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Bai drummed thunderous fingers on the desktop, waiting for the paperwork to suddenly change, or at the very least go away.Author's Notes
"Don't you ever cut your fingernails?" Ressa asked with a frown from behind him. Bai couldn't see the frown, but he could hear it in her voice. The clerk had come with the position, and Bai had quickly figured out that she was not shy about voicing her opinions, which varied from the state of his office to the slouch of his posture. The previous License Manager of the office had noted her as 'difficult,' but Bai found it refreshing.
He drummed his fingers harder, just to irritate her, then stopped abruptly. "Why can't this be easier?" he asked, plaintive as a child, and twice as whiny.
Ressa patted his shoulder, and drew up a chair opposite to him across the desk, putting the stack of filing to be done neatly to one side. It was undoubtedly a wretched impediment to her day, to have to nurture his bruised spirit, but Bai found that he was more grateful than sorry. "Tell me about it," she commanded, lacing long fingers together.
Bai flipped the top piece of paper at her, a justification form.
She nodded as she skimmed it. "I remember this one. It ought to be straight-forward."
"A straight-forward 'no,'" Bai agreed.
"But?" Ressa looked at him inquiringly, brown eyes framed in thick dark lashes like portraits of a soul.
Bai had to remind himself to stop comparing her to beautiful things and scowled. "They're in love. Read the essay."
She did, carefully. Then she read it again, the frown doing nothing to mar the features of her face.
When she put it down again, there was a brightness to her eyes that belied her serene expression. "It's... still not justified," she said with reluctance. "His debts, her job, his disability, her age... there's a reason that there are rules against marriages so disparate. They'd only drag each other into poverty and dependence. The carnal guild couldn't even keep her in the house, if she were married. It's simply doomed!"
"I know, I know." Bai did know, but that didn't stop it from feeling so wrong. He stood up, and paced. "Rules are rules, and there's strong reason for them. The chance of this working - it's so slim, it's stupid. But you read what he's written and you can't help..."
He couldn't finish, cursing the knot that blocked his throat. He suddenly wished he hadn't encouraged Ressa to listen to him complain.
When he could look back around, she was reading it again, and this time, her serene expression had wavered. "I know," she agreed, almost tearfully. "But what can you do? It's not justified. Not one single criterion is met."
Ressa gave a tiny dry laugh. "That they love each other and want to marry. That's never been enough."
"I hate this job," he said despondently.
Ressa smiled at that. "No you don't," she insisted, warmly. "You know that if there had been any tiny, insignificant bit of justification here, you could have made this happen, instead of rubber stamping it as 'no' just on the principal. You know that you make a difference - if not this time, then next time. And last time." She swept her papers back into her arms and stood up, chin high. "Stamp those papers, do what you have to, and get back to work. You've spent an entire day mooning over that one marriage license. You do what you can, and that's worth something. She can find a new job, he can work to pay down his debts, and they can re-apply in 5 months. Sit up straight."
Bai sat upright in his chair, pulling out his stamp box obediently. "Do you promise that next time I can approve it?" he asked sorrowfully.
Ressa chuckled as she swept out the door. "No promises, Baison," she said chidingly. "Rules are rules."
While Bai was still frowning over that sad truth, she leaned back into the room and added, "Don't ever stop trying, Bai."
Then she vanished out of his office to the files.
Prompted during the Feb 9, 2010 Muse Fusion by Rhianon, who wanted to see a marriage license refused.