Notes: They're original characters... I can't guarantee you'll know them if you haven't read Inspiration Overdose or... um... whatever fic it was in which I introduced Katia. I can't remember... *shame, shame*

(Oh! Old Friends We've Never Met. Hah.)

This is the first, time, I think, I've ever done Red Rose. Did my best. And I know I bent the rules of the Solar Heart a little for this occasion... (I helped build it; I can do that. ;) but I didn't think anyone would mind. It is, after all, a very *special* occasion.

Summary: Love in Subreality in the... spring? Winter? Whatever. ;)



"Watch your step."

"Really? I never would have thought of *that*."

She laughed as he guided her carefully through a particularly dense crowd of people, his hands on her elbows. He gave her a playful shove, keeping hold of her so she wouldn't fall. "No mocking. I went to a lot of trouble, you know."

He missed the amused smile, because he was behind her. "I never would have expected it of you, Matt," she said, laughing again.

"Expected what?" he asked, his attention temporarily diverted to steering her around a giant pink heart which was floating down the middle of the street, apparently of its own accord. "Writers," he muttered under his breath.

"That you're a hopeless romantic," she said, trying to sound mournful but failing.

"Ah, well..." he said, smiling himself. "Then I suppose you'll be surprised."

She was silent for a moment. "At what?" she asked, a note of suspicion entering her voice.

"Nothing, love," he said, patting her shoulder, and then catching her around the waist to keep her from walking straight into a happy couple crossing their path. Blindfolded, she fell back against him without checking her steps. Unable to see where she was going, she didn't really have much choice to trust him not to throw her into traffic or let her fall down a manhole. But that was all right. She smiled again.

"Are we there yet?" she asked, reaching back to ruffle his hair. "You need a haircut," she observed in an amused tone.

He blew hair out of his eyes, and then they continued on. "Hush, you," he admonished her as they stepped onto a sidewalk - it wasn't much safer than walking down the middle of the street, but it was a *little* safer.

"Matt?" she asked after a while.

"Yes, my love?" he answered.

"Where are we going?"

"Katia!" he scolded her gently. "I *told* you, you'll find out when we get there."

He heard her give a heavy sigh. "You know, we could be doing *much* more interesting things right now..."

He caught her hand on its way to his hip and held it firmly in front of her. "That..." he said, trying to sound sincere, "...can wait."

He wasn't sure, but he thought he actually *heard* her frown in disappointment.

When he'd surprised her in the Crystallis kitchen, covering her eyes with his hands, she'd nearly flipped him over her shoulder, via pure instinct. The training the Guardians went through was extensive, and thorough, and Matt, until only about two years ago, had been a regular doctor. But she'd stopped herself just in time, sensing him.

Instead, she'd intentionally relaxed when she'd felt hands brushing hair away from one side of her neck and a soft kiss being dropped on her shoulder. She'd smiled to herself - it was Valentine's Day, and aside from all the rather unpleasant histories associated with the day, she'd always been rather partial to the romantic aspects of it. And Matt *had* promised to play along, this year...

...but she was surprised - and mildly disappointed - when instead, he tied a soft silk scarf around her eyes.

"Can you see?" he'd asked in her ear.

"No. Is this some kind of game?" she'd asked with a suggestive quirk of one eyebrow.

She'd felt him blush behind her - Matt had an amazing capacity for turning bright pink, though you'd never know it to look at him.

"No," he'd said, and she wasn't sure from his voice whether he was embarassed, or whether he simply hadn't thought of that. Probably both.

"I *do* have a surprise for you, though," he'd said, regaining his composure. He took her left arm and steered her toward the nearest doorway.

"This is a truly unique experience," she said now. Matt had stopped to wait for a... large bus painted like a turtle?... to finish crossing their route before they proceeded across the street.

"What is?" he asked, as they stepped into the street.

"Wandering the streets of Subreality City in a blindfold. It's hard to believe, but this place is actually *weirder* when you can only *hear* it."

Matt laughed. "You're right, that is hard to believe. But I thought you'd be used to it by now?"

Katia shrugged. "You forget, Doctor Hamilton, I've only been out here a couple of times. You *started out* in the General Hospital, pretty much in the thick of things. *You're* used to it. I'm not."

She sounded a bit uneasy, so he gave her shoulders a gentle squeeze. "You sound uneasy," he observed, and then blinked at himself in confusion for a moment.

She shrugged again. "It's just this 'the whole world's a story' thing... it takes a bit of getting used to. I don't know if I'm real, or not."

Gradually, they stopped, Matt pulled her out of the traffic, into the shadow of a large, convenient building. "Promise only to look at me?" he asked, at at her nod he pulled the blindfold down to her chin. "I thought you hashed this out with Chandri already?" he said quietly, with some concern.

"I did," she said. "It's just... when the twins were born..." she supplied, "...Arrah was worried about it for so long - you could tell. I could certainly tell. *I'm* her doctor. I thought she was worried about the pregnancy... but when I asked her... she said she worried about their future."

"You mean the way they'll grow up?"

"I mean what they'll *be*. What they can't help being, because of how they were born. It's a bit like the X-folk around here, you know... the Marvel crowd..." she sighed. " choice but to be what you were born... except in their case, it's an act of nature. In ours..."

"...It's what? Fate? Destiny?"

She sighed again. "I don't know. I didn't used to want to be what I am. It took a long time before I could accept it. Not believe it, because it was undeniable, but... *accept* it. Not be angry because someone decided who and what I'd be before I had a chance to even think about it."

Matt frowned. He'd never heard her speak like this before... but he was beginning to understand it. "And when you find out all this," he said slowly with dawning comprehension, "And find out it's not exactly Fate, but a human being who decided..."

She nodded. "It seems a whole lot less significant, somehow."

"Oh, Kay..." he said, and he stared contemplatively at her for a moment. "I know you don't understand all of it yet, but I *know* they told you about *that*..."

She looked quizzically at him.

He sighed, and went on. "About how this between-worlds thing works. How you exist there, too, how our world is just as "real", in a sense, as this one, or theirs."

"Yeah," she said, after a pause. "I know that. It will just... take a while, that's all." She leaned forward and kissed him on the cheek. "It'll take time. Now... we were going somewhere?"

Matt sighed with some relief; he didn't like seeing her unhappy. "Definitely," agreed.

"Do I still have to wear the blindfold?"



Katia started to get suspicious when the noise level roughly tripled; she took that to mean that they'd entered an area with a Cafe. She'd only been to a couple of them so far, and they were of varying popularity, but from what she could tell, on a day like this, any place with a table (or more specifically, a shadowy *back* table) was flooded with people from all over the Multiverse. She remembered hearing Chandri describe Christmas in the Solar Heart, and the sheer bulk of fictives trying to get in who just weren't *allowed*... as the Solar Heart was intended for ReBoot and Anime fictives only. She'd been inside before, but that had been *with* Chandri, and on an extremely slow day. In fact, she thought as the noise of people grew louder, the shrill and annoyed voice in the near-distance sounded quite a lot like the Bouncer, Krissie.

She felt Matt pause behind her; she assumed they'd stepped into line. She wondered fleetingly, as they did, whether they'd be allowed in. They were, after all, not ReBoot *or* Anime, but Original, and if the Cafe was as crowded as it *sounded*...

"I made special arrangements," he murmured into her ear as they neared the door - or at least, Katia judged they were nearing the door by the increasing volume of Krissie's voice. Katia grinned briefly.

"You're getting better at that," she said, turning her head to one side so he could hear her aloud. Matt was one of the only members of the entire Circle who had virtually *no* mental gifts. No telepathy, no empathy... except with Katia. And ever since they'd become... intimate... it had become easier and easier for Matt to communicate with her without speech. It was a simple matter for her to speak to him, being a much more powerful telepath (more powerful than Arrah, even, and generally speaking, she was the most powerful of them all). But it was much harder for him to be the active speaker - or listener. And the listening thing, he'd said, was harder. She took it, she decided, as a good sign. A very good one.

"Thanks," he answered, and then they were at the door.

There was a muttered conversation between Krissie and Matt, and then Katia heard Krissie laugh. "Took you long enough," the Bouncer said. "Go on in. Your table's reserved. Have a good night."

If Katia hadn't known better, and if she hadn't been blindfolded... had there been a moment in which a wink was exchanged? And was it her imagination, or was there, lost somewhere in the loud voices of the crowd, the familiar chuckle or two of Arrah or Terren?


She was guided across the room and through the crowds out on the floor to a somewhat quieter corner, and then helped into a chair. The roar of the dancefloor seemed to fade away to one remove. Matt was thinking about something very hard, almost shoring up his courage for it. She felt it; but she also felt his intense happiness at the prospect of actually *doing* the thing, whatever it was.

Finally, he reached across the table and removed the blindfold... and she gasped.

The entire Cafe was outfitted in red. No pink or white lace trimmings, no cavorting magenta hearts, but everywhere, on every table, draped across the ceiling and the windows, even her blindfold was silk of a deep, dark, cherry red. On the table in front of her, in a simple glass vase, was a single red rose.

"Wow," she said, with emphasis.

He nodded, grinning. "Does this satisy your ridiculous Hallmark-borne expectations for a holiday?" he asked, and she laughed.

"Thoroughly," she said, leaning forward to smell the rose.

"I'm glad to hear it," he said gesturing for a waitress.

They spent the meal mostly in pleasant silence, though Matt did keep shooting her what he obviously thought were surreptitious glances over the rim of his champagne glass, and Katia could feel his determination build steadily over the course of the meal - as did the brimming almost-euphoric feeling that went with it. She was becoming a little confused.

Though she could almost swear that she'd seen Arrah dance by, wearing red-trimmed black satin, Terren wrapped happily around her waist. Katia sighed. Watching Arrah and Terren together was like watching old movies... there was never anything but a sense of *right* about them... there never had been. It had always seemed almost impossible that two people could fit together so well.

::At least,:: she thought, grinning to herself, ::They're civilised in public.:: Arrah's dignity and Terren's shyness demanded nothing less.

Matt had been watching her for a while, and now she looked at him. "This is really nice," she said honestly. "I expected chocolates, maybe roses... but you've outdone yourself. I'm going to have to reward you for this later."

The sandy-haired doctor blushed furiously, not for the first time wishing for Terren's complexion... *he* blushed all the *time*, but you could never *tell*.

Trying (in vain, he could see, because Katia was trying not to laugh) to cover it, he raised his glass. "To crass commercialism," he toasted.

She raised her own glass and clinked them together. "To Hallmark holidays."

They drank, and then Matt set down his glass. For a moment, he fidgeted with his fork, and then, with resolve, he looked up into her eyes.

Katia felt all the pieces fall into place when Matt stood up, moved around the table, and then got to one knee in front of her. Her face felt warm.

"I used to feel, you know, that my life was missing something," he told her softly, taking her right hand between both of his. "Something big, and important. Ever since I met you, Kay... you've... made me feel as if I'd found... whatever it was I was missing. I think that's because it was you."

For a moment, she was silent, mostly because she was struggling so hard with the two overwhelming waves of emotion she was experiencing - one was utter, pure joy - the other was a nagging doubt about what the lives of Circle members were really like, especially their families...

"Matt..." she tried to say, finding her voice, "This is more than you think it is. My life--"

"I know your life, Kay," he said firmly. "I've seen it before. I've been there for a while now. I know it's hard. I *know* you can't be anything but what you are. I know that if I ask you this, and you say yes, it'll mean... it'll mean everything." He kissed her hand, then looked up into her eyes. "I know that. I want that. I... I love you."

Katia tried to slightly tame the smile that was trying to split her face in two. Suddenly, all her arguments to the contrary sounded ridiculous.

"Guardian Katia Robensen," he said softly, using her full title probably only for dramatic effect, and she tried not to laugh, "Would you do me the honour of being my wife?"

For a moment she just stared at him, and she supposed she'd been silent for along time, because he turned red again. But then she laughed, giving in to the smile. When his expression wavered for a moment, she took his face in both her hands. "I'm not laughing at *you*, love," she teased. "I'm laughing at me."

He smiled again: "You mean..."

"...of *course* I will," she said quietly, and kissed him so soundly that he nearly fell over backwards.

Katia hadn't noticed it, but from the moment Matt had kneeled, the noise level in the room had reduced to almost nothing... and every single person in the Solar Heart had fallen silent, evidently listening to their exchange.

With the kiss, the Cafe erupted in a round of applause and cheering fit to shake the rafters.

Katia blinked and turned her head to one side - there at the front of the crowd, whistling and clapping, were Arrah and Terren. Arrah winked at her. Gradually, Katia spotted all of the other seven Guardians, as well as Andri Kiln from the hospital, and Chandri, Lily, and their Muses, who were trying to look inconspicuous. Katia was about to wonder where Damien was hiding, but she turned back to Matt instead. "They were all in on it, huh?" she asked. He nodded sheepishly, his face still bright pink. She wondered briefly if his blush would ever fade.

"You went to more trouble than I thought, then," she said with a smile in her voice.

He nodded again, getting slowly to his feet and slipping an arm around her waist.

"Good," she said decidedly, and then went back to kissing her fiancee.


Disclaimer: This is all the sappy romance fic you're getting out of me for the year. Really.

Subreality and Kielle are property of one another. She (Kielle, not Subreality) gets blanket posting permission. Anyone else, just ask.

Damien is property of himself, as is Lily. Their Muses are not mine. Hell, I'm not even sure about *mine*...

The Solar Heart Cafe was conceived of by Damien. Krissie is sort of attached to the Solar Heart.

ReBoot belongs to Mainframe Entertainment.

The X-Folks are Marvel's. Pity.

Andri Kiln is mine, but his Subreality version is semi-public domain.

The Guardians are mine, and in Subreality, the same goes for them.

I refuse to inquire too deeply into the matters of the turtle-bus or the giant pink floating heart... because... well... I don't want to know. ;)

Hallmark belongs to... Hallmark, I guess.

I can't remember who created Subreality General, but it wasn't me.

The shadowy back table... I currently blame on Trisha and Kielle, and... now I have to go and wash out my brain with soap again... :P

Please don't anyone sue me... I haven't got any money anyway, or really anything of value, except for my computer, which you'd have to pry from my cold, dead fingers.

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