elliot_icon.gif rue4_icon.gif

Scene Title Ouch
Synopsis Elliot encourages Rue to visit Seren and consoles her in the aftermath. She returns the favor.
Date October 24, 2020

Red Hook: Elliot Hitchens' Townhouse

Rue’s been staring at the ceiling for the past twenty minutes. It may be for eternity for all that she’s been able to keep track of the passage of time. With Elliot quieted, she was able to slip into the realm of sleep herself, where her unconscious mind plagued her with dreams she can’t remember, but proved no less stressful upon waking.

The moments alone, when it’s quiet, they’re the hardest. It’s easier when she has a task. Or a drink. Right now, she has neither. Just the calm breathing of the man next to her and a guilt that’s taken up residence in the pit of her chest and spread a frozen rime across her ribcage.

When Elliot finally stirs next to her, Rue turns from her sprawl on her back, curling back onto her side to face him, waiting until he opens his eyes before she offers a quiet greeting and a smile unlike the ones she wore before they went to nap. “Hey…” She’s sad, but that’s not unusual where she’s concerned.

“Hey,” he replies in a whisper, smiling.

He stirs lazily at first. It takes him a moment, eyelids fluttering, to register the sadness of her expression. “Is everything okay?” he asks. The ringing in his ears comes to his attention next, louder than the usual background keening. He’s groggy from more than just sleep, but he’s slow to place the reason why.

Her hand comes to rest against his cheek, thumb brushing back and forth gently. “Yeah…” The reply is delivered lamely, no effort put into the lie. “I need to go hit up Fournier-Bianco Memorial.” Her thumb stills in its movement and Rue glances away without turning her face. “Seren, uhm… My ex. They’re—”

Blue eyes squint shut, pained in some way that’s not physical. “They were also at that fucking stupid thing Eve did. That’s where I was when you called me to come get you.” She doesn’t hide her guilt there, misplaced though it may be. “They should be out of surgery now. Awake. Hopefully…”

Elliot looks confused. Eve. His breath catches in a moment of anxiety. Explosions, massacre, the black horror of unconsciousness. He fumbles in the network looking for Wright’s link, and finds it still there. Feels her tap back against his awareness. Feels her calm, and his anxiety recedes.

This manifests in a loss of focus in his eyes which is quickly regained, replaced with a guilty look for his distraction. "Seren," he says, lifting his cast to rest it gently on Rue's waist. "I saw them there, after the fact. I'm sorry, I didn't know they were your ex. We met on the bus a few months ago." The small world remains unsaid. "Was there any word on their condition? Are you okay?"

“Stay with me,” Rue whispers when she can tell Elliot’s starting to recede into his own mind. She knows so well what that looks like. Everyone in Wolfhound’s done it — some more than others. She herself is exceptionally prone to it. Her hand slides back a little so her fingers can work their way into his hair, nails lightly running over his scalp to give him a physical sensation to focus on in the here and the now.

But he does come back to her quickly enough and she dismisses his guilt with a shake of her head, but otherwise no comment for it. “It’s okay,” she says instead, of him not realizing who came before him in her dating history. Not exactly the sort of thing partners talk about, though they don’t seem to care about what’s considered typical. Rue appreciates that about him.

“I guess they got hit pretty bad. They were still… in a really bad way when I was there to see them earlier. But I guess they were optimistic. And I know they’re in good hands with the folks at Raytech. They’ll make sure they can have the best recovery possible.” Raytech may not be a hospital, but their biomed and medtech are top notch. Richard Ray won’t let one of his own languish in recovery hell.

As for her state, Rue shakes her head, at odds with her response, “I’m fine.”

“I’m glad they’re getting the care they deserve,” Elliot says. “Though I will have words with their weird dog Baird about what ‘buddy system’ means.” He tries to inject a bit of levity into the conversation, and lets the silence rest a moment.

He leans in to place a kiss on Rue’s forehead. “It’s also okay to not be fine,” he says. His eyes flicker back and forth, taking in the small details that form her face; giving her room to break eye contact if she needs to. “I understand that it’s complicated, but I am willing to listen if you want to hash some of it out outloud. Now or later.”

“Baird must be distraught.” Baird isn’t even real. But he’s real to Seren, and that’s all that’s ever mattered to Rue. Real enough for her.

Her eyes close when his lips meet her skin. She lets out a soft huff of breath through her nose. Rue looks sad more often than she doesn’t, but mostly when she thinks he’s not looking these days. This is coupled with a bone deep, soul deep sort of tired that isn’t cured by a good nap next to a warm body. “Absolutely not,” she pronounces when she opens her eyes again. “I’d rather have my entire bikini line plucked with tweezers.”

One corner of her mouth turns up at that, a wry smile at her own expense. “But I appreciate that you’re willing to let me cry about how much they still mean to me.” Again, her eyes close and she shifts close enough for their foreheads to touch. Like if they sat there quietly, they’d be able to share their thoughts. That’s one step she hasn’t been willing to take yet in their relationship. He already knows too much about her troubled mind. Rue won’t subject him to it any further than that.

“You’re really good, you know that?” Her thumb brushes along his jawline as her fingers still rake lightly back and forth through his hair. “I don’t deserve it.”

Elliot smirks at her joke, but accepts it. "The offer remains open if you change your mind. And it's okay that they still mean something to you. Emotions don’t just vanish."

He experiments with lifting his cast to caress her cheek with his fingertips, seems satisfied with his pain level. His smile shifts to a wider one, one she doesn’t see outside of these intimate moments. A look of earnest happiness. “We’re all works in progress, Rue. We all fuck up—me included—sometimes very badly. But since the only person who seems to think that you don’t deserve affection is you,” he says, “I will continue to try to be good to you until you feel otherwise.”

He momentarily places a fingertip on her top lip to forestall any attempt at further self depreciation, a bit of the playful smirk returning.

And that self deprecation was on the tip of her tongue, which now stills behind her teeth. Instead, she opens her eyes again and takes in the sight of his smile, marveling at the way it spreads warmth through her, where there was previously only the chill of her own sorrow.

Rue kisses the tip of his finger, eyes a little misty, but she keeps it at bay for now. Her brows lift as if to ask can I talk now?

Elliot rests his hand on the bed between them. He answers her unasked question with a lightning fast peck on the forehead, pulling back to yield her some space to talk.

“I like when you smile like that,” Rue admits in a soft voice. “I think we’re both out of practice at it.” Works in progress, as he said. “But you’re getting the hang of it, I think.” Her fingers trail down the back of his neck, then follow the slope of his shoulder until she rests her hand lightly where it curves to his arm.

“I should probably… get dressed and head out to Roosevelt. Sooner I go, the sooner I can come back to you. Make good on my promises.” There’s reluctance to leave his side that shows in the way her fingers tighten momentarily. Like she’d like to hold him and not let go.

“What, this smile?” he asks, pointing at his face but making an incorrect smile. “No? This one?” he tries again, but this smile is decidedly more incorrect. He pokes lightly but playfully at her side. “Don’t be mad,” he says defensively, “You were doing that smile I like!”

“I’ll be here when you get back, I’m not going anywhere,” Elliot assures her, “Unless I get black bagged by SESA, and I’m confident you could break me out if so. Take the time you need.” He rolls onto his back and stretches, yawning deeply but covering his mouth to keep it from catching.

“It’s a shame, though,” he sighs, “You having to put your clothes back on.” He turns to look at Rue in all her glorious nudity, giving a somber shake of the head.

Rue rolls her eyes and laughs when he clowns around with those faces. “Stop,” she pleads without sincerity. She likes every one of his smiles, even if she likes that particular one most of all.

“You get black bagged by SESA and I’m calling Demsky,” Rue responds in a way that’s a joke, but also definitely not a joke. Colette’s proven she can shoot her way into and out of a government facility once before already. “You bet I wouldn’t let them have you.”

Withdrawing so she can push herself up to sit finally, she rakes her fingers through her hair momentarily, then brushes it forward over her shoulders in an attempt to do a strategic covering of her chest, like could be captured in a painting, but her hair’s not quite long enough yet. “I know, I should just be perched inside a seashell in all my glory,” she laments with a sigh, reluctantly shedding the covers from over her legs and climbing out of his bed.

“Want me to pick anything up while I’m out? Groceries? Pizza? I’m stopping at the store anyway, so if you’ve got a list, just text me?” She steps back into her jeans while she’s talking, tugging them up and nearly over her hips. A little hop gets them pulled up the rest of the way from where the narrow opening didn’t want to let go of her heels.

“Oh my god please don’t ever tell Colette if SESA ever grabs me, that would be so embarrassing. She’d be all, ‘Well well well, Hitchens, it looks like you still haven't gotten the exfiltration side of the job down,’ and honestly I don’t think my heart could handle the shame.”

When Rue poses on the bed he hums in appreciation. “I wish I could paint,” he says, “You could definitely be the model on the box of those little sea-shell soaps. Or a runway, there’s plenty of mobility in that area I’m sure.”

He watches her pull on her pants with another sad sigh. “Pizza sounds good,” he says as he watches her become less and less undressed, “Chicago style if you can, I still love winding up New York-style pizza purists when I order to go. Also I have an old Red Sox hat in the closet, you should wear that while you do it, god that gets ‘em going.”

Rue snorts. “Your impression is spot on.” That sounds exactly like the kind of shade Colette would throw at either of Wolfhound’s resident spies. “Guess you better not get black bagged by SESA, huh?”

The expression of his regret for his inability to capture her essence in portrait is rewarded with a performative grasp at herself and a wink. “No thanks to the runway. Did my time as a model already. Paris and Milan are nice — what I can remember of them — but I like food way too much to go back to that life.” But he’s seen her eat like she still worries about inches and judgement. “Plus, I never did hit it big before. I’m almost certainly too old to do it now.” Old at thirty-two. The fashion world is maybe more fucked than their mercenary lives.

She sits on the end of the bed to pull on her socks and shove her feet back into her boots, taking her time as she relaces them. The hunch of her shoulders gives away her silent laughter when he mentions the Red Sox hat. Rather than stand, Rue climbs up on the bed. He can complain about her boots on the bed, but the bedspread can go in the wash and they’ll both live. She climbs over him, settling over his waist.

“Riling up Yankees fans by supporting Boston and my native Chicago’s superior pizza?” Rue plants her hands on Elliot’s chest, eyes sparkling with amusement when she angles a look down at him. “Is it too early to say I love you?”

Elliot doesn’t complain about Rue’s boots, he just smiles and watches her climb toward him. He sets his hands on her hips when she straddles him. Then the question catches him off guard entirely. There’s a pause and he feels very aware that even a pause in this point of the conversation could be read as a yes. But he smiles while he tries to assemble an answer.

“I’ve never been one to lean on convention,” he says, testing the waters. “And it’s hard to argue with this view.” Still a couple articles of clothing away from decency.

“Relax,” Rue responds in a murmur. “I’m just being silly.” Even though there’s a momentary look in her eyes that says unless you’re not, then I’m definitely not kidding. “You don’t have to start ring shopping.” She dips down to plant a kiss on his mouth, chaste but no less sweet.

With that delivered, she rolls onto her side on the bed next to him again, leg lifting in the air and letting the momentum carry her over toward her stomach — where she would definitely roll off the bed, if not for the way that pointed leg extends to land on the floor and she comes to stand again in a fluid motion.

“Be back soon, ‘kay? If you need anything, shoot me a text.” Rue scoops her phone up from the night stand and shoves it into her back pocket.

“Will do,” Elliot says. “Give Seren my best wishes for their recovery, if it seems situationally appropriate to do so.”

“Will do,” Rue echoes, waving with a wiggle of her fingers and backing out the bedroom door so he can have that view he admires so much as long as possible.

Keys rattle in the lock, letting Elliot know that Rue’s back — sooner than expected — before she actually steps inside. The door is nudged shut behind her with her boot, the lock reengaged before she heads in with a box of pizza balanced in one hand, her canvas grocery sack hanging from her elbow. She doesn’t call out a greeting, just sets out the food, sets her sack on the counter, leaving it there so she can pull out a plate from the cupboard and set it out next to the pizza box.

Two items are pulled from her bag: a heating pad and a bottle of bourbon. They’re both left on the counter while she plates a large slice of deep dish with the help of a stiff spatula. Then all of it’s brought over to the living room. The plate is passed wordlessly to Elliot, the bourbon set down on the couch, and the heating pad plugged in before she grabs the alcohol up again, sitting down in its place.

Heat applied to abdomen, bourbon applied to mouth. Who needs glasses? That’s just creating more dishes. Only once she’s taken a generous drink and wiped the back of her hand over her mouth does she look over to her partner. She goes right back to staring ahead and helps herself to another drink.

Elliot sits in silence as Rue bustles around him. He doesn’t seem to register most her movements, though he does meet her eyes when she sits beside him. He’s slouched back into the couch in a way that doesn’t look like he’s relaxing. And come to think of it, his eyes show the telltale signs of having spent some time crying.

“Sorry,” he says hoarsely. He rubs at his eyes as though there’s still tears in them where there are none. “That bad?” he preemptively deflects, nodding toward her bottle of liquor.

“Yeah.” She puts the cap back on the bottle and sets it aside for now. “Why’re you crying?” Said with the same inflection she might ask who do I have to punch? With one arm wrapped around her midsection to hold the warming pad in place, she reaches out for Elliot with the other hand. “Talk to me about it?”

“It’s not—” Elliot begins, then just gestures at his face. “This is overflow. I’m sorry. It’s hard not to spiral into Wright’s emotions while on painkillers. One quirk of the link meets another quirk of the link.”

“Okay,” Rue responds easily enough, affect somewhat flat, but not dismissive. “So, do you want me to check on her?” If Wright is upset enough to upset Elliot… She doesn’t totally get how the link works, despite her best efforts, but she has concern enough for both of them. If Wright is sad, she’d like to do something about it.

Especially if it might involve punching something.

“I appreciate that, but I don’t think it would help. And, unfortunately, I promised not to talk about it. To my detriment,” he acknowledges the last part with something approaching regret, or bitterness.

He takes a deep breath to clear the moment, and rests his hand on Rue’s. “Thank you though.”

“Yeah, of course.” Her hand shifts beneath his so she can lace their fingers together. “If that changes, you know.” He just needs to let her know.

Rue closes her eyes and tips her head back against the couch. “I…” She shakes her head, making a soft sound to signify her disgust with herself. “Doctors say Seren’s gonna be okay.” Which should be good news, but here she is, looking decidedly ungood.

Elliot nods in silent thanks. “Did one of them suckerpunch you in the stomach?” he asks, nodding toward the heating pad.

The question is first responded to with a groan. “Seren’s bestie has a mean haymaker.” Rue slips her hand free from Elliot’s so she can grab her bottle again. Uncapped, she leaves the mouth of it settled against her lower lip so she can speak before another drink. “I’m a huge fucking cunt, so I deserved it.”

But after she drains this bottle, she’ll either feel less bad about that, or she won’t feel anything, or she’ll just feel worse about other things, and all of that sounds like it’s better than this.

Elliot sits up and leans forward. “Okay, that was a joke guess, I didn’t expect,” he starts, looking back to Rue with concern. Am I going to have to fight someone? “What happened?”

The bottle settles against her knee, fingers around the neck of it as she considers where to even begin to respond to that question. “Unsurprisingly, Seren’s friends aren’t really fans of me. Considering I broke up with them after they found out I’d been cheating the entire time…”

Rue gets it.

“It was all fine until I… mentioned you.” There’s barely a pause before she amends, “Not you specifically, but that I had a boyfriend to get back to. I wasn’t even looking his way. He just drilled me.” Her eyes finally open again, but only so she can stare at the ceiling. “I thought I was gonna puke.”

It takes a while for Elliot to sort through that. There’s a lot he doesn’t know about the history here. He has no context. But that doesn’t fully suppress his desire to ask for the perpetrator’s contact information to scribe it into his black book.

He runs his hand through his hair and rests it on the back of his neck. “Okay, so, if you could elaborate on that I would appreciate it. I get the being angry part, but I’m still having trouble connecting it to the assault.”

“I might have told him he could have a free shot at me,” Rue admits. She should probably be a bit more sheepish about it, but she isn’t. It felt like the right thing to do and it still feels like it was. Even if it also feels like bruising and cramping now. “He just politely declined and then decided later to take me up on it when I wasn’t expecting.”

With a heavy sigh, she digs into it further. “Seren hasn’t taken our break up well. They’ve been… I mean, they should hate me and they don’t. If I came crawling back, they’d take me back in a heartbeat.” Rue pushes her tongue against the inside of her cheek briefly while she thinks. “So, the fact that I’ve… moved on while they haven’t…” She shrugs her shoulders. “Didn’t sit well with the guy. I’d have probably done the same thing in his shoes.”

Elliot laughs at first, shaking his head. “I suppose that’s fair. Consenting to it, not that you deserved to be punched, I mean. Though, that’s how Houdini died, so keep an eye on it.”

He sorts through the rest in his head for a while. Eventually he takes a bite of his pizza, and nods with spiteful satisfaction at the thought of wounded Yankee pride. He sits, eating and contemplating in silence. “I’m doing the thing in my head where I’m trying to solve problems I don’t fully understand,” he finally says. “And I want to try to be helpful, which I don’t know that that’s what you want. Because this isn’t really about you and me, it’s about you and them.”

He sets his plate down on the coffee table. “But can I ask you one personal question?”

That he’s able to laugh at the situation eases some of her own tension about things. Rue finally turns her head so she can look at him. Now, he’s eating and that helps, too. It means he’ll be okay, so that’s one less thing for her to worry about.

“I appreciate the instinct. I’m not sure this is a solvable problem, but if you think you’ve got a solution, I won’t be offended if you share.” His question is met with a lift of her eyebrows, capturing Rue’s curiosity. “You’ve seen me naked on many occasions now. Yes, you can ask me a personal question.”

Elliot smirks at her response, but then reins in his smile to attempt to lend his question the seriousness he feels it’s due. “Do you think Seren might also realise that the only person who seems to think that you don’t deserve affection is you?”

Her gaze gets sharp just before she rolls her eyes and looks away. “I don’t deserve affection from them,” she insists, if only because trying to argue that she doesn’t deserve it from him as well has proved futile on multiple occasions. She’s trying to get better about it. “Seren’s just… too good for their own good, you know? And… They’re not like us. They didn’t sign on for this life of danger bullshit that follows us around.” Rue glances back again, expression softer now. “They’re better off without me. Safer. This? What you and I have? It’s… It’s better. I’m not afraid the world’s going to break you.”

Her mouth twists into a wry smile, eyeing his cast. “I mean, beyond repair.”

"They survived ground zero in Detroit. I think they may be heartier than you give them credit for," Elliot says.

Some of that sadness creeps back into his eyes as he continues. "And this world broke me into pieces. Again and again.” He shakes himself quickly from that spiral of self pity. “But I move forward.”

“We don’t get to choose how other people feel about us, and no one is owed forgiveness. But some people give it. And when we don’t deserve that forgiveness all we can do is whatever it takes to right our wrongs and earn it. Sometimes we can’t. But that doesn’t mean we don’t owe it to them to try.”

Rue takes another drink from her bottle before setting it aside again so she can free up her hands. This time she unlaces her boots and nudges them off under the table so she can pull her feet up on the couch and turn to face Elliot. “I know,” she says quietly. “Me too.” They’re both shattered and broken people who understand what that means. That waking screaming in the night is just part of the package deal.

She reaches out for his hand again. “I don’t know how to fix what I did.” Rather, she doesn’t think it’s possible. “I know they want to give it another shot, but I just… can’t.” Rue lowers her head, not bothering to hide how upset she feels. “I guess the best I can do is just be their friend. Try to be better at that than I was at being a partner.” She shrugs one shoulder and angles a sad smile back to him. “Try to learn from my mistakes so I can be good to you.”

Elliot takes his hand from Rue’s only so he can wrap his arm around her and pull her in closer. He plants a small kiss on her temple, another on her brow, another on her cheek. “I understand,” he says. “And I appreciate, very sincerely, that you want to be good to me. To be better to them. But I want you to remember this.”

He tips her chin up with his thumb, taking care not to scratch her with the rough material of his cast. When their eyes meet he lets the silence rest for a moment to draw out the importance of it. He says, “You need to try to be good to yourself too. Whatever comes of this, just know that I am here for it. Bumps, hiccups, bikini-line tweezing conversations and all.” He allows a moment for a playful grin, and kisses her again.

“Every time you think badly of yourself, I want you to think of this. Every time you remember the bad things you’ve done, I want you to remind yourself that it’s already happened. You can’t change those things, you can only try to do better next time, and make things right where you can. Don’t let those thoughts pull you into a spiral of self-loathing. Think of this and pull yourself up. Breathe it out. Let go of it.”

That I’m intimately familiar with. And it’s still hard to always remember to pull yourself from the edge of it. Harder to pull yourself out of it. But it gets easier.” He runs the hand he cradles her in up and down her arm.

“Will you try to do that? Not for me, not for them, but for you?”

God, you’re so good,” Rue whispers, lips pressed together even when she smiles in spite of herself. “I don’t deserve you.” She shakes her head right away, a little bubble of laughter following. “Sorry. I’ll… I’ll try.” Not to say things like that. Especially right after he’s told her to stop that.

“You know… Avi used to say something like that to me. I don’t know if he did to you or anyone else.” Rue closes her eyes, as though recalling a specific instance, or maybe many. “Whatever happened, happened, he’d say. Trying to get me to leave that shit behind me, you know. But that was… when we were compartmentalizing, you know? Just trying to survive the war without eating our own guns.”

It’s grim, but this is something else she expects Elliot understands very well. It’s another thing she appreciates about having him in her life. She can say these things and it isn’t followed up with looks of horror or pity. It all was what it was, and is what it is. The struggle is constant, ongoing.

Like this one. To stop punishing herself and convincing herself she’s unworthy of love and forgiveness. Rue looks at him again and leans in for another kiss. “It’s harder to convince myself that the personal stuff can be let go of too.” Instead, she ties her mistakes around her ankle, a cement block ready to be pushed off the end of a pier.

“Avi did have some unexpectedly therapeutic gems now and then,” Elliot laughs. “Though they were always wrapped in brusk ‘men can’t have feelings’ tones which kind of degraded the utility of them.” He sighs out a laugh and shakes his head.

“I don’t think he ever really knew what to do with me. I didn’t talk much at the beginning, and did most of my crying on the inside. He probably just assumed I was fine the whole time. Well,” He reconsiders, “As fine as anybody who came out of the Ark could be. I was definitely a weirdo before that though.”

“And thank you. For trying,” he says, placing a longer kiss on her lips. He takes his arm from around her and smoothes her hair over the back of her head. “Also if you’re drinking you have to eat some of this pizza. It’s very good.”

“And always washed down with whiskey.” Rue smirks faintly. “Always made it go down rougher, but after enough of it, it seemed as good as anything else.” It worked before. It’s no wonder she’s so… The way she is now.

“He knew,” she insists. “I know he only had one eye, but he wasn’t that blind.” If there’s one thing Rue’s learned about Avi Epstein in the past couple of years, it’s that he’s more intuitive than she ever gave him credit for. But how do you go through everything that man has and not have some sense of how it affects people? “Must’ve been hell for him, you know? Watching us go through all that. We were just kids…” Maybe before the Ark. Nothing of their lives before survived that place.

“Anyway,” Rue dismisses the topic with a shake of her head, “pizza’s gonna fuck up my buzz. I just kind of want to get blitzed and not give a shit tonight.”

Which is different from most nights in what respect…? Well, the nights she spends alone, anyway.

Elliot sighs, doesn’t shake his head but looks like he wants to. But then he looks up. “Today is about being good to yourself, not punishing your body,” he says. “I’ll make you a deal. We both have a slice of pizza, and then I will take you upstairs and make you not able to think about things the old fashion way. Fruit cup dessert.”

He sets his hand delicately over the heating pad. “We’ve both been through it,” he continues. “And my pain is okay right now; no need to sacrifice your needs for the sake of mine. I think we both deserve to get off devastatingly hard.” He looks at her hopefully, questioningly, eyebrow raised, and runs his hand over her thigh. Leans down to tilt her chin up with his and kiss the hollow of her throat.

There’s a weight in that sigh that Rue feels in her soul. A shame wells up in her that she doesn’t often allow the indulgence of. Usually, she simply drowns it. A vicious cycle, and the shame comes in allowing him to see it, displaying it so openly. It’s foolish to think that if she’ll just be blasé about it, he’ll accept or ignore it.

But he doesn’t argue, just strikes a bargain that she considers for a moment. She opens her mouth to insist that she is absolutely only consenting to one slice when he finishes the second part of that deal he’s offering her. “Oh.” His own openness has a habit of leaving her speechless. Maybe she’s just so used to dealing in code and innuendo that the plainness of it takes her by surprise.

If he had any doubt about her willingness to accept this compromise, it should be banished by the little sound she makes when his lips find her throat. The way her fingers curl against him. “That sounds nice,” she admits. “You’re so good at robbing me of the ability to think.” Her teardrop shaped mouth curves into a smile. “You fucking thief.

"I prefer to think of myself as an infiltrator," he says as he raises his head to meet her eyes. "I rarely take anything with me."

He holds the back of her head gently, runs his thumb over the edge of her ear delicately, leans it to place a kiss on her lips before pulling away. His playful grin is back in full view when he says, "No infiltration until you finish your dinner."

A contented little hum accompanies the affectionate touches. The earlier upset slowly drains. It isn’t gone, he knows that and she doesn’t try to pretend, but it becomes something manageable. It can be waded through, no longer threatening to drown.

“You are masterful at it,” Rue grants, mirroring his expression. Reluctantly, she draws back to her end of the sofa, putting her feet back on the floor and setting her heating pad aside. “Need anything while I’m up?” she asks as she levers herself up to stand, waiting that split second it takes for the room to catch up with her before she starts back to where the pizza’s waiting to be appreciated.

"No, thank you," Elliot says, settling into his pizza. He tracks her through the living space as she goes, and smiles warmly, perhaps conspiratorially, when she turns back to look at him.

“You know, I fully intended to spend this evening passed out in a gutter — metaphorically speaking.” A plate is pulled from the cupboard, pizza set on it. It smells so damn good and reminds her of home in a way that makes her nostalgic for something that doesn’t really exist anymore. “You keep dragging me back from the edge.”

Rue reclaims her place on the couch and starts in on her food. She’s not going to eat it too quickly, because that’s a recipe for discomfort when combined with a lot of movement. It’s like waiting a while before going swimming after a meal, except that she bets neither of them is going to be keen on waiting. So this is the compromise. “Not a lot of people are able to do that,” she finally clarifies between bites.

Elliot smiles as he finishes a bite of his meal. "I'm happy that I can help," he says. "There's never a need to sleep in the gutter, though. You can always just come over after a hard day and sneak into bed. I'll never turn down a quality spooning."

He sets down his plate for a moment to pick up Rue's bottle and the cap. He pauses to take in the scent of it before closing it and setting it back down. "God I miss whiskey," he says.

“I get why you don’t indulge, but if you weren’t on painkillers, I’d say you should at least have a sip.” Since she’s been reminded of it, Rue grabs the bottle again for another drink. “I used to be a cosmopolitan girl, you know? Or anything with grenadine. I’m starting to get back into cocktails, since I’m trying to class up the Cradle a bit, but I still feel like if it’s not kicking me in the face, it’s just not doing the job.”

Pulling herself into a cross-legged position on the sofa, she lets the bottle settle in the nook made by one bent knee while she eats another couple bites of pizza. “Speaking of. I need to find a new place to live. If they ever let Eve out of jail,” she can only assume that’s where her wayward landlady is at this point, “she’s going to want her apartment back. I haven’t rented a place in the city since… Twenty-ten? I’ve always slept wherever Wolfhound was calling HQ at any given time. Eve’s place is the first time I’ve… been anywhere but the barracks.” It isn’t hard to see that she feels like it doesn’t suit her. “At least the bar noise feels like home. There’s always activity, so it never gets quiet.”

Elliot just shakes his head. “I’ve gotten used to not drinking,” he says. “I always worry one sip will make me want another, and before you know it Wright would be puking on the other side of the city. Plus I can still just enjoy the scent of it.”

“God, maybe they’ll just keep Eve in there though. Wouldn’t that be kind of relaxing? Not worrying if she’s about to… Eve-it-up somewhere. Or surprise you in the middle of the fucking woods to say a bunch of spooky shit and then hover away, cackling.” He shivers for dramatic effect, but then looks thoughtful, then down at his cast. “Fuck, maybe I should have reported her in April.”

The ramifications of that look to unsettle him for a moment. Would people be alive right now if he had? He eats quietly for a minute, then bring his attention back to less unpleasant topics. “You could always apply for a lottery house, that’s what Wright did,” Elliot suggests. “There’s always new areas going on-grid.”

“Hey,” Rue says gently, shifting her plate so she can free up a hand to reach over and rest it against Elliot’s knee. “Don’t do that. Don’t go there.” Her fingers squeeze gently. “I go to the bottom of that mineshaft every night. It’s dark down there, and the company’s not great.” The what-ifs, especially where it comes to Eve Mas, are unproductive at best. There’s no knowing if it would have changed a single thing. Miss Mas is a force of nature when she sets her mind to something.

That Rue could stand to take her own advice is summarily set aside. That’s not the topic of their conversation at the moment. She smiles when he comes back to the moment and the question at hand. “I could. I mean… I have enough money stashed that I could easily get my own place. I’ve saved a literal fortune by buying my Jeep outright and having paid not a single dime in rent for the past six years.” Her nails graze over his knee gently as she slowly drags her hand back toward herself, breaking the contact only when there’s no runway left.

“I guess it feels too permanent. I don’t know what to do with permanent. I feel like I should always be ready to up and go where I’m needed at a moment’s notice. Even though…” Rue looks down and takes another bite of pizza rather than finish that thought.

Elliot is grateful for the distraction and laughs a bit as he shakes himself out of it. "Did you see how I just didn't take my own advice and then you did the thing instead? Thank you for that, feel free to not let me live it down."

"I can't believe I live in this place. Sure, several consecutive apocalypses tanked the market value and most of the wealthier folk who lived on this street died horribly probably, and I may have sold pills to several middle aged white housewives of impeccable standing in local affairs, but still. Five years and it still feels weird. I was effectively homeless for the nine years before that, aside from the bunk in Rochester." There were more nights of roughing it than not in there. Wolfhound, war, Ferry, alleged crimes, aid volunteering after the Bomb. Having the stability of a home is a marvel. Even without the other three who lived here until earlier this year.

"But what I'm hearing you say is that you need a small place with a large garage and a towable Winnebago."

“You’re welcome.” Whether she lets him live it down or not, Rue glosses over. Either that’s being slipped into the arsenal for later or it isn’t. He’ll only find out later.

While he talks about his own feelings of stability, she looks around the space. She’s certainly studied it before — she can’t not. She knows every conceivable way she could get out at a moment’s notice if shit ever hit the fan. Has taken note of every possible improvised weapon. Rue just can’t appreciate someone’s interior decor choices like a normal person.

“I need to live in a fucking college dorm or above a night club or something.” She shakes her head and sets aside her pizza with maybe three bites left, washing the last mouthful down with another swig of bourbon before she replaces the cap and leaves it on the table with her plate. “I hate not knowing there’s other people down the hall. But it’s not like an apartment. No one’s friends with their neighbors in an apartment anymore.”

Rue sighs heavily and finally admits, “I miss the Bastion. Nothing’s felt right since.” But it wouldn’t feel right now. “I feel like there’s no place I belong anymore. Like I’m just never going to be comfortable, no matter where I end up.” A strand of her red hair is tucked behind her ear absently. “Maybe I should just find a water hook-up and live out of an RV. At least I’ll have the illusion of being able to fuck off whenever.”

"If you ever visit Wright's, don't let her neighbor Tiny Mrs Hon hear you say that. They are best friends. She'll fight you. I like to imagine she has a rolling pin stuck in an umbrella stand just inside the door, just waiting for someone to be mean to anyone on their floor." Elliott chuckles as he sets his empty plate down on the table.

"You can always make friends with your neighbors if you rent a place. I certainly wouldn't because I'm a misanthrope but it's theoretically possible," he clarifies. "You should find a place to rent in a decent part of town. Worst case scenario you don't like it and just move somewhere else. Best case scenario you find your own Tiny Mrs Hon."

"Do you think it could be nice though to have a place that's all yours, without worrying about risking clouds of vampiric mist wafting through the door to shout spooky prophetic witchy bullshit?" he asks. "Something you can really make yours?"

“I don’t know,” Rue muses, “the spooky prophetic witchy bullshit keeps things exciting.” Not always in positive fashions, but that’s beside the point. She draws her knees up to her chest and wraps her arms loosely around them as she sets her chin on the peaks. “Good for her, though.” Wright and her Tiny Mrs. Hon. “Making friends is stupid though, isn’t it? Like… it’s just going to mean more people who’re worried about me, and that’s just really un-fucking-fair to put anyone through.”

She gives people a lot to worry about.

“I don’t know.” The admission is an honest one. “I’ve really never thought about it. Like, I never once got frustrated and griped about wishing I had my own place when I was at the Bunker. I don’t think about it at the Cradle. It’s just never been a thought in my head.” Her brows lift as she considers, adding in a deadpan, “Except maybe when Sassy starts blasting EDM in the morning when he knows I’m hungover.”

Rue turns her head so she can look at Elliot properly again. “You like this, though? Having your own place and your own quiet?” Her head tilts to one side thoughtfully. “Maybe it’s different for you though, huh? You’re… never quite alone, even when you’re here by yourself.”

“Never alone isn’t the same as not lonely, but yeah. It’s good to have the solidity,” he admits. “It’s balanced against the fear of being found, though. I was actually just getting to the point where I could live my life without always looking over my shoulder when Avi showed up.”

He snaps his fingers suddenly, and cocks his head, clenches his jaw. Shakes whatever it was off, and looks away with his eyes closed. “Sorry, that was weird. That was one of my old tics. This festival keeps digging up the classics.” And she may remember seeing it in the long since passed. Moments where Elliot was frustrated and thought he was alone, venting his worry or his aggravation when words wouldn’t come.

“You’re right,” Rue concedes with a nod of her head. And though she knows he’d say she doesn’t have to, she says it anyway: “I apologize.” Because she should know better. Sometimes she’s the most lonely in a crowded room. It doesn’t matter how many people are or aren’t around.

“You’re okay,” she promises. Not just for having slipped back into an old habit in front of her or for having done it at all, but also just that he’s safe here with her. Safe to have momentary relapses and safe from harm. “You don’t have to stay with them, you know. Just because you said you’d come back doesn’t mean you can’t walk away now.”

“Honestly,” Elliot says, “It’s safer to stay on at this point. I don’t know anything will come of it, but it’s better to have a famous strike team at your back. My back. The proverbial your. One’s.” He laughs a bit and is lost in thought for a moment.

“I haven’t actually—” he starts, considers. “I haven’t actually told you this. I’m afraid I might get black-bagged.” He says it as though he’s both incredulous that it could happen and can’t believe he’s saying it outloud. “I’ve kept a low profile, but I don’t know what they know about me. I told you that something from the Praxis Heavy hack was linked to the Ark. My time there. About opening the old project files. About what happened in Site Zero.”

Whatever traces of humor were left in her have drained away now. “What?” Rue leans in, brow furrowed in confusion. “What are you talking about?” Even though the government in charge now is the one she helped install via the war effort, Rue isn’t naive enough to believe or even suggest that isn’t a practice any longer. Given sufficient reason, this government — any government — can and would black-bag someone.

“Why do you think someone would want to grab you because of whatever the Institute put you through?” With her hands free now, she offers both of them out to him. “Talk me through this. Help me understand what you’re concerned about here.”

Elliot looks frustrated with himself. “I’m sorry,” he says. “There was a Praxis project that lamented the loss of information from ‘Sunstone’, and having to rely on a previous success, which was Project Zero. So, if anyone who got this report is still alive, and keen to replicate the successes of Project Zero, that’s,” He falters.

“That’s me. Telepathic networking. A ‘quantum wet-network, incapable of technological hacking’, which isn’t really glitch-proof, I gotta say. But I guess corporate management has a nebulous definition of ‘success’.”

He tries to deflect some of the seriousness of the topic with some entries from the “Unknown Unknowns” column. “So there’s a lot I don’t know. What information escaped the destruction of the Ark, who took whatever information there was, how it relates to Sunstone, and if anyone knows about it now. And if any of those runes land unfavorably, if anybody knows I’m actually alive. My name could have been redacted from all the files as far as I know. They certainly weren’t calling me Mr. Hitchens in there.”

Jesus Christ,” Rue breathes out. Where does she even begin with any of that? Shaking her head with her disbelief and trying to clear that, she tells him, “You have nothing to apologize to me for.” Just so they’re clear.

“Oh, fuck…” There’s really no convincing way to insist that his fears are unfounded, and she won’t insult him by pretending there is. “I can see why you’re concerned.” Rue drags a hand over her hair, smoothing it back with her palm and briefly tugging at the strands at her crown as though the momentary flash of pain might help her think more clearly.

Memories of Sunstone still haunt her. Even if she didn’t witness the worst of it, she knows there were atrocities committed there. Knows that it was a repository for the last remnants of the Institute and their knowledge. “I want to believe that if… If someone was going to come after you, they’d have done it by now. You haven’t exactly been in hiding.” But that’s not a given, just a hope. “And as long as someone like… Medina or Hesser isn’t voted in, I don’t think this government is going to do something like that.”

So, it’s just the bad guys they have to worry about.

“You know, if this is your way of asking me to move in so you have another trigger finger watching your back…” She laughs, but it’s a nervous thing. “You know I’m good for it, right? If you ever feel like you need the backup, all you have to do is call. I’ll drop everything and show up with my kit. No questions asked.”

Elliot can’t help but go through the cycle of wow, just, wow facial expressions along with her. The last comment draws a smile back out of him. “I’m not sure what this was, other than the fact that you should probably know these things because of said wow factor. I wouldn’t mind the company. And I’d do the same for you.”

“I’m not going to lie, I have considered moving into the Bastion. The rooms are surprisingly nice. Not that anything is abduction-proof these days,” he exasperates.

Rue smirks faintly. “I mean, fuck, I hear they even have heat now.” Which would have been deeply fucking appreciated last winter, Aviators. “You can claim a room. Crash there when you need to. That’s what everybody else did. Pretty sure my lonely ass was the only full-timer there.” Her mouth flattens into a thin line as she glances away. “There’s nothing wrong with living there full-time, if that’s what you wind up deciding to do eventually. I just… didn’t belong anywhere else.”

There’s a dramatic sigh when she turns back to him. “Fuck, I didn’t even think about heat. That RV is sounding like a terrible idea all of a sudden.” Momentary joking aside, she clasps his hand in both of hers. “I’ve got you, okay? I will fight tooth and fucking nail to make sure no one ever, ever takes advantage of you like that again.” It’s that same conviction and desire to protect others that put her with the Ferry in the first place. “And if they come for you, if they somehow find you and they take you, there is nothing in this world that will stop me from getting you back.

Elliot looks bright when Rue shows her determination. He’s seen what she’s capable of and believes her when she says it. Now he sits in happy silence as he regards her. "Well," he says. "I look forward to being your damsel in distress."

He pulls against her hands as he shuffles toward her. “Excuse me,” he says, pulling his hand from hers as he scoots in even closer. “You just have some,” he kisses her as he presses her back into the couch cushions. "There it is," sweeps her hair back from her face as he supports himself in the back of the couch with his cast.

“I hope you never have to be,” Rue responds easily. “There’s plenty of excuses to watch me kick ass that don’t have to involve you being in danger.”

As he closes in, her brows rise over her wide blue eyes. An expression of and what the fuck do you think you’re doing? but in the most good-natured sense, tinged with amusement. Her position shifts easily as he starts to lean her back, like it’s all steps in a dance they’ve both practiced the choreography for.

The kiss is met with sweetness as well as enthusiasm. “Did you get it?” she asks with a playful smirk. “Or do you need to make one more pass to be sure?”

“Well ma’am, I hate to be the bearer of bad news,” Elliot says with a sigh, “But I’m going to need to take a look under the hood; this may take a while.” He plants three kisses along her jaw toward her ear. “Is there anything I can get for you while you wait?”

Rue’s smirk mellows into something more relaxed, languid. One of her legs twines with his and she reaches up to stroke his hair while he plants his kisses. Her breath catches as he nears her ear, released as a low chuckle. “You’re all I need right now, Hitch.”

It will be different later, when the glow dims, but for now… For now, this is enough.

Shifting back against the arm of the couch at her back, she asks, “Is this where you want me?” It’s not a complaint. If anything, she’s more concerned about making sure this is comfortable for him. Rue can do this anywhere, so long as he’s involved.

"Now that you mention it, upstairs would probably be ideal," Elliot says. "We're going to need some wiggle room." He pushes himself upright, reaching down to offer Rue a hand up from the couch.

With the assistance, Rue pulls herself back up into a seated position, then swings her legs back over the sofa to plant her feet on the floor. They can leave everything out for now. Either she’ll come back down later to tidy up, or the pizza will sit out overnight and it’ll be fine. Right now, it’s a worry she can shove aside to care about later.

Now she offers him the hand up, ready to help compensate for the broken arm by sliding a hand around the back of his shoulder to provide a little extra support. He may not be fragile, but that doesn’t mean she can’t be helpful. “You know how good you are, right?” she asks once they’re both on their feet again.

Elliot accepts Rue’s leverage in turn. “One good?” he hazards a guess. “One point five goods when I’m not being sassy.” Her hand still in his, he takes a moment to spin her away from him. He lowers their hands to her abdomen and, carefully, draws them closer together.

He raises his cast across her chest to rest his right hand on her left shoulder, and hugs her lightly, mindful of both their injuries. When he releases her his hand strays, dipping just beneath the waist of her pants before nudging her toward the stairs. “I’m excited about getting to see you walk up the stairs twice in the same day. You really do spoil me.”

Doubleplus good, at least,” Rue insists, laughing when he spins her around. She leans back against him easily, if still mindful not to do too much. The roam of his hands causes the amusement to fade, a deep sigh accompanying the arm crossing her body. That breath is breathed out harder when his other hand slides under her waistband.

“I feel like maybe I should take my pants off first this time. Though these jeans do make my ass look fabulous,” she grants, confidence in her tone even if there’s a faint shake to her voice as she takes the direction to head for the stairwell with small steps, reluctant to break away from his hold on her.

“Excuse me but your ass makes your ass look fabulous,” Elliot says before planting a fast kiss on the side of her face from behind. He releases her from his grip to rap her gently on her backside. “Up you go.”

He corrals her forward from the living room toward the stairs before checking to see that the front door is locked with the deadbolt. “Oh,” he suddenly says, “before we stray too far from the topic of home invasions.” He directs her attention to the long, narrow table against the wall in the entryway. It’s clean, though covered in a haphazard collection of baubles jettisoned upon entering the home. The edge of the table overhangs a tall runner board which trims its circumference. He leans to the side, grips the narrow end, and pulls that board back to reveal a hidden drawer, and a pistol and clip in fitted depressions.

“Just in case the Door-to-Door Mormons don’t take no for an answer,” he says. “Just joking, Mormons have never wronged me.”

“Well, thank you,” Rue purrs, then lets out a squeak when he gives her that little tap of encouragement, giggling immediately. Her hurry to head up the stairs is halted when he calls her attention back to the entry, however. At first, her brow creases in confusion, then one tics up because she can’t imagine what interest his curio collection could hold for either of them right now. Honestly. The reveal, however, draws an appreciative gasp.

“Two things,” she says, raising her hand with the first two fingers held up, the second two curled into her palm and held there by her thumb. “One.” The fist closes briefly and just the first finger pops up again. “I’m not going to say you have never been hotter to me than you are in this moment, but I’m gonna say it ranks in the top five moments in which I have thought of you as being incredibly fucking hotter than usual — which is already rivaling the Carolina Reaper on the Scoville scale.”

The second finger springs up once more to join the first. “Second.” Her hand drops back to her side. “You have just sold me on the necessity of buying my own house. My future real estate agent should pay you a commission.” Rue smirks. “The door-to-door Mormons are actually pretty chill. It’s real cute how they want to pray for my immoral soul.” Because surely it can’t be an immortal one.

“Spicy hot!” Elliot says appreciatively. He slides the drawer closed and turns back to Rue. “Carolina reaper though, that seems more painful than flavorful. I hope I’m not too rough on the palate.”

He walks around Rue to climb the stairs before her. He pinches the fold of her jeans to pull her after him, saying, “Uh-oh,” when it pops free of the button.

“Maybe I like it when it hurts a bit,” Rue retorts easily. “You don’t know my life.” They both know how false that actually is. Elliot tends to understand her better than most, for good or for ill.

When he snags her jeans, she lets herself be dragged forward as if she has to lead with her hips, back arching faintly like the rest of her is lagging behind. There’s a snort of laughter when the button comes undone. “Oh, don’t worry. You always go down smooth,” she teases, straightening up to grab the banister and climb the stairs.

When Rue slips out of the bedroom, the hiss of the shower provides a quiet bit of white noise which likely does nothing for Elliot’s drowsy state. And for all that he knows she enjoys her long showers when they actually have the luxury of them, she keeps this one brief and utilitarian, like the old days. Only seven minutes passed from the time he checked his phone to the time she’s returned. Her hair is dry, pulled up on top of her head with an orange hair tie.

“Alright, lazy,” Rue rouses with a clap of her hands. “Your turn to hit the showers. Or whatever it is you need to do in order to feel semi human after getting your brains fucked out.”

"I get my brains fucked out to feel semi human," he confides as he blinks himself awake. He sits up and pivots in place to stand, grimaces at his cast. Flexes his fingers experimentally.

Elliot intends to take a slightly longer shower, sweat out some of the ripples of intrusive anxiety, but with the added headache of the cast he keeps it brief. His pain is still tolerable though and he Wright look at each other in their mirrors. He leans his forehead against hers before they let go.

He returns to his room as relaxed and clean. Sans bathrobe, Rue's aware of his stance on those.

Rue looks up from scrolling on her phone when Elliot returns. She sets the device aside and sits up, folding her legs in front of her and resting her hands in her lap. She hasn’t bothered to dig out pyjamas from that overnight bag she brought with her. She’s aware of his stance on her and pants, too.

“You doin’ okay, Hitch?” She offers a reassuring smile and tilts her head to indicate he should join her again. “Did I succeed in helping you remember that you’re human?” It’s teasing, but she’s serious.

Elliot smiles as he slides partially under his bedding, but remains sitting. "As human as I've felt in an age," he says as he leans back against the headboard. "That was a truly prescription-grade centering."

“Good.” That he slips under the covers gives her the permission she needs to do the same. Rue peels back the bedspread and slides one leg under, then the other before scooting closer to Elliot to wrap an arm around his shoulders. “Is that a yes to doing okay, too? Or is there something else I can do for you?” Her thumb rubs lightly over his bicep, hoping to provide a little bit of physical reassurance. Some grounding and reminder of what’s here and what’s now.

Elliot leans into her and considers it. He didn't have any nightmares during his late morning sleep, but Wright was awake for that. They'll both be asleep soon and it's unpredictable who'd have the worse emotional impact on the other sleeper's dreams.

"If you see me sleeping on my back you could wake me up. I'll probably have some wild dreams, no need to throw a night terror into the mix." He smiles gratefully. "Also you have my apologies in advance for any startled lurches awake, that one's a classic."

“Hey…” Rue rests her chin atop Elliot’s head, bringing her other arm around to complete the embrace she holds him in. “How many times did you have to bring me back to reality and tell me I wasn’t going to drown in those early days, huh? I’ve got you.”

She closes her eyes, wishing there were more she could do. That she could have some kind of power to help keep him anchored.

Rue’s eyes snap open again, her head lifting slowly. “Hey, Hitch?”

Elliot responds with an inquisitive hum as he relaxes into Rue. He then rouses himself before he falls asleep in the sitting position, and says, “What’s up?”

The arm around his shoulders stays, but she lifts the other so she can rest it against the curve of his jaw. “Would it help if…” Rue’s tone speaks to uncertainty. “Would it help you if we did the linky thing?”

The linky thing. Yes, she’s very eloquent about this. Thank you for noticing.

“How did you know my secret name for the network?” is his immediate response, followed by a chuckle.

“While I appreciate the idea,” he continues more seriously, “Without some basic training in the linky thing in advance you would probably only get sucked into whatever emotional rabbit hole Wright and I go down. Might go down. Probably. Honestly, having you on the outside would be plenty helpful.” He hugs her into him and kisses her brow. “That’s not to say I would be unwilling to train you in its use at a later time, though.”

Rue smiles, but it’s a strained thing, and she nods. “Sure. I get it.” And she’s kicking herself for always having been resistant to it before. For not realizing the way she could possibly use it to help him. “I think I’m ready. When you are.”

“We’ll probably want to wait until the pain is a little under control, but I am willing to do so. Sleeping is the trickiest time either way,” Elliot says. “The most common problem is empathy overflow, and having your own anxiety transfer while someone else can’t actively notice it. So if I’m having a night terror you might suddenly have a panic attack in your sleep too. Rarely there’s dream crossover, but we can’t really control the narrative so we basically would just remember having the same dream. Then probably forget it together. I can rarely hold onto dreams.”

“I figured I’d stay up.” One slender shoulder comes up in a shrug. “I don’t need the sleep that badly.” Rue presses a kiss to Elliot’s temple. “But you do. So, we’ll do like the old days. You get the rest, and I’ll take first watch. You roll onto your back and I’m gonna nudge you until you stop that. You jolt awake, I’ll hold on to you until you remember where the ground is.”

Rue rests her head against his. “You scream if you need to scream, and you cry if you need to cry. You’re safe here, with me. Whatever you need. Alright?”

Elliot leans his head against Rue’s and sighs contentedly. “Thankfully I don’t think I scream in my sleep. I just try to while unable, and only in a night terror scenario.”

He rubs his hand over Rue’s upper arm. “Thank you,” he says. “You don’t have to take watch, though. It’s okay if you get some sleep too.” He doesn’t press the issue, but leaves her the option. There’s nothing he can do in his sleep to make sure she’s getting her own.

“I’ll play it by ear,” is the concession she makes. If she finds herself assured that he’s doing alright, she’ll sleep. But until then, she’ll be his guardian. “Come on then,” Rue nudges him gently, starting to slide down from her rest against the headboard. “You get comfortable and I’ll just hold you, okay?”

“Gladly,” he says, and disengages from their embrace in order to slip further beneath the covers. He tests the placement of his cast as he writhes into a comfortable sleeping position.

“Good.” Once he’s arranged himself properly, Rue slips her arms around him, playing the big spoon easily. She presses a kiss to the back of Elliot’s neck and idly brushes her thumb back and forth where her hand rests against his hip. “I’ll be here when you wake. Sleep well.”

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