Panic and Melted Butter


elaine2_icon.gif rhett_icon.gif

Scene Title Panic and Melted Butter
Synopsis Elaine and Rhett experience a whirlwind of emotions when they discuss more delicate matters.
Date December 9, 2019

Elaine's Apartment, Cresting Wave Apartments, Yamagato Park

The day spent apart offered some perspective on the budding relationship. It’s easy to get wrapped up into the moment, into the sweet words and discovery of all of the things in common, the shared scars of the past, and their fragile hopes of what the future could be. The day spent apart could give some distance to look at the whole of the forest, of what it could be while fitting into the rest of life, not just within the microcosm of the moment.

And Rhett has decided that Elaine fits. At least, while she wants to occupy that place within his life, anyway. Which has brought warm, fuzzy feels throughout his day. Though he does question himself a little: is he good enough for this beautiful, smart, successful Yamagato woman? Maybe if he had followed through on being a doctor, but his current disarray of the aftermath of broken dreams: is that good enough?

Still, he chides himself, they are dating. While looking ahead is reasonable, better to try to live in the now. Appreciate the now. Which means he is back to his meetups to move a bunch of his inventory. Holidays mean a lot of sales.

But Rhett returns to the Cresting Wave towards the evening, greeting the doorman (who remembers him from the previous night), and heads up to Elaine’s, small parcel in hand.

Elaine hasn’t changed out of her work clothes yet. Likely, she hasn’t spent that much time home so far—things are busy. She’s got her phone in one hand as she goes to answer the door, waving Rhett inside while she speaks to whomever’s on the line. “Yeah, if you leave those papers on my desk I’ll sign off on them, provided the inventory is correct. Have someone check it before it even lands somewhere I’ll see it, okay?” She glances towards Rhett. “I’ll worry about it tomorrow. I have other matters to attend to.”

With that she hangs up, making sure to shut the door behind him. “Sorry, seems like work follows me around everywhere. Who would have thought? It’s almost like I do something important.” She chuckles lightly and sets her phone down on the nearest surface before moving to close the distance between them.

“Hello,” she greets him properly this time, her tone one of genuine affection.

Rhett smiles at her immediately as the door opens, and his expression quickly changes to one of calm patience, with an understanding nod. He comes inside, letting her continue her call without interference. He doesn’t approach her directly or move to distract her at all.

While she’s finishing he does cross to her fridge and put his parcel inside it, bending to find a good spot. So her glance to him while describing she has “other matters” is to his back. From his view, he will just be there when she’s done, without demands.

He closes it and turns, picking some counter to stand next to, a palm on the surface. When she approaches him he comes towards her, hands coming up to brush to her elbows, to draw her toward him. It’s entirely welcoming, but not grabby, in case her mood isn’t aligned to leaping into his arms.

While she doesn't physically leap into his arms, Elaine is more than happy to see him. Her arms move to rest on his sides, only for the moment remaining at physical arms' length. It's but a moment before she gives up on any distance, simply sinking forward into his arms. She buries her face against him, shutting her eyes.

"Hello." This time the greeting sounds both grateful and relieved.

“Hello,” Rhett echoes after she has folded into his arms, his hug quickly tightening snugly around her, as if he didn’t want to let her go. Mild worries of her changing her mind melt off.

“Rough day?” Rhett asks, one hand moving to stoke her hair, affectionate and comforting. Rhett smells lightly of salt, but it’s not strong, just on his clothes, as if he’d been out by the docks. He bends his head to kiss her ear. His heart is hammering strongly against her chest to his.

“Maybe not rough, more busy. It’s like every time I start to work on a project someone needs something from me and I never have the time to sit down for five minutes. It felt very long and I was doing my best not to be distracted.”

Elaine smiles up at him. The implication is, clearly, that he was the distraction.

She nuzzles her head in against his chest more, pressing her ear against his chest and listening to the sound of his heart. “You have a long day? Work hard? Throw anyone off a dock?” The last part is a joke, but she briefly wonders if maybe he did.

“Only myself, on purpose,” Rhett answers evenly with a softened laugh. “I went spear fishing for us, since I wrapped up my trades efficiently. I ended up with finding blue crab in my traps, which I have steamed, and brought,” says the pleased, proud fisherman. “No spear needed.”

“But it can keep if you have another plan in mind, or don’t like shellfish,” Rhett adjusts, well aware that there could have been problems with what he has elected to catch. “Fishing is my … relaxation time. Though I’d say I was more distracted than usual.” Rhett continues to affectionately touch her hair, sweeping it back from her cheek with his fingers, enjoying the feel of her resting against his chest. There’s something wonderfully natural about all of it, and his uncertainty continues to calm down.

Maybe the promises and hopes are founded in something that could continue.

“I love crab,” Elaine says, certainly looking pleased at the idea. “Just melt a little butter…” She beams. “I could get really used to these gifts. You bring the food, I cook. It’s a beautiful relationship.” Maybe they’re talking about the food. Maybe they’re talking about more.

“I do hope that being distracted isn’t a bad thing. You managed to get the crabs, at least.” She falls into a comfortable silence, her arms tightening around him. She still hasn’t pulled back, staying where she is for a very long time.

A beautiful relationship? Rhett smiles more, adding a second kiss to her head. “You’re beautiful,” Rhett says, not caring if it sounds lame or silly. He means it, and that’s that. She’s the beautiful part of the relationship, to him.

“I hope you haven’t had any second thoughts about anything,” Rhett asks, though, unable to not bring up his own quiet concern. “Without me present to distract you, you might have come up with some.” Rhett moves his other arm up a little to her back, palm rubbing up against her shoulder in a warm squeeze.

Elaine’s cheeks flush. It’s not that she’s never been called beautiful, it’s just nice to hear it every once in a while. Lame or silly, she doesn’t seem to mind, not by the way she smiles at him. “Second thoughts?” Her hand moves up and her fingers brush over his cheek before moving into his hair.

“Why on earth would I have second thoughts?” While it might have potentially done in a teasing tone, she senses the seriousness in the question. “You know, I’ve been told that absence makes the heart grow fonder. And it does. I missed you. And I’m not having second thoughts. I’m excited to see you. I’m excited to have you here, I’m looking forward to the future.”

She smiles at him. “So, don’t worry about it.”

“I don’t know. Some hot shots at work reminding you I’m just a fisherman,” Rhett teases her back. He smiles and leans his head against her fingers as she roves them into his hair; he likes her touching his face and hair, very much. It’s intimate to him without being the iffy zone of his neck.

“I won’t worry. I’ll kiss you instead,” Rhett says, before dropping his face to kiss her firmly, and encourage a deeper kiss, lips parted, coaxing, as he draws her body into his wrapped embrace.

“You aren’t just a fisherman. We aren’t all our occupation,” Elaine points out. “And great people all start somewhere so who are they to judge you. Besides, I like having the fresh seafood. It’s really nice to be able to have it fresh.” She pauses. “And another thing, what’s wrong with being a fisherman? Not everyone can just catch a fish. You’ve got to have some skills and knowledge.”

She’d probably would go on further but instead she’s instead found herself in the position of being kissed. While she’s already got one arm around him and the other in his hair, she escalates by tightening her arm around him and gently gripping his hair as she kisses him back.

Rhett really doesn’t have anything to say verbally because he says it with the deep kiss. When he finally lets her breathe (as Rhett and his epic breath holding is lengthy), he just smiles vaguely.

“I like providing.” Rhett sets his forehead to hers, eyes closing for a long moment before he opens them again, blue eyes generally startling in his tanned complexion. “I’d teach you if you ever wanted. Off on my boat for a weekend,” Rhett chuckles. “Maybe in spring or summer, winter is pretty cold.” He blushes; here he is making a plan months in advance, assuming…

“You give me a little advance warning and we can make it a long weekend,” Elaine says with a smile in return. “But you’re right, we might as well wait a good couple of months. I may be pretty sturdy but I get cold way too easily and windchill is a bitch. I’d be an Elaine-pop very shortly after going out on the water.”

Her fingers trace over his warmed cheeks. “But I do certainly like the idea of going. Fishing is something I can’t say I’ve ever tried. My family was never the outdoorsy type when I was young. Explains why I can’t stand the cold, being indoors all the time.”

“I was indoorsy until I was a teen. Then things changed, the ocean has a call for me,” Rhett describes. There’s a pleasant tone to how he talks about the ocean, as if it were a resort vacation destination. “But it’s lonesome out there, too.” Rhett smiles against her light fingers on his cheeks. He’s clean-shaven this time: some effort was put into his appearance for her benefit.

Rhett looks into her eyes a long moment, a question starting to build behind his gaze as he tries to phrase it well. “Where…. Are we, with ‘us’, Elaine?” Rhett asks. “Are we - exclusive, or-” this is awkward but he’s going to get his head around it. They’ve talked a little, but Rhett’s question of where he stands bugged him, and he’s going to bring it forward.

“It’s kind of nice to have something that calls to you, a place or something to do or that sort of a thing. I will say I love the outdoors so long as I’m not stuck there.” Elaine runs her fingers along the line of his jaw, noting the lack of stubble. She’s about to say something more, but she stops when he looks at her.

There’s a look of concern as he stumbles around with what he’s trying to get across, looking momentarily unsure of exactly what he means. Her face flushes hot. “I made an assumption and maybe I was wrong but I was thinking that we both didn’t particularly like flings and I…” She trails off, realizing that was not exactly what he asked. She looks at a loss for words for a moment, then stumbles over them. “I was also assuming it was just us. If that’s okay.”

“I realized I assumed too. I had a little time to think about it today,” Rhett says, embarrassed, but staying the course. “I’d told you I wanted you, but I didn’t tell you that it was just you.” Rhett swallows, his cheeks feel hot. “I don’t think I get too jealous, but I do like to … know. If that’s what you want.”

“If we’re a couple now.” Rhett draws one hand in, setting his palm against the back of her hand that is extended out to him. “It’s….”

Rhett stumbles a little again. “If I’m falling, I want to be sure I’m not falling by myself.”

While her cheeks are flushed with embarrassment, she seems fairly confident of what she wants. “I don’t care if you’d get jealous of not, that’s not what I want. And I don’t want you just saying you’re okay with it being more than us just because you still want there to be an us.” Elaine’s other hand moves to rest over his chest near his heart. “You and me against the world. Us. Just us. Okay?”

Her fingers on his chest curl into the fabric of his shirt to get a grip there, pulling him in just a little bit closer. She needs him close right now, and she needs him to know how serious she is. “I wouldn’t do that to you. I’ll hold your hand the whole way, got it?”

“I’m not saying I’m okay with something if I’m not,” Rhett says more clearly. He dips his head to look at her hands on his chest, and draws his own back down to either side of her waist, at the slimmest part of her body. Similarly to her grip on his shirt, he anchors his fingers in the sides of her gray blouse.

“You feel how you feel,” Rhett reassures her. “However that is, is always okay.” He attempts to kiss her forehead, expression somewhat on the softened side, not intense. “‘Us’ is what I want.”

“I just wanted to make sure you were getting exactly what you wanted on terms you were comfortable with,” Elaine replies, looking back at him. “If we’re talking about me personally, I’ve been in a situation before where more than one pair of people’s feelings were involved. It gets messy really fast. That’s not something I’d like to try and sort my way through.”

She lets him kiss her forehead before she replies with a kiss on the tip of his nose. “That being said, if you wanted something different for us I’d like to know about it. Just so we’re clear.”

Rhett makes a slight negatory expression at talking about more than one pair of people’s feelings. That wasn’t something he was guiding towards. He shakes his head no minutely. “I think I overcomplicated this by bringing it up,” Rhett says, with an embarrassed little half-smile.
“If another client flirts with me, I’ll honestly let them down gently, that I’m in a relationship, then,” Rhett says, a smile hooking that half-smile into a roguish one. “A very good relationship.”

“It did get a little complicated just now, yes,” Elaine agrees, equally as sheepish. “I just want to make sure you’re comfortable with where we’re at.” She grins a bit. “You can be a little bit of a flirt, I just don’t want you running off and forgetting about me in the process. I’m not gonna be mad at you if you wink at someone.”

She pats his chest with her hand. “I’m just trying to be entirely clear so that neither of us has to worry about awkwardly bringing this up again because I already feel terribly foolish about all of this.” She proceeds to just lean forward and directly plant her head against his chest.

“I flirt with you,” Rhett says simply. Just that. She feels he’s a flirt because she’s seen him do it, but it isn’t his standard mode. But it would make sense that she would have no idea: how would she?

“All right. I have all /different/ awkward conversation topics for the future,” Rhett says in deadpan, but with a laugh following it not long after. He can’t hold a deadpan joke for long before his real feelings about things leak through. “I might be more comfortable than you are. Ever think of that?” Rhett smiles down at her hair, squeezing her in his hug.

“Well, yes, I—” Elaine cuts herself off when she realizes exactly what he said. Of course it would make sense to her that he’d flirt because she’s only really seen him with her. That it isn’t his usual momentarily surprises her and then promptly causes her to squeeze in closer against him in appreciation.

“I’m a bundle of nerves all with a fluffy exterior. You just might be more comfortable.” She pauses. “You don’t want to just have all our awkward conversations now just to get them out of the way, do you?”

“That is a terrifying thought right there, Miss Darrow. What did you have in mind that can one-up the awkward that I’ve caused so far?” Rhett asks, with mock fear. It’s intentional: if they make it silly, there’s less of a threat of it being actually awkward or uncomfortable —- something could easily be withdrawn or laughed off.

“Bundle of nerves? Hmmm. I’ve seen you be calm and comfortable: is that just with me?” Rhett asks.

“Oh, I have no idea, but it’s a great opportunity to ask me anything you want while we already feel awkward so we don’t have to rehash these feelings later,” Elaine says simply, though she’s grinning. Laughing it off is a good method and she’s going to go for it, especially if either of them think of an actual question.

“You’ve seen the side of me that just looks calm and comfortable. You have no idea how easy it is to fluster me or make me awkward, I’ve just gotten really good at making it look like it’s not so easy and then running to another room and letting it all out.” She grins at him. “I’m a shy bookworm at heart, so I hope you’re prepared for that.”

“A shy bookworm? I feel like I knew that already with you, Elaine,” Rhett replies, turning his head to kiss her cheek, then the side of her jaw. “I like what you’ve shown me. Unless you’ve been running away to let things out. I hope you haven’t needed to.”

Rhett considers the dangerous or awkward questions. “What are the big awkward questions? Politics, religion, kids?” Rhett asks, hitting them all in one big sweep of embarrassed humor. “Years ago the Expressive question would have been one of those. A dealbreaker, back in the ‘day’,” Rhett frowns a little. His self consciousness about his ability has a root in rejection.

“I mean, I’ve not really been hiding anything, to be fair.” Elaine offers him a smile. “So you’re good if that’s what you’re worried about. I’m me, even if there was most certainly a point in time where you had gone off to work and I was getting ready to leave and I leaned against the door and sighed dreamily like I was some fifteen year old.”

There are a number of things Elaine could say to try and make things awkward and a number of other things she could bring up to try and get awkward conversations out of the way. “Thankfully neither of us has any red flags.” She pauses, her face twisting a bit. “I mean, we don’t, right?”

“I don’t even have a creepy uncle to warn you about. My family is … gone.” Rhett emotionally folds inwards, and it shows. That’s his ‘red flag’, perhaps; the way the loss of important things in the past seems to cause him to turtle fairly quickly. He doesn’t pull away this time, though, he makes himself seek comfort with her.

It’s subtle, though, it consists of a quiet breath and setting his nose near her cheek, eyes closing for the moment.

Her arms are already moving to envelope him, and Elaine does her best to make him feel as if it’s safe. “I don’t have family either, not anymore. I haven’t for years. I’ve got a bunch of orphans that think of me as a big sister, but that’s the closest I’ve got.” She squeezes him. “So it’s you and me against the world, remember?”

She chuckles. “Besides, I’ve got enough weird things for the both of us. I just don’t know that my weird things are things that I should just shove out on the table and scare you off with.”

“So long as if they come up, we talk then. I want to help you…. And it’s hard to thelp you from the dark if I don’t know what’s eating you, honey,” Rhett says, rapidly orienting out of his own ‘turtle’ to pivot to her issues. He’d much rather be open, helping her, than he would prefer to curl inwards and think too sharply about his own hangups or emotional scars.

“Yes. You and me. That feels…” Rhett tries to find a word, squeezing her in return as she squeezed him. “Uncomplicated.”

“Anything that comes up that’s complicated I will absolutely clue you in on,” Elaine murmurs. “I wouldn’t leave you in the dark. I can promise you that if you ask me something I will be as honest as I possibly can be.” She hugs him tighter for the moment. “That’s another thing I can promise you.”

There’s something sweet in the uncomplicated idea of them. “However strange things get, and I am almost guaranteeing that at some point things will get strange, I will hold your hand and keep you with me for all of it. That’s also a promise.”

“All of this talk about how weird things will get is… worrying, Elaine,” Rhett says, wrinkling his nose at her, but still smiling. “I’ll try to anchor you out of that nonsense,” he says, with a quick little wink, drawing his hands back to rest them instead on her shoulders, looking at her face, and trying to see, or maybe feel, what is going on with her and this strange lean of topic.

“Mmm, water metaphors. You’ll have to weather the tide of those,” Rhett admits, cheeky, and trying to make her smile.

“I signed up to be with you, so laying some of your ‘strange’ out is expected down the line. I hope I get the chance to kiss you, and say it’ll be okay.”

“I know, I know, I don’t mean to scare you with the ‘weird thing’ talk but I’m also trying to be real about it. I mean, we can start with me saying one weird thing and breaking the ice and then you can just trust me when I say ‘weird things’?” Elaine suggests. “I’m not gonna go around saying there are UFOs or anything but I have things that I know are serious that I just can’t explain otherwise.” She laughs. “God, I sound like that Ancient Aliens guy.”

Elaine does smile at his water joking. “I do plan on this being a long term thing, so I’m trying to find a way to help you dip a toe into the water without getting totally soaked, okay?” The affection is still there. She’s still hugging him tightly in the midst of all of this. “I just want you to know you can trust me.”

Rhett weighs her request about “weird things”, and draws back a little bit. He moves his hand down to hers, and pulls her. There’s a mysterious look as he leads her along, out of the kitchen, headed towards the living room.

The end destination is the couch, where he sits down, and pulls her towards him —- his lap, next to him, wherever she wants to be. “I mean, in our lifetime, people have turned out to have strange abilities and powers, to do crazy things. I feel like a lot of oddness is possible, just from those things alone. I’ve seen some odd things that have fallen out of sight below the water from the war. I’m not sure you need to be afraid to talk to me, Elaine,” Rhett offers.

Elaine chooses to go for the lap. While she could have sat next to him, it’s the intimacy of it that is important to her, so she goes for that. She settles in, seeming to think of if this situation is one she wants to bring up right now, or if only it becomes relevant. She frowns. “Okay, well, I’ve seen a lot of stuff and I won’t explain everything to you unless it’s necessary because there’s a lot of weird shit out there, but I’ll break the iceberg a bit.”

She contemplates where to start. “Okay, what if I told you that there is someone living in the Safe Zone who is genetically my daughter. She’s two years older than me.”

Rhett hugs one arm around her, drawing her into a comfortable spot, guiding her to lean sideways against him some, other hand across her leg, palm at her knee.

Rhett chews on the weird shit a little bit. This was not where he thought this particular example was going to go. “Like … as if a scientist grew her, from your DNA?” Rhett attempts, though his expression looks somewhat baffled. And slightly alarmed. “Or… you have a daughter but she aged extremely quickly?” That’s confusing too, since she said she had no family: a daughter would have counted. “And she’s not family?” Confuuuuused, Rhett is.

I had nothing to do with her existing. Not me personally,” Elaine explains, to at least put that question out of his head. Part of her already regrets going down this particular route of ‘weird things’. “So you remember when I told you I knew for sure that time travel was a thing? So remember that part. Now imagine that suddenly the world goes to shit, some apocalyptic thing happens. Your world is doomed. But you have the ability to time travel back to before this all happened and you do, but you’re basically stranding yourself.”

She looks back at him. “So you travel back in time and lo and behold, there are your parents to help you figure out how to stop this really bad apocalypse from happening.” She clears her throat and looks at him to make sure he isn’t taking things too badly. “So in another timeline another version of me had a kid, she came to our timeline to stop it from happening again. And now she’s stuck here.”

“So…. you haven’t yet had her…. but the future is set, that you will,” Rhett says, slowly, as he absorbs where this is going. “Since she’s here.” His smile has gone, and his brows are down and together. There’s an extreme impact on him, and he’s withdrawing.

“Did the apocalypse get stopped?” Rhett asks, adjusting. He hasn’t entirely pulled away emotionally; there must be something he’s not getting out of this example she’s brought forward, but at the moment it feels very much like a door slammed in his face. Do they have a short future? It’s the opposite of them against the world. The emotional whiplash is hard to take so quickly.

“…That you’re going to have children with somebody else is…” Rhett leaves that there, his jaw moving some. He censors himself and brings up a deep breath, letting it out through his nose. “—- then you believe we’re not going to last.”

“Nonononono….” The amount of times Elaine repeats ‘no’ is innumerable. “It’s not like that at all. They’re separate… like… “ She searches for some way to explain it properly. “… they’re different timelines. So, for example, there’s probably some timeline where you’re not the only person left in your family. It exists, right now, we’re just not in it. There’s a bunch of them, I don’t know how many.”

She’s trying desperately at this point to make it all make sense. “It’s not me.” She takes a deep breath. “Okay, so if a person is made up of who they are, at heart, and then a bunch of pieces of what happens to them as they experience the world. So take that heart and then change out those experiences. It’s not the same person, but it’s like them. It’s got that same core bit.”

Her desperation is hitting peak. “It’s not like things are predetermined at all. I just wanted you to know that this sort of weird stuff existed because something might happen related to this sort of thing and I didn’t want you to become confused…” The deep breath is gone. “God, I’ve fucked up this whole thing and I’m never going to forgive myself.”

“You’ve said a daughter from the future came back to see her parents and stop an apocalypse,” Rhett says, carefully reviewing, as if to give her what he’s understanding as being told. There’s a guarded quality; he’s protecting his own feelings about things. “The apocalypse that happened in her timeline. Which is also here? Or it isn’t?”

“This is definitely seriously strange stuff,” Rhett says, pushing a smile to the surface. He’s uncomfortable but capable of not being an asshole, as well.

“I’m sorry, I got really selfish there. I’m not okay with…. Knowing there’s probably an expiration date on what we have. I’m trying to think.” Rhett moves his lower lip, passing his upper teeth over it, and draws one hand in to scrub his face some, pressing the heel of hand into his eye socket.

“So her mother isn’t you?”

“If it’s easier to understand, picture it like there’s a clone of me who grew up in a different environment and different circumstances who had a kid who came here to make sure a bad thing didn’t go bad here.” Elaine is rubbing her face, mostly so it’s not so obvious just how close to tears she is at this point. His smile hasn’t done its job—she’s not put at ease in the slightest.

“There is literally no way possible for me to suddenly have her as a daughter. Nothing I could do at all to have a hand in her being created. I never said she was my daughter, I said that’s what genetics said. The genetic markers all match, but I don’t have any connection to her or what happened other than that I consider her a friend, now.”

Her face is scrubbed harder. “I’m really bad at explaining this. I don’t have any kids, I’m not predestined to have any kids, my future is whatever I want it to be, but there are people who fuck with things and therefore this situation exists. This other version of me certainly isn’t me.” She tries to speak again, but by now she’s lost it. “I’m so sorry I even tried to explain this, I’m so, so, so sorry. All I wanted to do was to make sure that if any of this bullshit showed up you’d be okay. I just wanted to protect you.”

They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions. “Please understand there’s no expiration date. Please don’t set one now, either.”

Rhett listens through all of her explanations in his reserved way. When he pulls back behind his walls, he’s a lot harder to read. He filters very strongly when he starts to guard his heart.

Rhett slowly extends his hands out, to try to pull her scrubbing hands gently down away from her face. “My family, on my mother’s side, is full of twins. She was a twin. My sisters were twins,” Rhett says to her slowly, his tone still reserved, but more soothing. There’s a cautiousness here, but the gentle thing is genuine. “Genetically the same, but my aunt wasn’t my mother, by any stretch of anything.”

Rhett curls his hands over hers, if she’ll let him. “So she didn’t come from you, or your future. I don’t really understand, maybe; and I’m sorry for that. And that I got weirdly jealous about that. I didn’t intend to be. Or react like that. It was just so opposite what we’d just decided.”

A glance follows down towards his hands, then back to her face. “I care a lot. I don’t want to be pushed out of some future family.”

It’s hard for Elaine to do anything but look how she’s feeling. Rhett might be able to filter and guard, but she’s not able to, not when it’s something as serious as this. When he pulls her hands from her face, it’s not hard to see how genuinely upset and concerned she is. While she doesn’t put up a fight, she’s certainly feeling a bit exposed and shrinks down the slightest little bit in response.

“It’s hard to really explain,” she says, her tone soft. “She’s just a friend who saved the world, that’s all. She just came from a place where someone like me raised her.” She swallows hard. “I don’t want you to think that any of this impacts us. When I say I was concerned over something cropping up because of this, I didn’t mean it in that way, I meant that there are these other places that exist and…”

She pauses, the image of the old address book sitting in her nightstand coming painfully into view. She shoves it away. Too complicated. “… and something dangerous might pop up from some other timeline. I meant I was concerned for potential actual safety. Remember when I joked about sailing away if New York went to shit? That’s the sort of thing I was worried about.”

She takes in a deep breath, though she still does look a little too close to tears. “I’m sorry I fucked this up so badly, please just don’t turn and run or anything. You’re too important. I couldn’t handle that.”

“Hey, hey, hey,” Rhett says, lifting his hands from hers and bringing them to cradle her cheeks if she doesn’t flinch back from him. He’s soft with it, not grabby. “I just needed to process it a little. Please just give me that. I didn’t leave or run. Just kind of scared me a bit. I misunderstood what you were explaining to me.”

Rhett turns on the couch; as she’s on his lap, she’s probably along for the ride a little bit, there. He turned in order to lay back some, the body language a clear indication that he’s staying with her. “Come here, Elaine; please? I don’t want you to be afraid to talk to me. I really didn’t want that. I fucked up too.” He doesn’t pull her into laying with him or his embrace at all; that’s something she can choose, or decline, however she feels.

Although Elaine allows the touch to her cheeks, she squeezes her eyes shut as she takes the moment to try and gather her thoughts. “I know, it’s a lot to process,” she agrees. It certainly took her a while, too. “I’m sorry for scaring you.” She opens her eyes to look at him, but she can’t maintain the eye contact, not right this moment.

When he shifts positions and requests her presence, she doesn’t hesitate for even a moment. She moves to settle herself against him, her arms sliding around him so she can be nestled close through all of this. “You mean a lot to me, Rhett. A lot more than I think I realized until now. I don’t want anything taking you away from me.”

Rhett notices the eye contact drop; he watches her a little longer, then rests his head back and closes his eyes, giving her the reprieve if she ventures a peek at him to not find him staring. It’s also a way to let her feel like she can cry if she needs to without his gaze on her: he saw her hide in her hands.

He moves naturally as she settles with him: an adjustment of hip and leg to work with her to find comfort for both of them. His arm over her strokes her back, a slow, soothing caress now. Up the shoulderblade, then to the middle back, in slow meaningless circles. Just comfort. Maybe for more than just her.

“I’m here,” is what Rhett says simply.

There’s so much tension that Elaine’s been holding since the start of the conversation, a tension she’s never really released. Not until now. She restrains herself from really breaking down, just by a thread, instead curling herself against him until her body is about as meshed as it can get against his. She tries to slow her breathing, to focus on it. When she finally gets things levelled out, she looks up at him. “Don’t you ever leave,” she murmurs.

Now, she’ll meet his gaze.

She’ll find it hard to do that at first, since he’d had his eyes shut. He senses the weight of her statement, though, and perhaps her gaze, the shift of her chin against him, and he slowly opens his eyes again and looks at her, blue eyes meeting her brown.

Rhett smiles at her a little bit, though it’s one of his reserved smiles, at first. The smile fades off: but so does his guard, it’s beginning to drop again, too. He looks at her eyes, but also her expression, and then tension in her features, anything still remaining there to read.

His hand moves on her back again, very aware of her body so snugly meshed with his. He’s exceptionally aware of her seeking to be close. It relieves some of his deeper, unnamed worry.

“I’m not the flight risk,” Rhett says, a soft tease in his tone. “If you decide you need a family, talk to me first before wandering off,” he says, intending to draw a smile, but he ends up blushing. His eyes move to some of her hair at her shoulder, and his hand comes aside to curl fingers in the red strands, combing them gently in a wave near her upper shoulder.

The close proximity with him allows Elaine to be lulled into a sense of security again, his gaze doing well to calm her as well, but his words don’t humor, they leave a bit of a sour taste. While she’s well aware of his intention, it stings. She doesn’t move from her position but she doesn’t reply to the tease, simply wilting a bit, letting her weight fully slump against him. She takes advantage of things to bury her face against him as well.

That clearly went over like a pile of bricks, and Rhett winces. He gives his own slowly released deep breath, adjusting position of his hand back to her middle-back, trailing a light stroke of fingertips up and down. He doesn’t know what to say, and it causes some emotionally heavy, partially truncated breaths.

“I just worry you’ll find somebody better. I don’t want someone to take you from me either.” Which is why her particular angle of the timeline-daughter hit him hard, it involved the threat of that loss.

“But I want to believe in us.”

“I’m still falling, so I still need your hand. Okay?”

“I’m not running away,” Elaine assures him, her arms tightening about him as she lets out a slow breath. “You believe in us and I can promise you that I’ll do my best to keep us going as well. Just don’t give up on us, okay?” She offers him a smile, her hand squeezing his own for a brief moment. “You keep falling and I won’t let you do it alone.”

She means that.

Rhett makes a little concerned sound in the back of his throat, and lowers his head again. There isn’t a kiss here, but he is bringing his cheek down next to hers, a seek of closeness much as she has done as she buried her face in his shoulder, though his angle requires he do it more this way. The nerve got a little exposed for him: let her in a little became letting her in a lot.

“This matters to me,” Rhett explains, a bit muffled. “I feel like my life’s been better already. And I’ll fight for that. I want us to want the same future.” He opens his eyes, examining her, though it’s quiet. “What are your dreams, Elaine? Where do you want to be in five, ten years?”

“I think about where I am, and sometimes it’s just treading water. I wasn’t building anything, just doing one day, to the next, to the next. Because planned things, goals, they seem to get shredded. Even if I wanted to resume medicine again, I just—-” Rhett’s tone suggests that he does, the broken dream is just buried deep. “I don’t see a path to it.”

Elaine stays settled in against him. Moving at this point seems like it would break the connection, the closeness that keeps them grounded. So she doesn’t. She keeps her arms around him, squeezing gently, and she listens to what he says. She listens and she understands it far too well.

“I don’t know, not entirely. Part of it has always been not doing it alone. I’m a better team player than anything, I enjoy helping someone more than forging a path on my own. So that’s always been what I’ve wanted for the future. But, providing that New York doesn’t blow up or anything, I can’t say I have a vision of the future.”

She frowns, just slightly. “I guess that’s because I’ve always just sort of taken things as they were given to me, not really planned. I’ve had a hard time planning, plans are so easily broken.” She smiles at him. “But don’t think that your dreams can’t be achieved just because you don’t see a path. If that’s something you really want to do, we’ll find a way you can do it. If there’s something you really want, just name it and I’ll find a way to make it happen.”

“/Not/ planning hasn’t really created anything either. I don’t know, I’m rambling now,” Rhett chuckles softly, continuing to rove his hand against her back. Tension he was holding a bit secretly gives way for the last amount, allowing him to breathe more naturally.

“I generally do it alone, these days. But that’s not the way I wanted my life to be; it’s not the way I like it. There just… hasn’t been anybody.” Rhett shrugs his shoulder a little. “Friends or people I’m helping or teaching, sure. I like being connected. A piece of what life was before it all fell apart.”

“I get that. Yamagato feels like… cheating, I guess. It’s about as close to having a normal life as one can get, if you get past just how advanced and impressive everything is. It’s made it easy to deal with emotional distance and such because it’s just some weird sense of normal. It’s been something grounding and stabilizing and I’ve never found that in an occupation before.”

Elaine seems to be easing more and more back into somewhere she’s emotionally comfortable with. “Just doing it alone was never the plan. It’s all gotten lost in the shuffle. I’ve got some great co-workers, sure, and some friends, but there’s a big difference between that and someone who brings you crab after work and went through the trouble of shaving.”

She emphasizes this point by running her fingertips over his chin. “Almost like he had someone to impress.”

“Yes. This place is a pocket of what life was before the war. You have this oasis here. It was strange to go back out and trade simple luxuries for Christmas with families that don’t have much. My current work isn’t stable at all.” Rhett smiles though. “But the freedom of it is no small thing. Would I rather be secure? Maybe. You’re turning me on to that possibility.”

Rhett smiles as she touches his face. “Well I thought — No need to suffer on my sandpaper face,” Rhett says in some unsure humility or embarrassment. He absolutely shaved for her.

“Well, my oasis isn’t perfect. And I’m not perfect. But it feels more like it used to and it’s got potential and right now, it feels safe,” Elaine offers him with a bit of a smile. “I’ve got some method of continued income that’s stable, I’ve got a beautiful apartment that you’re just going to love when it’s all set up for the holidays… I’ve got a nice secure place for you. On paper I’m sure I look like a nice uncomplicated match.”

Complications were always there, waiting in the wings. “You clean up very nicely, but you also really rock the ruggedly handsome thing, you know.” This time, she leans up to kiss his stubble-less jaw. “You can choose either look and be equally as attractive.”

“On ‘paper’ I’m— well, I don’t have papers,” Rhett chuckles back. “Just a bag of tricks.” Rhett relaxes as she smiles at him. Their tense, uncomfortable patch earlier isn’t one he wants to linger in — or repeat.

Her kiss brings a small blush, and a return kiss to her nose between her eyes. “Well, if we go out, I don’t want people to wonder if you’re crazy.” Rhett hooks a brief smile. “Or being kidnapped by some bad guy.” He considers his words.

“Sometimes I’ve had to be. Sold a few things I’m not proud of. But it’s survival. I don’t do it anymore; I can’t afford to get caught. Particularly not when I have someone to come home to.”

If there’s any hint of that uncomfortableness now, it’s drifted away as fast as Elaine could shove it under the cushions. She squeezes him gently, favoring the affectionate touches instead of the mess that conversation made earlier. “Well, you’ve got a pretty clever bag of tricks, I’d say. You’re very resourceful.”

She does smile more broadly. “Ah, so now you want to look like arm candy, I see how it is.”

Rhett lifts his head and torso up and back to give her a better look at him. And then he playfully deliberately poses, eyes partially lidded, an intent to give her a sexy look.

“How am I doing at it?” Rhett asks, tone deep. He then brings it a notch further into silly, with a wink and a ‘Zoolander’ Blue Steel look. He can’t hold it, and ends up laughing, making them both shake a little as his deep laugh emerges.

The sexy look is returned with an abrupt pounce. She doesn’t kiss him, like it appears she’s about to, but she just rubs noses with him and grins.“You’re a pro at this,” Elaine murmurs, grinning. “I’m going to have to show you off to all my friends and you have to make that exact face.”

Rhett continues to laugh. The look enters his eyes fully, there’s no guarded quality to it. Her pounce only made it funnier to him.

“No no, this is a private look for you, Elaine. Nope.” Rhett lifts a hand to flip the side of her hair back out of their faces, and runs fingers lightly over the curl of her ear to the lobe.

“It’s a shame, it’s such a good look on you,” Elaine says, still grinning down at him. “Doesn’t mean I’m not still going to show you off to everyone.” She reaches her fingers up to his hair. “I hope you are okay with being arm candy. I like the idea of showing you off. Maybe it sounds dumb but I just want the opportunity to proclaim that you’re sticking around. Plus if I don’t show you off somewhere people will think I’ve made you up.”

“I am definitely okay with you being proud to me with me. Absolutely, Elaine: anywhere you want to go. I’m not secretive,” Rhett explains.

“Where are we going first?” He teases. “Do you need me to drop off flowers at work for you to embarrass you?”

“If you brought me flowers at work I’m pretty sure there would be some people shocked. How could I have a relationship with all the time I spend working, after all?” Elaine chuckles. “Somehow I manage to be a professional working woman and have a successful relationship all at the same time? I feel like I’m going to be some sort of magazine article now. The apartment feels too easy, I’ve got a career I love, a relationship I…” She quickly interjects. “… am really looking to the future in, it’s like life is working too well and now I’m really suspicious.”

She leans in close to him, staring into his eyes. “You’re legally obligated to tell me right now if you have ulterior motives.”

“I probably need a haircut if I’m going to impress anybody,” Rhett ruefully chuckles, glancing up. He’s not wrong, it’s starting to hang into his eyes; he’s been wearing it swept back. His hair is a dark blonde, lighter gold towards the ends from sun bleaching from his tendency to be outdoors, even in winter.

“My motives tonight involved a fresh crab dinner, and seeing you naked again,” Rhett flirts smoothly, voice not innocent in the slightest. He holds her gaze without any dodge or looking away. Rhett just looks at her with his softened expression he so often wears when with her. It’s accepting. “Maybe a little love.” He lifts his head to kiss the side of her lips just softly.

“The long hair is good for that ruggedly handsome look, but if you want to clean up a haircut couldn’t be too bad,” Elaine says, taking a moment to sweep her fingers through his hair. “You could rock the long hair even to impress people. You’ve got a really…” She pauses to choose her words. “I’d call you a ‘look-for-all-seasons’. You could really look good in just about anything, it’s just a matter of taste as to what you like the most.”

But she’s looking at him and he’s looking at her and he said something. It takes a moment for her to register he’s talking again and she flushes, conveniently right about the time he mentions being naked. “Ah-ha, so your motives are just about exactly where I expected them to be.” She winks at him. “Although when you say love that could mean a whole variety of things.”

Rhett didn’t know she zoned out, he was thinking over his hairstyle with a slightly wrinkled nose. He shrugs some; he isn’t vain or too worried with his appearance: so long as it’s acceptable!

“What could it mean?” Rhett innocently asks, pretending to be puzzled. “What do you want it to mean?” The follow up is more gentle, more seeking.

“I mean, there’s different kinds of love and the word love means different things, and you could express different meanings of love just by the intonation of how you say the word,” Elaine practically throws up her hands. “The Greeks had an entirely different concept of love that was broken up into several different words that still meant love but meant a specific kind of love or context from it. I’m not sure how aware you are with just how many ways the word love can be taken and in how many different languages.”

This is, after all, her forte. She watches him, though, narrowing her eyes. “But you’re cheating by asking me what I want it to mean.” It’s not a bad look she’s giving him, just one when you’ve caught someone red-handed. “Trying to figure out what I’m thinking without showing your hand. That’s not very sporting of you.”

“No? Neither is this, maybe,” Rhett says, lifting one hand to her nape and drawing her head towards him to quiet her tirade of words with a strong, deep kiss.

It’s a kiss that will hold, will continue, if she’s as interested in melting into it as he is.

He’s right, it’s not very sporting of him. A distraction tactic like a kiss is a cheap move, although she has second thoughts about that as it’s a kiss and not just a kiss. Elaine’s words are silenced by a kiss she might have been expecting but certainly not what she was expecting. He succeeds in silencing and distracting her, and she melts into the kiss.

While for a moment or two it seemed like she wanted to banter or argue or spout some other words at the beginning of the kiss, it doesn’t take very long until she’s just relaxing into it and gives absolutely no indication of ever wanting to end it. None whatsoever.

Though really, he’s giving her his answer about what he meant. The kiss isn’t leading towards lust, it isn’t sexually powerful or fierce.

That part was covered by wanting to see her naked.

Rhett is instead offering a tender lasting kiss, his hand curving against the back of her nape, no weight there. It’s a request to continue but not a demand, kiss deepening to engage tongue in coaxing exploration, not a battle.

There’s no real battle to be fought here. Elaine gave up the fight back when things had gotten awkward, when she was briefly terrified that she had irreversibly fucked things over. So when he kisses her, it’s no real fight. She confirms the request, kissing back, but there’s a different source of neediness to it. It’s not hunger or desire, but a neediness, as if for the moment she’s not sure he’s going to be there in a moment or two.

Her hands seem to mirror this response, fingers curling into the fabric of his shirt and just gripping there, tightly.

Rhett makes a quiet low sound, a mix of a sigh and something more, answering her curled fingers by moving his hand to bury it more in her hair. He can sense the neediness, but is answering it with his own, not a retreat.

Both of them, so oriented in fear, and being afraid of scaring the other off with their need: it’s a bit of an echo chamber.

The kiss adjusts as he moves to break it a little, kisses moving in a series along her lip and cheek. There’s a slight urgency to it, like he needs to get them in before she pulls back.

Elaine gets the sense that they’re both expressing the same thing, though she’s unsure of how to cross the threshold to make sure they both understand that their worst fears are unfounded. It’s a risk to be out with it, one-sided, but she gets the sense that something needs to be done. At least for her, it would be too much to bear.

As he trails kisses along, she doesn’t stop him, but she catches his gaze. “Nothing’s changed,” she mumurs, her tone soft, just above a whisper. “You and me, against the world. Falling together.” And then she ends it by kissing him. It’s not meant to be deep or passionate or unending, it’s just a kiss, strong and solid. The wax seal on a promise.

That sort of love,” Rhett replies, softened but direct, as she seals her statement with that expressive kiss. He doesn’t fear use of the word, there isn’t a shyness to it. His upbringing contained healthy use of it, his family used the word and meant it without fear.

Rhett doesn’t push for another kiss, he wants to look at her eyes and expression, to try to read whatever might be unspoken in her face.

“I think something changed,” Rhett says gently. “But in a good way.”

She knows dozens of languages, so many iterations of the word love that the normal person could ever deal with. Elaine’s brain is already wired to try to comprehend the meaning of a word and even still, this one is tangled up in some interesting experiences. Even with his expressing what the intended meaning was, she understands it she just can’t quite mesh it together with her worldview. An old worldview, one she never really updated. She hadn’t needed to.

She gazes back at him, her expression a mix of concern (but not fear) and curiosity (but trepidation). “Is… that okay?” Her voice is a bit meeker than she’d probably like it to be sounding right about now.

Rhett hears the uncertainty and worry in her tone. His own expression turns a bit more shy; he’d been feeling stronger, with a finger on the pulse of this, but she feels so fragile to him now.

Talking about love at all takes bravery, when it’s made into something so important. The focus on it starts to make him wonder if he made a misstep. Did he misread? Is he risking too much? Is this wrong?

“Are…. you okay?” Rhett asks, similarly soft.

His confusion causes a ripple effect and now she’s concerned that maybe she’s the one that misspoke. Elaine grips at his shirt, fingers twisting a bit in some attempt of using something physical to expend nervous energy. “I’m okay,” she replies. She hesitates for a moment, then struggles to find what she wants to say.

“I’m happy,” she murmurs. “Very happy. I’m also very scared that I’m going to lose all of this and if—” She suddenly cuts herself off, sitting up a little straighter. “Fuck what everyone else thinks.” She looks back at him, her tone serious. “I’m okay. This is okay.”

As they are still in the same position from when she pounced on him and then snuggled tightly, she’s on top of him on the couch, which doesn’t give much space for him to move. But he has not made any indication that he has wanted to. Still, her sitting up straight moves her away from him a little bit.

“I think… we can have love. If we want to,” Rhett finally comes out with. There’s a risky quality to saying it that way, he’s giving her a lot of ability to crush him, now. There’s faith there: that she won’t.

He’s trudging out on a limb, taking the risk for her. Elaine looks at him, grateful for the opportunity to be the safe one. “If we want,” she agrees, then releases one of her hands to find his, wherever it might be. “That’s what I want. I just want to go with what I feel and not what I think. I’m overthinking too much. I need to just let this… I need to let this be what it’s going to be when and where it’s going to happen.”

She smiles at him. “If that’s what you want too.”

Some alarm came into his expression a little as she seems to partially argue with herself or talks herself into it. He looks down at her hand now holding his, bringing it up to his chest near where her other fingers have found secure purchase against him there.

Then Rhett returns his gaze to hers, and her smile reassures him. “I don’t want to hurry us. But I don’t want to… not be open with you, either. Because I feel like we can be happy, Elaine.”

“I’m not hurrying anything,” Elaine says, looking back at him. “You’re not hurrying anything either. I just want to be able to go with what we’re comfortable with. I guess I’ve just been caught up with the way things look on the outside that I’m not worrying enough about this.”

She leans in and presses a kiss to the tip of his nose. “I should focus on you.”

“I haven’t really been thinking about what this looks like to anyone else,” Rhett answers, thoughtful. “Just that… I’m trying to date you … properly.” He quirks a quick smile, aware that sounded hokey.

His nose moves just a bit after she kisses it, a slight wrinkle of his eyebrows as well. “I need you to know that I’m here with you, and want to be. I don’t expect to win your heart overnight. But I’m not going to lie to myself about how I feel—-“

Rhett trails off, and shifts a little under her. He’s getting far out on the limb again. “I’m sorry. The stuff earlier made it really clear to me how much I do care, already.”

“You’re doing a good job of dating me, I’m just doing a real good job of making a mess of that,” Elaine smiles back at him. “It’s just been a while since I’ve really had something that felt like this and I just want to be sure that I’m doing it right. It’s hard to figure out when you’re constantly trying to decide if that’s what a relationship ‘should’ look like or ‘should’ be like instead of just letting it happen the way it should.”

She shakes her head a little. “You have nothing to apologize for, Rhett. You’ve already done an excellent job winning my heart, I’ve just been really scared about handing it over. You don’t have to hide how you feel about this. I’m not scared of anything but you leaving and if I haven’t scared you off, then we’re good.”

“I’m here,” Rhett says, quietly, a catch in his voice. He is unsuccessfully attempting to be steady and solid about everything, so that she doesn’t worry, but this is an emotional area. He clears his throat to try to shake it a little but it persists, a vocal tightness. It isn’t pain, but a sort of strain from trying to speak normally while feeling strongly.

“I don’t want you to feel afraid anymore. There’s no reason for it. Elaine.” Rhett folds his hand over hers, watching her, his light eyes holding a mix of injured emotions.

Elaine’s eyes watch him, colored with concern. “You’re here,” she murmurs. Her other hand comes to rest atop both of their hands, the need for connection very present. “I trust you. My heart is already yours, if you want it.” She isn’t sure what else she can say, other than to look at him and simply be there.

“Don’t be afraid either, okay?”

Rhett draws his other hand up from where it has been resting behind her, and gently brushes the backs of the fingers along the edge of her cheek. His thumb comes in for a tenderly lingering touch next to her lips.

“We fell together,” Rhett observes in a low voice. He swallows hard. He’s certain she can feel his heartbeat heavy under their hands on his upper chest.

“I do love you already. I know it’s soon, or crazy.”

Her hands stay where they are, content to feel his heart. “We’ll figure out things,” Elaine murmurs. “Weird as they are.” She lets out a tiny laugh at the sound of his words, not because she’s laughing at him, but because she’s relieved. “I guess it just depends on your idea of soon. Does love happen in minutes? Hours? Days? Do the times you’re apart count? The only reason I haven’t said anything was because I was worried it’d seem rushed if I had feelings like this.”

She pauses. “Feelings like love, to be clear. Because I do love you.”

The concern and blush started as she talked, as his uncertainty of if she was going to talk around it grew. Still, he felt okay. Better, to just lay it out, and take whatever outcome came from it.

When she gives him the words back, though, his face clears and he sits forward, up, which will require her to sit back a little as well since she’s on him. He pulls her hands to kiss them a little hard. The turmoil of relief and soaring hope is an intense ride.

“One motive down, two to go,” Rhett says, in a joke that does nothing to hide the surge of emotion under it.

No more being afraid. Not with me.” He holds her fingers near his lips, watching her eyes.

Elaine’s cheeks flush. It’s not really out of embarrassment at this point, more of a matter of being flustered. He’s pulled her back into the realm of comfort and less out of one of awkwardness and confusion. His words make her smile, amused at the joke, but it’s what he says afterwards that really strikes her.

It strikes her so hard she’s momentarily frozen in place, watching him intently. She doesn’t speak, not at first. It’s like ice thawing for a moment before she slowly answers. “Okay,” the answer comes simple and with nothing to explain or mar it. It’s just that. It will carry the weight of meaning all on its own.

Rhett knows, senses, how important it is that he hold this look as she watches him. That it is serious and meaningful and not a joke at all.

“Okay,” Rhett echoes her statement, as if a promise were being made on both sides. Maybe it is.

“I’m going to stay right here and love you.” Rhett swallows hard; this is difficult for him, but he’s keeping at it, on the emotional high of her returning his feeling. He kisses her thumb again, and finally drops his gaze down into their clasped hands.

This feels like a moment she wants to remember. Elaine takes the opportunity to look him over, to gaze at him, their joined hands, the way he plants kisses on them while she lays on him. “You can always love me and you can always stay right here.” She offers, but then looks at him, her fingers squeezing his.

“I love you. I’m not sure I phrased it like this yet but I feel like I need you to hear it, just like that.”

Rhett’s gaze flicks right back up to her eyes when she makes him that offer, and follows it with the deeper words. There’s no signs of flight or disturbance as he hears them, that perhaps she had been fearing. No rejection at all.

“I like hearing it. Just like that.” She figured out that part of his combination lock, just by watching and listening to him. There’s a perceptible shift to his tension level, and he’s willing to lay back a little once again. The tone to it is somewhat different, though. “From you.”

Rhett’s urgency reduces, he stretches his back a little, settling both his hands with hers on his chest between them. He’s relaxing into their new status: or rather, their recognition of the status that was already there.

She’s aware of the strange place they’ve come to. Somehow the night had gone from an entirely different mood to one of comfort and belonging. “Anytime you want to hear it, I’ll remind you,” Elaine says, sounding confident. It’s not something she’s been in a while so she seems to have surprised herself with it. She keeps her hands in his, but she gazes back at him.

“If you ever want to know about anything weird again, I’ll try and explain it… but maybe we not talk about that unless we absolutely need to. I don’t need to have my heart stop because I’m worried I’ll lose you again.”

The offer to remind him brings out a laugh, a quiet but deep one. It isn’t at her; more a laugh at himself — and a need for release. A valve on all the tension. “I’ll make sure not to abuse that,” Rhett chuckles softly.

The reference to ‘weird stuff’ gets his laugh to fade. Rhett sobers. He moves his thumb over the back of her hand. “I’ll try not to leap into a worst case view of what it is. We’ll work up to… trusting each other more. Knowing we both feel the same way now …”

Rhett trails off. “Let’s wait on weird stuff for a little while,” he agrees.

“No more weird stuff,” Elaine murmurs. “Unless absolutely necessary.” She’ll make certain of that. That’s not a mistake she’ll make twice. Never again. “All I really want you to know is that weird things are out there and some of them are dangerous so if something really strange happens to you, let me know because I might be able to help.” That, that is all she really needed to say earlier.

“I trust you, a lot. I wouldn’t have told you about all of that stuff if I didn’t. And maybe you’ll trust me when I say that all of it, even when it involves me, it isn’t going to affect us. And if it tries? I won’t let it.” She shakes her head. “This connection we have? It’s more important to me than anything. Anything.”

Rhett is quiet for a time, but he is just being attentive and listening. He gives a brief nod to telling her if something weird happens to him. There’s understanding there, but no indication that he’s had something weird or is holding it back. He’s just not had a weird temporal experience.

“Us against the world,” Rhett answers. He watches her eyes, then gives her a mild smile. “Let’s shut it out, and eat crab,” he suggests, softened. It’s not pushy, but an attempt to show that their life can continue.

“God, yes. Let me melt some butter and we can stuff our faces. Still got some ice cream left, too.”

The last part gets an amused sound from Elaine as she looks at him, getting to her feet fully to free him from his imprisonment on the couch. Instead of moving too far, she offers him a hand to get to his feet even though it’s likely he doesn’t need it. “You know, I’d better make a list of what I’ll need from you for Christmas Eve. I can’t imagine anything I’d be making needing anything particularly special but it never hurts to check ingredients.” She’s already doing her best to move forward—thinking about the future. Their future.

“How do you still have ice cream? Incredible self control,” Rhett compliments as he sits up and makes a quick expression of agony. He stretches and puts his feet to the floor, but rubs his leg and knee with a laugh at himself. “My foot’s asleep; give me a minute, to not stumble to the kitchen,” Rhett asks. He accepts her hand offered but only uses it to steer her to stand in front of him. He uses his other hand to rake back through his hair, an unconscious effort to once again look more appealing to her.

“Yes, I have the previous list, but if there’s anything new, add it. I have a three or four day northern trip coming,” Rhett nods. “I should be able to find a good chunk of things to bring back.”

“Also half the day I wasn’t here because I was at work, thank you very much,” Elaine pauses after that thought. “But I was home early enough that I thought I might eat an ice cream lunch… but I restrained.” She grins at him, but cringes at the loss of blood circulation in his leg. “Oh, crap. I had no idea, I would have moved…” Then again, they were a touch distracted. By a lot.

“Three or four days?” For a brief moment, Elaine looks disappointed, but she shrugs it off with a playful smile. “Looks like I’ll just have to make and eat all of your favorite foods while you’re gone.” She glances towards the kitchen. “Really though, I don’t think I need much. I’ve got most of it covered.”

“Yes, I do these trips in and out of the Safe Zone; supplies and passengers, or salvage and repair,” Rhett explains, with a general smile. This is just his occupation’s type.

“Well, I’ll still bring back new fish with me. It’s easy to get.” For Aquaman, anyway.

He tests his leg, and then gets up with only a minor limp. “I don’t know what’s best to eat with crab, but I figured you’d have an idea of what to do with them,” Rhett encourages.

Elaine makes sure he’s balanced on his feet before she retreats in the direction of the kitchen. “Potatoes and corn are good options, though potatoes take a while. If you’re willing to wait for like half an hour I can get us something that looks more like a full meal.” She glances over her shoulder to make sure he’s following before she moves fully into the kitchen.

Even without his approval she begins to sort through her pantry to find some potatoes and a can of corn. “It’d be better if it were fresh corn but we make do with what we have,” she states simply as she moves about, a kitchen full of distractions in front of her. Safety for certain. “So you said three or four days? I hope that means you aren’t leaving too near Christmas, right?”

She seems as if she really doesn’t want him to miss Christmas Eve.

“Sure, Let’s have a full meal. The crab are ready for when we want them,” Rhett answers. When she turns to check for him he is following, and wearing a warm smile. He comes into the kitchen behind her, rubbing his thigh a little but clearly able to use it.

Rhett picks an area near the fridge to hang out. “No, the 12th is when I expect to go. Well before Christmas. I may do some shorter day trips before Christmas, lots of passengers to move, it’s good money— but I can easily be back for Christmas Eve.”

Rhett watches her bustle about in her element, a smile very present, and wondering if this is how he’d look in water. Each their own safety element.

“Christmas is certainly a busy time,” Elaine agrees. “Thankfully we haven’t had a holiday gala planned this year or I’d be twice as busy. I almost don’t want to think of how chaotic that would be right now.” She starts to peel the potatoes, glancing at him out of the corner of her eye as she works.

“Christmas Eve is all I ask, I’d just like to do something special for us.”

There’s almost a timidity to the way she says it, not quite shy but perhaps a bit bashful about planning out a special meal and carving out a specific time for it. “Anyway, just keep me informed about your situation. It’ll be nice knowing when I can steal you for a while.”

“Of course, I’ll be here for eve and day,” Rhett agrees, moving over behind her as she starts to work on the potato, inviting himself to distract her by hugging her from behind and putting his head gently on her shoulder. “What about New Year’s? Start it off together?”

Rhett smiles a little and nods forwards st her activity. “Anything I can do here?” He asks. Probably meaning the food.

Elaine is distracted just the right amount. She leans against him, just a touch, turning her head to kiss his cheek while it’s close enough to do so. But peeling potatoes isn’t particularly hard work, so the distraction doesn’t bar her own progress. She doesn’t need a lot of potatoes, so she’s done soon enough.

“I’d love that,” she agrees readily. “New Years would be great, I just don’t want you to feel obligated to spend all your time with me. However I will selfishly take all that you’ll give me of it. I am a selfish, selfish creature with no concern for anyone around me.” She offers him a wink, then slowly moves to disengage to get the potatoes boiling.

“I want to see you,” Rhett replies, scoffing at ‘obligated’. “Did you miss the part where I said I loved you?” He kisses her ear briefly but moves back to allow her to work on the potatoes at the stove without his continued interference.

The reminder was intentional: it felt important to bring that reality out into this kitchen, not just soft private intensity on the couch. “I don’t suggest things I don’t want to do,” Rhett smiles roguishly.

Her cheeks flush. The words are ones she could get used to. Words she hopes will be repeated enough that they become familiar, but just as meaningful as the first time. “I know,” Elaine says. “And I love you. I guess I just don’t want to encroach upon your life too much without knowing quite where my bounds are.”

The potatoes were tossed into the pot of water she’d gathered a few minutes ago, the heat turned on, and then Elaine moved to the corn. Canned corn was easy enough, so the whole thing was just dumped into a pot and put on to heat. She pauses, then turns the heat off. “I should wait until the potatoes are more cooked first,” she decides. Ah, the most difficult task of timing everything so that it’s warm all at once.

Now she turns back to Rhett. “I need you to know that my relationship with Robyn Quinn was long and complicated but we knew each other well, so we knew, or at least should have known, where boundaries were. At some point despite how well we knew each other, we overlooked each other’s feelings.” She bridges what’s left of the gap between them and puts a hand on his arm. “That relationship didn’t work, but I learned from it so I’m just trying to take those lessons and make sure that I’m treating you fairly and respectfully and not expecting that I can just go around making claims. I’m not gonna try to make this complicated, but I for damned sure am not going to let any stupid mistakes fuck it up.”

“In my last relationship we just….” Rhett thinks about it. “We weren’t honest,” he says finally. “She didn’t know I was Expessive, and — anyway, there were reasons. It started off on a shaky foundation. I wanted to really be open and do this… better.” Rhett smiles, touching the back of her hand on his arm, quite soft.

“Tell me when something is important, like Christmas. Otherwise, I do want to spend time with you, between our work schedules. I feel like we will want to catch as many nights as we match up on.”

“You’re doing a great job. And I appreciate that you want to put effort into it, that’s a really important thing,” Elaine says, turning her hand upward to lace her fingers in his. “Christmas is important,” she agrees. “Probably my birthday too, but that’s not until April. Those are the only days I’d probably be really disappointed if you made other plans on. New Years would be nice as well, but if you did end up having plans, I’d survive.”

She looks at him. “I’m trying to be completely honest with you as well. So if there’s ever something you want to know, regardless of how embarrassing, I promise to tell you. I do warn you in advance I’m not perfect and certainly have made some very foolish mistakes in the past.”

“You already did perfectly for my birthday,” Rhett lets her know, stepping forward and kissing her on the nose wetly, playful.

“I think New Years is more important to me than Christmas. So we can trade,” he suggests with a softened tease in undertone.

“Embarrassing? I don’t want to embarrass you. And I can understand about mistakes: I have my own. Just have to let them go. Somehow.” That guilt of mistakes is a difficult thing. “They led us together.”

Elaine laughs. “Well, now I’ll have to think of something more thoughtful for your next birthday.” At least she’ll have a year to think about it. “Anyway, New Years is your day then. I’ll let you figure out what we’re going to do and you just let me know if I need to prepare anything for it.”

She leans in to kiss his jaw, a place she’s found is a suitable location to kiss in lieu of his neck. “I don’t think we really let go of mistakes. We have to live with that we made them and learn how to not repeat them. And I think lately I’ve learned to speak my mind and be very honest. Sometimes you need to speak up even if it’s hard or there might be consequences, but sitting back and watching something bad happen is almost as bad.”

There’s a pause. “I have a regret. I wish I had told Robyn she needed to get help with her drinking. I tried so hard for so long to help her that I didn’t realize she had to help herself. I just wish someone called her on the alcohol. I never did, and neither did anyone around her. I don’t always want to be so passive.”

She suddenly laughs as she looks at him. “You haven’t really seen me passive. I think that side’s settling down now.”

“She still has to help herself,” Rhett says, thoughtful. “I can’t imagine that it’s your fault. She is an adult, she has that responsibility for her own life.” He draws his head near after she kisses his jaw— to kiss her neck. “If you need help not being passive, well. Maybe we can work out a signal,” Rhett says into her neck.

“I’ll find something to do on New Years. Even if it’s just bringing you out to my boat to toast the New Year, it will be special.”

"I know she has to learn, I just wish someone was able to say something." Elaine doesn't dwell on it, though. She nuzzles in against him. "As for my passivity, I'll probably be fine, I just need to practice taking charge when I actually want to. I just don’t want to sit by idly when I can do something about my own circumstances or those around me.” She certainly knows a bit about that.

She presses another kiss to his jaw. “Your boat could be lovely. I’ve certainly never been on a boat for New Years. I could pack a nice picnic basket of food.”

“Take charge of what you want…. I feel like both of us have. Today.” Rhett draws her closer, to a secure embrace.

“I think I’m on one nearly every year,” Rhett reflects. “Unless there was some big party; there was one after the war I remember. Anyway…. I’m glad to have you along. You’ll want to dress warm to be out on the deck, but the inside will be cozy.” He kisses her lips.

“I’d say so, yes. We’re both doing a pretty good job of that,” Elaine agrees, tightening her arms around him.

She kisses him back, idly plotting out both what she might wear and what she might bring. She’s only distracted by the food cooking, turning to check on both the potatoes and the corn, stepping away from him to make sure everything is working as it should. “You know, I’m never going to get over how lucky I am. You came along just when I needed you. Maybe some would argue the timing wasn’t right, but it really was.”

“Well, I’ve known you for months,” Rhett reminds her. “I’ve been here, trading with you. Maybe you were just ready to come on board my ship now. And I needed help with my elbow … which was nice to have, but nicer to have you.”

“What’s wrong with the timing? We both want us,” Rhett asks, moving aside as she checks the food. “I just think we made this. No passive people here.”

“Well, you still have your arm so you have me to thank for that,” Elaine states, matter-of-factly. She makes sure the heat’s on the corn now and she moves to take the potatoes off the heat. She looks at him over her shoulder as she carries the pot over to drain the water. “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the timing. I think it’s perfect timing. Things just aligned really well.”

She shrugs. “I guess I worry too much what people might think. Without knowing all the facts and details I look like I just don’t care or move on quickly. And I suppose I just want the people I care about knowing things knowing the actual truth and not just looking on and scowling.”

She wipes her hands off on a towel.

“I feel like from what you’ve told me— you had already moved on a long time ago, even if you hadn’t ended it officially,” Rhett interrupts.

“But if you want to tell any of the scowlers that you’re just after the amazing sex, I’m okay with it. Temporarily. If it helps you.” Rhett smiles innocently. “But not forever. I have no shame about loving you.”

“Oh, it’s been over for a long time. It just felt like a thing we did at a certain point because we just didn’t know how to go through life any other way,” Elaine turns to look at him. “But that’s not my point really at all. My point is… I deserve this. Me having a new relationship isn’t selfish or sudden or undeserved. I went through a relationship, it didn’t work out, it ended very badly, and I deserve something good.”

She leans in to kiss him. “I just don’t want people misremembering or overlooking the fact that the relationship was not good. I’m sure it’ll look weird for me to be with someone else to old friends who have seen the two of us but…” She shakes her head. “I don’t want to be stuck in the past. I want new and exciting things with new and exciting people. This is perfect for me. I just somehow want other people to see that. I haven’t figured out yet how.”

“Just be proud, and be you,” Rhett says, bringing his hands up to cup her face, stroking his thumbs against her cheeks, tender and softened. “I don’t know how to help you not worry. If your friends want you happy, they’ll see your happiness and it will be okay.”

“If they’re assholes, maybe you shouldn’t care what they think?” Rhett suggests.

“Nah, they aren’t really assholes, I just worry that…” Elaine trails off. “I don’t know, I guess I just don’t want to lose more people in my life and I don’t know if people will be kinder in their treatment of Robyn than their treatment of me.” She shakes her head, wrapping her arms around him and squeezing tightly.

“I’m done talking about that, though. I don’t want to dwell on it. They’re grown adults who can make their own decisions.”

“Oh. Mutual friends, that might take sides after…. I understand,” Rhett says quietly. She doesn’t need him to solve it or suggest things: just to be there. It has more to do with her old relationship than this new one.

“Just tell me if you need anything from me, honey,” Rhett tells her quietly, supportive and simple.

“Yeah,” Elaine agrees. “We had a lot of mutual friends.” They’re all ones she’ll just have to see the fallout from over time, but there’s little she can do about it at this point. “You don’t need to do anything, Rhett. You just keep being handsome and distracting and I’ll be just fine.” She moves from him again to finish with the potatoes, plating them up before moving to remove the corn from the stove.

“There, we’ve got ourselves a meal, I’d say.”

“I can do that.”

“Have some butter to melt? I’ll set up the crab,” Rhett volunteers, moving to collect it from the fridge. He finds a bowl for it and the pieces; as h gets it out it will be apparent he cleaned, steamed and cracked it. There is a lot, and he just fills the bowl and wraps the rest back up.

“Right, yes, butter!”

Elaine moves to fetch a small shallow bowl, then uses a pot to melt some of the butter she just grabbed from the fridge. It’s a quick process with an already hot pot, and she pours the melted butter into the bowl before moving to bring it to the table. “Thanks for providing the crab, I appreciate the effort.”

“I’m pleased I can help in some way. Seduce you with my fishing skills,” Rhett laughs good-naturedly. He finishes setting it up and brings silverware to the table to wait for her there.

There’s a blush and odd pride in seating himself there. They’re together. They made a meal together. And he’s not censoring himself in how he feels. There’s a pleasure in everything.

“Your fishing skills are commendable, but certainly not the thing that seduced me,” Elaine teases, fetching the last few things for the table, moving back to get them a pair of water glasses. She sets hers down, then his, but stops near him to affectionately run her fingers through his hair.

“You seduce me with your charm, but by god those eyes of yours can speak more languages than I can.” She laughs, planting a kiss on his cheek before she moves to take a seat at the table. “I could really get used to these dinners. This is really fun.”

Rhett smiles to her as she rubs her hand into his hair. There’s a welcome invitation in his expression: she is free to do that as much as she pleases, and a positive response from him each time. He likes her touch, and it’s clear. Nobody in the room would miss it.

As she puts a kiss on him he snares her hand, still holding onto it loosely when she sits down beside him.

“That’s my real goal. Get you used to me.”

“You’ll have to be over all the time. It’s clearly going to take a long time so you’ll just have to start chipping away at it,” Elaine quips, moving the touch on her hand to a tighter grip on his. She squeezes gently, glancing over at him. “I really hope you’re getting as much out of this as I am.” She smiles sheepishly, then releases his hand to look down at the food.

“I’m going to have to work hard to come up with all kinds of different recipes so you don’t get bored of the food.”

Rhett scoots out of his chair boldly as she looks down at the food, playfully coming in close to nibble on the side of her neck, other hand on the back of her chair. He stays in there, teasing her neck. “I am. No more being afraid with me, remember,” Rhett asserts, close, before leaning to sit back in his chair again.

“Recipes for seafood, probably,” Rhett adds.

“You’re right,” Elaine agrees. “I did say that.” It’s a simple reminder, but it sticks. The food is ignored for a moment as she enjoys his face against her neck for a moment or two, and she only refocuses on the food once he’s properly righted in his chair. She shoots him a small smile of gratitude before looking at the food. She scoots the melted butter between them so they can both dip from it.

“Good thing there’s a lot of ways to prepare seafood. I’ll just have to try different methods.” She looks excited at the idea, at least, and not overwhelmed by the prospect of so much seafood.

“I don’t really do requests, it’s sort of whatever I end up catching,” Rhett clarifies. “Unless you want clams, that can pretty much be reliable. I’m generally reliable at crab as well. Little can escape my hunting,” Rhett winks at her.

He then orients on the crab, picking up one of the big body sections and a few legs, to add to the potatoes and corn.

“This is a feast,” he says, excited, and digs in.

“Oh, I’m aware. Luck of the catch. I just need to have plenty of recipes for various fish at the ready. Clams… clams I can do too. Chowder is something I actually used to make as a kid with my mom,” Elaine comments, going to dip a piece of crab into the butter. Her eyes watch him carefully as she starts to eat, mostly distracted by him more than anything. The food’s just there, she’s more concerned with him.

“First of many feasts. You’ll adore Christmas Eve, I promise you that.”

“I think I will too,” Rhett replies evenly, touching her arm, nodding once at her, then drawing his hand back. “Will you have the whole day off of work for both Eve and Christmas?”

“And if it’s not too depressing a topic… do you have any family around?” Rhett asks, with some care. His own immediate family, of course, he mentioned before as having passed in the war.

“Whole day off for both. I’m looking forward to it, going to need the extra time to get everything ready,” Elaine says. It does sound like she’s got something planned, certainly. “Might even take the 23rd off just to round out the week. I’ve got some errands I could get done that day anyway.”

The mention of family gets a small chuckle. “I mean, nothing biological, not anymore. When I was younger, after my parents died I was briefly in this orphanage, a bunch of Evo kids and I. I ended up having to go elsewhere but those kids are the closest I’ve got to family. They’re like my little sisters and brothers now. Most of them are 20ish now, but… still my little siblings in a way. I like to gift them something, usually something edible.”

“Sounds like an epic production planned. You don’t need my help, chopping salad or something?” Rhett asks curiously, but not invasive. He will let her do the surprise if she wants that.

“Are they here in the safe zone, or did they get away?” Rhett asks of her adopted siblings. “My aunt is still alive but she’s in Indiana. We were never very close.”

“I mean, theoretically I could use the help but then I don’t get to see the surprise on your face when you walk in the door,” Elaine beams at him. “Already picturing it. I’ve got a very vivid imagination.” She looks back towards her food, but she’s mostly focusing on him. “You can help clean up afterwards. Fair?”

She uses her fork to spear a bit of potato. “They’re all in the safe zone, living out of a converted firehouse. I could take you by sometime if you’re interested in meeting some of them. They’re good people. Like really good.” She eats the potato. “I think they’d like you too.”

“Clean up? Yeah, I can do that,” Rhett nods. His Evolved ability works well on cleaning things rapidly!

“Converted firehouse… Sounds fun, like a team of young Ghostbusters,” Rhett chuckles. “Yeah, take me by,” Rhett agrees, his pale blue eyes lighting up. He’s happy she wants to bring him into her life.

“I’ll be tired after all that cooking and stuff that clean up will be a bit of a pain so cleaning would be amazing,” Elaine slides her hand over to his to rest there. “I haven’t figured out a present for you yet, though. The scarf was my clever gift and now I owe you another. It’s going to kill me until I think of something appropriately perfect.” She taps the top of his hand with her fingertips.

“I was thinking I’d bring Christmas cookies or something by, when I do I’ll just bring you with.”

“I believe in you, just don’t make it too perfect or incredible, you’ll make my gift look less perfect. I need a win here too,” Rhett says. “Great, I’ll go with you, assuming you do it between my trips this month,” Rhett agrees.

He takes in what he’s eating more. “… These potatoes came out really well. Crab okay?” Rhett asks.

“Oh, I’m gonna have to try and outdo you either way,” Elaine cracks a smile. “But you showing up is legitimately the best gift I could ask for. Anything you do is going to be sweet because I’ll know you’ve been thinking of it. You could pick up almost anything and you give me a good reason for it I’ll think it’s amazing. I’m more for the emotion than the object.”

“The crab’s good,” she says as she dips some of the crab in the butter with her fingertips. “Might have to make some crabcakes with the leftovers.”

“No pressure. Emotional gift. Okay,” Rhett says, looking daunted, giving her strong side-eye as he considers her expression, though his smile lingers on the edge of it. “I’ll know it when I see it, I think. I trade a lot of bizarre things; something will fit,” Rhett says, slyly. Opportunist, perhaps.

“I haven’t had crabcakes in ages. But then, I don’t make them — and I really only eat what I make,” Rhett laughs. “How do you make them?”

Elaine leans her head down so she can kiss the back of his hand. “You could pick up a rock and hold it in your pocket for two days straight and give it to me and say you thought of me every time you touched the rock and I’d be just fine with that.” She chuckles. “I’m secretly really sappy and it doesn’t take much.” She pauses. “Although if you give me a rock now I’m gonna think you’re lacking a bit of creativity.”

She picks up her fork again, eating a piece of potato as she tries to recall the exact recipe. “Well, it’s mostly shredded crab and breadcrumbs. Some seasonings and then you make it crispy in a hot pan. It’s something you could easily make on the boat, I’m sure.”

“There’s something to be said for getting someone something that they said they wanted, though,” Rhett says innocently, drumming his fingers on the table as if actually considering her ‘rock’ request as a viable gift option. “I mean, I can creatively wrap it, that can be the creative part,” Rhett replies in deadpan, nodding slowly.

“I guess it’s easier to just get a fresh crab. Harder to refridgerate things, burns more fuel to do that,” Rhett explains. “Though in the winter it’s easier: lots of ice to be had.”

“If you get me a rock, I swear…” Elaine raises a fist in a mock-threatening manner as she grins. “I’ll just have to do something in revenge.” She’s already worried she’s setting a whole thing up at this point, but it’s harmless. She shakes her head. “You can still have it fresh. Just make it as you need it. Like I said, breadcrumbs, some seasonings and shredded crab. Just make enough for a meal. Just a tiny bit heartier than what we’re having.”

Rhett elusively smiles but nods a little bit. Revenge would be entirely in order; he’s got it. He looks over the meal, falling more quiet: there’s less to say now, he’s allowing some silence on his end, to just relax into the food they’re sharing.

The crab, of course, takes effort and work: it isn’t fast, so Rhett can’t bulldoze this meal quickly as he might otherwise have done. Instead, he’s working through it methodically: and with a clear sense of that he eats a /lot/ of crab, he’s efficient at the removal of the meat and neatly cracking the pieces.

Elaine watches him a bit, using the food as an excuse to look away from him for a bit. She finishes her food on a quick pace, much as he seems to be doing. Her attention, though, is mostly on studying him. It’s not just that she’s watching him, she’s taking in details. Small things, like the way he holds a fork or the manner in which he moves his fingers through his hair. She’s familiarizing herself with all of him, in a way she doesn’t really with anyone.

“Do I get to keep you again?” She teases after a moment.

“Tonight, you mean?” Rhett asks. He was looking intently into one of the crab claws to remove some meat from it; eyes lift from the shell casing to return her interested appraisal of him. He turns the crab claw over as if considering: but he did already have the answer long before she’d asked.

“I’d like to stay. One more motive, and all of that, you know. Besides… I slept really well here. Selfishly, it was very refreshing. Even if it is a little odd to sleep on land after all of these years,” Rhett adds.

He sets down the emptied crab shell, watching her with a quiet look. “Also…” Rhett decides how to phrase it. “I can’t imagine leaving right away, after what we said earlier,” he says. “It’s not every day I tell a woman how I feel, really.”

“I do mean tonight, but always is also good,” Elaine teases again. “And I’d like you to stay. I planned on it, I just didn’t want to be presumptuous. I figured that our conversation was a good indicator, but I am still the hostess of this little gathering and so I merely wanted to make sure my valued guest was adequately comfortable.”

She smiles, a little bit sheepishly. “I do appreciate you saying it, though. We built a foundation together and things like that just slowly build on to it. It’s the start of something. Something good.”

“I’ll stay all night, and hold you through the night, if you’ll have me,” Rhett says, setting his hand on the table, turning the palm up in offer to hold her hand, and smiling at her. It’s a lower key, more subtle smile, as much of his expression is quite serious, conveying his deeper emotional weight on it.

Rhett isn’t extremely loud with his emotions: he doesn’t seem to grin, or shout, or move to extremes quickly. There’s a mellowness to him; an ease that he may not know he usually projects. “I think so, too.”

“I will most certainly have you. The invitation is always open, I just leave it up to you if you choose to accept.” Elaine rests her hand atop his, palm to palm, fingertips brushing over his skin as she looks at him. The playfulness is there, but it’s mostly to ease the intensity of anything serious. While there’s a large portion of her that has learned to be bold, there’s still that tiny bit of a shy bookworm that gets a little nervous when someone looks her in the eye and says I love you.

She’s much more expressive, moving from intense emotion to intense emotion, then curbing them for very controlled periods of time before returning to a level of intensity she doesn’t always know how to handle. Above all, though, it’s genuine. Her emotions are mostly easy to read unless she’s purposefully hiding it, and she doesn’t do much in the way of concealing things. Her fingertips keep brushing along his palm.

“I’m very happy to have you stay.”
Rhett scoots his chair sideways, drawing his hand away from hers, but only to put it on the back of her chair, much as he did before when he playfully got into her space — this time is a similar move and offer, leaning towards her. He holds her gaze throughout it: light blue eyes fast on hers, as he bends to first put a kiss on her shoulder, then pause, then shift in, and put one just where her neck meets her shoulder, then pause.

Rhett smiles a little bit more, from right there. His other hand comes to rest warmly on her thigh. Nothing invasive, but calm, close. “I accept.”

Her cheeks flush with color at the gesture. It’s not as if this was the first time he’d done something like that. Elaine had experienced far more than that over the course of the last few days, but the moments when he captures her gaze like that are the more intimate ones. Those she’s still not used to. Those are the dangerous ones.

“Good,” she murmurs, blushing at him. While she stares back, it’s only a matter of time before she almost shyly leans in to bury her head against his shoulder.

Rhett draws his hand up to cradle her head there to his shoulder, turning towards her further. “You’re even more beautiful when you blush like that,” he says to her softly. She can’t see it from that buried angle, but the warmed smile is in his voice even if she can’t observe his face at the moment. “I’m not going to want to leave.”

Rhett strokes her hair, moving his fingers slowly in it, getting more familiar with the feel, the soft scent to her that is drawing her more and more into his immediate memory. He thought of the smell of her earlier in the day when he was alone. He wants to take that with him again when he does need to go. It causes him to draw her more to him, a slight possessiveness there once again.

“You’re too kind,” Elaine murmurs, smiling sheepishly at him. She pulls her head from his shoulder a bit, more of an effort than she’d like, simply to not run away from the moment. “Well, no one said you had to leave, but I’ll try not to be so cute when it comes time for you to go.” She beams, not quite giving a convincing case for that.

Instead of hiding her face against his shoulder, her face moves to press her cheek to his. She can see him from where she’s at, but it’s not all a direct eye contact—more intimacy but less directness. “Wish you could never leave.”

Rhett releases a soft sigh through his nose, turns his head to kiss her right on the ear. “Yeah, I know. Enough of that for now; I’d rather focus on being here while I’m here.” He wants to help soothe her… and a way comes to mind. “Let’s put the food away,” he suggests. He has noticed that bustling around the kitchen comforts her.

“One thing at a time,” Rhett adds softly, kindness in his voice, a subtle expression of love. He isn’t trying to overwhelm her: learning those boundaries will be part of this. Not just hers, but his own.

“Good idea,” Elaine agrees, both on the idea of focusing on being here as well as the idea of putting the food away. She slowly gets to her feet, brushing her hand over the top of his in an affectionate gesture as she moves to grab her plate and the bowl of butter. He’s right, though. Her demeanor in terms of calm becomes readily apparent at the idea of bustling around the kitchen. Nervous energy can be turned into something more productive.

“I’ve still got that ice cream if you’re interested.”

“Maybe a bit later. This was a lot of food,” Rhett replies. “I didn’t think to save space for dessert.” He helps out to gather things, the plate containing the crab shells, his own plate. He pauses to finish off his water, though, before rejoining her in the kitchen.

Dutifully Rhett takes over the sink, though, expecting to be on cleanup duty. He washes his hands off, and playfully flicks a bit of water off his fingers at her in passing as she moves by him, starting to put his plate into the sink to start to clean it.

Elaine laughs at the flick of water, sticking her tongue out at him in response. She does leave him on clean-up duty, taking what’s left of the potatoes and corn and carefully packaging them up. As she does it, she organizes the tupperware into one separated container—she’s setting it up as a reheatable meal for him, so he can have the leftovers once he’s returned to his boat. Once she’s done that, the container is deposited in the fridge and she moves to help him with the dishes.

“The ice cream will keep. We don’t have to have it tonight,” she points out. “Plus, as weird as it sounds, I enjoy the residual taste of butter from the crab.” She laughs a bit sheepishly at admitting that.

“Does that mean you’ll taste of butter?” Rhett asks thoughtfully, a flirt in the undertone and lift of eyebrow as he works on the dishes cleanup. “I’m willing to test that.” He’s doing the same behavior he did the last time he helped with dishes: angling one hand in the faucet to modify water pressure, his other hand in the bottom of the stream to direct and keep it from spraying everywhere while he cleans the dishes themselves. It’s a mix of pressure adjustment and purifying the water. He is using soap this time as well to aid in breaking up any food on the plates.

Rhett is watching a bit for an opportunity to play with her if she passes close behind him, and isn’t really hiding it: there’s a bit more of it when she joins him to help, such as a flick of a towel before actually handing it to her to let her dry things.

The playfulness and the activity of cleaning up after the meal seem to have done a good job of reducing any sort of bashfulness that had been building before. Elaine doesn’t seem afraid to laugh, trying to dodge the towel, then taking it from him when she moves to dry her dishes. She stands close to him, close enough that the sensation of each others’ presence is tangible. Perhaps not the most logistically reasonable places to stand, but it works.

As she works, she glances over him. The look is less shy than the ones earlier, more pointed. She doesn’t speak—the lesson she had learned their first day as this. It had worked well before.

The whole of it is certainly feeling like some time-lost capsule of what things could have been if the war had never taken place. This domestic bliss style situation that is so far from what Rhett’s life became: playing in the kitchen, relaxed comfort, all of it. He doesn’t overthink it for once, but does try to stay in the moment. For now, he succeeds, laughing as she does when she dodges, and handing her things that he’s cleaned. They are partially dry, as he’s able to flux much of the water off of them, so it should be efficient with the towel to give them a once over and get things put away.

Rhett doesn’t push any chatter; he remains comfortable without talking as they work together, though he returns her more pointed look with a slightly questioning one.

They get by with little side glances and playful moments. Somehow, even without words, this is a language Elaine understands. It feels familiar. It feels like home. That’s not something she’s felt in a long time. There were associations with that feeling that she wasn’t expecting to be feeling. Home was safe. Somehow, he was safe.

As they work in their wordlessness, a small smile creeps up on her face. It’s not a playful one, it’s just a smile, but it means something.

Rhett may not know exactly what the small smile means: but he can feel it, in his own way. That it is something wholesome and nice between them. A bridge that doesn’t need to be dragged out and over-examined.

Once everything is washed, he looks around the kitchen, and leans against the counter by the sink. “Well,” Rhett says finally. “We survived another meal. It strikes me I forgot to have you poison-test it first. I could have died.”

“I take full responsibility for your narrowly avoided death,” Elaine says in response. She moves to stand in front of him. “Next time, I shall be certain to test first, my liege.” She winks at him. “Wouldn’t do for you to die, I’d be heartbroken and I don’t have the faintest idea of how to hide a body.”

She probably could have figured it out during the war. Now? Not so much. “You’re too pretty to die.”

“I’ll let it go this once,” Rhett teases her in return as she comes over in front of him, and steps forwards to give her a kiss and a wink. “I want all of the rest of this evening with you for starters. Doesn’t work for me to be dead yet.”

Another kiss follows, stepping forwards, hands coming to her hips on either side, and tugging her towards him, just wanting to hold her and stand close in her warm kitchen. To look at her, and feel their companionship.

“You can die later. When we’re done with all this.” Elaine grins at him. “Which, of course, is never.” The teasing and playfulness aside, she’s faced with strong arms holding her and the gentle motion to be close. She wraps her arms around him, tightly, pressing herself to the warmth of his body. Nuzzling against his shoulder, she allows her eyes to shut for just a moment.

Instead of letting her mind wander, she focuses on the now. And all she can think of is how good this feels. How much this feels like home.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License