an awkward shrug, coat still held in one hand rather than worn. He turns his head away for a moment with a pained expression before looking back to her. If he has to, he'll go stand in front of her car until she honks. She seemed like the type to need a DD lest she go out and practice Driving While Distraught. "You really— should take a minute before storming off," he suggests across the lot. If you listen closely, you can hear him hitting himself for saying anything at all. "If you get into a car wreck, suddenly I'm the asshole."

In the time it takes the sedan to finally be able to resume its progress, the driver shouting and throwing obscene gestures which Rue returns impassively, she’s pulled a flask out of her jacket and is drinking from it when Axel’s sightline is reestablished.

“Look, we both know they’re better off if—” Rue wipes her sleeve across the lower portion of her face, then caps the drink and slides it back into her pocket. “I thought we’ve firmly established that I’m the asshole here.” She doesn’t move from her spot just in front of the first row of parking spaces, leaving the lane through between them for now. She does pull out her keys, however.

“You go back in there, you tell them what a piece of shit I am,” her voice cracks and in the jaundiced lighting of the edges of the lamplight overhead he can see she’s crying, “and how they’re better off without me.”

Okay, maybe she needs an actual DD.

"If they haven't believed me for the last eight months, why would they start listening to me now?" He's calm now, no raised voices. His shoulders sag as they drop back down, but that's the most of it. "They're better off not being miserable on top of everything else right now, so whenever they decide to let me back in, the last thing I'm going to do is shit talk you and make them feel even worse right now. I'm—"

He looks away from Rue's face, toward where she'd slid away the flask, like he's weighing whether or not it's worth it when he's still clearly of the same opinion she is. "I'm gonna tell them the truth. That you showed up because you were worried about them being alone. I could say ten million other things, but I'm not going to go kicking puppies who've already been through enough."

Axel draws in a breath, looking back up to her properly. "You sure, by the way, you're not just trying to self-sabotage, here? Make yourself look even worse?" His head shakes once, slow. "Because for the way Seren talked you up, this is not the person I'd have expected to meet."

Red hair falls forward over slender shoulders when she tips her head down and gives it a shake. He’s right, that Seren doesn’t need to hear about how awful she is right now. It would just upset them, and it wouldn’t encourage the distance Rue wants. A distance she could encourage if she could just stay away, but… she can’t. Just one more tally mark in the cons column, as far as she’s concerned.

“Did they tell you what I did for a living?” Rue asks, lifting her voice without lifting her head.

Now Axel looks away himself, uncomfortable. "Not exactly, but the company you work for was mentioned. You— what? Kill people for a living?"

He almost takes it back, judging by the uneasy twist in his expression, but he lets it sit and glances back at Rue. At least this way, she can't escalate the job description further.

That wasn’t entirely unexpected. “Common misconception,” Rue responds with all the patience of someone who’s used to explaining that every time someone asked what she does and she said I’m with Wolfhound. “Not assassins. Wolfhound brings targets in alive whenever possible, to face justice. Vigilantism isn’t justice.” Which is all just like the preface to the actual response she wants to give, but she’d be remiss if she didn’t defend her old squad.

But she’s quiet for a long moment and it might seem like she isn’t going to say anything at all after that, until he can hear her sharp inhale from across the expanse between them. “I got my entire squad killed.” Rue lifts her head when she says that, makes eye contact as best she can. “Which basically includes me, because I’m not the person I was when I went in to that op.”

The raw honesty of that statement surprises even Rue. It’s never something she’s stated so plainly, in those words. Let alone to a basic stranger. But maybe that’s what makes it easier to do. He doesn’t know who she was before and isn’t as likely to try and insist that she can get back to who she used to be. “I got people with years of combat experience killed. What do you think I’m gonna do to Seren?”

It's that distance that allows him to bypass empathy and go straight for logic. "Not take them with you to work, for one."

But beyond that clear point, Axel isn't sure how to address what lies underneath it. Because it sure as fuck sounds like he's right, slightly, about the self-sabotage. He sighs as he gives the continued conversation his best shot from this distance, shifting his weight from one foot to the other. "And the irony of it is— they've been nowhere near you and they still nearly died. Your whole goddamned country is so fucked up that people still can't safely be themselves, even after you fought and won an entire war over it."

Frazzled, he looks off with a shake of his head. "So I dunno, Rue. I dunno. But you can't say they're that much safer with you out of the picture."

He’s right. This entire scenario is proof of that. Manifestation of Rue’s worst fears. She knows from the condition Elliot’s in that even if she’d been there, she may not have been able to protect Seren. It makes her feel so helpless, and she hates that feeling. On top of that, confronting it all, the way Axel’s laid it out, highlights her own selfishness.

“The fuck do you know anyway?” Rue spits out, her voice too strained to really carry the venom with the invective that she wanted. While she’s saying it to him, it isn’t hard to realize she may as well be saying it to herself.

For a moment, Axel considers twisting the knife, but he's not got the cruelty or bitterness in him for it. He's made his point. "Jack shit," he replies offhandedly, waiting for a car to roll past in the space between him and her.

"But I don't think you making yourself and them miserable on the principle of the matter matters at this stage. What's done is months past done at this point, but—"

He quiets, realizing he needs to get to his point. "I'm not going to be here long. Even with all the time they're going to need to heal, I don't think Seren is giving up their job to go home. I don't know if things will work out for their parents to come down or not— they're talking and trying to make it work, but…" Axel closes his eyes hard, trying to wrangle control of his voice. "My point is, if you know where the line is, if you know better than to be a piece of shit to them now, they're gonna need all the support they can get."

"So if you're looking to help, let that be your apology to them. Be there for them when it matters most." He sighs, opening his eyes again. There, he supposes. He's said it. No matter how uneasy it makes him feel to suggest it, how little he trusts the person Rue is… "You already showed up once. All you have to do is follow through."

That Rue stands there, still and bathed in that yellow light with her head bowed and her face turned away speaks more volumes than she ever could with her voice. Several long seconds pass between them in silence that’s only broken by the occasional sounds of traffic. Tires rolling over pavement.

“If you need anything while you’re in town, anything at all, let me know. I work and live at Cat’s Cradle. You can call there or show up. Someone will get ahold of me if I’m not around.” She’s not crossing back across this divide or shouting her cell phone number at him. This olive branch will have to suffice. “And don’t argue with me. Let me help them by helping you if you need it. And if you come in, everything’s on the house. Just tell ‘em to put it on Rumor’s tab.”

What it notably isn't, though, is an agreement to help. At least, not in the way he asked. It's been a long day, a stressful day, and maybe this is the best possible foot it could have ended on, though. Especially considering… well, everything that happened inside.

"You should call a cab. Don't drink and drive."

Axel slides his foot back, ready to walk away from the ledge of the canyon rather than try and reach across it further. "I'm going to find something to eat." he announces, turning to head back inside. He massages the side of his neck tensely as he begins that walk.

Rue watches him walk away, tension in her stance and in her eyes. “I’ll be there,” she calls to his retreating back. The least she can do is assure him she’s not going to leave Seren alone after he’s gone. “Tell them I’m sorry.”

From that distance, the sag in Axel's posture is barely visible. He nonetheless promises "I will." before he pushes his way back through the revolving door.

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