"I feel like I haven't seen you in ages," Relir greeted as Rue finally joined her three friends at an outdoor table at their favorite restaurant. Eren scooted over on the bench to give her more space, smiling warmly. "How's the new job?"
"Fine," Rue shrugged, looking across the table to Dex. "How're you healing up?"
"Not bad," he shrugged back. "Those healers know what they're doing. I'll be pain-free within the next few days."
"That's really good," Rue raised her eyebrows. Eren nodded, touching the frames of his glasses and running a hand through his hair.
"I know! No kid's gonna take down our Dex, that's for sure."
"Hell no," Dex snorted, nudging Relir with his elbow. "Could you imagine? Me, killed by some little trigger-happy punk?" She laughed, shaking her head. Rue chewed on her lip uncomfortably, suddenly realizing these two likely had the same "kill them all" attitude as Alexander. "Anyway, enough with work shit. It's time to kick back 'n relax."
"We don't have time for that," Relir sighed, rolling her eyes as her fiancé threw an arm around her shoulders. "We ordered without you, but it's a big tray of stuff; you know the drill."
"Fine," Rue shrugged indifferently. It wasn't like she would eat much of it anyway. Dex seemed to read her thoughts as Relir gnawed on a toothpick to his left. His brow creased and he pushed his shoulder-length hair out of his eyes.
"Uh, listen, Rue..." Relir and Eren immediately shot him warning glares as if by instinct—at this point they knew exactly when the guy was going to cross the line. He, as always, ignored them. Rue sighed, directly her eyes elsewhere; was he good at pretending he couldn't see them or was he really that stupid? "I know it's none of my business, but as your friend—don't kick me, babe—I just wanna make sure you're okay." He leaned forward, lowering his voice. He looked genuinely concerned, and from a man who hardly emitted anything but cocky jock-like confidence, that meant a lot. "This isn't about the, uh, body image stuff again? Cuz, I mean, we're all here for you, but if you're having problems again, I think you should talk to someone."
"I'm fine," Rue insisted, crossing her arms and shuddering as a blast of cold air rushed through the alleyway they were tucked into. The beginning of spring was a joke—it was merely false hope as winter struck its final, and sometimes hardest, blows.
"Yeah, you say that, but you never eat."
"Dex," Relir hissed, kicking him again.
"What? You expect me to pretend nothing's wrong when obviously something is?"
"Really, Dex, I'm fine," Rue butted in, forcing a smile. "Honest. I'm just a little stressed about all these changes lately. It's not... the same as before."
"You sure?" She nodded firmly. "Okay." Dex straightened, though he didn't seem quite as satisfied as he tried to show he was. "How was the meeting, Eren?"
"A little tense," Eren admitted, rubbing the back of his neck and taking a drink from a steaming mug that warmed his hands. "Rue was there in place of Ignis."
"Really," Relir huffed in disbelief. "You know how hard it is for the Glaive to get in there? You're one lucky duck."
"Yeah, well," Rue muttered, lifting one shoulder in a half shrug. "It wasn't all that great. Kind of boring." She paused, frowning. "Actually, it really wasn't. It was kind of unnerving."
"Yeah, takes a bit to get used to," Eren agreed with a soft laugh. He watched her shiver again with concern glimmering in his hazel eyes. He offered his mug. "Wanna try? It's chai."
"Of course it is," Rue scoffed, rolling her eyes, but she gladly accepted the drink and took a sip. The spiced drink burned her tongue in several places, but the heat that traveled through her body easily made the pain worth it. "Thanks, pal."
"Yeah, no problem," Eren replied, taking it back without so much as looking at her. There was something odd in his voice. Rue frowned at Relir, who merely shot her a confused expression back. He cleared his throat. "How's the situation with, y'know..." Relir shook her head and Dex scoffed.
"What?" Rue's brows pinched together as she watched the three of them exchange looks. "Is this some big Glaive secret I can't know?"
"Kind of," Relir admitted with a sigh.
"Then don't talk about it."
Before Relir could say anything, a waiter in a dirty apron appeared with a long tray of meats and vegetables. A waitress came around to his side and set a mug of hot water and several tea bags in front of Rue before bustling back to help the man set the tray down.
"Hell yes," Dex whispered; Relir snickered, shaking her head. He looked over at Rue as she slowly sank a peppermint tea bag into her mug, watching as the water stained a deep shade of green. "Hey, pass her a plate, dude. Don't make her reach." Eren rolled his eyes mild-manneredly and set a plate before Rue.
"I was getting to it, asshole."
"It's douche bag," Rue murmured, earning two laughs and a scowl. Relir started to pile food onto her plate as Dex ate right off the tray.
"So," Relir started, licking sauce of her thumb. Rue pressed her lips together and Eren's demeanor changed ever so slightly. They both knew what was coming. "It's been a while since I asked—"
"Any guys caught your eye?"
"Nope," Rue replied simply, defensively, as she battled images of Cam by stuffing a charred sweet pepper into her mouth.
"You sure? No cute guards or anything?" Relir sounded exasperated. "For fuck's sake, I'd even accept the fact that you have the hots for Ignis at this point." Rue made a face. He wasn't a bad looking guy by any means, but his personality soured any sort of attraction she might have felt at any point. "Really? No one?"
"Yeah, really," Rue said, pulling her jacket tighter around her body.
"C'mon, Relir," Eren urged. "Let it be."
"Let it be," Dex mocked in a whiny voice, stuffing a kabab in his mouth. Eren shot him an irritated look, which he then shot back.
"You guys are children," Rue muttered, taking a sip of her piping hot tea gingerly.
"You guys are children," Dex grumbled, rolling his eyes. That made him crack up; he laughed, looking around at the scowls that were directed at him.
"See ya'll later," Relir called, waving as she and Dex got into their car. Eren and Rue waved back, coats buttoned and pulled tight around their shoulders.
"They drive me insane," Rue admitted as they turned to walk in the other direction. Eren raised the remote to his keys, finding his vehicle in the packed parking lot as it chirped.
"Yeah, me too."
Rue gnawed on the inside of her cheek, an idea suddenly sparking and overcoming any hesitations she might normally have. She rushed forward, grabbing hold of Eren's arm with both hands. Her pale eyes peered up at him innocently when he looked down at her. Any other man may have melted on the spot; that is if he didn't already have his mind made up about her.
"Okay, this is really stupid, but I really want ice cream all of a sudden."
"Yeah?" Eren chuckled as she nodded eagerly. "Get in; I know a place."
"Yes!" she cheered, practically throwing herself into the passenger side seat.
Eren started the car and pulled into the busy streets of Insomnia. Rue watched lights and people and shops pass by, amazed. Just how did Noctis accomplish all this? Rebuilding even just a quarter of the city to what it was before in a mere two years. It was almost inconceivable. Soft music filled the gaps of comfortable silence as they drove a few blocks. Eren squeezed his car into a parking space along the sidewalk and the two stepped out of the car. Rue shivered as a chilly breeze blew down the lamp-lit sidewalk.
"C'mon," Eren urged her, opening the glass door to the bright ice cream shop. She stepped inside, instantly enveloped in the heavy scent of vanilla. The décor was bold, and if she dared to think so, a bit obnoxious with its hot pinks and neon greens. A smiling chocobo appeared to be the mascot. Rue couldn't help but scoff. The Golden Chocobo. Cute. "What do you want?" Eren asked, pulling out his wallet.
"Oh, no, you don't have to—"
"I know," he replied with a simple smile. Rue felt guilt claw at her chest.
"But it was my idea."
"And I took the bait. Now, what do you want?"
"... Fine." Rue glanced at the extensive menu that took up an entire wall—the font was so small she could hardly read the text from where she stood. Sometimes she forgot they'd only known each other for a few months. It felt like far longer. "Just one scoop of chocolate in a bowl."
"Simple woman," he commented.
"That a problem?" Rue asked smugly, raising an eyebrow. Eren cocked his head to the side.
"Not at all."
Rue's stomach churned. Oh gods, not again. Sometimes she couldn't tell if she came off as flirty or not... It made her wonder if she said something to set Cam off. Maybe if she'd been a little clearer, a little more distant, nothing would have happened. Eren stepped up to the counter and gave the cashier his order. The teenage girl hurried to dish out their ice cream before setting the foam bowls on top of the case and heading back to the register. Eren handed Rue hers and led the way to a small table in the back of the tiny shop.
"Vanilla, huh?" Rue commented, spooning a mouthful of her dessert into her mouth and moaning dramatically. "This is the shit."
"Yeah?" Eren grinned at her response. She nodded, eagerly taking another bite. "Vanilla's too simple, huh?"
"Nah, I like predictability," Rue shrugged, entirely focused on her spoon.
"So you knew I'd get it."
"Of course I did," she scoffed light heartedly, rolling her eyes. Eren raised an eyebrow and Rue snickered. "You don't understand how happy this makes me."
"I think I do," he laughed, watching her as she gobbled down her ice cream.
"Lies," she mumbled, peering up at him with a sly smile. "Y'know, this is almost like a date." It was satisfying to watch the color creep into his cheeks. "Except for the fact that we're surrounded by chocobos and obnoxious lights."
"Hey!" Eren protested. "I think it's cute!"
"You would," Rue teased.
"Is that supposed to be an insult?"
"I'm honestly not sure. I'll leave it up to interpretation."
"Fuck off," she laughed, kicking his leg. He chuckled, adjusting his glasses. Rue cocked her head to the side. "How strong's the prescription on those?"
"Not very," Eren huffed. "I'm okay without 'em, but I'd prefer to see clearly."
"Can't relate," Rue sighed. He shook his head.
"Sometimes I forget you're a fellow dork."
"Dork?" Rue pretended to be offended. "Excuse me, sir, being unable to see doesn't make me a dork."
"I beg to differ."
"Well, you're wrong."
"That's your opinion."
"Dude," Rue snapped, rolling her eyes. She only earned a dimpled grin. "Quit it."
"You know what," Rue scoffed. "What's wrong with you?"
"A lot of things," he grumbled under his breath. Rue shook her head, trying her best to mock Relir's tone.
"So, when're you gonna find yourself a girl?"
"Someday," Eren shrugged. "Not soon, probably."
"Probably? Got someone in mind?"
"Nah." Eren dumped the rest of his ice cream into his mouth.
"Uh, I think meant 'yes,' Eren." She leaned forward and folded her hands together. "Who?"
"It doesn't matter," he shook his head. "I'll not looking for anything and neither is she."
"You can't know that," Rue scoffed.
"She told me."
"You asked her on a date?"
"What? No, of course not." Eren frowned, startled by her assumption. "She just happened to mention it."
"Okay," Rue tucked her hair behind her ear and pressed her lips together. "Listen carefully: when a girl says that to some random guy out of the blue, with no precursor, it probably means she either wants to gauge your reaction because she's interested, or because she knows you're interested and she just wants confirmation, or both." Or she's just being honest... Gods, why are we so complicated?
"And how am I supposed to figure out which it was?" Eren asked, frustrated.
"Ask. Her." Rue leaned back in her seat and crossed her arms. "Just ask her out or something, but don't make it sound like a date."
"You want me to be just as confusing as her," he accused, playing with the melted remnants of his ice cream. "That's not going to help—it's already confusing enough as it is."
"Fine, don't take my advice," she shrugged, feigning indifference. "Let things play out. It's probably better that you don't take it, anyway. I don't have a good relationship track record."
"You're not wrong," Eren muttered smugly. After she swatted his knee, his smile fell and his voice took on a more serious tone. "You were married before, weren't you?" Rue frowned, turning her eyes to the tabletop.
"Yeah, I guess. It wasn't all it's chalked up to be, though."
"I get that," Eren nodded. He didn't bother to ask what the trouble was exactly. Instead, he took a deep breath before standing. "Well, I guess I should get you home. It's late and we've both got early mornings ahead of us."
"Yup," Rue replied curtly, tossing out her trash and heading back out into the cold.
The ride back to her complex was silent, and this time it was not comfortable. An odd tension hung in the air that filled the car; she didn't like it. Rue leaned against the window, watching the world flash by in a whirlwind of swirled, streaked lights. Fortunately, the ride was a short one, and Rue quickly thanked her friend before hurrying up to her apartment. She already felt the stirring in the bottom of her stomach as her tongue suddenly remembered the sweet taste left on her tongue.
She hurried to her bathroom, trembling with dread as she glanced at herself in the mirror. The only reflection she saw illuminated her rounded cheeks, the indent in her hips were her pants cinched too tightly, the bit of extra fat on her thighs. All she saw in her own eyes was loathing disgust. All that hard work to get to this point... To go back. Ana doesn't deserve this. Her lips twitched as a plea for help was silenced by the blood pumping through her veins. Violently, she was thrown to the floor as she scrambled toward the toilet and retched, spilling anything and everything she'd consumed that evening. With a strangled sob, she fell back against the tub and buried and her face in her knees. What's wrong with me?