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Renovating the Heart

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“Do they ever give you a break?” Prompto asked, cocking his head to the side and grinning. Rue shrugged, glancing at the throne room doors.

“Not really, but I can’t say there’s much work to be done anyway,” she admitted.

“I guess not,” he laughed softly. “I see you standin’ out here all the time. You here permanently?”

“I, uh, think so.” Rue’s heart skipped a beat and she took a deep breath with her hands anxiously twisted together behind her back. “What’re you doing down here, anyway?”

“Harsh,” he hissed playfully, earning a slight smile from the guard. “I was just gonna check in on Noct. Y’know, see how’s he’s holding up.” He rubbed that back of his neck uneasily, resting a hand on his hip. “I just never get to see him anymore.”

“Becoming king’ll suck up all your time,” Rue nodded, jerking her head toward the door. “Go on ahead; he shouldn’t be busy.”

“Actually, he is.”

The two jumped as a deep voice broke their conversation. Cor stood a short distance away with his arms crossed, his sharp eyes staring hard into Rue’s. She shifted uncomfortably.

“Oh, is he?” Prompto asked, mostly unfazed. Cor glanced at him before coming closer, staring down at Rue. Forcing her fear away as a distant enemy, she straightened, squaring her shoulders and meeting his gaze head-on.

“He’s scheduled to be in another set of negotiations until late tonight,” he replied steadily. “What’s your name?”

“Corden, sir.”

“Corden, you have no authority to allow His Majesty casual visitors, and if for some reason Schrader gave it to you, you’ll have to retrieve a copy of his schedule from his advisor every morning and prepare for the changes that occur throughout the day.” His eyes narrowed just the slightest bit; he seemed irritated by Rue’s lack of response. “Who is allowed to enter this room without previous notice if Noctis has time to spare?”

“Rayne, Gladio, Ignis, yourself, and Prompto,” she answered, unconsciously chewing on the inside of her cheek. “I’m assuming, at least.”

“Schrader never informed you?”

“No, sir.”

“Well, it’s not her fault, then,” Prompto stepped in hopefully. Cor ignored him.

“The only people allowed in here unannounced are Rayne, Gladio, and Ignis. Do you understand me?” Of course… The advisor and the end-all, be-all sacrifices for the king's life. How could she have possibly thought otherwise? 

“What?!” Prompto blurted, earning a scowl. “S-sorry. It’s just—”

“There’s no time for friendly visits in these times,” Cor interrupted. He even looked a tad sympathetic. “I’m sorry.”

“No, it’s okay,” Prompto reassured him, lifting a hand to wave at Rue. “Uh, see ya, then. I guess.” Rue nodded back with her lips pursed, turning her attention back to Cor.

“I’m assuming I’ll have to trust that you’re here according to the schedule?” Unintentionally, the words sounded mocking. Cor took a deep breath.

“Yes. No more assumptions.” He pressed a hand to the door, hesitating. “If you have any contacts in the guard, it would be wise to have them take your place while you search out Ignis.”

“Now? He won’t be a part of this negotiation?”

“No. He’s…” Cor closed his eyes, sighing. Even the man of strict, perfect control slipped on his words sometimes, spilling things he never meant to say. “He’s a bit swamped with work today. He’ll either be in the kitchen or his office.”

“And he won’t care that I’m showing up unannounced?”

Cor turned to fully face her, now clearly irate from her prodding. To be fair, she was doing it to get on his nerves after he got on hers with his nitpicking. Luckily for her, because she tended to be so cautious and quiet, the soldier couldn’t decide if she was mocking or asking genuine questions. Stiffly, he replied before briskly entering the presence of the King.

“Prepare for a lecture.”

With a humored huff, Rue pulled out her cellphone and dialed up a number that it almost pained her to call.

“Yeah?”

“Hey, Cam?”

“What’s up?”

“I need you to take my place down here for just a sec,” she muttered, falling against the wall and hugging her free arm to her body. “Cor just gave me a lecture on following the King’s schedule, so now I need to pester Ignis about getting sent one every morning.”

“That’s a tough one,” Cam grumbled.

“Tell me about it. I got yelled at for letting Prompto in.”

“Seriously?” Cam scoffed. “Sure, whatever. I’ll be there in just a sec.”

Rue sighed, stuffing her phone into her pocket and crossing her arms impatiently. Week five. It wasn’t the worst job she’d ever worked; it was mostly that the promises that Cam made had not been lived up to, for the most part. Rayne never so much as looked her way when she barged through the doors and the Glaive mocked her behind her back when she told them to pipe down, don’t run in the halls, take the fight somewhere else, please and thank you. It was a torture that never ended, and it was getting her nowhere. As long as the world kept taking its sweet time getting back on its feet, she was fine taking it slow. But what was to happen when things sped back up again?

“Hey,” Cam greeted, slowing his jog to a brisk walk as he rounded the corner. Rue tried to squeeze past him, but it was no use. Her boss was insatiable. He caught her by the waist, pulling her back and pressing a kiss to her lips. She almost threw up in her mouth, staring at the end of the hallway as he looked over her face with a sickeningly endeared expression. “Have fun with the neat freak.”

“Yeah,” she breathed, pulling out of his grip and hurrying up the stairs. Her pale cheeks glowed a shade of bright red and she prayed that there were no cameras in that entrance. There was no way there weren’t. Taking a deep breath to calm herself down, she stopped just before Ignis’s door, mentally counting down. To her right, Rayne stepped out of her office, arching an eyebrow as she watched the guard staring at the advisor’s door in silence.

“What’re you doing?”

“Huh?” Rue looked over at her, feeling her blush grow stronger. “Oh, I’m supposed to be asking Ignis for a schedule.”

“And you’re standing outside instead?” Rayne frowned. “He doesn’t hear prayers, Rue. You have to open the door and speak.”

“I know,” Rue muttered. “Don’t you have negotiations to attend?”

Rolling her eyes, Rayne turned on her heels and walked toward the same broad staircase everyone took to get to and from this floor. Rue shook her head, reaching up to knock. She froze. He didn’t answer last time; would he really want to get up and open the door again? Swallowing hard, she gripped the doorknob and turned without allowing herself another thought. She peeked her face into the room. Ignis looked up from whatever he was staring at on his computer screen and raised an eyebrow.

“Knock, knock,” Rue said uncertainly, clearing her throat when he didn’t react. “Cor sent me.”

“Come in,” Ignis sighed, pushing his glasses up and turning his swiveling chair to face forward. “Rue, was it?”

“Yeah, that’s me,” she nodded, closing the door and walking toward the desk. He looked up at her, waiting expectantly.

“What does the marshal need?”

“He needs something for me, actually,” Rue shrugged, awkwardly sinking into the same chair she used when they filled out her forms for who knows what reason. “A schedule of the King’s day, preferably every morning.” She tucked her hair behind her ear and crossed her legs, looking anywhere but Ignis. “I, uh, got in a bit of trouble for giving Prompto the go-ahead to enter the throne room during a meeting, not that His Majesty would be in there at that time anyway.”

“Yes, well,” Ignis’s head jerked to the side just the slightest bit. “I can understand the issue.” He sighed, habitually touching his glasses as he rifled through the top drawer of his desk. “You understand that plans change often, I’m assuming.” No more assuming. Rue nodded.

“Yeah. Cor told me to check in with you regularly about that.”

“No need,” Ignis replied smoothly, closing his drawer and pulling his phone from his pocket. He eyed the guard before unlocking the device and handing it over. “Enter your contact information here. I will be sure to send you the expected events for the day and then proceed to update you from there.”

“Thanks,” Rue replied, offering a smile. Ignis made no effort to smile back.

“I’m not doing you a favor, Rue. This is solely because His Majesty’s safety depends on it. Letting unauthorized visitors into the throne room at random could very well put his life in grave danger.” Rue’s face fell and she went back to typing her number into his phone.

“It was just Prompto—”

“It doesn’t matter,” he interrupted strictly. “No one except for Rayne, the marshal, Gladio and myself is allowed in that room unless there is notice beforehand.” Rue paused, glancing up at the advisor.

“Cor told me it was only you, Gladio, and Rayne that I should let in.” Ignis frowned.

“Well, I suppose I could be incorrect but I’m certain we agreed on the three of us.”

Okay,” Rue whispered, handing his phone back. “I have a question if you’re willing to answer me.” Ignis raised an eyebrow silently yet again. She took that as a go-ahead. “Why not include Cor and Prompto in that list?”

“The decisions we make to preserve the King’s safety are not the business of the guard,” he answered coldly, tucking his phone into his pocket. “Are we done here?”

“Well, I’ll leave it at the assumption of status,” Rue huffed, standing. “Any heads up on what’s going on for the rest of the day? I’m on duty until His Majesty is in his chamber for the night.”

“The last thing he has scheduled in the meeting he is currently attending,” Ignis replied dutifully, returning to his computer. “After that, it is not your business to stick around and keep an eye on him. Your shift will be over then.”

“I’m sorry,” Rue snapped, annoyed by his “high and mighty” attitude toward her. “But I take my orders from the Captain.” She headed toward the office door, pulling it open sharply. Guilt pinched her heart and she glanced back at him over her shoulder. “Have a good night.”

“How’d it go?” Cam asked upon seeing Rue coming back down the hallway. She shrugged.

“He’s still got a stick up his ass and I’m still tired. Nothing’s changed.” Cam chuckled, shaking his head.

“Well, listen.” Rue’s chest ached with dread. Here we go. “Meet me upstairs for ‘payment,’ Sweetheart.” “If you’re really that tired, you should go lay down in the room just down there.” He pointed down the hallway. “I’ll stand here for you.”

“No, it’s okay,” Rue insisted. “You go home; I can finish the shift just fine.”

“Rue,” he said sternly. “Captain’s orders. Go take a nap.”

“Captain’s orders,” she scoffed under her breath, turning around to head to the room as she was directed.

Slowly, she pushed to door open, greeted by dim lighting and about a dozen cots. She entered carefully; two people were fast asleep across the room from each other. What the hell is this place? Some sort of sick room? Shaking her head, she laid down in the cot closest to the door and forced herself to close her eyes and relax.

Sleep overtook her almost immediately, but it was the light, barely-breaking-the-surface type that left her tossing and turning on the squeaking metal frame of her “bed.” Familiar faces, voices, places haunted dreams that lasted hardly more than a minute before one faded away and another replaced it. She shot up abruptly in her bed as the crack of gunfire woke she and the other two people in the room. Acting on instinct, she leaped to her feet and raced into the hallway. Cam was gone.

Rue pulled her gun off her hip and rushed toward the throne room. The door was shut tight, but it most certainly wasn’t locked. If the King was in negotiations like everyone said he was, he’d be in a narrow room that branched off his court. She hesitated as she stretched out a hand to shove the door open. Shouldn’t the Kingsglaive be taking this? She gritted her teeth and pushed. To hell with the Glaive and Rayne and anyone else who should be there. She was on duty.

King Noctis stood guarded by Cor, Rayne, and Axel, the redheaded fool that was chosen over Rue. She nearly had to throw herself at the wall to avoid being shot by the trigger-happy idiot, scowling at him. At the other end of the broad room laid a boy who looked about seventeen, stretched out on his back and leaking a stream of blood from a shot through the heart. Rayne’s eyes locked onto Rue and she charged. Rue hardly had time to react before the warrior smacked the gun out of her hands and struck the side of her face. The taste of copper rushed across her tongue as her teeth clamped down on her lip.

“What the hell is wrong with you?!” Rayne practically screamed. “Where were you?!” Rue straightened slowly, her breathing quickening with the pounding of her heart. “Answer me, dammit!”

“Cam was supposed to be—”

You were on duty, not Cam!” Rayne scoffed, throwing an arm out in the King’s direction. “He would have been killed if Axel hadn’t seen the kid come in here!”

Rue stood in shocked silence. No one spoke as the door opened again and Ignis strode in, looking around the scene with quick, sharp eyes.

“Is everyone alright?” he asked, making a beeline for Noctis.

“Should be,” Axel nodded, stepping away from the king. Rayne’s jaw was tight; she planted her hands on her hips and tapped the toe of her boot.

“I just…” She laughed darkly, shaking her head. “Where were you? Tell me, now.”

“Cam wouldn’t let me guard any longer,” Rue stuttered, feeling absolutely foolish as the words came out. Of course, she shouldn’t have obeyed. She should have stood her ground instead of bending her will for that disgusting man. “H-he sent me away to rest.”

“To rest,” Rayne snorted. “So let me get this straight: you went upstairs to waste Ignis’s time, then you put your boss at your post so that you could take a nap?” Her face fell back into her terrifying, rage-induced glare. “That sound about right?”

“I—” Rue stammered, feeling entirely overwhelmed. “I was really tired and it wouldn’t have done much good for me to—”

Then go the fuck home,” Rayne snarled, stepping up to get into Rue’s face. “Don’t stay here and put everyone in danger.” The four men in the center of the room watched in silence as she tore the guard to pieces. “You think just because you 'saved' Gladio and Prompto last week that you’re some sort of hero that can do whatever the #$%^ she wants? Huh? Let me tell you something, Sweetheart.” She shoved Rue back toward the wall, practically bursting with raw anger. “If you hadn’t shot that girl on the spot, we’d have a way to trace where these damn kids are coming from, not to mention that you almost shot Gladio through the head trying to play the hero!”

“But I didn’t, did I?” Rue snapped—a fatal mistake. Rayne’s face grew horrifyingly calm and she stepped back, crossing her arms tightly. Behind her, Cor and Noctis exchanged a look and Axel shifted uncomfortably. Ignis was unreadable.

“You don’t even have the courage to admit you were wrong,” Rayne stated coldly. “You make up excuse after excuse and then you act like you deserve the position you’re in.” She cocked her head to the side. “I knew you were desperate, but gods, fucking your boss? That’s a bit far, doncha think?” Rue’s chest almost exploded; she bit her tongue. It was so twisted, so wrong. She didn’t choose anything that Cam decided for her. How does she know? “And how could I forget the cherry on top of it all?!” Rayne cried, throwing her hands in the air. “You have the nerve to tell me you didn’t do anything out of line when your king was almost killed by a drug-addicted child because you couldn’t hold your eyes open for an hour longer.”

“Cam—!” Rue blurted. Rayne silenced her by raising her hand.

“I don’t give a shit about Cam—I get the final say when it comes to Noctis's defense.”

“… What are you saying?” she dared to ask, praying that something would go right just this once. Rayne reached toward her.

“I need your uniform. Now. You’re fired. I don’t want to see your sorry ass around here ever again, do you understand?”

“You can’t—!" Rue protested, only to be cut off by Cor.

“She can. You’ve proven yourself incapable of handling a simple duty.”

“I’m telling you I was ordered to let him take my place!” Rue shouted, stomping her foot like an insolent child.

“And I’m telling you that I’m going to start sending bullets your way unless you give me the uniform and get the hell out,” Rayne snapped. “Now, Corden.”

“… I’m not wearing clothes underneath,” Rue muttered.

“Well you’re not buck naked under there, are you?” Rayne demanded, waving her outstretched hand. “Hand it over and get your things from the lockers.”

“I… didn’t bring anything to the lockers.” Everything was dirty.

Rayne huffed, roughly ripping her baggy blue sweatshirt off and throwing it at the guard.

“Put that on, then,” she huffed, straightening the t-shirt she wore underneath. “I want it back.”

“… Is this your brothers?” Rue asked without thinking. What the fuck is wrong with me?!

Rayne’s glare was enough to shut her mouth and get her to start unbuckling the belts that held her clothing on. The group of men uncomfortably averted their eyes as she tossed her shirt at the woman standing before her, pulling the padding off her pants and tugging the sweatshirt on over her head. The thing was even more massive on her, making her look like some sort of navy blue gourd with skinny limbs and angry eyes. Rayne dropped the uniform to the floor and pointed at the door.

“Get. Out.”

Fuck. You.

Rue turned on her heels and stormed out the door, struggling to hold back tears. Her brisk walk turned into a run and she soon found herself sprinting through the dark, winding hallways, hiding her face from anyone she passed. Someone called her name; she pretended not to hear, rushing out the front doors and immediately calling Eren. Twenty minutes later, she left his car without a word and hurried to her apartment.

The second the door shut behind her, uncontrollable sobs overtook her entire body and sent her sinking to the floor. She hugged her knees to her chest, gasping and choking and sniffling. Not only was she the Citadel's new shame, she was a complete and utter failure. She’d hardly survived a month and a half. She prioritized a nap over the Chosen King’s life. She lost her only way to redemption. How was she going to right the wrongs without the tools she required? Exhausted, she sank to the floor and curled up into a ball, roughly scrubbing the tears off of her cheeks with the sleeve of Arma Callen’s sweatshirt.

She couldn’t do anything right. No matter what, she was destined to fail again and again, to be beaten down to the ground by the rest of the world while people with just as much dedication and strength climbed the ranks to the top like it was a cakewalk. She would never be able to save herself from her impulses, her fears, her loneliness. She would never straighten out. She would never get her revenge. Ana…

Rue shuddered, squeezing her burning eyes shut. I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry…