Ruby had fallen asleep on the couch and Aria couldn't bring herself to wake her yet. Who knew how long it had been since she last slept properly? Every now and then, her fingers twitched and her forehead wrinkled into a small frown. She stretched out once, but only for a couple of seconds, then she pulled the cushion from under her head and curled up again, wrapping her body around it.
She was wearing JD's sweater with the sleeves rolled up past her hands and a pair of Molly's trousers with the waistband folded over at each side and held in place with Aria's belt. The oppressively grey reintegration clothes she'd been wearing when Aria picked her up were in a heap behind the couch because she couldn't look at them anymore. Nothing from that place deserved to be in anyone's eye line.
Aria was tired. Sometimes it all caught up to her and she didn't expect it until it happened. She kept trying to sit still, but it didn't last, so she paced across the room and back. JD cast another aura, something stronger to help Aria stop moving while she filled her in on the whole situation, or at least as much of it as she knew about.
JD absorbed it and accepted it because nothing was ever too strange for her to deal with. "So how much of this can I tell Molly? You know it's exactly the sort of conspiracy stuff she lives for. She'll implode."
"I guess tell her whatever you want. It's not like it's going to go any further than the two of you. Just try and discourage her from digging around for info, at least for a while. I'm pretty sure it'll go that way soon, but I want to give Taf a chance to find things out first. Or I kind of want to make him try. He owes me that much. Shit, I'm going to have to tell Rafe something. Taf asked me to bring Ruby back to mine, which is fine with me, but I can't explain it without explaining it."
JD raised an eyebrow at Aria as if explaining it shouldn't be a problem. "Tell him the truth. You're going to have to eventually anyway and he might be able to help."
Things always made more sense when JD said them. They seemed more obvious, or like they should have been more obvious to Aria in the first place. "Yeah, it's just...I don't know. Sometimes I feel bad about how much I tell him, how much he knows. If the shit ever hits the fan, he'll have so much to hide, so many lies to tell. I hate being responsible for that."
JD looked like she was gearing up to say something she'd already said a whole lot of times. And she said it. "He knew what he was getting into and he has plenty of hiding and lies to deal with already that have nothing to do with you. Besides, he chose to stay where he is with work. He could've left, but he didn't, and he's gotten pretty good at taking advantage of his position. It's not like it's a moral dilemma for him. You know that better than anyone."
It made sense. Of course it did. Every time. But still. "Sometimes he talks about quitting and then he talks himself out of it. It's this continuous back and forth and I'm never sure if he can't make up his mind or if he doesn't want to. I guess it's not that simple. It's never been that simple. Nothing ever is. I wish he'd just walk away from it, you know? Seeing him in that uniform, knowing what he's part of, it breaks my heart."
Aria was curled up in a huge chair that threatened to engulf her entirely. JD, perched on the arm, slid down into the seat and leaned her head against Aria's. They'd known each other for so long, been through so much together, but moments like that were still few and far between. They were both pretty inept at offering comfort and worse at accepting it, but sometimes it just happened. That closeness, the kind that built itself over shared years, almost felt like too much, too difficult to know how to be in properly.
JD nudged Aria with her shoulder. "Ari?"
"When did you get a heart?"
They laughed, a proper cackle that split the air open, and Ruby woke with a violent jolt. She sat up fast and looked around, panicked.
JD climbed back up on the arm of the chair and watched Ruby like she was an experiment, but it wasn't personal. It was just how she watched people.
Wanting to say something reassuring but not know what that was, Aria aimed for proximity and hoped it had a positive effect. She sat next to Ruby on the couch, reminded her where she was, that she was safe.
Ruby took a few deep, measured breaths, the kind people learn to take to stop the rise of anxiety that has no other way out. When she spoke, it was barely more than a whisper. "Where do I go now?"
"You come to my place, with me."
"Why? I don't want to seem ungrateful, but I don't get it. I don't know Taf. I don't know you, either of you. I don't know why you're helping me." Her eyes widened into abrupt, bottomless fear. "Wait. You are helping me, aren't you? You're not going to turn me over to—"
"No, we're not going to turn you over to anyone. We are definitely helping you, or at least we're trying to. I don't actually know why and neither does Taf. This whole thing was an order from way up the chain, but that's all he knows. It's all I know too. You're a bit of a mystery."
JD said, "You want a freq to help you process?" That was her way of being supportive. To be fair, it often worked.
Ruby shook her head.
Aria almost accepted, then thought better of it. "Coffee would be good." It had been another long night.
Ruby smiled, a quick brightness lifting her face. "I haven't had a coffee since before."
JD shook her head. "You're so vintage about everything, Ari, seriously. OK, coffee coming up." She attached a freq cell and it put an extra spring in her step.
Aria turned her attention back to Ruby. "I don't live too far from here, just a couple of miles. I need to send the cab from last night back to Taf, but we can go to mine in it first, gate to gate, and you won't have to be in the outside world at all."
Ruby sighed like feathers made of stone. "I miss the outside world. I've sort of forgotten what it feels like to be in it, part of it. I don't really know what it feels like to be part of anything anymore."
"I get that. So, how about I send the cab back to Taf on its own and we walk?"
Ruby's eyes lit up for a second, then, "Aren't they going to be looking for me though?"
"They are, but they're going to be looking for your ID showing up in places and it won't be. You're screened, remember? You're one of us. You don't exist, or at least you only exist on your own terms now."
Ruby raised her fingertips to her cheek and pressed the skin there as if she was checking for changes that might have happened without her knowledge. "But I have the same face. Won't I show up on cameras?"
"It's not your face they're looking for, I promise. It doesn't work that way. So walking is definitely an option if you want to do it, even just for part of the way. If it starts to feel like too much, we can catch transport."
Ruby's lips tilted into a smile that was half excitement and half relief but still not entirely trusting of her freedom. "OK. We'll walk."
"Good. But first, caffeine."
JD handed them a cup each and they drank in silence. And it was all right, the silence. It could have been strange, uncomfortable, but it wasn't.
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Heavy Frequency [updates Tue + Fri]Science Fiction
A black-market trader in a futuristic metropolis confronts her own past to discover a mysterious fugitive's true identity. When Aria Day is tasked with rescuing an enigmatic outlaw, she is drawn into a conspiracy that weaves through the criminal und...