A/N: Disclaimer: I do not own Footloose. By the way, it is now out on DVD and BluRay. Go buy it!
"Isn't there a white knight upon a fiery steed?"
Holding out for a Hero – Ella Mae Bowen
Ren McCormack prided himself on being able to read people. Spending time with his mother had taught him, whether he liked to admit it or not, how to read when she was lying or telling the truth. Whether she was in pain or just not feeling. When she was happy or contemplating his life without her. So, based on his growing perception of people, it was no surprise when his "father" left. Ren knew the old man was going to split probably even before he knew it himself.
But his confidence in his talents wavered ever so slightly after he met Ariel Moore. To put it simply, the girl was unreadable. And that frustrated him like no other. Their first encounter painted her as the innocent, small town preacher's daughter, with the tight nit group of friends and the delicate good looks.
But he learned soon enough that Ariel Moore was a damn good liar. Or a damn good chameleon. He can't quite put his finger on it.
He watched her transform into this reckless teenage girl that was literally out of control. And even though he couldn't read her as well as he would have liked, he knew that her "romance" with Chuck Cranston and her relationship with her "friends" that weren't Rusty and Willard, were fake. It was a front. Because Ariel Moore didn't always use to be the girl that had been kissed a lot and stood in front of trains wishing to die. She used to be normal. The revelation came to him when they were crossing the Crosby Bridge after spending a night full of innocent fun and dancing.
"My older brother was driving them home," she had said. And the words were so void of emotion that Ren understood that a part of Ariel had died that night with her brother. The innocence. The youth. Her childhood was taken from her in probably one of the most violent acts possible in this world.
Ren almost laughs to himself. What a world they live in. A world where a sister has to destroy herself to protect her dead brother's name. Because that's what Ariel is doing. And Ren knows Ariel's lifestyle is slowly destroying her. He knows this because they way she looks at him, the way her eyes sparkle when she smiles at him, is out of affection and not just friendship. But he knows she's afraid to act on her feelings. Afraid that if she slips back into a normal, easy life, people will start to remember. But keeping so much emotion bottled up inside you is dangerous. Because you'll explode. And at the rate Ariel's going she'll be alone when it happens.
And Ren's been fearing that day for a while now. So imagine his surprise/panic when he looks out the door of the garage one rainy evening and finds none other than Ariel Moore leaning heavily against the doorframe, disheveled and soaking wet.
He sets the wrench in his hand on the ground and tries to remember how to breathe. Because the thing that unnerves him the most is what he sees in her eyes. He's sneaked peeks at her almost every second of every day, just to get a chance to look at those piercing blue eyes of hers and Ren can't help but notice that the glint in them is gone. The glint that told everyone that Ariel Moore was tough—fierce—strong.
Ren knows this. He knows because he was so used to seeing that glint every day. His mother had eyes like that, strong and determined.
But right now? Ariel Moore's eyes are exhausted and tired and the last time he saw eyes like that, the only person he thinks he's ever loved died.
"You should see the other guy," Ariel jokes feebly with a weak smile.
Ren swallows, mind racing with a thousand different scenarios. "I have." He finally says. "But something tells me he looks better now."
He gives her a split second once-over. There's a cut in her hairline that was no doubt bleeding profusely at some point, based on the amount of blood on the collar of her flannel. Now, however, the wound is dribbling red liquid that is mixing with the rain on her face. Her split lip is overshadowed by her already turning black eye. He can't see the wound, but there is light red blood running down her right arm that is dripping from the fingertips of her bruised hand. Her left hand is wrapped tightly around her stomach, and he would bet money that ribs are bruised by the way that she's holding herself.
"You gonna invite me in," her words, thick with her country accent, snap him back to reality. "Or am I gonna have to stand out here all night?"
"Right," he blinks, shaking his head. "Right, uh, come in." He wipes his hands on his white shirt and steps towards her. She pushes off the garage frame and pain slips into her smile. Before she even has the chance to stumble, Ren is wrapping his arms around her and securing her to his chest. "Damnit Ariel," he hisses when her knees buckle slightly.
"I know," she pants. "I might have bit off more than I can chew this time."
He lets out a sad laugh as they make their way to his bedroom at the back of the garage. "I think you did that a long time ago." He tells her softly.
He helps her into his desk chair and kneels in front of her, hands on the chair arms. She holds her bloodied and bruised right fist in her left hand and bits her lip. "Maybe," she whispers. Looking up, Ren thinks that her blue eyes are the purest things he's ever seen. They captivate him and before he knows it, they've been sitting in silence for over a minute.
She blinks, as if she's remembered her current situation and flips her hair with a quick jerk of her head. "Sorry you have to see me like this." she mumbles.
He offers a small smile and reaches up to touch her cheek delicately. His fingertips brush the purple and black bruise and the skin is hot against his touch. "Does it hurt?" he asks, eyes scanning for any sign of pain.
She licks her cut lip and shakes her head. "Not really."
He leans back on his heels. "You're lying," he says simply. When she looks up and tries to protest he cuts her off. "It's okay. I'll go and get some stuff to clean you up."
"I don't need saving Ren."
He turns back to look at her and her eyes, thank god, are fierce and fiery again. That defiant, stubborn attitude of hers, he thinks. But then again, that's probably one of the most interesting features he likes about her. So strong willed and hardened by life. Or is she just broken? Ren figures it depends on how you look at it.
He laughs sadly. "I agree with you. You don't need saving." He looks at her and shrugs plainly. "But I think everyone is worth protecting. Even you Ariel. Even if you don't think so."
She stares at him for a long moment, like she's waiting for him to say 'just kidding' and leave her, but when he doesn't, she blinks something out of her eye (tears, he assumes smugly) and sniffs, turning away. "Fine." She grumbles.
He lets a grin of victory slip across his face and heads to his luggage bag. Rummaging through the contents, he pulls out a towel, t-shirt and loose jeans. He throws the clothes at her. "Get dry. I don't want you to get sick." He takes a step towards the door before turning back. "And don't move," he points a finger at her. "I mean it. I'll be right back."
She huffs and crosses her arms over her chest, clenching her jaw slightly. Annoyed, she flicks her over her shoulder. "Fine. But you better not tell anyone. I mean it, Ren. I don't need that right now."
He nods and heads out of the room.
Now that he thinks about it, he's never had to try and sneak into his Aunt and Uncles house before. It's an odd sensation that washes over him. Nostalgia? Or was it longing? Regardless, he shakes the feelings away as he pushes open the screen door lightly, trying to avoid the squeaky springs. He crosses the threshold of the living room and heads towards the closet in the hallway between Unky Wes' office and the girls' bedroom. He remembers Lulu telling him it's where they kept the first aid kit. Then, he hadn't given it much thought, but now? He's thankful he was semi-paying attention.
Opening the closet door, he kneels and slides out the kit. Searching through the contents he removes an ace bandage for Ariel's ribs, gauze, hydrogen peroxide and Neosporin for the cuts and scrapes. He pushes the kit back and shuts the door silently. Heading towards the kitchen he grabs a rag and fills a bowl with ice.
He pauses for a moment, hands resting on the counter and looks down at all of the supplies in front of him. Memories of his mother flash across his mind and he sighs deeply and drops his head, shoulders sagging in sudden exhaustion.
He spins around so fast he nearly gives himself whiplash. Composing himself quickly, he is not at all surprised to find Lulu standing behind him, eyes scrunched together in confusion. After all, why would his first attempt at sneaking into his Aunt and Uncles house go according to plan? Ren wasn't that lucky.
He tries to smile and waves awkwardly. "Hey, Lulu."
"What are you—" She rubs at her eyes. "What are you doing? You have any idea what time it is? You have school tomorrow."
"I know. I just—"
"Why do you have all that?" She's taken a step towards him, eyes suddenly focused and alert. "Are you okay? Are you hurt?" She's closed the space between them in seconds, eyes scanning him for injury.
He's suddenly uncomfortable. And it's not Lulu's fault, it's just that he's not used to other people, who weren't his mother, worrying about him.
Lulu seems to sense his uncomfortableness and takes a step back. "I'm sorry," she rushes. "I was just—worried. That's all."
He shakes his head. "No, it's okay Lulu, really. This stuff," he motions to the bandages and antiseptic. "It's not…not for me."
He's concluded that he trusts Lulu. And Unky Wes. Here Ren is, imposing himself into their lives, drawing unnecessary attention, causing unwanted trouble, and every time Wes looks at Ren, he probably sees his dead sister. And Ren can relate, because he's learned to hate grocery stores. Pretty soon all of the mothers in that place sound like his mom. So this family that has taken him in gets his utmost respect. And Ren figures he will learn to love Lulu like a second mother and Unky Wes as the father he never had.
But that doesn't mean he's going to spill his guts without a fight. After all, what's a family without a little stubborn argument?
Lulu shifts slightly to the side, just enough so she can peek around him and out the window above the sink to the garage. She looks back to him, locking with his eyes. "Who's out there Ren?"
Ren looks down to his shoes and doesn't say anything.
Lulu takes a step back and loosely crosses her arms. "I understand that I'm prying, but if you have someone who's hurt I don't want you to get mixed—"
"It's Ariel Moore." He blurts out suddenly, because there is so much worry radiating from Lulu that he feels tremendously guilty for causing it.
Lulu's eyes go wide, at his sudden confession or the identity of the person, he can't be sure, but her body reacts instantly. With two quick steps she's at the phone and Ren gets to her just before she hits send. He takes the phone from her hand and hangs it up quickly.
She spins to look at him, eyes suddenly flashing with anger. "What are you doing?" she demands in that tone that mothers have. "I was going to call Vi Moore—"
"You can't," Ren says quickly. "Lulu, Ariel needs some," he licks his suddenly dry lips, eyes searching for the right words. "Alone time. She needs to figure out some things."
"Her parents need to know—"
"Her parents have been part of the problem," Ren stresses. "They don't know what's going on with her. Bobby's death," the words are mud in his mouth and Lulu flinches slightly. "Did something to them. It did something to all of them. Grief is a powerful thing, Lulu, and no matter how strong you are, it will wear you down."
His Aunt fixes him with a steady gaze.
He realizes he won't persuade her to keep this secret. Deep down, Ariel Moore's parents need to be told about the situation. Hopefully he can get Lulu to buy him some time to cool her down.
He sighs and runs his hands over his face. Turning to his Aunt, he nods his head. "You can call Vi Moore, but wait a little bit." Lulu opens her mouth to interrupt, but Ren cuts her off. "Please Lulu. Just—wait."
Lulu lets out a frustrated sigh but nods her head none the less. "Okay, Ren. I'll give you an hour."
Ren smiles. "Thanks, Lulu. Really. This means a lot." He gathers the supplies in his arms and turns towards the door, only to hesitate. "When you do talk to Ariel's mom," he says softly. "Try and make her understand that Ariel's safe here." He locks eyes with his Aunt. "That Ariel's safe with me."