A rattling sound abruptly woke Lucy. Her eyes struggled to adapt to the darkness—her bedside clock flared 00:32 onto the ceiling, meaning she'd been asleep less than three hours. It also made her question whether it was worth getting up to check; nighttime always brought out her paranoid side, and if she'd learned anything from horror films it was people were generally safer not going off to investigate.
Still, the noise had stopped as suddenly as it had started, and Lucy had no desire to get up in the morning and find a dead bird of some sort on her balcony, not when she could as well go and check now, and ease her worries instead of spend hours tossing and turning in bed, wondering what had happened. She pulled her robe on over her t-shirt and shorts and stumbled into the living room. There was enough light there, from the streetlamps and the moon outside, to make her narrow her eyes—and jump at the blurry shadow of a person outside the balcony doors.
Her heart rate spiked instantly, her eyes shooting all the way open, and there—there was a cape, there was a cape and shades of red and she breathed easier, laughing a little as she made her way over there, running her fingers through her hair and taking in the sight of Amara, in full Ruby costume, standing just outside her window.
She undid the latch and opened the doors. There were droplets of water on Ruby's cape, on her chest, gleaming against the shiny black leather of her costume. The drizzle had caught her hair as well, but not for long; only a few strands were damp, as though she'd lowered her hood once she set foot on the balcony and the rain had caught up to her there. It was breezy enough for it, the wind blowing into Lucy's living room, hard enough Lucy felt brushes of dampness on her face and her hands.
Ruby's hands were fisted around the edges of her cape, holding it over her hips.
"I've got a perfectly good door," Lucy said.
"I didn't want to wake you," Ruby said softly, not moving.
"You had a—" Lucy began, then stopped. 'A key made,' was where that sentence was going, and yet it felt strange to say, too obvious to be true, too obvious to matter. Ruby hadn't made a move to walk in, and that was the strangest thing of all; Amara walked through every door like she found the exchange of permission completely superfluous and she was personally offended to be kept outside any longer than necessary. It was even worse when she was running from something, or running to something, or running out of the weather.
"I'm sorry to barge in on you like this," Ruby said, cracking a half smile, much more subtle and restrained than Amara would have. "It's always tricky to walk the streets like this. Easier to sneak in somewhere and change."
Lucy bit her lip. "Oh." She found herself staring a bit; she'd seen Amara in costume before, on telly and off of it. When Amara'd been called to pitch in on stopping a robbery just last week, she'd changed in front of Lucy, smirking all the way through.
Amara knew—of course she did, of course Amara knew exactly how Lucy felt about Ruby. They'd even rehashed it all when Amara had told her, just so Lucy wouldn't feel embarrassed about all the things she'd said before she'd known who she was saying them to, so she'd have a new context for them. It was nothing that bad—Lucy'd had a big, big crush on Ruby through uni, but she wasn't a groupie and she didn't idolise her; it made for some fun daydreams, that was all. Most of what she'd told Amara had more to do with the way Joanne's bakery flooded whenever a fight broke out nearby. Still it was equal parts unsettling and reassuring to hear Amara confess she was a bit jealous—it was a celeb crush, there wasn't anything to it, and normally Lucy would have read something like that as a joke coming from Amara, but Amara'd looked bizarrely contemplative; she'd certainly not been laughing.
Lucy supposed now she knew why.
"That's all right," she said, stepping out of the way and gesturing for Amara—for Ruby to come in. "Please. Don't just stand there, come in." Ruby walked in, and Lucy half closed the doors behind her, too keyed up to work the lock. It was a fourth story flat and there was a superhero in it; didn't get much safer than that. Besides, she liked the influx of cool wind, the sound of the rain outside, the softer rattle of the blinds. "I'm sorry I froze up," she said, testing the words on her tongue. They felt awkward, but it was a start, and she knew for sure Amara wouldn't laugh at her, not when she'd been the first to act like strangers. Lucy could channel it, anyway: she knew she'd be just as awkward if this were all true, if Ruby had randomly landed on her terrace, if Lucy didn't know the manners and restraint were more of a mask than the hood and the leather.
"That’s understandable," Ruby said from the chair by the fake fireplace, where she was hunched over her boots, though she didn't seem to be unlacing them. "Sorry about the mess." She looked up now, glancing curiously at Lucy through her dark eyelashes, and stood up just as Lucy was saying, "Would you like a drink?"
"I'm good," Ruby said, stepping forward, closer to Lucy. She gave Lucy a barely concealed onceover, and Lucy tightened her robe around herself, crossing her arms over her stomach and holding the fabric taut with her fingers. "I woke you up, didn't I."
"Uh," Lucy stumbled, "no. I mean, yeah. It's okay. I don't mind. You don't choose your work hours." Ruby was arm's-reach close now, her cape snug around her shoulders, her black mask slightly off her nose.
"Don't always get that answer," Ruby said thoughtfully, pressing her lips together. She reached for Lucy then, placing a careful hand on her shoulder. There was something thankful about the gesture, even if Ruby didn't say the words out loud. Lucy's hands tightened on her robe: it was too hot now, despite the steady gush of wind. She felt warmth radiating from her stomach, setting her skin on edge and making her mouth fall half open to make up for the air her nose wasn't breathing in. Ruby looked down at herself and laughed softly in a way that sounded near self-depreciating, something Amara would definitely, definitely have covered up with loudness. Then she looked up, her hands sliding down to Lucy's elbows, and said, "Is there any way I can thank you?" Her arms dropped to her sides when she was done speaking, and her presence became more subdued, like she was waiting for something.
Lucy'd seen that shift before, on telly, not just in Ruby but in various other superheroes, and it always happened in conjunction with team missions—taking positions, holding out for further instructions—and questions about law enforcement and the like. Lucy'd always suspected it was something of a front, that soldier-like attitude they all took on, not necessarily a lie for the press but a way they had to force themselves to act when they weren't alone—which wasn't what they were used to. Amara, at least, hadn't been trained that way, and she wasn't the kind to take orders sitting down.
It was a part of her persona, though, one of many traits, and if it was incongruous, well, people were. Amara certainly was. What threw Lucy about Ruby offering herself like this now was simply that it wasn't the path she would have expected Amara to take, not when she could have had Lucy serve her instead, or gunned for a stronger fangirl reaction and gone from there.
But this wasn't Amara, Lucy supposed; this was Ruby. Ruby was as much the persona Amara and Chris had created as it was the person behind the mask, and right now, Ruby was telling Lucy to—to take her, essentially.
"Why do I feel like you just flipped a switch?" Lucy said, trying not to laugh and keep her face in character, even if the intent behind her words was entirely out of it.
"Making it up as I go. I try not to overplan when I don't have to," Amara said, and it was Amara answering; Lucy could feel it in the amusement in her voice and the familiar way her hands squeezed Lucy's hips. It made Lucy's chest feel lighter, like bubbles near burst.
It should have ruined the fantasy, being aware of Amara like this, but it only seemed to switch its point in time, as though Lucy was just finding out she'd known Ruby all this time, only she could just feel happy, elated by that knowledge in a way a real discovery would never have let her. Like this, there was nothing they absolutely had to discuss; it had all been covered.
"So," Amara said, and her voice went lower, shifting back into the way she was playing Ruby—the way she was playing her own persona, and that was a strange thing to be on the receiving end of, but somehow perfectly easy to go along with, "I would really like to thank you for your hospitality. Is there anything— Is there anything you'd like?"
Lucy bit her lip, forcibly rolling her shoulders so they'd relax. She knew what Amara was playing at—she knew this was exploiting the goodness in Ruby's persona, giving Lucy a chance to take advantage of her that Amara's personality would never accommodate. It was—it was nothing they hadn't done before, only with the roles reversed. Amara knew exactly what she was getting into.
So Lucy rolled her shoulders again, this time so her robe would slide off of them, and said, "Yes. Please. If you don't mind."