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For Tribebohemian, from Santa

The air was just perfect that day. Warm enough to walk without a jacket, with a slight cooling breeze that made a walk feel very comfortable. Though the sun was shining, Trudy could sense rain in the air. Something about the way it smelled, the way the air felt. She pushed that concern aside though, as she hiked the basket higher up on her arm. Today was going to be a good day, she could feel it. As she strolled through the marketplace in their new home town, she couldn’t help but reflect on how things almost felt back to normal these days. It was peaceful here, and it was really starting to feel like home finally. Although she knew the others missed the old city, Trudy felt no homesickness any longer. She felt safe here. That feeling of constant fear, that had been with her since the day the severity of the virus began sinking in, was fading away. She smiled and waved at a few of the traders she recognized, though she didn’t stop to chat. She had somewhere to get to.

She was by the end of the small marketplace when she spotted them. Amber, with Salene, Ruby, and some of the kids. They couldn’t see her now, it would ruin everything. The thought hadn’t more than entered her mind when someone grabbed her from behind, one hand over her mouth, and a strong arm around her waist, pulling her back between two carts and out of sight. She struggled against the grasp, trying to scream through the fingers clamped over her lips.

‘Shh, it’s just me!’

She spun around as she was let go.

‘Bray!’

He grinned, tilting his head sideways as he looked at her.

‘Did you miss me?’

She narrowed her eyes, trying to appear annoyed. ‘I saw you just a few hours ago. And I almost dropped the food.’ She motioned to the basket still hanging on her arm.

‘Sorry. We couldn’t help ourselves,’ Bray shrugged, looking towards where Brady stood by her stroller, her grin mirroring her uncle’s.

‘So, what have you two been up to today?’

Bray shrugged. ‘Walked around.’

‘Ice cream!’

‘Brady, you promised not to say!’ Bray narrowed his eyes as he looked at her, a playful smile on his lips. Brady just giggled, before she began climbing into the stroller.

‘I told you-’ Trudy began, but as Bray turned to look at her she stopped and sighed. She never could resist that man, even after all this time.

‘We should get going. Brady is a little impatient.’ Bray looked at his niece, seating herself in the stroller with ease.

Bray had gotten it for them not long after his return to the Mallrats. In this town there were long distances from here to there, and Brady was too big for Trudy to carry her around anymore, but still too little to walk very far on her own. Trudy nodded, giving Bray a smile as he grabbed the handles and began pushing Brady ahead of him towards the old park. She flashed back for a moment, to the last time she could remember going for a walk with Bray and her daughter. She had been so full of hope that day, it had been silly to even consider it really, she knew that now when she looked back. She had seen the hope for family, of her daughter having a safe future. It had been the start of a nightmare. She shook her head, trying to not let it show that her thoughts drifted again, not today. But Bray glanced at her, his expression changing slightly. He didn’t ask her about it though, not in front of Brady.

Trudy led them to a patch of trees inside the old park, where everything was overgrown despite the efforts to make it pretty again. This part of the park was still abandoned and secluded, but inside the bushes, there was a clearing. It didn’t take them long to get the blanket spread out and the slightly meager offering of food Trudy had managed to put together. The bread was freshly baked though, her own doing, and the hard-boiled eggs were fresh from one of the farms, she had traded for them herself, adding to their rations. It was allowed, through frowned upon. This town relied on sharing everything equally, but Trudy wanted just one day of a little added luxury.

Brady was in her element, her food went down quickly and then she spent some time picking flowers. Trudy showed her how to make a sort of wreath by tying the stems together, one of those skills Trudy had taken with her from her time with the Eco’s. Bray tried to help, but his fingers weren’t built for this kind of thing, and he did more damage than good. Eventually he ended up with it on his head though, giving Brady a long good laugh at her uncle’s expense. Not long after she finally agreed to go down for a nap in her stroller, falling asleep within minutes.

A silence fell over her and Bray, both of them watching the sleeping girl. So peaceful and innocent still, despite everything she had been through in her short life. Trudy glanced at Bray. Beneath the calm exterior, beneath the smile, she could see the lines on his face that hadn’t been there before, the scars inside him reflected in his eyes as his met hers. He didn’t talk much about where he had been or what had been done to him, but it didn’t take much to imagine it, knowing what she did about the Techno’s.

‘You okay?’

Trudy nodded, giving him a small smile. ‘Yeah, I just…I keep thinking how fleeting it all seems, all these happy moments. Lately everything’s been so good, but …it always ends, doesn’t it?’

Bray didn’t answer at first, his eyes drifted away from her for a moment, looking at something that wasn’t there.

‘Yeah, I guess so. But they always come back to, the good moments.’

Trudy frowned as she studied his face. He still looked like he was a different place, but then something in his gaze shifted and he focused on her again.

‘You know, me and Brady went shopping in the marketplace before. I promised her we’d give this to you together, but…I wanna give it to you now.’

He reached into his pocket, soon holding his hand out towards her. He opened his fist, revealing a silver locket on a chain.

‘Oh, Bray, it’s beautiful.’

Trudy took it, studying the engraved pattern on the front. It was a little faded, though the shape of a heart was easy to see.

‘Open it,’ Bray encouraged.

Trudy looked at him, smiling as she did as he said. There was room for two pictures inside. There was one of Brady, taken back in the old city, at the mall. It was a cut-out of her face only, that adorable smile of hers. The other side didn’t have a picture, but there was a small piece of folded paper.

‘I didn’t have a picture of us, so it’s something else to remind you of me, I suppose.’

Trudy watched him, smiling uncertainly as she unfolded the paper. It was his handwriting, slightly wobbly though she could tell he had made an effort to make it neater than normal.

“I’ve seen every sunset, and with all that I’ve learned: it’s to you I will always, always return.”

‘It’s from a Bryan Adams song.’ She was sure there was a slight blush on his face, and she couldn’t help but chuckle slightly.

‘I didn’t know you were such a romantic, Bray.’

?Don?t laugh,? though he was grinning himself. ?My mum used to listen to that song a lot, for some reason that line always stuck. It seemed right, now. For us.?

He edged closer, sitting so close to her now that she could feel his breath on her face. She had closed her eyes before their lips met, and she leaned into the kiss. They had done that a lot in the last few weeks, but she still wasn’t used to it. She still had that same surge of emotion going through her, like she couldn’t decide between crying or laughing. She didn’t do either though as the kiss ended, and she found herself looking into Bray’s eyes.

‘I wanted to give you something, so you’ll know how I feel. So you’ll know that all this isn’t about anything but you and me, and not Amber and Jay. Cause I know you, Trudy. I know there’s a part of you that thinks I’m only with you because of them.’

Trudy looked down. He did know her well. As much as she could lose herself in the moment when it was just the two of them, every time she saw Amber she was filled with undeniable guilt and fear. Guilt for keeping this from her best friend, fear that Amber would change her mind and that Bray would instantly be hers again.

‘It was always you and Amber?’ Trudy began, but Bray cut her off.

‘Yes. Was. Things have changed.’

‘You have a son together.’

‘That’s not enough. Look, she will always be important to me, just not in that way. Not anymore. Since I found you guys again, it’s been you every day, Trudy. Before, I couldn’t get past it?’ he trailed off, looking over towards Brady again. ‘You with my brother’s child, him dying. It was all too much to even think of you and me together. This time around, it doesn’t feel so complicated. We’ve grown up, I guess. I love you, Trudy.’

She smiled, trying to keep herself from breaking into tears or attacking him with kisses. ‘I love you too’ she managed to get out finally. ‘I always did.’

This kiss lasted longer, threatening to take everything one step further than they had so far. She had her hand in his hair, and she could feel his around her waist, grazing her skin where her top slid up from her skirt. She pulled away from him, breathless, remembering that her daughter was asleep just a few feet away and anyone could walk in on them here.

‘We should probably calm things down, right?’ Bray chuckled. Trudy nodded, smiling as she leaned against him, not wanting to leave the warmth of him.

‘We have to tell her though. Amber, I mean. I know I said I wanted to keep this to ourselves until we figured things out, but?I guess we have figured out enough now.’

Bray cleared his throat, making Trudy sit up straight again to look at him. ‘What?’

‘She sort of already knows. She came to see me this morning, after you went to work at the farm. She figured it out. I guess we’re not good at subtle.’

Trudy closed her eyes, biting her lower lip as she tried to take that in. ‘Is she mad?’ She opened her eyes, seeing Bray shake his head.

‘Well, what did she say?’

Bray shrugged. ‘Just warning me to be careful not to hurt you. And that she wanted us to be happy.’

‘Oh. Do you think she meant it, or was she?’

‘Don’t worry about it. We will work this out. We’re all family, we have to, for Brady and my son.’ He took her hands, trying to calm her down.

‘Yeah, I suppose so.’ She sighed. She didn’t want today ruined by her concerns, today was supposed to be perfect.

A drop hit her face. Trudy looked up, feeling a few more. ‘Oh, no?’ was all she managed to say before the sky opened up, despite the rays of sun that still hit her face. Bray was quick to his feet, hurrying toward the stroller and pulling out the mismatched rainproof cover to put over her. It was too big really, but as long as there was no wind it didn’t matter. Trudy focused on getting the food back into the basket, covering it with the blanket. The locket she clutched in her hand.

‘So much for a perfect day, huh?’ Bray smiled as he walked over to her, running his hand through his wet hair to get it out of his face. Of course, it only made him look irresistible. Trudy felt like a drowning cat. She couldn’t help but laugh though, as she tried to wipe some of the raindrops of her face, and saw the dark smudges on her fingers.

‘Oh great, you’re so lucky you don’t need all this make-up.’

Bray was right by her now, pulling her closer. ‘You still look beautiful,’ he said as he leaned in to kiss her again. It was wet and slightly awkward in the rain, but to Trudy it felt like something out of one of those romantic movies she used to watch with her mother. There was always a kissing scene in the rain.

‘We should head back though’ she said when he pulled away.

‘Yeah, you’re probably right.’ He let her go, after one more quick kiss, and took the buggy. Trudy picked up the basket, watching as Bray maneuvered the still sleeping Brady out through the bushes. Before she moved to follow, she looked down at the locket still clenched in her hand, remembering the words on the piece of paper inside.

It’s to you I will always, always return