Red Velvet, She Said

by Ora

(mirrors http://s2b2.livejournal.com/47930.html)

(Vogue Nippon, 2004 interview with the creator of White Sun)

Rue Kobayashi is sixteen. She’s sitting in the lobby of the hotel where we planned to meet, and when I approach she looks directly at me and smiles brilliantly.

“I ordered tea. I hope you like it,” she says.

The tea comes. I’m captivated, watching her. She blows on her hot tea warily. Her hands look barely big enough to cradle the teacup. Her hair is long and dark, and it falls heavily around her shoulders. She looks like a normal teenager, if an extraordinarily well dressed one, which is common in Shibuya. She has just disembarked from an eighteen-hour flight.

She isn’t a normal teenager. Looking across from me, I can hardly believe that this young, quiet, eloquent girl is one of the world’s most prominent designers. She showed her collection “privately,” she says. “It wasn’t planned. I have absolutely no expertise. I’ve just always watched people sewing and drawing and knitting indoors, to pass the time, and I wanted to do that.”

Her collection was so unknown, so anonymous, that, when a store picked up her clothing, the pieces didn’t even have labels. Nobody knew what it was.

A few collections later, and Kobayashi is an instant success, a wildcard in the world of fashion.

“She’s very interesting and new,” said one designer. “Her methods are both antiquated and modern.”

She doesn’t like to talk about her clothing, but she watches everything with an almost frightening intensity.

She’s fascinating but also terribly dismissive. You have the feeling she’s not interested in polite conversation, but she’s extremely proper.

“It’s so beautiful,” she says. “Everything. I’ve seen it so many times but never like this.” She refuses to elaborate, and instead we go shopping.

She buys sundresses in bulk. She holds my hand crossing the street, not out of fear or an exaggerated cuteness, but carefully. I’m startled to realize I genuinely like her. She says goodbye mid-day, and walks away, disregarding my questions.

“Wait, Kobayashi-san!” I yell, racing after her. My papers scatter in all directions, like startled birds. She turns and gives me a half-smile before vanishing into the crowd.

Later, I find a carefully written note on a platter of summer fruits in my hotel room. It says, “Thank you.”

Bri didn’t know anything about Rue before she first met her. She only remembered being fifteen, angry and destructive, too strong and too fast for normal people.

She was not fifteen anymore, but other than that not much has changed.

But she remembered clearly the first time they met. She didn’t know what to expect. She didn’t know what she was supposed to do. She felt like she was going to split open. She dreamed restlessly of fire.

Her parents were long gone by then. Her cousins kicked her out of the house that night, and she wanted to smash everything. It was wintertime and everything was white. The sun was white then, too — white sunlight with red shadows. She wanted something desperately, and she didn’t know what.

She remembered being terribly angry and all alone. It felt like fire under her skin, and it itched. She sat down on the railing and tightened her grip.

A boy approached her. “Hey,” he said. “You must be cold.”

“You have no idea,” she said. “Go away.”

Bri walked to school the next morning. Her clothes were intact, but her gloves had melted. She clutched her hands and wondered how it all had happened.

“Hey,” said someone, ducking under a tree branch. “Are you okay?”

Bri turned quickly, startled. A young girl stood there. She had dark hair and no coat.

“Why do you ask?”

“You have ash on your cheek,” said the girl matter-of-factly. She reached up and wiped it away with her thumb. Bri’s heart pounded suddenly.

“Don’t–. It’s none of your business,” she said. The girl looked at her, completely unconcerned.

“Absolutely none,” she said. “You’re very stupid. I hope this isn’t permanent.”

Bri looked at her pointedly. “You’re very naive,” she said. “Want to go get some food?”

Her brow wrinkled. “Um….” Then with more certainly, she said, “Yes.” She slipped her cool hand into Bri’s. She had very fine wrists.

She wasn’t interested in hearing about Bri. Bri did discover, however, six cups of hot chocolate and two molten chocolate raspberry cakes later, that she was named Rue. She was twelve years old, rude and utterly exquisite. She left when Bri was paying the bill.

The day after, she was sitting on Bri’s doorstep. She never said how she found Bri, or anything else about herself.

No one mentioned anything extraordinary about the park burning. The police never questioned anybody, and people simply seemed to forget it. Bri didn’t look too closely at what was going on. Rue seemed oddly pleased.

They grew up together and moved to the city. Rue decided to make clothing for a few people, but it somehow turned into something bigger. Bri decided to do something useful with her fire. She hadn’t really planned on becoming a super hero, but it seemed the most efficient way to deal with problems. Rue said little about it. She seemed strangely at ease with their situation.

Things seemed to be going well.

Bri had never actually put a name on her relationship with Rue. She thought Rue would be opposed to it. They both dated other people, and whenever they kissed it could always have been considered chaste.

She didn’t have a lot of luck with relationships.

It wasn’t that boys (men, really) treated Bri badly; it was more like they used each other mutually. She never dated any women. The people Bri dated were all dark haired, ragged-mouthed, and slender.

Rue remembered the first time they met, but she chose not to dwell on it.

If Rue dated, she tended to keep it private.

She disliked strangers around the house, and wondered why Bri never remembered what her companions liked, or even what was appropriate for them.

Bri always had good taste. Rue liked all the boys, even if they didn’t tend to like her. They got along somehow. They liked the same books, wore clunky jewelry, and even looked a little alike — ragged, dark hair, wide mouths, and a little bruised around the edges. None of them lasted very long.

People said they looked like her.

She didn’t understand.

They were always nice at the end, no matter how horrible the break up. Bri would hide out in Rue’s room, and she’d sit on the couch and watch TV or, maybe, help them gather up their stuff. There was never much. They’d give her things: teddy bears, antique ribbon, books, half-eaten expensive candies, or pieces of jewelry and clothing.

It was the strangest thing. It all fit. They said it suited Rue better.

After the latest breakup, Bri would be draped facedown across her bed, feet kicking in the air. They ate take-out and watched old movies. Rue looked at her.

“You should at least remember what they like,” she said.

“Is that so?” said Bri. Her voice sounded a little strange.

Rue yawned, and wound her fingers around the ends of her hair. “Or at least remember what size they are.”

“I’ll try harder.” Bri was smiling, but Rue didn’t recognize the expression.

She hated anyone Rue ever dated, though. Rue didn’t understand why. They used to get along just fine. They’d talk for hours.

But she could tell Bri hated them. It wasn’t too hard to figure out.

Bri thought the two of them were good friends.

There was something precise about Rue, something terribly lovely and vicious, as if she caught a single flaw in anyone else, they would be unworthy, thought Bri, watching her through the car window. And desperation drives people to do horrible things. She was always immaculate and pure and cold.

Rue looked up at Bri and smiled. Her hair fell into her eyes, and Rue brushed it away impatiently.

Bri was too experienced to blush.

Nevertheless, she was unmoved by love or devotion, and Bri was always afraid of losing her. She wasn’t afraid of making Rue go away, because that way she wouldn’t have lost her.

She would have done it for a reason. She’d tried it before.

Rue thought it was a peculiar thing, having a best friend who regularly fought crime and men in tights with masks. Strangely enough, it made her very appealing to people in Comic-cons, who felt instinctively they were kindred souls. It could get a little uncomfortable, but it was often quite amusing. The term superhero was slightly outdated, but the public embraced the familiar.

Most of the time, it was a nuisance.

“You’re my friend,” said Bri, her eyes bright with emotion. “You could be in danger because of me. I can’t let you live with that, never knowing what might happen. I can’t live with that.”

“Um,” said Rue. She was folding the laundry. “If you want.”

“I didn’t mean to hurt you, or trouble you in any way.”

Rue looked at her blankly. “Oh, yes. I mean, no. I think I’ll be fine.”

Bri left gloomily and slammed the door on the way out.

Rue hoped she would remember to pick up her clean clothes the next time she was over. She put them in the dresser anyway. Bri was very loud. Hopefully she would be over her idealism soon.

“I mean, what about that time the Black Masque tried to kidnap you? I scoured the city! I interviewed prisoners!”

Rue blinked. “They forced me to dance for hours. But that was because they saw me at my ballroom dancing class, and now I can do the tango really well. And then they let me go, because I promised to spread dance among my peers.”

“There are monsters out there,” she said quietly. “Things that aren’t human. Ancient, cruel things as heartless as - as Winter itself.”

Rue was very still. She folded her hands, as if to keep them from shaking. “Yes.”

“I just don’t know,” said Bri. She was sipping pensively at a cup of coffee, perched on Rue’s desk the next morning.

“When do you ever?” asked Rue. “They opened a new sushi restaurant downtown. We should go there for dinner.”

“Fine,” said Bri shortly.

They lived in a very narrow apartment, like a strip of black crushed between large gray stone blocks. It extended into the back, and they had a small square of grass between the looming buildings. The weather in the city was fairly good, but tempered uncertainly with storms.

Sometimes, when the weather is fine, they slept in the garden.

Rue wore a black dress with a small white collar. Her hands looked smaller and whiter beneath the long sleeves. There was usually a lupine behind her ear, something small and purple.

Rue said the lupines make the world more beautiful. She read something like it in a book once.

“It’s something everyone has to do,” she said once, tucking lupines into Bri’s collar in a neat line. The stems tickled the back of her neck, and her vision was blurred, muted light.

It’s stupid, Bri thought. Besides, she’s so beautiful, and Bri spread her hands against her back, and cradled her shoulder blades delicately.

“Hold still,” Rue said.

On her days off, Bri lay on her back on the grass and closed her eyes to the sun. Graffiti sprouted on the bottom of her sneakers and blossomed on the inside of her eyelids. The neighborhood kids liked drawing on her. If she pressed her ear to the pavement, it was warm, and it seemed as if there was a heartbeat to the city. The ground shook, like giants were stepping on her.

It was almost peaceful, a small place away from the crime and haunted men she fought daily. It wasn’t always that she felt the need to do good, and use her powers to help humanity. There were things worth fighting for, and Bri would never let her reasons go. She didn’t believe she could do anything.

But she refused to allow limitations stand in her way.

Rue’s eyes were silver in the darkness. Bri painted her stretching, toes curled.

There’s laughter checked in her, somewhere, Bri imagined, and she’d go through and find everything hidden in her dark corners.

Rue smoothed her skirt instinctively, as though to protect herself, retain her layers. Silk rustled. Someday Bri would see everything she hid.

Someday.

People called them strange, but she could usually beat them up.

Rue wasn’t exactly secretive, but she did some odd, unexplained things.

Bri was not amused to come home and find herself knee deep in feathers one day. They were warm, and smelled musty. They couldn’t open the stove so they ate jam out of pots, standing up. She put her arm around Rue, and Rue permitted it.

“We should repaint,” said Rue. She looked mildly perplexed, and Bri allowed herself to revel in the “we”. Rue had jam smudged across her nose, and it made her look startlingly young in a way that made Bri feel guilty, just for a second.

“We should,” she agreed.

Rue tends to be very indecisive about their relationship. She isn’t really sure what to call it.

There are many ideal things. One of them is love, and another one is precision. Rue is always more inclined towards the latter.

She knows that she could have the first, and finds herself strangely unwilling to relinquish the possibility.

She can’t change her nature.

She could make everything the way she wanted it to be. Bri would never know.

She knows what will happen, and it’s not right. It might seem to be fine, but she doesn’t want to have to make anyone love her. She could, but she won’t, even though sometimes she thought she could make Bri live or love her enough just through the sheer force of her wanting.

She knows that Bri could be with her if she wanted it enough. She could let her in, and everything would be simple. She could tell her the truth, and maybe she won’t reject her. Maybe if she wanted it enough, nothing would ever end.

Bri wouldn’t age, and she’d stop loving Rue.

After all this time, she was afraid of a mortal. She was afraid of what Bri could do to her, past her defenses and her ice and with her love. But when Bri found out what she was, who she was-

She’d hate her. She’d be afraid. It was part of her, to destroy things like she saw Rue as. It was what she had chosen to do, out of thousands of possibilities.

It didn’t matter that Bri was beautiful, or strong (so nice to her, always worried about her). Or that she was angry and unhappy (and even if she was unhappy, it just made inserting herself in her life easier).

Sometimes she tried thinking about Bri being unhappy and angry all the time.
Rue thought at least she would have this, in the here and now.

Someday, she will be betrayed. She might hurt. She might be sad or angry.
It’s all for a purpose.

And even so, even if that didn’t happen, she got the impression that she’d just keep hurting Bri, and keep hurting herself, until she peeled her inside out, like the white core of an apple.

She dreamt of their life together, of how it might be.

They lived all alone, in an urban jungle filled with cold metal and sunlight. The trees were red and gold around their house, but there was no wind, nor sound. Their house was tucked away between huge apartment blocks, delicate and sloppy, like a fairytale drawing. It looked like a crystal cage. Rue tucked herself away in heavy coats of bear’s fur and silk twist over her silk dresses. Bri wore too little and smoked a lot, and laughed more, tangled in mesh. Her mouth was red around a cigarette.

“Why are you so angry?” she’d say, and laid a hand on Bri’s arm, very softly.

“What are you talking about?” said Bri. She was tired and confused. “This is everything we ever wanted.”

She looked at her. “I don’t know. Everything seems so perfect, but you look away from me sometimes, and it seems like you’re seeing something different.”

“No. This is what we always wanted.”

“Oh. Is it really?” (But her response seemed so automatic)

“This is the way you wanted things,” said Bri.

“I don’t know. Yes. I don’t remember.”

“I love you.”

“I know. I just — I need to remind myself sometimes,” said Rue, looping her fingers together and looking up. She looked blank and tired, and Bri made a mental promise to make sure she slept more. Rue could see her mentally tallying it with the odd concentration she always had.

“I don’t know what you’re afraid of losing.”

“No. I’m not afraid of losing anything. I’m afraid I’ll forget what it means to leave. You make me want to stay with you forever.”

Rue looked afraid. “I don’t want you to leave. Do you? Do you want to?”

When Rue woke up, she was oddly furious and affectionate by turns.

They decided to take a vacation, because the city was getting on Bri’s nerves, and she spread it wherever she went.

“What?” said Rue, angry and vicious and alive. Bri snarled at her, and she just wouldn’t shut up, wouldn’t shut up, kept on talking and talking, and it was killing her. When she kissed her it was not only an act of violence but of desperation. She was hungry. She had never been so hungry, and it was addictive. She thought she would never be full (and so she wasn’t).

Not that it was weird being alone. It was. She cleaned and cooked, and Rue watched her, puzzling.

“Some of us don’t like being mentally dissected,” Bri said, not looking up from the floor.

There was too much unsaid between them, but nevertheless there was an innate comfort between them, a type of almost supernatural awareness between the two.

Sometimes they argued about boys:

“That was quite a feat,” Bri said. “You’ve got all of my…friends. And – and my stuff. You have everything,” she said, not looking at her. Her eyes were wide and tragic, and Bri wanted her to stop pretending. “Are you trying to be me? What do you want from me?

Bri looked at her disapprovingly.
Rue blinked at her. “That’s just stupid,” she said, sounding amused. I don’t want to be like you. ”

“Oh. Then what do you want?”

And some things are hard to verbalize:

The first time Bri told Rue she loved her, Rue laughed, until she realized it was a serious matter.

“Why?” she said.

It wasn’t as if Bri needed her. She was perfectly fine.

It was just —

It was just that it was hard for Rue, sometimes, being surrounded by people who didn’t like the same things she liked, or who think the same way she thought. It was hard for Bri, too. So she thought it must be even harder without anybody to support you (even if they didn’t fully understand you), or be with you, or even just eat with you during rainy nights, or know that you didn’t mean to be cruel.

And even though Rue was terribly stubborn in her own mild way, even the strongest person must feel lonely sometimes. It wasn’t that she wasn’t brave, or that she wasn’t determined enough to remake worlds with a thought, but Bri wondered what it was like, to travel all alone, never keeping any possessions, allowing herself to let friends remember her.

“This was never meant to last,” said Rue blankly, almost bitterly. Bri ached to see her like that.

“Do you love me?” said Rue, amused.

“No,” said Bri. She walked home bitterly. It was raining. It was a terrible cliché. She felt vaguely betrayed. The cars she came close to began to soften and melt and slide in the rain.

Rue came home four hours later in a cab. The driver tipped his hat at them and smiled. He looked like a cat, and he reeked of magic. He didn’t ask for a tip, either, which was a clear sign that your taxi driver was a magician.

They settled back home with a few cakes and decided to discuss serious topics, like clothing and shoes and which superhero/villain needed a wardrobe remake most. Bri was sleepy and almost ready to go to bed.

“Sometimes I wonder,” said Rue peacefully, which of us is using the other. Her mouth brushed Bri’s ear, and she started. “I wonder which of us will kill each other first?”

Bri wiggled, discomfited.

Their dinner was an apple, white-fleshed and sweet. Rue cut it neatly into fine pieces, fanning them out artistically on a plate.

She put her arm around Rue’s shoulder and brushed her thumb underneath her ear. Her skin felt like velvet.

Rue turned to look at her, but buried her face in her shoulder. She was so lovely. She smelled like caramel.

Bri slept restlessly that night.

When she turned, Rue was waiting for her. That’s all she dreamt of, all she wanted. It haunted her waking moments, in glimpses of what was real, the reflection in a window, and the flash of a doorknob. She couldn’t shake the feeling there was something bright and cold just out of reach, if she could just realize it. People asked her if something is wrong.

She was tired of secrets.

She trusted Rue. She did.

Just not enough.

Rue did not sleep at all, and sat up thinking. She turned a glittering thread around her fingers in a cat’s cradle, and held it up to the moonlight. It looked like a snowflake.

One thing that Bri has never been able to understand is that relationships were not complicated; they were ridiculously simple as long as one goes along the neat boundaries and rules of what is right and proper- (another thing that Rue has never been able to do)

They were not great webs. They were merely interlocking strands.

And sometimes they went out on a limb:

It’s some cliché holiday, and Bri came bursting in with black roses and peach tea, and forced Rue to take the rest of the morning off.

Rue was irritable and prickly for the rest of the day. Bri had no sense of propriety and of Everything in It’s Own Time and It’s Own Place.

Bri stormed out a few minutes later and came back to help Rue finish.

It wasn’t that she didn’t care for her. It was Laundry Day, and there were piles and piles of white washed cloth. Rue had clothespins strung in her mouth. She tried to look disapproving and forbidding. Bri folded her hands around her waist, locked her in, and buried her face in the curve of her neck. Rue permitted it. She was, after all, very small still and as of yet very young.

And they were very serious about what they did:

That night, Bri remembered the first time she saw Rue out clubbing, stretched out artistically in the back of someone’s car looking too young, and far too illegal.

“Is that uncomfortable?” she asked.

And while somewhat devoted:

The superheroes wanted Bri to be more careful with her identity. They insisted that a catastrophe could be imminent, and hinted strongly that she might rather find a more discreet “partner.”

They argued she couldn’t be this special. There were children outside, in the street, and a faint light found its way in through the folds of paper curtain. Bri hesitated.

“I find grace in her yet,” she said and looked away. They were children. They would survive and adapt.

And there were more annoying things than door to door salesmen:

The magician came by and made green fish in a blue fishbowl. He hung around for a few days, in the form of a black cat with a white bib. Rue ignored him, and Bri would believe she didn’t notice him except for a few scattered saucers.

He’s very nosy and overly concerned for Rue.

“Do you love her?” asked the magician. He was smoking at their kitchen table. “Do you?”

“I don’t know,” she said, trying to pretend he wasn’t there. She must not have been trying hard enough. “Isn’t that enough? Can’t it be?

Why not?”

“I know your type,” he said and blew smoke at her leisurely. “You’ll hurt her and she’ll hurt you, and you’ll be a mixed up, fucked up, mess. Or maybe you won’t. You’ll love her and she’ll cook for you and kiss you and you’ll come home to her every day and one day you’ll wake up and realize you don’t know her, and she’s lying to you, and you’ll wonder why she never says I love you back, and then you won’t wonder anymore.”

“It doesn’t have to be like that,” she said. “You know, it doesn’t.”

“With her, it does.” He looked bored.

She looked back, faintly smiling. “You don’t like me, do you?”

“No. Not at all. But she’s not yours. She’s free. She’s cold and she’s cruel and she won’t give a damn about you when she goes.”

“You don’t belong here,” said Bri. “Stop talking about Rue like she’s evil, like her feelings are frozen, and get out. I didn’t invite you.”

“A flaw in your world,” he said, bowing. “It’s just chance, I promise. I was walking, and I came across this most fascinating discrepancy. It’s like an actual miniature world, isn’t it? Someone molded it. People can die here, but they don’t really seem to live.”

Bri looked at him, prepared to shunt him out of their world and into another dimension, faceted and glittering, but he said, “So. Tell me, who for?”

“You don’t strike me as the selfish type, although you are — very selfish. But you’re never purely self-motivated. You looked so hardened, but really you’re impressionable and vicious and ruthless, and you’ll do whatever you want, won’t you?”

“Not me,” she said, and wondered if that was really true.

(Excerpts from an interview)

Rue: I’ll see her again, sometime. The world is too small not to. We’ll collide, the way we always do, like planets, like stars, like atoms, like a gravitational pull. I could never stay away.

Police: Are you going to meet her again? Do you plan to meet her as a front for your transactions?

Rue: (absently. She does not seem aware of the questioning) I’ll ask her if she wants to catch up. Life goes on. I have an umbrella. I should remember her when it rains, but instead I think, oh, so cold. I will always love her, this her, then, now. People change. I’ve never been angry with her. I’ve never disliked her. I don’t understand why people can’t let go. It’s always been easier for me.
Nothing happened. Life goes on. There’s nothing more. People don’t change enough. She left and I stayed. We never connected after that, just drifted aimlessly. I’ll catch up to her someday.
You see, I love her. But that doesn’t change anything. That doesn’t make anything better or quicker or smarter or fit easier. Love is nothing more than an expression of what we feel. It makes some things worthwhile, but only worth so much. I love you. I love chocolate. I love shoes. I love lace. I love my books, my magazines, my rug, and my life. I love my people. I will never stop loving her. You are you: and I am just myself. I told her, softly, in her perfect shell-like ear, warm as summer; don’t come near me. I will fuck you up.

Police: Did Bri (her last name is censored) aid you in any of your murders or illegal activities?

Rue: — illegal? I don’t understand…. Oh. No.

(Silence. The recorder hums.)

Rue: No, she didn’t. She wouldn’t approve.

When they rolled the tape, the policemen were staring. Bri was staring herself, but not for the same reasons. Well, maybe. But not so obviously. She was a professional here. Currently single, though, and it never hurt anybody to look.

It took a minute to remember they were professionals too, and they got paid. Sometimes life was just unfair.

Clinically, life reinserted itself, and the absence was shockingly clear. Richard Young, tie askew, smiled at the camera sweetly, almost sincerely. His eyes were clear and hollow, outlined in strokes of red. His hands were easy, almost arranged. His hair was mussed. He was dead.

Bri flicked through the tape again, recording what they have. It wasn’t much. Frustratingly, most of the apartment was obscured. The lights were turned off.

There was a silhouette, just barely recognizable, moving inside, quietly, peacefully, the movements of a woman without hesitation or hurry. They could see the outline of her half turned face and the red insole of a shoe. Bri rewound the tape and went through it again in slow motion.

Richard Young got up. He poured drinks. He bended over to pull something out a drawer, and the figure behind him picked up a stapler. She waited until he straightened up, then she hit him over the head twice. He crumpled.

His companion stepped over him carefully. She reentered the inner rooms of the apartment, apparently putting everything in order, and, just like that, she was gone. Nothing to trace her presence.

A real femme fatale, said the men crowding around the desks. She was a real man-killer. Bri appraised them without any desire. It had been too long since someone was in her bed. Sex was too complicated now.

She was just tired of leaving pieces of herself at home.

There was a stream of unexplained deaths around the city in the late summer. The city seemed restless, full of dead heat, cicadas in hollow amber light, flickering underneath park benches and kites and the sweat of late night basketball (there were sounds in the night, of quick feet pounding the pavement).

Bri was startled by the realization that most of the deaths were deliberate. They thought that the drownings and accidents were natural. Nothing indicated otherwise, except there was something unexpectedly, inexpressibly feminine about the murders; like a delicately manicured finger nudging the film of a camera, whispering honey sweet in someone’s ear. Like someone pointing, and saying look. Look. Do this, baby, like so.

“They all acted like men do with a girl,” said their friends. They had a tip from a drummer, who said he knew something. She found him crouched over a bar downtown, burning out his throat with vodka. She downed her beer easily and unapologetically. Drinking on the job, she thought, amused.

He didn’t seem very descriptive, but was interesting. Bri said little but listened very well.

“Don’t know,” he said, staring at the raw lights in the bottom of his glass. “He just seemed all normal, but happy, and bragging a little that he’d got this great girl. He wasn’t really dating her, but he was working up to it. Serious class. He really liked her.

“Then he died, and I started wondering. All these deaths. I read the newspaper a lot. It’s just something to do now. Those murders sound like a woman. Capricious. Confusing. Like he described her. She had hair like feathers. Skin like tea, and a mouth like sin. Long fingers and heels-she always wore heels, he said. He said that one time he laid his head back and she smoothed his forehead with her fingers, lightly, like a kiss.

“He was my buddy, you know. He was a little angry, a bit of a tough guy. I won’t deny it. There were rumors that he killed somebody once, but they aren’t true and anyway if they are it doesn’t matter. He’s dead. Now he’s gone, and I’m stuck with all his stuff because his bitch of a sister won’t do a damn thing with it; showed up at the funeral in appropriate black and mourning expressions but left me with all his stuff. It’s just a bunch of junk, but it’s my buddy’s stuff. What the hell am I supposed to do with it?

“What am I supposed to do now?”

You’ve got to do what you can, she thought, because there’s nothing to do but go on and fill the gaps. She said this to herself and believed it until suddenly he rose and lurched to the men’s room. She sat and waited and waited until she heard the screams and saw the red underneath the door, liquid and startling and realized the extent of the genesis and catastrophe.

Bang bang, said the people, hushed and gossiping by the door. That’s how it went. Out with a bang. There were some snickers, and some badly disguised, very public hysterics.

Shame, Bri thought, leaving a twenty on the bar to cover both their drinks. It’s a damn shame.

It was, too, whether it was an accident or not. He might have put the gun to his head and pulled the trigger, but there was lipstick like a kiss on the cold barrel of the gun. There was no identifiable human trace, just a quick brush, like fingertips. Cold as hell and a woman’s heart, and she wondered if the murderer was really that amoral, stepping over the newly crimsoned floor to rearrange her hair, intent on her own reflection. She knew what kind of lipstick it was. Rue wore the same shade.

They weren’t good men. They were the type that were too selfish to concern themselves with people, and viewed a little oddly, sometimes with dislike and suspicion, easily ignored. They were missed by a few people and mourned by less, and the empty spaces they left were easily swallowed.

They were all very different men, with different reasons and classes. She couldn’t trace a link in their influence.

Bri dreamed of the woman, sometimes-a perfect silhouette — young, unsmiling, laughing, bitter, with her pale, pale skin and dark hair drifting over her shoulders. The ends were shorn, like raven’s wings. A peacock-feather mask tilted over her features, and antique rhinestones provided the only light and color to catch her hands. She stared at her, lips parted, oddly entranced. The mask tilted further, and slid. The only thing she could hear was the sound of the brushing feathers, the nervous crossing of ankles and uncrossing, laced fingers twisting around jeweled rings, and the dark ink dot of one wide pupil, and a black-ringed eye. Frost laces her skin.

The silhouette looked up, nervously, but with bravado. She knew with certainty she was not ready to see her face, and she wanted nothing else so much in this moment. If she strained, she might be able to hear a low murmur and she could see there was something desperately wrong. It was present in her movements.

She was accustomed to the sound of something not being said. She wanted to hear it. She wanted to save her.

At that moment, Bri waked up, and she knew she was damned.

A lingering chill stayed with her.

The next day, Bri stayed home and watches TV. Rue came home early, and curled on the couch lazily, like a cat. Her shirt rode up over her hip, and Bri tried not to look. She felt slightly tired. It was very comfortable.

Rue was beaming up at her, snuggled in her arms, with the sort of expression in her eyes that frightened grown men. Bri stroked her hair, and thought about buying her some sunflowers.

She leaned closer, and closed her eyes.

“I was thinking,” said Rue, radiating innocence, “that maybe we should do something.”

Bri woke up quickly. The last time Rue had wanted to ‘do something,’ entailed them running around the city at high speed, constant cab switching, and a few less than subtle flashes of Bri’s honorary police license. Rue thought it was very invigorating. Bri thought the mob chasing them would disagree.

“Like what?” she asked warily. Rue looked at her.

” I love you. You’re my friend,” she said. “Don’t you love me?”

“Yes,” said Bri, and realized she meant it. “I love you more than anything.”

Rue grinned, rather like a cat, and looked away absently with the air of someone making up her mind.

Bri leaned forward. “What were you planning on doing?” she asked, mildly annoyed, and Rue brushed her mouth over hers. She hesitated, and kissed her again, more thoroughly.

Bri put her chin on Rue’s head. She wiggled a little, and Bri held very still.

She shifted again, and Bri realized what she meant.

“Oh,” she said. Rue looked at her uncertainly. They had never actually gone that far.

Bri kissed her and wrapped her arm around Rue’s shoulder. She rested her forehead against Rue’s. “We don’t have to do this,” she said.

Rue cocked her head, and looked down at her. Bri shivered at her expression. “If it helps, you’re not the first one,” she said.

Bri flipped her over, almost angry, and slipped one hand under her head, kissing her, and slid the other one along her thigh. She thought of someone else having Rue, of someone else touching her and learning the sounds she made and the way she moved. Rue kissed her back, warm and pliable. Bri opened her eyes looked at her, trying to fix the image of Rue underneath her in her memory, so she would never be able to forget it. Something like grief twisted inside her. Rue squirmed impatiently. She hooked her hands into Bri’s shirt.

“Hmm,” she said thoughtfully. She unzipped it and lightly ran her fingers down Bri’s back. Rue shifted against her, and put her hand delicately on Bri’s hip, pressing a kiss to the curve of Bri’s neck.

She pulled Bri’s pants off, and licked at her bare skin delicately. Her tongue trailed lightly over Bri’s breast and belly and ventured downward. Bri pulled at her dress and it came undone. Rue stood shivering in her bra and panties. Her hair brushed her arms and slid darkly around her, hiding her. Bri was suddenly unsure. Watching her. She was beautiful, from the slope of her breasts and her pale curve of her hip to her bitten lips, and she was within reach. Rue kissed her, and she squeezed her breasts, and made a desperate noise that did not sound like Rue at all. Bri touched her again, wondering and possessive.

Fuck, thought Bri, and decided they should both be naked. She shed her underwear quickly, and backed Rue into the nearby chair. She’d wanted this forever. She’d wanted this ever since she’d seen Rue, small and defensive. She’d cared about Bri when no one else did. She finally had Rue like this, her mouth open, warm, touchable, unrestrained-

She cupped her breasts and slipped her hands between Rue’s legs. She was already wet, and Bri kissed her and stroked her until she was incoherent. She licked Rue’s nipples and slipped a finger in, stroking her clit. Rue bit her shoulder and shook, begging for more. She had never been able to coax such open emotion from her before. She had always been so aloof, even at her most open.

Bri adjusted Rue’s legs so they were around her waist, and put another finger in, teasing Rue’s clit mercilessly. She caught one nipple in her mouth. Rue dug her fingernails into Bri’s back and whimpered until Bri gave in and rubbed her clit until she came.

She slid her fingers in and out until Rue finished, and pressed her close, wanting to remember this moment forever, even if she never had it again. It was addictive, having Rue. She was ruined for life.

She was startled when Rue locked her legs around Bri’s waist and cupped her breasts, and then bent and licked and sucked at Bri’s clit desperately, lightly scraping her with her teeth. It didn’t take much to make her come, and Rue worked her tongue until Bri screamed. She climaxed, and everything went white. She thought, Rue. OhGodRue.

They moved to the bedroom, where it was most comfortable and considerably cleaner.

“So,” said Bri lightly. Rue could probably tell with her eyes closed that it wasn’t light conversation. “Who else have you done it with?”

“No one,” she said, and brushed her mouth along Bri’s throat. “I lied.”

Bri tried not to think of her dreams, and focused instead upon Rue. Her body was pleasantly cool. In the moonlight, her skin looked almost white, almost luminous.

It was like no one else in the world mattered, compared to her.

She could let herself off the case, argue she needed a break, but it wasn’t true. Bri had never been more awake, or more alert. Adrenaline beat through her and shocked her with the extent of her energy. She was at the top of her game, and she mistrusted what she felt. Her heart beat a little faster. Maybe, she thought, this is what it’s like to be dead, to feel so alive. She couldn’t tell.

The case circled around her, haunted her dreams. She strived to recollect that dream every night, vividly, like the imprint of fingerprints in her arm when she woke up. Eventually it folded softly, like a stack of cards. A man died unexpectedly, from murder, but they traced it to his supervisor and a third party was involved. It was a woman, who really was the dead man. She was placed for all the murders. It’s not her girl. She knew that, intimately, but strangely enough there’s an air of finality to it. There was a cover-up somewhere, but it had ended. There were no more strange unexplained murders with a woman’s touch branding them, no silent suicides, and no more sitcom lipstick violence. Life was quiet (plastic) and she went through the motions again, relieved and empty. She felt disappointed.

Somehow the criminals sensed her mood and stayed out her way. It made her restless. Rue had been away for the past few days, and even when she was around she was silent. It was an unfamiliar, uncomfortable silence. She hadn’t touched Bri, either.

She went and burned down a few houses scheduled for demolition. By the time she was done, there was nothing left, not even brick. The stones made puddles at the bottom of the basements. Her control was improving, but it didn’t help that much.

The next day, Bri walked home in the rain and saw a girl cross the street reading a book. The cars move around her as if they were used to it, but she glanced at her, at the shape of her mouth, her bent head, and tripped. Her friend snickered, and ignored her. She scrambled to catch up.

She looked exactly like Rue, but she was nothing like her. Bri could see it in the way she walked, the way she looked at people. Rue trusted people. Rue wouldn’t be broken that way.

She finally saw her again after three months of consoling herself that she was probably straight, anyway, or mean, or uninteresting.

Bri went running. It cleared her head. She saw the girl in the nearby library, draped over a desk, feet propped up, headphones buzzing in her ears, lost in dreams; and she understood again, this is who I am. This is a person.

This is why I do this.

Because, inside this person, there was a heartbeat. There was a dream. The pulse at their throats, their wrists, the whisper of air in their lungs, the quiet coexistence of their daily lives, speech and breathing. This is what it means to be alive. This is what I can do. This is what it means to save people. It’s shouldn’t be just her.

It shouldn’t be.

And sometimes, Bri made excuses:

The point is that it’s nobody else’s business. It’s just them.

Just them, so everyone can just go fuck off.

A few days later, she saw the girl sitting at a cafe. Bri hesitated, and walked over to her.

“Hi,” she said. “I’ve think I’ve met you somewhere before.”

The girl looked at her nervously. Her hood cast a shadow over her features.

“Um,” she said. “I don’t think so.”

Her hands were nervous and fine, and she folded them quickly. She hesitated. “Do you want to talk to me anyway?”

Bri talked a lot, and the girl listened. She was a good listener. She seemed to understand everything.

Love confessions went smoothly in the movies. Really. Once they get around to it, everything is perfect, and they kiss each other.

They certainly didn’t consist of your crush (and it’s not even a crush, really, more like obsession) walking up to you and saying, “I thought I should stick around.”

She was everything that I was not. She was small, and gentle. She would talk to you, but mostly she just listened, because she was good at that. It was hard to tell when she was there or when she’s not, but she’d always be there when you alone and lonely. She’s like that. Sometimes it seemed like she’s not even real. She never seemed short until you looked at her in perspective.

There was a sort of breathlessness about her. Something pupiless and startling. You looked at her and then you turned around.

She made my heart skitter. I’d never felt that way about anyone.

Not even you, darling. Not even you.

I talked to her, and neither of us understood what we were saying.

She wasn’t anything. She wasn’t anybody. She slid through the stereotypes. There was something distant about her half-lidded eyes and faintly hoarse voice.

I don’t remember the first time she met her. In fact, she can’t really remember anything about the years they spent together. It all seemed like yesterday.

“I really do care about her,” she said to the girl, “But I’m sorry. I wish I could do more. I don’t even know who she is anymore.”

And sometimes things just go awry:

Rue remembers seeing those men outside. They were very cruel.

She never liked the cold bodies. It took longer for people to find frozen corpses, because they were preserved. It also took a while to trace them, but she had advantages.

It wasn’t really fair, that they could go on easily with their lives.

Eventually the police got it. Rue wasn’t sloppy, but there’s only so long something like that could go on.

They questioned her.

She refused to plea guilty or innocent. They woke up one morning and her cell was empty.

Bri didn’t know where she was. She said she was going on a trip.

On the day that Richard Young died, Rue told Bri she was going to the library. Bri came by after work, but she wasn’t there. The librarian told her that no one like that had been in all day.

When she got home, Rue was sitting out in the garden.

“Where were you?” asked Bri.

“The library,” said Rue. She looked confused. Her red heels clicked against the table legs.

Bri stared at her. There’s something terrible growing in her, something enormous and inevitable. She swallowed back her anger. She’d forgotten how much it hurt to be betrayed.

She was so perfect and wonderful and lovely. She thought that she would keep her and lock her up in a little box, turn the key and put her heart away, carefully.

She thought she could trust her.

Rue stared back at her. She’s small and fragile and warm looking. Her shirt was slipping down the curve of one shoulder, and her skin looked like tea in the afternoon light. She rubbed at her eyes with the back of one fist. Only now, she could see things. Like the glance she darted at Bri underneath her yawn and the self-possession underneath that awkward unhappiness.

Her sleeves flapped in the wind as she rubbed her arm herself. It was very cold and grey outside, and her eyes were even colder. There was pale lace on her skirt. She wondered how she could have missed it. Come to think of it now, she missed a lot of things.

“You shouldn’t have done this,” she said. Her voice sounded very small. Briefly, in the back of her mind, she’s startled to find she had the bravery even to do such a thing. She didn’t save people just for her. But Rue saved her, once, and probably a thousand times more. Bri knew what’s right and almost doesn’t care.

She blinked. There’s something odd going on, like double vision. Her senses were playing tricks on her. Music notes jingled, glassy and bell-shaped on the frozen trees. A flower blossomed near her foot, opening its petals with a cup of steaming hot chocolate.

It’s an exquisite world. She shook her head, and everything’s normal again, just terribly wrong.

Rue snored sometimes. Her skin wasn’t perfect. She’s a bitch. She’s loud at the wrong times and annoying and persistent. She painted bandbox stripes on their walls. She kept her vinyl records in hatboxes, piled them underneath their shelves, behind the staircases. The closets were overflowing with shoes. There was a single apple on their table, with a face painstakingly painted on in sharpie. She turned the heat up till Bri started to feel it, and that took a lot. She put cinnamon on everything.

She would have murdered so many people without a second thought. And she was in Bri’s arms, and she was once warm, and —

Bri remembered. One day, she came home, staggering with arms full of groceries, tripped over a suitcase lying in the hallway. She was framed in the doorway, cut in the shape of a keyhole. There was a red smudge on the windowsill, and she had dismissed it easily.

People got cuts all the time.

Rue looked frightened now.

“Bri?” She got up and put one hand on Bri’s shoulder. The snow was almost blinding her.

“Shut up,” said Bri. She wanted to burn everything. “Shut up and stop lying. Some of us have jobs to do. What are you, anyway? Some kind of monster? Why can’t you just go?”

“You don’t mean that,” said Rue. “You tell me to leave all the time.”

Bri felt cold and afraid. This time was for real. Rue won’t come back, and she’s not sure how she felt anymore. She waited a while.

When she finally got up, the house was empty. Rue wasn’t anywhere to be found.

There’s a cat trotting at her heels. It’s small and orange, and likes fish. It led her to the magician. He was knotting something around his fingers. It looked like a web.

He looked at her and smiled. “I want you to be happy,” he said.

“Did you kill those men?” asked Rue.

“You disliked them,” he said delicately and yawned.

“I will make you pay,” said Rue. Her voice was utterly blank.

“Female problems?” he asked conversationally. Green filaments appeared around his web. “That’s the trouble with mortals. They’re so judgmental.”

Rue shut her eyes in frustration. “Which one are you working for? Summer? Spring? Summer is cruel, you know.”

“Beautiful, isn’t she?” The magician wasn’t smiling anymore. “Did you enjoy your time as a human? Did it ever occur to you, in all your self-righteous fury, that this was how she would have reacted at any other time?”

Rue looked at him. Ice slicked the ground. He faded to a shadow, and was gone.

“I want to sleep,” she said to the air. “I wish–. I wish that I would never wake up. I hate humans. They’re small and stupid and short-lived and fickle. They tell you they want you forever but it’s not really you they want.”

She felt overwhelmingly tired.

She was not accustomed to betrayal, or even heartbreak.

She didn’t want to remember Bri. She didn’t want to think of anything. She wanted to wake up, and never see Bri again. The ice elementals moved her sleeping body through time, in distant galaxies, where she won’t be found.

Bri didn’t really like the other superheroes. They’re just too good. The nicest people tended to become nastiest.

She didn’t like the sense of superiority they had. Besides, they’re so distant. They believed that some things were inevitable sacrifices. She found that impossibly optimistic.

It would all be much easier if it were inevitable.

She knew she wouldn’t be here when Rue came back. (If she ever would)

That’s why she went, and fought, and fought. There’s nothing left to come home to.

It’s quite warm outside. She thought she wouldn’t be around to see winter, anyway.

It’s hard for her, because the memories lingered. They clung, and she couldn’t distance herself. They’re part of her life.

The landlady called her down for her rent, and commented that she seemed a little different.

Nobody asked about Rue. It’s like she never existed at all.

It was very warm, and Bri had thought she probably wouldn’t be alive come winter, but it seemed like winter will never come.

Everything seemed to be going as usual, but it wasn’t getting any colder. Scientists, news broadcasters, and politicians speculated, but they didn’t seem to be getting anywhere.

People went around predicting the end of the world and beating gongs, then settled down and became to search for answers. Confusion and skepticism was rampant.

It was said generally and doubtfully it might be an advance of global warming.

One yellow day, a superhero dropped by to give Bri a letter. He stood on her window ledge. The leaves were red and purple, and beginning to die half-faded curls of brown. They were also growing.

Bri came crashing up the stairs and threw a kitchen knife at him before she realized who he was. She didn’t dare use fire anymore.

The magician leapt gracefully back, his cloak swirling.

Bri leaned out the window and cracked her knuckles thoughtfully. “What do you want?”

“I think,” he said, choosing his words with great care, “that something has happened to Rue.”

Bri picked him up by the neck of his fancy cloak, and narrowed her eyes at him. She felt old and tired. She shook him. He pulled away from her and stepped out on thin air with dignity.

“You didn’t exactly approve of me,” said Bri flatly. “What’s in it for you?”

“It seems like winter will never come back,” he said.
He leaned forward.

“I want you,” he said, “To go and find her. Because otherwise there won’t be anything anymore, and even Rue’s not that careless. She likes people. She likes you. I didn’t think you would be very good for her, and I was right, but I haven’t got a lot of choice. Winter-Rue, didn’t want me to tell you. She thought it would complicate things. It wasn’t supposed to happen like this. She wasn’t supposed to really care about you.”

Bri closed her window and thought about it. She didn’t know what to do about Rue, but she knew what to do about winter.

It wouldn’t even have mattered if Rue had killed those men. It wasn’t exactly that Rue was evil, or cruel, because she was much too efficient for that. It was more of the fact that right and wrong had never really seemed to bother her, and a sense of propriety, or indeed, restraint had never been present.

It didn’t matter if she’s Winter, or if she’d destroy the world or save it, so long as they’re together. They’d manage things somehow.

She found Rue adrift in an old spaceship on the edge of a little planet named Myakka. Her hair had grown down past her waist, past her feet. Around her, moss and mushrooms grew in strange, familiar shapes. Bri puzzled over them and realized that they were trying to grow in the shapes of buildings and trees, even though they were ill suited for the task.

The planet was very bright and warm. The crops were dying, slowly, and the soil was turning purple.

The people of that world were concerned about letting Bri take Rue away.

“If I don’t,” Bri said, “Everything will die. The plants need to rest.”

“But it’s summer here,” they protested. “It’s summer. You don’t need to wake up winter.”

“Yes,” said Bri. “But then it will be summer forever. Never autumn and never really spring.” She hesitated.

“Winter is sleeping,” she said quietly. “If I don’t wake her up, then I’ll never see her again.”

Rue was asleep. Bri carried her out, and the spaceship followed her slowly, like a pet. It tried to move quietly behind them. Bri turned around and glared at it. It stood still, trying to blend into the scenery and looked at her wistfully. She sighed.

“No,” she said firmly.

When they got home, it hovered outside and tried to peer into windows, balancing on newly grown stalks of metal. Bri gritted her teeth and tried to ignore it.

Rue didn’t wake up.

She didn’t wake up the next morning, or the next week.

Bri brushed her hair, which trailed into the kitchen, and wound itself around the furniture feet. She tried to cut some of it, but it grew back quickly.

She waited for Rue to wake up. It was as if she was in stasis.

I had a dream where I was in a crystal coffin. And I couldn’t move my hands or my legs or my eyes, and somebody was watching me, and crying.

I want to live with you, said somebody once (once long ago, it seems so long ago) just you and we could do whatever we wanted, you could go starve in a garret somewhere and I would let you paint me. And we’d have a furnace, she added doubtfully. Just in case it got too cold sometimes in the summer, because that’s when you hate it the most.

Or something. And once in a while, we would go to parties and I would lace you with jewels and drag you around, and we would dance like we always do, cheek to cheek, a little awkward and a little tenuous, your lashes against my mouth.

She holds my hand. It feels very cool, almost smooth. I don’t like warm human hands, but I don’t remember touching any.

She shudders, and exhales, and holds me. Please, she says. Just be with me.

I wish I could say something to her. Her silence makes me shudder. I don’t remember what this feeling means.

Oh, I say. She kisses my mouth, my unmoving mouth.

I could just stay this way forever. I’ve tasted deception and I’ve tasted betrayal and sin and lust and anger and hatred, like a sweet fruit. It’s lodged in my throat, in my heart, and it choked me whenever she spoke.

I don’t remember her name, but I can feel the outline of it.

My throat is full. I can’t speak.

So I spit it out. Its taken shape inside of me, something bright and glittering. It looks like a star in the grass, like a diamond, and I kiss her.

It melts in the grass and then I remember who she is.

Once upon a time, there was a girl. One day, she met a princess. The princess was unimpressed by this person, since the girl was very rude.

She didn’t know quite what to think, because she’d never seen anyone like this. The princess was surprised to realize the rude girl was just as lonely as her.

“I wasn’t supposed to wake up,” said Rue absently. Her shoulders were hunched, and she wasn’t looking at Bri. She clenched her fists and turned away from Rue. It was life, she told herself. I can’t give up.

“Please don’t go,” said Bri.

“You keep saying the same things over and over,” said Rue. She seemed uneasy.

“You think it’s just a fad? It’s been thirteen years, Rue. Thirteen years of waiting for you to wake up and realize I loved, you, thirteen years of worrying I would scare you off, and I would lose you…. What the hell do you want from me, anyway?”

Rue looked at her, and she recognized the shift of her body, that look, absent and forgetful. She smiles at her, and Bri just wants to hit her.

“I’m sorry,” she said sweetly, “Although of course I am terribly flattered that you would choose me, and I certainly hope this won’t infringe on our relationship. But thank you for choosing me.”

Rue was aware of Bri’s eyes on her, and there was something terrible and desperate in her expression. She realized that it was hunger.

“Then why did you stay?” asked Bri softly. “Was I just a toy to you? An experiment, performed to examine humans?”

“No,” said Rue flatly. “You’re my friend. I care about you.”

“Do you really?” she asked. There was something strained and desperate in the set of her shoulder, even as her lips curved into a snarl. “If I — would you? If I could pretend for just one moment that you were telling the truth-”

She scrubbed her eyes with the back of her hands.

“I would follow you anywhere,” she said quietly. “I wouldn’t say anything and I wouldn’t complain or ask you for anything, anything at all.”

Rue turned to look at her, wide-eyed. Her hair twisted on the nape of her neck, and Bri wanted to brush it away. She reached up and pressed her fingers against the sides of her face.

Rue smiled.

“Of course,” she said. The lie came naturally to her lips, like it was the clearest thing in the world. Bri didn’t think she even knew she was lying anymore. She probably couldn’t even help it.

People who love you don’t leave you.

“Of course you do,” she said helplessly. The sun was red against their backs. She swallowed hard. Rue reached up and brushed her lips against Bri’s. Almost as though it were a real kiss, she thought idly. She never felt like a person anyway.

“You’re an idiot,” said Rue, pulling away. She swiped at her eyes with the back of one hand. “You couldn’t just stay down, and leave me alone.”

She looked younger, more vulnerable. Bri almost felt guilty, for a heartbeat, but she looks at her, really looks at her. She’d forgotten how much it hurt to be betrayed.

“I won’t let you go,” said Bri. “You can’t convince me.

Rue looked at her and sighed with fond exasperation. There was just a hint of guilt in her careful expression.

She bent forward and brushed her lips against Bri’s forehead. “It wasn’t quite that way,” she said. There was something odd in the air, like a faint chime and another feeling, of something tuned slightly beyond human hearing.

“I love you,” said Bri uncertainly. “I didn’t, didn’t I?”

Rue shut her eyes. She didn’t think it was possible to hurt more then losing Bri the first time. “I don’t think so,” she said. “I think — I think you were just lonely.”

“Oh,” said Bri, annoyed. “I knew that all along. It was never anything different.”

“Thank you,” said Rue, smiling. It shatters something in her, something bright and fierce.

She remembers. She sewed something for her once, even though her skills lay more in the nature of leopard and black mesh and vinyl, something more written on with bitten edges, and tattered and torn, and pricked her finger on the silver needle. Ow, she said, and stared at her finger.

A drop of blood welled up, red as the gleaming rubies on Rue’s slippers.

She looked at it, distantly, and thought of fights, and fingerprints blossoming on skin and sharp, sharp teeth.

It was a little girl’s dress, excessively simple and almost naively sewn.

Bri looked at it, puzzled. She had never known Rue as a little girl.

The urge to go along with it pressed down on her. She fought it. Winter’s hold was thin and sparkling and cruel.

“I know your name,” she said. “That’s not true. You can’t make it that way. I’m not your toy.”

It hurts a little, like ice on fire. She clenches her fists and tries to burn through it.

“You’re not like that. You don’t know what will happen. You weren’t supposed to find me. You weren’t supposed to be my friend.”

Fire, she thought. She can feel it now, warm and dark inside her. She’s not quite Rue’s equal, but there’s nothing she can do to Bri now.

She looked up at her, and Rue sighed again and brushed her fingertips into Bri’s hair.

“I didn’t think I’d love you,” said Rue. She wasn’t looking at Bri. “You were so angry and bright and exquisite. You looked so young. You’re human. I wasn’t supposed to have you. I didn’t even think I could have a human. But it was so lovely walking outdoors and going back home. People are always so fragile, but you grew stronger than I thought it was possible.”

She laughed, and it froze in the air. “I thought that maybe, if you weren’t emotionally involved in me to that degree it would be easier to let go, then know what I could have had. I’m Winter. I don’t want to let you go. But you’ll die. You’ll die and I’ll have to go on forever until the world dies. You can’t remake yourself. No one’s ever loved one of us enough.”

It’s possible, thought Bri. I can do this.

She looked at her silently, and cradled the back of her neck, looking into her eyes. She could feel Rue’s eyelashes against her cheek.

“I want to be with you forever,” she said.

Rue walked away. She grew very small and dark against the cold horizon.

A few days later, Bri went back to the library. The girl was sitting there, and her dark hair was tangled down to the floor. She took off her headphones.

“I hear it’s tough, dating a superhero,” she said.

Bri looked at her. “There are harder things,” she said, and Rue laughed.

It wasn’t easy.

On Rue’s birthday, Bri went home tired and drenched in blood. She tried to get flowers on her way back but all the shops were closed. She’d lost Rue’s present somewhere when she was fighting, and now it was too dark to find it. She raised her hand to knock on the door, and hesitated.

It was their anniversary. Bri never wanted to see Rue disappointed again. She turned away, and the door opened.

Rue let her in silently and flicked a light on. She didn’t say anything, and Bri tried not to look at her. It was disturbingly easy. She was so tired that it wouldn’t really hurt anymore. The pain was starting to turn numb. She turned away, and Rue caught her hand.

She ran her hands over Bri, lightly, appraisingly, and angled her mouth against Bri’s. “I was afraid you were hurt,” she said. The bath was already running. Outside, the sky splattered against their windowsill.

She tasted like rain, like something cold and sweet.

That morning, Bri decided she really didn’t need the present.

Rue made herself a cup of tea and kissed Bri on the cheek. There was a great crash outdoors. “Will you marry me?” asked Bri.

Rue looked out the window. She was very still.

“I have to go,” she said, rising to her feet. She looked back, her hand on the doorknob. She preferred symmetry in all things.

“No,” she said.

Bri bought her red and gold butterflies for her hair, later.

“We should get married,” she said, again. Bri was nothing but persistent. It was a trait not only necessary, but required when dating Rue.

“I’ll stop kissing you,” said Rue.

“You don’t much anyway,” said Bri.

Rue looked out the window. “Hold on,” she said to nobody in particular, and slid her fingers into Bri’s hair and looked at her, face to face. She had never been so hungry, or so desperate. She had a feeling that this was a terrible time to start caring about what would happen.

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