Make A Home


elaine2_icon.gif rhett_icon.gif

Scene Title Make A Home
Synopsis Sometimes the best home is the one you make together.
Date January 12, 2020

Elaine's Apartment, Cresting Wave Apartments

Rhett was tired in the morning. He’d taken his vigilance seriously, which meant he wasn’t as well rested as he could have been. Still, he did it to himself, and without complaint, or even really showing it. Through the night he was there, even during what he assumed was a bad dream during the middle of the night. He was still awake, to pass a hand gently over her hair, tell her quietly it would be okay, and bring her supple fingers to his mouth to kiss them gently. Eventually, though, he did sleep. He was mostly still out when she woke, though, and just kind of waved at her to go get a shower while he kept his face in the pillow.

It was comfortable, in a way, perhaps: they’d gained a comfortable level, to where they both weren’t still wrapped up in pretending to be perfect all the time. Rhett was willing to be face-down in pillows with a tangle of sheets in her presence, upper body bare, and blue boxers showing at the top of the comfortable loungewear pants he’d worn to sleep. It’s cozy: a lowering of the guard.

He roused later to share coffee (some of it ending up on his pants by accident: a great reason to have left clothes behind finally coming to fruition), and left the apartment with her, agreeing to communicate during the day. He was concerned about what her boss would say about the situation.

Rhett checked his phone periodically, as the morning wore on, but he didn’t poke her until lunchtime. With how nervous Elaine had been that morning, he didn’t feel comfortable waiting longer.

Elaine had gone to work as per her usual, but it was something she wasn’t entirely looking forward to. She had arranged a meeting with Kimiko, but as the hours went on, there was no word. She kept herself busy and made certain no one went near the area where the ‘ghost’ had been seen. When she got word at lunch from Rhett, her reply was simple. “Nothing yet.” It was tense and the hours went by slowly, but eventually from all that she saw, Kimiko was not showing up.

She doesn’t bother waiting the rest of the day. When it’s clear that the appointment’s been missed entirely, she heads out. The message she sends now is still simple, but a bit more wordy.

“Kimiko wasn’t here. Coming home. Text me and I’ll unlock the door when you’re there. Bringing home takeout.”

The last bit should have been more than an indicator that Elaine wasn’t in the best mood. If she didn’t even want to cook, that wasn’t a particularly good sign.

There isn’t anybody that likes feeling stood up. Rhett can empathize with whatever she might be feeling from that. Besides, he’s frustrated for her and for himself: they really did want to get information and make some kind of headway on the mystery. Still having no information (indeed, just stewing in it all day!) doesn’t make for a good day.

“Okay, I’ll meet you there,” Rhett answers in text form. He isn’t on his boat, he’d been doing some minor shopping of uninteresting things - general supplies - and he finishes up efficiently. He’s not much of a window shopper or browser, and he was mostly killing time. The night’s concerns certainly bridged over into the day, and the feelings of not being in control, not being able to do anything, were difficult to feel all day: like a hanging uncertainty.

“I’m here,” Rhett texts as he arrives, coming up in the elevator while he texts it. He has a khaki colored messenger bag over one shoulder, containing the things he had been shopping for, but otherwise is dressed entirely casually, general warmth for his errands during the day.

She’s a little behind him. Elaine heads towards the front entrance, fumbling with her phone as she makes her way with the other hand carrying a bag over-stuffed with some kind of asian takeout food containers. She unlocks the door remotely, then texts back to let him know it’s open before she makes it to the elevator. Once she’s up there and headed for the apartment, it’s at least easier to get inside with the unlocked door (and hopefully Rhett already there).

“That was an ordeal,” she mutters as she enters, not really caring if it’s to him or to herself.

Rhett is in the kitchen and left the door wide open for her: which makes it extremely easy to get inside. He hears her, and comes over to the door, immediately offering to help take the food off her hands carefully, making sure nothing is dropped, but also steps in to attempt to put a brief kiss on her cheek. He isn’t sure what her mood is like, but that comfort was easy and an offering to bridge into whatever grump she may have brought home with her.

“She just never showed at all?” Rhett asks, annoyed for her sake, while moving the bags to the counter, and frowning.

Whatever grump exists isn’t at all directed towards him and she returns the kiss as she passes over the bags and makes sure the door’s shut. Elaine kicks off her shoes near the door, moving inside to find a good place to sink down. She settles on the couch, leaving him on kitchen duty with the bags. She didn’t really have a plan, she just bought food at an asian fusion restaurant not far from the complex. She wasn’t even certain if she was hungry, she just didn’t want to have to cook.

That of course, leaves all of her stress a little more balled up instead of spilling about the kitchen. “She’s usually better about these things, but I finally called her assistant and she told me that Kimiko was traveling so she wouldn’t even be back until tomorrow.”

Rhett takes care of the food without asking or prompting, he looks through what she got, sorting it out, and then pulls a pair of bowls down from a cupboard. He runs them under hot water briefly, warming the bowls, efficiently dries them, and comes back to fill them. He puts a mix of different things into the broad bowl for her, first, and brings it out to her with a cup of water and utensil.

“Well, she’ll be back tomorrow, then?” Rhett says, nodding. He puts down the water and offers her the warmed bowl first, other hand coming to touch a few fingers to her near shoulder, an offer of contact should she want it. He’s frustrated, but at least having something to look ahead towards is better than nothing.

“She’ll be back tomorrow,” Elaine says, taking the bowl from him. Her other hand moves up to take hold of the hand near her shoulder, the contact being more than welcome. “I just… I’ve been thinking about this all day and just unsure of how to approach this and just nervous because it’s my boss. She’s been a wonderful person to me and I know she’s fond of me, but I usually am not stuck in a position where I have to explain something this delicate to someone.”

She tugs on his hand, then just leans her head over to rest her cheek against it. “I guess this just means I’ll have another rest of the day to be anxious about it.” She doesn’t sound pleased about that.

“And another night with me here beside you,” Rhett says, moving his thumb against her cheek near her nose just a little as she brings his hand to her face. His smile is warm if she checks his expression. He flutters the edge of his thumb once more and draws his hand back, but only to gesture for her to move a little.

Rhett’s climbing onto the couch, partially behind her, intending to sit next to her and draw her sideways towards his lap a little bit while she eats. The main event? To rub her neck and shoulder. “No sense worrying about it until tomorrow, you’ve done what you could today, right?” Rhett asks.

“The world’s not gonna blow up today, so I guess that’s all fine,” Elaine scoots just a little bit to give him the freedom to reposition himself. “But I do like the idea of keeping you here, at least for now.” She looks at her bowl of food, setting it aside for a moment. “Hey, can I borrow your phone for a second? Promise I won’t read your texts.”

She sounds amused, but at the very least genuine about respecting his privacy. In the meanwhile, she steals a bite of her food to at least sample what she brought home. “Figured that cooking wouldn’t be so fun tonight, so…”

“You can read my texts,” Rhett chuckles at her, with a lift of brows. He’s open about it, and clearly fearless and not particularly private about it. “Most of it is trade scheduling. It’s not interesting. No secret sexy text affairs. Not even with Elaine.” He smiles at her, drawing his phone from a pocket. He unlocks it and hands it over, though he’s expecting her to check his photos or something like that.

“How’s the food?” Rhett asks, reaching out a finger to teasingly flick a little bit of sauce from her lip, and then tastes it from his finger with a playful small smile.

“I’ll have to leave you some sexy text affairs then,” Elaine teases with a smile. She looks through his phone for a minute or two, glancing over at him a little bit in the process. “Food’s not bad. I don’t think I could have made anything better than this, to be honest. I’ve eaten here before, I think. They’re close so it’s convenient. I think they deliver, too, but I was already out so I didn’t see the reason not to just pick it up on the way.”

She presses on the screen of his phone, then hands the phone back to him. “There, now you’ve got access. The door, the lights, music, whatever.” She gestures around. “In case you need anything.”

“This will act as a key?” Rhett blinks, not expecting that. He accepts it back, opening it back up to see what she’s talking about on his phone. There’s also a weight to that question: he’s not just letting this go by without giving it the importance it contains.

It isn’t every day a key is given out to come and go freely into someone’s apartment, it’s another significant step in their relationship. One he can’t really reciprocate: what would she do on his boat, really. “In case I need anything… like, an Elaine?” Rhett asks, snaking his head in to kiss her firmly on the neck. His response to her extension of the key? Very warm.

“Yeah,” Elaine agrees. “It’s a key in.” She does know the significance but at the same time, she’s obviously downplaying it, though it’s clear by the blush that the downplaying is just an attempt not to be flustered by the gesture. She slides an arm around him, squeezing him closer as she tips her head just enough to get a better look at him.

“In case you need an Elaine. Just, y’know, send me warning if you’re gonna show up randomly at some really late hour.”

“I’m not going to ambush you with this. Except maybe with a surprise party on your birthday. I feel like we’re going to be messaging plenty, you’ll know where I am,” Rhett says. He’s not letting the significance just skate away or be rolled over, he’s drawing attention to it. But the intent isn’t to embarrass or fluster her.

“I’d return it, but I don’t think you’d want to be on one of my vessels without me. At least not without some training in piloting… which we can do, if you’re interested,” Rhett offers, adding another kiss to her neck.

“I can be cool with a surprise birthday party, I’ll just try to forget that you’re planning one.” Elaine grins, leaning in a bit more against him. “I appreciate the returned sentiment, but I think you’re right. I don’t think those keys would do me any good unless I knew how to steer the thing. Those are practical lessons, though. Things everyone should learn.” She doesn’t expect to ever be on his boat without him, but being able to steer a boat in an emergency is certainly a skillset she’s thinking could be useful.

“I hope you enjoy the access. I know it’s not as fancy as giving you a physical set of keys but… the sentiment is still there, right?”

“I don’t need physical keys, though we may have to do this now and then, because I sometimes drown my phone by accident. There’s a lot of water damage in my past and future with electronics, to be honest,” Rhett laughs softly, with some embarrassment. He’s ruined lots of objects over the years, though he’s more vigilant now.

“We’ll do lessons, both gas and sail, if you’d like. I like to teach watercraft,” Rhett answers, with a pleasure. He really does. “Or anything else.” Students are never a problem, Rhett enjoys sharing knowledge.

“I’ll get you a physical set all made up if you want. Just as backup.” Elaine chuckles lightly. “I should have expected you to go through a lot of phones, though. Downsides to the water thing and being around boats all the time…” She leans in to kiss the side of his jaw. “But if you’ll give me lessons, yeah, I’ll accept it. It’s not something I’d ever thought about trying to learn.”

She gives him a nudge. “Pretty sure you’ll be a good teacher.”

“I’m not bad. I’ve taught a lot of teams how to reconfigure and repair power to buildings, or to build appropriate sewage, do repairs. Sometimes mechanical problems. Lots of young kids needing something to occupy themselves, and wanting to help,” Rhett explains. “I’m not a MacGyver by any stretch with machines, but I’ve been around.” He’s not shy, this is mostly just explanation.

“You’d be my first /boating/ student,” Rhett adds.

“You’re an incredible person, did you know that?” Elaine was about to grab her bowl again but she instead reaches up to brush her fingers along his cheek. “I don’t think you’re aware of how singularly amazing you are. And I know you’ll get embarrassed and wave it off but it’s really how I feel and how I see you. The world is better for having you in it.” She nudges him again. “And that’s just my unbiased opinion. I’d happily share the biased opinion with you any day.”

She reaches for her bowl, taking another bite while settling herself in more comfortably. “I look forward to learning.”

“Mmmhmm, a singularly special catch,” Rhett muses in amusement, but does blush with some mixed embarrassment about it. He turns his face into the brush of fingers, which puts her fingertips on his mouth, more than his cheek.

“I try to leave everything better than I found it,” Rhett adds. He watches her pick up her food. “Let me get my bowl, I’ll be right back,” he asks, squeezing her knee, and starting to ease back ot his feet. He wanted her settled and fed before he attended to his own, but she seems relaxed and happier now, so he’ll do that. Selfless jerk!

She doesn’t seem to to be bothered when her fingertips find his lips instead of his cheek, instead just tracing there and doing her best to not accidentally poke him if he moves. Eventually he does move and Elaine is forced to scootch out of the way a bit to allow him access. She scoops up her bowl again and takes a bite before she watches his progress to get his own food.

“You know, I think complimenting you is one of my favorite things to do in the world. Sounds silly, I know, but I like the look you get. Especially when you know deep down I’m right.”

Her words get the same look again, though he evades by shaking his head, smile subtle, as he heads into the kitchen. He finally removes his jacket as well, and scarf, laying those aside as he fetches his bowl, returning with it and sitting with her: close, touching her side, though not to mush her.

“Maybe you can teach me to be better at giving compliments,” Rhett suggests, with a slight narrowing of eyes, scooping up a bunch of the noodles in his bowl to eat.

“Compliments are easy. It’s all about being honest and talking about the things you like about someone. The best compliments, though, are the ones that the receiver wasn’t expecting… something they didn’t think anyone else noticed. Or maybe the ones they didn’t even notice themselves.”

Elaine grins, pointing at him with the fork in her hand. “And you don’t expect me mentioning the little things I notice, so I’m good at it.”

The fork goes back into the bowl and she works on a bite or two, leaning her back against the couch while she waits for him to return. “Compliments are even more interesting in other languages. Some languages sound like compliments when you’re wishing someone death.”

“Ahhh, it’s the talking part that’ll trip me up,” Rhett chuckles deeply, nudging her with his elbow slightly as he sits with her. “And that I think I’d need you to teach me things in other languages, and then you’d be expecting it.”

Rhett considers, thoughtful, as he eats the noodles he’d selected for his bowl. Light blue eyes are briefly distant, but not for long, he looks at her sideways, and his smile is subtle. He’s thinking things he’s not saying, it appears.

“What language would you recommend for ‘You make me want to be the person you see when you look at me?’” Rhett inquires.

“Doesn’t even need a language, just a look,” Elaine says, simply. She glances back over at him. “You’re already that person. I’m not looking at some idealized version of you, I’m just looking at what you give me, who you are. I’m looking at you and I like what I see and you don’t even have to do a thing to change that.”

She grins at him. “You’re pretty good at giving wordless compliments though. You’re the king of body language.”

“These might be messages from my subconscious,” Rhett says, thoughtful still, nudging her again, pausing in eating to lean towards her, putting his cheek near her shoulder. There’s nothing to it, beyond a style of closeness, and a tender emotion in his light colored eyes. His eyes are never sharp with her, more of a quiet watercolor of blue.

“Do you have to work to translate those, or am I speaking clearly?” Rhett questions her, still mild, but enjoying the banter.

“Body language is way more complicated than anything else I’ve ever experienced,” Elaine says, her eyes scanning his as if trying to find some kind of answer in them. “I can look at you and see something different every time. Usually the sentiment translates well, even if it’s not precise. Emotions don’t always have to be.”

She reaches a free hand up to tousle his hair. “Emotions are kind of more striking than compliments, though.”

“I don’t think I’m so complicated, not with you,” Rhett says. He waited for her to be between bites, and her reaching to play with his hair was a perfect time. He leans forwards to give her a deep kiss, with more than a little bit of longing inserted into it. There’s a quiet pull to the way he does it, like a beckoning hand.

It turns into just a brush of lips instead, and staying close, his slow lean intended to draw her along in the quiet little romantic spell, if she’s game to fall into it.

He’s much better at the body language, as she had posited before. Elaine lets herself be swept up into the little moment, pausing everything going through her head to instead focus on him. It’s like bringing a car to a gradual stop, thoughts slowing down until all she’s doing is thinking about him and what it’s like to be there at that moment. When the process finishes and she lingers in the kiss, she stays there until he’s the one to slowly back off, just a little.

It seems to strike her that ‘oh, I was doing something’ but that something never comes to mind. Instead, she remains close, peeking open her eyes just a little to see if she can spy him peeking back. The very definition of rendering someone speechless.

Rhett moves a hand out to be sure she doesn’t dip her bowl of food into either of their laps. He doesn’t have another change of pants, after the coffee incident. But the guide is just automatic: he’s then leaning into the gesture himself, into the very real design to sweep her up. The bowls get directed wordlessly to the table, out of the equation, and he lifts the hand to brush just a bit of her hair back behind her ear and look at her steadily.

There’s not a smile on his face, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a very positive emotion present in the way he’s curling forefinger against her hair, or the way he looks from one of her eyes to the other. He’s more than peeking.

It’s a good thing he moves the bowl, Elaine’s already entirely forgotten about it and as she shifts just slightly so the distance is more comfortable, she likely would have sent one of them tipping over by now. While there’s no smile on his face, Elaine’s got a bit of a timid one sprouting. Just the hint of a smile at the fact that he’s looking back at her. But when she realizes he’s looking the smile transforms into something more like a faint tinge of red to her cheeks. It’s not really out of embarrassment or shyness, it’s more the result of a rush of emotion.

Her hand had fallen to land somewhere on his shoulder when she had touched his hair previously, and it returns to its original location not long after. Her fingers move slowly, as if she’s unsure of what she’s doing or that she’s, more likely, just taking it in. Instead of staying silent and dwelling in that moment as she’s done before, she tries a different tactic this time. Instead of talking up a storm or letting out a flood of emotion, she keeps her gaze steady on his, and her words calm.

“Hey,” it’s just a soft word of greeting.

“Hi,” Rhett says softly as well, in answer, brief and simple.

While she takes in his visage, and is drawn into the conversation of body language they are sharing, Rhett finds words.

“I am …. Enjoying every step of… falling more in love with you each time we’re together,” Rhett tells her. His words are calm as always, though there’s a depth to his voice, as his speaks more out of his chest, a lower register than he more commonly uses. Rhett has a lot of power in his lungs, and when his voice drops, it’s always with that similar reverberation of that shift down to that place.

“Elaine.” Just her name, just that, but the translations of the shift of emotion around him saying her name is far more dense with meaning than just the word alone. There’s a precious quality to the way he says it, with an emotion sometimes rare to be entirely exposed in that way, like sharing a piece of artwork of deep connection and importance, private things shown with trust.

Every time she speaks, it’s slow and calm. Speech now is carefully tailored to the situation, sewn in when a word needs to be said with the appropriate weight attached to it. So when he says her name, Elaine follows it up with his own name in a soft murmur. This one isn’t quite as intense as how his was, but it’s there as an echo, the soft emotional aftermath of a ripple.

There’s a few moments that go by as Elaine seems to be thinking about something. She seems unsure as to what to say. There’s a need to say something, but there’s some negotiation going on in her head as to what it is. She settles on some words and then, abruptly, just kisses him instead.

Other times, Elaine has blushed and filled the area around them with words, pouring out her thoughts or concerns. Rhett had expected more of that, to talk it over a little more, or to continue to reassure her as her cheeks turned deeper pink.

The abrupt kiss is different, but he isn’t surprised. Surprise wouldn’t be the right term. He’s pleased and happy, in the same way he would have been to a heartfelt return of his sentiments and feelings about loving her.

It’s just that the abrupt kiss also makes his heart leap, and he wraps his arms around her immediately with a deep, muffled sound of relief, holding her tight, and deepening the kiss a little recklessly.

It only takes her a moment to realize why the action spoke louder than the words in this instance. This time, she had chosen action when she could have dwelled in something passive, but still meaningful. She chose neither words, nor lack of them, and instead ran over both and went for the kiss. So she just goes for it.

Not an excessively passionate headstrong way, but she kisses him fondly, joyfully, tenderly, the way you might kiss someone you’d been missing for weeks. Her arms somehow find themselves draped about his neck in this whole process, and she’s sure to eventually let the kiss come to a standstill where the emotion still stands but it’s not gone on so long it feels awkward.


At some point during the kiss he’d moved, drawing her to his chest but also easing her backwards. There’s no weight on her though, it’s just a move to lay her along the couch, and move over her. It isn’t protective, for once (Rhett is often a little protective with his movements, such as the ones he did to step in front of her during the mirror situation), and this one is more open, just clearly revealing his focus on her and their private moment. He didn’t think about it or plan it, this just is what happened.

His arms are low, hands on the sides of her ribcage, leaving her full rein to put her arms securely around his neck. He’s close, held there by her arms more than his own at that distance. His joy echoes hers, apparent on his face.

Her greeting brings a smile to his lips… and some more words for her. “I’d gladly do…. Anything you asked of me,” Rhett tells her, tone deepened, warm. “Except one thing.” He draws his finger up to touch her lower lip.

The change in position isn’t one that disturbs her at all. It comes naturally and soon enough instead of sitting they’re repositioned to a situation in which gravity aids their closeness. Her arms remain where she’s left them, comfortable around his neck, and she looks back at him. He hasn’t seemed bothered by the way she’s held him close, so she won’t mention it unless it begins to bother him.

He smiles at her and so she smiles back at him. “Anything?” She seems drawn in, but she isn’t caught until he presents a clause. “… except…?”

Rhett watches her eyes, seeing her return of smile. No, he isn’t quite aware of the position of her arms on his neck. He’s deeply drawn into what they’re sharing, an emotion that gives no room at all for feeling self conscious about the scars on his neck, or even connecting any of this to the trauma that put them there.

No, he’s in this moment, and the softly drawn out anticipation of it. His eyes are only kind, only gently loving: there is no barb here, no carpet to be ripped out from under her with this. It still might feel like she’s hoping there’s floor under her, stepping out into the dark, that rush of expecting another stair.

“I won’t leave you.”

“Even if it’s to protect me. No.” Rhett traces the finger against her lips, and looks at her seriously, his gaze strong.

In a way, there’s no carpet to be pulled from her feet in what he says, but somehow she still falls. Elaine’s eyes widen, just slightly, as the words send her reeling a lot more than she anticipated would happen in the moment. She fights the urge to look away, to find something to bury her face into, but there’s only his neck. His neck.

So she resists. She doesn’t move. The tension is there, it’s visible, a moment of genuine panic before it releases. The tension fades slowly from her arms, then out the rest of her body. Eventually, everything stills and when Elaine is certain that she’s alright again, she shakily murmurs.

“Then I’ll protect you.”

It’s hard for him to watch the panic bubble to the surface. He wants to hold her close, let her off the hook, tell her something else to make things better. Did he say the wrong thing? His own worries crawl through his stomach, but Rhett sticks with it.

“I’ll be easy to find for that,” Rhett answers slowly, some hesitation here. He didn’t mean to injure her emotions, he meant to share how he felt. “Since I’ll be right beside you.”

It certainly shook her, and Elaine’s doing her best to pretend that it didn’t trip her up, but she still seems okay. The panic has faded and she’s there, in the moment, and present with him. “Two of us, against the world, okay?”

The murmur of it is softer than she would have liked, almost like she were asking it as a question rather than presenting it as a reminder that they were a team. “Thank you for staying, Rhett.” It’s hard to tell in the moment if she meant overall or for just the night, but it sounds heartfelt.

Rhett moves the hand from her lips as she asks him the question, intending to take her hand. That makes him evaluate where her hands are; his hand moves to touch her upper arm, fingers there.

She’ll see him register that she has her arms around his neck, though. It’s a slight little spike of alarm, but he rolls with it after that little ‘oh’ moment. He turns his head and presses a warm, firm kiss on the inside of her arm, just above the elbow, near her shoulder. “Yes.”

The thank-you changes his expression more, back towards the caring one. There’s a strange exposed, aching thing in his gaze, though. “I’m where I want to be.”

“I said I’d protect you,” Elaine repeats again. Her fingertips brush against the skin of his neck. Not intrusively, but enough that he can fully get her meaning. “And I do mean that. But I promise I’ll protect us both.” There’s a sternness in her words that seems to indicate she’s not taking no for an answer. She can’t picture a future where either of them is happy without the other and that’s not a timeline she particularly wants to visit.

“You can be here anytime you like.” She replies simply.

“I want to protect… This,” Rhett says. ‘This’, this connection, this ability to do exactly what they are doing. To, in his case, slowly sand away all of the rust that will allow hinges to open on a lot of what he’s held back or out of reach.

‘This’, their relationship. ‘This’ love.

Rhett swallows, with only a slight nod of head as she touches so gently along the rip shaped scars on his neck. They start close to the front, near adam’s apple, and go up and backwards towards under the ear. Each side has four, for a total of eight of the marks in parallel. Somebody spent some time to get those so even.

“I told you I’m not leaving,” he says, but this time with a quirk of a smile.

She almost doesn’t want to touch them further. Elaine’s heart leaps a bit into her throat just at the brush against his skin. She watches them, looking at each mark carefully as she lets a single fingertip trace over them before she lets her hand drop back go her side. It’s not painfully slow, but it’s methodical, a fingertip with no trace of nail. Soft.

When it’s done the gesture is rewarded with her arms squeezing him around the shoulders this time, pulling him into more of a hug than anything. “I’m never going to ask you to.”

The elephant in the room, currently worn in his neck, is impossible for him to not address. He needs to, though there’s a little struggle about what exactly to make of the formless words he has on the item. Does he feel like he has to explain it? Excuse it? Blow it off?

There’s uncertainty there about what he ‘should’ feel about it, that he gets too into that, and not what he naturally feels. So while he gave a nod of firm agreement to her statement, the elephant still sits, with an obligation to speak.

“I try to think of them like my … badge of survival,” Rhett says softly. It’s him trying to be optimistic about it.

“So then if you were given the choice from a healer to have them removed or not, would you?”

Elaine presses a kiss in towards his cheek, then watches him slowly. “You don’t have to talk about what exactly what happened unless you want to, but I want to be the kind of person you can tell everything to. Even the bad stuff. Especially the bad stuff, so I know who to go beat up.”

There’s a wry smile at the end. She’s mostly kidding. Mostly.

Rhett thinks that over. “Heal it? …Maybe,” Rhett answers, with a slow breath. “He watches her, at her close proximity to his cheek. Her words warm his heart gently, and it brings him to squeeze her a little more, and then move to put his weight on his knee and an arm next to her, but then he slowly sits up, since she’s released his neck.

He is moving to sit up next to her, but there may be a feel to it of him just needing to gather his bearings. “I want you to be that too,” Rhett answers, touching his palm to her knee. “What do you want to know?” Rhett asks her, looking at her steadily, his eyes quiet, bearing the old injuries, but not shrinking away. “How I got them? Or why?”

To Rhett, that’s two different things, it sounds like. The how is easy, the why less easy.

She doesn’t pursue him when he moves, not right away. She seems to be struggling with if she should be more relaxed or if she should be going with her instincts. Elaine manages to resist for only a moment or two before she sits up fully next to him, settling herself again at his side so they’re on an even level.

She takes a long look at his neck, at the marks. “I think I’ve got an idea of the how. Would you tell me about the why?” She doesn’t have anything to offer him in exchange, to make it feel like his sharing of the story would be a fair bargain. She doesn’t know what to give him, so she just slides her hand into his instead.

Rhett accepts her hand, draws their linked hands to his lap, against his closer thigh. He looks out into the apartment, though he’s really looking into his memory, pulling the correct page from the tightly closed tomes there.

“It was… the last in a series of punishments,” Rhett finally says, breathing out through his nose. “Just after the war, I led this team of smart, brave, capable people, clearing out the blasted sewers in an area of Sheepshead,” Rhett says. “This group of criminals started to use our tunnels. I… resisted that. Told them off. It escalated over time. I thought I was protecting the others, but I…” Rhett lifts his shoulders. “They picked off the crew. Those kids.” Rhett’s shoulders drop.

Her hand stays firmly in his, her thumb rubbing across the back of his hand as Elaine listens. This isn’t a story she wants him to have to tell, but it’s one she feels they both need. So she’s there. She doesn’t speak but the hand in his stays there, stays moving just enough that he’s got a reminder he’s not alone in all of this.

She even leans against him, the small pressure of her weight an attempt to ground him more. She can’t promise him everything’s alright, but she can offer concrete touchstones of her presence and protection around him while he talks.

“Eventually they got me. Nets, actually. Out of the water there, I’d come back for — well, I didn’t know they were all dead,” Rhett says. He pulls his lower lip into his mouth with his teeth, and looks sideways at her.

“Anyway. A punishment, as I said. I blacked out partway through. I woke up later. From what I know, I was left in the water for dead. Someone found and helped me to a hospital. I survived all that, somehow. So. My survival scars,” Rhett gives a quick smile that’s somehow still frowning.

“No, they’re your remembrance scars,” Elaine says after a moment. She doesn’t smile at him, exactly, but she gives him a look that shares the gentle warmth of one. “You survived, certainly, but you carry all that died along with you, you don’t let them win. They aren’t a pattern to bring pain, they’re a memory to protect.”

It’s a different way to look at it, she hopes. She’s just going off of what he’s said, what little she knows. Her hand squeezes his gently, offering what comfort she can. “I hope you know I’ll do what I can to protect you. I’m… not usually that much of a protective type. Maybe with kids, sure, but… mostly you. I won’t let anything like that happen to you again.”

“There’s a little bit more to the story,” Rhett says, folding his other hand over hers that is squeezing his. “That group ate itself: some inner struggle of power,” Rhett explains. “But they weren’t the last to want to use the sewers. The next time, I wasn’t going to put my teams in danger like that. Not again.”

“I let them through, after I sent my teams away.” No, not again. “But I took their business from them… and drove them out.” Rhett isn’t proud, there’s a sort of dead quality, but resolve, there. “That’s how I learned to smuggle. To get rid of those people. And it just stuck.”

“I’m not going to judge you for that,” Elaine says, softly. “I’m not going to say you were right or wrong because you’re the one to judge how you feel about that. But I will say that I am glad you learned to smuggle because you did all that and then smuggled your way to me. And I’m very, very grateful we met. I think we both went through some hard things to get to where we are. Traced similar paths at points, maybe. But we got here.”

She squeezes his hand. “We got right here, right now. I couldn’t ask for anything else.”

“I did a few things I’m not proud of, to make that work, I accept judgement,” Rhett grants, with a depth to his tone. “I became somebody that… didn’t get left for dead. There’s some stories around that I’m unkillable,” he says with a softened little amusement appearing, but it’s a quiet, sad humor. “Didn’t you realize you’re dating a pirate?” Rhett teases. It IS a joke, he doesn’t consider himself one, not really.

“I’ve left that behind. That was a piece of the war. I’m happier with myself now. To be worthy of you. Of us. Of this.” Rhett squeezes back, watching her, with his light gaze. “We did get here.” He lifts their hands to kiss her thumb.

But gives a curious lift of brow. “Similar?”

“You smuggled things, I’ve been smuggled before, similar paths,” Elaine laughs a little bit. “Although I didn’t do as much as some people. People seemed very determined to make me feel like I was incapable of handling myself in dangerous situations. But I certainly popped onto boats now and again that should not have been going to the places they went to.”

She smiles back at him. “You might have seen me and not even realized. Wouldn’t that be funny?”

“Our ships passed in the night,” Rhett agrees, with a smile that warms up. He leans towards her, seeming to rather easily come out of the dark part of his story. It’s to offer a brush of lips to her cheek. He’s seeking her out on purpose, trying not to shut off or shut down back behind his walls. “I said I did smuggling, I did a number of things, but… it wasn’t me. It never felt like myself. Just something to survive. And protect those with me.”

Rhett shakes his head minutely. “I ran cover for the Ferry some, and brought food, but I was never a member. I’d have brought too much attention. I was… known. For repairs, mostly. But I could be a distraction. And I felt good about that. That part was me,” Rhett is starting to relax again.

When he seeks her out, Elaine cements the connection by turning her head instead so their lips touch instead of a brush of lips against skin. It’s a soft, brief kiss, but still enough to pull him back in. To ground him. “We’ve all got darker areas. I feel like we just… sometimes we just aren’t ourselves and we just do what we can to survive until we find something to do that’s more than surviving.”

She gives him a nudge. “Like finding a really great relationship with a really great person.” Her fingers go to play with his hair, an affectionate gesture she’s grown used to. “I was never Ferry. I helped some, went to Pollepel to do some translating work and just general help, but never a member. Never told about missions, never brought in on anything.” She shrugs. “Everywhere I turned people thought everything was too dangerous for me. Kept me out of the loop, kept me at home.”

She shrugs. “It was all a little frustrating, feeling like I could help with something, like I wanted to help with something, and then just… not. I should have been bolder, back then. I should have taken risks.” She chuckles. “Taken risks with something other than my heart, really.”

“All of this was after I’d lost my family,” Rhett explains, more informational in tone than actively hurting. He’s compartmentalized a little bit. “Protecting anyone in the Ferry… it was too risky for everyone.” He looks at her more steadily as she speaks of risks.

“Maybe,” Rhett grants. “Maybe you can just be bold now. I’ll be smarter, you’ll be bolder. What a scary pair we’ll be.” Rhett pulls an arm around her more fully, to draw her towards his side, meld her there if she’s willing to settle close. Her touch to his hair perhaps caused it: he likes her doing it as much as she seems to enjoy offering the affection.

“If I had to avoid risks just to get here, I consider it worth it.” Elaine doesn’t mind enduring her past for the present she has now. A good one, albeit one with… concerns. She scoots in a little closer so she can rest up against his side, leaning her weight on him slightly. It always felt better when there was some kind of physical connection there, regardless of what it was or how small.

“A scary pair indeed, not to be underestimated,” she agrees, a small smile on her lips. “I’m not just saying it… I think we can face a lot like this. A lot more than I thought possible.”

“These scars taught me… just to be smarter. Caution. Know what - or who - you’re dealing with, and what it can do,” Rhett answers, with a nod, his expression turning inward for a short time. “And it’s more important to live another day.” He kisses the side of her forehead nearest to him.

“Us against the world. It won’t know what hit it,” Rhett laughs softly, leaning his head to hers, eyes closing, his smile comfortable and amused.

She smiles, tilting her head so she can kiss the tip of his nose before resuming their position and closing her eyes. Elaine pauses, then opens them, instead just watching him as she speaks her voice low. “We’ll figure it all out together. I’ve given you all the information I have, so we’re as prepared as we can be for whatever comes. Soon, this will be out of our hands entirely. Hopefully. But if we’re dragged in, we’re dragged in together.”

She smiles particularly brightly at the word. “Together.”

“I’m not truly scary,” Rhett chuckles at her, embarrassment coming in. But there’s some weight to the following words. “I’ve never truly compromised my morals. I’ve never done anything that I felt was dishonorable. I’ve never killed anyone, or put innocent people into danger intentionally that didn’t know the risks.”

Rhett tightens his hug as she solidifies the word. “That’s new for me. Usually it’s just Rhett responsible for Rhett. I promise I’ll do my best at it.”

“I don’t think you’re actually scary,” Elaine says with a small chuckle. “I believe from all that I’ve seen and experienced and know if you that you’ve got a heart of gold, you care for other people, you protect.” The kiss is to his cheek this time. “But we are a pair, no matter how new it feels. You’ve got someone watching your back. It’s a good feeling as long as you’ve got someone you trust doing it.”

That’s not always been the case for Elaine.

Rhett faces her, drawing his hands forward to between them, and does a careful gesture of his palms. Towards his chest and heart, then cupping, then presenting. This is a gesture Elaine first began between them: a reminder of the heart offered, the protection of each others’s hearts, that they had promised.

Rhett lets his hands drop, then, and watches her quietly.

She didn't expect him to mirror her the first time, so when he does the motion now, it causes Elaine to smile. She takes her hands to her chest, holding them there as if to keep his heart close before she moves her hands again, coming to rest stop his palms before closing them gently.

"I feel so, so lucky. This is all I've ever wanted. I didn't even know this is what I wanted. Thank you for the spices and the flirting and the first move."

“We can have this. /We/ decide. Just us,” Rhett promises her, turning his hands palms up as she puts her hands onto his. It’s a both-handed hold, and he adjusts his fingers to weave them with hers instead, a secure motion.

“For as long as we want it.” There’s a sense of feeling like this is some kind of proposal, to the way they’re sitting, the hands, all of it. The odd sense of that feeling causes a flush to rise in Rhett’s neck and cheeks.

"So, always then," Elaine says as if it were some undeniable truth. There's intimacy in all of it, but she doesn't seem to have noticed the weight of things until he's blushing. While her own cheeks don't fully flush red, there's some warmth to it, and she squeezes his hands.

"There's no expiration date on this, Rhett," she says, leaning in to press a small kiss to the corner of his mouth. "This goes on as long as we wish it. So I say always."

“I feel like… when something is right, you can just know,” Rhett says, thoughtful. “I wouldn’t have said that before you, though. I didn’t really believe that.” Rhett draws one hand from their held ones because he wants to put it around her again, to do that as well as lean in, his shoulder to hers, face still nearby, as they both blush.

"You know, I didn't really realize the power of chemistry between two people. You could like someone, love someone, but when you really connect with someone there's a big difference. One you can really feel." Elaine places her free hand in her lap and leans against him.

"I didn't expect any of this. I would have been fine alone after all that happened. But you were there and the ice broke and we connected. I just wanted to be around you all the time. I just kept wanting more of you in my life. I still do."

“I knew I wanted… someone,” Rhett adds, a little cautious with that admission. He knew he was lonely, it wasn’t confusing or surprising to him. “I hadn’t yet found her. Or a home. I have had houses, but.” Rhett’s having a hard time with this, similar to extracting his deeper feelings about his ‘punishment’ related to his neck, but this is a different sort of stumble. That he isn’t sure what she’ll make of it exactly, but trusts it will be okay.

“I want to try to build that,” Rhett says. He diverts a little: kind of suddenly. He kisses her cheek. “Let’s clean up the food?”

Elaine smiles at him. She knows that loneliness. It always was there, it was just easier to ignore some days. "You were a boat lost in a storm, floating in the aftermath and just hoping to find a friendly port you can manage to reach." She likes the imagery at least. "We can build that, yeah. I've wanted a home too."

His abrupt change surprises her, and she considers her approach. To drop it and let him flee or to pursue. "Sure. We can clean up." The words are said, but she makes no move to get up. "You've got the keys now. You can stay here as long as you'd like when you're not off on a smuggling trip." It's a sly way of her poking at the water.

Rhett’s return smile is warm, tender, and he nods, going quiet as she agrees with wanting a home. He leans forward to touch his forehead to hers. Just that. Then he relaxes back away again, to look at her.

“I do,” Rhett agrees about the key ownership. “I’ll stay more. Starting tonight,” Rhett says, with a poke of a finger at her knee. “If we clean up, then we can swim. Or go to bed.” It’s early, so that bed suggestion is more a playful one: and intentional, based on his roguish smile.

The man is adept at dodge. He may not know he’s doing it.

He's dodging and she's definitely noticed this time. Elaine places a hand on his knee. At first, it looks like a reply to his suggestion of bed, but it's actually one to grab his attention and keep him from getting up.

"Move in. Make a home with me."

There's a strange mix of both telling and asking in her tone. Firmness and kindness. "I'm saying that you want that and you don't have to run from it because you're scared. I want it just as much as you do. So stay forever, if you want. If you can't right now, I understand but you'll just be leaving me waiting.”

Rhett had shifted his weight forward towards his feet; he was going to get up and get on with the evening on that current status quo of being warm and dedicated and supporting each other against the anxiety of what the next day might lead to with her boss.

But she raised the stakes, and Rhett’s momentum is lost, and he stays sitting, instead. He glances down at the hand on his knee, but then meets her eyes. The flame that comes in is intense.

“I just …. The homes I try to build…” Rhett struggles with this sentence. “They collapse, and I end up in an empty house with their ghosts. I know that doesn’t mean this would. I don’t want us to collapse.” He moves so try to tuck her shoulder in, wrap her up. “I /want/ to endure.”

"There comes a point in time where what you want is stronger than what you fear," Elaine is speaking this for both of them. Her arms move to draw him close, to hold him and to stand as proof that she's there. "I can't guarantee the future. But what I know is that I no longer want to be scared to face it, to live in it. Life is short."

She kisses him softly, then returns to her little nook in his arms. "Besides, you aren't building alone."

“I know,” Rhett sighs softly. He does know, he knows it’s irrational. “What we’re doing is … so good,” he says, looking at her, and bringing a palm to her cheek, caressing the shape of her cheekbone, then softly down the edge of her jaw, her chin. It’s a very close inspection, but all of it is also loving.

“I forgot about feeling homeless for a little while.” Rhett quirks a smile. Homeless, not houseless. “But it’s better to have it. To try. And I believe in us; I do. And I know fear is… a way to know how important something is. ‘This’ is important.”

Elaine winces a little. “I don’t want to force you into anything, if you’re not ready you’re not ready. Things take time and I can tell this hurts. You wouldn’t be afraid otherwise.” She looks at him seriously. “But I’m putting the offer here, and I’m taking a risk. You can take it when you’re ready. Because I want you to be ready. I don’t want you to jump into anything if you aren’t certain of it.”

She kisses his cheek. “I’ll still be here even if you’re scared. And I’ll hold you until you’re not.”

“You’re not really taking a risk,” Rhett says, with a shake of head at her. “I think my heart is already here. You’re here,” Rhett says, his voice growing a little quieter, but it isn’t meek. It’s volume, though there’s still strength in it.

“I don’t want my past to ruin a really good future,” Rhett says. He’s talking himself through this to some extent, trying to sort out how he feels about it. Normally he’s had more time to figure it out and can stand in how he feels securely, but this is a shifting ground: much like the ground that moved when Elaine put the information in front of him about the other versions of herself.

“We can have love, and we can have this,” Rhett states. He’s reassuring himself.

But now Elaine isn’t sure if she pushed too much. She watches him, carefully, as he sorts through what he feels and his insecurities. He’s convincing himself it’s okay, and part of her wonders if it’s reassurement or if he’s convincing himself. She swallows hard. “Rhett, you don’t have to, I’m not going anywhere.”

She offers him a smile, although it’s a worried one. “I just want the step to be there when you’re ready. You can take as much time as you need. You’re already patient with me, there’s no reason I can’t do the same.”

Rhett’s quiet, for a little while: which is probably the better response from him, instead of him talking. He sorts through things a little better, hearing her words but without reacting in worry. He doesn’t want her to worry, though, either. He moves fingers to brush heir hair back from her cheek.

“I’ll stay more. If this becomes a home… I think we’ll know it,” Rhett offers. That’s a situation that works within what he wants and feels.

It’s a promise for the future, but no real push forward. Elaine will settle for that, at least, although now uncertainty lingers in the back of her mind. Did she push too hard? Was that going to create distance? It doesn’t show, however, as she smiles back to him. “Well, at the very least I’m glad to have you around more. The bed’s really cold when I wake up alone.”

She pats his knee. “Weren’t we going to clean up that food?”

“I’ll start to come over,” Rhett says, in a way that doesn’t sound like he means visits, but moving more substantially. He just wasn’t ready for the terminology, perhaps, that triggered the fear response. A home is some kind of mythical dream thing, a dream shattered more than once. Without the title on it, he’s more agreeable.

“I don’t want you to ever be cold,” Rhett adds. He then nods, and starts to let go of her as she patted, taking it as a request for release.

Elaine watches him, unsure of exactly what he means. But he seems to be sure in his meaning, so she takes it at face value.

“I don’t… want you to offer it just because it’s something I say I want,” Rhett says, more hesitant. “I don’t want to move in because of that, I’d want to be here because… you wanted me to be here. I want that to be the reason I’d move, not this other thing.”

“It’s not an offer because it’s something you wanted, it’s an offer because it’s something I wanted,” Elaine frowns a tiny bit. “It was a jump I was willing to take even though it’s not something I’ve thought about in a long time. I haven’t lived with anyone since before the war. It’s just been me and Inger, although Inger is great company.”

The mention of the cat is mostly thrown in to lighten the mood. “All of this feels like I’m getting over all the bad things in my life and maybe I’m being selfish asking for this, but I thought I’d try.”

“Inger decided to sleep on my back after you left this morning,” Rhett remarks, accepting the olive branch of mood lightening with that rueful comment.

But he’s serious again; there’s a strange distance from him sharing his worries about Homes and her apparent rush to try to help him. At least, from his viewpoint. The distance is a little frightening; just because it is an untested thing, something they have to determine if they can weather easily or not.

“A ‘home’ to me is …” Rhett doesn’t struggle, but he’s trying to pull words out of nothing. He doesn’t know what it is, maybe. “Something I’m not even sure if I can make, or have.” Rhett tries to take her hands again. “I don’t know if I can build one. A home isn’t moving in, it’s…” Rhett releases a breath. “It’s dreams. It’s this idea of family, of future. It’s all of it.” He presses his eyes closed.

“That is a lot more than moving in. I wasn’t sure that’s what you meant, by the word.” And that shows why he dodged: he realized what exactly he had been saying he wanted, and it was an overwhelming concept that came with fear.

“A home’s a feeling.” Elaine lets out a deeply held breath. “No, I get it. I know what a home is. It means something more than just a place. I just haven’t gotten to that. I lost it as a teenager and then there were several times I thought I found something but nothing’s stuck. I don’t think you understood what I meant when I said move in. I also said to make a home with me.”

She smiles, but it’s a little hard to read the emotion behind it. “I’m offering you a future with me, is what I’m saying.”

Rhett is trying to read that emotion, there’s a searching quality in his blue eyes. A tension in his jaw since he’s locked his teeth together subtly. He takes in her smile, and decides to try to sort it out through action.

Rhett leans forwards, tentative when he reaches her lips. It’s unconsciously an echo of the first time he leaned in to kiss her, that first risk to bridge. The same way he held her face that time, the lifted caress in his fingers.

He doesn’t entirely stall out this time, though, he attempts to put a very gentle kiss on her lips, barely there, but not quick; it’s soft, but lasting.

There’s only the tiniest bit of fear that seems to have creeped up in Elaine in all of this, but the kiss seems to quell it. It’s an offering of something, but she’s not sure what it is. She lets it dwell in its moment, not rushing it or trying to end it prematurely. Instead she brings up a hand to rest on the side of his face. There’s only the slightest trace of a quiver.

“Anyway,” she murmurs when the kiss is over. “It’s not meant to pressure you. I just want you to know that’s what I want.”

Rhett stays very close, despite the kiss ending. He turns his cheek just a little into her palm, eyes closing to brush his lips there, into the sensitive zone of the middle of her hand. He opens his eyes, looking at her sideways while his nose and mouth are turned towards her palm, then returns, for a second kiss.

That's her answer.

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