Roses Are Red
A/N: This is my Secret Santa present for TheDrunkenWerewolf! Merry Christmas, Wolfie! You asked for "soul mate AU where people see the world in black and white until they meet their soul mate" and "Haru/Baron immortal angst" and I decided to combine the two :)
The first time she meets him, she sees gold.
It's early evening, but a sunrise breaks over the tiny world she's found herself in. It's a bright, impossible colour; a fantastic, fantastical dawn that she has no name for.
The sunrise fades, but the colour remains. She sees it in the gold of the streetlamps and the flowers that sit beside the house. As the doors open, it spills out onto the cobbled courtyard and the ground is stained gold.
"How did you do that?"
Her host pauses, the sure tap of shoes and cane faltering. Maybe he had expected the words, but not the tone. She is breathless, almost in awe. She rounds on him and, for a moment, his eyes catch the streetlights and glimmer gold also.
"The light, it's..." She flounders for words, devoid of the vocabulary to describe what she sees. "What colour is it?"
She returns to quickly to bathe in the newfound light and misses the flash of fear that clouds the Creation's eyes. "Gold," is all he can say. "I believe the light is gold."
"I have been told."
She looks back to him then, confusion muddying her grey eyes, and she sees more than he would like. "What colour do you see?"
He smiles a smile she will come to know well; a bittersweet, secret thing. But, right here and right now, to her, it's only a smile. "White." He turns to her fully now, that flicker of fear lodged carefully away. "Now, you say you're having a bit of trouble with those cats from the Cat Kingdom?"
There's so much gold in the Cat Kingdom, it's almost blinding. The King is bedecked in it and she is made to match; gold glimmering in the jewellery about her neck, the bodice of her gown, the crown atop her head. Everywhere she looks, that sole gleam of colour breaks up the monochromatic world.
A stranger approaches her table, his slow, sure steps somehow familiar but his cape and mask unknown. Unlike the rest of the world, he is cast in tones of black and white, tempered by her limited eyesight. But, as he takes her hand and leads her onto the dancefloor, his eyes catch the light and - just for a moment - glitter gold.
She knows him then.
The first time she meets him, she sees gold, but it doesn't last.
She walks away from that world - from magic and cats and Creations - and adulthood sweeps her up. She packs away her childhood fantasies and she forgets. And, as she forgets, the gold fades.
And then she returns.
It's an accident - or fate - she takes a wrong turning, a left where she should have taken a right, and ends up on the threshold of the Sanctuary once again. This time there are no cats vying for her hand, no strange gifts shadowing her; this time she comes and she stays of her own accord.
This time, the light show is white.
At first she stays for her curiosity - and although curiosity and the cat never mixed well, she risks it regardless - for this is a world that few humans stumble onto, and even fewer discover twice. She stays because she sees spirits and magic and other kingdoms and, even in the grey cast of her monochromatic vision, her world is bigger than ever.
And then she stays because she discovers she is good at this. At helping people. She is a mixture of human recklessness and human compassion, and the two combine to make her a strong cornerstone of the Bureau. She has no magic, but she can move through places that Creations and cats cannot, and her mortality gives her an empathy that perhaps Creations lack.
At some point, all the other reasons melt away though, and it becomes something more. Something other than curiosity and skill. Something that she can't quite name, even if she had the courage to.
And then she sees green.
It's not even on a case. It's after, when all the running has been done and the adventuring brought to a close, and the Bureau linger in the Sanctuary to celebrate a job well done. Baron passes across a cup of tea and his hand brushes hers, nothing that's not happened before but this time her heart skips a beat and she sees green.
She misses the cup and it shatters across the carpet. She apologises, but she's not sure what she's saying. The words are automatic; a kick-in defence as her mind runs amok. She looks back up to Baron and, sure enough, his eyes are still green.
She doesn't know what the colour is at first. It's only when she sees the grass and the trees, and she remembers the book that Hiromi had bought to school in their teen years, that she can put a name to it. "So You've Met Your Soulmate: A Beginner's Guide to Colours" had been the title. Haru had read it once, but the colours it announced were invisible to her eyes. Still, she had devoured through it, her and Hiromi excitedly learning the colours that plagued the sky, the sea, the trees. Learning a vocabulary of a language she couldn't see.
Red comes in the thrill of a case.
They're running - because of course they're running, they always are - and he pulls her round a corner just as a fireball singes the space she occupied moments ago. He pulls her to safety and into his arms and, for a moment, the two of them both forget they're running.
They're close, too close, and all she can see is green.
Then she laughs, because she doesn't know what else to do, and pulls away, but her heart is beating fast and when the next fireball soars past them, it's red.
"We've made a mistake," she overhears one lazy evening. She pauses at the Bureau doors, hand poised over the handle. Inside is the rise and fall of shadows as Baron paces. "Somehow, the magic of the Sanctuary has interfered with the soulmate connection. It's the only way to explain it."
The click of talons reveals Toto's presence atop the internal balcony. "She doesn't seem distressed by it," he says. "Does it matter if she sees in colour?"
She stays her hand as Baron's pacing clips to a halt. "Of course it matters! If it continues this way, she'll lose all chance of finding her soulmate. Because of us! She deserves to- We can't just let her-" His voice cuts off in a break of composure that she has never heard before. When he speaks again, his tone is tempered. "She deserves happiness. If this continues, we'll have to rethink her time with us."
"I will not be responsible for her losing her chance at love!"
She doesn't tell him when she sees gold again.
"So you really can't see colour?"
They come to a rest in the underground wood, a quiet moment mid-case, and their guide gives Haru a searching look. The woman is Haru's age, her hair the same shade of grey as Baron's fur and Haru can't help but wonder if they'd continue to match if her sight was full-colour.
Haru turns her gaze up to the canopy above, where greens of every hue gather, and she shrugs. "Where I'm from, we don't see in colour until we meet our soulmate."
"Well, that sounds impractical," their guide says. "How can you tell unripe fruit from ripe? Poisonous mushrooms from safe? What if there's a snake or a predator? How do you spot those without colour?"
"Most of us live in cities," Haru says. "So it's not a problem."
Their guide squints at Haru. "Are your soulmateless folk nocturnal? Do they have night vision instead?"
"No, I don't... I don't think so. I think we're just colour-blind."
Haru shrugs again. "So everyone in your world is born with colour vision?"
"Most of us, yes."
"That must be..." Haru trails off, not entirely sure how she wants to finish that sentence. "I can't even imagine." She sighs and leans back against a tree trunk, her gaze catching the green, green canopy again. Further off, she hears the footsteps of the rest of the Bureau returning from scouting their side of the forest and she misses her guide's question.
"Sorry, what was that?"
"I said, so you've never been in love?"
Haru doesn't move. "I said I haven't met my soulmate," she replies. "It's not the same thing."
She is careful.
She tries to be careful.
But the world continues to grow brighter every day, and she tells Baron none of it.
She tells him other things instead, and in time that overheard conversation is almost forgotten. She tells him of the disastrous date, but not the red tulips she received. She talks of her camping adventure with Hiromi, but not the green of the forest. She spins tales of the fireworks for New Year, but forgoes how it lit the sky golden.
She almost forgets, but not quite.
She could walk away from it all, of course. Do as Baron said; salvage what is left of her soul-link before it breaks entirely under the strain of... whatever this is. Find her real soulmate before it's too late.
Then she looks to Baron in the glow of a star-soaked sky and the blackness shifts to a midnight blue, and she knows she's not going anywhere.
"You told me you couldn't see in colour."
Baron lowers the paperwork and raises his gaze to the case file she holds out before him. They're old, before her time, but the handwriting is the same. The illustrations are the same.
The only thing that differs is the colour.
He meets Haru's gaze, and she's not sure what emotion she expects in his eyes. Surprise? Guilt? Sadness? And all three make their appearance, but not before fear.
Just a flicker, and then it's gone.
He looks back to his file, straightening the sheets in a fashion made to look nonchalant. "I can't," he says.
"Then explain this." Her grip tightens on the old case file. "Explain why this is in colour."
He takes it from her and as his gaze skims it, something akin to relief clouds his eyes. He brings the file towards him now, an almost-smile gracing his lips. It's bittersweet. "I didn't say I never saw in colour."
"Oh." Heat rises to her cheeks,not one of embarrassment, but one of shame. Her mind jumps to the obvious conclusion - perhaps one she should have seen a long while back. "I'm sorry. I didn't realise-"
"She's not dead," Baron says. He tucks the file back into place.
"But she's not your soulmate anymore," Haru says, the question resting in her eyes if not in her words.
"No. I was created... alongside another." He shuffles more files, but the action is decidedly mechanical. "We were created together, literally sharing a soul."
"So what happened?"
"The War happened. We were taken in by a young couple who were separated and, as we spent more time apart, a curious thing occurred." His movement stilled, save for a nervous tap of his fingers. "Our colour vision began to fade, piece by piece."
"That - that's possible?"
"For Creations, apparently." He gives her a sharp look, as if belatedly realising the implications. "It's not the same as whatever is happening with your sight - it can't be. What happened to Louise and I... it was because we were both becoming our own person. Shaped by the world and the people in it, it was no longer possible to share the same soul."
"So what do you think is causing my sight?"
He shakes his head.
He shakes his head and looks away and doesn't meet the gaze of her brown, brown eyes.
Baron's world has been monochrome for so long and yet he still cannot pinpoint the exact moment it crept into sepia tones instead.
Brown brings a strange warmth he had come to forget. Brown was the colour of freshly-brewed tea. Brown was the colour of fields after reaping. Brown was the colour of her eyes.
It's subtle. It's not the blinding gold of his light, or the brilliant blue of the sky or the raging red of fire, but it is warm and it is home and it is Haru.
Impossible, of course; some glitch of magic, of course, but it's there all the same. Colour where once there was none and he tries not to think on it too long.
And, after all, it's just the one colour.
She pulls him into a dance - the summer air is light and warm and the city's festivities are a joyful hum - and he sees yellow.
She steps out before he can stop her, arm raised towards the monster. "It's okay," she croons. "It's okay." She looks back to the rest of the Bureau, her mortal eyes seeing what Creation ones had missed. Forgoing logic in a fit of compassion.
She smiles. "I think it was just scared," she says, and the forest is flooded with green.
Red comes quietly, sneaking in alongside the browns and yellows. It comes in the mundane moments, the cups-of-tea moments, the quiet moments. Red is the colour of the berries they bake into tarts, creating a new batch to bribe Muta with. It is the colour of the fire they sit by after a long case. The colour of the sunrise.
She catches him before a fall, caught on the edge of a cliff. "I've got you," she promises;" hands entwined, and her hair frames her face and the sky behind her turns blue and he almost slips in his shock.
Her grip tightens. "I've got you," she promises.
"Maybe it isn't so complicated," Toto says. He hops along the Bureau's balcony as he watches over his oldest friend pour over ancient tomes. "Maybe you really are just soulmates."
"If we were soulmates, we would have both seen colours upon our first meeting." Baron fixes Toto with an iron stare before the other Creation could remind him. "Both of us, every colour."
"You're a Creation. Maybe it's different for us."
"I already had a soulmate," he retorts, "and Haru..." He trails off, eyes set down. Toto wonders what emotion he would see otherwise. "Haru should have the chance to meet her real soulmate - before whatever magic that's disrupting her soul-link breaks it entirely."
Toto decides he doesn't like the direction this conversation is going.
"Baron? What are you doing?"
Baron inhales suddenly; the breath is both triumphant and defeated. "Found it. Toto, pass me the scarf Haru left last week."
"What are you doing?"
Baron scoffs, and it is a tight, impatient sound, like he knows he will lose his nerve if he tarries too long. He snaps his fingers and the cane that is hooked over the balcony railing flies to him, snagging up the forgotten scarf as it goes. He snatches both up and lies the latter across an open page. Toto catches a glimpse of a rune before it disappears beneath the patchwork fabric.
Toto has halfway guessed the kind of ancient spell Baron has located, but he is still hoping against it when an image rises up.
It's of a human, ordinary and everyday - and Haru's soulmate.
Baron smiles. It does not reach his eyes.
The museum's lecture hall is quiet as Haru waits for the Bureau. The door proclaims a guest speaker due any moment, technicians congregating around the sound desk, but still the Bureau leave her waiting. Her fingers twist anxiously at the necklace Baron gave her last Christmas while her mind plays over their last encounter.
A simple check-up, he'd said. Probably nothing, he'd said. Still, maybe worth dropping by the museum to make sure nothing was amok.
Go ahead, he'd said. His hand reaching out to her, cupping her cheek in a rare show of spontaneous tenderness. His words casual, but his tone... off and an ache in his eyes as if he were trying to burn every moment into his memory forever.
I'll be right behind you.
How can something so close to a promise sound like a goodbye?
"Are you okay, miss?"
She jolts from her thoughts, pulling the chain of her necklace taut. "Yeah, I'm fine, I just..." She looks up, eyes travelling up a vest and jacket, across the name tag that denote the guest speaker, and finally to eyes that shift from brown to hazel.
In that moment, the whole world glows that little brighter. Colours blossom from grey and fill the lingering spots of monochrome, like a veil lifting from her eyes.
Her necklace snaps, but she doesn't reach for the fallen butterfly charm nor for the man - her soulmate - but finds herself reeling. She's on her feet, her head shaking until the world is a vivid, brilliant, multicoloured haze.
"No," she whispers. "No, not you, please..."
The man - not her soulmate, please, anyone but - starts to reach out for her, and then stops. There's hurt and confusion in those eyes - eyes she was fated to love, to adore, to cherish - and a returning plea on his lips begins to form.
"No," she says, and the sky dims to grey. "No," she says, and the grass loses its green. "No" - the sun pales to white - "No" - roses are white and tulips are black - "NO!" - the worlds snaps into shadow and light.
And everything has changed.
There's hurt and confusion in those eyes - eyes that are no longer hazel, not even brown, just a nondescript grey - but now there is fear also. She doesn't know what she's done - doesn't know if it should be even possible - but all she can do, all she can bring herself to do, is whisper an apology and flee.
Her mind doesn't know where she's going, but her heart does. Her feet lead her back to the Bureau and her whirlwind pace doesn't change even as the Sanctuary's magic shifts her down to a figurine size. She slams through the Bureau doors and, sure enough, there he is.
"You knew," she growls. She walks and keeps walking, forcing him to back up as she approaches. "You knew my soulmate was there!" Her hands curl into fists around the lapels of his jacket, not letting him escape, not this time, even as her gaze fixes on his bowtie. "Why?"
A sharp intake of breath. She feels the fear, even if she cannot see it.
"You should have a choice-" he begins.
"You idiot," she whispers. "You idiot." Her voice is hoarse, throat ragged from unshed tears. "I chose you. Don't you get it? I chose you."
She looks up.
His eyes are green.
"If soulmates do exist, they're not found. They're made."
- The Good Place
A/N: For those who are curious, the TCR Secret Santa event is an annual fandom event that is in it's fourth year running (began in 2016!) organised between tumblr/discord. We also run a Birthday Bash event in summer and, yes, we are always happy for new people to join! For Wolfie: I hope you enjoyed this, even if I do feel bad posting angst on Christmas Day! (In my defence, you literally asked for it.) Merry Christmas!