elliot_icon.gif rue4_icon.gif

Scene Title Sensations
Synopsis And I'm sinking in. Never leave, I don't want this to end. I kind'a like how it gives me chills. I kind'a like how it gives you chills.
Date November 24, 2020

Red Hook: Elliot's Townhouse

Elliot plans to be as comfortable as fucking possible this evening, wearing his softest pajama pants and a light hoodie. He’s laying on the couch and though the fireplace in the kitchen is roaring it’s still cool on this end of the parlor floor. He picks absent-mindedly at his cast. His arm doesn’t hurt anymore unless he wacks it into something, and it’s almost ready to come off. Melody sped up his recovery easily by a few weeks.

A tattered paperback rests on his chest, open but forgotten. He’s lost in thought in the silence of his house. He’s worried about today, about something going wrong. That Rue will misinterpret something he feels. Emotions are wild, unpredictable things, and nobody feels them exactly the same way as someone else. While emotions do travel across the network without his control, it’s usually ignorable, background stuff. Sudden spikes in anxiety or rapid mood shifts are what most people would notice.

There’s also his history with expressing emotions to other people. His history of not expressing them when he should have. His fear that impressing his emotions on another person is more harmful than not. The big ones, at least. The biggest hurdle here is that he does feel something for Rue. He just doesn’t want to name it and in doing so break it.

Honestly, he now considers, that might be the second biggest hurdle. The first would be the fact that, outside of Wright, he’s never linked with a lover. Outside of Tala, he realises. They were kept in different cells however, and he’d only ever touched her when creating their link—Elliot is squeezing their hands, crying; a childlike, helpless whimpering. He can’t get words to form.What the //fuck? he thinks, bolting upright, grabbing the book before it slips to the floor.

His cringe against the emotion tied to the intrusive memory causes him to tear what’s left of the first page of the novel, and he delicately sets it on the armrest of the couch. How long has it been since that happened? How did he forget that? He knows how. He remembers how to break his attention from it, pushing it back into wherever it is that such trauma goes. In a moment it’s gone, his heart slows, Rue opens the front door into the breezeway, then the door into the living room.

“Hey,” he says with a smile, feels that glow, that warmth unlike a fire. What does he call it? The earlier, simpler nervousness has returned. The I haven’t said it yet and I’m afraid I’ll ruin this kind.

“Hey.” The smile is returned in kind, Rue’s teardrop shaped mouth pulling up on one side. She’s nervous, too, but genuinely happy to see him. It’s for that reason that she beelines for the couch before even taking her jacket off, bending down to press a slow, lingering kiss to his lips. “You look cozy,” she teases, tugging down the zip of her leather jacket and making her way back toward the entry so she can hang it up.

She is decidedly less so, but she only has herself to blame for that, having made the decision to dress cute over comfortable, because she still feels the need to impress him. If he were to ask, however, she’d swear she was simply dressed for work. “You still have my hair tie?” she calls over her shoulder. She doesn’t expect an answer to that question.

Shrugging off her leather, she’s left in a sleeveless purple cowl neck top that drapes low enough to require dress tape to hold it in place and a red bodycon skirt that falls mid-thigh, with criss-crossing scalloped segments that create an irregular, tulip-shaped hem that shows just a little more leg and earns her far better tips.

And if she wears this same ensemble tomorrow to earn those tips, no one at Cat’s Cradle will be the wiser. But it’s the combat boots that really tie it together. It also tells him she’s dressed up for him, and not for dancing on the bar.

“I do,” Elliot says as he follows her around the room with his eyes, “Though putting your hair up with that sexy ensemble wouldn’t really have the same impact.” He drops in a sign word out of habit, not out of suspicion. “And I am very high on the coziness scale thank you, just below spooning.”

He stands, taking a moment to stretch before heading toward the kitchen, unlit but for the orange light of the fire. The glass doors leading outside reflect the light against the pitch black of the garden. “Can I get you anything? Have you eaten?”

With her jacket hung up, she makes her way to join Elliot in the kitchen. She tosses her hair once with a coy little smile. “It does scatter nicely when I leave it down like this, doesn’t it?” Call and response.

Rue gives a breathy chuckle to the question of if she’s eaten. “I absolutely demolished a plate of nachos at the Cradle before I came over. I’m going to have to spend extra time at the gym to atone for my sins,” she laments, but without her smile faltering. “I wouldn’t say no to one of those amazing mocktails of yours, but if that’s over-involved for your desired level of slack, I’ll take whatever you’ve got that’ll put some sugar in me.”

“It’s not really a mocktail, per se,” Elliot opines, “As It’s not a virgin take on a classic cocktail, but I get your meaning.” He opens his refrigerator and pulls out a glass, hinge-capped bottle containing a clear liquid, followed by both soda water and tonic water. He places them on the counter along with a lemon, god bless that greenhouse.

He raises an eyebrow teasingly before washing the lemon and peeling off a wide strip of rind. The garnish seems to get the most attention of this entire process, neatly trimmed and twisted, added to a stemmed wine glass of ice. The rest is no work at all, equal parts soda, tonic, and the mysterious liquid. He gives one glass a swirl and slides it across the kitchen island to Rue, taking the second for himself.

“Though if you want me to give you some sugar you can just wander over this way.”

“Look, from where I’m standing, if it doesn’t have alcohol, but it’s fancier than orange juice and Sprite, it’s a mocktail.” Rue shrugs. “I don’t make the rules.” Leaning her hip against the island counter, she watches Elliot practice this particular craft with the appreciation that comes from someone who does the same. Comparing techniques. As always, Rue finds she could learn a lot from him.

Her drink is accepted with a nod of gratitude, lifting it to her lips for a sip. It may not have that satisfying burn, or be kicking her square in the face, but it tastes enough like it could put that pleasant warmth in her belly, so it scratches that metaphorical itch.

And what he’s offering would certainly scratch another. Glass in hand, Rue saunters around the island to meet him on his side. “I mean,” she begins, her little grin growing swiftly, “I could spend all evening making out with you and we could get positively nothing done and I wouldn’t feel that bad about it.” But. “Buuut…” She leans in to kiss him anyway, keeping it brief. “Maybe a little bit of sugar. As a treat.”

Elliot, spoiled, hums appreciatively as she kisses him. “Better get to it then,” he muses, sipping his drink. “Let’s see if we can carve out a little makeout time for after.”

He nudges her around the island to the thick carpet sitting in the center of the kitchen floor, motioning to a few pillows scattered along the wide bench built into the wall beside the fireplace. “Make yourself comfortable,” he says. He lowers himself to the carpet, crossing his legs and setting his glass on the wood beside it.

He’s still nervous, but containing it. The kitchen is dim but not dark, and the fire crackles softly. “You can pull the chair over,” he nods to the chair in the corner between the fireplace and the garden door. “I’ve only just realized a skirt may make it difficult to sit like this.”

“I admit, I would have worn the Daisy Dukes if I’d known you were going to want to sit on the floor.” Maybe. She shakes her head. “Nah, I’m good. Don’t worry, I’ve got some practice. Hold this, please.” Her drink is handed off before tossing down a pillow to sit on. Rue lowers herself to a kneeling position in front of Elliot first, then shifts so her legs settle to out to one side together. For all that some people just think of her as that slut on the bar, she can and does behave with decorum when the occasion calls.

Taking a sip from her drink after it’s passed back to her, she similarly sets it on the bare wood of the floor, opposite of where her legs are pointed so as to minimize the chance of knocking it over if she feels the need to squirm and resettle.

“Okay, so, do I get to learn some kind of groovy incantation now?” Rue teases lightly, hoping to put him at ease with her involvement in this process. Still, she’s quick to lean in and assure him, “I’m taking this seriously. I promise. Just… not so seriously I can’t still make you roll your eyes at me.”

“Thankfully,” Elliot replies, “This process doesn’t require too much seriousness. Though it does take a lot of concentration. And… it actually does involve something like an incantation. Huh.” He quirks an eyebrow thoughtfully.

He takes a moment to adjust his posture and stretch his back and neck. Once he’s settled he holds out both hands, palms up, to Rue. He makes a gimme gesture with both hands. “Mitts, please.”

“I knew it!” Rue snickers softly, pleased with herself. “Aw yeah. Freaky secret society shit, here I come.” Her head dips forward a little as she indulges in a couple more giggles before waving it away. Okay, okay, she’s here. But at least she is smiling and she is laughing. Especially after the other night, where she’d taken another step back and spent most of her pre-work hours just staring at the ceiling and looking generally miserable. The durations of those funks are shorter and shorter as time goes on.

Taking a moment to rub her hands together to make sure her fingers aren’t still chilled from the cold outside, she then places her hands in his. Her skin is soft, scented faintly with notes of clementine, freesia and violet that he’s come to know as quintessentially her. It’s exactly the sort of practice they’d have frowned upon while she was still working. Nothing worse than being given away by one’s own vanity.

Briefly, Rue grazes the tips of her fingers and the blunted edges of nails over Elliot’s palms before settling, encouraging him with a fond smile that conveys her lack of concern over this process. Or at least a lack of negative association. She’s had enough time to mull over sharing with him, and ultimately it comes down to trust. If this turns out to not go as well as they both might hope, it shouldn’t be so awkward that they can’t recover from it.

Elliot’s hands are cool, though he’s warming up this close to the fire. He grips Rue’s hands gently, but enough to let himself relax without accidentally breaking contact. “I am out of secret society signet rings,” he laments, “But we can come up with a secret handshake.” Not that it would be, strictly speaking, necessary considering their countersign.

“I’m going to say a bunch of words, and however you react will show me the places in your brain where the link is made. There’s no wrong answers, so don’t worry about trying to purposefully build associations.” He keeps his eyes locked on Rue’s. There’s an air of professionalism to what he says, though this is a trimmed version of what he’d usually say to a newcomer to the network. His familiarity with Rue, and the cross-over of their skillsets, will let him keep this brief.

“We can begin whenever you’re ready,” he says.

Rue gives Elliot’s hands a small squeeze to both affirm her commitment and to hopefully help him stay relaxed. “Word association. Fun times. It’ll be like psychiatric tests they put me through after I said I could see dead people.” If she’s still bitter about that — and oh, she is — it’s covered well by her laughter.

It’s a warmer sound as she transitions to her next thought. “We’re more the decoder ring types anyway. Maybe I’ll get us some Cracker Jacks.” Rue’s thumb brushes lightly over Elliot’s skin. “I’m ready when you are.”

Elliot lightly squeezes Rue’s hands in return before bobbing forward to leave a quick peck on her lips. He leans back before she can get them any more distracted than he just did. And it’s a good thing, if the way she starts to lean forward to give chase is any indication, coupled with a flash of longing for breathlessness and the heated press of bodies. His eyes lose focus as he closes them, taking a long, centering breath. He begins by testing for emotion, giving pause to allow Rue’s mind a moment between each step.

“Anticipation,” Elliot begins.

Grit crunches under the toe of her boot. Damp seeps into denim, allowing an insidious chill to dig into her knee. She takes a breath and holds it. Her finger moves from guard to trigger.

“Retribution,” he continues.

The gunshot is so loud it vibrates the windows, the round so high caliber that it leaves an inch round crimson entry wound in the man’s lower cheek where it enters, and paints his pillow and the wall behind him with a thick spray of blood, brain matter, and bone. It only takes a single shot, one not taken by her own hand, to end the life of the man who claimed so many on his own, and ruined her reputation in the process.


The press of his mouth to hers catches her entirely off her guard. The pat pat to her cheek comes before she has a chance to even react, let along register what just happened.

Elliot tethers each reaction together, beginning to weave something out of the emotional content of Rue’s memories. With the first marks in place he pauses to let Rue return to center, giving a quick squeeze of her hands to say, When you’re ready.

She opens her eyes briefly to look and see if there’s any judgement or reaction to some of what she’s revealed about herself. Her freckled face tinged red with embarrassment.

But she’s not about to back down, either. Closing her eyes again, she dips her head down and squeezes his hands again to signify her readiness.

He moves on to begin mapping sensory pathways.


The rough texture between her fingers is incongruous with the silky softness of the silver-grey tulle.


After the near-blinding flash of light, there’s only the ringing in her ears, the weight of the body on top of her, and the ash trying to choke her lungs.


Even the stalest of crystals bring a sensation of warmth just from the scent of them.

The link isn’t set, but flickers of connectivity begin to manifest as Elliot strings each mark together in a more complex web. There’s a sudden extrasensory echo of satisfaction at finding purchase in Rue’s mind. A feeling like there’s someone moving in another room of the house, instantly recognized by the little sounds that identify the other as familiar.

Her eyes close a little tighter, brows knitting together as she parses the newness of the sensation, settling into it after a moment. Like tugging on a comfortable, well-worn pair of boots.

Memory is next, though with the extent of overlap between Elliot and Rue’s skill sets there’s little that stands out as demonstrable. He decides to keep it personal, they can map out the rest after the link sets. There’s another soft squeeze of the hands that’s reciprocated without hesitation.


Gasping breaths echo off tiled walls, the coolness of one at her back. One arm reaches out for purchase of something with enough urgency that her palm slaps against the frosted glass, streaking down slowly. Her legs are wrapped around his waist, his strong arms hold her, his face is buried in her neck. The spray of the shower creates rivers down their skin.


Thank you.” The tall shot of whiskey bought for her by a particularly friendly patron is tossed back expertly, like it’s her goddamn job. With a steadying hand from Sassy, she climbs up onto the bar and starts to gyrate her hips to the thump of the bass from the overhead speakers.

“Fruit cup.”

He draws a line of kisses down her chest, between the valley there, over her stomach, slowly but gently raking his fingernails down her back. His hand catches the edge of her last bastion of modesty as he plants the last kiss on her left hip.

The last is accompanied by a ripple of playfulness like a sudden realization that Rue’s ears are ringing. The briefest flash of feeling herself sitting in two places at once. It fades as each mark is entangled and the structure becomes clear; there’s a doorway, just within reach, that feels decidedly closed. Not locked, still accessible, though as Elliot rouses back to attention Rue gets the impression that he’s holding it closed more to prepare her for a surprise than to keep her out.

“How are we doing?” he asks, giving her all the time she needs to adjust and let go of any negative attachments to the memories he dredged up. His smile is still playful, but moreso, Rue can feel his honest concern for her state of mind. His care and trepidation both, decidedly exterior to her own emotions. Both of them are a stone being dropped into a pond, their emotions forming peaks where their waves intersect.

Rue breathes out audibly. Phew. If she was red before, she’s sure she’s edging into burgundy by now. “Jesus,” she mutters as she opens her eyes and tries to orient herself to the odd split screen effect, but it’s a thing so ephemeral that she’s left wondering if it was anything other than a trick of her mind.

Between being kissed by Avi, nailed to the wall by Dearing, and their own shared memory, she feels decidedly awkward. “You’re gonna think I have a dirty mind.” As if that ship hadn’t left the harbor and gone sailing two months ago.

That’s how she’s doing.

All the same, she lets out a chuckle that’s more astonished than nervous. “Oh, this is wild.” Blue eyes work sightlessly in short back and forth movements, acclimating. “I’m okay,” she promises, and it’s truthful. “Confused,” she admits, “but I’ll get over that. I expect that’s, ah, normal.”

But what is this? The door presents itself a temptation and Rue tries the metaphorical handle.

“Nonsense,” Elliot laughs. “There’s nothing dirty about that, though I have to say I certainly wasn’t digging for your racier recollections.” Avi though? he isn’t sure how to parse that one. Either way no judgement follows, no negative emotion springs up in the confusion. Elliot’s as relieved by that as Rue surely is. A bloom of curiosity enters the waters of their emotions from someone else; neither Rue nor Elliot. Wright, wondering how they’re getting along, though not intruding into their senses.

“That,” Elliot says as he senses her investigation of the link, “Is what the link feels like.” He draws his hands back slowly, confident he’s set the link well enough for it not to immediately fall apart on them. He remains close enough for quick corrections just in case.

The door opens a crack, along with it the feeling of being invited to reach in and take something back through. It’s a sense of its own, unlike what she could do with her hands but similar enough to use instinctively. “If you take that and pull, it may be disorienting for a moment. You’ll get my perception on top of your own, but if you let it rest it should settle out to distinct perspectives. If it’s too much all you have to do is stop pulling.”

It’s easier, somehow, to not really focus on anything in front of her. Like if she tried, she might break the spell that this is, even if she knows it can’t possibly be that easy to fuck it up, or Elliot would have warned her.

When his hands withdraw, she makes a motion to grasp for them again. It feels like she’s on ice skates and afraid she can’t stand on her own if she lets go of the steadying hand. But she brings her hands back to herself before she can recapture his, folding them together in her lap and laughing at herself and the momentary spike of panic that rippled between them.

And to Wright, most likely. “I wondered if I was going to be able to tell you two apart,” Rue muses. “It’s like you’re different shades. Or flavors. Or… pitches?” Her head cants to one side as she tries to decide how to describe the way her brain creates a distinction. There’s an undercurrent of excitement to her emotions now. She might just be ready for a circuit around the rink.

Now she brings herself back to the space around her, finding his face and studying his features for the signs of what she already feels. “Okay… Okay. Down the rabbit hole, then.” There’s a beat as she attempts that first pull. “Oh wow.” She laughs and grins at Elliot. Simultaneously, she sees herself like she’s looking in a mirror almost. “That is so strange.” And slightly disorienting, to say the least.

“One of the first things is getting used to the sound of your own voice,” Elliot says as he watches the little responses her body has to sharing. He feels her watching with him, feeling with him, and begins testing some of the lesser quirks of the link. He rubs his thumbs across his fingertips from pinky to index, noticing the soft rasp of contact. He draws his own attention to the softness of his t-shirt as he moves his shoulders.

“Oh shit,” Rue breathes out. Unconsciously, her own fingers engage in the same motion as his, which sends another ripple of feedback that her brain both isn’t sure what to do with and seems to know exactly what to do with at the same time.

Rue can experience only what Elliot is experiencing. She can’t draw her attention to things his brain distracts from, or cause him to focus on any particular sensation. He reaches out for one of her hands so she can acclimate to one of the more initially disorienting sensations: feeling both of their bodies from simultaneous points of contact. Their hands holding each other’s.

That makes her eyes get big. “Holy— Ohh, n-n-n-no, that’s weird.” But she’s laughing the whole time with her disbelief. “Oh, Jesus Christ. Is that what my voice actually sounds like? Noooo.” Rue shakes her head. “Hitch, how do you even listen to me?” She’s joking. Mostly.

Experimentally, she flexes her fingers, then draws her nails over his palm lightly like she did before they started this. A shiver runs down her spine. Curiosity is the next pebble to break the surface of her emotional pool followed by a small ripple of embarrassment.

“You have a nice voice,” Elliot assures her, a sentiment bolstered by his emotions. “It only sounds strange because of the difference in conduction. After a while you get used to it. After years of sharing senses with Wright I hear my own voice as a kind of amalgam of the two ways it reaches my ears. That’s still more of an issue of familiarity than anything.”

When Rue traces her nails over his palms It’s Elliot who feels the shiver down his spine. The longer they sit together, the more concrete the boundaries of the other’s sensations become. But even separate, the mind can create sympathetic sensations where it expects them, and a shiver can ripple from one to the other. The blossom of Rue’s curiosity is replicated in Elliot, though he has an inkling why when he feels the edges of her embarrassment.

He takes a sip of his drink, taking time to recognize the separate qualities of the ingredients. The sweet acidic vinegar of the verjus, the tang of the tonic, the bright notes of lemon rind. Each of these things correlates to a memory Elliot directs to Rue’s attention as he savors it, a catalogue of scents and flavors and how they interact.

“I am never gonna get used to this,” Rue insists with a throaty chuckle. “And god help me if I do.” That would take the wonder out of it, and she wouldn’t want that. Not even a little bit. Her blue eyes close, her tongue darting to run over her lip in the physical mimicry of tasting what’s shared over their link.

Withdrawing one hand, she rubs at the back of her neck, letting her fingers caress around the curve of it and over her throat lightly. “Shit,” she breathes out with a dreamy little grin, eyes still closed. “I feel like I’m rolling.” Without the high, but it’s the best way she can describe the physical sensation from her own lexicon.

There’s a ripple of anxiousness that isn’t enough to overcome novelty of the experience as she looks at him again. “Is it always like this?”

“Not always,” he confesses. “Sometimes you break your arm and sharing sensation is a nightmare.” He shakes his cast hand in a fist at the sky.

“I like your inner voice too,” he adds. Nestled in her body he can hear her the way no one else probably ever has. “Well, your perspective voice, not your inner monologue. Thank god, honestly I think hearing someone's thoughts would be a nightmare.” A shiver rolls through him and his arms prickle with gooseflesh.

“Would you like to play a game?” he asks, though the mischief is faint. This would seem to be a learning game. He maneuvers himself upright, grabbing the island for support, and cracks his back. He gives her plenty of time to adjust to the sudden vertical shift in the two perspectives.

Jeez.” Rue winces. Yeah, she can see how the busted arm would have been less than fun for Wright. But it’s the comment about the inner voice that brings her attention back from memories of strobing lights, the press of her body against another on the dance floor, the haze of colored fog and bass that resonates in her bones.

“I’d probably just straight up and die if you could hear my thoughts. I think some really stupid, vacuous shit.” The laugh she gives is self-conscious and he feels that brief moment of anxiety. If it had to be given a flavor, it would be closest to the fear of rejection.

The offer that’s levelled at her next, and the shift in perspective, derails her from those darker thoughts. “A game?” Rue closes her eyes a moment, blocking out own sight in the hopes of somehow figuring out his angle better before she adds her own back in. Opening her eyes again, she blinks rapidly. “This is a trip and a half, Hitch. What’cha got in mind?”

Elliot takes the flurry of emotional changes in stride. It’s par for course with new links. His own emotions reflect an amused happiness at her wonder at this new experience. He helps Rue to her feet and places his hands on her arms reassuringly. “Everybody thinks of stupid, vaucous shit, so you’re in good company. You can let go of my senses any time if it gets overwhelming. We’ll stay linked.”

He rubs his hands up and down her arms a bit. “Though the game is getting around my apartment,” he confides. “So if you want to take a breather now’s good. Otherwise we’re going to walk around a bit, and you get to navigate based on what you can see through my eyes while your eyes are closed.” He grins widely. There’s the mischief.

“No,” Rue assures with a shake of her head as she gets to her feet, smoothing out her skirt after he’s let go of her hands. “I want to keep at this. Figure it out. If I close the door again… that doesn’t happen.” She chuckles quietly, another flush of nervousness at this game he proposes. And a flush from his touch and the echoes of it.

Take a breather, he suggests and she does, by stepping forward that last bit between them to wrap her arms around him and hold herself to him. It’s a consistent kind of contact. Grounding. Easy enough to feel in sync with. A deep sigh comes with feelings of contentment, safety, and something far warmer. Something she hasn’t given any words yet. “Sounds like a party,” she finally tacks on wryly. Learning to maneuver without her own sight sounds difficult, but not insurmountable.

Elliot holds Rue against himself, relaxing into that moment of comfortable silence as he places his hand gently on the back of her head. They feel their hearts beating against each other, and both can feel that peace, that acceptance, that unnamed warmth in the other. Almost undetectably,a small current of nervousness is suddenly gone as he sighs out, replaced with a calm curiosity.

He seems sidetracked, not responding directly to what Rue has said. Not from her, she can still feel his attention, though it feels refocused. “Have you had any luck finding a place to live?” he asks, not pulling away.

Similarly, she stays as she is, fitted against him with her head resting against his shoulder, listening to their breath and the syncopated beat of their hearts. They do companionable silence well. They don’t even have to be sitting together. Although she secretly prefers when they are. Rue’s never been one to seek protection from anyone else, especially not a man, but he gives her that sense of being protected in a way she doesn’t resent. He’s not smothering her or limiting her. He’s just… there. However he needs to be.

Like now, with that question. From anyone else, she’d find it a loaded one, but if there’s one thing they can both count on, it’s that they’ll both say what they mean and mean what they say. Lies are reserved for other people, and generally only — especially — if they’re getting paid for it.

Her head moves gently against him in a shake. “No. Not really. But I admit I’m being picky, and with Miss Mas kind of indisposed at the moment, I have no real reason to fuck off from the Cradle just yet.” Now she does lift her head. She doesn’t have to watch his face for signs of disappointment — which he can guess she’s doing based on the quiet swell of trepidation from her — but it’s just a habit. “I’m still on the lookout though.”

Elliot’s emotions glide from curious to determined, and as he looks into Rue’s eyes everything recedes but that nameless warmth. He leans in for a fraction of a second before catching himself to ask, “Is it okay if I kiss you?” There is certainly a spectrum of possible shared experiences, and Elliot won’t push any boundary while Rue acclimates to feeling and seeing as he does while he does the same through her.

The shift to determination elicits her own curiosity. What could he be angling for? Not that she thinks of angling as a hustle here, the way she normally would. She expects nothing so base as that from him.

Warmth is met with warmth and she takes the pause in stride when he gives voice to the reason for it. Rue smiles lopsided, with an ease to it. "I would be open to that."

Elliot smiles, quirks an eyebrow to acknowledge the fact that this could feel like kissing oneself. Not everybody’s cup of tea. Possibly not even his own. But that mouth demands kissing and he obliges. He tests to gauge her comfort, going no further than the flickers of her emotions let him. He leans back, to see her reaction. “Too weird?” he asks.

It’s a brief thing for her part. Not that there’s any negativity associated with the act, but it gets confusing and disorienting in its own way quickly. Rue rubs her nose against Elliot’s briefly. “A little weird. May need to explore again in the future. Just to be sure of the findings.” Definitely not any kind of deal breaker.

“Noted,” he says pleasantly. “Get your boots and coat on.”

“That’s the opposite of what you usually tell me,” Rue teases, even as she starts to unwind her arms from around him. “I thought we were going to wander the house? Where are we headed?”

In the entryway, Rue shoves her feet back into her boots, dropping down into a kneel to re-lace them up tight. The coat is grabbed up next.

Well, after a reach and a miss on the first try. “It’s like when you’re playing Goldeneye and your other player is in the same room, but you’re at different angles? Except it’s not split-screen, it’s overlay? Maybe photography’s the better reference.” Rue shakes her head and looks up from fastening her buttons, waiting for the next direction.

“What’s Goldeneye?” Elliot asks seriously, though the giggle of mirth that chases it through the network is palpable. “Is that like Legend of the Red Dragon?” He giggles audibly this time. He presses his feet into slip-on shoes he bought after his arm made shoelaces suck, and tosses on a light coat.

“The best way I’ve ever been able to describe it is like if there’s a divider between your eyes, and each eye is being shown a separate picture. Like you mashed the slide into a View Master wrong. It’ll sort of fall into it. When it’s overlay it’s the most confusing. Once you acclimate it’s like having eyes on either side of your head. One set sees one thing, the other another.”

“Not a great analogy, I realise, but it’s been a while since I had to use the terminology out loud. Now,” he moves back toward the house, “We begin. Close your eyes. I’ll be watching your feet as you go and I’ll be right behind you. Within arm’s reach. This is an exhibition of proprioception as much as movement.”

“Oh my god, do not nerd shame me, Hitch.” Amusement is answered in kind. She falls quiet, introspective as he gives his own similes for what she’s experiencing. “No, no. That’s great! View Master… That’s what this is like.” Rue grins lopsidedly. It’s helping to piece little things together that make it all more accessible. It makes more sense the more they talk through it.

There’s that tremor of anxiety when he lays out that it’s time to test out the tether with her eye shut. But she’s one of those lucky few that can maneuver in the dark without feeling a loss of balance. “Don’t let me bang my knees and elbows up, okay?” Giving him cheek, she closes her eyes, taking a moment to acclimate to the fact that she can still see.

She takes that first experimental step forward.

The first thing Rue notices is the distance between Elliot, herself, and the obstacles around them. Without knowing for certain her own place in the environment, it’s surprisingly simple to match where he is to where she wants to go. Elliot gives her a comfortable berth, stepping behind and to the side of her to keep the floor in front of her feet in his line of sight.

“Proprioception,” he says with the air of a teacher, “is probably my favorite sense, even if it’s not one you usually think of, or notice.” He points back toward the kitchen for her benefit. “Because I know instinctively how far you are from me, you can rely on that sense to feel where you are with regard to the objects we’re both close to.”

“That is so fuckin’ weird,” Rue chuckles breathily, finding that this isn’t nearly as difficult as she feared it might be. There’s some knowledge to her that she’s not where she thinks she should be, but thanks to his perception of her spatial placement, she can maneuver her way just fine.

Even if she does wobble a little bit here and there with uncertainty. Her own mind expecting this to fail at any moment and playing tricks on her. “Why’d you have me grab my boots?” she asks as she nears the kitchen. “Figure I need the protection against stubbing my damn toes?”

“It is cold in the garden!” is his only response. Apparently they’re going outside, though the garden is fenced so there’s no worry about stepping into traffic. The garden doors are locked, but Elliot keeps the latch in sight for her.

“Going to want to hit that light switch though,” he says, directing his gaze to the right of the door.

“I know where it is,” Rue retorts as he shifts his gaze, but it’s a teasing sort of thing. It helps to have him reorient her, but she likes to believe she could have gotten that one by feel and repetitive memory. Even in the cold, she likes to sit out in Elliot’s garden. Usually with something to drink. The light switch is flicked on easily, the latch handled with only a small fumble and a quiet huff of frustration.

“You know, I hate things I don’t pick up immediately.” That’s admitted at her own expense. “But I like the payoff, so it works out. Especially if it’s something useful.” And how can this be anything but useful to them? Even if isn’t right now. Now isn’t the time to jump into the deep end of anything anyway.

Hands out at her sides for a moment to acclimate to the shift in light and the perspective obscured by the doorway, she laughs quietly again, enjoying herself in spite of her fear of misstepping, and heads into the garden.

“You are actually acclimating to this very quickly,” Elliot reassures her. He’s mindful of the stairs leading down into the garden, and gives her plenty of time to take them at a safe pace. Most of the shrubs lining the long area are leafless, and the two trees sprawl over the neighboring yards like greedy hands.

“We’ll be banging a hard right at the bottom of the stairs,” he says, only to immediately add, “Wow, that sounds filthy without context. Down to the basement with you. With us. Technically the garden floor, not the basement. Fuckin’ rich people.” Elliot certainly got this house for a good amount less than what it would have sold for immediately following the war.

The stairs are taken slowly, but the turn after is done with more ease. “You said that intentionally,” she accuses, shoving down the mental image of his hands in her hair and the greediness of his mouth on hers. She’s blushing when they move on to the second stairwell, though she pauses at the top to wait for him to give her a better view of the stairs.

“Maybe,” Elliot says, “I do have a dirty mind. It’s probably too cold for a proper garden bang though.” He withdraws his keys from his pocket, flipping through them for the basement door key then dangling it between himself and Rue. “The light switch will be just inside to the right.”

“For you? Definitely,” Rue teases about the cold. The reach for the keys is a slower, more tentative thing, her brows knitting as she navigates the space between herself and her prize. “It’s like trying to navigate by mirror a little bit.” Her fingers brush against his, and the shared sensation elicits a small bubble of renewed, but mild surprise, then she’s grasped the key, turning it in her fingers so she’s got a comfortable hold on it before descending the next flight of stairs to the waiting door.

As she fits the key into the lock, she turns her head toward him, to regard him even with her eyes closed. She can’t see him, but she can see her looking his way, so that gives enough of the desired effect. “This was a long con, wasn’t it? This is your murder basement.” Try as she might, Rue can’t completely fight off her smirk. “I will one hundred percent kick your ass if you try to kill me,” she promises, but there’s no actual sense of worry or fear in her. No determination. This is all just a joke.

Though she would and could 100% kick his ass if he tried to kill her. For the record. Unless he’s got Professor X powers.

Wait. Could he have Professor X powers?

That’d be primal.

Rue chuckles to herself as she turns the key and pushes open the door, reaching in and flipping on the switch on the right.

“To my knowledge there have been zero murders in this basement,” he says with a chuckle, though that doesn’t technically answer her question. Rue can’t see much of the room she’s entered until Elliot descends the stairs himself. He closes the door behind him but doesn’t turn the lock.

“Oh, so I’m the trial run! Excellent. Good times.” Rue means none of that.

Rue finds herself in a bedroom, furnished but not decorated, the left wall lined with closet doors. The bedroom door lies open to a hallway, through which Elliot directs her again. “Idealy this area will remain murder-free, there’s a lot of carpet.”

Rue snorts. “It is hell to get blood out of carpet. Red wine, too, as it turns out.” That wasn’t her fault, though. She’d worry about getting her deposit back, but Eve would have to be charging her rent first.

As Elliot leads her toward the front of the house he stops and pauses to point out light switches. He peeks into rooms as they go, a bathroom and a spartan office, the open kitchen and living room. The last two rooms are narrower than the upstairs, a section of wall probably hides the building’s utilities basement accessible from Elliot’s living room.

It seems like they’re heading for the front door to loop around to where they started, but Elliot stops. “If you want a place of your own, you can have this,” he says. “Not to say you’re unwelcome upstairs, but here you could have some independence, or have other people over. Whatever suits your mood, really.”

She’s started to get suspicious by the way he’s showing her light switches, like those even fucking matter. This is the first time they’ve ever even been down here, and it’s not like she expects they’re just going to start hanging out in the empty apartment.

Suspicion or not, however, when he says that, Rue’s head comes up sharply and her eyes snap open so she can actually look at him. “Wh- What?” The sensation is disorienting, but she does little more than squint while she reorients herself, refusing to resort to shutting her eyes again to block out the dual images.

“You’re— You’re joking, right?” Rather than keep her shocked gaze on him, she starts to turn around the space, taking it all in again. “This— I’ve never lived in a place so nice,” she admits in a soft voice. “There’s no way I can afford this.” She could, though. The savings is there to cover her. She’d just have to find work that pays her better than the bar does.

“I own this place outright,” Elliot says. “You’d only have to pay your utilities and,” he pauses to wave a hand as he figures, “A third of the property tax. Together it’s quite the bargain. I’m not looking for side income, I hate the concept of landlords.”

Then the other thing he said registers and she’s whirling back to him fast enough that her ginger curls seem to take a second to follow, hitting against her cheek lightly before they fall back into place again. “Did you just say I could move in with you?

There’s a brief look of oh, shit as Elliot realizes that could be taken to mean he’d asked her to move in. She can tell he’s not panicking, just trying to put words back in order, as he chuckles at his own expense for a moment. “What I meant to say was you are welcome to move into this apartment, but I didn’t want you to think you were being banished from spending the night with me. For real, I am 100% here for regular knock-down, drag-out sex followed by spooning sleepovers.”

He’s not reeling away from her, or rejecting anything. She feels him riffle through a handful of memories which he considers their greatest hits, leaving them where she can reach out for them. Moments of intimacy both sexual and platonic.

“I realise you’re an independent woman and I thought it would be sensible to provide you with this, as I haven’t used it in months.” Which begs the question why he’d use it at all with three bedrooms above. “This could give you space for some alone time, or other people time, whenever you need.”

There’s a sigh of relief that comes with the clarification. Both the verbal one, and the assurance given through memory. She always appreciates the way he has a blunt sort of approach to their liaison, even if she’s unused to it, even if it makes her blush. “That makes way more sense,” she thinks to speak up after a protracted moment. “Sorry, I just… got overwhelmed.”

Rue shakes her head slowly, still looking around this space that could be hers. She’s a whole host of conflicting emotions right now. Excitement, worry, elation, distrust, delight, fear… And other feelings she just does not have names for.

“Do you know,” she asks in a hushed voice, “that it’s been more than ten years since I had a place that was mine? A bed that’s mine?” Maybe this is why she’s never pursued it before now. Ten years is a long time. A long time spent never quite being alone. (While still often feeling alone.) “I— I don’t know what to say,” Rue admits, the words strained through a throat that’s suddenly constricted around her vocal cords.

“You don’t have to say anything if you don’t want to,” Elliot says quietly. “Even if you want some time to think about it. I’m not in a hurry to off-load the space, so the offer stands either way.” He feels the ripple of emotions with her, and doesn’t balk at them.

He steps forward tentatively to wrap her in a loose hug. “But here there would be a significantly lower chance of one day waking up next to Eve’s terrifying smile.”

The smile that had settled onto her lips abruptly drops at that mention. “Sweet Christing fuck.” She can picture it perfectly. Or worse, another one of those harrowing prophecies. For a moment, there’s a flash of “You don’t have much time. There is something after you.” Eve scrambles forward, snatching the page off the ground and coming to crouch closer to Rue, the page is folded and held in her palm.

“The crows will eat. The crows will feast.”

She says each word slowly dragging out the last syllables. Eerie light gray eyes bore into Rue’s blue ones. She leans forward and grips the redhead’s arm tight. Pressing the page and a boot knife into her hand she forces the woman to take it, accept it. Smoke blows into the model’s face.

“Run Cherry, run.”

Rue shrieks a memory of Eve. A knife pressed into her hand. A talisman. A ward. An omen.

As quickly as the panic began to build, it’s shoved down again. Years of practice of just burying anything unpleasant pays off yet again. “I’ll take it,” Rue declares without reservation. “When do you want me?”

Elliot is familiar with the sudden panic and subsequent burial, he’s pretty sure he’s done that himself fairly recently. “Oh my god, sorry,” he whispers, rubbing her back as she breaks away from it.

“Whenever you like,” he says. “You can take that key, it works for both front and back.” He looks around the living room and kitchen area. There are curtains and furniture, but little else in the apartment. It’s stark in comparison to the upper apartment, which feels like a home.

“Feel free to decorate however you like, it’s kind of bleak down here. Wait,” he thinks for a moment. “Did you mean when do I want you want you? Because also whenever you like.”

“No, no,” Rue assures quickly. “It’s fine. It’s… I’m fine.” And not in that way that she assures when she is definitely not fine. This is nothing new to her. The little PTSD flickers are old hat by now. Doesn’t everyone deal with those? “Thank you.” For caring, for comforting. “Sorry you had to… See that.” Just because she’s used to it doesn’t mean it isn’t upsetting.

But she sighs and pushes past it. He’s not digging for details — would he have to? — and she isn’t excited to relive that moment just now. Not when he’s making those kinds of suggestions.

Still, there’s more worth talking about. Like the part that makes Rue smile sheepishly. “I’ve never actually decorated my own place before. I’m not sure I even know where to begin.”

“We could go to the market for some basics,” he suggests. “Maybe grab a plant or two for some air purification. Things that are colors that you like regardless of usefulness.” He pulls away toward the kitchen, stooping to plug in the refrigerator and push it back a few inches.

“Actually, if you want some wall-art I’ve been meaning to rob the museum, they had some fascinatingly unlikeable pieces mixed in with the good stuff. Probably wouldn’t be missed.” He recalls and pins his memory of the Halloween gala, or at least the pre-tussle portion.

She’s still overwhelmed, but she’s smiling, and it’s gaining more warmth the more he talks. “Are you really sure about this? Having me this closeby? Seems a little bit like flirting with disaster, don’t you think?” Like somehow moving in together seems less dangerous. If it doesn’t work out, he just kicks her out and that’s it. If she’s got her own space already…

It doesn’t take any mental nudging from him this time for her to realize she’s setting herself up for failure before she’s even taken the first step. “Maybe a shadow box or something. Plants are a good start. Maybe I’ll remember to water them this time.” Her previous lifestyle didn’t really lend itself to caring for anything living in any capacity.

That smile turns to something almost mischievous. “Maybe I’ll get a goldfish.

“You seem like more of a teacup dog person,” Elliot jokes, mostly. “Oh, and there’s only a shower in the bathroom. If you want to take a bath you’ll have to use one of the two upstairs.”

“Jesus,” he laughs at the absurdity of it. “This house is the first place I’ve ever lived that was mine, I think I might have been overcompensating. Not a lot of spare bathrooms in the foster kid circuit. Or in the homelessness circuit, for that matter. Or bombed-out civil war ruin circuit.” The last bit little more than a mutter.

He turns back to her with a sudden focus, and she feels him dart around their connection for a moment. “How are we doing with the link? Still comfortable? Like I said it’s okay to take a break. It can be kind of exhausting at first.”

“God,” Rue sighs. “Do you remember how exciting it was if we managed to hole up in a hotel with a bathtub?” She chuckles at that, shaking her head. “The lap of luxury, that was. Even when the water kept running cold after five minutes.” Just the soak in water that was actually clean was amazing.

His focus brings hers back to the here and the now, blinking rapidly as though maybe one or both of them moved their head too fast and it took the world a second to catch up. “Exhausting’s a good word for it. I’m just trying not to bitch out,” Rue admits. “I’m starting to feel a little cross-eyed, though.”

Elliot chuckles again and wraps his arms around Rue. “Let go, time for a rest. We can do other things and come back to it. Let’s go back upstairs actually, that fireplace doesn’t do anything down here.”

Rue fits herself against Elliot comfortably, closing her eyes and attempting to get her bearings again. She finds even trying to focus on the sensation of her own feet rooted in the ground isn’t quite the anchor point she’d expected it to be, given that she just… does the same with Elliot’s perspective as well.

“Well, I suppose I’m doing something right,” she muses dryly, without bitterness. “So I just…” In her mind’s eye, she reaches for that doorway between them, stepping through to her side and pulling it shut behind her.

She doesn’t move just yet, simply exhaling a heavy breath with an audible whoosh of the air from her lungs. “You know like after you’ve been to visit me on a Saturday night when I’ve just done my big finish and we step outside and there’s like this… static ringing in our ears? That’s what this feels like right now. That odd absence of noise that’s somehow really loud.”

“I know exactly what you mean,” Elliot says. He’s comfortable, and in no real hurry to get upstairs, though eventually he breaks away. He moves back toward the garden, flipping light switches as he goes.

There are little ripples of satisfaction across the link, and then a simultaneous trill of what feels like laughter overlapping it. “That was Wright,” he explains, lest Rue think he’s suddenly laughing at her. “Feels like an Ames moment.”

“That child terrifies me,” Rue confides, slipping her hand into Elliot’s as they work their way back through what will eventually be her apartment. There’s an intertwining of giddiness with gratitude that moves along the link. “Which means everyone involved in raising her is doing something right,” she asserts with a cheeky grin.

“Eventually you acclimate to Ames’s terror level,” Elliot says nonchalantly, though humor echoes through the network. “If it weren’t for the fact she doesn’t break down crying every time she runs into something she would be unconsolable at all times. I’m not sure she can feel pain.”

He stops for a moment at the bedroom door leading up to the garden. “I’d say we should give the bed a test run but it’s cold down here. You’ll have to trust me on its functionality.” He opens the door and steps aside to allow Rue through first.

“What? You don’t think I could keep you warm?” Rue tugs Elliot gently before he can get too far, leaning in for a brief kiss. She pats his cheek gently, a small giggle that’s heard as much as felt before she releases his hand and heads up the stairs to the garden.

From the top of the well, she tosses the keys back to him so he can lock up. “If you think about it, flip on the heat Thursday? I can maybe move stuff over this weekend. Then it won’t be an ice box when I get here.” Her hands slip into the pockets of her jacket, pacing backward as he moves up the stairs to join her.

“Can do,” he replies. “Hopefully I’m getting this fucking cast off soon so I may be available to lend you a hand. Then we can put that mattress through its paces, if you’re so inclined.” He catches up to Rue and guides her around the stairs with his hand beneath her jacket on her lower back. Not for direction so much as a chance for a small intimacy.

Once they’ve returned to the kitchen Elliot shivers in the heat of the fireplace. He kicks his shoes off next to the door and motions for Rue to do the same.

Rue takes a seat on the bench and takes the time to untie and loosen the laces on her boots while Elliot warms up. “You’re spoiled,” she muses without looking up. “You’ve had this even when the power was inconsistent. Last winter, the Bastion was like being back in that drafty castle. And that wasn’t a very nostalgic feeling.” Her head lifts so he can see the way her brows jump briefly toward her hairline.

Nudging one boot off, then the other, she sets them aside before climbing to her feet and shrugging out of her coat again. “This… I think it’ll be nice. Having a place that I’m not sharing with someone else.” Or maybe she’ll hate it. There is a brief tremor of doubt, but it isn’t a strong thing. “Having you close by will be better. It’ll feel familiar like that, I think.” More like the Bunker or the Bastion with their close neighbors, so to speak.

“I’m trying to tell myself this isn’t some kind of pity play.” One corner of her mouth pulls up into a wry smirk at her own expense. “You really didn’t have to do this.”

“You can tell yourself that with confidence, then,” Elliot says. “As this is certainly not a pity play. It’s a ‘I have more than I currently use and my girlfriend is looking for a place of her own’ play.” He picks up his glass from the island and takes a sip, condensation running down the glass in streaks as he sets it back down.

Rue gathers up her own glass for a drink. “Thank you.” For lack of anything else to really say about it. It’s not easy for her to accept help, charity, or good turns from others, whether she’s done anything to potentially earn them or not. In spite of the fact that she’d be the first to say that people don’t need to earn kindness.

As she’s meandered her way back to him, she frees up her hands so she can cradle his jaw with one and rest the other against his shoulder. There’s words on the tip of her tongue that feel like laughter in warm sunshine, but they get no further than that. Leaning up, she conveys her feelings with an unhurried kiss.

It seems that Elliot isn’t in a rush either, as he tugs at the sides of Rue’s shirt to draw her a little closer. He settles there, letting the warmth ripple back and forth in waves. It’s joined by flickers of happiness from far off, Wright feeling joyful for them both.

Elliot leans his head back to gauge Rue’s reaction to that emotional openness. The inescapable other in the network. “How are we doing?” he asks.

“A little embarrassed,” Rue admits, stroking her fingers lightly where they lay on him. “But… I get that this is normal for both of you. This isn’t different just because I’m in the loop now. I’m just aware of what was already going down.” She shrugs one shoulder. “So… I’m adjusting. Getting used to it.”

It is what it is. Even with her sheepishness, she refuses to be deterred. Rue Lancaster has stared death in the face on more occasions than even most other veterans of the war. Wright being aware that she’s twitterpated by Elliot isn’t going to rank on the list of situations that nearly made her heart stop.

“That covers me. What about you?” Rue lifts her brows with the question. “Is it weird, having someone linked who you share this kind of… relationship with?”

“It’s new,” he admits. “Even for me. But I’m shooting for emotional honesty, so there’s an accountability factor. My own personal ‘don’t sabotage yourself’ coach on the other end of the line.” He laughs, and there’s a hint of nervousness, a how much is too much to handle sort of feeling somewhere between anticipation and regret. But it’s just a stray cloud in an otherwise sunny disposition.

Rue shakes her head, offering a small smile. “I’ve never once been worried about your honesty,” she assures him. With a pat to his cheek, she lets that hand fall to his other shoulder. “What’re you so worried about anyway?” There’s a bubble of amusement there. Like she finds her next thought laughable. “I’m a kitten.” Even kittens have claws. “Why would you worry about— I’m the one who’s prone to sabotage here.”

“Speaking of kind of that,” Elliot says in a way that queues up a turn to a more serious topic while still leaving a bit of levity, “How’s Seren?” He winces at his execution. “With the nightmare thing possibly over, possibly on-going, I’m worried that keeping them ignorant of our relationship will be harmful to all three of us in the long run.”

Embarrassment flickers and he shakes his head. “Sorry, badly handled.”

The way Rue starts to disengage physically tells him what he’d need to know even if he didn’t have access to her conflicted emotional state right now. Guilt dances with more wounded feelings. “Ah,” is the long and short of her immediate reply.

Picking up her glass again, Rue turns to lean back against the counter, one elbow and forearm resting flat against the surface, hand hanging over the edge while she takes a drink and works her jaw back and forth, staring blankly at the wall ahead.

“Seren’s… Seren’s got a lot on their plate.” He asked, and Rue can answer that question. “We miss each other. They’re still recovering from the—” He knows. She doesn’t feel the need to finish that sentence. “They also know that I’m seeing someone. I just… don’t think they realize it’s you.” Heaving a sigh, she shakes her head. “I don’t know how to tell them, either.”

“I’m sorry, that was…” Elliot feels frustrated with how he torpedoed the conversation, but he shakes his head to try to move on from it. “Do you think it would help if you told them that I’m not the jealous type?” he asks. “Because one way you could both stop missing each other is if you let them forgive you.”

Trying to be cute about it doesn’t feel right. He pushes himself off of the island and turns, pulling away Rue’s drink gently to set it on the counter. He tilts her head up toward him with one hand, establishing meaningful eye contact, before resting his hands on her arms. “I know that you want to say that you’re staying away to protect them, but I think that’s doing them a disservice. They’re a strong, capable adult who has survived traumas that rival our own.”

“You can’t protect them from far away. If you’re worried about Marlene showing up and escalating things then you and I decide now to hunt her down and we put her in jail.” There’s a feeling of finality that implies an unspoken Or in the ground.

He marshals that warmth he has for her, that brightness that wants Rue to stop punishing herself. “Right now, hurting yourself and Seren in order to protect them from Marlene? Who does that serve other than Marlene herself? What was her goal if not to make you feel this pain, that you’ve inflicted on yourself, for the better part of a year?”

It’s clear that this has been percolating for a while, and he feels relieved to say it all out loud. Breaking the news of their relationship to Seren is secondary to this. This is about Rue keeping hold of that brightness Elliot can see in her but that dims whenever she has a chance to spiral down away from it.

“No, no,” Rue’s quick to assure, shaking her head back and forth. “I just… didn’t expect that topic shift is all. You’re fine.” It doesn’t take much in the way of prying to relieve her of her drink, or to get her to lift her head and turn her focus to him, meet his eyes.

Although it’s all still a bit like leading that horse to water and watching a whole lot of nothing happen.

“What if you’re wrong? What if I… What if we re-establish regular contact and something happens to them because of it? The things they’ve survived? They weren’t targeted for any of it. If someone were to actually come gunning for them?” The panic and the fear are instantaneous reactions, and ones that Rue would usually try to keep from showing, but… He feels them. The way her chest tightens and her pulse pounds and she wants to just fall apart thinking about something so awful happening to someone she clearly cares for so much.

“I can already barely live with myself. There really would be no going on if—”

Elliot feels that spiral downward. He responds with a flurry of pulls at her attention, a flicker just deep enough into her senses that she knows he’s there, hoping to pull her back out. At the same time he steps closer and wraps his arms around her. There’s a resolute quality to his emotions, though he’s not free of anxiety himself.

“There are things we can’t know, Rue,” he says quietly. “We can’t see the future. Don’t catastrophize away your hope for a better one. You have to live in the now, and you have to try to live the best life you can. You can put your concern for them to use if you’re there to protect them. And you don’t have to take on the entire burden for that. We’re not surviving in the wild anymore. We’ve got other infrastructure for dealing with the world’s fuckery.”

“I don’t understand.” Resting her head against his shoulder, it seems for a moment that she might not qualify that statement, elucidating what it is, exactly, that she can’t wrap her head around. But the curl of her fingers at the back of his shirt signifies her presence, that she just needs a moment to find her anchor in him and stop the wild spiral downward.

That descent to the bottom of the mineshaft.

Letting out a shaky breath, it’s the first sign that she’s found that footing she needs. “I don’t understand how to… do any of that. I’m so used to making do with what we have on the fly. I don’t… trust infrastructure?” Rue admits with a breathy laugh. Finally, she lifts her head so she can look at him again, further cementing that she’s with him here and now. Stabilizing.

“Do I look like I’m living my best life?” she asks with another one of those laughs, this one far more bitter than the first. “I don’t even know what that looks like. I can’t even picture it.” She’s drifting, but still tethered there to him. She won’t go too far, won’t go away.

“When you’re the target,” she reasons quietly, “you move away from other targets of value, so nothing — nobody — else gets caught in the crossfire, you know?” Rue shakes her head. “Which means I should be getting away from you, but… It doesn’t make sense and I don’t know why I can’t…”

Rue tips her head back, gritting her teeth. “I am scared out of my mind for Seren, and I don’t know what to do besides stay the fuck away from them. So I can’t be the cause of anything else that goes wrong.”

“You don’t look like you’re living your best life,” Elliot admits, “Which is kind of my point. You’re living in fear of the future and punishing yourself just in case it’s a bad one. And you know full well that being the target means calling in back-up. We spent years infiltrating and relying on the rest of our team to come in and pull our asses out of the fire.” He’s feeling intense concern, not anger, as he says this.

“Staying away from Seren is tormenting you,” he says. “I can feel it right now. And from what you tell me it’s hurting them too.” She can feel his sympathy in its purest form. He knows what she’s feeling and it pains him too, not just because they are telepathically connected, but because it hurts to see her hurt.

“You don’t need to isolate yourself,” he says softly. “You need backup.” She feels that same resolution, that warmth, that he has brought himself back to repeatedly tonight. “I’m here for it.”

Rue’s mouth is set into a thin line. There’s a frustration bubbling under, but it’s one without any bite to it. It’s a solely self-directed frustration for the fact that she has no argument to level back at him, because he’s right. “What the hell do I do with that, though? How do I… I love them, Hitch.” That stirs up regret, remorse, worry. “They called me a couple of days ago and asked me to look into something for them and…”

Her blue eyes dart away momentarily, before meeting his again. He deserves her looking him in the eye right now. “I missed them so bad. I don’t know how I can be their friend when I feel so strongly still.” Rue brings a hand up to rest on his face. “You are… I—”

Her voice is shaky and her nerves have spiked. “Please say it first so I don’t feel like a fucking lunatic.”

Elliot’s own nervousness fades back into view. But here it is, in the spotlight, that unnamed feeling. It would be a lie to say he’d never meant it when he said it, though it sometimes feels like the case. He’d missed the opportunity, spoken out of turn, missed the mark, and yes, lied. But this can be none of those things, he can speak that warmth into existence.

It’s a flutter of overlapping emotions, though not conflicting. It’s just a lot, and he knows she can feel everything his heart is trying to put into words. He struggles against his desire to protect himself from finding out too late that he’s being presumptuous. But then he thinks of Wright and the rules they made to handle situations just like this. He gives himself permission to feel, honestly.

“I love you,” he says, and even that resolution he’s come to rely on does nothing to stop the butterflies of being vulnerable.

Rue lets out a breath she didn’t realize she’d been holding. “That’s good,” she says with a nervous bubble of laughter, “because I love you back.” Relief washes over her, and she leans up to press her lips to his briefly. “I love you,” she reiterates. “It’s what makes this all so much more confusing. But how can’t I love someone so understanding?” She smiles, even if it’s a bit shaky, her thumb brushing over Elliot’s cheek gently.

“I’ll… reconcile a better way to have feelings for two people at once this time around than the last, I guess.” That’s when she lets her hand drop to his shoulder instead, like she’s feeling like she doesn’t deserve quite that level of proximity. Sighing softly, Rue closes her eyes. “Can I make the Seren thing a problem for another day?”

Though there’s a wave of relief, Elliot finds that the butterflies don’t go away for having said it. But the more he thinks about it, that’s okay. “Yeah,” he laughs, “Another day is fine.” He’s in no rush to cut this moment short.

“I realise I’ve asked a lot from you already this evening, but can you do me one favor?” he asks. The nervous excitement gives way to giddiness, then back and forth in small waves as he acclimates to what’s just happened.

The tension and the pain in her lessens when he says they can put aside the big problem and focus on this mutual confession of theirs. Where he feels butterflies, she envisions fireflies inside the cage of her ribs. Little lights to illuminate the darkness inside of her.

Rue lets out a chuckle, quiet and breathy. “Elliot,” she chides, falling back on that rarely used forename of his, “you’ve just given me a place to live. The least I can do is entertain a request for a favor.

“In that case,” he says, eyes locked on hers and heart still attempting to settle down. He scoops Rue up with his hands just below her backside and plants her on the island in the kitchen, cast be damned. He steps in toward her. “I’ll take that sugar now.”

There’s that cheerfulness he so rarely sees in her, but only he seems to get to see. “It’s all yours, hot stuff.”

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