elliot_icon.gif rue4_icon.gif

Scene Title Ow
Synopsis In the aftermath of a calamity that could have been far worse, Elliot calls for his ride.
Date October 24, 2020

Elmhurst Hospital

Elliot sat in the waiting room of Elmhurst Hospital until well after the sun came up. With his injury deemed non-critical, he was shuttled here to leave room open at the Zone’s busier hospitals. Now he’s sitting in a room, exhausted and filthy, waiting for his cast to set before being discharged.

The trauma of the event at Eve’s ill-planned festival was manyfold and varied. Aside from the broken arm and the horrors of a terrorist massacre, the shock to Elliot’s network when Wright was cut off still sends him into momentary bouts of panic until he pulls her attention, and feels her pull in return.

Being split up in the aftermath is its own kind of anxiety. Wright left to be with her family hours ago, and he can’t blame her for that. With Wright reluctant to share Elliot’s physical pain, Ames had called him on her mother’s phone. Adorable as always, it had helped alleviate some of the tension. The rest of his emotional pallet is free for him to feel angry and helpless.

But Rue is coming to give him a ride home, and focusing on that keeps his thoughts from spiraling further inward.

The mop of red curls and one shoulder are visible in the partly open door before the rest of the woman they belong to pushes it open enough to slip past. “Hey,” Rue greets in a quiet voice, slow and deliberate steps carrying her forward until she’s close enough to reach out.

She doesn’t touch him, not yet, but offers her hand out close enough for him to take in his own if he wants. “Jesus Christ, I was so worried about you,” she admits. It doesn’t require his ability to know that’s the truth. Her brow is creased with it, it makes her mouth thin, and darkens the blue pools of her eyes.

Elliot is visibly relieved when Rue arrives. He releases a breath he didn’t realise he was holding as he takes her hand. “I’m sorry it took so long to call you,” he says, “I wasn’t thinking very clearly through most of it.” He gestures to the spot on the bed next to him, inviting her to sit.

“No, no.” Rue is quick to shake her head. “Don’t be sorry. You had to deal with shit. I get it.” She squeezes his hand gently before settling down next to him. Her other hand lifts to place along the curve of his jaw, frowning with her concern before she leans forward for a brief kiss.

“Like… I know you’re going to be okay, or they wouldn’t be letting you leave, but…” Rue rolls her eyes at herself. “Please tell me you’re gonna be okay.”

Elliot returns the small affections, and takes a moment to consider. “Yeah,” he says, “Still going to be dealing with this one for a while, but I’ll be okay. I lost some time when I got hit, so I didn’t see much of the carnage happening.” He shrugs.

“Somebody used some kind of ability that walled the area off, and it strangled my link to Wright. It felt like somebody stepping on my entire nervous system, which wasn’t great. Did some panicking. That’s been flickering in and out since.” He yawns from exhaustion but blinks himself alert. “What an unmitigated goddamn disaster.”

“Oh, Hitch.” Sympathy takes over now. She knows panic and its stranglehold very well. “I’ll stay with you as long as you need me to, okay? It’s…” She doesn’t know that it’s going to be okay. That sort of experience must have been horribly traumatic, and it might be a while before it feels like it’s past.

“I’ll keep you safe,” Rue decides on instead. “Would you like to stay at my place, or should I stay with you? I’m good either way. I’ve got my go bag in the car, just in case…” She sighs, shaking her head. “Just in case.” Some habits are hard to break.

Elliot looks down at himself. “My bug out bag went back to the Bastion in the truck, so I should probably go home for a change of clothes and a shower. I certainly don’t smell good.” He pauses before adding, “The company is appreciated.”

“I’d cook us some breakfast but terrorists done fucked up the sauteing hand,” he says with a tired smirk and a heft of his cast. “We might need to stop somewhere. Strangely craving a street-side fried egg sandwich.”

“You smell— Okay, not great.” Rue chuckles quietly, her head tipping down a moment as she lets her thumb caress his cheek once before letting that fall away finally. “But, hey, you don’t smell like you crawled through a sewer, so it could be worse.” Always got to look on the bright side.

“Let’s get you home, get you cleaned up and settled wherever you’re comfortable, and I will go run and get you breakfast.” She smiles in what she hopes is an encouraging manner. “Get you some food, get you some rest… And we can talk or not talk about it as much as you want.” Her fingers lace with his, gaze coming up to meet his own. “How does that sound to you?”

He smiles warmly. “Sounds like a date,” he says. “I feel like I could get away with just sneaking out of this place without talking to anyone. But I should probably just check out at the desk.” He stands and stretches, yawning again. He offers a hand to Rue. “Shall we?”

Red Hook: Elliot Hitchens' Townhouse

“I’m back!” Rue announces her return from the breakfast run as she’s pushing open the door, conscious of making sure she’s not going to surprise Elliot inadvertently. She makes sure she turns the bolt behind her after she’s stepped inside, a reusable grocery tote hanging from the crook of one arm.

Heading to the table, she starts unloading their meal. Two egg sandwiches, a large order of potatoes o’brien, a bottle of OJ and one of grapefruit juice. She goes to the cupboards for plates and utensils next. “You doing okay, or do you need a hand in there?”

Elliot rounds the corner from the stairwell in soft pyjama pants and a t-shirt, looking tired but clean. “Having to trash-bag my arm every time I take a shower is going to be annoying,” he says, “But otherwise it was a successful shower.”

He slides into a chair and breathes in the smell of breakfast, nodding satisfactorily. “This is exactly what I needed. The pinnacle of city cuisine. Thanks for going out for it.”

“Of course,” Rue replies blithely, setting out a plate, fork and knife in front of him before setting down the same at her seat. She presses a kiss to his temple and runs her fingers through his hair briefly before she moves to sit down.

“I almost got my arm taken off by a fuckin’ hunter bot once,” she tells him as she grabs one of the wrapped sandwiches and sets it on her plate, then grabbing the potatoes to scoop a portion out for herself. Rue drags Elliot’s plate closer to her so she can do the same for him. Much easier for her, what with an arm to hold the container and another to scoop. “Good? More?” she holds the container half-tipped, brows up as she waits for confirmation of the portion size being to his liking.

“That ought to do,” he nods, “Thanks. Don’t want to eat a lot only to find out the painkillers don’t agree with it.” He picks up his fork in his left hand to test the potatoes, humming with satisfaction. “This isn’t so bad, I’m used to texting left-handed anyway so at least that won’t be any more difficult.”

“I remember there was at least one bot in Cambridge,” he recalls. “I don’t have clear memories of how it all played out, what with the catatonia, and not having seen daylight in months. Bright and terrible, if I recall correctly. I’m glad you didn’t lose an arm though, I’m fond of both of them.” He downplays the trauma of the event with years of practice.

Setting the potatoes back in the middle of the table, she passes his sandwich over next, then uncaps both bottles of juice in turn, leaving them both close enough for him to choose which one he wants. “Man, I didn’t deal with the bot there. It’s the one at Fort Irwin that clobbered me. Shit sucked.” She slants a grin over to him, “I blew it up, though.”

Never let it be said that Rue Lancaster doesn’t give back as good as she gets.

One manicured brow arches, her grin gets a little wider. “My arms, huh? That’s what you’re fond of?”

Elliot smiles when Rue talks of destroying the hunter, a silent encouragement to be proud of what she does well. “Yes,” he says as he pours himself a small glass of orange juice. “They’re very good arms. Great with hand-eye coordination, cuddling, etcetera. An appendage of near-limitless utility.”

“That’s not to downplay the rest of you, appendage or not. I don’t want your legs thinking I’m not a big fan of them as well.” He takes a bite of his sandwich as he ruminates on the various merits of her legs. He nods, “That is a damn fine street sandwich.”

She brings one arm up to flex briefly, then laughs, shaking her head. “Oh, my legs, too? Well, if I’d known that, I’d have worn cutoffs.” His foot gets nudged gently by her boot. “You’ll just have to come to the bar one of these nights, I guess.”

Satisfied that he’s got what he needs, Rue grants herself permission to start in on her own breakfast. “Oh shit,” she says around a bite of her sandwich, hand covering her mouth to maintain some pretense of politeness. “You’re not kidding.” She finishes chewing and swallows before continuing. “This is actually really good.”

She leans back in her seat briefly, craning her neck to look around the kitchen. “You got any bourbon left? Vodka?” It’s not even 5 o’clock anywhere on this continent.

Elliot shakes his head, sadly. “The last of the War Bourbon is gone, unfortunately. Honestly I’m surprised that the bottle survived as long as it did, it was half empty when I buried it in the cache. From the days when I still drank. I should probably find a new bourbon for guests of high esteem such as yourself.” It’s almost noon on a saturday, and drinking-brunch has a long and glorious tradition.

“And I’d love to come by the bar either way,” he says before continuing with a devilish grin, “Though you should be aware by now that this is a pants-optional residence, so don’t hang on decorum waiting for an appropriate time to wear less pants.”

“Fewer pants?” he muses, “Less pant?”

Damn,” Rue drops her chair back flat on the floor from the half inch she’d lifted the front legs in her pursuit of perusing while staying lazy. “Was hoping to get rid of this headache.” And she always seems to have a headache any time the sun’s up. “Well, I’ll just have to bring some over next time. I can stock my own shelves.”

She’s glancing up at him from the corner of her eye as she spears some potatoes on her fork. “So what I’m hearing is that I’m wearing too many pants for this establishment.” She pauses, lifting her head and her gaze to the ceiling with a furrow of her brow. “Too much pants?” Her teeth set for a moment while she considers the grammatical requirements for this situation.

Her free hand lifts, index finger pointed and wagging when she knows what the answer is. “No pants. I should be wearing no pants.” Grammatical dilemma solved. She chuckles even as she munches on her starches. “Is this a no shirt, no shoes, no service, but pants optional kind of situation then?”

“There should be some ibuprofen in the bathroom if you need it. Or you can nap with me,” Elliot responds. “I feel a powerful nap approaching, I hope SESA doesn’t swing by demanding another debriefing.” He takes a bite of his sandwich and washes it down with a sip of juice.

“Speaking of debriefing, this is more of a ‘Quality of service is inversely proportional to total clothing worn’ situation. Access is everything. Nearly stayed in the bathrobe, actually, but I have always felt weird walking around in one. Always seemed to say ‘I have not finished drying myself off after the shower’.”

The ibuprofen is waved off, but the prospect of a nap seems appealing. “If SESA shows up, I’ll kick them out. Literally if I have to,” Rue promises. “You’ve seen me in a scrap. Nobody’s getting through that door that you don’t want to see.” And if she’s proven wrong, then whoever manages it will have been very determined.

She keeps plugging away at her breakfast while he explains the house rules, a grin spreading across her face and getting wider as he goes along. “I don’t know, The Dude manages to pull it off. Looks like supreme comfort to me.” Her brows lift as she considers. “Definitely better access.” Rue snorts, “This mean you’ve always thought I was lazy when I walk around the apartment in mine when I’ve showered after work?” Nothing kills the mood like sweat and stale beer.

“No,” Elliot says, “The robe suits you. This is just one of those weird opinions I formed as a kid that I’ve clung to for no discernable reason. Like when people only use the first half of a word. I hate it, even though it’s fully functional and I understood the intent. And that’s the sole purpose of language, which means they’re doing it correctly. It just feels like somebody is licking my eardrum every time it happens.” He shudders.

He seems surprised when he looks down to see he’s already finished his breakfast. “Man, I was hungry as fuck,” he says. “I’ve been a lot better about slowly enjoying meals instead of wolfing them down. That’s another bad habit, I don’t really need to worry about cafeteria bullies rolling up on me for my fruit cup anymore.”

“Mm.” She’s been a bit too busy talking to keep up with his pace, but she’s still not far behind in the completion of her own meal. Or at least the potatoes. Half her sandwich is folded back into the wrapper. It’ll keep for later. She can fool herself all she wants about eggs and protein, but unless she gets a work-out in today, she’ll feel guilty if she eats it all at once. “You must really hate my nicknames, huh?” Speaking of only using the front half of words, Hitch.

When she rises to stow her leftover sandwich in the refrigerator, she grabs his empty plate as well, taking it to the sink and running water over it, but ultimately leaving it there. She can tackle whatever ends up in the sink throughout the day when it’s over. Rue glances over over her shoulder at Elliot, a slyness in her eyes as she’s drying her hands on a tea towel. “You wanna roll up on my—”

She doesn’t finish that before she busts into laughter, lifting one arm to cover her face so he can only see the mirth in her eyes rather than the grin on her lips. “Sorry, that sounded way better in my head. Shit. That was just bad.

"Hitch gets a pass on the merit of being a whole word on its own to begin with. I don't make the rules, honestly, that's deep subconscious shit." Elliot leans back in his chair, crossing his arms to rest his cast above his heart as the doctors recommended. He smiles and nods in thanks as Rue clears the table.

"I can't lie, I've been thinking about rolling up on your fruit cup all morning," he says. "Though I don't know how cooperative the bad arm would be with that plan. Getting that slow burn background ache that's making it difficult to concentrate."

“See? It sounds good when you say it.” Rue blushes, but doesn’t hide her face behind her arm anymore. “I’d say I’m losing my touch, but you’re still thinking about it, so I must be doing something right,” she teases, crossing back to him, but coming to stand behind where he’s seated at the table.

Resting one hand gently against his good shoulder, she lets the other curl around the back of the chair. “If you want to give it a try, there’ll be no hard feelings if it’s not working and we have to call the game on account of pain.” That’s a pun. Sorry, Elliot.

Her hand lifts off the chair to come to the curve where his shoulder and neck meet, fingertips just barely touching the skin as she sweeps along the side of his throat, under his jaw and to the tip of his chin where she gently guides him to tip his head back. Red curls fall over her shoulder as she leans over to press her lips to his from this inverted position.

Elliot relaxes into Rue’s arms, looks up as directed, and returns her kiss. He runs his left hand along her arm, then across her cheek, holding her in place softly. When he does break away from the kiss, it’s only to say, “When you put it like that, I’m willing to give it the old college try.”

He lowers his hand to the table to brace himself as he pivots in his chair and stands. He doesn’t push Rue away, standing into the space between them, pushing the chair to the side with his legs. He pulls her to him with one hand on the small of her back. “I don’t think I’m going to be able to carry you to the bed this time,” he jokes before planting a kiss on her temple.

“Atta boy,” she commends as she straightens up again. In the time since they’ve begun this casual thing of theirs, she’s changed — for the better. Her smiles come easier, and there’s less sadness in her eyes. She doesn’t talk about it, but it’s unclear if it’s because she just doesn’t like to talk, or if it’s because she hasn’t noticed the gradual change in herself.

Rue slides an arm around him and giggles softly, eyes lidding briefly at the kiss. “I’d carry you, but that’s probably a recipe for disaster.” Her eyes scrunch up faintly with her amusement. “But I could do it.” That might even be true, but that’s a discovery for another day.

“At least you didn’t break a rib.” More silver linings. “I think we can work with one arm metaphorically tied behind your back.” Her hand slips from his waist and grabs at his backside briefly before she slips away, stepping back and then giving him the view of hers as she heads toward his bedroom. A sway of her hips and a glance over her shoulder back at him.

Small encouragements to accept herself as she is may be strategic, but watching her slowly come out of her shell has been its own reward. Elliot spent much of his life holding everything close to his chest. He knows to let silence carry when he fears broaching a subject will just cause Rue to recede back into herself. For now, gentle affirmations are enough.

“I don’t doubt you could,” He says of Rue’s assumption that she could carry him, “Though I’m not keen to test a fireman carry on the stairs.” He turns back to the stairwell as she leads him away from the table.

“Mmm, Mhmm,” he hums in either agreement or appreciation as he watches Rue climb the stairs before him. “You can’t see it from where you’re standing, but that’s those legs I was telling you about. Ten out of ten.”

That makes two of them. Knowing Rue’s luck, she’d navigate a turn wrong and bang his cast on the wall or something. That would kill the mood instantly. “Perfect ten, huh?” Eyes ahead again to make sure she doesn’t make a fool of herself and trip in the stairwell, she makes sure she tips her head to one side in lieu of letting him see her thoughtful expression. “And I’ve even still got my pants on. Maybe I can break the rating scale in a minute here.”

It’s nice to be appreciated. Especially, in her mind, in spite of her numerous many and varied faults. Her shirt is pulled up and over her head when she reaches the top of the stairs, tossed to one side and left in a heap without so much as a glance. Her gait doesn’t stuffer for the way she reaches behind her, under the curtain of her hair to free herself of the hooks over her spine. The bra is cast off in the other direction before she disappears through the bedroom door.

“I don’t know if I could handle anything in the eleven-plus range right now but by God I’m going to find out.” Elliot says.

When she casts her shirt aside, he says, “Did you see that your shirt has come off? What’s this? Ms Lancaster, your brasserie! Do you require assistance? What is the meaning of this.” He turns into his room, looking back to hook the bottom of the door with a foot, guiding it closed with a satisfying click.

When he looks back to Rue, he merely says, “Oh my.”

“What can I say? I’m a walking scandal.”

Rue sits down on the end of the bed so she can rest one ankle against the opposite knee while she works loose the laces of her boot, then repeats the process with the other, tugging them off. Socks follow, shoved into them before she nudges them under the bed and gets back to her feet.

“Been thinking about picking up some extra work at Little Darlings.” The strip club. She sounds serious, looks the part in the way she waits until his eyes are following the movements of her hands to the button and fly of her jeans, parting the button and the teeth of the zipper until he gets a peek of what she’s wearing underneath.

“What do you think?” She gives him her back before lowering the waistband over her hips, bending forward to pull down the skinny-cut denim until she can step out of her pants and cast a look back over her shoulder at Elliot. “Do you think I have potential?”

It takes a moment for Elliot to redirect his attention from Rue to her question. “I think,” he pauses, “And I feel I’m dipping a toe in dangerous waters here but fuck it I’m on painkillers—I think you got the chops. Hot as sin, graceful, know how to spin people up. But most importantly, there are few people I know as well suited to handing a handsy drunkard a transformative injury.”

“And there’s nothing wrong with sex work, it’s an ancient and proud tradition. May have dabbled in the trade in the late aughts. A boy’s gotta eat.” He tugs at his t-shirt for a moment, considering how he might most easily be free of it. “If that was the correct answer, is there any chance you could help a fellow out of his clothing?”

Hot as sin. I’m putting that on my resume.” Rue turns back to him and tuts quietly as he tries to negotiate how to rid himself of that shirt of his. “Oh, god, yes. Please allow me.” In contrast to the little show she’s been putting on for him, her demeanor softens when she approaches, hands gentle and movements slow. “Okay,” she murmurs, “good arm through here first.” She helps tug the sleeve around the bend of his elbow until he can get his arm slipped inside the shirt.

“Now we’ll go over the head…” The hem of the shirt is gathered up in her hands and she lifts carefully until she can free him with minimal mussing of his hair. “And over the cast.” It’s like a game of Operation now. Don’t touch the sides. And once that’s done, she flings the shirt over her shoulder carelessly. “Voila. All better now, right?”

Elliot’s mouth quivers on the edge of a laugh as she guides him out of his shirt. “Much better,” he says when it vanishes across the room. He leans down to kiss her, fingertips settling behind her jaw, thumb tilting her chin up to him. He steps forward, walking her into the side of the bed.

He draws his right hand up to thread her hair behind her ear and winces. “Ow,” he says, pulling the cast back toward his shoulder. “Right. That’s going to take some getting used to.” He sighs and looks Rue in the eyes, chagrined.

When he leans down, she meets him halfway. Not that there’s much difference to close between them, even with her flat-footed. She hums happily against his mouth, eyes closed as she steps backward with confidence that he isn’t going to lead her into a tripping hazard.

“You good?” she asks quietly, unconsciously lifting her hand to repeat the motion he made, securing the strands of her hair behind the curve of her ear with a bit less care than he takes with her. “Don’t worry about me too much, okay? This exam’s not being scored,” Rue teases.

"One would think that the scoring would be the end goal of this endeavor," he jokes. "I don't suppose you might want to try your hand at the tiller, so to speak?"

He appears to immediately regret the choice of euphemism. "I meant that in a 'you take the lead' sense," he corrects himself, "Not a… well you know what it sounded like. Unless you're not familiar with nautical terminology. I'm only making this worse, aren't I?"

Rue snorts, making no attempt to hide her amusement at his verbal fumbling. “No, you’re not. You didn’t make it bad in the first place, so you can’t possibly make it worse.” Now she reaches up to curl her fingers around the back of his neck and brush her thumbs over his jaw.

“I’m happy to take the reins, but before we begin, I need to know what you’re up for. What feels safe and comfortable to you right now?” Given the way they’re all about communication and clarity in these matters, this seems as good a place to start them off as any.

“I,” Elliot starts, but seems to get lost in the thought. He’s exhausted, injured, and still getting bright flickers of panic that only recede when he tests his link to Wright. Feels the edge of her awareness in return. “I think I’m deflecting instead of giving myself time to process. I don’t think I can honestly say my attention would be entirely here, and that wouldn’t be fair to you.”

“Maybe we can just start with that nap and see how it goes from there.” He seems mildly embarrassed, having talked a big game up to this point.

“Hey, hey, hey!” Rue calls him back to her, moving her hands to cup his face properly and make sure she captures his attention. “None of that. None of it.” No blaming himself for realizing his own needs and accepting his limits.

“If it were me in your shoes right now, what would you be telling me? You’d be telling me it’s okay. That it’s better than fine. That I need to do what’s going to be best for me, right?” She lifts her brows as if to seek confirmation, but the question is rhetorical. “You’ve been so patient with me and when I need to cool off. It’s my turn now.”

Rue kisses Elliot’s forehead, still holding his face in her hands. “If you need to just let go and not worry about me and my needs? I’m willing to do that for you. That’s not going to upset or hurt me in any way whatsoever. But if you really do just want to nap, I’m good with that, too. I won’t even put my pants back on.”

Elliot meets Rue’s eyes and kisses her forehead in return. “That’s true, thank you,” he says with some relief. “I think any sexy needs I have will keep until I’ve slept. Though I may follow up on your offer to let go and not worry after that, if you’re still feeling generous.” He grins and leans down to place a quick kiss just below her ear, where the tucked lock of hair has revealed her neck.

He wraps his arm around her and pulls her into a hug, sighing. He combs his fingers through her hair as his hand wanders down her back. “No pants is also the correct number of pants for a nap, so I approve of this.”

“You’re welcome,” Rue says softly, letting her hands shift to his shoulders briefly before she rests one arm around his uninjured shoulder, letting the other hand move to his waist to keep from putting stress on joint and muscles that are likely already straining. “I will still feel generous after a nap, don’t worry about missing your window of opportunity here.”

There’s a contented sigh that comes with easing into the hug, relaxing and closing her eyes to enjoy the physical manifestations of his affection. “I’m inclined to agree. I’ve been enjoying not sleeping fully clothed and ready to jump out the door at a moment’s notice. I’d kind of forgotten what that felt like.” Rue chuckles quietly. “It feels indulgent and lazy.”

“One of the most important indulgences, really,” Elliot says seriously. “If we can’t be scantily clothed in our own homes, where can we? Certainly not the Yamagato show room, they’ve made that clear.” He shakes his head, resigned to the injustice of it all.

He steps on the hem of his pyjamas and slides his heel backward, pulling the pants down on the other side with his good hand. “Holy shit I can’t believe that worked,” he says, kicking the pants free. “I’m amazing.” He makes his way to the side of the bed and pulls down the comforter with a flourish.

“Oh, yeah,” she shakes her head with a very serious expression, “no, they don’t like that. Bunch’a prudes if you ask me.” Rue’s changed clothes in front of strangers far too many times to worry about things like modesty and other people’s embarrassment.

Elliot’s astonishment with himself sees Rue’s whole face light up as she laughs. Not those quiet, restrained sorts of things she usually presents. The expected responses that she puts on like it’s just some etiquette she’s following as part of the social contract. This is a hearty and genuine thing that sees her bringing her hand up to cover the wide smile of her mouth. “Oh, no. You are too cute, Hitch.”

She waits until he crawls in and gets settled before she steps around the end of the bed to go to the other side and join him. She pauses about halfway in her scoot to bridge the gap between them. “Do you need anything else before I get comfortable? Should I grab some water and get you another round of painkillers lined up?”

“That’s good thinking,” Elliot replies sleepily, “Thank you. In fact I should probably take another one right now, assuming it’s whatever time it is. But then it’s straight to bed with you, doctor’s orders.” He wriggles under the covers, trying to find a convenient way to position his cast.

Without complaint or even a hint of annoyance on her face, Rue slips back out of bed. “I’ll be right back, okay? I won’t even sneak back downstairs to do the dishes after you fall asleep. I’ll stay right here with you.” She will, however, grab her phone so she can scroll if she wakes up first. “Sit tight.”

He can hear her footsteps on the stairs as she makes her way quickly down so she can get everything lined up in short order. If she dallies too long, he’s liable to be asleep by the time she gets up, and that won’t do. Gotta stay ahead of the pain, or nobody’s going to be happy.

She’s quieter on the way back up, having to keep from disrupting the glass of water when she navigates the stairs, but she announces herself in the doorway with a shake of the hand holding the pill bottle on her phone. “Look at how lucky you are, with your topless, pantsless nursemaid.” Setting the water down at his bedside, she checks the label on the pills for dosing instructions before she shakes out what he needs and holds out her hand, palm down and fingers pinched together, to offer to him.

“You do spoil me,” he says as he accepts the proffered pills and, followed by the glass of water to wash them down. He returns the glass with a ‘thank you’ and stretches a bit before rolling back onto his left side, resting his cast over his hip.

He looks back up at her to invite her attention to the empty space in front of him with a meaningful motion of his eyes and a tip of his head. He extends his arm and pats the bed gently.

“I know,” she teases, setting everything aside where it won’t be at (too much) risk of getting knocked over inadvertently. Then she climbs into bed as he wordlessly requests, nudging her foot between his calves and draping an arm over his low hip, closer to his thigh to avoid bumping the cast.

“How’s that?”

Elliot wriggles to make some minor adjustments, snuggling in closer with a contented sigh. “Perfect,” he says.

He tests the link to Wright to assure himself it’s still there. In the quiet of the network after the festival he feels her flickers of anxiety, each calmed when she tests the link as well, and as she receives the care and comfort of her family. They don’t intrude on each other, or share anything beyond their emotions and occasional pulls at the edges of each other’s attention. Are you still there, and I’m here.

For a while Elliot’s breathing is even as he floats on the edges of sleep. He only interrupts the silence to whisper to Rue, “Thank you for being here.”

She watches his face while he settles, looking for signs of discomfort, pain, distress. Satisfied that he’s as good as he’s going to be, given the circumstances, Rue finally allows herself to begin to relax. Her thumb brushes absently against his leg back and forth, a silent little reminder that she’s here, even when his eyes are closed and he’s starting to drift away. She’s still here to tether him.

“You’re welcome,” Rue murmurs back. “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

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