Finding Footing


elaine2_icon.gif rhett_icon.gif

Scene Title Finding Footing
Synopsis Elaine and Rhett find their footing for the new year amidst a sea of discussions of a very serious nature.
Date December 31, 2019

The Skyfish, Yamagato Docks

“It’s been pretty chilly out on the water,” Rhett is saying, as he escorts Elaine down the docks. Funny, to be back on the very docks where they used to do all of their ingredient trading; he’d come by, and they’d exchange spices or chocolate for cash. That seems ages ago, long in their history. A lot has happened since then, though it has all be in a fairly brief amount of time. “Are you warm enough in that?” Rhett asks of her coat, bumping against her side a little.

Rhett squeezes her hand in his. He made certain that gloves were present, this time! In his other hand is a bag of spices and some other food items they’d picked out earlier, suitable for making something to eat on his boat, assuming that some fresh fish would be brought in over the course of the stay. The champagne is part of that, as well: new years isn’t proper without something to toast with.

The plan? To stay overnight, or maybe an additional day, out on the water, under the open sky, in easy view of any fireworks that may go off over the city. A private little outing, in Rhett’s element.

At least this time he had reminded her of the gloves. The coat she had picked was her best, a dark grey peacoat with big black buttons on it, all of which are buttoned up tight. Elaine keeps her hand in his, doing her best not to shiver a bit. “I’ll do alright, I’m perpetually cold anyway.” She chuckles. “I think this will be the longest I’ve ever been out in the water, though.”

She offers him a smile. “Promise to rescue me when I fall overboard?”

“I’m not going to let you fall overboard,” Rhett says, with some mixed horror at the idea of that, but laughs, letting go of her hand to encircle her shoulders with his arm protectively. He pulls her shoulder towards the side of his chest. “But if you did, of course I promise. But I intend to hoard all underwater escapades to me personally during winter. If you want to go swimming, we’ll go back to your place and try out that heated pool or jacuzzi you told me about.”

Rhett leads her down the docks, towards where a skiff is currently located. He isn’t always able to dock, depending on the current things docked or permits, so a small skiff will need to be used to get back to his boat this time. He climbs on, and offers her a hand, to seat herself behind him. “Only a few minutes out from here.”

“Well, if I end up in the water the fish will tear me to shreds, so… you better swim fast.” Elaine leans against him as they walk. “I do think we should do a dip in that pool sometime, when I’m safe from your fish girlfriends.” She’s not letting that joke go, it seems. Soon as they’re down by the docks, she takes his hand to get settled in behind him. “Maybe one day they’ll accept I only mean the best for you…”

Really, though, now she’s distracted by watching the water. She seems a little eager, especially as this isn’t something she’s particularly used to. She’s never spent that much time on a boat, much less spent the night in one.

Rhett’s used to all of this, including with passengers. “Okay, normally passengers don’t get to sit close, but you do,” Rhett smiles at her. “Hold on tight, no fish girlfriends get to grab you.” Rhett smiles at her, turning over the motor on the skiff, and guiding it out smoothly out of the docks. He steers it around two other ships, and then down past the end of the docks, where his sailboat is waiting. The trip isn’t long, just a few minutes on the lightweight, quick little skiff.

Rhett pulls up next to the larger ship, and pats her arm, next to the ladder leading upwards. “I’ll give you a boost. It’s slippery sometimes, so just take care, Elaine.” He lashes the skiff temporarily to the boat, and turns to help her.

“Okay, I’ll do my best,” Elaine’s experiences with boats are the small cluster of times she’d visited Pollepel when it was a Ferry refugee point. Those boats were much smaller and simply transport ships, but they were boats, at least. Once they’ve come to the edge of the boat, she waits for him to be in position before she even starts to attempt the ladder, perhaps being overly careful so she doesn’t slip.

“Hope the water’s not too choppy,” she murmurs, although this is mostly to herself.

Rhett is careful with her, making sure she gets up entirely before he partially climbs the ladder, leaning back own to haul on the rope on the skiff, pulling it aside to one section of the boat. “Here,” Rhett offers, handing her the keys to the cabin, and the bag of groceries. “Go ahead inside, it’ll be warm. I’m just going to pull the skiff up. I’ll be there in a minute.”

Rhett gives her an immediate smile, pleased to have her visiting his home, and then attends to the skiff, looping another rope over the back of it while leaning out over the water, hooking under it and then pulling the rope into the pulleys needed. From there, he’s able to haul it up out of the water, to the inset area on the side of the ship.

Taking the groceries and keys in hand, she moves to the cabin and unlocks it, heading inside. Elaine’s immediately grateful to be out of the wind, moving to set the groceries down out of the way. She pokes about a bit to try and put them away, but doesn’t really pry too much into his stuff. She can at least get the perishables where they should be, and she takes care of that before moving to sit down.

While he’s not there, however, she takes the opportunity to visually take everything in without looking like she’s gawking. Sure, she’d been there before but now she was actually not so distracted by bandaging an injury.

Most importantly, Rhett knew she was coming. The interior of the cabin is extremely clean. The last time she visited, it was loaded with weird buckets and crates of various things, but that has been reduced to neatly stacked buckets under a table, and most all of the crates are now gone. There’s a simple couch next to the rounded main table, a kitchenette across from it. The couch is covered with two warm throw blankets; one is red and dark chocolate brown in checker patterns, the other just a slightly faded deep gray fleece. Next to the door she entered, leading dowards, is a door that leads into a spare sleeping quarters that has mostly stacked supplies in it. Down further past the couch leads to the main sleeping area. The bed, with deep blue sheets and comforter, is neatly made.

The interior is warm and cosy, the mixed wood finish and white interior is bright and comfortable, once the lights are on. A little generator makes a low humming in the background. There are quite a few things that make it feel lived in: there are decorations, in the form of mounted pictures on the walls. Rhett seems to prefer photographs; there are some different ones, mostly city-related, protected from the sea air in plastic. Some mugs dangle in the kitchenette, showing interest in different locations, places Rhett has visited (<3 Miami!) and so on. Extra clothes in the bedroom are present, but stacked out of the way. There’s a comfortable charm to the place; it’s lived in, but he definitely cleaned.

Again, he was expecting her.

The fact that he cleaned up was cute. While Elaine mostly kept a clean apartment, it was a lot easier to clean when she had plenty of storage space so that everything had its place. Here, storage was at a premium. She takes those moments to look around, even peeking in over at the bed to check out that previously unexplored area, but she finally returns to the couch to settle in there while she waits for him.

Her gaze goes to the photographs, studying them as she tries to make out the skylines of the cities.

The door opens, and Rhett’s coming back in, looking around for her quickly, and spotting her right away. There’s only so many places she COULD be, after all. Rhett comes over, removing his coat and scarf, and gloves. “I’d offer a tour of the Skyfish, but you can see most of her from where we’re standing,” Rhett chuckles softly. “My bedroom, there’s an attached bathroom, and then this kitchen, my entertainment area—” a gesture is made to the couch as being that with a chuckle. “And there’s another set of quarters there, but I use them for storage.”

Rhett comes towards her to sit next to her on the couch. “It isn’t much. I know. It’s one of three boats I manage. Sometimes I’ve had a fourth, but usually I sell one off after i’m done fixing it up. I haven’t done that for a while, these have been running okay.”

Elaine is seated on the couch, easily visible when he enters the room. She isn’t, in fact, overboard. She’s taken her gloves off, but still sits with coat partially on, slowly working the buttons off. She glances around as he gestures to each area, then cosies up to him on the couch. “So this is for entertainment, huh?” She shrugs her way out of her coat. “Do you take all your pretty redheads here?” The tone is entirely teasing. She doesn’t seem to think for a second that he’s doing that sort of entertaining.

“You’ve got a whole life aboard this boat. I almost feel like I’m intruding.”

“I want your pretty redhead in my life,” Rhett answers her evenly, tone soft, but honest, and firm. That’s the way it is. “I wanted you to come. I guess I should have had you bring some things to leave laying around the way I have in your apartment.” Rhett smiles at her, gladly tucking her to his side. There’s a subtle sway to the ship, but it isn’t heavy; the size of the watercraft minimizes the movement, and the water isn’t currently choppy.

Rhett slips a hand out to undo the bottom button on her coat for her. “It’s strange to have you here,” Rhett admits. “I don’t want it to be strange.” He brings his head in close, to offer a kiss to her cheek.

“Well, you’ve got this one here and on your entertainment couch,” Elaine teases, but she looks back at him. “Well, I’ll bring some next time. I’ll be sure it’s something warm.” She could probably think of an outfit she could squirrel away, hidden in one of the corners of his living space. The coat is set aside now, allowing her to more fully settle in close to him. “It is a weird thing, yes, but it would be nice for this to be just as familiar as my place.”

She returns the cheek kiss. “It wouldn’t be fair if I didn’t invade your space as well, you know.”

“Your phrasing, Elaine,” Rhett laughs. “Intrude. Invade.” Rhett gives her a sideways look, one brow lifted. “So aggressive. Neither thing can happen when you’re invited. When you’re here with me. I want you to share in my life, Red.”

It’s been a month since he’s tagged her with that nickname, it was from their original meeting, before names were really a thing to use much. “If you still want to do this. To be together. I come with all of this,” Rhett says, drawing his lips near her cheek again though he doesn’t kiss her, pulling her securely to his side.

“Well, I’m glad you want me to share in your life, even if it’s a life I never thought I’d be sharing in.” It’s hard to tell if she means with him or with someone on a boat. “I do want to do this, of course.” Elaine sticks her tongue out at him, then tucks herself in closely against him. “It’s just such a different surrounding. I like it, though. I like seeing this side of you. I get to learn about all of this and about you at the same time.”

She kisses his cheek. “Whatever package deal you come with, I’m still buying.”

“I don’t feel like I have to live out here. This is just… what happened. As much as I feel like a freak sometimes because of the water, it is a big part of me, and…” Rhett tries to figure out how to explain it, but then shakes his head. He leans his forehead towards her head, and strokes his nose against her cheek softly.

“There wasn’t a lot left for me on land, if that makes sense. Now, though…” Rhett quirks a smile. “I have more reason to come in and stay. A big important reason that I’m in love with.”

Elaine reaches up to stroke his hair, drawing him in closer against him. “You aren’t a freak, you’re just my Aquaman.” She smiles, softly, trying her best not to make him feel like she’s dismissing his feelings about it all. “This is where you felt comfortable. This is where you’ve made a life and there’s nothing wrong with it. You don’t make fun of me for living away in my ivory tower.”

She finds his hand with her own free one. “You’re comfortable here, so I’ll give it a shot too.” She smiles wryly. “I’m just worried I’ll end up in that water.”

“You’re safe with me, when it comes to that.” Rhett looks down at their hands, and holds hers securely. “That, I can promise.” Rhett is sparse when it comes to promising things, using that exact language. And promising safety in particular is very meaningful to him, there’s a solemn depth to the way he says it.

“I’m the best lifeguard you could possibly have. And I wouldn’t ever put you in danger,” Rhett adds, inclining his head to her stroking fingers in his hair. “You’re too important.”

“Good,” Elaine murmurs. She might have been playing with the joke a little, but he could tell that perhaps there was a bit of residual nervousness there about the prospect of falling overboard. “I’ll just do my best not to end up having you dive in after me.” She leans her head against him a bit, fingers continuing to play with his hair even as she tucks herself more securely at his side. “It must feel kind of nice, being able to be around the element that’s such a part of you.”

She certainly likes the idea of finding some way to embrace that part of yourself.

“Well,” Rhett says slowly. “Underwater, it’s like… I can fly,” Rhett explains, with a slight flush in his face. He draws her hand up, and gently kisses her knuckles, then plays with her hand, opening it, and begins to slowly kiss each of her fingertips.

“It’s a world of creatures and life below, and I can fly there, into this immense place. I feel… powerful there. It’s hard to describe what that’s like.” Rhett kisses her thumb, and smiles over it at her, a quiet quality in his gaze. “If I could share that with you, I would, but I don’t think that’s possible.”

“I can sort of understand it. I imagine it would be strange for someone to comprehend what it’s like to be able to understand and speak as many languages as I do. It’s like picking a word and suddenly having a whole library in front of you to express it. Books and books in all different languages and you can just pull from it like it’s nothing.”

It’s hard for Elaine to really describe what her ability feels like, so to hear her try is interesting. “You’re lucky, though, that sounds amazing. I wish I could experience that.”

“So, say you could fly. How often would you come back down?” Rhett asks her. “Turns out, often, when the things you love are there.” Rhett drops a hand to her leg instead, finishing with his kisses of her fingers, and releasing her to do as she will with her hand.

“Has your gift always been comfortable? Easy? No headaches, or difficulties, or anything like that?” Rhett wonders. He looks interested in her, and the questions still come. “How did you first know you had the ability?”

“I guess that’s true, if I could fly and you were down below, I wouldn’t fly as often because I’d just want to be around you,” Elaine agrees, though she turns a little to face him when he asks about her ability. That’s something she’s not used to and it’s visible to her when he seems to take an interest.

“It’s always felt natural, like it should be this way for everyone. I only noticed it because once I was home sick as a kid and started watching a Spanish telenovela, figured out what was going on without subtitles, and then by the end of the day I could speak most Spanish. My parents were very calm about the whole thing, I think they were just glad it wasn’t something dangerous.”

She leans her head back to look at the roof above them. “It’s always been like breathing. It all just starts to make sense in my head, like a puzzle solving itself, the pieces just snapping into place. It’s gotten stronger over the years, but I still feel like there’s much more to it, I just have never seen where it might go. Codes are what really made me think about the nature of language. If someone’s sending coded messages, is that code not a language in and of itself? Those symbols or letter combinations all mean something because it’s meant to be read by someone who understands it. So it’s language.”

“Does it feel… off, or bad, to not use it?” Rhett asks, following her gaze up to the ceiling, then smiling privately, instead choosing to watch her and her expression as she explains her ability more completely.

“Does it feel like something to use it? Or is it just like anything else — if you didn’t know other people couldn’t do it, I mean, would it just feel the same as learning say, some other skill?” Rhett wonders.

“It doesn’t feel like anything, to be honest. It’s so much a part of me that I don’t really understand how another person learns and understands language,” Elaine looks back at him. “There’s no choosing if it’s there or not. If I’m exposed to it, I learn it. I could learn it slower, sure, if I’m not exposed to it, but if I try, if I put effort into it, I could learn something in a day, just like that. Like… cramming for a test.”

She rests her head on his shoulder. “That’s not the weird part, though. That right there is basically just condensing the learning into a rapid pace, understanding it faster than one person might be able to. But the tricky part is… how does it stay up there? Somehow having entire vocabularies of dozens of languages that I’m able to remember and bring about to speak with at a second’s notice. I’ve studied a lot about learning languages, but that might just be the tip of some iceberg hiding up in my skull.”

“Hmmmmmmm,” Rhett says, quietly. He kisses her on the forehead, strokes her hair, as she settles her head on his shoulder, his arm around her. “Sounds to me like you are brilliant and still have a lot of potential left to what you could do with it, if you wanted to. Or you can be as ‘normal’ as you want,” Rhett smiles.

“Makes you really special, is what I think. And maybe there’s more to it. But I think you’re lovely either way … just as you are, too.”

“My job uses only a fraction of my abilities. Really, I’m pretty ordinary on the outside. I’m not doing anything that someone with a few extra years of specialized training couldn’t do.” Elaine seems to think about that for a moment. “Being able to translate languages is useful, to be sure, but when you’re mostly only dealing with one or two you’re only special because you learned them over a weekend because someone asked you to.”

She shrugs a little. “So I guess I could pass as normal. I do, mostly. I don’t really talk about it much unless it comes up in conversation. Some of the people I know, mostly my coworkers and those friends who have seen some weird stuff, they know. And I don’t hide it, I just… sometimes I think I have something wonderful and amazing and then other times I stop and I don’t think there’s much special about me at all.”

“Hmmmm,” Rhett says, turning to face her, and leans in close, to offer a kiss. One hand comes up to her chin and cheek, to guide for a lingering kiss. Lingering is an understatement, he is sure to make it last, to show by action what he thinks.

“You’re you,” Rhett whispers against her lips. Like that were an incredible thing, in is view. “You’re special to me, whether there’s abilities that are ranked as ‘amazing’ or not. I’m glad you were able to use it for a job you love, mostly. How long have you been with Yamagato?”

Elaine wasn’t expecting such a long and lingering kiss, but she certainly doesn’t shy away from it. Her fingers move up to trace through his hair again, only moving away when the kiss is done. He doesn’t seem so keen in moving so far away, so she keeps the distance, resting her forehead to his as she replies. “A couple of years now, I used to be just a translator, working on translating artifacts and researching bits of history. Earlier this year, though, my boss—”

Here, Elaine actually considers what to say. “They say she retired to Japan. Officially, that is. I’ve been told that was a lie, that she’s dead. They split her job up, the more administrative functions handled by a coworker, the hands on curating organized by me.” She does love her job, she does feel as if she’s good at it, but there are some things that are hard to forget.

Rhett’s expression shows sympathy and compassion as she explains vaguely what happened to her boss. “Why was her death hidden? Something happen at work?” Rhett asks. “If you can’t tell me, that’s fine. I don’t mean to pry if it’s secret information. Yamagato has to have its… secrets, a company that big.”

Rhett smiles, not meaning anything by it, not really. He’s on her side, wherever that side is. “This doesn't mean your job is dangerous, does it? I need to be the one with the dangerous job, in this pair.” He glances out at the windows. “Speaking of that, I’d prefer to fish earlier, before it gets too late. I was with you all morning, so I haven’t gone yet.”

Elaine was vague before because last time she tried to explain something ‘weird’ it went horribly badly. So she asks before she pursues any line of conversation. “Are you sure you want to know that?” She looks away for a moment before she looks back at him. “The weird stuff I told you before? That’s one kind of weird. This one’s a… getting out of New York may not be far enough kind of weird.” She clears her throat, however, trying to act as if this were a very casual conversation.

“You can fish. I’ll keep you company, if you want.”

“Well…. We’re as safe as it gets to talk quietly about weird things, outside of the city,” Rhett says, slowly. He watches her with a quiet thoughtful manner, then slowly nods his head. “Unless you murdered her, I might not want to know that,” Rhett says, with a brief smile.

“Otherwise…” Rhett considers, and then moves to hold her hand. Securely. He’s with her.

“What do I need to know, honey?”

Elaine squeezes his hand, taking a moment to gather her thoughts. This one’s complicated. “I can only tell you what has been told to me and explain it as I understand it. There’s lots of things left out because I just don’t know everything.” She frowns. “Remember how I said there was all that time travel stuff? People were messing with it too much, experimenting with it, and they somehow let out some sort of creature. They call it ‘the Entity’ or ‘the Dragon’ and it’s old, really old. Actual mythology having tales of it old. So these people let it out accidently, put it back in and then when people were doing that whole time travel thing again they let it right back out.”

She looks at him slowly. “With me so far? Dragon. I don’t know much about it other than that it’s really powerful, world-destroying powerful. So that’s a thing that’s going on out there and I honestly don’t have a clue what or where it is. But here’s the part where it gets personal. I had two bosses, Kimiko Nakamura and Kam Nisatta. Both have been very kind to me in the past, both were very positive and encouraging of me and said I have a great future. Suddenly Kam’s not there. Work gets awkward, we don’t know anything. Ms. Nakamura shows up, announces Kam retired to Japan, and she gives me the job… not the full job, mind you, she gave me what job she could feasibly give me for being so young and not having the experience or education to back it up.”

She looks down at her hands mostly while she explains, glancing between her empty hand and the hand that’s gripping his tightly. “So I came to find out from someone I consider a reliable source on all things weird, that Kam was killed by Kimiko. Shot in the head. And that was because Kam was somehow hosting this Entity.” She lets out a deep breath. “That’s all I’ve got. I don’t know how close I am to this situation. But I know I’m not supposed to know what happened to her, and I’m not supposed to know this Entity exists.” She offers him a weak smile. “This is the part where I tell you I’m going to make sure you’re safe, though. Because I will, no matter what.”

“I can’t imagine a world destroying entity will have any interest in me, I don’t influence much,” Rhett says, thoughtful, and squeezes her hand.

“All right,” Rhett says, going over the words, and then checking to be sure he’s on the same page. It’s the exact same pattern he’s done with other deep information, including the last weird situation she ran by him.

“There is some kind of creature, that has extremely powerful abilities - maybe a person at one time, maybe something else, that people are calling the Dragon. It can end the world - but obviously has not done it yet, maybe it doesn’t want to or it has some other goals - that is released and out there somewhere. It possesses people or puppets them somehow, if we believe who told you — and you believe that person,” Rhett says, and then looks at her as if to check to see if he’s getting it correct.

“Can I ask who knew? Is that person an authority on the Dragon? I don’t want you digging for more or exposing yourself to worse stuff, though, I’m trying to learn who knows about all this,” Rhett says. “If somebody else is taking care of it?”

"Richard Ray, of Raytech. If something weird happens, he knows about it. He always somehow knows about it." That's not something that Elaine particularly sounds enthusiastic about. "He's a nice guy, and he was honest with me when I asked him to fill me in on information I couldn't find anywhere else." She nods slowly. "I honestly don't know who's an authority on anything at this point. Richard knows a lot but that was months ago. World hasn't been destroyed yet, far as I can tell."

She seems thoughtful. "If something weird happens, in general, and you can't get ahold of me for some reason, Richard is a good person to go to for help. Even if he can't help you, he'll know who to direct you to. He knows how to rally the troops, so to speak."

“That we have a contact in case you disappear and I can’t find you is both reassuring and very, very alarming. I don’t have a contact for you should I disappear, but…” Rhett sighs thickly. “But generally I’ll be all right, let’s hope. It sounds more like you’re the one that might get sucked into another reality. Try not to, okay? I need you here.” Rhett smiles ruefully, his arm growing more protective. No portal sucking allowed.

“Richard Ray - that’s easy to remember. But I think we should stay away from this stuff. I like a peaceful existence,” Rhett chuckles. “That’s the key to my survival. Keep your head down - preferably underwater. Not that I would suggest you try that.”

"I mean, I sure hope you never have to come searching for me like that. This is more if cthulu is trying to eat the world and you need some backup getting out of there." Elaine does, at least, like backup plans. "I'm barely a blip on anyone's radar, so it's doubtful you even have to worry. You just stay safe, okay? If anything weird happens, my number one goal is getting back to you, so you can be assured of that."

She pauses, her memory returning to something he said earlier. He was joking, but… "For the record, I have not killed anyone, weird or otherwise. I did shoot someone once, but he deserved it. He shot first and there were kids there. Asshole. Pretty sure he lived, though."

“I’ve had to shoot before. But that was during the war, and again just after it. Self defense,” Rhett shares as well, though he doesn’t seem to be upset or unsure about the situation. He says it very matter-of-factly. “Both times, I missed, though. But the message was still effective.” Rhett makes a face a little, now, rueful about his lack of actually hitting someone with a bullet, but perhaps that is for the best, really. He’s not a violent person, and harming someone may have made him feel differently.

“There are guns on this ship, and all my my boats. Should it come up that you need to defend yourself or the ship,” Rhett lets her know. “They’re on the side wall in the storage room. Right side; left is harpoons, spears and equipment.”

"An effective message is just as important as anything." While Elaine doesn't consider herself a violent person, there are certain circumstances that boil her blood. "That guy deserved to be injured at least. Who the fuck shoots into a room you know is full of children." She shakes her head. "Anyway, it's good to know where things are, in case of emergency."

She'd love to live a life where emergencies like that don't need to be planned for. Life, unfortunately, has different ideas on that. "Fingers crossed they've already taken care of that whole Entity thing."

“I’d almost hate to bring it up, but, is there a way to find out the…status of it? If it is taken care of?” Rhett wonders. His expression turned darker, murderous maybe, at the discussion of shooting into the room of children, but he isn’t trying to hold the conversation onto that. That part is over and done with, and he looks proud of her, if anything.

“I’ve stayed armed since this,” Rhett says, with a gesture at his throat. Since that, he’s felt a need to raise his defense level: for fairly obvious reason. “Had I been armed back then, well. Maybe I’d have been dead, not just left for dead. Hard to know, but.” Rhett sighs.

"You survived it and you're here. That's the important part." There's a lot she wonders about, things she did and survived through, and if she'd do them differently. "You just keep on fighting and I'll have your back." Elaine seems to like the idea of both someone having her back as well as being capable of defending someone.

"As for where it is or if it's dead, I dunno. Not like there's an Entity hotline. Richard knew some stuff but when he told me things it sounded like he just knew about them, not that he was knee-deep in exterminating something. There's someone else I would ask but he's like asking a time bomb for the time of day." She runs her face at the thought. "And there's no guarantee I could reach him and that he'd be helpful."

She shrugs. "So short answer, we don't have a great way of knowing."

“All right. Things to be aware of, but until they’re more imminent… we’ll put it on the back burner,” Rhett answers. He leans in to kiss her forehead.

“As for fishing, I think it’ll be faster for me to go out with a spear; sitting out in the cold waiting for a bite on a line won’t be the most fun for you at this time of year, I think. Would you be willing to start potatoes and some things while I do that, in this nice warm cabin, out of the sea spray?” Rhett eyes the warm cabin as if he were tempted to stay.

“I mean, I’d sit with you out in the cold if it meant I got to sit with you,” Elaine offers him a smile as she says it. “But aren’t you going to get cold out in the water? Or is that part of being Aquaman?” She glances towards the stove, then at the groceries. “But either way prepping the rest of the meal needs to be done and so I will take that bullet. She kisses his cheek before moving to get to her feet.

“It really is nice and warm in here…”

“I know you would sit with me in the cold, and I don’t want that for you,” Rhett chuckles at her. There’s the other motive for the different fishing style: protecting her from being cold on the deck for little reason. “Also, I do know how much you like to cook. But I’m not sure I want to be here flinching as you hate my tiny kitchen,” he laughs.

“I do not get cold in water. It’s part of my kingdom,” Rhett teases her gently, though there’s a tiny bit of pride there. A small area where his ability is decent again, and he does know it. It’s not all bad.

Rhett gets to his feet, orienting, and strips off his shirt entirely, and wanders shirtless off into the storage area. There’s a rig of a harness behind the door that he shrugs into. It’s a cross-body strap system, and has three large metal carabiners on one side, and a knife. He hooks it to his belt and snares a hawaiian sling off the gear rack, coming back out. The sling looks like a pronged spear, with a long elastic band hooked to the wrist. Rhett looks something out of a Waterworld movie!

He comes into the kitchen though, to check. “Find everything you need?”

Elaine’s been poking about in cabinets a bit and seems to have acquired appropriate cooking implements. “While you are not quite as well equipped for fine dining as I am, these will do nicely. I should be able to prepare all that’s needed here.” She does, however, stop in what she’s doing to take a long look at him.

“Yeah, you’re definitely Aquaman. It’s a good look for you.”

Rhett rolls his eyes with a laugh, but he isn’t upset, nor particularly complimented, he’s shrugging it off like she suggested his pajamas were sexy. “Yeah, yeah. I’ll be quick, and I’ll keep an eye on the ship. If for some bizarre reason something happens, there’s spare keys on the gear wall, and there’s a loud horn you can push at the helm to call for me.” She won’t get stuck out there, even if he encounters an Entity in the water. Still, he won’t leave her without feeling like she can rescue herself: he wants her to feel safe.

Rhett nods once, pale blue eyes scanning over her kitchen items. She’ll be able to watch him from the windows, at least while he’s on deck. He heads out onto the deck, flinching at the blast of cold air, runs across the deck and is suddenly gone off the far side, disappearing into the water.

“Okay, don’t be gone too long then, don’t die, and don’t miss me too much.” Elaine smiles broadly. The options for her in case of emergency seem to have done their job—she looks much more at ease. She’s not likely to fall overboard from the cabin as well, so it seems she’s pretty set. “Good luck!”

She watches him as he disappears onto the deck and then off of the ship. She watches for a long moment, as if waiting for something to happen, and then she starts to peel the potatoes.

A few minutes pass, growing into ten minutes. Then there’s the growing thrum of a motor; and it’s getting a lot closer. It was subtle at first, but now there’s no mistaking it. Bright lights also pass over the deck and shine blindingly into the cabin area, bright in the late afternoon lighting, as sunset is coming soon.

Outside, one of the patrollers has pulled up alongside, examining the stern of the Skyfish. But then there’s a shout of greeting, and some voices. Rhett has reappeared, at the ladder side of the Skyfish, and is conferring with a man on the opposite deck. After checking in about it, Rhett jumps across to the patroller’s ladder, and comes up a few steps to talk to the man face to face briefly. There’s a bunch of gestures back to the Skyfish, then out to sea, from the official, then from Rhett.

But things settle, and Rhett gives a backwards wave as he shoves himself backwards off the ladder back into the water. He then does a neat little kick-jump back onto the ladder of the Skyfish, waiting for the patroller to go. There’s a twist of body as he checks visually on Elaine, and flashes her a questioning ‘ok?’ curl of thumb and forefinger as the patrol pulls away.

There is a brief moment when Elaine is paralyzed with a momentary unsuredness. She waits, peeking out the window to watch before she realizes it’s entirely handled. She gives a small wave and mirrors the ‘ok’ gesture to let him know it’s fine. While there’s plenty of situations she can deal with, there are times she just doesn’t know what to do. Thankfully, she’s in the kitchen, a place she’s comfortable in even when it’s not her own.

Rhett watches her a little bit longer, hanging off the ladder partially, as if making sure she didn’t just wave back to him as a reflex. He has the spear hooked to the back of his harness now, because having it in hand like a weapon while talking to the patroller would not have been a great idea. It’s a fishing spear, but it is clearly a weapon. Rhett lingers just a bit longer, soaking wet, and then kicks off the ladder, smoothly re-entering the water. There’s no elaborate dive or anything like that, he slips sideways into it and away from the boat. It’s effortless but not showy.

Rhett is gone for a further eight minutes, before resurfacing at the ladder side. This time, there’s a heavy fish hanging from one of the harness hooks against his hip. He comes up quickly, partially using the ladder but mostly just using momentum from the water: he probably can swim /fast/, based on that. It was like a dolphin just neatly exiting the water, snaring the ladder, and coming up to the deck neatly.

Her gaze occasionally drifts back to the ladder as she works, although there’s not a lot of stuff to really prep at this moment. Elaine’s taken care of the prep work, and even has a couple of plans for how to cook the fish when she’s got it from him. When she spots him, she moves over to the couch and sits.

She’s trying not to look like she was waiting.

Rhett moves aside from the door, and does a weird thing — it’s like he got blasted by a sudden harsh breeze, because water goes everywhere in a spray, away from him. He then troops to the door, opening it, while removing both the gig (the spear) as well as the fish attached to the hook. It’s a dark specimen, but quite large. “Winter Flounder work for you?” Rhett asks, cheerful. “I think I have parmesan and possibly lemon. I’ll clean it for you in a minute,” he offers. Rhett sounds a little weird, like he has a head cold or something.

Rhett looks bizarrely dry, after his little water-blast thing on the deck, wherein he dried himself, but the fish is still dripping, so he gets that to the sink quickly. Rhett also looks at her sideways a little to see her reaction to all this; he’s cold, there’s some tremor to him from standing out on the deck without a shirt, but he isn’t wet AND cold.

“Color me impressed,” Elaine murmurs as she eyes the fish. “You’re just too good at that. Don’t worry, parmesan and lemon will work fine, as will some simple salt and pepper if you cook it well.” She makes her way over to his side, attempting to hug him from behind to warm him, though only if she’s not in the way of his attempts to deal with the fish.

“You really are in your element out here.”

Rhett is a little bit embarrassed, but it comes from an uncertainty. He’s pleased to do what he did, but is aware his method is unusual, and his relationship with it is uneven. “Maybe if you cook it well,” Rhett answers softly, amused. He put the fish in the sink, but turns towards her, setting the spear aside next to the door, as she comes up behind him. Normally he’d go put it away, but her hugging him for warmth is very welcomed.

Rhett’s chilled, his skin cool, but he isn’t wet or awful to hug at all. “Ooh, you’re warm. Come here,” Rhett growls with interest, twisting, bear-hugging her in return, and kissing her neck. His voice is still a little off, a little low, but it’s subtle.

“Yes, my wet kingdom.” Ha ha.

“Maybe I will cook it well,” Elaine chuckles lightly. She proceeds to bury herself as closely against him as she can, more than willing to share her warmth. “You’re going to have to eventually let me go if you want me to help prepare that fish.” She doesn’t actually seem in a rush, though, nuzzling up against him.

“The kitchen’s my kingdom, after all.”

Rhett grumbles in dismay, keeping her close, but reluctantly releases. “Well, maybe you can warm me while I clean it, then we’ll swap places,” he suggests. He tugs her towards him, trying to keep one of her arms on his hip, moving towards the sink in the tiny kitchen.

Once there, Rhett pulls the scaler and a fillet knife out, and his cutting board. A bucket follows as the final item. He winks at her once, but then focuses on the task at hand, which is to quickly scale the fish, then neatly gut and fillet the meat off. All the extra pieces and bones go directly into the bucket; he has an efficient assembly line thing going on, he does this process with fish a lot. Practice causes efficiency.

Elaine steps back to let him move, though she returns to his side once he’s in place to prepare the fish and clean it. She moves in to lean against him, her cheek resting against his upper back, arms around his waist. She makes sure she’s not in the way in any aspect, but she just exists in his space while he works.

She does peek around him every once in a while, watching the way he cleans and prepares things, the part of the process she didn’t really do. He’d always delivered her nice filets, so this was an interesting thing to view. “We really could run a tavern on the coast,” she chuckles, squeezing him just a touch.

“Maybe one day when we’re retired and gray,” Rhett answers her, a warmth in his low voice. His hands are gross, but it doesn’t stop him from turning some to offer her a kiss: though she’ll have to lean up and into it to get it.

Rhett also pauses, midway into the last fillet. “Do you want to try this?” he offers to her, turning the knife in his hand, and looking at her thoughtfully. He moves aside a little, giving her an opening to come forward to try, should she want to.

“When we’re retired and gray,” Elaine agrees. She moves onto her toes so she can position herself to steal the offered kiss, but she shifts positions a little as he offers her the opportunity. “Yeah, I’ll try it.” She looks at him. “If you don’t mind showing me.” She’s at least had plenty of opportunity to use a knife, so her skills will at least be applicable here. “You’re a pro at this. No wonder this is the life you’ve ended up in. You’re a natural.”

“This is years and years of it,” Rhett smirks, but his smile softens quickly. “Some things are natural, but cutting up fish, trial and error. And willing to admit it.” He moves around to bring her in front of him, staying just off her shoulder.

“So, you’ll hold the knife this way,” Rhett demonstrates. “And you bring it just along these bones here,” he shows, lifting the meat he’d started to cut, then hands it over, handle-first. He doesn’t intrude more than that, he just lets her do it, calmly. This isn’t the first lesson Rhett’s ever given, and he has a relaxing style to it. “Just don’t cut yourself, there are lots more flounder if we need more of those. Fewer Elaines.”

“There certainly are fewer Elaines,” she agrees, looking at the knife in her own hand. Elaine’s never run into herself before, but she would have had the chance to had things not gone horribly awry. “Good luck replacing this one.” She glances over her shoulder to smile at him, moving to slide the knife along the bones, doing her best to make it as clean of a cut as possible. “I can see how this could take some practice.”

Once it’s done, she sets the knife down. “I think you’re better at it.”

“All right; if our lives depend on a perfect fillet, I’ll do it,” Rhett teases her in return. “Otherwise, you did fine. And I like watching you. So we both win, mm?” Rhett leans forward to put a quick kiss on her forehead, and then moves the nicely cut fillets aside, cleaning up the rest of the board with a sweep of hand of the rest of the pieces into the bucket. Rhett snares both bucket and board.

“Okay, facing the cold again. Back in a sec.” Rhett carries the things out to the deck on the rear of the boat, his back to her, and dumps the bucket over the side. He scrapes out both with his hand, and, while still turned away, spits a stream of water into first the bucket to rinse it, still using his hand, then the cutting board. He checks both over, flings the water off of himself much as he did when he came in from the ocean originally, and then comes back in quickly.

“Burrrr,” Rhett comments, putting down bucket and cutting board, finally stripping out of the harness. He recovers his warm long-sleeved shirt from where he’d taken it off by the table, pulling it back on over his head and neatly down back into place. It’s a comfy light gray, soft and warm.

“Well, you’ll find that someday skills you don’t find useful for saving the world will become useful again.” Elaine chuckles. “One day there’s going to be a fillet challenge where your life’s at stake.” She watches him head off, checking about for the spices in the meanwhile. As soon as he returns and re-shirts himself, she moves back over to warm him up. “I dunno how you can stand this cold at all. You would think I’d get used to it but I never have.”

She chuckles. “Poor circulation or something.”

“It’s cold out of the water. If I just stay soaking wet it’s no problem,” Rhett answers. “I know that’s illogical, but the water is like a buffer. I don’t want to soak you, though.” Rhett hugs her close when she comes back to him, drawing her hands up to his face, cupping them, and pressing his cheek and then lips to them. There’s a smile and warmth in his eyes. His voice is also back to normal.

“My fillet challenge will be alongside your urgent cake-bake. …. Although I suspect this is just more of our retirement plan, again. Saving our little world, one dish at a time,” Rhett says, kissing her fingers once more.

“I mean, sure, you can stand there soaking wet with no shirt if that’s what keeps you warm,” Elaine smirks. She’ll make that joke. “But it is certainly nice to be able to snuggle up to a dry you, even if I have to warm you up first.” Her cheeks are rosy, perhaps from warmth or perhaps from the tiniest hint of a blush as he kisses at her fingers. “You know, I don’t mind saving the world that way. If that’s all I’ve got to do, I’ll be happy to do it.”

Actually having to be a part of ‘saving the world’ isn’t the best thought anyway.

“I think my destiny has always been healing those that have saved the world. It is a supporting role. I’m fine with earning supporting actor credit here,” Rhett chuckles, smiling at her rosy cheeks over the hands he has lifted to give smooches to.

“Let’s get the fish cooking, then I’ll resume this?” Rhett offers, nodding at her hands briefly, and then slowly letting go. He doesn’t actually step back, which means he is still very present in the kitchen. “What can I do? Slice lemons?” he asks, hopeful to be of service. “Stroke your back?”

“I’ve definitely never wanted to be the hero. Just let me be in the background being some researcher or librarian or something. I’ll help the hero get to where they need to go, but probably end up dying tragically after the hero fails to stop the building from falling on me.” Elaine knows how these stories go. She moves to gather up the ingredients. “Slicing lemons would be fantastic. I think I’m just gonna go real simple and do lemons and salt and pepper. I’m not sure if we have enough lemon juice to poach the fish…”

She seems to be trying to figure out how much she’d need to complete the recipe with just a little bit of lemon juice.

“Maybe my story’s already told,” Rhett suggests. He touches the small of her back with a hand. “Seems I’ve gotten the girl,” he says, with his most charming little sideways smile. Rhett’s generally relatively smooth and disarming, and he’s actually trying now. Which adds a slight flair that might not otherwise have been a part of the mix.

“Great. Lemon slices, it is,” Rhett says, as if he were fine with the temporary diversion, going to get a count of the lemons. “I have a lime back here. Can we use that too, mix them for more volume…?”

“You have to stick around for happily ever after then.” Elaine smiles at him right back, looking equally as charming. “The happily ever after is just a summarized version of an amazing life together that the author was too lazy to expand upon.” She seems to be thinking. “Okay, actually, I think we’ll do it like this. Juice the lemons and the lime, and then we’ll see how much liquid we have. We might need to supplement with something else, like melted butter or milk if there’s not enough.”

She’s already taking stock of his kitchen, making do with whatever she’s got.

“I don’t have a juicer, and I can’t use my bare hands on the juice, but I will do my best with this,” Rhett says, in a thoughtful, creative pause. He fishes out the fruit, thinking about it, and ends up pulling out a strainer and a large metal fork. He’ll get it done. And he welcomes a little project anyway.

“Did we bring milk from your place?” Rhett inquires. “I know I picked up the butter. I think I made a smartass comment.” Maybe, maybe not, he’s not often too sharp with his comments. He slices the lime first, pulls on a snug blue latex glove, and sets to work on the juicemaking.

“Oh I’m sure you made a smartass comment, that’s very like you. You keep on that, I’ll see what we grabbed.” Elaine proceeds to poke about for where she set the supplies. “Okay! Butter and milk. That should work nicely.” She proceeds to look for what she lay the fish in. Finding a pan (and making sure it fits the whole thing), she proceeds to lay the fish out. “So the object here is that we’re going to give this fish a bath. It’s going to soak in the flavors of everything we have, the heat is going to steam it through and cook it, but a slow enough heat that it doesn’t burn.”

She looks for a bowl to put some milk into. “This should be something you can replicate for those lonely nights without me to cook for you.”

“Those lonely nights before getting on with the happy ever after?” Rhett jokes, but he sobers, unsure exactly if his joke is funny. He’s not sure. “If you need a bowl, there’s one here in this cupboard,” Rhett says, anticipating her need as she looks around while holding the milk.

“How long does the fish need to soak?” Rhett asks, though. He’s well and truly taking in her lesson: he’s paying attention. But then, he always does; there hasn’t been a time where he’s failed to give her his time and attention.

“Maybe those lonely nights when you’re off doing your trips,” Elaine suggests, a smile at his joke—regardless of if she found it funny or not. “Ah, thank you.” She puts some of the butter and the milk in the bowl. She doesn’t worry about melting the butter for now, so she just waits for the citrus juices. “The great thing is it doesn’t really need to soak like a marinade. A marinade you want time for the liquid to soak in, then you remove it from the liquid to cook it. Poaching you just cook the liquid with the fish so the steam sort of pulls it in.”

She glances at him. “For a fish like this I’m guessing it’ll take maybe 15 minutes once the liquid gets up to a strong simmer. Thicker fish, longer cook time, more liquid you’re gonna need to cover the fish.”

“Yes, those trips,” Rhett says, smiling back at her, and the lack of funny. He just likes her smile, and it drew a smile out of him in return regardless. He continues to listen to her, but tunes out just a small amount. Oh, she still has his attention, but he’s watching her with the ingredients, watching her talk, move around his kitchen like she belongs there, is happy there. Rhett finishes his citrus pressing of the lime and lemon he’d prepared, but is giving her a sort of peculiar smile now.

“Hmmm,” is what Rhett says, still looking at her, and pausing in his juicing.

Elaine seems unaware of the extra watchful look. She simply does what comes naturally, setting up food to cook. At last, she looks back at him, having noticed the gaze. She blinks at him for a moment. “You…” She looks around, as if trying to determine if there’s something behind her. “Why’re you looking at me like that? Did I do something?”

“Yes,” Rhett replies. He sets down the lemon in his hand, on the countertop he’s doing his juicing on. “You’re being…. You,” Rhett explains, as if that somehow might be enough to convey what he’s thinking. He pauses, searching for the words.

“I love that you’re here. That’s all,” Rhett says, finally. It’s pure, and easy, and comfortable. He gives her a softened, tender look, but then looks down at the job he’s supposed to be doing with the citrus.

“It’s very hard for me not to be me,” Elaine teases, sticking her tongue out at him. “But I will allow you to take in all that is me, if you need a minute.” She crosses her arms, as if she’s waiting for him to have a good look and then get back to work. “For the record… I love being here. And I’m glad you’ve let me have space in your space.” She glances over after a moment to check on how much progress he’s made squeezing the lemons.

“And thank you for placing me somewhere I won’t fall overboard.”

Rhett watches her, taking the given opportunity to do just that, and look at her. His smile is elusive, quiet. He’s reserved, but not closed off. He does work on the lemons, though he’s looking at her more than he is the project, it seems, at least while she’s talking.

“No, that’s not where you’re going to fall,” Rhett tells her, moving towards her briefly to hook his head in and down, offering a brush of nose and then an affectionate kiss. He doesn’t stay long, he goes back to finishing up the lemons, though, and offers her the bowl he’s made of squeezed liquid.

Elaine’s actually starting to blush, though. It’s one thing to tell someone to look at you, it’s another for them to follow through with it. She looks between him and the food, the blush creeping up all the way to her ears. The kiss does little to dispel the color in her cheeks, and as soon as he’s given her the bowl she distracts herself by pouring all of the liquids together into the pan with the fish, moving the butter bits around so they’ll start melting as she turns the heat on beneath it.

Slowly, she dares to look back and see if he’s still watching her. The blush hasn’t left.

“I didn’t mean to make you feel uncomfortable, sweet,” Rhett says. He removes the glove from the process of the lemon, and comes back over towards her as she moves the butter and fish around. He brushes a hand up her forearm, the back of two fingers, but gives her a reprieve, finally, looking into the pan, now quiet.

For him, it is one of the relaxed quiet times, but he does feel badly for somehow being too pushy with her. So it is silence, now, aside from the sounds of the ocean around them and the heating ingredients of the pan.

“Oh no, it’s not really that I’m uncomfortable, not at all.” Elaine looks back at him as she waits for the food to heat. “I just…” She tries to think of how to phrase it. “I’m used to being looked at, I’m not used to being seen.” She moves over to take his hand in hers as she watches the food. “I feel like you see something else when you look at me and I’m not sure if it’s what I see when I look at me. Which is the real me, I guess.”

She squeezes his fingers, but looks at the food. “But you see something you like, so that’s good.”

Rhett moves behind her, which gives her two things — the ability to watch the food and take comfort in the activity and busywork, and also that she’s not seeing him continue to look at her. And it gives him the close contact he’d like to comfort her.

Rhett gently puts his hands on her waist, then lifts one to touch her hair a little, strokes soft. “Something I love, yes. I do.” Rhett watches the cooking fish over her shoulder, his breathing quiet, manner calm.

Maybe she’s hiding her face a bit, but it isn’t as if she doesn’t like it. Elaine focuses on the food, turning down the temperature a bit when it seems like the liquid in the pan is bubbling too rapidly. She glances slightly over her shoulder towards him. “You’re wonderful, did you know that?” She peeks back at the food. “I wish I could see through your eyes. I wish I had the confidence to be whatever it is you see. Because I do want to be that.”

She’s a little unsure of her own words, so she just looks back to the fish, using a spatula to poke at the food a little bit. Abruptly, she turns her face to look at him. “… what do you see?”

“What do I see?…” Rhett says, at first, as she asks him so abruptly. He then looks into her eyes, and his expression changes a little bit. She needs him now, he can sense it. That what he says will be important: between them, and to her.

“Something I try to be. A survivor.” Rhett’s brows lower just a little bit. “You’ve walked through dark places, and came out not just alive, but better. And despite that darkness, you have an empathy, a kindness, that I saw right away. It brightens me to just think about you, even if I’m missing you.”

“I need…” Rhett releases a soft breath.

“To believe. You let me believe. And hope.” Rhett lowers his eyes a little bit. “I see this beautiful, strong heart,” he says to her, his voice catching, having difficulty remaining reserved; some emotion is breaking through. “Full of passion and worries and dreams.” Rhett draws her close. “Because you care, so deeply.”

“You’ve become my dream. I see that when I look at you.”

She hadn’t meant to catch him off-guard by the question, but the idea of what someone could see in you that you might be blind to was one that was deeply alluring. She had asked because the idea had come to her, not realizing it might be a bit of one to just ask flat out. So when he answers her, she’s not expecting for it to be so meaningful.

Elaine nearly drops the spatula, having forgotten it was in her hands, and she sets it aside for a moment so she can have her hands free. She moves, placing just enough space between them so she can hold his hands out in front of them both. She sets his hands palms up, then places hers atop of his. She then pushes his hands closed, as if she’d placed something in them.

“Now you have my heart, so you’d better take care of it, okay?”

Rhett allows her to guide his hands, though his expression turns curious, as she guides his palms. He observes the sequence, his hands closing with hers around his, and then her words bring clarity.

Rhett nods to her, his smile very subtle on his otherwise serious expression. “I’ll keep it with me,” Rhett answers. “All the time.”

“Good,” Elaine replies, leaning in to press a kiss to his cheek before she’s immediately reaching for the spatula to check on the fish. It’s not as if nothing just happened, though. The tiniest of smiles seems to be sticking around now. “I’ll try not to turn away next time you want to look at me,” she adds as she adjusts the temperature on the burner gently. “I think I can appreciate it more now. I know where I stand.”

She looks critically at the fish. “I think this is almost done.”

“Well,” Rhett suggests, “Just take it to mean you can stare at me anytime you want. Fair’s fair.” He stayed behind her, still close but not enough to actively be in the way of her working on the food.

“Smells like it,” Rhett says of the fish, interested and eager. “I have some rice I can heat, to go with it.” Perking up at his idea, he moves to find it, though he sends her a look to check with the chef about that plan. “Or fresh rice. I suppose I should have mentioned it sooner.”

“Rice would work nicely with this, I think,” Elaine seems to approve of the plan, and she moves to start to remove the fish from the pan and put pieces carefully onto plates for the two of them. Once she’s done, she steps aside to let him have free reign of his little kitchen. “Fresh or reheated, I’m not picky.” She does take advantage of the opportunity to slide back over to sit on the couch.

That position, it seems, is mostly so she can watch him.

“Considering I don’t want your fish to be cold… I’ll reheat it,” Rhett decides. He uses the pan she just vacated the fish from, scooping out the rice and mixing it into the lemon and other remainder still in the pan. Perhaps he’ll be a reasonable chef: if it was an intentional way to add flavor, anyway.

Rhett flicks his gaze to her after he’s stirred it in, but his smile just grows, meeting her eyes. “Taking me up on it already?”

Elaine takes a moment to admire his creativity in the kitchen—it’s certainly something she would have tried herself. But he did ask her something and she leans back on the couch a bit. “Yeah, I think I am.” She is, for the moment, remaining on the couch and watching him, much in the way he watched her while cooking. This, while an enjoyable pastime, proves to be harder to do because she’s trying to focus on it. It takes her a bit before she feels like she’s got something worth saying.

“I’m… just going to say what comes across my mind.” She murmurs, leaving that as the only preface. “I see that survivor in you. I know you’re strong and you could do it on your own, if you really had to. But I don’t want that. I see where pain lies, I see where you’re vulnerable and I see that and all I want to do, all I want to be is just that barrier between you and everything that would try and hurt you. I’ve never really felt like that with anyone, not really. And it’s not because you can’t protect yourself… it’s because I never want to see that light I see in your eyes leave them because you’re hurt. I don’t ever want to see anything hurt you and I’ll be damned if I let that happen.”

It’s not maybe what she thought would come out, but it’s something, something she wants him to know.

Rhett started to say something, to interrupt her and assure her she didn’t need to talk, but it felt like something she really needed to say. He stands there with the rice, looking at her, in his quiet, even way. None of what she says gets even a speck of negative reaction from him, but he does turn to shut off the heat under the rice, letting the warm pan do the job, and crosses to where she’s sitting. He doesn’t sit next to her, he squats in front of her.

Rhett cups her hands, and does the same gesture she did with him… holding that invisible thing, and then folding her hands back closed and towards herself.

Rhett stands, then, and leans forward to kiss her.

Elaine, to her credit, manages not to blush. Instead of letting the moment get to her, she lets it be a moment. So instead of thinking, she reacts. A smile curves onto her lips and she leans in to return the kiss. This one, she lets linger. The heat’s not on the stove so there’s nothing really stopping her from letting it be a full fledged kiss in its own right. Her hand comes up, fingers curled in his hair, tracing there for a moment or two before she slowly draws back, giving him a smile.

“I promise to protect it,” she says, simply, looking down at her hands before back up at him.

“I know,” Rhett replies, nodding slowly. “That’s why you have it.”

He then moves back, to put out the rice on the plates, and brings both over, with a mix of utensils in a metal cup, which he sets on the small table before joining her. He draws in to sit close to her, one arm coming around her shoulders, interested in remaining close right now, as they eat together. Simple things, but their words have prompted this particular moment of wanting to be touching, remain intimate.

Elaine settles in against his side, leaning against him as it appears there’s no question to the needed intimacy. She slides her arm around his lower back, letting his arm remain high while hers goes low, fitting in like puzzle pieces as she fetches a fork from the cup and goes to take a bite of the fish. She takes a moment to taste it before she nods. “Not my best, but I think it’s pretty good.”

Her gaze goes back to him, looking for his reaction to the fish. It’s a hopeful look.

Rhett isn’t left handed; his right arm is around her, but he doesn’t need to use his dominant hand to still eat just fine. He’d rather be able to curve his fingers against the far side of her shirt, slowly touching her side, while beginning to dig into the meal.

Rhett tries out the fish first with a bit of the rice, and gives her a look as one might at a dog-show, appraising a given contestant. “Hmmmmmmmmmm,” Rhett says, mulling the word out.

“Clearly the rice makes the dish,” he teases, but then hugs her to his side with a purposeful squeeze. “It’s great, Elaine.”

The meal is great, the company even better. Time passes quickly, with the pair having good conversation, cleaning up, and relaxing. Rhett takes the ship further out, away from the city, though the lights are still very visible nearby. If there are fireworks, they’ll be able to see them, but are far enough out that it feels very private indeed.

Elaine is excited to see the fireworks. The prospect of being out on a boat and being able to see things a little bit better was one that she had been looking forward to when he first suggested they spend New Years on the boat. She shrugs her way into her coat as she fetches her gloves, glancing in Rhett’s direction as she prepares to head onto the deck.

“You think they’ll have a lot? I always wonder if people are going to set them off. It feels like we’re always still recovering from the war. I dunno how long it’ll be until people are fully over it. I’ll bet Yamagato Park will have something.”

“Yamagato Park,” Rhett answers, “Is just over… that way,” Rhett says, leading her onto the deck, and moving his head close to hers, and pointing the correct direction at the cityscape before them using the bottle of champagne he’d picked up on the way outside.

“As I recall, it was nice looking last year. I’m closer this year, should be a better view. It’s almost time, anyway. And I…” Rhett reveals the glasses for the drinks. “Think we’re just about ready for that New Year’s toast,” he says, smiling at her, a softened warmth there. The deck of the boat is reasonably shielded. “We can sit at the wheel if you’re cold, it’s still good visibility,” Rhett asks.

“We’ll see how I feel after a few minutes out here,” Elaine says with a laugh. “I’m sure I can survive long enough for some fireworks, but I demand you hold me until I’m warm afterwards.” She looks at the glasses. “Want me to pour or shall I hold the glasses while you do?”

Her gaze drifts to the direction of Yamagato Park, pulling out her phone to check the time. “You’re right, we only have a few minutes, better get to pouring.”

“Your wish is my command; I’ll warm you as long as you like,” Rhett agrees with a soft chuckle, and hands her the glasses. He already had opened the bottle before they came out, so it is an easy move to bring it to fill one, then the other, with enough to make the toast.

Rhett then sets the bottle aside, in a recess near the door so that it doesn’t escape or fall over, and takes one of the glasses back from her. He moves to her, startling just a little as a few fireworks appear to go off over the city. White, and then pink and gold, clearly starting to be a countdown.

“Well, looks like we’re going to be starting a new year together,” Elaine grins, holding up her glass a bit as she watches the fireworks start to go off. “This is as good a way to start as any. It’s a nice, fresh start. One I’ve needed for a long time. Hell, since the war, to be honest. I never really got my footing fully until now.”

She looks at the sky. “This year will be the one, for sure. I’ll make it work.”

“Funny to find our footing so far from land,” Rhett teases back, leaning in to brush his lips and cheek to hers, his smile curling against her ear. “We will make it work.”

With a soft little noise, his phone chimes the time, while Rhett’s chuckling. He offers to tap his glass to hers. “Happy New Year, Elaine,” Rhett says, with a drink of the campagne and a rather immediate seek of warm embrace and kiss.

“Well, you’re king of the oceans, finding footing here in your realm means that you’re more at home and I’m learning to adapt,” Elaine explains, her own lips curved into a smile. As the chime goes off, she taps her glass against his and then takes a small sip before replying. “Happy New Year, Rhett.”

The New Years kiss is traditional, and it’s the first time in a while she’s made sure it happened. She lets it linger for a few moments before she buries herself in his arms, hugging him tightly. Eventually, she pulls back, but it’s only to take a sip of her champagne. “It’s hard to be happier than this.”

“Well, maybe so, but let’s give it a try,” Rhett teases her in return, returning her hug very tightly, relaxing into the closeness and leaning into her. “Je t’aime,” Rhett adds quietly, just to her, his tone private and warm.

Rhett does not, in fact, speak French - but he learned it to say to her, knowing she would understand.

“I think we’ll never stop trying,” Elaine replies, leaning a bit against his chest. The French catches her off guard but brings a bright smile to her lips. “Je t’aime,” she echoes. But she doesn’t stop there. “Je sais que tu ne comprends pas, mais tu représentes le monde pour moi.” She leans in to kiss his cheek. “Now you’re treading on my footing.”

Her gaze momentarily goes to the sky before looking back to him. “You’re stuck with me, I hope you know.”

“Wouldn’t want it any other way,” Rhett replies, holding her close, turning to continue to hold her as the fireworks go off in the distance. A beautiful start to a new year.

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