Kindness and Clover

by Scalar7th

Tags: #cw:noncon #abuse_mention #fancy_dinner #flashbacks #messing_up #runaway #trans_friend #hotel #no_contact #old_friends #trans_egg
See spoiler tags : #dom:female #sub:male

A chance meeting of two old friends brings back a lot of memories, good and bad.

"Clover? Clover Barlowe?"

Clover turned at the sound of her name. She didn't immediately spot the owner of the voice that called to her, and it didn't sound extremely familiar. The large number of people walking downtown at lunchtime made it a challenge to pick one face out of the crowd.

"Hey Clover!"

The wave helped.

Clover saw the man in the business suit flailing excitedly in her direction, winding his way through the crowd to get to her.

She didn't recognize him, but it was clear that he knew who she was. Clover stepped to the outside of the sidewalk, trying to put as few people as possible between her and the man moving towards her.

"It's you! It's got to be you!" He ran up an paused right in front of her.

"I'm... I'm sorry," Clover said, confused, "But I don't—"

"Recognize me?" The man smirked. He looked to be about her age, maybe thirty, well-built, with light red stubble on his chin and upper lip. He had sharp blue eyes and short dark hair, and while he was right, she didn't recognize him, there was something oddly familiar about him all the same. "I can't say I'm surprised. Or hurt."

Clover waited awkwardly as the man spread his arms wide.

"My name's Rogue Kentlin. You knew me as Scout."

Clover gasped. "No way. No way! Ohmigod!" She pulled her former best friend into a big hug. "I haven't seen you since... oh wow..."

Rogue laughed. "Since just after graduation! I've uh..." The two of them separated. "I've changed a bit."

"I should say so!" Clover smoothed out her long green dress and brushed dark hair out of her eyes. "Got time for lunch? I'm just on break."

"Ah! Hm... I really don't right now, but..." Rogue quickly reached into his jacket and pulled out a business card. "Call me when you're done work? If you have nothing else to do."

"Of course! I'll just stay downtown then?"

"Sounds great. I'm only in town for a couple days, so it'd be great to catch up." He pressed the business card into Clover's hand. "I'm staying at the Lady Aurora. I'll take you to the Northern Lights."

Clover gasped. "You don't have to do that."

"I want to! It's been years, and you were my best friend!" Rogue looked off to the side. "Maybe you still are."

There was something sad in that statement. "Alright, I'm not going to say 'no' to such a wonderful offer." She wrapped her arms around her friend again. "And to get a chance to catch up. We clearly have a lot of catching up to do..."

"Heh, yeah. A lot." Rogue let out a sigh. "I have to get to a lunch meeting. Otherwise, I'd probably spend hours chatting."

"I'll call you soon as I'm done work!" Clover said, waving behind her as Rogue faded into the crowd.

Scout ran up the driveway in the pouring ran, soaking wet, wearing muddy, ragged pyjamas, sockless in her sneakers, a backpack on her shoulder. She knocked frantically on the door.

The driveway light came on. The door opened, and to Scout's immense relief, her friend Clover stood there in the doorway, wearing a housecoat and ridiculous pink bunny slippers. "Scout? What are you doing?" She opened the door for her friend.

"Running the fuck away," Scout answered, stepping into the Barlowe home with a huge sigh of relief. "I can't take living in that place anymore."

"Jesus, let me get you a towel and some dry clothes." Clover rushed to the bathroom, returning after a moment as Scout stood dripping on the welcome mat.

Scout cleaned her face gratefully. "Your parents home?" she asked softly.

Clover shook her head. "Just me and... uh..."

"And?" Scout asked as she tried to rub her arms dry.

"And Rocky."

Scout's eyes widened. "Rocky? Rocky Benson?"

"Sh!" Clover put a finger to her mouth. "He's asleep!"

Scout gave her friend a nudge. "You wore him out?"

"Shut up!" Even in the dim light, Scout could tell that Clover was blushing.

"Okay, okay, I won't bug you. Too much." Scout handed the towel back.

"God, you're a mess. I'll get you some old sweats and you can dry off. There's the old couch in the basement, will that—"

"Perfect." Scout felt tired. The stress lifted off her, or maybe dripped off like the rain on the floor. "I'll keep out of the way."

"'Kay," Clover said. "My parents are back tomorrow night, do you have somewhere to go?"

A pause. Silence.

"Alright. Uh, Rocky and I kinda had plans for the day..."

The silence got a little more awkward.

"Okay, uh, well, do you mind, um—"

"I'll clear off when it's nice enough. I'll head out before lunch, alright?" Scout hadn't meant to sound upset. She wasn't upset. She was ridiculously relieved that she could stay somewhere, especially with someone who understood at least a little bit.

The look of gratitude on Clover's face just made it worse. "Thanks, Scout. I'll go get you something to wear. Though I don't know what I have that'll fit."

It wasn't the first time they'd compared sizes. Scout was tall, thick, and large-chested, while Clover was as small and flowery as her namesake. There was over half a foot in size difference between them, and any of Clover's tops would be under real stress with Scout's broad shoulders and impressive bust.

"Really anything to get me through the night will be fine. I'll toss my shit in the dryer and it'll be fine in the morning. Fuck it, just some pants or something and keep your boytoy out of the basement."

Clover nodded. "Yeah, that's probably fine, one sec." She headed off quickly and quietly.

Scout's sopping-wet shirt was starting to chafe. It was already sticking itself to her chest in uncomfortable ways. But she couldn't just peel it off. She didn't have anything underneath.

"Should'a kept the towel," she muttered to herself.

Clover hadn't had time to go home and change, so the green dress that she wore while ringing up purchases at the bookstore would have to suffice. It was a decision she regretted, though, on walking in to Northern Lights.

I could have played off like I wasn't done yet, she thought, her blue eyes scanning the room. It seemed like everyone there was either in an evening gown or a three-piece suit. There was a live string quartet playing in the corner. I haven't been anywhere this fancy in... ever, I don't think.

Clover wasn't even sure that she had anything that was up to the implied dress code.

"Clover!" Rogue's voice shocked her back to awareness. She recognized it this time, and even heard hints of her old friend's tone hiding underneath.

"Sss," she hissed, then corrected herself. "Rogue!" She turned and met him in a warm embrace. "That's all going to take some getting used to, I guess."

"Hah," he laughed. "Not just for you, I promise." He led her to a quiet booth in the corner. "It's been, what, five years? Six?"

"Yeah, sounds right." Clover slid into her seat. Rogue, she noticed, was wearing a different jacket than he had been earlier in the day. "What are you up to these days?"

Rogue preened a bit, smoothing his jacket. "You are looking at the community outreach manager for a national non-profit working in support of trans youth."

"That's amazing, Rogue! Incredible!"

"Thank you." He smiled.

A waiter arrived then to fill their water glasses and hand them menus, and ask if they would like any wine. Rogue looked at Clover with a raised eyebrow.

"Oh I, uh..."

Rogue smiled kindly. "We'll need a moment."

"Of course, sir." The waiter nodded and walked off to help someone else.

Clover leaned forward and whispered, "I don't know what I should order! Should I get a bottle of wine, or..."

Rogue shook his head. "Order what you like! I, uh... I don't drink anymore, so just get something for yourself."

Anymore. Huh. "Alright, then. You don't mind if I...?"

"No, please, go ahead."

Clover looked at the wine menu, and her eyes widened. "Are you—"

"Yes! Yes, Clover," Rogue laughed. "Please. Seriously. It's on me. Don't worry about the cost. I'm doing really well."

"Yeah, so I see." Clover ran a finger down the list. "I don't even recognize three quarters of these names."

"Just pick the most expensive one, then."

"How about I just get a rum and coke, instead?"

Rogue laughed again. Clover decided that she liked his laugh. It had all the warmth that she remembered, but it was deep and full. "Go for it, Clo."

She hadn't heard her old nickname in a long time. It felt odd. It felt nice.

"I think I will," Clover replied, putting down the wine menu and picking up the dinner menu. She looked at the prices, first, and started to feel a bit faint. "You... you're sure this is—"

"Clover," Rogue said, cutting her off. "I promise you. I double promise you. Order anything at all. Order everything, if you like. It's all going on my card, and yes, I can afford it, and also yes, it's worth it."

"Jeez, Rogue, I mean..." Clover took a deep breath. "If you say so." She looked at the candle on the table, flickering, took another deep breath to centre herself, closed her eyes, opened them again, and completely ignored the numbers, just reading the items and their descriptions.

Clover lay awake.

Rocky, next to her, was asleep, completely. He was an extremely deep sleeper.

The sound of his soft breath should have been comforting. The warmth of his body next to hers should have helped lull her to sleep.

The physical exhaustion of the exertion of that evening's activities should have helped, too, but...

She sighed, staring up at the ceiling, thinking about Scout.

Scout had rebelled hard in high school. Her parents were very traditional, and while well-meaning, still had certain ideas of how a woman ought to look and behave. Her father was alright, for example, working alongside women. He would have had trouble working for one, though. And of course, the women in the office would be so much nicer to work with if they would just smile a little more, be a little more pleasant. Her mother kept the house perfectly, cooked almost every meal, made sure that Scout and her younger brothers had prepared lunches for school and got to all their extracurriculars on time. And Clover never referred to them as 'Robert' and 'Melanie,' they were always 'Mister and Misses Kentlin.'

Clover had heard both Mister and Misses Kentlin say to their only daughter, "Why can't you be more like your friend Clover?" on more than one occasion. And Scout had complained about that statement to Clover enough that she knew they had said it many more times, especially after Scout shaved her head, started wearing torn jeans and t-shirts for heavy metal bands, had secretly had her tongue and eyebrow pierced (her ears had been done at age ten, her mother took her), and, much to Mister and Misses Kentlin's abject horror, started dating other women.

Clover looked over at her naked bedmate, lying blissfully on top of the covers without a care in the world, and at his half-erect penis, wondering if he was dreaming of her. It was odd to think that Scout's conservative parents would prefer that their daughter be more like her, given how often she would fuck her boyfriend when the opportunity arose. And what else she did to him.

Scout had settled some in her university days. She was still an out lesbian, though she had apparently experimented with men. She let her hair grow back and took out the eyebrow bar—the tongue stud stayed—and while she refused to wear a skirt or dress, she at least put on clothes that might be considered decently feminine, for the time, occasionally. Misses Kentlin pulled Clover aside once during their second year of university and asked if she could show Scout how to present herself properly; Clover had just shrugged, unsure of what to say. As graduation neared, though, as the two of them made their way towards finishing their final credits, Clover could tell that Scout was under more and more pressure, more and more stress. Their meetups between classes grew less frequent, and evenings and weekends became practically nonexistent. Clover had wondered if there was a girl in the picture, but was sure that Scout would tell her if things were getting serious with a partner.

The truth had come out a few weeks ago.

Her father had never hit her, or her brothers, she had insisted. And had kept the physical abuse of their mother well-hidden. The mental grind, though, the emotional brutality visited on the four Kentlin children, was reaching a fever pitch. Robert was nearing retirement. Melanie was stressed out about having him at home all the time. Both of them were heaping that stress on their offspring, and Scout was constantly intervening on behalf of her brothers. The night before Scout had a big exam, Robert had cornered Chase, the second youngest at seventeen, and had yelled at him about some minor matter until three in the morning, keeping everyone else in the house awake.

In the morning, Chase was gone. Disappeared. Almost nothing was missing from his room; he even left his (traceable) phone behind.

It was a week later that they got a call from Bobby, the oldest of Scout's brothers, who'd left for university at the start of the school year, that Chase was safely with him, and that he would not be returning home. Thankfully for Chase, his birthday had happened to fall in that week, and there wasn't anything Robert could do legally to force him to come back.

Thankfully for Chase. However, that left Scout, the oldest, and Finn, only fourteen, at home alone with two very upset and emotionally abusive parents.

Clover got up and put her nightgown on again. Rocky didn't even notice her moving.

She made her way carefully to the basement. The stairs creaked, but there was nothing she could do about that.

"Clover?" she heard Scout half-whisper as she reached the basement.

"Yeah, it's me," she replied, walking into the rec room.

Scout was lounging on the old broken down couch, the blanket Clover had given her pulled up over her chest. "What do you want?"

"Just..." What did she want? She wasn't sure. "Just making sure you're doing alright."

"Pretty sure I'm fucking not doing alright."

"Yeah, I figured."

Scout sighed and sat up a bit, making room for Clover. "I can't stop thinking about Finn."

Clover nodded. "I can't stop thinking about you, so, yeah..."

"I tried to report them once, you know?" There was a pause. "To the school. Five years ago. I finally went and talked to the guidance counsellor. Nothing. No fucking use. 'Well, Scout, maybe you need to meet your parents halfway. You've made some pretty extreme changes, it might take them a while to adjust.' He wouldn't goddamn listen to me about seventeen fucking years of this shit." Scout sighed. "I'm just... I'm tired, Clo. Exhausted." She pulled her knees up and held herself. "I'll be out of here in the morning. You don't need this."

"No, I mean, I'm sure you can—"

"I've got other places to go, Clover. I promise I'll be fine."

"My parents will—"

"Just..." Scout raised a hand to cut her friend off. "Just trust me. I needed a place for tonight, you're helping out, that's awesome. But tomorrow, I want to get further away." She smiled in the dim room. "Where do you think is the first place they'll look for me, anyway?"

"You—we're twenty-two, Scout, it's not like they can drag you back home if you don't wanna be there."

"Life will be a hundred times better for you, Clo, if I'm not here. I promise you. My parents will just make your lives miserable. It will be so much easier if you can just say, 'she's not here, haven't seen her.' You get me?"

Clover nodded. Her friend was probably right, but that didn't mean that she had to like it. "I still don't—"

"Let's just drop it, okay? This is my decision. I'm gone tomorrow."


Clover looked up at the ceiling. She could feel Scout's eyes on her. She tried not to cry.



"You think you could help me get to sleep?"

Clover looked over at Scout. "What do you—"

"You know, that thing we used to—"

"With the candle and—"

"How you used to just—"

The two of them met each others' eyes.

"I could do that," Clover said with a nod.

Scout bit her lip. "Great. I could use the rest."

The buzzer went off on the dryer. The girls smiled at each other.

"I'll get my clothes, you get the candle and lighter?" Scout asked.

Clover nodded again. "Be back in a moment."

The waiter returned with two glasses of coke, one with rum, one without ice, and a mouth-watering platter of vegetarian appetizers: tempura-fried broccoli, asparagus, and onions; three-cheese spinach dip with oven-baked bannock; and garlic breadsticks with a spicy vegan marinara.

"This looks great," Rogue said. "Since when are you vegetarian?"

Clover shrugged. "Been on and off for the last couple years. More 'on' now than 'off.'"

"And here I go, bringing you to a fancy steakhouse."

"Did you see the meatless options, though, Rogue? There's so many..."

"Honestly, I'm looking forward to trying them out myself!"

Clover smiled. "You didn't have to—"

"You keep saying that," Rogue interrupted. "I know I don't have to. But if you're eating vegetarian, there's no reason I should sit across from you with an eight-ounce sirloin, especially like you said with all those choices. Besides," he continued, "you've been pretty openly accepting of the changes in my life..."

"Oh, wow, yeah. That's a whole thing, isn't it." Clover chuckled. "This feels a bit like a fancy date."

Rogue laughed. "Could you imagine? After years of hearing how I should be more like my friend Clover, find a nice boy like Clover, dress up proper like Clover..." He shook his head. "If we'd started going out in university it would have at least cut that off." He lifted his glass. "To what might have been, I guess."

Clover mirrored the toast and drank, feeling a bit awkward about it. "So, uh, how is your family doing, anyway? I kinda lost contact when you and I, um, lost contact."

"Well, could be better. In addition to the business trip, I'm also in town for my dad's funeral."

"Oh jeez, I'm sorry."

"Nah, don't be. He was an old, rough, cruel man. I kept a little in touch with my mom, secretly—that was the condition I put on it, that she never tell Robert we were talking. She never really forgave me for splitting. Really I'm here for Finn. When he was the only one left they both took it out on him hard, at least according to Chase and Bobby. It'll be nice to see the boys again. And maybe mom and I can reconcile a bit." Rogue shrugged. "But I've got my own life, now. Putting that business degree to use."

"Sounds like something I could use," Clover replied. "I'm still painting my little paintings and working at Sylvia's."

"The bookstore?"

"That's the one. The pay is alright and I like the work."

"Sounds good, then. And your family?"

Clover smiled and shook her head. "Same as ever. Get two hippies to settle down and they're pretty much any other suburban couple. I think my dad is secretly proud that I'm trying to be vegetarian, he said he never had the guts for it."

"It's a pretty brave decision."

"Brave? Compared to..." Clover waved a piece of breaded broccoli at her friend. "Look at you! Listen to you! You've changed so much!"

"Gone rogue," he said with a wink. "Figured myself out after I was done bouncing from place to place. Took a couple years to get settled myself, in the big city, and when I didn't have to worry about my choices and my identity turning into yet another fight, and then I found the right counsellors and the right doctors and..." He shrugged. "And with a bit of money, vocal coaching and hormones are easy enough to come by."

"I honestly didn't recognize you. Especially with the beard." Clover shook her head. "But you still talk the same, you still walk the same, you still smile the same."

"I bet the hugs are a bit different, though."

Clover laughed. "You're less squishy up front, it's true."

Rogue let out a long, slow breath. "I can't... I can't tell you how nice it is that you just... you could just... That I can—"

"It's okay, Rogue." Clover smiled. "You're not my first trans friend."

"I haven't seen my brothers or my mother in six years, Clo. I have no idea how—I mean, they know, of course, I told them, but I don't know how they'll react actually seeing me." His eyes darted down to the candle on the table, and he smiled. "You know, Clo, whenever I get worked up and stressed out... I saw you do it earlier, you know? Did you think I wouldn't catch that?"

Clover swallowed, embarrassed. "I was kind of hoping you maybe didn't."

"Brings back a lot of memories."

Clover nodded. "It does."

Scout came back into the room just in her bottoms, carrying her pyjama shirt against her chest. It was warm. Comforting. But she didn't want to wear it. It wasn't like she and Clover hadn't seen each other a hundred times like that and in less, from 'fashion shows' during sleepovers to high school swim team together to the time she'd convinced Clover to go skinny dipping at the Barlowe cottage when it was just the two of them there. She felt completely comfortable being topless around her best friend, and she knew Clover was just as comfortable.

Clover had pulled an old kitchen chair and an end table over towards the couch. There was an orange candle in a glass mason jar on the table, and a barbecue lighter beside it. Clover was sitting on the chair, looking vaguely uncomfortable.

Scout sat on the couch. "Thanks, Clo. For... well, for everything."

Clover nodded. She seemed tense. "You're welcome, Scout."

Scout put the sleeper top on the arm of the couch, near where her feet would be, and sat back on the couch. "Anything more we need?"

Clover shook her head.

"Great." She stretched out on the barely comfortable couch, turning her head to look at her friend.

"You're sure you don't want to stay?"

Scout sighed. "I should get out of your hair. You don't need my shit falling on your doorstep."

The regular trips to the Barlowe cottage, at least two or three weekends a summer, had been one of the best memories from the last decade. Campfires with Clover and her mother's quiet, meditative stories that would send the girls to their tent (and give the Barlowe parents a bit of privacy in the cabin) had slowly turned into Clover and Scout telling each other those same sorts of quiet stories over the fire after Clover's parents had headed to bed, which had led to Clover leading small meditation sessions over a lit candle to help Scout calm down for studying.

All of which had led to this moment. Clover picked up the barbecue lighter. She lit it and put the flame to the wick of the candle, and when she pulled it away, the fire had transferred. Scout watched closely, already feeling a little calmer. Fire had always been a fascination of hers, the way it danced, the heat, the unpredictable way the smoke curled upwards. Small or large, it was almost impossible to look away.

"This should be very familiar, Scout," Clover said.

"Mhmm," Scout replied, surprised at how relaxing Clover's voice was.

"The heat and light from the candle, warming your sight, warming your breath. Deep breaths, now."

Scout complied, breathing deep.

"In and out, Scout. Just as you know how. Deep breaths. Deep, relaxing breaths."

Despite her words, Clover still seemed tense, somehow. The familiarity of the moment, though, and the deep breathing, and the flickering fire, all worked together to help Scout relax.

"Really good, Scout. All you need to do is focus here, watch the fire dance."

Watch the fire dance.

"See the smoke drifting up into the air, carrying away your worries and your troubles, as you..."

Watch the fire dance.

"And even if your eyes feel heavy and close, even if your body relaxes deeper and deeper into the couch, you can still see the candle in your mind, and you can still..."

Watch the fire dance.

Clover was still talking, softly, kindly. Scout was watching the fire dance, but she wasn't sure if her eyes were open or not.

Dinner had been delicious.

Rogue hadn't ever tried a zucchini-and-eggplant-based steak substitute, but the preparation had been brilliant, and along with a side of au gratin potatoes and roasted carrots and yam, the whole meal had been excellent. Well worth the expense, no matter what Clover was thinking. He had little to spend his salary on, and the business partnerships he forged were well worth it to the organization. And his per diem he received for work travel covered about a fifth of the cost of the meal, to boot.

Clover's choice of a large mushroom sandwich smothered in some sort of gravy, with garlic-parmesan fries and the freshest Caesar salad that Rogue had tasted in ages, was equally incredible. The two of them had happily shared their meals with one another, laughing and reminiscing and catching each other up on mutual friends and fun stories.

The conversation seemed to peter out as they sat and waited for the table to be cleared. Clover seemed to be a bit uncomfortable. "Uh, Rogue?" she asked, sounding hesitant.

"What is it, Clo?"

"Why, um... why did you go no-contact with us?"

Rogue scratched behind his ear. "I don't... really know. I just felt it would be easier. Clean break and all that. And I didn't want Robert making trouble for you all, which he would have done." He sighed. "I guess it was just simpler, too. If I didn't have any friends left, I never had to come back. I guess I really was running away from everything."

Clover nodded. She seemed satisfied, if not happy, with that answer.

"Did you ever try to—"

"No one knew where to look, Rogue." She shook her head. "We tried, but as far as any of us knew I was the last person to see you before you..." She shrugged. "Anyway, you probably don't really want to talk about—"

"I wouldn't mind," Rogue said. "And I still want to catch up! How much time do you have?"

She smiled. "I could talk all night."

"Me too." His eyes dipped down a bit. The little candle had nearly gone out, but the flame was still fascinating. It helped him to stay relaxed. He looked back up, caught Clover doing the same thing he was, and grinned. She grinned back.

"Pretty easy to just—"

Rogue cut her off with a raised eyebrow. "You're about to talk about the fire dancing, and there's a lot of people around."

"You remember?"

Rogue nodded. "I do. And I wouldn't mind more of the fire dance. It's been a stressful week. Things just aren't the same as when you used to... help."

Clover closed her eyes. "It's always better with someone else."

"Like so many things." Rogue took a breath, and came to a decision. "Come up with me."

Clover's eyes popped open in shock. "Up? To—"

"My room. I just... I want to keep talking. I don't know. Maybe it's a bad idea."

"Maybe it is." Clover's eyes met Rogue's. "For a lot of reasons."

She was holding something back. Rogue could tell. But he couldn't tell what it was that she was holding back.

"Still," she continued, "I would like to."

The waiter returned then with bill, which Rogue took without hesitation, signing it to his room. He looked across the table. "Shall we?"

"That's it, Scout. Nice, slow, deep breaths. So close to sleep. So close."

Scout's eyes were closed, and had been for some time. Clover knew that she wasn't asleep, she was still responding to Clover's words.

Clover looked down at the candle, seeking some inspiration. She took a breath. She needed to look there, because seeing her friend relaxed and vulnerable and half naked was not helping her concentrate.

"So close, but not quite there. Watching the fire dance in your mind, letting it keep you awake, and asleep, all at the same time. Letting all your thoughts and worries and memories float away like the smoke."

Clover took a slow breath, feeling tired and maybe a little... She didn't dare think the word. She had been reading a lot online, and a lot of what she'd found was more enticing than she liked to admit. And she wasn't about to do the sort of things to Scout that she'd seen in some of the videos. Scout was her best friend, and a woman, and besides, Clover was in a relationship. Rocky was just upstairs.

But that didn't mean that there was nothing Clover could do.

"This is it," Rogue said, waving a keycard at an electronic lock after they made their way to the twenty-seventh floor.

"I don't think I've been this high up except when I've been flying," Clover said.

Rogue smirked. "I've never been in a room this nice, I have to admit." He opened the door and stepped aside for Clover to enter.

Clover hesitated a moment, then walked in. The entryway was fairly normal, compared to other hotel rooms that she'd been in, but that was where the similarities ended. The suite seemed less 'overnight stay' and more 'luxury apartment.' A large bathroom was just off to the side, with a huge tub. The main room had a big couch facing a massive television, a great nighttime view over the city, and a closed door that presumably led to the bedroom.

"I just thought it might be easier to talk if there weren't other people around, and music, and..." Rogue shrugged.

"And you wanted to show off your amazing hotel room."

"A little, yeah." He laughed.

Clover walked around on the fancy white carpet, feeling a little bad that she still had her shoes on.

"Something to drink?" Rogue offered.

"Just some water, would be great." She put a hand on the faux-leather couch. It felt nice.

Rogue, meanwhile, did remove his shoes and suit coat. "I'll get you some. Just a moment. Ice?"

"Not if it's a bother." Clover sat down facing the screen. It was possibly the nicest place she'd sat. Maybe not the most comfortable. One of the most expensive, if nothing else.

"If it were down the hall, then it would be, but there's some in the freezer."

Clover leaned back, listening as Rogue ran some water in the small kitchenette and got some ice from the freezer. There was too much of both just for one glass, so it was no surprise when he had a drink as well. He sat in an armchair, quite near, and Clover noticed that she had subconsciously shifted back. Away from him.

She felt the tension rising again. The knot in her stomach was back. The water gave her something to do, something to take her mind off Rogue, off of...

"This doesn't feel like a bad idea," Rogue said. "Now that we're up here."

"Uh huh," Clover said around a swallow. "This is... nice."

She wasn't lying. It was nice. She was the problem.

She had been the problem so often.

"Quiet," she continued. "Quiet and calm. I like it."

She did, and the more she said it, the more true it was.

"Good, I'm glad." Rogue took a deep breath. "I'm... I'm really happy I ran into you, Clo."

Clover smiled, genuinely. "I am, too." She put the glass down on the side table. "It... it gives me a chance to..."

Rogue raised an eyebrow. "To what?"

Clover closed her eyes and bit her lip. "To apologize."

"If your birth family won't protect you, then you can let us be your family."

A slow breath. "Let you..."

"We can keep you safe."


"Just watch the fire dance, Scout..."

"I didn't know what I was doing back then, Rogue. I really didn't. I had come across a few things online, which led to a few more, and I started to think I... that I could do it."

Rogue just nodded, listening.

"So there's no need to run."


"It's simple. We're here for you. You can stay."


"Just relax, watch the fire d—"


"... I... Scout?"

"No... Can't stay..."

"I've learned a lot since then. Learned a lot about how what I'd done was wrong. Learned a lot about consent, and breaking trust, and... All kinds of things. And I know what I did was wrong, and worse, I did it wrong, too, because I had no experience and no clue."

Rogue nodded, clearly thinking. He drank some of his water.

"Do you... S-scout... are you in love with me?"


"Do you think you could fall in love with me?"

"... no..."

"Why is that?"

"You're... straight..."

"What if... what if I wasn't?"

Clover looked at her feet. She had said everything she'd meant to, and maybe a little more.

It felt good to unburden herself, and incredibly bad at the same time.

Rogue didn't say anything. She wished he would, She wished he would yell. Or scream. Or tell her to leave. Or something.

Instead, he got up, silently. He went to the bedroom.

There was a moment, a long, painful moment. Clover warred with herself over staying where she was, and just bolting for the door and leaving before he came back.

She heard the bedroom door open again, and close. She didn't dare look. She didn't even look up as Rogue's legs came into view.

It was the sound of glass being placed gently on the table beside her drink that made her look.

A mason jar.

A mason jar with two thirds of an orange candle in it.

She looked up into Rogue's gentle smile, an expression that was utterly alien to her memory and was so, so welcome.

He held out a small butane cigarette lighter.

"I trust you, Clover."

She reached out, took the lighter in her hand.

"The things you've told me about. What you've read, and seen, and the communities online, it's all true?"

She nodded.

"And what you've learned."

"So much." The words slipped out without her thinking about them.

He sat down again. "Since I left, I've always carried one of those with me. Even when I had almost nothing else, I always had a candle like that with me. Sometimes it was my only luxury. It's the one thing that's kept me grounded, kept me connected to..." He laughed, short and bitter. "Okay, I could lie and say it kept me connected to this place, but no, it kept me connected to you, Clover. The one good goddamn thing I carried with me when I left was you. And through couch-crashing and living out of a second-hand sedan, through shitty secretarial jobs, through broken relationships, substance abuse, and... fuck, through surgery, Clo, through psych appointments and hormone treatments and being cut apart and sewn back together, you were there with me. You have been a part of every success and failure in my life, big and small, for the last six years. I risked checking a bag on an airplane so that I could bring you here with me while I dealt with my father's funeral and seeing my family again."

"I... I don't..."

"It sounds like what you did was a violation of some sort, and I don't deny it, I don't discount it, and I have to admit it freaks me out a little bit, but... but before that we had like fifteen years of solid friendship or whatever. And I can see it. You were scared of losing me, scared of losing your best friend. Fuck, I was scared, too, Clo. I'm not gonna deny it. And you tried to do something you thought would help. I can't... I dunno, maybe it's just the years talking, maybe if you'd told me about this the next day I'd've slapped you silly or something, but I can't find fault in what you did, especially because it didn't work.

"You told me that you asked me to forget everything about the trance, and I dunno, maybe I did, but I'll tell you what I do remember about that last night in town: Desperately running to my best friend's house, where she put herself out to take care of me, and where she helped me to find a moment of calm and quiet and relaxation in the middle of all the fuckin' chaos that I was dealing with. As much as you tried to keep me there, Clo, you gave me the strength to get away. And you kept giving me strength. Every day, every night you gave me strength. I gave up that shitty 'Now I lay me down to sleep' crap that my parents forced down my throat, and I lit a candle, and I said, 'Clover Barlowe, one day I'm going to do big things,' and I watched the fire dance."

Clover bit her lip, blushing a bit. "And you have done big things."

Rogue shrugged. "I'm working on it. That's not the point, anyway."

"I just... I don't know what to say, Rogue."

"Then how 'bout you do what you wanted to six years ago?"


He smirked. "You're not gonna make me stay, but from what you've told me, there's a lot of other stuff you could make me do..."

"What? Are you serious? Do you—"

"Yes." Rogue nodded. "Yes, I am. And God, I've been working so fucking hard the past couple weeks to make up for time to take this trip, and to arrange those meetings so they could happen today, I've hardly had any time for myself, and definitely haven't had any time for any sort of sexual experience, and this sounds like it could be lots of fun."

Clover blushed harder. "You want... m-me?"

"You tried to make me fall in love, didn't you? That's what you said, that last night."

"Because I thought it would make you stay!"

"Well, maybe it worked, and maybe it didn't, but it doesn't change the fact that right now I am wanting you so badly, especially knowing that this might be my only chance to see you for a long, long time." Rogue grinned. "And obviously, you were okay with that, at least you were then." He shrugged. "You can always say 'no.' I won't hold it against you. I know it's weird and it's awkward, but like they say, you miss a hundred percent of the shots you don't take, so..."

Clover spun the lighter a couple times in her fingers, thinking. "There's a lot to talk about, a lot to cover, if I'm gonna do this..."

"Well then, Clo... Start talking."

The morning sun came. Clover hadn't slept all night, wracked by fear and guilt and constant questions.

The sound of Scout climbing up the basement stairs made her get out of bed. She threw her robe over her shoulders almost as an afterthought, and didn't bother to tie it up.

Her friend was dressed already. "Hey Clo, thought I might grab a bowl of cereal or something before I head out."

"Yeah, um... uh... a-about last night..."

Scout didn't seem to notice her tone or anything out of the ordinary. "God, Clover, it was so good, thank you so much. I haven't had rest like that in months. I should have started sleeping over here weeks ago. Shit, just staying here... I dunno, I feel ready to face the fuckin' world or somethin'." She opened the cupboard for the bag of generic flakes of corn, threw some carelessly in a bowl, and headed for the fridge. "Need me to keep quiet for Rocky?"

"Uh, yeah, sorry, he'll be up in a few minutes, probably. Sleeps like the dead, but the minute his alarm goes off..." Clover shrugged, feeling helpless.

Scout nodded, quickly pouring the milk and starting to eat. "I'll get the fuck out of your hair then."

"Um... thanks, I think." I don't want you to leave.

"Don't worry, I'll be fine! I have a place to stay, friends to hang out with, a plan and everything. I'll be on my feet in no time. Coupla weeks, tops." She shovelled the food into her mouth as fast as she could, not caring about propriety.

"Just... just be safe, okay?"

"Yeah, sure, of course."

Clover turned to head back upstairs.

"Oh hey, before I go..."

The hope she knew would be dashed still had the audacity to flare up. "What is it?"

"You mind if I take the candle with me? I think I might need it."

She shook her head, smiling outwardly, completely devastated. "That'll be fine, Scout."


Clover took another step towards Scout. And another. "Well, uh, see ya around I guess."

Scout nodded. "Won't be long."

Clover headed back to bed, exhausted, took off the robe, and lay down next to Rocky.

She heard Scout put the bowl in the sink.

She heard the front door close.

She heard Rocky's phone alarm.

The driver stopped in front of her yard. She gave him a good rating on the app and a healthy tip. Anyone willing to drive around that early in the morning deserves some generosity.

Key in the door, quietly. Softly kicking off her shoes. Habits formed of courtesy more than necessity.

She slipped off her clothes as she made her way to the bedroom.

It was so very much like the last time she'd hypnotized her best friend. She chuckled at the parallels. Except this time, Clover was the one to leave in the early morning. And there were no worries, no fear, no guilt, nothing hanging over her head, or his. They'd said goodbye, this time. They'd kissed goodbye, this time.

Honesty had set her free of a burden she'd carried for years. Honesty would continue to be her freedom.

Running into Rogue had been a lot of fun, and he would surely come back to visit sometime. There would be no chance to get together between sorting his father's affairs, the visit with his family, and his early flight home. Their time together had been wonderful, beautiful, special, but his life was elsewhere. Hers was here.

She slipped into bed, naked, next to Rocky. She was pleased to see that the message she had sent him, telling him that she'd run into an old friend and that he shouldn't wait up for her, had been paid its proper attention.

He sleeps like the dead, but the minute his alarm goes off...

Except that she had a little more control, now. Other ways to get him up.

It wouldn't have been entirely honest to say that her failed attempt to impart suggestions to keep her friend close, six years ago, had taught her everything she needed to know, but it had definitely sent her down a more studious path. No longer was she merely searching out fantasy and pornography. She found techniques. History. Names. Online course overviews. Research papers. A hundred hot daydreams and a few first tentative steps had blossomed as a result of what she hadn't been able to do that night, and she and several others had been reaping the rewards since then. Though it was mainly her and one other.

She rolled over and gently kissed Rocky's cheek, her hand slowly reaching for his crotch. "Wake for me, slave."

And he did.


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