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[personal profile] sunbaked_baker
It is said that three in the morning is called "the soul's midnight," but four in the morning is also pretty damn close. On the nights when she wasn't awakened by nightmares, Sunshine slept so deeply that getting up when her alarm sounded felt like trying to wake the dead. On this particular morning, Rae pulled herself out of bed and staggered to the shower purely on automatic, still mostly asleep. Four in the morning wasn't even in the same world as eleven in the morning, when her work shift would end; Rae woke to the former already wishing for the latter.

Strong tea with optional painkillers and the knowledge that she would have the rest of the day off got Rae through most of the morning shift. She passed the time making Caramel Cataclysms and Buttermost Limit, while casually eavesdropping on her mother and Consuela, her mother's assistant, giving seven flavors of hell to one of their suppliers who wasn't behaving. The good-cop, bad-cop routine they had developed was a delight to overhear, and Rae was smiling tiredly to herself as she got the desserts into the ovens in time for the lunch rush. Her own apprentice would be arriving soon, and then she and Mel would go over to his place for a leisurely lunch, and afterwards - Rae was already envisioning it - a nap.

So Rae was expecting Mel or her apprentice when she heard someone come to her bakery door just before eleven. But it wasn't either of them; it was Pat. Pat, her SOF who she hadn't seen in months. Surprise and gladness to see him overtook her for a moment and she almost called out his name as she stepped forward to give him a hug, but the moment after recognition brought her slamming to a halt with the name still unspoken in her throat and a chill rising up her spine. Pat was holding a finger to his lips in the universal sign for 'quiet.' He looked tired and serious, even more so than the last time Rae had found him suddenly stopping by her bakery. He nodded slightly at her worried, questioning look - a little sympathetically, she thought, but he still didn't say anything - and took out a folded slip of paper from his shirt pocket. Rae couldn't imagine what was so... what was going on? Why wasn't Pat saying anything - while also not wanting her to acknowledge his presence out loud. He must think there's a chance the place might be bugged again. Again? That means... Oh gods. Now?

But, so soon.

At last.

From Pat's expression, Rae knew he saw comprehension dawning on her face. She heard her heartbeat in her ears, feeling ill as she stared at him, trying to steady her breathing and keep the room from beginning to spin. Wanting to ask and not daring to; if Pat thought the bakery might be bugged again, he would have reason to think so. The Goddess hadn't forgotten about Miss Seddon any more than Miss Seddon had forgotten about the Goddess. And she would still be trying to gain evidence of Sunshine's nocturnal excursions. Jiving with vampires. Consorting with the enemy. Perish the thought that all of it might be for the good of the world, both the daylit world and the nighttime world. Fuck the thought that all of it was done because members of SOF had practically begged her to do it. Or at least something like what she was doing. They still didn't know the extent of it, and Rae still wasn't sure how they would take it, even after all this time. But they were on her side, for now, only knowing that she was out there, helping. Slowing the fall of the human world, at grave personal risk, and at their request.

Rae would quite willingly face a horde of vampires rather than do what now she knew was coming. Telling... going forward with the evidence they had against the Goddess. It would endanger everything Sunshine had in her life, everything she'd worked for. If the Goddess found out before they got their chance, she would go public with their accusations and take the opportunity to put her own spin on the story. She'd be good at that. She would love that. Love to bring everything into the searing light. There's be a public trial, and Rae would have to testify. Would have to lie and hope she was believable, would have to ask others to lie for her, and hope and fear for them for their sake and for her own, and the Goddess would know. And the media would come down on Sunshine and everyone in her life like a world of hurt. All of those she loved, who she fought for. Those who she had lied to for years, to keep them safe. She couldn't ask them to risk themselves and lie for her. She wouldn't. But they would - she knows them too well. And Rae knows that - between the Goddess and the media and the public outcry - the truth would come to light, indeed. And her friends, her family, everyone would find out about her. About what she does. Would they want her hands making their cinnamon rolls in the morning if they knew what else her hands had been doing? Would they even want her around? Would they think it right that she be locked up? Disappeared into a SOF lab for experimentation for the rest of her natural life, as the unknowing world slid further into the dark?

Oh gods. Rae could feel the tears burning at the corners of her eyes. She would have to tell Con.

Still silent, as the hurricane of thoughts and horrors passed through Rae's mind, Pat set the paper on the bakery counter. Wordlessly, he gripped her shoulder for a long moment, looking into her eyes. Sunshine could see the deep blue shadows lining his face, and remembered his sharp, blue smile, when he, Theo, and Jesse had trusted her, and had asked her to trust them in return.

(For what it's worth, Sunshine, we'll back you up to the last gasp, if you want us there. If last-gasp stuff turns out to be necessary. We'll even lie to the Goddess of Pain if needs be, and babe, that takes balls.)

Rae gripped Pat's hand, then, squeezing it slightly. She'll go. If they'll be with her, she'll go. And... let what happens happen.

She let her hand fall away from his as Pat released her shoulder. Still without a word, he turned and headed back out the bakery door. Her head spinning, Rae faintly heard his footsteps go down the short hallway and around the counter, and out the front door, which chimed as the door opened and closed.

Then the noise of the beginning of the lunch rush swam back into Rae's awareness, as though coming from a long distance away. She sought to focus on her breathing, sought to keep the room from spinning around her, sought to keep her hand steady as she reached for the slip of paper Pat had left behind.

Pick-up at your place, 5am tomorrow. We have a meeting with Regional Exec Misra.

Rae leaned on the counter, head spinning, knees weak. Regional Executive... This wasn't just going forward with the evidence they had against the Goddess - the SOF bugging devices, the fetch, the Delete-laced tea, all of it - this was going above her, to her superior. Her superior who managed a whole lot of these local city SOF offices. Who apparently was going to be in town tomorrow. Where was the Goddess going to be during this meeting? Did she know about it at all? Was there a risk of her finding out?

What a stupid question.

"Hey, was that Pat just now?" Mel's easy-going tones announced his presence as he entered the bakery, wiping his hands dry on a kitchen towel. "Where's he and the other SOFs been hiding lately?" But his question trailed off and his look turned serious when he saw Rae, leaning on the counter and trying to keep her hands from shaking. The SOFs had always been regulars at the coffeehouse, mildly friendly with all the staff, but Mel had been rather protective of Rae in the last few years. He came forward, offering his hands. "Hey, babe. Are you all right? Did he say something or do something to upset you? Damn them, why won't those guys leave you alone?"

Rae shook her head, clutching Mel's rough, tattooed hands for the moment before she leaned into his embrace. He was warm, still smelling of garlic and onions from the kitchen. He was steady, solid, everything she needed at this precipice she felt she was walking along.

"Can... can we go?" she asked, muffled by his shoulder. Beneath his shirt, she knew, was the oak tree tattoo whose branches spread wide and whose leaves glimmered when the breeze blew. A tree, like her tree. Her internal... whatever it was... representation of her power. Trees are impervious to dark magic. Rae was vaguely aware of making a decision without her conscious brain's permission. It may be her last chance. "It's nearly eleven. Everything's taken care of, here... can we go now? I'll be fine, and we can talk when we get there. I just..."

"Sure, babe," he assured her. "Let's go."

Her apprentice would just have to deal.

~*~*~*~

Rae rode behind Mel on his bike to his place, her arms around him and her helmeted head resting lightly against his shoulder. There she was sheltered, it seemed, from the oncoming crisis point of the next morning, of later this afternoon if she went through with what her heart had decided. The great noise of the engine thrummed through her body, keeping her in the present moment, almost at peace, suspended in the sound of the motorcycle and the rush of wind. But they arrived all too soon.

The two of them made lunch together in companionable silence while Rae wondered how one breached a wall of one's own making. The danger of getting into the habit of not talking about things with someone is that the one day you won't feel able to talk to them about things you need to talk about. Won't feel as though you're allowed. Mel was the only one in her daylit life to ever see the extent of her scars and bruises, but he never asked about them. Never demanded answers. He saw the effects of her secrets and did not seek those secrets out. And what's more, he never seemed like he was restraining the urge to ask. While the tea steeped and their lunch finished cooking, Rae leaned against Mel, and asked her first question.

"Mind if we take our lunch up to the roof?" They had spent so many lazy and enjoyable afternoons up there. And Rae needed those happy memories right now, and sunlight, if she was going to make it through this.

"I wouldn't mind," he smiled slightly, putting his arm around her waist. "The breeze is still a bit chilly but it's a pretty day and I'm sure we can keep warm."

The corners of Rae's mouth twitched upwards slightly in reply - thank all the gods and angels for Mel - the moment before she kissed him.

~*~*~*~

It turned out that the edges of the roof sheltered the two of them from most of the breeze, and exertion and the sun warmed their skin nicely. Later, Rae lay with her head resting against Mel's shoulder, her eyes half-closed, soaking in the moment. Letting it stretch, letting the easy silence stretch. She wished it would never end.

But Rae knew it would, and she would be the one to end it. If tomorrow ended her life as she knew it, she wasn't going to go without someone knowing her life as she knew it.

Rae blinked her eyes open, and looked up at Mel, who turned his head and gave her a loving smile. Easy-going, mind-your-own-business Mel, who had been there for her through everything, and never asked what 'everything' was. She watched the sunlight shine through his fine hair, and the red-gold shadows that lined his face. His smile was warm; his hands were warm. His shadows were warm, too, as though there were firelight in them.

('Who are you, Mel?'
'I'm your friend, Sunshine. Everything else is just static on the line.'
)

The sunlight of the first day of spring surrounding them, Sunshine asked her second question.

"Mel, can I tell you something?"

He looked at her and blinked, mildly. "Of course you can, Sunshine," Mel replied, as though it were the easiest thing in the world.

So, with his arms still around her, and the sun shining down upon them, she told him.

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Rae "Sunshine" Seddon

August 2017

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