Cayenne and Honey


elaine2_icon.gif rhett_icon.gif

Scene Title Cayenne and Honey
Synopsis Sometimes you end up with ingredients you didn't know you needed.
Date November 21, 2019

The Docks near Yamagato Park

While most of Yamagato Park is technologically advanced and carefully cultivated, there are a few places where the infrastructure still leaves a less manicured look. One such place is the docks. While they aren’t exactly dirty, they’re built for function as opposed to being built for public consumption. This isn’t exactly the kind of place someone went to enjoy their afternoon.

Elaine Darrow, however, didn’t mind her trips to the docks. Her usual business attire was traded for a pair of dark blue jeans, a pale lavender blouse, and simple ankle-high black boots. Over that she wears a dark grey peacoat to ward against the cold. Meandering her way past workers and weaving her way towards the boats, her eyes drift over the vessels as she searches for something with a casual pace.

She’s in no rush.

A shrill, high pitched whistle, one that rises in note as it trails off, cuts through the frosty, salt-thickened air blowing across the docks. The open area next to the water has created some wind this day; winter is not only content to just be cold. No, it wants to slice some of that cold up under the edge of a lapel, or find a thin area in jeans to sting with a bit of that salt.

The origin of the whistle is not from the docks themselves - which is the main reason why it was done in the first place. Rhett had wandered a short way inland, adjacent to a group of workers that are debating about hauling in some gear. They appear busy, and Rhett isn’t bothered: dock workers are his people, there’s a comfort and ease there. Rhett sat down adjacent to some large crates and shipping hooks, coils of damp rope making a thick scent of fiber and oil linger at the spot. Rhett drops his hand from his lips from the whistle, in a two-fingered wave and signal to the lady Darrow.

Rhett’s a big guy, but he doesn’t carry an aggressive quality in the way his muscular body takes up space. He’s generally comfortable to be around, easygoing in his bartering and trade, as if he enjoyed the discussion of it. He’s dressed warmly, dry, though his longish dark blonde hair has a texture of recent sea salt burnishing the light hair, dulling shine. As always, he’s got a colorful scarf of paisley around his neck, and dark fingerless gloves. The rest of his attire is drab, utilitarian.

There’s a box near him, and Rhett lifts one foot to tap it with the side of his boot, following it with a smile. His smiles are often reserved, but never fake. The box, though, that would be her quarry. He didn’t come empty-handed today.

The sound of the whistle does indeed catch the redhead’s attention. Swiveling her head towards the sound, Elaine takes but a moment to determine it’s source. Her gaze moves from man to box, then back again before she offers him a small nod and a smile of her own—much more freely given, but it was easy to tell the difference between the polite smiles and the real ones. This was a real one.

Her pace quickens, partially to bridge the gap between them and partially to move to a position a little more shielded from the wind. The cold she could manage, the wind was both cold and determined to tangle her hair. She raises a hand as she goes, a simple greeting and it returns to her side when she’s finally a comfortable distance away.

“Always good to see you. I’m guessing that you’ve managed to find a few things.” The box is nodded at, but her attention returns fully to him. She’s never just business. “Are you doing well?”

"Always a pleasure for me, Red; I enjoy your interesting lists: something of an unusual challenge, a special scavenger hunt," Rhett answers, with an incline of his head to her. There's a friendly quality, his smile expanded to one side into a roguish smile to reply to her natural, real one. He doesn't grin, he's too serious for that, but there's a general warmth to it. He's not a con, and today isn't going to be a day when he'll start to overcharge her on anything.

"I'm doing well enough. Nursing a bit of a nasty gash to an elbow, but only myself to blame: no daring piracy tales," Rhett answers, other arm crossing to hover over the opposite elbow. It's covered, but there's stiffness to how it's being held. He stands up with a push through his heels, only to bend and pick up the box. He's not the type to force a lady to bend over in front of him while he sat there.

"A few things have to slide on your list, sadly, but I have some bonus things," Rhett says, popping the lid on the plastic box. It makes a soft sucking sound; everything Rhett uses for her goods has been water-tight, and this is no exception. He's a perfectionist in a lot of ways, such as keeping the quality of things high. He sets the box on the pile of raised rope after he moves the lid aside, and pulls the list off the top of the individually wrapped contents. He looks at the list to remind himself, and traces a finger down it. His voice drops a little, naturally. "Zero on the ginger, but I have enough cayenne to mace an army: not that I'd suggest substituting that. Out of the blue, that one, rarely see that."

“Well, I hope I can keep you on your toes. I know my requests can be odd at times. Next time I’ll bring you the fruits of your labor,” Elaine laughs, though her eyes scan his arm with concern. “You get it all properly bandaged?” The tone is a question, though it carries the weight of ‘it better be’ behind it. “And hopefully whatever hole you fell in won’t be one you fall in again.”

She moves in closer to take a look at the contents of the box. “I’m not surprised about the ginger. Most of the restaurants in Yamagato Park buy it up before I can get a chance to get my hands on it. Pickled ginger everywhere but for the average citizen.” She takes a peek at the cayenne, nodding in satisfaction. “I could try some curry, maybe some chilli or some kind of stew… cayenne will definitely work.”

“I’d ask for saffron but that was rare and expensive even before the war,” Elaine laments. “I’ve got a great recipe for paella that I got to make once but I’m pretty sure it’s going to be a long time before I get my hands on some. So if you ever find some and it’s not a fortune, I’d be grateful. And I’ll make sure you get some of that paella.” She takes a moment to rifle through the box, checking to see what bits of her list ended up included.

"Have you ever tried to bandage the back end of your own elbow one-handed without twisting it?" Rhett asks wryly. "I'm proud it's wrapped at all. I'll live. Scars add character, I've heard the ladies really like them." There's a depth to the slightly restrained laugh that comes from Rhett's chest. He's joking, but if there's a flirt, it's very mild and respectful. There's often a slight discrepancy between Rhett's manner and his line of work: he's more educated than his appearance and job would suggest.

His hand automatically strays up to his paisley scarf at his neck, unconsciously defensive of scars there. An astute eye could have caught the edge of one a previous time, or even during this meeting, as they hook upwards towards his ear on either side.

"Don't tease me; chili? Ooph. We'll end up friends," Rhett laments, distracted. He shakes his head with a deep breath, smile crooked. He watches her look in the box for a little while. Most everything isn’t perishable. He did well, overall, though, aside from the saffron and ginger. There’s even some vanilla extract, though the bottle is tiny. "But that reminds me. About teasing…"

Rhett sets the list down on the box contents, and instead goes inside his jacket pocket. It's a soft little paper bag. He holds it gently and offers it over. Inside are two glass bottles, one filled with a beautiful pale light golden substance, flecks of crystals around the stopper, the other a deeper mahogany. "That first one…. is a very special honey. I tried a bit before I bought it. Some kind of closed greenhouse, is my guess, and there's something else in it I can't identify." Rhett then moves a finger to the other, "And maple syrup."

“Usually I’ve been wise enough to get help when I needed something bandaged,” Elaine chides, though there’s a playfulness to her tone. “Scars might add character and ladies might like them, but scars hold memories and I doubt you want to remember the time you…” She trails off, trying to think of something witty, but it ends up falling a little flat. “… fell down the stairs.”

Her eyes light up at the two bottles, reaching over to examine the honey. She pulls out the stopper, holding the bottle up to her nose to smell it. Her lips quirk to the side as she clearly seems to be trying to puzzle out the contents. She pops the stopper back on before setting it down. “Honey’s usually based off of the flowers the bees have access to… pretty tricky to get. I’m very impressed.”

The second bottle also gets uncorked and sniffed, Elaine’s lips curving into a bright smile. “Oh, that’s real maple syrup. It never fails, you always seem to find what I didn’t even know I needed. That takes some skill.” This bottle gets recorked as well, and it returns to the side of its partner.

“Now…” Elaine gestures towards him. “Let me see that elbow. If you bandaged it yourself it’s likely not even properly cleaned and that can do worse than scar. You get that infected and don’t get it taken care of and next thing you know you’re losing an arm.” She pauses. “And in case you’re wondering about my bandaging credentials, I have patched up plenty of minor injuries during the war, so I’m fully qualified to save you.”

"Scars do have memory. You're talking to someone that got nipped by a shark," Rhett answers, with a smile that isn't really teasing. That did happen. He doesn't move to show it off, though he does shake his left leg once, a brief indicator that it was probably that limb. "But you have a point; I don't need this elbow memory of a dislodged boat propeller." Which suggests either he was in the freezing winter water near a boat propeller, or somehow encountered one on the land and was smacked with it. Neither one seems to suggest a great memory.

"Anyway, business talk for a moment," Rhett says, smoothing out his tone. "We can do the agreed amount for the box, with the cayenne substitute swapped over if you want it, or I'll drop the price if you don't. The bottles are separate, they weren't easy or cheap; make me an offer if you like them. They're worth more to me than an elbow dressing, though," he teases her. Still, he gathers the bottles back to the bag, and sets them in the top of her box.

Rhett gives her a doubtful look, but rotates his shoulders back to start to ease out of the coat, being very cautious of how the thick fabric slides down his right arm. For obvious reasons, there's a bulky bandage there. It's not a fast process, so she'll get to wait for him. The wind is cold, so he suppresses a little bit of a shiver. There's a bulky dressing there, making up for weird angle with being a little excessive. It's around the elbow itself, which makes it hard for him to flex the limb.

“To save me from myself? Hmmmm.”

“Nearly blown up by a bomb,” Elaine pats her right arm, though she makes no move to remove the coat to show it off. “It’s no shark but I think it goes to show that the big ones are the ones that really stay.” There’s a cringe at the idea of the propeller, one that lasts a bit longer than a moment due to the mental images that seemed to have strayed in her thoughts.

“Right, business,” she straightens her posture, settling in to the professional aura she’s grown so accustomed to in her life. “I’ll keep the cayenne, as well as the two bottles.” She shuffles a somewhat bulky envelope out from under her coat and sets it next to the box. “I prepared in advance. In case you brought something good. You always bring something good. You should find that amount should cover it all. The dressing’s thrown in for free.”

Elaine calmly waits for him to remove the coat from his arm, seeming at ease with the wait. She steps forward, examining the dressing first visually and then tentatively with her hands. She starts to unwrap the bandage before pausing. “Got any more of these bandages? Or really, a first aid kit of some sort? I can at least tell you if you need stitches or need to clean it if we don’t have supplies, but ideally I can clean and wrap it so that you can actually move that arm.”

She chuckles. “Not sure I can save anyone from themselves but I can certainly save you from a propeller. One is significantly easier than the other.”

"I'll trust you. I know you want more summer strawberries, no sense in insulting me now, with that in mind," Rhett answers, a smile in his voice, even if there isn't much of one on his face. Business is business. But once that's over with, he's more sunny again.

"Yeah, I've got supplies on my boat. If you're not afraid of gettin' kidnapped," Rhett replies lightly, with a tip of his head towards the docks and then to the left, indicating he's straight and then to one side down the way, possibly at the end. He's entirely kidding: he does passenger services (legal ones). "I'm joking; I don't kidnap for free," he adds, this time with a flippant little wink. It's well-timed, he's doing it to hide a flinch from her inspecting his elbow.

There's something weird about the bandage: it's mostly dry on top, but the layers under it are entirely soaked with water, suggesting he was in the water with the bandage on, maybe. "If you're comfortable with that, it's barely a few minute walk," he says, but starts to put his coat back on. He doesn't need to freeze during that time frame, if that's what is happening. He'll also slip everything inside the box, and firmly shut it with a grip of broad hands on the plastic lid. It clips closed securely.

“Oh, I can pay you to kidnap me?”

Elaine laughs, for a moment sounding like the question was real. “But I’m fine with walking. You’ve caught me at a rare moment when I don’t have to be at work, so I’ve got enough time to help take care of this.” She checks to make sure the box and payment are carefully recovered before she turns in the direction he indicated the boat was in.

“Your arm wet when you put on the bandage?”

The question is asked casually. She’s curious as to how exactly he wrapped it up or if the bandage itself was, heaven forbid, dipped in salt water. She’s imagining the pain of that just as vividly as she did the propeller. She’s also hoping that he won’t get it wet again.

"I call that 'legal passenger fare'," Rhett replies to the kidnapping question, serene and deadpan in tone. He chuckles softly though. Rhett accepts the envelope, arching his back and putting it back down his spine under his jacket, like someone else might tuck a weapon in waistband. He flips his shirt and jacket down over it.

Rhett nods to her agreement about the travel, and picks up the box, fully expecting to carry it. He won't fight her if she really wants to be the one to carry it since she bought it, but if she doesn't seem concerned, he'll carry it one-armed against his opposite left hip for her.

"The water thing is a little harder to explain," Rhett says, with some thoughtful care or hesitancy. "It's clean, though; it's not contaminated water." His tone suggests he knows he sounds crazy. "The wet wraps are just the way I do it." He's rethinking the wisdom of something now, though it may be unclear if he's unsure about the way he does it — or telling her how he does it.

Elaine makes sure that he’s not carrying the box on the injured side before she lets him manage it on his own. There is kind of a guilty look that accompanies it, but when she sees he’s not struggling with it it eases a touch. His answer regarding the bandage gets the slightest tilt of her head.

“I’ve heard of wet wraps for skin conditions before but never for cuts. Wet bandages can help breed bacteria so you have to be careful. That’s why it’s usually for skin conditions, to soothe and allow there to be moisture on the skin.”

She pauses.

“Is there a reason you do it that way? I mean, I’m not prying, it’s your body. I just want to help how I can.”

Rhett's quiet, he's chewing on her question, by his expression, his eyes out and towards the boat as they walk. He's an efficient walker, but won't deliberately outpace her or make her hustle. He's just going places, not out for a stroll; that's his natural way.

"We'll wrap it dry," is what Rhett answers with, giving her a quick smile sideways. He doesn't seem upset or much of anything, really: it's like he just chose to be easygoing about it. It's easier to just get along, and not barter over things that don't need to be debated!

Ahead and to the left is the boat; it's not the same one she may have seen before, but he has a number of small craft. This one is a little on the larger end: it looks like a repaired recreational sailboat, with a closed cabin area recessed. It's a bright white, with long panels of black along the sides. Rhett approaches it, calmly, with a simple step over from the dock onto it, and turns to offer her his left hand for stability. The small exterior deck has some seating, and an array of fishing poles. The cabin doors, though, are the focus, and Rhett unlocks those, and steps in, putting her box down by the door interior. It's like an RV inside: wood counters (covered in various items and boxes), sleeping area on a raised panel towards the back, small cooking area, some seating. He passes inside to dig in a cupboard, to pull out a first aid kit.

Rhett has remained quiet for the most part, but it isn’t really an awkward silence from his end, anyway. “I should have plenty here,” he says, and gives her the kit while he works on removing his coat again. The kit is robust, and well organized.

Elaine keeps pace, seeming at ease with the determined walk, not particularly seeing any reason to slow down. When he mentions wrapping it dry she nods her agreement, dropping further discussion of the wet wrap for the moment. When they arrive at the boat, she accepts the help onto it, managing to gracefully step aboard. Her eyes scan the boat, observing the details before following him into the cabin.

“You know, this is pretty nice. I can see the appeal in living like this,” Elaine says as she moves to take the kit from him. She takes a mental inventory of the contents as she opens it, pulling out a few items and setting them aside as she waits for him to give her access to his arm again. “Hey… I’m sorry if I kind of butted in about this. I don’t want to seem like I’m pressuring you, I legitimately am just concerned.”

“No need for apology, Elaine,” Rhett answers her, pausing in what he was doing to give her a direct look. It isn’t harsh, the look; but he wanted to be sure he caught her eye to gently but firmly convey how he feels about it. “You’re helping me; I appreciate that.”

Rhett rotates to draw the money out of his back waistband first, putting it to the side on the small table, and then gets his jacket off, draping it over the money parcel, same spot. He’s wearing a long sleeve shirt underneath the jacket, but the injured-arm side was rolled up: so there’s no need to remove it, it already had the dressing exposed. He moves some crate out of the way from being on the low couch seating so that she can be comfortable while she gives his elbow a look.

He seats himself, and starts to unwrap the dressing with a hardness to his jaw: clamped, clenched teeth, most certainly. “I like the freedom of it,” Rhett says thoughtfully. “It’s a lot of work, I won’t say it isn’t, but I save on gas, with these sails.”

Elaine opens her mouth to say more, but his reassurances seem to do well to soothe any awkwardness she feels about pushing her way into the situation. Instead, she focuses on the injury. While he unwraps it she sets aside fresh gauze and retrieves a pre-moistened packet with an astringent wipe in it. “I hope to high heaven that you don’t need stitches,” she says as she looks at the materials.

“Freedom is nice and it actually seems kind of cozy. I probably wouldn’t have minded sailing about on something like this once upon a time,” Elaine looks around again, trying to keep the conversation going as a method to keep him from focusing too much on the pain from his injury.

“Yes, I know what you mean. Strange to think about what our lives were. And what a person can get used to as normal,” Rhett sighs. He’s pulled off the outer bandaging, and the inner pieces that are adhered to him are now remaining. The gash is across the elbow itself, at a diagonal that runs down the underside of his forearm.

The lower end of the gash, which was clearly easier for him to see, has two stitches in it, presumably done by Rhett himself. They are angled a little oddly, but it suggests there’s medical skill. The other suggestion to that is how he looks at the supplies she sets out, and also produces some clean medical gloves for her to wear. The stitches, the kit and manner glaringly point to history in it.

The gash isn’t as bloody as it should be, but with the wrap removed it is more apparent that while cleaned, it was not wrapped well, and there’s some oozing blood that starts to happen even before the last of the wraps come off. It looks somewhat odd, though, like it’s oozing, but the blood is turning slightly transparent, mixing with the water on the bandage or his arm. Rhett is lifting his head and trying to bend a little to see without bending his elbow, which means he puts his head in her way.

“You don’t know the half of it. Normal these days is… well, I expect pretty much everything at this point. Seen too much to expect a calm, simple life,” Elaine moves to take a look at the injury only to find her vision blocked. She waits for half a second to see if he’ll move on his own before she reaches up a hand to slowly tilt his head just out of her line of sight.

She gives the injury a look and then him a look. “If you’re planning on getting injured again, propeller or not, call me. You made a nice attempt at doing this yourself but I’m afraid that it was merely an attempt. This is the kind of thing you need someone else to do.” For the moment, she doesn’t comment on the oddness to the blood and the water, although it’s likely she’s taken note of it.

“It doesn’t have to be a propeller either. I’ll do it, no questions asked.”

Rhett pulls his head out of the way when she pats to tilt it, an automatic smile appearing. No apology from it, but amusement at himself as he realizes he was in her way. He instead watches her, more than he does the injury.

“I don’t always mind the questions. Sometimes they’re necessary to treat something properly.” Rhett’s expression softens a little. He’d been tense - for more than just the physical reason of the injury sending lances of pain up his arm.

“You must really crave Saffron,” Rhett teases her as she offers to help him. His eyes move to some droplets of watered down blood that have dripped off his elbow onto the table. “I did it in a mirror, don’t mock my skills,” he huffs, but is hardly offended; Rhett’s difficult to actually offend, his easygoing manner is generally very open and even, at least in dealing with Elaine so far.

“What’s your diagnosis? Will I live?” Rhett asks, with a tip of head at his elbow.

“I meant I wouldn’t ask if you were off pirating and into trouble,” Elaine says with a chuckle. “But I’ll ask enough to be able to treat an injury.” She reaches over, picking up the astringent wipe. “I was just giving you the benefit of hiding your less ‘savory’ endeavours.” She pauses. “Not that you’re up to no good.”

Spotting Elaine lifting the wipe, Rhett flushes a little and moves one palm to indicate a negation, that she can put it aside. “Those don’t work for me; I save them for using on others,” he says quickly, attempting to snare the unopened package to put it back in the kit.

As the wipe is snatched from her hand, Elaine tilts her head to the side. “Alright,” she says, but again doesn’t push things. “We can wipe the area around it with water and then dry it carefully to start. At the very least we can clean it if we can’t disinfect it.” She takes another good look to see if it needs more stitches. “But I doubt you’ll die. Not on my watch.”

“And, for the record, saffron gives rice a touch of flavor and that lovely yellow color. It’s part of why paella was expensive in restaurants before the war. Now… good luck finding anything that looks like those golden grains.” She lets out something that sounds like a chuckle. “And why do you think I want something out of this. Can’t I be nice to someone who has treated me well thus far?”

“Just….” Blehhh. “Pretend it’s self-disinfecting,” Rhett answers uncomfortably, his free hand moving to his nape an ear, rubbing up the back of it. There wasn’t really a way around that one, but he doesn’t care for lies when it’s not vitally necessary. And this woman is already in trouble, as she’s bought smuggled goods for so long.

“I do a thing with liquids. It’s minor. Let me get water for that.” The wiping idea. He pushes to his feet, partially using the hand attached to the injured limb to steer to cross to the sink. There’s a lot of little containers and buckets in the sink, he picks a clean one, fills it, and returns to the table, to resume position. The activity while the injury wasn’t wrapped caused more blood to come, a rich red.

Rhett is very watchful, though, a caution in his otherwise relaxed manner. The man is quietly guarded, but just in a careful way, not defensive. “You can be kind,” Rhett accepts. “Though you may end up with fresh fish as a thank-you.”

“I get it. I do a thing with words,” Elaine smiles, taking hold of a cloth to dab the water gently around the outside of the injury before pressing her lips together in a firm line. “Yeah, I think you could use another stitch or two in this. Just to be safe.” She moves to take hold on the materials without really pausing, but she does when she’s ready to start the actual process. “This is obviously going to hurt. Just don’t pass out on me, I’m not sure I could hold you up.”

She grins, however, at the mention of fresh fish. “I’ll just add that to the paella you’re contributing to.” Once she’s sure he’s at least steeled himself to the oncoming pain, she starts to stitch, carefully as she can to reduce the pain. She once again continues the thread of conversation to keep his mind occupied.

“So what kind of food do you normally like? I usually stress cook so there’s often extra.”

“Oh.” A thing with words. That made all of it a lot easier. Rhett watches her a short while, there’s a touch of skepticism there, but after he’s had a few seconds to decide how to react, he seems to chill out: possibly the most chilled version she’s ever seen of the man. Some guard that may not have even shown as having been up has reduced.
Rhett moves his position, pulling his jacket towards him to loosely ball it, and puts it under his forearm to support it up at an appropriate angle for her to work in. The muscles of his arm jump and tense in preparation for what he’s well aware is coming.

While Rhett is absolutely doing a macho thing when she starts to stitch, there’s an involuntary jerk at the first touches, then he holds still better. “We do a lot of fish around here. Which I don’t mind, though some thoughts about how to change the flavors a little would be welcomed.” He brings a quick breath in: this hurts a lot.

“Can I ask about your words?”

“Name a language and I probably speak it fluently. If you name one I don’t know, I’ll go have it learned by the next time I see you,” Elaine explains, giving him a smile as she works. “It has its uses, mostly use it for work but it’s kind of fun to just be able to say things and understand them in ways people don’t expect.”

The fish and food train of thought is gently pushed aside as she focuses on the one he sounded most interested in. “I got a great job because of it and I get to examine and interpret priceless pieces of history. It’s a dream job that someone ten to twenty years my senior should have gotten. So, you could say I’m a pretty big deal.” She pauses. “Except you’ll never hear me say that again. I just look good on paper.”

She finishes with the stitches, tying it off and snipping the end before she goes back to carefully dabbing away any blood that welled forth in the process.
“Works for me that you’re a big deal. Share the wealth,” Rhett answers, though his tone is tight from the tension of trying to ignore the pain. He’s a little sweaty but bore up well through it. He does, however, start to help: he extends a hand towards some of the wraps, intending to pitch in: he’s clearly unused to just watching someone help him. There’s a tendency to automatically meddle.

“I don’t know other languages, so I can’t challenge you on what you say.” Rhett pulls the bucket of clean water closer as well, using some of the previous dressing to wipe towards the lower end of his elbow: a crazy idea, except that he meant it when he said that bacteria was not a thing.

“But you mentioned stress. Your job is stressful, or something else?” Rhett asks, conversationally. There’s no prying note to it, he’s curious, but there’s no sharpness to the inquisitive quality. Just interested in her, maybe.

Elaine begins to start wrapping his arm, being sure to not overwrap and somewhat skillfully apply it so he can easily bend his elbow if he needs to. She doesn’t seem to mind his attempts to help, letting him do what he can even if it’s relatively minor in the grand scheme of things. This step she takes her time on, wrapping carefully so as to both cover the wound and keep a good range of motion.

“Well, my job’s most of my stress. It’s a lot of responsibility. I’m head curator of the Yamagato Fellowship, so I’m basically in charge of organizing a lot of beautiful and old pieces of pottery and armor and stuff and displaying it in a way that portrays the history of each piece. It’s one part organization, one part bossing people around, and one part getting to enjoy history. So it’s a lot of work and I spend a lot of time doing that work.”

She grins. “The stuff that’s not work? Well… there’s not much of that these days. It’s mostly work, so it’s a good thing I enjoy it.”

“What I’m hearing is,” Rhett asks thoughtfully, “If I find sculpture or pottery on the bottom of the ocean, you want to look at it,” Rhett translates aloud, with an amused little side-eye of pale blue gaze. He’s not saying he has something like that, but he’s saying he might.

“That is a good thing. Is this your dream, to do what you’re doing? I sometimes think child-Rhett would look at me now and wonder what the hell happened,” Rhett laughs. “I was nearly a doctor.” He flashes a smile at the memory of that, though, but tests his arm to be sure it is still mobile: though not in a way that would disrupt what she’s doing.
“Well wrapped. The war gave us all skills I don’t think we expected, hm?” Rhett observes, using his other arm to start to clean things up, gather the guaze wrappers and so forth.

“If you’ve got something old and it’s got writing on it? Definitely want to take a look,” Elaine replies, a quick glance around her taken as if to find the mysterious artifacts in question. “Give me enough time and I can translate almost anything. Haven’t really run across something that’s stopped me yet.”

The thought of what a younger self might think of an older self is not an unfamiliar one to the redhead. She’s often thought about her course in life and if this was what she really wanted. “I think there are some things younger me would love about where I am. I’ve always been a fan of history, even before I realized I could do something to aid me in that pursuit. Like I said, this is sort of a dream job, in a way. It combines so many of the things I love but there’s always a part of me that felt like I should be doing something to help people more.”

She scratches the back of her neck. “I guess I thought of myself as more of a hero and less of someone ordinary. I’m a bit more ordinary now.”

“I don’t bring up items from a dive if I’m unsure if I can sell them,” Rhett clarifies.

“Help people more? Well. Some of it is just…. Taking in what’s reasonable, in what level you’re able to be ‘heroic’, I think,” Rhett answers, thoughtful. He was clearly listening to her: he didn’t ask a question to which he wasn’t interested in the answer, there’s cognition evident in his gaze. He cleaned up fully, putting everything into a different bucket that must be trash. There’s a lot of buckets around in general. “I can bring water to families that don’t have pumps out in the northern safe zone, at least until we get those pumps online. It’s small but it can impact some lives. That’s how I think about it, anyway. The other trade pays for some of the things that don’t pay as well.” Her spices help keep the system going, that grants fuel for these other ventures.

“If you have a little longer, I’ll clean a fish for you to take back with you,” Rhett says, standing, wiping his hands on a towel near the sink. He’s expecting her to agree – he’s already pulling a cutting board off the wall.

“I can wait,” Elaine says, watching him as she settles back to stay out of his way as he works.

His mention of his own efforts to make a difference in his own way have her looking a bit sheepish. “Well, there you go, you’re giving back and making a real difference. It impacts people. My efforts impact in a very different way. It’s an intellectual help. People learn and experience beauty and I love doing it I just feel like it’s not valued as much in a post-war world. There are still places that don’t have power all the time, people who have to try three or four times to get a cell phone call through.”
She shakes her head. “Before that first bomb, before the whole world went to hell I think my contributions to the world would have meant more. Now I find I’ve got more in common with what’s in my museum. Probably spend enough time there that I’ll start talking to them.”

“I think we’ve lost enough,” Rhett sighs. “I’d rather we don’t lose more of our history than we already have. Giving someone water and food only goes so far if they’re not living for something more than just the next day.” He passes by her, offering a brief little pat of palm towards her bicep in passing, as he goes down to a cooler. Opening it brings a scent of salt and fish abruptly, but he pulls one of the fish out and carries it by the jaw to his board.

Rhett is very efficient about the whole thing; gutting and scaling the fish quickly with a knife, creating long fillets which he rinses, while they talk. “Is that what’s stressful, then? Waiting for the relics to answer?” Rhett asks, with a smile over his shoulder, though he doesn’t fully turn her way. “Or worrying about what they’d say.” Rhett looks at the fish in his hands, continuing to slice it.

“Sorry, that’s the stress talking,” Elaine says, her eyes on Rhett’s efforts to prepare the fish. “Probably gonna cook the hell out of that thing later.” She’s still smiling as she leans back a bit in the seat, though there’s a tired look in her eyes. It looks like it’s been there for a while but the way she smiles it’s pretty easy to overlook it.
“I think the waiting is the worst part. I’d just like them to say something, even if it were something I’d hate to hear.” Her hand goes to the back of her neck again, rubbing there as she looks a bit sheepish. “Not doing too much socializing outside of work. This,” here, she gestures around her. “… this is a refreshing break in the middle of the quiet. Being social? That’s hard. People are complicated. I’d wager you know that just as well as anyone.”

“Well,” Rhett chuckles, “I’ll do what I can to remain simple for you. The food pirate with the injured wing.” A slight motion of elbow outwards while he works indicates the ‘wing’, briefly playful. Rhett rinses his hands off in the sink and squats by one of his boxes, digging around in it for waxed paper. He stands again a bit later, slicing a piece off, and packs the fish in it neatly. It may have a feel of something long lost; standing at a butcher counter.

But then it’s done, and he wraps it securely in masking tape, waggles it in her direction once with a mild smile, and then crosses to put it in her box. “It’s fine for me if you’d like to remain the complicated one,” Rhett offers, lifting his hands up and out, fingers spread, as if to show how few complex items he has in his possession.
“Just don’t go flying away without warning, little bird. Had that happen too many times for comfort,” Elaine sounds playful, but there’s still that tinge of truth, the hint that yes, it has happened and it’s not been good. She watches the preparation of the fish, transfixed, not really having had the opportunity to watch someone do this up close. It’s over quickly, and she shakes herself out of her distraction.

“What?” The redhead laughs, genuinely sounding amused. “First off, you’re more complicated than you’re letting on, I can tell. Second, I’m less complicated than I’m letting on. I might have some complications, but I’m pretty straightforward once you dodge all the strings attached.”

“I’m a swimming bird, not a flying one. That good solid penguin stock,” Rhett answers evenly. His humor has a serene, sometimes dry quality in its natural form, usually followed by a little smile or wink to prove that it’s a joke, because he can’t hold his face. In this case, it’s a smile that includes some white teeth.

“Well, I try to wear my straightforward thing whenever possible. Dress for the job you want. What strings? Not ones tying you down, I hope.” Rhett returns to the table, throwing his towel onto the edge of the sink, but doesn’t sit. “My hospitality’s rusty. Do you want water or… water?” Rhett offers, rapping his knuckles on the edge of the table as he lingers next to it.

“Well, don’t swim away then. You’re certainly the best supplier I’ve found and, like I said, need to cook to relieve all that stress,” Elaine sounds quite serious about both the not going away as well as the desire for stress cooking. “I could see the penguin in you, though. Don’t think you’ve got the waddle down properly yet though.”

She lets out an amused sound. “Well, since you have such a selection, I’ll take the host’s pick. But don’t worry about your hospitality. I invaded anyway so it’s not as if you were prepared to entertain. Not that you have to go out of your way to entertain me anyways, sir penguin.” She releases a long breath before she speaks again. “People are complicated, like I said. And sometimes they do tie you down, in a way. Not always in a good way.”

She seems conflicted for a moment before tentatively continuing. “You ever have something that just anchors you to the past that you just can’t quite get rid of? A person, an event, a place, a situation… something like that?”

Rhett has some large rectangular plastic containers adjacent to the kitchen, and he fills a cup for her from that, then a second cup. The glass is plastic – having real glass on a ship is not a great idea. He brings it over and sets it in front of her, though. “I do wine into water, not the other way. I’m fun at parties.” The opposite of fun. But comfortable to get to admit it, even if it’s self-deprecating in tone.

“I can’t imagine anyone that went through the war here /not/ having events from it haunting them,” Rhett answers, carefully, his brows lowering, expression turning serious. It isn’t a serious that is declining the subject matter: just that he’s not blowing it off. He sits back down where he had been seated, one foot coming up to rest on one of the boxes under the table: clearly his normal sitting spot, automatically comfortable there. “Sometimes I feel my sisters around here, or familiar places. Sometimes that makes it harder.”

“You’d be great at bars when they need to cut everyone off and send them home… no more booze and they’re already working on being hydrated again,” Elaine takes a brief moment to smile lightheartedly before she makes her way back towards the topic she was on before. The water glass is slowly sipped from.

“That is what my string is. That’s what makes me complicated. Something happened and it crushed me and then it came back to haunt me and did so in a weird and complicated way. I’m not sure how to explain it without explaining it and I certainly don’t want to dump that on you. Especially because this was for business and I just intruded.”

Rhett sets one elbow on the table, stretching his forearm out, and slowly turns his cup with his fingers of that hand. A slow, thoughtful rotation of the glass, though his gaze is on Elaine at first, then down towards the table. There’s a few drips water, and he spreads those around with his other fingers. It’s a quiet behavior: Rhett lacks a need to leap into a conversation with a lot of chatter or fill the air with words. Silence can be comfortable.

Still, he’s deciding how to answer her. “I keep secrets, if that’s your concern,” is what Rhett says, which is both a low-key invitation that it is okay to talk, and also a reassurance in it. He has seemed to settle in, with a manner that, in another world, would have been an ideal bedside manner to listen to a patient. As it is, it’s still something.

Elaine keeps the silence while he does, mostly to collect her thoughts, trying to draw together what she wants to say and what she’s still going to hide, even to herself. “It’s not much of a secret, just something that’s not talked about. No one really broaches the topic at all. Goes through my head all the time though.”

She clears her throat. “So I was young once and very naive. I dated a lot of people and my best friend was there in the middle of it. She was always there and I relied on her. And one day we just fell in love. We were engaged. Things were fine and then suddenly they weren’t. The war had just started, I’d run away to a safehouse we knew of and one of her friends brought me an envelope. It had a letter and her ring. She just bailed. She didn’t just break up with me she left. She left and there was a war going on and I didn’t know what to do.”

Elaine rubs the back of her neck again, a habit it seems, before she continues. “So later on after the war she came back to New York and I met her again and it was weird. She’d been through a lot, I’d been through a lot, and we both cared in some way. I wanted to trust her again, to give her a chance. I saw she needed someone to help her with everything she was going through. So I’ve been doing that but the entire time I’ve just been…”

The hand drops back to her lap and she dips her head a bit. “We’re somewhere between something and not. I don’t know if either of us know what it’s supposed to be or what we want with it. I’ve tried for years to get over that kind of betrayal and I thought I could put it aside because I cared. But the fact is, I don’t trust her. And every day I see her becoming less and less of the person I fell in love with. So it’s a string, a complicated mess, both something and nothing at the same time. And really, that’s about the most complicated thing about me.”

Rhett just listens through the story, still slowly turning his water cup around with movements of fingers around it. It’s just something idle to do, much like the gears turning in his head: so is the water glass. He lifts it part way through her story to drink about a third of it, and puts it back down. To rotate. His face is not extremely empathetic, there aren’t tags of emotions on his expression, but there isn't a judgement either. There’s no negative reactions there, just a thoughtful, quiet audience taking it in.
“As much as we’re different now, and looking to different dreams, other people are, too,” Rhett sighs. “I suppose I’d ask if you are in love with the past person, more than what is in front of you, with your friend. Like our lost lives, nostalgia for we used to have. Obviously many of us want to go back. Is she a piece of the old life? I don’t have an answer, and I’m not trying to presume.” Rhett is only trying to offer questions to help her think through it.

“We all deserve some happiness. I’ve found trying to be free of what I thought life was going to be helped me. Though it does leave a gap: mourning for that lost past. All of my family is back there… but. I don’t want to live in a dead past, though. That’s barely surviving.”

“I think I’m more in love with who she was and I just want to go back to how things were,” Elaine admits, rotating the glass in her hands before taking a sip. “I miss how things used to be, before the war. But I guess most of us do, I’m not alone in that. Maybe this is just my way of trying not to let go of something that meant something. I just don’t know how to… I mean, I don’t want to fix her because that’s awfully presumptuous, but she needs help.”

She grimaces. “And I’m not just saying that as a judgment on her, she’s just not herself.” She glances back over at him. “Does it feel alright? Getting rid of that tie holding you to the past? It’s… not easy. It’s hard thinking that you’ll have something worth it in the future.”

“I think it’s okay to look back if it isn’t consuming you or making it so that you can’t look forward,” Rhett answers. “Honestly, if I were in your place, if you haven’t done this already, I’d talk about it with her. If you feel like you can’t, that’s an answer, too. That if you can’t be open, then what’s left?” Rhett slides his hands back off the table, pausing as the distraction of his right elbow gets his attention. He folds a hand over the bandage gently.

“I’m no relationship guru, though. I haven’t been in one for years. I might not be the best to help, so, I can just ask questions and listen.” Rhett flashes a quick smile, though it has a note of his reserved quality to it. His complexity is buried, and the surface attempts to just be even and simple. “Anyway, I wasn’t saying ‘get rid’ of the ties. Just … put it in the rearview mirror.”

Elaine’s grimace deepens. “I’m pretty sure it’s doing a great job of consuming me in the background while I distract myself with work. She and I have had conversations, but it mostly just leaves us in the same place. We both care in our own way, but it’s hollow. Conversations leave us at the same point.” His point about not talking being an answer gets the slightest nod from her head.

“Relationships are complicated, just as complicated as the people involved in them. And at this point, I’m really just grateful to bend someone’s ear for a few minutes. I haven’t really had much of an opportunity to be open about this with anyone for a long time. I guess it’s just weird because she would be the one I’d instinctively go to to talk and… she’s at the root of the situation.” She looks over at him. “I really appreciate you listening, you didn’t have to but I needed it.”

Rhett shrugs, a gesture that moves down into his hands as he lifts them some was well. He rubs his fingers of his left hand back into his hair, eyes drifting sideways a little. There’s a very mild awkwardness to Rhett now and then, as he chooses to do things that he thinks others would prefer, but aren’t precisely the most natural to him. It’s a style of censoring. In this case, he may not be in the mood to joke a little, but he’s bringing humor in, for her.

“I would have kicked you out, if I had minded. I don’t generally do things I don’t want to,” Rhett replies slyly. “That said, comforting hugs cost extra. You’ll end up staying to cook for me,” Rhett warns her, leaning left hand over to attempt to tap one finger on her arm. His smile is relaxed, friendly: there aren’t any ulterior motives in it. He’s being friendly, and is otherwise entirely non-intrusive. She explained she had strings, and he got the message.

“Though I should get a move on, so unless you need a ride to Sheepshead….” There may be a sense that he’s giving her an escape, less that he’s actually pressuring her to leave.

“You ever need a hot meal, you let me know. The kitchen here isn’t bad, but I can do more with the stuff in my apartment. Consider it a kindness, or if you can’t, part of a barter. Maybe thanks for all of this,” Elaine glances over at him, but then nods. “Well, unfortunately Sheepshead is sort of the opposite direction.”

She seems to consider something for a moment, then rubs her face with both hands. “Ugh, I’m just going to go bury myself in my complications. It’s certainly easier to just work all the time and forget about it, though.” She glances to him. “I certainly wish we were having this conversation when things were less complicated.”

Rhett hadn’t moved since he extended his hand across to tap her on the forearm; he just lets the finger drop to the table just an inch or so away from her arm now, leaving his hand there. “I’m teasing about the bartering, Elaine. I think after today we’re a little past that requirement,” Rhett offers, with a kindness to his tone.

“None of us are just /one/ thing. And the part of me that brings in random food and does, unfortunately, need to charge for it — is, probably, one of the smaller parts. I’m happy to come to a dinner invitation.” Rhett taps the side of his thumb against the table between them, easing out a breath he held a little too long.

“Bury yourself? Give yourself a break from it. Can you cook without stress?” Rhett wonders, with encouraging smile. “You wish that? Why? Hey, we might not have had as much to talk about. I’d have to have been talking.” Rhett lifts his brows a little, and a more full natural smile surfaces. It’s brief, before it’s brought back down to Rhett’s more general calm composure.

Elaine smiles faintly, gazing back over at him. “I’m not about to stop paying you for supplies. I can assure you that you’ll continue making plenty of money off of supplying me. I just think that it would be nice to cook for someone other than myself. And you seem like you could use something that’s more than just fish.” She pauses. “Or maybe fish in a way you’re not used to. All kinds of things as options there.”

She shifts her weight from where she’s sitting to face him a tiny bit more. “I mean, I can cook without stress, it’s just a nice distraction from everything going on. It’s something I can mostly control.” She shrugs lightly. “I guess it would just be nice to be social without feeling restrained. It’s something that weighs on my mind more often than I’d like. It would be nice to be more forward thinking.”

She does laugh. “But this doesn’t have to be about me. You can talk too, you know. Eventually you’ll have to.”

“You so sure about that? You’re doing a great job,” Rhett answers her topic of suggesting he start talking. It’s all a lie, really: he’s been engaged in the conversation, offering opinions and suggestions of how she can work on her troubles. He’s just done more listening, and kept her as the main topic. There’s a difference between not talking, and keeping the focus on the young woman.

Rhett agrees. “I could use something more than fish. I’m skin and bones,” He isn’t, but he doesn’t have much extra layer to insulate either. “Besides, it doesn’t have to be immediate. I’m not going anywhere.” The last statement was said firmly, with a direct look at her. Rhett listened: he heard the bleeding in her tone about people leaving her. He can staunch that wound a little, maybe. He’s not close to her, but maybe a small thread can help her.

“Let’s try this, then,” Rhett says, lifting that single finger between them, making her wait just a moment to anticipate his idea…

“What delicious desserts can be made out of what’s in that box?” Rhett asks. “Keeping in mind I have a source of apples coming up.” Deliberate maybe, but he’s pulling the conversation to see if he can buoy her mood. “No stressing about it though. It’s got to be just a dessert. Because desserts are great.”

“Like I said, a hot meal is an option anytime. I don’t know what kind of schedule you keep but I can do my best to organize something,” Elaine doesn’t seem particularly dishonest, but it may be a bit of a stretch that she can just squish a meal easily in. Not without some effort, at least. But it’s his words that suddenly capture her attention and completely silence her. She seemed ready to continue the conversation but she freezes. The silence is tangible for a moment before she finds her voice again.

“Alright. I’ll trust in that,” she replies, the tiniest hitch in her tone before she clears her throat and immediately distracts herself by the mention of desserts. “Mexican Hot Chocolate is pretty good if you’ve never tried it, it uses a touch of cayenne pepper. If you get those apples I can make some cobbler, maybe come up with something to do with those apples and honey. I can…” She starts the next sentence and then it fails her, leaving her abruptly silent.

Yeah: that dessert topic switch did not work. Not really.

Rhett draws his hands together on the table, overlapping one wrist with the other hand. “When my family lost our parents in the war, my sisters were relying on me to raise them. For everything: food, safety, shelter. For answers; they were children, they didn’t really get it,” Rhett says, his brows moving together a little, light blue eyes dropping to his hands. They’re worker’s hands: the callouses and roughness is ingrained in them now. “Maybe I didn’t either.” He smiles briefly at the memory. He doesn’t look haunted, just sad. Accepting of that sad place.

“My ‘job’ was to be there, above anything else that happened, for the girls. I can’t say that just being there is enough. I couldn’t have done anything about what happened to them. There isn’t a time I don’t think about them and wish I had done /more/ than just being there, but — that’s what I’m still trying to do. Survive. Keep on. They survive with me, in a way. At least, I hope so.”

Rhett rakes his gaze sideways and sits up, with a clearing of his throat.

“I’m sorry,” Elaine murmurs, her gaze lowering for a brief moment. “I’ve felt loss like that. I suppose that’s why I still hold on to the last shred of what was close to me as possible.” Her eyes raise, studying his expressions. “But it is good that you’re able to take that and move forward. That’s… brave. I hope that it didn’t scar you, just made you stronger. I’m afraid I’m still firmly in the scarred category.”

She wets her lips. “I believe you’re right, though. Those we lose carry on with us.”

“I’d say I’m both: the walking scarred,” Rhett answers, but smiles anyway. His explanations are clearly true, and emotionally difficult, but he doesn’t falter in his words. “I’m different from it. Needed to put my hands into physical work. But that’s what I meant when I said earlier, that it all changes us.” He swallows, his jaw moving, lip pulling apart a small amount as he represses some of the well of emotion. He’s not going to show more here, if he can help it, anyway.

“I didn’t say that story to sadden you. Or myself.” A rueful laugh comes forward, though it’s a little forced. “But I think the living are carried with us too, in a way. Not just the dead. Something ending, if that’s what it needs to do, doesn’t erase what you had. That’s what I’m trying to say.” Rhett leans one hand up to set his chin on it, fingers playing with the edge of the bright paisley scarf on his neck.

“Maybe I’m by myself too much, coming up with this. Floating out here with the ghosts of my family. I was trying to demonstrate that it’s against my nature to disappear. I’m the one that keeps the torch going. I think I got distracted from my point.” Rhett smiles but turns towards his water, taking a deep drink from the glass, draining most of it in two swallows.

“Some things change for the better,” Elaine murmurs, though it almost sounds like she’s half-reassuring herself. “I’ve grown a lot over the years, a lot of it through loss and simply facing the world on my own. I’ve never liked the idea of watching my own back, but it’s happened more than I can say.” She offers him a small smile.

“I’m no sadder than I usually am, I just don’t usually get to talk so openly about loss and pain.” The redhead watches him as she lets out a huff of air. “Just… let me know if you decide to sail off into the sunset. I’d like to be there to at least see you off.”

“Sounds like more than just one of us is brave here, then: you’ve made it on your own to where you are. Cooking with cayenne and honey, while doing a job you love,” Rhett reminds her. “Complicated maybe, but nothing unsolvable. I wouldn’t say I love all aspects of my job - I could do without sewage, to be honest,” comments the waterworks professional, “but I decide my own hours, do the jobs that give back. Avoiding complication puts me alone a lot. Sometimes that’s fine.” There’s a shrug that suggests that sometimes it isn’t quite fine.

“‘Get to’ talk openly,” Rhett echoes, a smile in his voice. “Well.” Rhett holds on that word, deciding what more to say. “I like honesty. I’ve liked talking to you. Whether or not you’re feeling too complicated to talk, that’s on you, I think, to tug at those knots.”

Rhett quiets, looking at her. His sadness is still there, lingering from the talk about his family, but there’s no evidence that anything she’d say would cause upset. He’s calm, and a calm influence, to those accepting of it.

“Ignore the sewage, enjoy the fact that you’re improving people’s lives. It’s pretty easy to enjoy a job if you look at the good points. But I’m just glad I don’t have to deal with that,” Elaine grins. “But it sounds like your hours should make things easy. I rarely have the chance to have an excuse to shuffle my schedule around for someone else.”

There’s something he says that gets her attention though, and she studies him for a moment. “Maybe complications aren’t so bad. Not always. At times avoiding complications can save your life, save you from things you might wish to avoid but… sometimes there are these big beautiful complications that show up in your life and they make you question if your tried and true method of avoiding complications is really worth it after all.”

There’s the smile again, the genuine one tinged with just a hint of playfulness. “Honesty’s good. Talking’s great. And I think I’ve gotten to the point where I’m unlikely to apologize again for any of this, so that’s good.”

“If the sewers were a problem I wouldn’t do what I do. Someone needs to,” Rhett says, relaxed. His vocation doesn’t disgust or upset him: he just deals with it has it comes. “I schedule appointments and work when I choose – just like our meeting here today.” Rhett gestures towards the dock with left hand, tipping two fingers towards where they’d originally started to talk. After all, it was just a quick tradeoff, it wasn’t going to be a lengthy visit in Rhett’s cabin.

Rhett listens to her description of complications, but his reaction is just a mellow smile. Knowing, maybe? Or just sort of quietly supportive of it. He doesn’t argue, but he also doesn’t pick at the complication scab anymore.

“That is good, unless you’re doing something to me I’m not aware of.”

"I mean… if I'm doing something you're not aware of, then it's something I'm not aware of either. This way, we can both be blissfully ignorant." Elaine doesn't seem too concerned. "And really, my ability is all about language. So you should be really afraid of all this talking I'm doing. Maybe I'll discover latent powers I had no idea about."

The redhead eases into a more relaxed state as it seems she's mostly settled that surge of emotions from earlier. For a brief moment she just watches him, perhaps almost ironically falling into silence, letting herself just be.

“Well, if you’re not wet, then I’m not doing anything to you either,” Rhett laughs. And then takes in what he said. Oh. Oh. Rhett clears his throat loudly, and actually gets up, crossing to the box where he’d put the fish. He’s just … going to put that fish into the cooler box on ice. That’s what he’s going to do right now, and evade her being able to stare at how red his face just got. He’s laughing it off, though, a soft rolling chuckle: he can laugh at himself, in some fashion.

There’s just no saving that particular statement, is there.

There’s a long pause where Elaine just doesn’t say anything. It’s very long. Probably longer than either of them would like. The moment that the silence breaks with laughter, the redhead is practically falling over from her seated position. It’s a good laugh, too, the kind that seem to have left her breathless and hiccuping by the end of the laughing spell.

“You know, I’ve heard smoother lines than that before but…” She nods, grin plastered on her lips. “Pretty good. Four out of five stars.”

Rhett just stands over by the cooler by where he put the fish, laughing now, infected by her good laugh with a deep one of his own. He lifts a hand to pull up the front of the paisley scarf, a gesture to partially, subtly hide with the pass of it over his lower face. It does reveal some of the big scars on his neck, but not for long, he drops it again and continues to blush.

“I’ll take four stars for something entirely unintentional; just wait until I actually put effort into it,” Rhett laughs, shaking his head. He does come back over, to fetch the glasses and refill them, then returning to sit. “Right; where were we.”

The laughter and the hiccups have mostly subsided by the time Elaine takes her water glass again, taking a few swallows before letting out a satisfied sigh. “For being entirely unintentional it was pretty well-timed. If that’s what you do on accident I’m certainly going to be looking forward to hearing what you do on purpose. As for where we were…”

She lifts the glass to her lips, gazing over at him from the rim of it. “You were about to tell me all your deep dark secrets, I believe. Pretty sure.”

Rhett smiles, a sly side-smile on one side of his face, brows lifting with a slight flare of his eyes. “I’ll save it for a less complicated time,” he reassures her, inclining his cup towards her a little bit, as if he were giving her a slight toast or salute. He’ll leave her alone on such areas while her heart is in tatters. Because he’s not an asshole.
“/All/ of them? Hm. Well, you have the secret that’s usually in the dark. Though I perform equally well in full lighting. …The wet thing.” Rhett aloofly drinks his water, as if what he said was just fine, no double meanings THERE.

“To no complications then,” Elaine raises her glass towards him before taking a sip… only to nearly spit it out when he speaks again. She covers her mouth with the back of her free hand, laughing behind it before she looks back at him. “Oh come on, that one was on purpose. At least partially!”

She gives him a stern but playful look before carrying on the flow of conversation. “You seem like you tend to keep that a secret. Do you feel like you need to hide in the dark with it?”

Rhett gives her an open, surprised look of complete innocence when she laughs again, as if he had no idea what she meant. “Oh, was I funny again?” Rhett asks slyly, with a partially lidded smirk. Yeah, on purpose, most certainly, though he’s pretending it wasn’t.

Rhett considers her next question, his light blue eyes moving towards the ceiling. He sits back slowly, drawing his hand off the table, as if trying to put into words how he felt about it. “I suppose I do. A long history of feeling a freak for it.” His smile to her is brief. “It does a number of useful things for me out here, but in a city, just a sense of being an outsider, I suppose.”

Elaine’s eyes narrow in that still-playful glare for a moment before she seems to let his behavior slide. As the last little dregs of her laughter subside, she looks more relaxed than she seems to have been all day. She takes a casual sip of her water, seeming almost more confident. Playfulness aside, she does seem to be taking what he’s saying very seriously. Dark secrets are a tough territory to traverse, after all.

“I guess this country hasn’t done a very good job of making people like us feel like we fit in. It still doesn’t. Saw a fist fight start over such a thing just a couple weeks ago. So I don’t blame you, if it’s a dark secret to you.” She rubs the back of her neck—that habit again. “I got shot once because someone in one of my classes realized I had an ability and thought that it was ‘cheating’ and somehow I deserved to die for it.”

“This water purification is sort of the parlor trick to what I do. I just… prefer to downplay it, keep people more comfortable with me,” Rhett says, with a surprised stare as she mentions she was shot. Well. “That’s – really close to what happened to me. I nearly died from someone knowing about the rest of it. Safety suggests we don’t talk about it, don’t show it. I’d rather be alive,” Rhett says.

He extends a hand – his right, attached to the damaged elbow, as if he were going to comfort her by laying his broad palm over her forearm, but he aborts before he actually gets there: the hand hovers near her arm but he then seems to think better of it, and begins to draw away.

“It doesn’t matter what it is that you can do, simple or complicated or dangerous… people find a way to hate you for it anyway,” Elaine shakes her head. “I mean, I learn languages really fast. You would think it’s harmless enough but it doesn’t matter. I still got shot at, lived to tell the tale. That was all even before the war. Now? Like I said, people fist fighting in markets. Can’t say I’ve had anyone try to kill me since the war ended though…”

She pauses, clearly having to actually think if that’s true. It’s then she notices his hand and its intent, immediately moving and simply taking it if he doesn’t move it away fast enough. She squeezes, turning to look at him seriously. “The kind of stuff we have, regardless of what it is, is always going to scare people but it doesn’t mean you have to be the one scared. There’s safety in numbers. You can still be solo, though, but you don’t have to be alone. People will have your back.”

“Oh, I didn’t mean to suggest I was dangerous. I am zero danger,” Rhett says, lifting his fingers of his free hand to indicate a big ‘zero’ of thumb and forefinger. “Fear my ability to not have terrible body odor,” Rhett says grandly, wryly, well aware of the joke there. Clearly the most impressive powers are those that allow one to save money on deodorant.

“Danger for me comes from the criminals that run through the same circles I do, depending on trade. I stay out of trading drugs or weapons whenever possible; fewer people get quite as angry over a trade of a chocolate bar than, say, cocaine,” Rhett observes. “Not nobody, but fewer.”

He rolls his eyes and drinks his water. “I don’t mean to ramp myself up here with mystery about my thing. I’m aquatic. It’s just weird enough to be a problem, without being /good/ enough to be worth the trouble, I sometimes think.” Rhett seems to have shifted a little bit emotionally, as if recalling the distance he normally keeps. Those walls start to return. It hooked very clearly on her comment about being alone. She reminded him: he’s usually alone…

“Well. We should wrap this up,” Rhett says, but his smile is pleasant, if a little sad or distant. Rhett pats a few fingers against her wrist, of the hand that was holding his. Just a tap-tap, to go with the next question. “Want me to walk you back off the docks, or prefer no?”

“I know, I was just making the point that we’re all a team, regardless of what we can do,” Elaine chuckles lightly. “We’ve got our own dangers to face, wherever we are. Mine mostly come from corporate espionage, ghosts of the past, and time travelers.” Those are all probably jokes. At least one. “Believe me, I’ve found myself in the midst of people who can do way cooler things than me. We’re still a team.”

His words do remind her she’s got a box of spices to bring back home and some dinner she needs to prep. “Oh, yes…” She nods slowly at him. “Would you walk me? I like the company.”

“A team?” Rhett asks, skeptically. He smiles at her anyway, though he doesn’t seem to buy that a team exists. “I must have missed when the captains were picking their people, I wasn’t aware I had a team.” He shrugs a little bit, and then draws his hand back, moving to stand up. He picks up his coat, careful as he draws it over the injured elbow.

“Of course,” Rhett answers the question of if he’ll walk her. He collects the cups, to put those in the sink, and gets the fish back out of the icechest, returning it to her box of supplies, and picks that up. He then waits near the door for her briefly, before moving to the exterior deck. Once she’s joined him, he’ll lock his door again and jump smoothly over to the dock.

“Yeah, a team. Good guys versus bad guys. We’re the good guys, unless you ask the other team, then we’re not,” Elaine gets to her feet, tucking herself out of the way until he’s gotten everything settled. She heads back on deck, then hops onto the dock with only the slightest of wobbles, which she casually pretends never happened.
“I hope that bandage is a little easier to move in, if nothing else.” She remarks as she moves to keep pace with him.

Rhett bends his arm a little, automatically testing it. “If nothing else, some stitches were added,” Rhett reminds her. “I hope I don’t have the opportunity to return the favor; I had training from before the war, but I don’t like my friends being injured to where I need to practice it.” Rhett nudges her with his uninjured elbow as they walk back up along the dock. He’s alert, watchful in a way he wasn’t inside the cabin, keeping a clear eye on others moving around the dock and at the other ships.

“If I didn’t say it before, thank you for taking good care of me,” Rhett adds with a slight sideways hook of a smile. “Even if I’m just a distraction from troubles - which I’m fine with being, do not get me wrong.”

“You don’t need to thank me. I should thank you for listening and being delightful company. It was unexpected and much needed,” Elaine’s still smiling as she walks. “So I’d say we’re even. Good bartering.” Her gaze sweeps elsewhere, taking in their surroundings without letting her attention stray too far.

“Never sell yourself short, though. No one’s ever just something, they’re beautifully complicated,” she gives him a stern look. “Be whatever you want to be. Be complicated.”

“”Ideally, the best bargain is when both sides think they’ve won,” Rhett replies smoothly. Good bartering indeed. “I was just called ‘delightful’, so I think I have won in the category of compliments. At the very least.”

“Of course. I get to be several things. But I think for the rest of today I /will/ be simple.” The air is chilly, he draws up his collar a little bit against the bright scarf, as they pass the area where the workers were. They’re gone now, presumably off doing more than just the lunch break from before. “Next time, I’ll bring the apples. You can bring a good time for me to come by. If it works out. If it doesn’t… then the next time. I’ll still be here.”

Not going anywhere.

“Alright,” Elaine agrees, moving to take the box from him, tucking it carefully under one arm. “Apples. We’ll go from there.” There’s a bit of weight to the words as she speaks, slowly turning to retreat from the docks, back to the warmth of her apartment in Yamagato Park. “Don’t forget to look for the saffron.”

As she leaves, she stops only briefly to glance over her shoulder as if to check to make sure he was still there. She smiles and turns away, disappearing off into the ever-growing darkness of the evening.

She’ll trust him.

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