Chili and Apples


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Scene Title Chili and Apples
Synopsis Rhett and Elaine make apple crisp in a tsunami of awkward. And chili. There's chili too.
Date December 5, 2019

Elaine's Apartment, Cresting Wave Apartments, Yamagato Park

The Cresting Wave Apartments are a little intimidating for those who haven’t been there before or are relatively unfamiliar with the ends Yamagato goes to. With the exterior looking like more of an art piece than a building it’s also a bit much upon first sight. Elaine gave very detailed instructions on how to get there, also indicating that the building was not quite going to look like an average apartment building.

The instructions continued that he was to let the doorman know who he was there to see (she had already pre-informed them to be expecting a guest) and to proceed up the elevator to her apartment.

Following the instructions, Rhett greets the doorman, and enters the elevator. He’s used to all kinds of buildings, but this is a very interesting one. Normally he isn’t called out to work on buildings in Yamagato park: They have their own electricians to do the work. So, in that sense, with this fancy place, Rhett is a fish out of water. And far away from his water.

He did clean up a little bit, so that he wouldn’t be immediately kicked out of the complex. His clothes are clean, his hair sleeked back, but he doesn’t possess dress clothes. That just means it is a nice black jacket, jeans without holes in them, a royal blue button-up shirt. He left his ratty scarves at home, which does mean the long, gnarly scars on both sides of his neck are apparent. They’re in long raking marks, like claws, in a position where it makes them look a little like gills until a closer look is given.

Rhett has a cooler in one hand, about two feet by a foot, with a strong handle, and a satchel over a shoulder. He knocks at Elaine’s door after checking the number one more time off of the pen he wrote on the back of his left hand. Yes, this one.

The muffled sound of music on the other side of the door stops. A few moments later the door opens to Elaine. She’s dressed casually, jeans and a very soft looking sweater, feet bare on the hardwood floor. The scent of chilli from the kitchen is instantly distinguishable even before stepping inside, which she moves aside to let him. “Glad you found it okay.”

While the apartment came furnished, it’s pretty obvious where Elaine put her own touches. Rugs and art pieces seem to have their own style and a brightly colored throw blanket drapes over a white couch. It’s luxurious, to say the least. It’s hard to tell if Elaine looks out of place within it or not—but at the same time she’s certainly made herself at home. A small sounding ‘mew’ comes from somewhere in the vicinity of the couch, but it’s hard to tell exactly where.

“Come in, come in,” Elaine beckons. “I hope chilli was alright. I know when I mentioned it before you seemed very excited at the prospect so I figured that was as good a place as any to start.”

“Hi Elaine. Chili is more than fine,” Rhett says, perking up again, much like he did the last time, at the offer of chili. She read that very correctly as a favorite that he hasn’t had in a while.

“Would you like the good news first, or the bad news?” Rhett asks as he enters, looking around. “Where can I put this?” he asks, while following her, and naturally gravitating towards the scent of chili from the kitchen. He raises the cooler, indicating it. It’s in the arm that was previously injured, suggesting the time has certainly meant a decent amount of healing from the injury he had the last time she saw him. From his other arm he unshoulders the bag, though he doesn’t put it down either, not yet.

“Oh, good, there’s bad news?”

Elaine shuts the door behind him, moving towards the kitchen with a small gesture for him to follow her. “Give me the bad news first. I always like to leave on a good note.” She slips into the kitchen and moves immediately to the stove where a very large pot of chilli is cooking. Snatching up the wooden spoon nearby, she stirs it twice before looking over at him.

She takes a hard look at his arm, making sure it doesn’t seem to be bothering him before seeming satisfied by what she sees. “So what’s the news?”
Rhett takes a little detour; he removes his jacket, shrugging out of it backwards and sets it over part of the couch for the moment, (with a curious look for the source of ‘mew’) before returning to the kitchen with the cooler and the bag. He seems to be all right, not favoring the arm.

“All right, bad first. I wasn’t able to get a full container of saffron,” Rhett says, regretfully. “It just hasn’t come up as available over the past few weeks. We’ll have to continue to watch for it. Sorry. Just hasn’t been an option. At least, not for a price that isn’t sky-rocketingly insane, and I have standards in what I’ll pay for something,” Rhett shares.

“I did get everything else, including the apples—“ Rhett taps the bag, and starts to unload the apples out of it onto the counter in a nice little row of red. “plus the multiple fish fillets in the cooler, do with those what you will,” Rhett shares.

“The good news comes in the form of a treat.” From the bottom of the bag comes a metal tin, and he draws it out with a bit of flare after the apples have been moved clear of it.

From beneath the couch pokes a squished cat face, sniffing around and then staring at Rhett like a deer in headlights. She eventually turns and sniffs her way back under the couch, disappearing from view. Elaine, on the other hand, is quite visible. She sets the wooden spoon aside on a spoon rest, glancing over as the apples are removed.

“Well, I’m not surprised about the saffron. I’m sure someday someone will not realize quite the value of what they have.” She turns fully to face him, nodding her approval at the fruit before she lets her eyes roam to the tin. “However, the fact that you’re bringing me surprises instead sort of makes me hope it takes you ages to find saffron.” She grins, then moves over to take the tin. She very carefully opens it up, then takes a moment to stick her nose beneath the lid and inhale. “Why, I believe this is cocoa powder. I hope you’re a fan of chocolate.”

“Lastly, hopefully the last piece of bad news: I think someone may have sat on your poor cat’s face,” Rhett teases after seeing a bit of a whisker from under the couch. Rhett puts his full attention on the tin, leaving her to inspect it, resting one palm on a counter, and the other loose against his belt on the opposite side. He’s not entirely relaxed, but he’s doing a good impression of such, so far. He’s just careful in new places and situations.

“I am. What magic can you do with that?” Rhett asks, observant of her reaction to the tin: pleased she likes his offering, most obviously, some pleasure echoes out of his light colored eyes.

“Inger is the cutest little squishface ever and don’t you forget it,” Elaine waves the wooden spoon at him, thankfully not flinging droplets from the chilli in his direction. “She’s weird and I like her for it. Schrödinger will one day take over the world and rule it and I plan on being one of the few she spares from her feline wrath.” The spoon is returned to its place before she turns to face him once more.

“Well, there’s the mexican hot chocolate I can make with that cayenne, too, plus there’s basically anything baked that’s chocolate. Cakes, brownies, that sort of thing. It’s a simple and very useful ingredient.”

“I barely saw her squishface,” Rhett says in his defense, automatically switching tactful, but amused. He wasn’t trying to insult her pet! He doesn’t hunt for the cat or anything, though: best to leave cats alone. “I think I was maybe ten when I had my last pet, a dog,” Rhett shares. “And like all children I was unique in naming him, ‘Shadow’. Obviously he was black.”

Rhett invites himself over to look into the chili pot, but then returns to the cooler. “Salmon this time, not just that cod,” he clarifies for why the fish is showing as strongly pink through the wrapping. “Act quickly and you’ll have sushi. Not tonight, though: I’m overdosed on sushi usually.” The fish isn’t perfect, it does have punctures in the flesh: it was probably speared.

“We’ve just missed my birthday for a cake. Hot chocolate seems delightful,” Rhett suggests.

“Inger just kind of ended up with me. I never really anticipated having a cat but she’s a delight. She’s a snuggler, but she needs to warm up to you first. She’s a little cautious around new faces,” Elaine says, moving towards the cooler to get the fish to transfer it to the fridge. “If you found me some ginger I’ve got a really great recipe for a ginger-garlic salmon.”

She stops dead in her tracks at the mention of a birthday. “What?! You should have said something. I would have baked and found you some kind of present. No one should be without a cake and presents on their birthday.” She’d lived long enough as an orphan to know that, and subsequent years have proved that birthdays are important.

“I’ll just have to owe you a present then.”

“I think there’s ginger; didn’t have it last time, but this time, yes,” Rhett answers, after squinting at the items he carried in the bottom of the cooler under the fish. He gestures at it a little dismissively: she can take stock of what’s inside. “I’ll take the recipe though, I’m capable of cooking. Mostly.” Rhett smirks a little, though there’s no weight to the smirk. He’s not lying, but he certainly isn’t doing what she is doing in skill level. The scent in the kitchen made that very clear.

“Yes, earlier this week,” Rhett answers regarding his birthday, but there’s only a shrug of shoulders. “Big twenty-nine.” He doesn’t think it’s a big deal. His tone is relaxed, distant maybe. “The dinner is enough, don’t feel obligated.”

“I can definitely give you the recipe. You should be able to make it just fine on your boat, it’s not terribly hard you just have to let it cook for a while. The ginger’s strong, though, less of a fishy taste, so I hope you like ginger,” Elaine explains, glancing to the fish as she moves to the fridge. She stores it inside before returning to poke through the rest of the supplies.

“Well, happy birthday, then. You’re almost to that big three-oh.” She chuckles, still looking through supplies. “I hope someone got you a gift then. It wouldn’t do for you to be as much of a loner as me.” She looks back up, fixing her gaze on him. “Dinner’s a gift to a friend. Birthday gifts need to be something special.”

“I need strong flavors,” Rhett says, a little uncomfortably. “I tend to water things down a little, so heavy tastes are best. Also, I’m fine with fishy tastes. Or ginger. Or most things.” While she’s busy with the fridge he makes a move on the chili, to come over and smell it. She’ll catch him there when she looks back up, his sleek little invasion of the pot, though he hasn’t tried to taste it: yet.

“Haha, I keep it to myself. My goal is to get to the next birthday, so I’m happy to get as far as I have,” Rhett teases. “But yes, last week I did what I wanted for my birthday, some sailing well away from this place on my own.”

“Well, good, cause this chilli’s a bit spicy,” Elaine moves back towards the pot of chilli, scooping up a bit of chilli on the wooden spoon. She holds it up to him. “I’ll be sure to remember to make the flavors strong in the future.” It’s implied, of course, that she’s cooking again. “It’s uncomfortable that your ability acts like that, but it can be overcome in other ways, even if you can’t control it.”

She’s always felt like she’s had a good grasp of her ability, but she’s seen plenty of people who couldn’t control side effects.

“Well, I can also handle terrible flavors. Silver lining,” Rhett answers, his smile warming. There’s a brief wholesome quality to it, as he accepts the spoon full of chili to sample. “Not that I would think yours are bad. More that it helps in general, though I will never be a food-taster. And I’m all right with that.”

Rhett considers the taste of it, and gives her a thumbs up. Entirely acceptable, by his brightened look: the same look as when chili as an offering was first brought up. “Besides, I don’t like when allowances need to be made for me. I do well enough.” He clears his throat, absently moving a hand up towards where his scarf would normally be, but he’s not wearing it, so he drops his hand.

The chilli’s good—spicy, hearty, and hot. It’s the kind of thing that’s made for cold days staying inside. Elaine looks satisfied when he approves, parting from his side briefly to pull out two bowls from the cupboard. “See, I think there’s a difference between ‘making allowances’ and doing something that you know someone would appreciate.” She returns to his side, handing him a bowl before she starts to scoop some with a ladle into her own.

“It’s a bit of what the intention is. Does it have to be extra flavorful for you? No. Do I want to do it because I know that you appreciate the effort? Yes. People forget, sometimes, that we can just be nice to each other without it having to have justifications and baggage.” She steps aside, moving to the table. “I don’t really have anything to go with the chilli, so that’s all we’ve got. There are drinks in the fridge though, help yourself to anything.”

“Anything else I can do, or is the meal entirely done?” Rhett asks, lifting his hands as if he were a doctor ready to scrub in to surgery. He seems to lack a response to her explanation of being kind just to be nice to him. It’s quieted him to a thoughtful manner while he accepts the bowl. After labeling a decent but not overflowing helping, he sets it down to investigate the drinks mentioned.

There’s a quiet quality that is comfortable to be in but does contain some light embarrassment from his end.

“It’s done. Chilli’s easy to make once you’ve prepared the ingredients, you just cook it for a while and make sure you stir occasionally,” Elaine explains. “But the offer to help is very kind. We can make some kind of dessert together, if you’d like. I don’t have anything prepared, I ended up being caught up at work for a little while because of some logistical problems organizing one of the exhibits. Normally I have a dessert ready to wow.”

Sensing the embarrassment and not quite knowing the source, Elaine’s already attempting to soothe the situation. “I imagine it’s probably hard for you to drink since everything gets watered down, but I have some pretty strong Irish whiskey that I’m trying to get rid of anyway, and there’s some juice that might do the trick and then you could always go for water. I usually do water with chilli anyway. Mixing flavors doesn’t tend to go well with this kind of meal.”

The effort to make it seem that he’s having water as a /good/ choice instead of just an obvious one seems to alleviate some of the embarrassment. “Generally I don’t drink, no; I suspect I save a lot of money. Socially I will, if a trade partner seems to think it’s important that we ‘share a moment,’” Rhett reflects. “Don’t challenge me to a drinking game.” He finds glasses and obtains water for them both, before moving with both glasses to put them where he’s presuming they’ll eat at the table. He’ll come back for his bowl, and sit at the table, waiting for her to come before starting on anything. There’s patience to it, awareness; he had some other life before he became a trader and plumber wading around in the aftermath of the war.

“I wouldn’t say I’m the best assistant for making dessert, but I can cut up the apples into whatever shape you require,” Rhett says with a flicker of a smile. “So, for you: how has Elaine been, since we last spoke?”

“Oh god, I wouldn’t dare,” Elaine chuckles as she settles fully in her chair, adjusting its position until she’s satisfied. “I’ve had enough of alcohol for a while. To be honest, water’s not so bad. You can have as much of it as you like and you’re less likely to have a headache the next day.” There’s something incredibly comforting about the shuffle about the kitchen, laying food out and getting ready for a meal that seems to have Elaine at ease enough to really be unseated by the next question.


She’s not sure she’s prepared for this yet. “I… I mean, work is fine…” She does, to her credit, seem to be trying to form words. The intent is there. “I was sort of not expecting to… I mean, I was, I just…” She swallows hard. “I wasn’t anticipating this being a hard thing to talk about.”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to be invasive,” Rhett says, adjusting. “If you want to talk about work, that counts,” he says, with an easy, relaxed quality, as if trying to coax her to sponge his mood. He isn’t attempting to cause her good mood to collapse abruptly.

“If you want to tell me you’re ‘fine’, too, I won’t pry until you want to go into the topic of Elaine’s status. This is entirely what you want it to be: I’m easy. I’m glad to have chili,” Rhett shrugs. He isn’t staring at her, there’s an attempt to entirely relieve the pressure of a question he didn’t realize was a trap for her. He flashes a quick smile and puts his attention into the chili.

“Nonono, it’s fine, I don’t mean to…” Elaine’s face flushes and she puts down her spoon to rub her face to try and hide the heat of it. “I don’t mean to make this weird. I’m just trying to sort out complicated things.” That should, at least, give him an idea of just why she’s so unsettled at the moment. She tries to pick up her spoon again and focus on the chilli but her brain is too busy screaming at her to fully focus.

“I feel like all I ever say to you is I’m sorry and I really hope you don’t hold that against me but I’m truly sorry. I’m… not okay. I’m a mess. I was hoping that I could hold things together and just have something nice and calm and normal and I guess I can’t. So I’m going to just take a breath and things will be okay and we’ll just start again, right?”

Rhett watches her, stirring his chili a little, then looks down into the food. He smiles a bit, and tries to help. “Just start with the breath,” Rhett answers. “And some chili. I’m not sure why you’re worried. You can be a mess if you need to be.”

Rhett shrugs his shoulders, and gives her a relaxed look. She’ll be however she feels, and he isn’t judging or pushing. He tilts his spoon at her a little and eats, giving her time to sort things out without him probing.

She watches him for a long moment or two, as if trying to figure out what he’s saying, or maybe just him in general. After that, Elaine digs her spoon into the chilli and takes a bite. She eats a bite or two, distracting herself by staring into the bowl before she looks up and sets her spoon down. She takes in a breath, then looks at him.

“I told her I was tired of waiting. I told her I’d been waiting for her to come back ever since she left and that I was just tired of it. She told me I should stop waiting then and she walked out that door again. She didn’t even say goodbye to me, she just left me a note. It was like 2011 all over again. And now I’m just… just… it’s quiet. It’s not like she was really around all that often anyway but it’s just… it just feels like that all over again.”

She rubs her face. “I’m not sure how to feel.”

Rhett gave her only a steady look when she watched him, without giving much of anything other than a curious, mellow expression. He just eats, while she describes what happened.

As she describes the confrontation his expression saddens, but he just listens quietly. “Sounds like you were honest with how you felt. That’s the most fair thing to be, if you ask me.”

Rhett plays with his water glass, then picks it up to have some. “Do you regret saying it?”


Elaine sounds certain of this, letting the word stand on its own before she fills the silence with more. “I was honest. I said what needed to be said even if she couldn’t hear it. I told her the choice was hers, just like it was back then. She made the same choice all over again.” She stirs the chilli with her spoon.

“I’m not sure what I expected. I suppose I hoped it would be a wakeup call, make her realize just how… how much of an asshole she had become. I hoped my words made a difference.” She shrugs. “I think they meant something, they struck her, they just didn’t mean enough for her. She left once and I waited for her. Her memory came back and I waited for her again. And now it’s done.”

She takes a bite of the chilli, letting silence fall for a moment while she eats before she speaks up again. “It feels weird, but it also feels like there’s a weight off my shoulders. I feel stronger for having done that. I didn’t plan it, it just happened, but I did it. I should have done it before, before it got this bad.”

“Well,” Rhett begins, after swallowing. “You mentioned the choice is all hers,” he points out. “I feel like… maybe that’s not the best way to look at it. It shouldn’t be all hers. What you want matters too.” He looks at his spoon, turns it over in his fingers, his gaze in the chili while he thinks about it.

“If she had been all for it, would taking her as she is now be what you want? I don’t have an answer. It seems like you knew before, and asking her this was you trying to help her?” Rhett looks up. He continues to eat, with a mild frown, but it’s just a thoughtful expression from him.

“I’m glad you’re happy with yourself, that you were brave.” Rhett seems to potentially be going to say more, but leaves it there, with a lifting toast of his water instead. “Time will make it better. I know that doesn’t help now, but. One chili meal at a time?”

“What I wanted was something unrealistic. I just wanted things to be like they were before she left for the first time. I had great memories of how things were, probably ones that were idealized and not even accurate. It was just a time when I felt safe and happy, so that’s all I wanted,” Elaine looks down at her chilli again, takes a bite, then looks up once she’s done with it.

“I guess it was my choice too. I chose to say something. I chose to stop waiting. What I really want now is just to move forward without that tying me down. I’ve made myself strong enough to be my own protection all these years, I shouldn’t need the memory of something dead to keep me from being strong and forging my own path. I get to choose this time.”

She raises her own glass, then smiles at him genuinely. “You keep coming, I’ll keep cooking.”

“Yeah. I think it’s better that you own that it’s what you wanted, too. Not just something that kind of happened because of what she decided to choose,” Rhett suggests, but there’s no real firmness to his statement. She can take it or leave it, and he won’t mind either way. That’s just his opinion.

“To moving forward. Every day that’s what I try to do. Glad to raise a toast to that,” Rhett chuckles softly, moving his glass across to clink to her raised one. Water toast. “You’ll keep cooking? Excellent Rhett bait,” Rhett informs her approvingly.

“Yeah, we’ve all got something to move forward from,” Elaine raises her glass for the water toast… kind of glad that it’s just water, for a moment. “But it’s true, I’ll keep cooking, you just keep showing up. To be honest I think the company is something I need. Especially as the holidays approach.”

She pauses for a moment. “Oh god I didn’t even think about the holidays. Uh, well, I guess all my plans have changed.”

“Honestly, the holidays aren’t much different than other days to me, other than that some of the items I trade change around. I end up with interesting lists of requests for strange luxury items: it’s an interesting challenge a lot of the time. I tend to get rich around this time from that, which can help with slower months. Also, a lot of the sanitation pipes or pumps have problems with it freezing, which—-” Rhett trails off, and then chuckles. He got to talking, and he smiles briefly, quieting as he catches himself. “…Is not a good topic for dinner conversation. I’ll leave the sewage talk at the door,” Rhett says with a tap of a finger to the side of his nose, and taking a drink of the water.

“You had plans, then? What did you do last year?” Rhett says, pulling back to the holiday plan changing topic.

"Hey, the holidays are a prime season for some people. It's great for certain industries. So it's not so bad… you earn your money how you can. I won't question your frozen sewage pipes. It's nice to be needed, even if it's just for pipes." Elaine offers him a smile before she takes a sip of her water and really contemplates her holiday plans.

"I mean, holidays have always been a thing for me. I always go all out, presents and food and music. After the war I kind of downsized but still did something for myself. Mostly ended up volunteering because I couldn't stand being alone that long. This year I was probably gonna spend it with Robyn and Matthew. Matthew's the 12-year-old she took in."

“Without family it just didn’t make much sense to me to make a big deal out of it anymore. It was something my sisters just loved. I did all of that for them; they were a lot younger than me. They needed it.” Rhett considers, but seems to go a little distant, or to retreat some: the loss of family is a difficult topic for the man, even if he’s bravely smiling on the surface as if it were fine to talk about. He pretends many things are fine: much of the time that’s the real truth, until it isn’t.

“Not really the same without that; I don’t need to put up lights and waste electricity just for myself. Much like cooking just for yourself: doesn’t really feel right to make an elaborate meal just for one, does it?” Rhett asks. He’s finished his bowl, and starts to get up, with a clear direction and intent to go add more to his bowl without troubling her about it. “Good on you to volunteer.”

"Without family it's kind of weird. It's hard to really have much of an excuse when it's just you. But good on you for doing it when they needed you to." Elaine definitely seems lost in thought at this point. "Volunteering is nice, it's a good feeling to help when people need it and it certainly reduces the loneliness."

Her gaze follows him as he moves to refill his bowl. "So I take it you aren't doing anything for the holidays then?"

“I haven’t done much volunteering lately. But I help now and then.” There’s a sense to how he says it of a resistance to bragging: a humility or discomfort about it in some way. He just downplays whatever he’s doing, or is avoiding it for some other reason: difficult to tell from his somewhat cloaked response.

“I didn’t have something in mind. If something comes up, that could change, but no. Just more days. Are you religious, if you don’t mind my asking?” Rhett inquires, while he serves up more chili into his bowl, his head turned back towards her, paying attention.

“Not really religious. I went to church a few times as a kid but it was never really a thing. I like the idea of it, though. I’ve seen enough stuff in my lifetime to certainly believe that the world, the whole universe, it’s all more than it seems. Something is there.” There’s certainly a part of her that knows there’s at least one big dangerous something, but that part stays away from Elaine’s lips.

“I think that there are quite a few religious groups that have legitimate altruistic aims to help people, so usually they aren’t bad if you want to volunteer somewhere. Kind of nice to see people who still want to help in the world.” She seems a little heartened by the idea, taking another bite of her chilli before she continues.

“If you end up with nothing to do, I’m probably going to do the whole big meal holiday sort of thing by myself. I know there will be more than enough.” She pauses. “I mean, you don’t have to come over for it if you want to but please let me bring you leftovers if nothing else. It’s kind of hard to downscale a meal like that and I’m going to have way too much.”

“Are you prepared to handle seeing me more than just once a month?” Rhett asks her teasingly, lifting the chili spoon to indicate towards her with a skeptical little flare of a smile. “I’ll think about it. Though we may want to also get a better communication method than scheduling meetings a month out at a particular place and time, if we’re going to see each other more often than just to exchange goods.”

Rhett brings over the container of water to the table, using it to refill his own glass and lean to offer to do hers as well, before returning it back to the kitchen and bringing his chili back in to re-seat himself. “I don’t know what’s out there, if there is something. My family was very into science, less about spirit.”

There’s a pause, and he amends, “If nothing else, I do accept your leftovers.” Lips twitch in a smile that doesn’t turn into too much more, but his light blue eyes are lighted.

“I mean, I do appreciate the business arrangement and I most certainly will keep up with that, but, to be honest, you’ve been a little light of hope in the midst of a rough period. Having someone just there is an incredibly helpful thing and you have been surprisingly patient with listening to me work out my problems.” Elaine takes a bite of her chilli, glancing back over at him.

“I wouldn’t be opposed to more company. Really, I’m dying for an excuse not to work late a lot of the time. I’ve missed having a social life of some sort. Outside of work, that is. I have great rapport with my co-workers. So if you did want to come…” She suddenly pauses. “No. I’m going to flat out say it. I’d like you to come. Feel free to reject the invitation if you feel the need to, but I’m going to just be straightforward and honest: I’d like it, very much.”

Rhett has reseated at the table, to listen - much the same way he has done for much of their time not just that evening, but previously in the cabin of his boat when she shared her thoughts and ‘complications’ with him originally.

Eyebrows tweak upwards as she adjusts the invitation into being more of an earnest request. Rhett draws one hand up to his forehead, moving his fingers through his hair on that side, a contemplative consideration there. He’s deciding, very clearly: it isn’t him stalling, he’s thinking about it right then and there.

“Then I’ll come,” Rhett says.

Elaine looks immensely relieved by his answer, especially given that she had given the question more weight than she had anticipated doing. “Good, I’ll look forward to that then.” She suddenly smiles. “I appreciate that. I think more than you really know.” She sounds honest, still looking a little ruffled. She straightens herself up, then looks back at him.

“So you’re still the mystery man. You know more about me than I certainly know about you. Share something, that way I don’t feel like I’m just using you for emotional support.” She chuckles at that, but there’s the slightest hint that just maybe she is worried about just such a thing.

Her smile is returned, though Rhett is a little more delayed with it. While honest and calm, there’s no teeth to it - merely a warmed expression and curve of lips. He inclines his head to her a small amount as she suggests he doesn’t know how important it is to her. Maybe he doesn’t, but it doesn’t seem like the man minds or finds an issue there either way.

“Am I a mystery? I’m not trying to be. What do you want to know about?” Rhett asks, with a slight baffled sound to his done. He’s just not sure where to start about it, or what to say. “I know I talked about my family earlier a little bit; you can’t say you know nothing.” He eats more of the chili. “Most people, to be direct, don’t know about my —- abilities. You know more than most people.”

“I suppose it just feels like I’m taking so much from you and not giving back,” Elaine explains. “Chilli is the least I could do. I want to give you the chance to talk about yourself a bit. Kind of feels like I’m hogging the stage with all my complications, doesn’t it?” The smile is still there.

“And I do want to know you. You did talk about your family and that’s certainly nothing to scoff at. Abilities too, those are important.” She tilts her head a bit. “So what did you want to do as a kid? I mean, I’m pretty much doing what I wanted when I was young. What would your younger self think of who you are now?”

“Shocked, I think,” Rhett answers. “My parents were both doctors,” he begins, with a sort of frankness to his tone. “That was what my path was as well. It was just… always very obvious to me that I wanted to do that. Before the war, I’d been in training, I was a new EMT,” Rhett shares, though a softness or regret of some kind enters his voice. He smiles and sighs some. “As I said, war changed things. Things that just can’t be forgotten or … I don’t know.”

For all Rhett’s perceptiveness, he’s something of at a loss there, it sounds like, but he also doesn’t seem deeply troubled. “I like helping you. I don’t feel like it’s an uneven exchange. Besides, my complications, if they still are around, are long dormant. Yours seem to have more immediate need.”

“Yeah, I guess the war changes things for everyone. It’s not easy to just go back to things being the same after that. My ability helped me during the war, I guess it’s sort of what started me really beginning to use it more publically and in ways that helped. When I started working I just leaned in to what seemed obvious. Eventually I just ended up with people who believed in me and gave me the chance to do something really interesting.” Elaine sips from her glass, then looks back at him.

“You showed up at a very fortunate time. You said some things I needed to hear, and you were a presence when I needed to be around someone. So you’re right… immediate need. But I hope I can help you too. I know this isn’t barter because this isn’t a business thing, but I guess I’ve grown accustomed to nothing being for free, not even kindness.”

“I just… didn’t feel like I was doing the best thing. And it was just so dangerous. The hospitals weren’t safe. My parents died trying to…” Rhett frowns suddenly, his walls clearly going up around whatever he was feeling or going to say, and he trails off.

“They did what they had to,” he adjusts, rephrasing. “My ability helped me, as well. With safety. I can just…” Rhett glances at his free hand, and slowly opens the fingers outwards, as if he were releasing hold of an invisible bird in that hand. But then he contemplates his empty hand in a way that speaks of some sort of equally invisible loss. “Drop out of sight. I helped some others do that. When I felt I could protect them.” Again, Rhett’s shadowed, cautious quality of humility.

“But it’s not my responsibility to save everyone.” Rhett gives her a rueful smile, his general easiness and warmth coming back. “Does that help quell some mystery? Some of being my friend may include some silence from me, sometimes. Talking about myself isn’t a currency I recognize for barter,” Rhett chuckles.

“I don’t mind the silence,” Elaine says, though she lets out a bit of a laugh. “But I ramble. Language is who I am. My head’s jumbled up with words and phrases and ways to say things that don’t translate fully. I suppose I just don’t know what to think if I can’t just let things out that way.”

She seems to think deeply for a moment, then smiles at him. “I suppose it’s just hard to get to know someone if they don’t talk about themselves. Maybe just tell me what you like. You don’t have to confess the hard stuff unless you want to. Maybe all I need is your favorite color. Mine’s green… a deep forest green, the kind of green you get in certain emeralds, just a deep color… not quite black, but just dark.”

The color question seems to bewilder Rhett at first, after his simple smile at her need to talk and use language. He seems mildly charmed, if anything, by her comments about rambling.

“Why so dark, your green?” Rhett asks her. His eyes move around her living space, checking for pieces of the color that she’s professed to love most above all others. “I think my color would be violet. I don’t know that I could tell you why, though. A peaceful color to me, but not so peaceful as to be associated with a medical ward’s wallpaper color of teal or light green.”

“My green’s the color of Scotland. It’s wild and free and holds all kinds of mysteries. Mysteries, however, are not always light. Thus my green.” Elaine’s apartment does indeed hold a few items of said color—they stand out against the bright white of most of the furniture and seem to make up some of the wall art and display pieces.

“Violet is a good choice. If you go dark you get the color of royalty and if you go light you get the refreshment of lavender. There’s a lot of different shades, there, for all moods.” She looks back over at him. “See, we already know each other better. I always see people complaining about how you don’t really know someone if you can’t name their favorite color.”
“Are you from Scotland, or have you visited?” Rhett asks, orienting on the new rabbit hole direction for the conversation. “I’ve done a considerable amount of travel by boat, but not to Europe,” Rhett explains.

“Sometimes I wonder, why stick around here. What holds you to New York, instead of, say, Scotland, or somewhere else?” Rhett asks, with a more thoughtful drop in his voice. He has considered leaving New York, by the sound of it: not quite guilt, but a mix of feelings. “I assume that it is now your job, but is it more than that for you?”

"My family was from there about a generation back. I was visiting there on a school trip when the first bomb went off that really started the ball rolling for the eventual civil war." Elaine's explained this many times before, enough that she can tell it like a story and not really betray the personal tragedy it was. "If I wasn't in Scotland, I would have died along with my parents."

She clears her throat a bit. "Anyway, I go back to Scotland when I can. I run away to there sometimes. I do wonder sometimes why I stay, but there are so many memories here. My job, for sure, but the location just still means something to me. Lots has happened."

“I guess I would say the same for me. My connections are here — which my job requires. Could I uproot and move? Probably,” Rhett sighs. “I generally just watch for opportunities. Pick up on things as they come along.”

“Mine went to a later bomb. So. I can understand where that’s … “ Rhett trails off. He doesn’t often explain this topic, so it is more of a personal tradegy to talk about it, from his perspective, than perhaps for her. “An old wound that isn’t really going to heal,” he finishes.

“Europe is a trip I’d like to eventually do. When I’ve suddenly made the mother load off of a sale and can afford to not work for as long as that would be,” Rhett laughs. “My boss doesn’t give paid vacation time,” he jokes, referring to himself.

"You're right, it never really heals. There are times I feel guilty that I survived and they didn't." Elaine glances towards him, grateful that they can relate, even if it is over something so painful. She distracts herself with her chilli for a moment or two.

"Work will always be in the way of those kinds of things. Either you have to work because you don't have enough or you're too important at work to be missing for long. I'm pretty comfortable monetarily, so it's the latter for me. That and school. My company is paying for me to get my masters."

“Yes, they were proper doctors. Taking care of so many people that were hurt, civilians and military, I don’t really even know,” Rhett sighs. “Certainly would have been an obvious trade to keep one of them alive, over what I was contributing. But we don’t get to choose that. My ability does not involve warping time to leap on a grenade for them. Not in the cards.”
“I would really be okay with having a vast amount of wealth and not working at all. I hear that’s an option,” Rhett deadpans with a waggle of his spoon towards her, as if contemplating it as a real choice.

"My parents were pretty ordinary, for the most part, but I still feel like they could have contributed more than me." The mention of time warping to change the past makes Elaine laugh a little too long. "Time travel never works quite like you expect it to. In fact it never does, really." She sounds a little too certain of that.

"But you wouldn't want to not work. You'd get bored, admit it. I don't think I could ever not work, unless what I did in my spare time was interesting and fulfilling enough." She smirks. "Maybe you should lounge about on a yacht. It would be a good look for you."

“You haven’t seen my swimming attire - or lack thereof,” Rhett answers slyly, innocence in his tone conveying rather an opposite suggestion on that. A brief willingness to play, that has been somewhat submerged since they spoke on his boat. Rhett’s able to enter a cheerful headspace but it is a little rare, perhaps. Or just rusty.

“So, experience with time travel? I’ll pass on that one. Sounds like adding /complications/,” Rhett answers. “Though I can see the appeal. To alter something. Keep something that’s gone. Or someones.”

"Too bad everywhere is too cold for swimming right now. At least something outdoors, that is. I bet you're a great swimmer, Aquaman." The nickname is definitely a tease but her tone is just light enough. She's testing just where lines lie. "Too bad it's not summer. There is a pool here, though, if mood ever strikes you."

Time travel, though, that's a heavy topic. "Well, no actual experience but I can tell you with absolutely certainty that such a thing is possible. It's not as romantic as it sounds, either. It's a complicated mess and sometimes ends up worse than when you started." She laughs. "It's not all bad complications though."

“I don’t talk to fish,” Rhett answers with a lift of a finger towards her sternly, as if /that/ were the only problem with the statement she’d made. “I might be a prince of an undersea kingdom, though,” he jokes. “Cold water doesn’t bother me. But it probably bothers you,” he chuckles softly. “I don’t … ever show anyone what I do,” he admits. He lifts both shoulders, hunching them a little, and one hand draws up and across his neck self-consciously, over the scars. He’s done the move before, usually when expressing embarrassment in some form.

“I hadn’t thought of time travel as romantic. I can just see a lot of unforseen problems if it’s anything like movies of the sci-fi genre depict.”

“Talking to fish would be cool. The fish probably don’t have a lot to say, though. I imagine it’s a lot of repeating ‘food’ requests,” Elaine says, then drinking from her glass as she surveys him, as if sizing up his Aquaman qualities. “I mean, I’ve swum in some pretty cold water before. Not my favorite, but I’m no coward.” She does, however, soften at his mention of not sharing his ability. “I guess it’s different for me, I share it with everyone. I’ve kind of made it a very public part of me these days. It’s probably different for different people though, different abilities.” She looks at him seriously. “You don’t ever have to show me your ability. I will never ask. If you decide you want to, that’s cool but I’ll never push you about something like that.”

She lets out a soft sigh. “There are plenty of unforseen problems. Say you go back to save the world, you achieve your goal but now you’re stuck there. Did that future where you came from disappear because you destroyed it or is it a whole new timeline?” She shakes her head. “Yeah, I’ve already gotten as close as I like to that. I’ll make my mistakes and live with them. No going back.”

“If you want to see it… It’s probably not very interesting to observe,” Rhett answers. He’s watching her with a strong gaze now: he’s odd about his freak quality, and his careful watch of her reaction about it is clear. Her reaction to it could make or break the mood of the evening.

“And I don’t do anything at all without water. It could be worse, don’t get me wrong. But I’m not an impressive show.” Rhett smiles, but has withdrawn a little further, he sits back and looks at his water glass. “Just helps with being alone.”

“I want you to be comfortable is what I want,” Elaine says, gently and firmly. “So we leave that alone until when, and if, it becomes relevant.” She sounds absolutely certain of it, leaning forward to look at him. “It’s not about being a show, it’s just a part of who we are. Just another part, not good or bad or anything, just a thing.”

She offers him a smile. “I’m a fan of anything that has your back. You’ve got someone else to do that too, if you ever need.”

Rhett dips his head at her, a soft smile surfacing. Either he’s accepted her words, or buried his feelings, or maybe both. He’s simply easygoing and comfortable on the surface, once again: a calm pond. He looks at his bowl, finishing the last of his second helping with a swipe of spoon, making a sound of metal briefly scraping.

“More that… it’s just swimming. I expect you can picture it,” Rhett says finally, chuckling, with a short, humble smile, before he rubs one palm along his jaw and next to his mouth, eyes sliding to the side, into some thoughtful place. He doesn’t look deep in thought, but there is a disconnect.

“I can guess, sure. It’s easy to just say ‘oh it’s a thing with water’ and have it be more complicated than that. I can sum up most of my ability with a sentence sentence but a lot of it is just… it’s nuanced,” Elaine explains.

“—— You can sum it up in lots of languages, right?” Rhett interrupts teasingly, suddenly ‘back’ and present, with a sideways flick of his pale blue eyes towards her. There’s a slight narrowing to his eyes, but the light little smile betrays it as nothing more than comfortable tease.

“Don'na gengo demo hanasemasuga, rikai sa seru koto wa dekimasendeshita.”1 The Japanese rolls crisply off her tongue, as neatly as if she was a native-born and spoke it all her life. Elaine smiles wryly at him as she continues what she was originally saying. “Sometimes things are a little more complicated than just ‘Oh hey, I can speak Japanese’. Like one day I just noticed that the definition of language is very broad. Codes are a form of language. I did a lot of that during the war, coded messages to deliver to people, made up my own codes so that the right information got to the right people.”

Her smile softens. “We’ve got what we’ve got.”

Rhett gives her an entirely blank look at the Japanese, but smiles anyway. He doesn’t know what she said, but also doesn’t ask: he’s aware she knows HE doesn’t know, and if she chooses to translate, then she does. Otherwise, he’ll just let that be an interesting demo. “Codes. I know morse code, but don’t start tapping, please,” he chuckles. “It would take way too long to get through a sentence, I think, this evening,” Rhett answers. Not a swift language! He picks up his cup, having a little bit of water, though it may seem more like busywork. He checks on how far she is into her meal, though he doesn’t rush her at all. She’s done a great deal of talking compared to him, which occupies lips from eating!

“Do you enjoy things like Sudoku or are they just too easy to bother with?” Rhett asks, curious. “Is it also memory based? You must have to remember huge dictionaries of vocabulary.”

“So in case of emergencies, send you some morse code?” Elaine smirks, though she’s certainly trying to picture a situation where she might need to. There’s always the possibility for something like that, especially these days. “It works sort of like a sponge. When I first hear it, I don’t understand it. It sounds like, to me, how that Japanese probably sounded to you. So then I go about listening for a longer period of time. Text books and audio programs are great. You give me a couple of days and I go from not knowing something to just understanding it innately.”

She reaches up and taps her head with a fingertip. “It’s all there once it’s there. I suppose the real ability isn’t that I can learn them fast but that they all stay up there. It isn’t like those sci-fi shows where they have a device or something that spot-translates for them. For me, it’s just like speed learning and an incredibly flexible brain to keep it all in there. Remembering stuff is what surprises me. It’s just kind of a way of seeing language and just innately embracing it.”

“Sudoku’s interesting. It’s a puzzle, sure, but it’s not a code. Those numbers don’t represent language in the same way the numbers in binary do, or a simple letter-number substitution code represents language. Basically if you’re trying to communicate something in a repetitive meaningful way, I can understand it.” She smiles, suddenly. “It’s really kind of something. I just wish I could understand people the way I understand their language.”

“Hopefully there isn’t a limit to languages, and you end up wanting a new one, but you have star-trek language stuck up in there in the way,” Rhett chuckles, but he’s clearly listening, interested in the whole explanation.

“That’s really an impressive ability, Elaine. I can see why your job is doing as well for you as it is. Can /you/ talk to fish?” Rhett asks, with an accusing little point of finger, as if she’d been holding out on him all this time. “‘Food food’, is that what you’d said?” he asks.

“I can do that too. Fictional languages, I mean. Like I said, if it’s got some kind of fixed way of understanding it, I can learn it. I sound like an utter nerd, but I can speak to you in Tolkien’s elvish,” Elaine rests her head on one hand as she takes a good moment to try and contemplate the idea of her being the one who talks to fish.

“You know, I’m not entirely sure. I suppose it entirely depends on how animals meaningfully communicate. I’m not sure if their ‘language’ so to speak is necessarily words as much as it is concepts. If I say ‘food food food’ it’s one word but the same concept. It means the same thing. What if fish have a dozen words that could mean food but it varies based on the context. I think animal communication is probably pretty complicated or we would have learned something about it by now.”

She shrugs. “I’m not against trying to talk to fish though. It’s entirely possible my ability could figure it out.”

“I’m not interested in speaking to fish, but dolphins, or whales? That… would be something else,” Rhett says, a thoughtful wonder entering his tone. He blushes for some reason, quietly censoring what he might have been going to add to that. “Dolphins have complex languages and dialects, from what I know,” is what Rhett does say, as if he did know that, but he’s being obfuscating about it.

“If you were curious, could get you some recordings. See what you made of them,” Rhett says, but shrugs, letting it go. He doesn’t expect his interest to be interesting to /her/ really. “Translator by my side, I’ll finally ascend to king of atlantis, leave this princedom behind.” Rhett finishes out his water as if it were a beer, and then reclines back, drawing his hands off the table to lace his fingers over his abdomen.

“I’ve heard that too. I’ve heard dolphins are probably the closest animal to actually communicating with people in a meaningful way,” Elaine murmurs, though she does sound intrigued at the concept. “I wouldn’t mind taking a look, or rather, a listen to them. I imagine it might be tricky. My ability took a bit to even really understand code, years really. Eventually I just noticed that I was recognizing the patterns. I’m gonna have to listen to a lot of dolphins.” She smiles at him gently, as if getting the picture that this was, indeed, something important to him.

“Really, you’d make a great king of atlantis, I think. Much better than whatever crummy guy they’ve got on the throne right now.” She seems to be thinking for a moment. “I do like to imagine, sometimes, what it would be to have someone else’s ability. This is all up in my head… if I hadn’t told you exactly what it was, you might have just thought I spoke a few language and that was the end of it. I guess I’m curious how it feels for someone else.”

She pauses suddenly. “But I won’t pry. Forget I said anything.”

“Zero of mine is in my head,” Rhett answers, with a brief smile and shrug. “I told you I was simpler,” he reminds her. The smile is indeed brief, it’s gone quickly. “Mine’s… I feel my way. Like how silk is soft. Different kinds of water have different textures in them. A layer under just being wet, or a temperature.”

Rhett considers her, and looks at his empty water glass. “And that’s comfortable. Maybe like… if most of the time you lived in a dark house, but could go outside in the sun and feel it on you. That’s like water to me. Going outside.”

Elaine leans forward, definitely sounding interested. “Does it feel normal to you? I’ve always grown up feeling like it was supposed to be like that, that people are supposed to think the way I do about language. It didn’t feel different, not at first. Even now it just feels reflexive. It’s not something I actively use, it just happens around me, like I’m breathing in words and their meaning.” She reaches for her water glass and empties the last of it, looking back at him but watching carefully. She’s trying not to tread into uncomfortable territory.

“That’s so neat though. You describe it so well.” She chuckles. “Sure you don’t want to trade? You’d look pretty good marching around and talking elvish and I think I’d make a pretty cool mermaid.” She gazes over at him again. “But we don’t have to talk about it. I know it’s not…” She trails off, trying to find the words.

“Whatever happened to you, it’s okay. It won’t happen again.”

She doesn’t know exactly what it was, but she knows that pain. She’s seen it behind her own eyes, looking in the mirror.

“I said my ability is simpler. I did say it’s not impressive to look at here in an apartment. I can’t very well swim in a bathtub,” Rhett answers, his tone restrained, but not sad. “But I didn’t say I wanted it to go away, or to trade it. I don’t hate it, I’m not even upset that it’s part of me, not really. I’d rather have it than not. It is just… linked to the part of me that…”

Rhett searches for how to phrase it. “That just dives to the depths, or stays away from land. Where all the people and problems are. It’s tempting, in a way. I’m aware of the water just being better, in a lot of ways. But it’s not. I don’t have a good way of explaining this.” Rhett shifts restlessly, and chooses to stand and pick up his things, to take them into the kitchen area to put them into the sink. He turns the water on and rinses his bowl out very efficiently, eyes down into the sink.

“Well, if you ever decide to show it off, there’s a pool on the first level and there’s usually no one in there, especially this time of year, even with it being indoors,” Elaine says, though she’s looking a touch more concerned. “I mean, I kind of get what you’re trying to say. It’s something that’s different. Not better or worse, but in some ways it’s safe and protects you from problems you might face elsewhere.”

She gets to her feet, scooping up her own dishes and moving to stand next to him at the sink. “It’s kind of like my job. It’s not inherently a bad thing, it’s part of who I am and what I do, and sometimes part of me just runs away to it to avoid the troubles and problems of the rest of my life and makes me forget my loneliness. It’s not bad or good, but it separates me from the life I should be living when I don’t balance my life properly.”

She places a gentle hand on his arm. “You don’t owe me any explanation. Just be you and I’ll be happy with that.”

Rhett is clearly listening: he seems to always have at least some measure of attentiveness, even if he isn’t looking at her directly much of the time. It’s part of his quiet style: like he’s turning things over in his head as she speaks: present.

Rhett looks down at her hand on his arm, and turns his other hand over, and across, in a ‘give me’ motion of fingers at the dishes she brought over. There’s just a silent request in it: like being asked to be allowed to contribute. He puts her dishes in the sink as well, and brings his left hand up against the water faucet, angling his fingers into the faucet’s head a little, causing it to jet, with high pressure, out onto the plates, which he turns under the water low in the sink with opposite hand. He does one, then the other, flips off the water, and turns the plates towards the back of the sink. All of the water fluxes off of the plates and he lifts them out, clean and dry, stacked, and offers them to her.

With that, he just lifts his hands, now dry as well, in a quiet sort of ‘there’, and, still silent, picks up his water cup to refill it.

Wordlessly, Elaine delivers the dishes to him. She watches in silence as he cleans the dishes. It’s a simple thing, but the impact is there. For a second, she doesn’t move, as if she’s forgotten how to, but eventually she takes the plates. She moves away from him, returning the dishes to their homes in her cupboard before she slowly turns back towards him. For someone with a mastery of language, she’s finding it extremely hard to find words. So she does the best she can.

“Thank you,” She says, as earnestly and as sincerely as she’s ever been.

Rhett smiles with his eyes more than he does with his lips as one brow lifts towards her verbal offering. “My majestic dishwashing skills,” Rhett chuckles, making fun of himself with light self-deprecation.

“Impressed?” He now smiles more realistically, though it’s close-lipped, and he rolls his eyes, allowing a deeper and more realistic chuckle to get through. It’s just dishes, and he knows it’s underwhelming, which has made it funny.

“I’m joking.” As if that might not be clear. “Disinfecting things has always been useful. There’s been water pumps out in the far ends of the safe zone that I was able to treat with this. That’s real water - that’s /life/, to some people out there.” Rhett turns, leaning his butt against the edge of the sink counter, looking to Elaine now. He finds it easy; she’s only a few inches shorter than him, and the eyeline is comfortable.

“Even the king of atlantis has to have clean dishes. When he’s not eating underwater, that is.” Elaine smirks. “But to be real, I am impressed. You might think that’s a simple, unimpressive feat, but I certainly can’t do that and I don’t know anyone who can and that’s something to be proud of.” She pauses. “And restoring those water pumps? That’s way more impressive than anything I can do. You’re right, that’s life to some people. That’s heroic, even.”

She gazes back at him. “I know your relationship with your ability is complicated. But it’s still you, so I like it.”

Rhett sets his hands on either side of the sink edge at hip level, curling his fingers around the edge of the tile a little bit. It’s a relaxed pose for the most part, though there’s some tension through his shoulders and forearms that causes minute little movements in the tendons down his forearms.

“It’s a big part of me, I’ll grant you that,” Rhett agrees, smile one-sided, hooked to the left. It’s a tiny hint of the playful streak that gets buried, a rogue’s little smile. “Past, present, future. A big reason why I moved away from being a doctor. Maybe I’m meant for water pumps. I don’t feel shame in the plumbing. I like being of use, in a way that doesn’t cover my hands in blood.” Rhett taps his fingers on the edge of the counter then lifts them away, folding his arms across his mid-chest.

“So unless you want to take me swimming, is there apples in our future?” Rhett asks.

“Trust me, I get that. Not being covered in blood is nice. Being of use is nice. I never really had too much of a choice with my ability. Hard to really use mine in any sort of blood-creating capacity.” Elaine sounds amused. “But plumbing is good. I’m jealous of your ability to help. Maybe I’ll find some way to use mine to be more helpful. I’m not really sure, but… it doesn’t hurt to try.”

Like she’s got time for that.

“Oh! Right, the apples. You said you were good with cutting some, right?” She moves about the kitchen, retrieving a sharp knife and a cutting board and setting them on the counter next to him. “Hm, slices or chunks…” She moves to gather up the apples and place them near him as well. “Slices, I need slices.” With that, she’s off, bustling about for ingredients in the kitchen, moving with the grace of someone far too familiar with the space. It’s routine.

“We’re making apple crisp.”

Rhett suddenly is in the way. He decides to just stay put: trying to dodge or anticipate where she needs to be is more difficult than just staying. He figures she’ll instruct him to move if he’s not in a good spot, or blocking a cabinet. Besides, he’s lord of the sink right now, so he can wash the apples off, locate a cutting board without going too far, and begin to cut the apples up.

“How thin do you need?” Rhett asks, attention on the project more than the discussion they’d been having. He didn’t really know what to do with her claim of jealousy, so relaxing into some manual labor? That’s his distraction, much as her work seems to be for her.

This is where Elaine is most at ease. Were her metabolism not so high she’d probably have gained weight from the amount of food she’d prepared in this kitchen in the past. Often neighbors were gifted with baked goods which certainly made her well-liked in the building. This, though, was where she let off steam. This is her water.

“Pretty thin, the thicker they are the longer it’s going to take for the oven to make them soft so unless you want to wait all night for them to bake, you probably want them like a quarter-inch.” Elaine moves to pull out supplies—she’s certainly well stocked. What she hadn’t gotten from Rhett she’d gathered up from places she’d found in the Safe Zone so the staples like flour and sugar were fairly easy to obtain.

Half of her ingredients are unlabeled, Elaine simply going from memory, though she’s definitely measuring things out entirely. None of this guesstimating of measurements. Baking was a science and it paid to actually measure amounts. “I’ve made this more than a few times, it’s one of my favorites. Sadly I don’t have any ice cream to go with it, but… maybe next time.”

“Ice cream isn’t going to be something I’ll provide,” Rhett observes with a wry quality. “I stay away from things that can immediately go bad, like milk. Cheeses are a /maybe/. Last week I found both the cocoa I brought for you today, and some dark chocolate in bar form, swirled with a few other things - white chocolate, caramel, some sorts of ground nuts,” Rhett shares. He’s just chopping the apple now, in an even way, though there’s no actual measuring to it: he just has a good gist for size, and he’s decent with the knife, slicing the apples up evenly as he works through them. One pice of apple does disappear into his mouth, though, a casualty of asking Rhett to do the cutting. Chef’s tax!

“Is this a type of pie?” Rhett asks. He isn’t entirely sure what an apple crisp is, it seems: but he doesn’t run into many crisps in his usual life.

Elaine chuckles. “Well, it’s a good thing I know a fresh supplier. It’d be hard to bake without butter, for one, so I’ve got to know where I can get the more perishable ingredients.” She glances back over at him. “Thankfully there are actual suppliers for the basics in the Safe Zone. I don’t have to get someone special to bring me those.” She winks in his direction before she looks down at the bowl where she’s mixing some ingredients together.

“It’s kind of like pie. Picture the filling from an apple pie, but then take and top it with a granola-esque crunchy topping. The ingredients are pretty simple, the apples really do all the work.”

“It isn’t that I can’t,” Rhett chuckles. “I just know better, for what my time is worth, and that stock doesn’t sell for enough. Sometimes I get to be a smart businessman. It’s rare, but sometimes,” Rhett observes, pausing with his apples to see what she is mixing, before going back to the careful slices.

“Good; I’ve risked my life to do a test on these. Not poisoned, it seems. Very tasty, a little tart,” Rhett gives as the verdict. He picks up one of the slices, offering it across to her for a similar taste test. The fruit is crisp and pleasant, little bits of moisture showing on the cut sides like droplets of dew.

“Making money is very important, so it sounds like you’re going with the things that would make you the most. I certainly appreciate the work you do, I couldn’t spend my time finding all these things on my own,” Elaine sighs. “I don’t know how I have time to do anything these days. I suppose the more you do, the less you have to think about things. I guess I’m doing a lot of that.”

She moves over to take the fruit from him, popping the slice in her mouth for a quick taste test. After she samples it, she nods her approval. “Tart’s actually perfect for a crisp. The sugar added won’t make it overly sweet and it won’t end up too syrupy.” She pauses. “I thought you were the king of atlantis. You aren’t supposed to taste test, someone might kill the king. I, the humble servant, should be doing that.”

“I’ll keep that in mind, then, except for the beverages. Those you need not worry about,” Rhett says graciously, as if he were taking a large weight off of her shoulders by not needing her to sample his royal vintages.

Otherwise, Rhett doesn’t have a lot to add about the baking process, so he just nods along to her description of the kind of apples she’d prefer for it. He has a little pile now of slices. “How many more apples?” he asks, gesturing to the amount he has already cut, pausing to set the knife on the cutting board and waiting until she’s given judgement.

Elaine returns to his side to take a gander at the pile of fruit, then looks over at the glass pan’s size to properly judge. After a moment, she just grabs the pan and piles the fruit into it, spreading it out evenly. “Give me like… two more? And place them in there, just like the rest of them.” She returns to the two bowls full of ingredients she seems to be making, bringing one bowl over near him, waiting for the apples to be finished before continuing.

“The great thing is, this is a really simple recipe. We’re already almost done. Minus the baking, of course.”

Rhett nods, dutifully, and pulls two more apples into the chopping area, removing the cores cleanly and continuing to make the same even slices he’d been working through before. “About how long will that be?” Rhett asks. There isn’t impatience in the question: he’s following along and asking the obvious questions when they present themselves, to keep the conversation about the crisp going. It isn’t like he’ll be making crisps on his own time: so it’s just an interesting thing to try out - not necessarily to retain as information.

Except that it’s something she likes: which could be something down the line of importance. It’s the little things, now and then.

“Something like fourty-five minutes, give or take, depending on if the apples get soft enough. They need to be soft enough that you can break them apart with a fork, but not so soft that they’re just mush. Texture is important for a crisp.” Elaine explains her method as she begins to sprinkle some kind of cinnamon mixture over the top of the apples. “Most of the filling is just the apples and the juices from the apples, so we actually don’t put a lot in.”

Next she retrieves the other bowl which contains a mixture of oats and a few other ingredients. It does quite resemble granola, if not a bit soft. She sprinkles that over the top, sets the bowl aside, then carries the pan to the oven, sliding it in. She sets a timer, then turns to face him.

“So you’re stuck with me for nearly an hour. A tragedy, I’m sure.”

Rhett moves aside to give her space with the oven, observant of the fate of his freshly cut apple pieces. He picks up the cinnamon after she’s finished sprinkling it. “Do you need to add more cinnamon to the next list?” Rhett teases her mildly, setting the container back down. He doesn’t fully remember if he’d recently got her more; so the question was a real one.

Rhett smiles warmly as she explains that it will be an hour. “I don’t think I can stretch doing these dishes and cleanup into being a full forty five minutes of process, much less an hour,” he observes. He’s collecting the dirtied items to the sink, very clearly intending to do his cleaning process to the preparation items too. It’s efficient, he won’t be cleaning the bowl or anything else for very long.

“Probably. Cinnamon tends to go pretty fast around here. It’s a very easy way to make desserts,” Elaine chuckles, mentally going through the list of things she needs. She actually goes as far as to check her supplies of ingredients as she puts them away before she moves to watch him wash the dishes. She genuinely seems interested, even if it’s just washing the dishes.

“Oh dear, I guess that means we’ll have to have a conversation like real people do when they aren’t occupied by a distracting task.”

“Like the ones we had over food? Heaven forbid,” chuckles the man. He’s doing the dishes, true, but he isn’t making a show of it. He’s just doing quickly without fanfare or even much obvious ability use - use the ability where needed, but not in some showy or unnecessary way.

“It’s not my preference to talk about ingredients that are going low for an hour either,” Rhett asides, with an arch of brow. “Though beggers can’t be choosers; it is what we had in common from the get-go: you ask, I supply.”

Elaine leans against the counter, still watching the dishes. "Well, we don't have to talk about business for an hour. Maybe it's a commonality but I'm certain we share something in common other than food supplies. Surely we can occupy ourselves. Otherwise I can start rambling about something you don't care about and I'm sure no one wants that."

She winks. "I wouldn't want to subject you to torture."

“Well, you won’t know if I don’t care until you start to ramble, I suppose, so that’ll have to be a risk you may need to take,” Rhett offers as he dutifully finishes the dishes and sets them out on the counter, completed.

“What about a tour? Or do we need to stay and mind the desert?” Rhett asks, with a gesture towards first the complex as a whole, then towards the desert, as if it were a child that might need to be watched carefully.

"I mean, that's a pretty big risk. Rambling is a dangerous hobby and an acquired taste," Elaine explains, knowingly. She moves, taking the dishes and putting them away. When she's satisfied with the kitchen, she fishes her phone from her pocket. "I can turn the oven off remotely or even watch what's going on inside of it from anywhere."

The phone is tucked away. "The perks of living in an apartment complex that's more technologically advanced than most companies." She gestures around. "Allow me to guide you through my ridiculously lush apartment that I could never afford in my lifetime."

“What do you mean, can’t afford it. You live here,” Rhett asks, skeptical, and coming around out from the sink back into the dining area, clearly expectant of a grand sort of tour of the apartment itself or even the complex. It’s certainly something to do other than, well, ramble.

“I have a number of boats, I live on those for the most part. It varies; I find things and spruce them up, sometimes to sell, sometimes to keep for a little while: usually both. Keeps me mobile though usually I’m docked in Sheepshead.”

"No, I really mean it. I can't afford to live here. This place retails for something like $4.9 million. I live here because my company lets me. For free. It's the perk of working for Yamagato. They're good to me, so I repay the favor how I can. They're even paying for my masters degree so I'm more suited to my job."

Elaine is clearly pleased at her role and just where she's at with the Fellowship. "There's the risk of corporate espionage though. That's the downside. I prefer my workplace bomb-free." That last bit doesn't sound like a joke. "Being mobile must be nice though. That freedom." There's a wistful sigh.

"Anyway, here's the kitchen. State of the art, two ovens, and an absolute dream. The steam I've let off here, figuratively and literally, is enormous." She gestures around. "It's got all I could ask for."

“I still insist that you /can/ afford it, because you have the job that you have,” Rhett does insist with a chuckle, shaking his head. “If Yamagato decides they need more handymen, I’d consider it, though my freedom is a big deal to me. A pool doesn’t sound like enough space,” he smiles. He observes the kitchen as she begins her tour.

“I don’t want to make you feel bad, but this is such… opulence, compared to the shacks of those in collapsed buildings of the north. It’s a little difficult to look at… how big that difference is, for me,” Rhett comments. He rubs one of his biceps with the other hand, eyes reflective, but still warm. “A few days ago I was trying to help insulate a building because they’re freezing.”

"I get paid well but I'm certainly not that status of wealthy," Elaine shakes her head. "A lot of the job is just perks. You can get into a lot of places simply by name alone. It's pretty nice. Some things money literally can't buy." She chuckles lightly. "They've got all kinds of opportunities, if that's the sort of thing you're willing to do." She pauses. "The pool's pretty big, for the record."

She beckons him to follow her as she moves to the bedroom. Once again, a modern white look has been made to look cozy with splashes of earth tones on the walls and bed. The space is clean, save for the spot on the bed covered in cat hair where Inger is sleeping. "It does seem unfortunate. I've been there, too. Almost froze to death on the streets because I had nowhere to go."

“I was able to go to the water,” Rhett says, in a way that is just simple fact. Going to the water’s edge made him not freeze to death, by how he phrased that. He notes the sleeping animal with a tiny smile. “You’ve got a lot of space for a one-bedroom,” Rhett says kindly, for lack of something else to say about a bedroom that isn’t going to have some odd second meaning that he doesn’t want to imply.

“Did I see a spa downstairs, too?” Rhett asks.

"There was a really bad snowstorm in New York. People couldn't leave their houses, really. This was… '07? Something like that. I didn't have anywhere to go so I almost froze and nearly got the shit beaten out of me by a gang." Elaine reaches over to scratch Inger behind the ears. "Here's the surprise. It's actually two bedrooms. This is the smallest apartment they have here. The second bedroom serves as my office."

The mention of the spa causes a wide smile to reside on Elaine's lips. "You did. It's pretty amazing. Almost as good as cooking to get stress out."

Rhett stays back by the doorway out of the bedroom itself, perhaps to give Inger space, or also just out of general decorum about staying out of a woman’s bedroom and personal zone. She may have anticipated him coming to dinner, of course, but not with the expectation of a tour of her personal areas.

“Oh, before the war. Yeah. For me, everything changed around the war, not before,” Rhett moves backwards into the hallway, and looks down towards where he presumes the office is. He gives a quiet nod.

Thankfully, Elaine either had the foresight to clean her apartment or she simply was naturally used to keeping her place clean. It would have been borderline model apartment if it weren't for little knickknacks here and there that actually make the place look lived in. "Oh, things have been kind of shit for me since long before the war."

She seems to think hard about that for a moment. "On paper I look like the American dream. Pulling myself up out of a shitty situation, finding a way to help in the war, overcoming obstacles to dig my way up to a prestigious position at a major corporation. All I need now is a white picket fence. Maybe another cat. Cats are a good replacement for kids in that scenario, right?"

“American dream,” Rhett echoes, his tone reserved. “I suppose. Is it your dream? Fence, cat, kids?” he wonders. There’s that distance again with Rhett, and body language that goes along with it. He’s listening, but over time, familiarity with him can help detect the somewhat subtle adjustments he makes when he goes more internal. On the surface things are fine, he’s just being mellow, thumbs hooking onto his pockets as the tour appears to complete. He heads back towards the couch area where he’d put his jacket down, moving a hand to rest on it, as if tempted to relocate his presence from being so obvious in the center of the room at the couch.

"I'm apparently a pretty good mom, despite not being one." Elaine doesn't really elaborate too much on that. "It's not really a thing I've considered, not for a while. All I know is that I don't want to be alone, so however I fix that is up to the world to decide." She shakes her head. "I just miss being comfortable around someone."

She's in thought now, apparently mentally traveling down several rabbit holes at once.

“I hear raising a child is more involved than raising a cat,” Rhett chuckles, misunderstanding her reference to being a pretty good mom. After all, he doesn’t know that she might mean something beyond Inger.

“Not being alone can mean different things. At least, that’s how I see it. It can mean the electrical repair crews of teens and 20-somethings I collect to do this job or that. It can mean trading buddies, bar buddies,” Rhett smiles to her. He considers for a moment, and then approaches her with some care, and attempts to gently set a hand on her shoulder. It’s companionable and warm, but if she moves aside he won’t pursue.

“When you’re ready, I’m sure there will be another woman that you can find. If that’s what you want. I figure you know this, but. Time heals. If or when you’re ready for her, she’ll be out there, I think,” Rhett says, attempting to comfort. There’s a quiet honesty and humility in it: the only motive is to see that she feels better.

"Oh, it doesn't have to be a woman. Robyn just happened to be. Wasn't expecting it, really. Feelings can surprise you." Elaine offers him a smile. "But really, you're right. Not being alone means different things. Inger is good company, too, I just like to be able to connect with someone. To understand someone. Gets me through the day."

She reaches her hand up to pat his. "What about you?"

“Oh.” Rhett blushes. “I thought that was your… preference.” Rhett adjusted his other hand to kind of gesture to the whole of her with palm out. Some of his behaviors were oriented around that belief: and the offer of friendship was purely within that structure: politely and without expectations of other kinds.

“I don’t have a pet, now. Though I’d consider a dolphin if I could communicate with him a little bit,” Rhett says, embarrassed.

Elaine is suddenly grinning, though it’s playful more than anything else. “Ah, so you were lured to chilli because you thought you were safe from the dark machinations of a powerful woman.” She laughs, shaking her head a bit, her grin turning to a genuine smile. “My preference is that I enjoy people. Usually ones with nice smiles and personalities that never get boring.”

She turns to face him fully. “Scared of me now?”

Rhett laughs, an easygoing sound, though he does draw his hand down, resting it back against his jans pocket again, three of his fingers pushed down into the pocket. “Yes, now I’m very clearly in deep trouble,” he answers smoothly.

“No more than before. Just for different reasons.” Rhett lifts his head back and up slightly, giving her a staredown as she turns to fully face him that way, a query in his eyebrow.

Elaine laughs again, this one sounding like a more satisfied one than as if she were laughing at him in some way. “A lot of trouble.” She doesn’t seem at all convinced of that, gesturing him in the direction of the bathroom. “The bathroom’s there, it’s worth noting that it has heated floors and a touch screen you can use from the toilet. Ah, the marvels of modern technology.”

She’s studying him now, however, as if trying to size up something, though it’s impossible to tell what.

“It has what?” Rhett asks, diverting to this new item with perhaps more attention than he might otherwise have given it. He approaches the bathroom to squat and test the floor with his palm, turning his head to look up at her as if he’d caught her in a fib.

“Also, I question the sanitation of that kind of touch-screen for people other than myself,” Rhett adds, now standing back up in the restroom and turning his pale eyes to the touch-screen. “I don’t like it,” Rhett says, “As it makes it less likely you’ll call me to fix any of this.” He steps back out of the bathroom though, intending to pass by her.

“It’s not as if the bathroom isn’t cleaned all the time,” Elaine snorts. “I keep a very clean place, especially when guests are over. It’s polite.” She’s soon laughing again as soon as he explains his reasoning for not liking it. “I mean, do I have to have an excuse to get you over here? Don’t make me break my toilet on purpose. Do you know how hard that would be to explain to someone?”

She straightens up, turning away from him as if speaking to a person he can’t see. “Right, yes, that’s good but I have to go home now. I need to break my toilet in a way that’s hard to fix. The more challenging the better.” She rests a hand on her hip, but she gives him his space to move. “I thought the lure of chilli and apple crisp would be enough to keep you coming back.”

“There’s other options,” Rhett assures her kindly, seeming to relax a few degrees. It isn’t real relaxation, but boy, is he doing a very good emulation of relaxed.

“Like the garbage disposal. More impressive, too, risking life and limb.” Rhett clears his throat, and checks his watch, with the easy question, “I can smell the crisp already; how much more time until we can taste if my cut pieces were the right thickness?” Rhett asks. He’s being a little avoidant of looking her right in the face, but not unnaturally so.

While Elaine has a hunch as to why he’s a little more cagey, she doesn’t try to point it out, instead continuing with the playful laughter and tone of voice. She does take a moment to check her phone before tucking it back into her pocket. “Still got a few minutes. My hour’s not up yet, you’re still forced to keep me company. I’m going to hold that crisp hostage for as long as I can.”

She moves, casually walking to stand between him and the kitchen. “What are you gonna do about it?”

“That’s up to you, this is your tour,” Rhett reminds her, dropping his hands now, then loosely folding his arms low under the level of his chest. It isn’t a defensive move, folding his arms like that, but it may be subconsciously self-comforting.

“Do you have a laundry room that does your laundry without water, or something equally insulting to my profession?” Rhett asks her, with a judgy look that’s playful but still held back. It’s like he’s keeping his emotional volume dampened: like rock music kept down just a little to not disturb the neighbors.

Her hands are on her hips now. “I’ll have you know I do laundry like a normal person. Although I’ve got to say if you’re threatened by a washing machine you might want to get your priorities in order.” Elaine chuckles, though she stays where she stands. She’s not budging. “Should I just give you all my laundry and pay you to wash it now?” She teases. “Probably a bad idea. Then you’ll know what I wear and I won’t be able to plan an outfit you haven’t seen when you visit.”


It appears Rhett has been saved by the sound of a timer going off, and Elaine whirls to fetch some oven mitts from the kitchen. “Looks like that’s the sound of your freedom.”

“I do plumbing problems and appliances. I don’t do laundry,” Rhett clarifies with some dignity. “And I accidentally do my own.” There’s an open bafflement and curiosity around her comments of planning outfits for him, though. “Why would it need to be something I hadn’t seen? Is this a thing? Surprise clothes?” Rhett asks. There’s no dampening now: he really is distracted by the facts she’s presenting. “Because I do not do that.”

The whirling away, though, gives Rhett a moment to relax his shoulders, arms uncrossing, as he watches her go. If he’s looking at anything other than just her back, she’d turned away, and won’t catch it either way.

After a pause, and some internal monologue, he follows.

There’s almost a facepalm, but that’s barred by the fact that she’s wearing oven mitts. Elaine pulls the glass pan carefully from the oven, setting it down on the counter where it can cool. She shuts the oven and takes off the mitts before facing him again. “So, I’m going to preface this with the fact that not everyone does this, but there is a strong majority of women who do.” The mitts are tossed onto the counter.

“Sometimes you find outfits you really like. Things you look good in. And what happens is you wear them when you especially want to look good. You want an event to be special, you want to impress someone, that sort of thing. The point being you’d know all my clothes.” She shakes her head, retrieving a fork to poke at an apple slice to test the firmness of it. “Not that you’re doing my laundry anyways, thank goodness. I think I’ve settled on breaking my toilet.”

“You didn’t like my garbage disposal idea?” Rhett asks serenely. He’s moved around into the kitchen but has put the kitchen island between them. He leans forward onto it with both forearms, though, facing her, and folds his fingers together comfortably. It means he’s slightly bent over, due to his height, and it creates a relaxed posture. He observes her testing the apple crisp from his position there.

“I didn’t get the memo that the objective was also to impress me or to have a special event. In that case, no, don’t cause your toilet to overflow,” Rhett advises. “That is a different kind of special event.” He’s evened back out, it just took a few minutes for him to gather himself, resuming the vibe of a pleasant and supportive friend.

“Garbage disposal is a great idea but I’m not sure if I could convince you to fix it and bandage my hands up. I could probably only get one of those…” Elaine takes a moment to bite into the apple slice, then moves to hold up the fork with the piece of apple to him. “Be careful, it’s hot. It seems to be done though.” She watches him while she holds the fork.

“It’s not like you send out a memo as to when you’re wearing something nice to impress someone. Usually that’s a bit more subtle.”

The garbage disposal answer horrifies Rhett, and he plays along. “Please tell me you’re playing. If you ever /do/ need to block up a disposal, please just drop a hard object into it that is not your hand,” Rhett says, with some disturbed pain coming into his expression. “Or mine, for that matter.” A smirked smile follows. He had looked over to the sink, lifting one hand to rest his chin against it with elbow on the counter, but then he finds her coming towards him with the fork extended. There’s a quick surprised dart of light blue eyes and an open quality to his face when he finds her doing that. The mask, or buffer, that he so often has up was gone for a time there, displaying a gentle curiosity: fearless and interested.

“Well don’t burn me,” Rhett answers, gaze moving to the object on the fork, starting to lift one hand to take the fork, but then more appropriately reading her body language. Instead, he drops the hand back to the counter; he allows her to guide it close before he bites it off the fork.

“I’ll be sure to be careful around garbage disposals,” Elaine promises. “I have never done something that foolish, I assure you. My lifetime full of injuries is all made up of stuff not my fault.” She offers him a wry smile. “I’ll try to make my jokes a little less cutting.” There’s a bad joke there, but she’s not going to push the idea further. Not when there are apples.

She raises the slightest bit of an eyebrow as she looks at him. He went the unexpected route. She looks a touch off-guard, but she carefully guides the fork to its destination, being sure not to burn him. “I suppose this will all determine if I can lure you back again.”

That he didn’t get a grin when he chose to eat off the fork brings some uncertainty up in Rhett: and he automatically blushes. That’s a reaction he can’t very well dampen. Still, he draws back after being given the apple, chewing it, and making her wait for his decision.

He considers, and then gives no verdict. Then gives her a look like ‘what’?

“Oh, did you need the decision now about that?” Rhett asks, thoughtful. “I’ll base it on a full slice, if you don’t mind,” he says, easing his arm off the counter and coming around, eyes now on the food, to turn his head away towards that. He realized he was probably flushed.

When he doesn’t give her a verdict, Elaine is suddenly the one to blush. Her face turns red and she quickly turns to face the pan of apple crisp. Wordlessly, she bustles about, getting plates and a large knife to properly cut up slices of crisp. Once they’re all in front of her she intently works on plating two generous slices with the speed and skill of a perfectionist—she’s not rushing it. Not even if it makes it so he has to awkwardly stand there and watch her do it.

Eventually, both slices are plated and forks laid out, and she turns to face him, holding both plate and utensil in his direction. Unfortunately, that means she has to look at him and she’s still pretty red. “Okay, try this.”

Rhett shuts up quickly as she turned away so fast to the plate. Well, that did give him a second to regroup too, rolling the taste of the apple against the inside of his mouth briefly. He then just stands there, entirely patiently, though she may feel his eyes on what she’s doing. He doesn’t rush her, or move around, he just waits, observant of her perfectionism as the makes the plates just so.

Rhett accepts the plate from her, and does another slight extension, an overture much as accepting the apple was. He takes hold of the plate, but he does it with his hand shifted forwards a little bit, such that his forefinger of right hand brushes the back of her fingers where she’s holding the plate.

“Looks perfect,” Rhett tells her, blue eyes on her for that moment of contact before he’s looking down at the plate so that he doesn’t end up losing the contents onto the floor or their shoes. He accepts the utensil with other hand.

Elaine freezes for half a second. It’s only a moment, the brush of a finger and a caught gaze, but it certainly did something. She doesn’t look shocked or surprised, nor anything remotely negative. Instead she’s adopted that perfectionist mannerism again. Once she’s sure he’s securely got the plate and fork, she turns briefly away to grab her own.

When she turns back she’s still just as red as she was before. She lifts her fork to take a perfectly portioned bite of the crisp before she says something in response to his words. “You mean the crisp.” It’s said as if an unnecessary explanation of what he said, but by the way she sudden freezes again… she hadn’t meant to say that out loud.

Rhett, as soon as she turned away to grab her food, looked heavenwards, towards the ceiling. Like…. Come on, Rhett. You are bombing. What are you doing.

He’s back to looking at his crisp plate when she looks back to him, though, and comes up with that funny little question about the situation.

Rhett silently looks at her, letting that statement sit. He watches her, but then reprieves her from his stare, stepping back, and walks towards the table. There’s a brief self-beratement, which then is why he attempts to say what he thinks she wants to hear, without fully turning: “Yeah.”


Of course he means the crisp. Elaine, for a split second, isn’t sure if that makes her disappointed or not. It only lasts a second, though, because she throws herself back into easily distracting banter. “I’m sure it tastes even better than it looks,” she says, quickly taking a bite of the apple crisp.

This is a mistake for two reasons.

The first is that it’s very hot and she didn’t particularly wait before shoving a large forkful into her mouth. The second is that a full mouthful of apple crisp meant that she couldn’t rely on her words to be distracting from what was rapidly becoming a bit of an awkward mess. She covers her mouth with one hand, trying not to burn herself while she eats it, and glances over at him. It’s at this point that she doesn’t turn away awkwardly. She smiles sheepishly, hard to see behind her hand but easy to see in her body language. She shrugs helplessly as she stays looking in his direction, as if to wordlessly say ‘what can be done about it’.

She’s come full circle and the awkwardness has mostly passed.

Rhett had moved to the table to seat himself there, with a slight clatter of his fork against the plate as he seated himself, and looked up. This does mean he takes in the FULL show: all of the giant bite that she’s trying to handle, and then the very very clear message that it’s very hot, and she’s trying to take the mistake with grace.

Rhett’s internal walls had started to come back up. Two overtures didn’t seem to register, and he’s taken a hint to back off of doing that. That means he’s virtually stuck in his chair during her sheepish actions and shrugging.

Still, he can make the best of it. The food is clearly hot. Buuuuut……

“Wow. Tastes that terrible, does it?” Rhett asks, with a click of tongue against his teeth. “Spit in the sink if you have to. Clog up that garbage disposal. I won’t watch,” he says, gritting his teeth to avoid smiling, and ‘skeptically’ pokes his slice with his fork as if it might be poisoned.

Part of her was ready to laugh it off and just move forward but Elaine suddenly finds that a lot harder than she’d pictured a moment before. She stomps towards him with her plate, setting it down on the table near him before she proceeds to entirely invade his personal space. She stops, standing a touch too close with an expression that is a weird mix of humor and frustration. He’d really done it now.

She points at his crisp. “Eat, dammit, just eat it now.”

“We’ve been through this. You taste the king’s food. I need to see if you’re going to die,” Rhett replies simply. He holds his ground - in that he doesn’t get out of his chair or anything. He sets his fork next to his plate and looks at her coolly, not backing down from the apparent challenge she’s set about doing.

Rhett gets people up in his space a lot, there’s a relaxed adjustment that he does; the awkwardness dies with it, as he ‘stands’ his ground. He watches her mouth with slightly narrowed eyes, as if unsure if she did in fact swallow it or is hiding it in a cheek like a squirrel.

Elaine’s not usually the kind to go off the deep end. So the play between frustrating and amusing has sent her down a rabbit hole she certainly didn’t make and one she’s not sure how to get out of. He’d turned her words against her. She gapes, just slightly, actually unsure of how to come back from that one—for just a second. She stops. She stays in his space, licking her lips of any apple related product, and then she just… waits.

Now it’s a game of chicken.

Has she challenged the quiet, often contemplative and patient man to a game of being quiet?

Rhett watches her kaleidoscope of emotions roll through her face, slowly relaxing internally. The awkwardness has departed, as soon as he stopped being… weird about things. The banter is easier, better, right. Maybe. He tells himself that. It’s a self comforting thing.

As it is, Rhett has plenty to mull over while he sits in the chair, though he pointedly adjusts his position just a smidge, resting one arm on the table, the other loose to rest one hand on his thigh. And they just look at each other; calm quality from his light blue eyes, one brow just slightly up.

Nothing but clear skies and quiet amusement in his gaze, which she can freely find if she chooses to meet his eyes with her own brown ones.

Maybe she had started it as a game of chicken, but as soon as Elaine falls into silence, as soon as she really stops, there’s an entirely different game going on. She makes no move to change her distance from him, though she shifts her weight to readjust it. She wants to be comfortable in the space she’s in. Normally, being in close proximity of someone would make her feel a little too vulnerable for her liking, but she’s not. Maybe not too vulnerable, at least.

She lets it stay as silence. While everything in her screams to use her words to do something, anything, she doesn’t listen to that. Instead, she just looks at him, brown eyes meeting blue, letting whatever silence that was there do the communicating.

Elaine may expect that some kind of stubborn pride will rule here. That the game has to be won for the sake of the fact that yes, Rhett /could/ sit there and be at peace physically (and at least pretend to be so mentally) for a very long time: at least longer than most people. His calm quality, that is natural enough when he’s not forcing it, is a boon with patience with others or life in general. He could stubbornly ‘win’ this.

That isn’t what happens. He recognizes something, and very gently gives way. “Well,” Rhett says. “I suppose you’re not dying,” he says. His tone is graceful, in the tone of a polite apology. He takes the step down without taking any actual pride blow. He’s doing it because he’s sensed she wants him to.

He doesn’t break the hold of eyes at first, then has to, to look aside to his plate, and scoops a chunk off the side of his (now much cooler) piece of crisp, to eat, gaze returning to hers.

She wasn’t expecting to win. Elaine watches him cautiously, as if unsure if he’ll stop at the last second and turn things around on her. When he doesn’t, when he actually takes a bite of the crisp, she still watches. There’s only a brief look of mild confusion on her face before she turns, just slightly, and pulls out the chair next to him. She sits down, then scoots the chair slightly closer to his.

The move is deliberate, and she can’t do it quietly—unfortunately even these chairs are doomed to squeak on the floor when moved and adjusted. While she broke some distance between them when she moved to sit, she purposely tried to reclaim some of it. She scoots her plate of crisp closer so she can eat it, but it’s almost an afterthought. “No,” she agrees. “I’m not dying.” She breaks the gaze for just a moment as she turns to scoop up a bite.

“It’s a good thing. You’d miss me if I were dead.”

She takes a bite of the apple crisp before lifting her head back up and turning to meet his gaze again.

Rhett eats the crisp with apparent interest in it while Elaine adjusts her location of her chair compared to the table. He doesn’t appear to notice the movement at first: or at least, he doesn’t pointedly look at it. Even if he didn’t verbally say the crisp was great, he’s eating it with a mode normally reserved for people who like what they are eating.

“Yes, that’s true. Something for me to worry about,” Rhett begins, after swallowing the bite he’d had in his mouth, and surveys her. “It’s only me that’s said that I’ll be here, that I don’t intend to go anywhere, as I recall,” Rhett says, extending one hand out to perch the palm on the near corner of the back of her chair. He doesn’t touch her: just the chair, thumb curved over the upper edge, and his other fingers towards the back of the chair’s backrest.

The negative space between them has formed; in the triangle from his arm to her chair, and the zone between them bordered by the table. It is a person-sized space, the invisible empty zone, unoccupied, made of the uncertainty and awkward quality of the air. Still, the position of arm doesn’t ward anyone from being there.

“I don’t think you’ll have to worry too much about that, though.” Elaine takes a bite of her crisp, her words more measured now that she has the time and space to puzzle them out. “I don’t die easy.” Something in his words strikes her just enough that she pauses in her attempt to cut an apple with the side of her fork. For a moment, she looks at him wordlessly, not because she’s unsure of what to say, but because she wants to make sure that when she says it, he knows she means it.

“I’ll be here,” she says. She opens her mouth to elaborate, but doesn’t. She just watches him.

Rhett had stopped eating to offer those words about permanency, to place his hand where he did, to add the grave and impactful quality to what he’d been hoping to convey to her.

He senses the words landing home on her, sees it in her wordless look, her eyes full of something she isn’t saying verbally. His empathy, while a talent, is not a power, and he does not get full sentences from her eyes alone.

Still, he gets enough: enough to bring a gentle, subtle smile to the surface, and a nod of head as he accepts what she said. He draws his hand off her chair and replaces it at the table, attention coming to the crisp to cut into it and pull off another bite.

Elaine’s still struggling with the silence, despite finding comfort in the way they’ve settled into things for the moment. She takes another bite of her apple crisp, though this one’s more thoughtful than before. The eating is part of the silence, it’s something to help her deal with it. Something does occur to her—the dessert on their plates is slowly dwindling.

“If I said I’d cook again, would you come?” She frowns, not quite expressing what she means on the first try. “Would you come soon?” It’s a little better.

Rhett angles his gaze up out of the crisp that has managed to disappear in the last little while. He’s speedy about food. It has to do with not keeping it in his mouth very long - the liquid parts, anyway. He spends more time enjoying the solid things like the crust. It doesn’t dissolve as fast for his taste.

“Hm? Yeah. When?” Rhett asks, automatically switching mentally into scheduling. His question is entirely casual, agreement easy and immediate. There’s zero sense of making it any more difficult than it is.

Scheduling she finds hard. While she’d like to just say ‘now’, that makes no logical sense. Any other time other than now meant Elaine had to consider the entirety of the outside world. There was work. Her lips quirk to the side in a bit of a scowl as she considers when would work. “… two days?”

She’s not entirely sure she’s not doing anything in two days, but the number sounded good. “I’ll make whatever you like. I chose this, you should pick something.”

The scheduling has pulled Rhett’s mind into the future, into outside of the room. “Two days. What’s today, a Wednesday?” Rhett asks, moving his free hand to press into his eyes with thumb and the edge of forefinger, as he thinks about his schedule, and movement of different goods. His brain has adjusted to the outside world. “No, Thursday. What was I thinking,” Rhett chuckles at himself, dropping the hand.

“Saturdays are heavy for me. Sunday would be better,” he says, putting his fork on his plate, and collecting both things to start to stand. “Lots of people want to trade on Saturdays since they aren’t working, is all, and I have meetings that aren’t close to this end of the safe zone,” Rhett explains evenly. If unobstructed, he’ll head to the kitchen to do cleanup.

The idea of their time being up isn’t something Elaine is enjoying thinking about, but she’s faced with the reality of it. She watches him retreat out of their space in exchange for the safe spot at the sink, and she remains where she’s seated. “Sunday, then. I can do sunday.” She’d make sunday work. “At least business is good, right?”

She gets to her feet, moving to the kitchen too. Where she moves to, however, is the pan with the rest of the apple crisp, which she moves to put into a container. “Take this with you. It’ll be a nice reminder of what all your hard work is going into.” She places her hand atop the container, sliding it over in his direction.

“You can do Sunday?” Rhett repeats more loudly, over the sound of the sink. His high-pressure use of the water makes it noisy. He nods once and looks back down to the plate he was cleaning. He’s still working on it when she comes over, but finishes and shakes water off his hands into the sink as she’s putting the crisp into a container.

“You’re giving me all of it?” Rhett says, embarrassed. But he doesn’t truly raise a stink over it. Maybe he just wants the apple crisp.

“All right, all right,” he says, picking up the crisp. It occupies his hands, then. “Sunday. I’ll aim for around five, does that work?” Rhett asks. He sets down the crisp temporarily on the counter, heading to the couch to fetch his jacket. The hint was made that he should go, and he’s on a roll now, having picked up the signal.

It had been a long time since signals were a thing for Elaine. “Sunday is good,” she repeats, her gaze floating about the room for something, anything, to say. “Take all of the crisp. I made it for you, after all. I can have crisp anytime. Now you have something so you won’t forget me in the next couple of days.”

She decides she didn’t like her phrasing, but doesn’t bother trying to explain it away, simply moving towards him so she can escort him to the door. “Five sounds perfect. What should I make?”

“If I can come up with something like a pork tenderloin, can you do something with that?” Rhett asks, as he slips on his jacket, drawing a scarf out of the inside pocket to wrap around his neck. He’s sensitive about his neck, whether or not she’s seen the behavior before: there’s more than just a heat thing.

“Have I ever forgotten our meetings for trade? You’re memorable,” Rhett teases her. He attempts to squeeze her upper arm once with his palm, before picking up the crisp and going that way.

“I’ll see you Sunday, then.”

“Yeah, if you bring something I can certainly cook it up, I’ve got a good collection of spices,” Elaine says, her pace carrying her to the door. As he squeezes her arm, she returns it with a similar gesture, just a gentle placing of her hand on his arm briefly before it moves away. “You’re pretty memorable too.”

She opens the door with one smooth motion to allow him his freedom. “See you Sunday.”

There isn’t anything further… other than that as he makes it to the door, he turns a little towards her. There’s a hesitation.

“Sunday,” Rhett says, and with a friendly nod and reserved smile - just something held back just behind his eyes - he heads off down the hallway, smile and manner serene. At least on the surface.

Elaine doesn’t close the door right away after he exits her apartment. Instead she lingers in the doorframe, watching him until he disappeared down the elevator and out of sight. She looks both ways to ensure no one had noticed her before she darts back inside and shuts the door behind her.


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